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Attack on Titan: A Blacksmith's Tale (Remastered)

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  Attack on Titan: A Blacksmith's Tale (REMASTERED)
  by crod42
  When Wall Maria falls to the titans, a young blacksmith from Wall Sina enlists in the 104th Training Corps, determined to make a difference for the survival of humanity. But he didn't expect to catch the interest of a cold blond girl named Annie, who carries a terrible secret. It's a good thing he holds his own power to even the odds. OC/Annie. 70% (No Guest Reviews)
  
  Original source: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/12902407/1/Attack-on-Titan-A-Blacksmith-s-Tale-REMASTERED
  
  Chapters: 81
  
  Words: 486174
  
  Rated: Fiction T - Language: English - Genre: Drama/Hurt/Comfort - Characters: [Annie L., OC] Eren Y., Mikasa A. - Reviews: 1,295 - Favs: 1,667 - Follows: 1,734
  
  Exported with the assistance of FicHub.net
  
  The Blacksmith of Yarckel
  Sina Brat
  The Girl with Cold Eyes
  The Fools With Hope
  The Gift of Practicality
  Wounds of the Past
  Survival Training
  The First Confession
  Graduation Day
  The Invasion of Trost
  The Price of Survival
  A Chance to Strike Back
  The Battle of Trost
  The Trial of Eren Yeager
  The Next Step
  Into the Scouts
  The Calm
  The 57th Expedition
  A Really Bad Day
  The Truth Revealed
  Breaking Point
  Titans Unleashed
  One Final Chance
  Trial of the Female Titan
  New Reality
  Project Psion
  The Struggles of Downtime
  Regrets of a Troubled Mind
  The Truth Unsealed
  Point of No Return
  The Broken Psion
  The Female Titan and her Blacksmith
  Sins of the Son
  The Beast Titan
  The Secret of the Walls
  The Battle of Castle Utgard
  A Bitter Reunion
  Clash of the Titans
  The Failed Warriors
  Full Pursuit
  Coordinate
  Plight of the Shifter
  Two Sides meet the Coin
  Intervention of the Divine
  Demons of the Lioness
  A Flawed Blacksmith
  The Last Confession
  Gazing at the Abyss
  The New Normal
  Levi Squad Strikes Back
  Stabilization
  Lament of the Rogue
  Rekindling Sparks
  The Departure
  A Blonde's Tragedy
  Divide to Conquer
  Enter the Ripper
  The Might of the Interior
  Opportunities
  Home of the Huntress
  Midnight Ambush
  Author's Note: Explanations
  Branded
  In the End
  Stepping Up
  Risk of Morality
  AN: A Message to All my Readers
  AN: Where Have I Been?
  A Sharpened Tool
  AN: Alive and Not Cancelled
  Fight for the Coordinate
  Last Stand of the Ripper
  Choices
  The Psion's Gambit
  Ymir's Tale
  AN: Explanations, Decision, Trailer
  A Time to Rise
  The King is Dead
  Long Live the Queen
  Advancement
  Rise of the Blacksmith
  next chapterchapter list
  The Blacksmith of Yarckel
  Author's Note: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the Remastered Edition of Attack on Titan: A Blacksmith's Tale. Special thanks to Necromancy101 for helping me remake this story and do much-needed edits on this. I will point out various times when he, or any of the other co-writers, has done lines for this story. They all deserve recognition. For all the people who have come from my old version, I will point out at the end of every chapter what I've changed and why.
  
  Without further ado, let's all dive into this story. Enjoy!
  
  Chapter 1: The Blacksmith of Yarckel
  
  " Hello. My name is Dil - " "No." "Hey, anybody who happens to be reading my - " "That's just stupid." "To whom it may concern, if you are reading this, then..."
  
  Letting out an annoyed sigh, the thirteen-year old placed the pen down. Starting his first journal entry was much harder than he thought. The beginning was the most important part of anything, and already, he was screwing that up. At least the carriage wasn't going over bumps.
  
  "Regretting your decision, kid?" the driver asked as they passed Wall Sina towards Wall Rose.
  
  "No," he answered. "Just trying to figure out how to start this journal."
  
  "With the frustration I'm hearing, sounds more like you're writing an essay."
  
  He simply shrugged. "Well, it's more like an autobiography... just in case something happens."
  
  The carriage driver glanced backwards at him. "How old are you, twelve?"
  
  "Thirteen."
  
  He sighed. "Kids writing memoirs. Definitely a screwed-up world we live in." He paused for a moment as he mulled over the kid's plight. "If you're looking for some advice, I've got some for you."
  
  "... I'm listening," the boy replied after some hesitation.
  
  "Save the introduction for later. Start off with explaining what led you to enlisting."
  
  That sounds logical, he had to admit inwardly. "Thanks, sir."
  
  "Hey, your parents paid me a hefty sum. Least I could do."
  
  "Fair enough." Taking a deep breath, the boy began writing, feeling a little more confident this time.
  
  " It all started in the year 845. It was a day like any other in the Interior. Actually no, it wasn't. It started off with something interesting. I mean, not to say that - ."
  
  This is going to take while. The boy thought as he grimly crumpled up the piece of paper and pocketed it.
  
  (845; Yarckel District)
  
  Living in an inner city was considered by many to be a dream come true. In the districts of Wall Maria and Rose, making ends meet was a difficult task, but within Wall Sina's districts, provided taxes didn't eat them alive, the more fortunate dwelled. From the upper class to the obscenely rich, from the hard workers to the spoiled brats, they came in all shapes and sizes. The one thing these people had in common with the rest of their country was that they could enjoy a beautiful day. While the sun beat down upon the city, there was a pleasant wind in the air, balancing things out. So, a stroll throughout the district seemed to be on the minds of Yarckel's residents.
  
  Amidst the busy streets, a boy sat at a vacant table, reading the daily newspaper. His well-groomed, brown hair was one of the giveaways that he was of the upper class. His brown eyes were fixated on the paper, yet his ears were alert for something or someone. Normally, boys his age would either be playing in the streets, working, or sitting around at home like a prissy noble, but he was in the middle of something far more important.
  
  His waiting was rewarded when, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a particular man walking down the street who furtively glanced left and right as he went. Unlike the civilians that came by, this person wore a uniform with the emblem of a green unicorn apparent on the left side of the chest and more so on the back of the jacket. He was one of many Military Police officers, the ones that were supposed to be protecting the people and enforcing the laws, but those kinds of officers were too few in Sina. Abuse of power, black market trading, drug trafficking, and all sorts of things were what most MPs were engaged in. Anything to get far in their lives.
  
  Our finest scum in uniform, he thought with a barely-concealed sneer. Question is: what kind of scum is he?
  
  The officer glanced around, checking to see if he was being watched, but the boy busied himself with the newspaper. It wouldn't do good for anyone if he got caught. While he was keeping up appearances, a thought occurred to the boy. He was in the prime position to get the information he was looking for. All he needed was the find the right one.
  
  Unbeknownst to anyone, the eyes of the child began to emit a silver glow. While he looked at the paper, his focus was completely on the officer, who was trying to hail a carriage.
  
  Okay, Trey, take a deep breath, he heard in his mind. It's almost over.
  
  He gets on a carriage, I'll lose him, the boy realized. Looks like I'll need to dig deeper.
  
  His eyes shined brighter as he began searching. A thought attached to a memory would be the best thing he could look for. Sure enough, he began to hear words that would easily land him in jail. Deal... can't get caught... coderoin...
  
  Drug deal. Wonderful, but where's the deal taking place?
  
  The boy began to feel a headache come onto his mind about the same time as the officer felt it. He could mentally force his way in, but it would result in internal damage that couldn't be explained. Last thing he needed was to be found out due to his impatience. That being said, there was a memory linked to his thoughts, and he needed to unlock it. His eyes glowing just a bit more, he found it: an address and a time. Sealing it away in his own mind, the boy ceased his mental infiltration.
  
  Trey massaged his head as he was hit with a migraine, but he needed to fight it off, especially since a carriage finally pulled up. Quickly, he entered it, muttering something about police business and a vague location. The carriage driver proceeded down the road, none the wiser as to his true intentions.
  
  Once he was out of sight, the boy tossed the paper into the nearest bin and proceeded down the street. Paranoia flowed through his veins as he began to wonder if that officer had any friends that were keeping an eye out for suspicious activity, like a curious boy trying to get to his own meeting place after watching an officer take off. Logic kicked in as he realized that there's no way the MPs would make a convoluted strategy that would expose their intentions. Still, it paid to be careful when it came to those bastards.
  
  "You look like you have a stalker on your tail," a voice stated after a few minutes, taking him out of his thoughts.
  
  The boy halted in his tracks, facing a table with a woman sitting at it. Brushing the black hair out of the way of her face, the woman's eyes gazed at him in a way that sent him on edge.
  
  "There's no one following me... I think," he replied hesitantly with a dry throat.
  
  "No one's following you," she assured, gesturing for him to sit down. "What have you got for me, Dillon?"
  
  "Officer Trey is heading straight for that warehouse that burned down a couple of years ago," Dillon explained after taking a seat. "Considering how he was checking for anyone suspicious, he's probably making his move now. But there's one more thing: whatever he's doing involves coderoin."
  
  Her eyes narrowed. "Are you absolutely sure about that?"
  
  "I heard him use that word, Kyler," Dillon answered. "Could be referenced to something else, but it might not be."
  
  "We don't have any active stings involving that damn drug. Even if there were, it's not a chance I'm willing to take." Kyler stood up, nodding in approval. "Nice job, Dillon."
  
  A wave of pride washed over him as he grinned at her. "Thanks. Can I-?"
  
  "Go home and not get caught instead of coming to a dangerous location where you'll be put in more danger?" she interrupted with a smile. "Why, of course you can!"
  
  The grin was replaced by a frown, but she had him there. The downside to being a temporary snitch was that he couldn't watch the arrest take place. His mom already made the MPs their enemies thanks to her job, and he would make it worse. Which was a shame, because watching them get their comeuppance would've been quite satisfying. "Yes, ma'am."
  
  "That's Corporal to you," she corrected, ruffling his hair. "Now get out of here."
  
  He swatted her hand away, smoothing his hair out. It had taken him a while to get his hair in the right style, and he didn't want it ruined.
  
  As the chuckling woman headed down the street to hail a carriage, Dillon went in the opposite direction towards his home. Most of the time, he didn't have to worry about the Military Police causing him trouble, but his paranoia remained. Last thing he needed was to get arrested and face their wrath due to his actions today. That being said, he trusted Kyler to keep his identity anonymous and he was careful enough not to be seen.
  
  Those comforting thoughts helped him relax as he went down the street. It was a beautiful day outside anyways and it seemed the people around him were taking advantage of that. The marketplace was bustling with activity, people selling all kinds of expensive jewelry. Normally, Dillon would browse and see what his options were, but he wasn't in the mood. All he wanted to do was get home.
  
  After twenty minutes of walking, he came upon a two-story house with a sign in front that read: Amsdale's Forge. Technically, the forge itself was behind the building, but it was still a catchy name. A relieved smile appeared on his face as he drew closer. He couldn't wait to tell his father about what happened today.
  
  After letting a man who carried two, sheathed daggers out, Dillon entered the store. An assortment of weapons ranging from daggers of many types, to swords, and even a mace surrounded him on the walls, though some were put in glass displays for all to see. The weapons were locked down tight to prevent any thieves from getting ideas, and even if that happened, they wouldn't get far. The signatures engraved on them made it easier to track down the morons who thought stealing from here was a good idea.
  
  Dillon faced the only person currently in the store: a brown-haired man with a small, well-trimmed beard. His muscled frame was intimidating to most people, but the boy knew him well enough to feel less nervous around him.
  
  "Hey, Pops," he greeted with a smile.
  
  Matthew Amsdale was very pleased to see him as evident by the hug he gave him. "Hey, how'd it go?"
  
  "I busted a coderoin sale," Dillon bragged. "Well... technically, Kyler's doing it as we speak, but I still helped. A lot."
  
  His father gave him a look of suspicion. "Uh-huh. And how exactly did you uncover this fact?"
  
  He shrugged, being coy. "Well, you know how MPs let things slip from time to time."
  
  " Slipped from their minds, perhaps?" Matthew pressed without moving his mouth to talk.
  
  A smirk appeared on the boy's face as he responded in kind. "You know it."
  
  Matthew shook his head with amusement. "Just tell me there's no chance you got caught."
  
  "I checked for tails and made myself out to be a typical civilian reading the newspaper," he assured. "Don't worry. We're safe."
  
  He smiled, gripping his shoulder affectionately. "I'm proud of you son."
  
  "Thanks, Dad." Straightening out a few weapons, he asked, "Did we get any orders today?"
  
  "Believe it or not, we got an order from the Reiss family."
  
  Dillon froze, staring at him in shock. " They contracted us?"
  
  "That's right," he answered, handing him a piece of paper. "A custom-made short sword with the best metal we've got along with a full tang hilt, and ancient lettering that leads from the cross guard to about halfway up the sword."
  
  The boy let out a whistle. "Looks like we've got our hands full today. How much did they-?" If there was ever a moment that Dillon's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets, this was it when he saw the bottom of the paper. "F-Five hundred thousand!?"
  
  "And that was the price they suggested," Matthew added, shaking his head as he thought about that encounter. "I tried to get them to go down, but they wouldn't accept it. I don't think I need to tell you to be very careful with this one."
  
  "I will," Dillon promised, a grin appearing on his face. "Let's get to work."
  
  For hours, the blacksmiths began construction on the sword. They had to make sure this would be the best of the best. Trial and error was common in their business, but today, a lot more errors began appearing during the hammering process. Forging a basic sword shape should have been simple were it not for Dillon's anxiety. 500,000 was not a number to be brushed off lightly, especially when that number was connected to a Noble Family.
  
  "Dillon, don't be nervous," Matthew had urged after the fourth screw up. "I know you want to do a good job, so just do what you've always done."
  
  Once that pep talk had been given, they finally got the metal into the proper shape within twenty minutes.
  
  About time. Dillon thought as he wiped the sweat off his forehead. "So far, so good?"
  
  "You tell me, Dillon," Matthew replied, getting a wet towel to cool himself towel.
  
  The boy stared at the sword for a moment, analyzing how they hammered it so far. "Yeah, we did good."
  
  "I agree." He tossed him another damp towel. "Make sure you don't get another heat stroke."
  
  He rolled his eyes. "Dad, that only happened twice."
  
  "Dillon."
  
  Wisely, Dillon conceded. "Okay, okay."
  
  Suddenly, there a knock on the door. "Hello? Are there two, handsome men inside?"
  
  "Only if there's a beautiful woman that wants to see them," Matthew answered in a coy tone.
  
  Chuckling, the door opened to reveal Carolyn Amsdale in her typical brown ponytail, putting down her briefcase so she could hug her husband and kiss him. "Hello, dear."
  
  "Hello, sweetheart," he replied.
  
  "Hi, Mom," Dillon interrupted, embracing her once she was done with his father.
  
  After giving him a kiss on the cheek, she pulled back. "Well, you're becoming more like your father every day."
  
  Without his shirt, they could see muscles developing on the child's body very well. Naturally, his physique paled in comparison to his father's, but he would eventually get there. The scars and burns from their job were very apparent, some more recent than others. They were lessons that were learned the hard way.
  
  "Thanks, Mom." Then, he remembered the events from this morning. "Hey, did Kyler catch that corrupt officer?"
  
  "I'll tell you about it during dinner," she promised, giving them stern looks. "And after you shower."
  
  "After I read the guy's mind, I informed Kyler where he was going, and she sent me home," Dillon finished, taking another bite of the beef.
  
  "Good, because if she took you to the arrest, I would have strangled her on the spot." Father and son knew that she wasn't kidding.
  
  "... Well, I appreciate you letting me help her out," Dillon responded. "Felt going taking the bastard down."
  
  "Hey, none of that language during dinner," Matthew warned. "You know the rules."
  
  "Sorry."
  
  Carolyn heaved a sigh as she placed her utensils down for the moment. "Dillon, your father and I are proud of you for helping Kyler out, but you're not going to be doing that again."
  
  Dillon stopped eating, staring at her in shock. "What? But why?"
  
  "Dillon, it's too risky," Matthew explained. "Forget the fact that Kyler could have figured you out. If the Military Police found out you were the snitch, it would only fuel the fire." A worrying thought occurred to him as he glanced over to his wife. "She doesn't suspect anything, does she?"
  
  "When she questioned Trey, he denied ever saying where he was going. Fortunately, she played it off as him being a good liar. We're safe." Carolyn guaranteed.
  
  "But you let me help Kyler," Dillon protested. "I did a good job. Besides, if something happens, Zackley can-"
  
  "No." Matthew put his foot down, silencing all debate. "Darius is protecting us, but if we cross the line, that protection is gone. Drop the subject and eat your food. Now."
  
  The boy looked away, his scowl all too apparent, but his parents were right. Even if they weren't, he didn't have a choice in the matter. So, he did what he was told as continued to munch on the beef
  
  Carolyn decided to change the subject to ease the tension. "So... I hear you two are making a sword for the Reiss family."
  
  Not wanting to ruin dinner with a sour mood, Matthew followed his mother's lead. "Yeah, we are. It could be the biggest payday we ever get. Dillon managed to get the hilt molded into the right shape all by himself."
  
  Normally, Dillon would beam at the praise, especially from the tall order, but he couldn't stop thinking about what happened with Trey. For once, he was able to know the feeling his mother felt when she brought down a corrupt MP or noble after weeks of preparation and days of fighting in the courtroom. He did good, and he wanted to do more.
  
  Carolyn easily picked up what he was thinking despite not having mental abilities. "Keep training with your father, and if he thinks you're prepared... I'll ask Kyler if you can help her out again."
  
  Dillon's countenance brightened up considerably. Before he could gush out his thanks like a hose, there was a frantic banging on their door. Carefully, Matthew stood up approached the door, levitating a flintlock to his hand. Keeping it out of sight, he opened the door to see a young man carrying a stack of newspapers with a look of horror on his face.
  
  "Kid, what's wrong?" Matthew questioned before getting a response he never imagined would happen.
  
  "Wall Maria's been breached!" he shouted, throwing several papers at him before taking off. "The Titans have invaded!"
  
  Matthew froze, horrified by the news. The Titans were one of the biggest reasons he and his wife moved to Wall Sina. To learn of them breaking in was unthinkable. How could that be possible if they weren't strong enough to get through the Walls before?
  
  He stared down at the article, and the truth became clear. A Colossal Titan that was not only taller than any other Titan in existence but was taller than the Wall appeared and broke down Shiganshina's gate with a single kick. Shortly after that, an Armored Titan appeared that was immune to cannon fire and busted down the other gate, allowing the Titans to get in, roam Wall Maria's territory, and eat every human in sight.
  
  "Matthew..." Carolyn whispered, holding his hand tightly. It was clear she was afraid like he was.
  
  "They... they haven't gotten to Wall Rose yet," he said once he managed to find his voice.
  
  Worst yet was Dillon's reaction. He was petrified with fear, imagining that any second, those horrible monsters he was told about would bust in any second. He could see it now: giant, humanoid beings with frozen smiles on their faces. Eating every screaming human in sight, they're mouths becoming drenched with blood. All efforts to run would be in vain as they were surrounded. Nothing could save them from-
  
  "Dillon."
  
  The boy recoiled, falling backwards onto the couch behind him, though his head hit the wall before he landed.
  
  "Are you okay?" Carolyn asked, helping him up while checking the back of his head for injuries.
  
  "They're coming, aren't they?" he said, looking at them, feeling like he was about to panic. "Are we gonna die?"
  
  Shaking her head, his mother hugged him tightly. "It's going to be okay, Dillon. I promise."
  
  Matthew just stared into the distance, seeing the Wall that loomed above them. He wondered if it was even possible to keep that promise anymore.
  
  " It was the first time I truly understood the threat of the Titans, creatures that defined fear. They don't hesitate, they don't feel, and they don't reason. All they do is eat every human in sight. And now, there were two Titans that could break down the Walls. It took me a month to figure out that we weren't going to die any second, but that terror still remained. I was thankful to have never met a Titan then, but in my dreams? They were always waiting for me.
  
  " Humanity's suffering, however, would get worse. A year later, the refugees from Wall Maria piled into Wall Rose, trying to survive in a new environment. Tension was rising, food was getting scarce thanks to the famine that hit, and the districts were getting too populated for them to handle. So, the government made a decision to fix those problems, a decision that changed my life..."
  
  Once again, Dillon found himself staring at the newspaper article, feeling nothing but anger and sadness. All those people sent out to "reclaim Wall Maria" were nothing more than sacrifices to the Titans. The government gave that order, and Dillon hated them for it. They weren't protecting the people; they were protecting themselves like they always did. Monsters on both sides, and there was no escape.
  
  How he wished he could take the fight to the bastards in power. They didn't deserve it. All they did was step on the people they deemed were beneath them. Nothing would give Dillon more satisfaction than to vindicate all the victims, and end the government's corrupt ways once and for all. He had special powers, so why not use them to bring actual justice for a change? He scoffed at his childish dream. It could never be that simple. All he would get accomplished is a long and painful death, knowing that he would bring his parents down with him. He wasn't completely stupid. Still, it brought him no end of grief knowing that there was nothing he could do. Despite his power, he was trapped just like the rest of humanity.
  
  But it didn't have to be that way. There was still a chance for him to do some good. It was risky with a high chance of getting killed, but he would have a better chance than anyone else.
  
  Suddenly, a tapping at the door brought him out of thoughts. "Dillon? Can we come in?"
  
  Recognizing his mother's voice, he put the article aside. "Yeah."
  
  His parents entered his bedroom, carrying concerned expressions.
  
  "Dillon, it's been four days," Carolyn said. "Please don't shut us out. We want to help you."
  
  He found himself unable to talk as he stared down at the floor.
  
  Matthew sighed, deciding to take the blunt approach. "Dillon, your mother and I know you're upset, and we don't blame for it, but there's nothing you can do about it. What's done is done. You have to move on."
  
  Those statements sparked a fire within Dillon. "You're wrong."
  
  His father didn't expect that. "What?"
  
  "There is something I can do." Finding the strength within him, he locked eyes with them. "I'm going to enlist."
  
  His parents looked at each other for a moment. They had a sinking feeling that this was the direction he would be heading in, and it wasn't easier hearing him say it. There were three factions he would be allowed to join and one of them took the fight straight to the Titans.
  
  "Son, you need to think this over," Matthew urged. "Life as a soldier is drastically different from the life you're leading here. They will beat you to the ground."
  
  "It's a small price to pay," he countered. "Besides, you've been training me since I was eight. I know what that's like."
  
  "That's different, Dillon, and you know it."
  
  "If you want to help people, there are better ways than becoming a soldier," Carolyn pointed out quickly. "Organizations that help the people from Wall Maria. You could do them a good service."
  
  "That's not good enough, Mom!" he shot back.
  
  "Then how about the fact we don't want to lose our only son!?" she demanded as she struggled to contain her emotions. "You have a wonderful gift, Dillon, but one mistake and you will die! I can't lose you!"
  
  Her words impacted Dillon, his determination giving way to sorrow. "I... I didn't mean to hurt you. I don't want that. But..." He took a deep breath and began letting his frustration. "I can't pretend I didn't read the paper. I can't pretend I don't know what happened. I can't pretend that we're safe when those Titans are out there." He clenched his fist, anger expelling from his heart. "250,000 people are dead! Not just any people, but most of the Wall Maria refugees! Why did they have to be sacrificed!?"
  
  "What would you rather, Dillon?" Matthew questioned calmly, giving him a pointed look. "For the government to send people from the Interior to die? Would it have been better if we died? Or maybe the corrupt Military Police? Maybe they should've sent all of them to their deaths because they deserve it."
  
  Sufficiently cowed, Dillon tore her gaze away. "That's... that's not..."
  
  He sighed, kneeling to his level. "Son, there's not a single decision in the world that would've made things better for anyone. Mass starvation or mass sacrifice. We both know what happened was wrong, and we can only guess the motives of the people in charge of that order... but losing twenty percent of our population was the lesser of the two evils."
  
  "Your father's right," Carolyn added, getting her composure back. "Decisions aren't usual made with right and wrong in mind, especially in the military; they're made with what people deem to be logical and most important to them. It's called being pragmatic."
  
  "Pragmatic," he repeated, testing the word out as he thought about the concept. He hated that the world was like this, forcing people to become bad to achieve something good.
  
  "And those are the kinds of decisions that await you if you join the Scout Regiment after Training," Matthew finished.
  
  Doubt gnawed at him as Dillon's tone got quiet. "I don't want to become a bad person, Dad."
  
  Carolyn sat on the bed and wrapped her arm around his shoulder in an effort to comfort him. "Being pragmatic doesn't make you bad, Dillon. It hurts, but if you make a call like that, you're not evil. In the end, you just want to help as many people as you can. Does that sound like something a bad person would do?"
  
  He shook his head slowly. "No."
  
  "Then you won't be one. You have strong convictions, Dillon, and they're going to be tested, but your father and I believe in you. Even if you slip up, if you make mistakes, we'll never stop loving you. Do you trust us enough to do that?"
  
  Dillon looked at his parents and gave a sincere nod. "Yes."
  
  She kissed him on the forehead and embraced him, hoping that would help.
  
  Then, Matthew spoke after mulling the decision over, making the hardest call he had ever made. "Dillon, I want you to wait a year. Four days after what happened is too soon to make a life-altering decision. If you still want to enlist, if you're willing to go through everything training throws at you, and you'll follow through with your decisions... then your mother and I will support you."
  
  Carolyn was taken aback by that deal, and she gave her husband a look that promised a very long talk with him.
  
  Dillon, however, took it to heart as he nodded in return. "Deal."
  
  " The days seemed to go at a snail's pace just to make the wait even longer. I still did my job, I fulfilled my obligations, but my heart wasn't completely in those things like it once was. My resolve to join the military got stronger with every day. Once the year had finally passed, I didn't even have to say anything for them to know my mind was made up. I was going to enlist."
  
  Dillon gulped as he stared at the carriage that would take him away to Training. He had been waiting so long for this, and now that the path was before him, taking the first step was much harder than he thought it would be. He looked back at her parents, who waited for him to depart. His mom was trying to keep it together and his father, despite him calm exterior, couldn't hide the sadness in his eyes.
  
  Heaving a sigh, the teenager walked away from the carriage and gave his parents one last hug. "I'll come back," he promised. "Whatever happens out there, I'll come back."
  
  "Don't forget to write," Carolyn urged, sniffing. "I want to make sure you're doing okay."
  
  "Yes, ma'am." He looked at his dad. "I'll put our training to good use."
  
  "I know you will," Matthew replied. "We love you so much."
  
  "I love you, too."
  
  With every ounce of effort, Dillon backed out of the hug. He ignored the voice in his mind telling him not to go, to stay with his family, but he refused to listen. It was time to go. He stepped inside the carriage, taking a seat as he stared at his parents. He gave one final wave which they returned as the driver pulled on the reins. He was on his way at last.
  
  "All right, kid, this is your stop," the driver announced, bringing the carriage to a halt. "Not too late to turn back now."
  
  "You seem a bit adamant in taking me back home," Dillon noted with a raised eyebrow.
  
  "You're leaving the safety of your home to put your ass on the line against creatures that'll eat you without a second thought," the driver pointed out. "Forgive me if I'm a little concerned."
  
  "I appreciate the concern, sir, but my mind's made up," he said, putting on his pack of necessary items. "We can't fight Titans if there's no one to fight them."
  
  "Whatever you say, you idealistic brat..." the driver muttered. "Good luck out there."
  
  "Thank you."
  
  Once he stepped outside, Dillon gazed at his home for the next few years. So different from Yarckel. Instead of buildings clustered together, it was a large section of rocky terrain all around him with only a few buildings. He had never seen anything like it. For a moment, he wondered how humanity created this before realizing this was just the natural Earth his people had adopted. His regrets upon leaving home were fading.
  
  One step took him further from his house. The second step took him further from his parents. The third step took him away from his former life. The fourth took him towards a new one.
  
  Remastered Edits: Everything. The expositional journal entry? One of my biggest blunders that I needed to fix. By the end of all this, I might just make a Top 10 Biggest Blunders list.
  
  5/3/2020: Fixed some grammar mistakes, and replaced some repeated words. Thank God for a thesaurus. Changed a little bit of the dinner dialogue towards the end to keep things focused on Dillon's drive to fight the MPs.
  
  Feel free to leave your thoughts on this chapter and I look forward to seeing you all in the next one.
  
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  Sina Brat
  Chapter 2: Sina Brat
  
  "Keith Shadis. I'll never be able to forget that bald-headed, yellow-eyed, loud-mouthed bastard. He was one of the few people I have ever met that I respected and despised. It came with the territory since he was our drill instructor. There were days I wanted to break his jaw so I wouldn't have to hear his damn voice yelling in my ear, but self-control was one of the many tests I had to pass. He might've been an asshole, but he was one of the key people in my life that shaped me into who I am today. I owe him that much."
  
  "Straighten those spines, piss-ants!" the drill instructor shouted. "The 104th Cadet Corps Boot Camp starts now. Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Commandant Keith Shadis and you will grow to hate me. Training is gonna be a white-knuckle run through Hell. If I've done my job, you'll be waking up in a cold sweat from memories of this place every single night for the rest of your miserable lives. Right now, you're nothing. Livestock! But over the next three soul-crushing years, you'll learn to take down your own goliath. Remember this moment when you come face to face with him, 'cause here's where you ask yourself: am I a fighter, or am I feed? Am I gonna be ground up to human, pulpy crisp between boulder-sized incisors, or am I gonna be the one to bite?"
  
  Dillon had to hand it to him; Shadis knew how to simultaneously make them feel terrified of their future and pumped up for it. In his case, the blacksmith could only hope he was strong enough when the time came to kill the Titans. Otherwise... best not to think of the alternative.
  
  "Hey, Mop Top!" Shadis exclaimed, looking directly at a blond-haired, blue-eyed boy that Dillon thought was a girl at first.
  
  "Sir!" he replied, saluting.
  
  "What do they call you, maggot?"
  
  "Armin Arlert from Shiganshina, sir," he answered.
  
  "Seriously?" Shadis asked, feigning wonder. "Why would your parents curse you with that ridiculous name?"
  
  "It was my grandfather, sir."
  
  The drill instructor leaned in, not granting the boy personal space. "Cadet Arlert, why is a runt like you here?"
  
  Armin's voice started cracking, terrified, and even closed his eyes. "To help humanity defeat the Titans!"
  
  "That is delightful to hear," Shadis replied, not at all delighted. "You're gonna be a great light snack for them." Grabbing Armin by the head, he forcefully turned him around. "Row 3, about face, runt."
  
  He moved on to the next victim-uh, cadet, who had short blond hair and brown eyes. "What do you call yourself?"
  
  "Sir, my name is Thomas Wagner. I'm from the Trost District."
  
  "I can't hear you!" At the volume the man was speaking, it was unlikely the nearby cadets would hear ever again.
  
  "I'm from Trost, sir!" he repeated, louder. "I want to-"
  
  "Nobody here gives a damn. Next!" Shadis interrupted, quickly moving on to another cadet, this one being a black-haired, gray-eyed girl. "You!"
  
  "Sir, Mina Carolina from Karanes," she quickly introduced.
  
  "Is a pathetic worm like you the best Karanes has to offer!?" he roared.
  
  Like Armin, she, too, closed her eyes in fear. "Sir, I'm afraid that's the case, sir."
  
  "Tell your district they can burn in Hell for sending you here," the drill instructor ordered.
  
  "Yes, sir," Mina replied.
  
  "You."
  
  Crap, he noticed me. Dillon realized as the yellow-eyed terror approached him.
  
  "Who the hell are you?" Shadis demanded.
  
  Saluting, he responded, "Dillon Amsdale from Yarckel, sir."
  
  "Yarckel? Step forward, Amsdale!"
  
  He followed orders without hesitation, though he had a sinking feeling regarding the man's intentions.
  
  "Take a good look, maggots," Shadis said in a patronizing tone. "A Sina brat has decided to grace us with his presence today. You should all feel honored. Tell me, Sina Brat, how many times a day do you ask your servants to bend over and lick your shoes?"
  
  "I never had servants, sir," Dillon assured, starting to really hate this guy.
  
  He leaned into his face, spit flying out of his mouth as he spoke. "Are you suggesting that I am wrong, pretty boy?"
  
  "Yes, sir!" It was automatic, a slip of the tongue at the absolute worst moment. No one envied being in his shoes. Well, he's gonna kill me now.
  
  Shadis's glare made his soul want to flee his body. "Then bend over lick my shoes, Sina Brat!"
  
  "Yes, sir!"
  
  Dillon got down on his knees and lowered his face to his shoe, hoping that all he would taste was dirt and whatever the shoe was made of. Instead, Shadis kicked his foot right into his face, sending him backwards. He landed on his back with blood pouring from his now-broken and bent-upwards nose, crying out in pain.
  
  "Keep your filthy tongue away from me," Shadis demanded. "On your feet!"
  
  Despite seeing spots, Dillon did as he said, covering his bleeding nose with his hands in an attempt to stop said bleeding.
  
  "Remove your hands, Sina Brat."
  
  Reluctantly, Dillon uncovered his nose, presenting the first of what would be many injuries he would receive while he was here. With the gentleness of a hammer to the face, Shadis gripped his nose and set it back straight. Dillon couldn't help but yell in response again, but at least that solved one problem with his nose. Now he just had to get it looked at by an actual doctor.
  
  "Get back in line. Row 4, about face!"
  
  Or he could continue bleeding and let the wound simmer. That worked too. At least he could still breathe, though the spots continued to cloud his vision.
  
  Once Row 4 turned around, Shadis came face to face with a brown-haired male with equally brown eyes. "What do we have here?"
  
  "Jean Kirstein, sir, from the Trost District," he said, saluting.
  
  "And why are you here, Cadet?"
  
  Relaxing a bit, he answered, "To join the Military Police, sir, the best of the best."
  
  Dillon visibly winced at that remark. If "the best of the best" was anything like the officers he had encountered in the past, this Jean guy would end up becoming his mother's target in a few years.
  
  Shadis took this in stride. "That's nice. You wanna live in the Interior, do you?"
  
  "Yes." Immediately, Jean was head-butted by him, crumbling to the ground and holding his head.
  
  "No one told you to sit, recruit!" Shadis shouted. "If you can't handle this, Kirstein, then forget about joining the Military Police!"
  
  At least he didn't break your nose, Dillon thought to himself as Shadis moved on.
  
  "What the hell is wrong with your face, you smiling idiot?" Shadis questioned a black-haired male with freckles.
  
  "Marco Bodt, at your service, sir, from Jinae, south side of Wall Rose," he replied in one breath. "I am to join the Military Police and give life and limb in service to the king."
  
  Shadis knew just how to respond to that statement, lowering the volume of his voice into a creepy whisper. "Well then, that makes you an idealistic fool... and a rube. You want the truth?" Marco gulped uncomfortably when Shadis leaned in with a deadly stare. "The only use the king has for your life and limbs are as Titan fodder."
  
  Couldn't have said it better myself, Dillon thought grimly.
  
  With the cadet frozen in a state of shock, the drill instructor moved on to a bald-headed male that was one of the shortest people in the Corps. "Hey, Cue Ball, you're up next."
  
  "Uh, me?" Quickly composing himself, he saluted... on the wrong side of his chest. "Sir, Connie Springer from Ragako Village, sir."
  
  Enraged, Shadis grabbed the boy by the head and lifted him off the ground, pressing his fingers into his skull. "You have it backwards, Connie Springer. That was the first thing you were taught. This salute represents the resolve in your heart to fight those bent on the systematic destruction of our people. Is your heart on your right side!?"
  
  CRUNCH!
  
  It was like the entire world just froze for two seconds. Standing nearby, as if nothing important was happening, was a girl with reddish brown hair eating a potato... in the middle of formation.
  
  Completely flabbergasted, the drill instructor dropped Connie, who was on the verge of passing out. "Hey, you there. What do you think you're doing?"
  
  The girl did not give any indication that she heard him and took another bite out of the potato.
  
  Shadis took it well. "YOU ARE OFFICIALLY ON MY SHIT LIST! JUST WHO THE HELL ARE YOU!?"
  
  Mortified, the girl quickly swallowed her bite and saluted, potato still in hand. "Sasha Braus from Dauper Village at your service! Reporting for duty, sir!"
  
  "Sasha Braus, huh?" he repeated, glaring down at her. "What is that you're clutching in your right hand?"
  
  "A steamed potato," she answered. "It sat there in the mess hall begging to be eaten, sir."
  
  For the first time today, the drill instructor seemed like he was trying to restrain himself. "The theft I understand, but here? Why eat it here of all places?"
  
  Sasha wasn't taking the hint. "It looked quite delicious, and it was getting cold, so I gave it shelter in my stomach, sir."
  
  His voice dropped so low that the other recruits had to strain their ears to hear him. "Why? I can't comprehend. Why would you eat that potato?"
  
  Now, she was confused. "Are you... asking me why people eat potatoes. I'm surprised you don't know, sir."
  
  The temperature seemed to drop 50 degrees as the cadets stared at her in utter horror. Was she trying to get herself murdered on the first day? Surprisingly, Shadis didn't immediately rip her to shreds and just stood there, silent. Some of them wondered if he was contemplating how he was going to kill her and get away with it. Others thought the girl managed to break his mind with her words.
  
  Sasha was getting uncomfortable by the sudden silence and tried to rectify things. She broke the potato in half, though one was bigger than the other, and held out the smaller half to him. "Here, sir. Have half."
  
  Slowly, Shadis took the piece as if it was the nicest thing someone had ever done for him. "Have half? Really?"
  
  The girl smiled as if she did a great deed, and that was the last straw.
  
  Roughly, Shadis grabbed her by collar, making her drop the rest of the potato in surprise. After tossing his half of it aside, he spoke in the deadliest whisper he could manage. "Listen to me very carefully, you little bitch. The minute I drop you, you will start running around the base and you will not stop until you pass out." His voice started to escalate quickly. "For the next five days, your meal privileges will only consist of one meal, and if you ever eat in formation again..." He picked up the big half of the potato and crushed it right in front of her eyes. "That will be your skull! Do I make myself clear, Maggot!?"
  
  "Y-Yes, sir," Sasha stuttered, properly terrified.
  
  "Get moving!" he ordered, dropping her.
  
  Once she was running as if Titans were coming after her, Shadis had one more loose end to tie up. "Sina Brat!"
  
  "Yes, sir!" Dillon replied, flinching.
  
  "Fall out to the infirmary," he commanded.
  
  "Thank you, sir." Oh, so he does care about my well-being.
  
  "The rest of you, on the ground! Push-ups!"
  
  Dillon could not believe how lucky he was. The fracture was in just the right spot so that it wouldn't cause him to stop breathing. For a cadet to die on the first day would be embarrassing, to say the least. It took a while for the bleeding to stop and the swelling to go down a bit, but the doctor was finally able to patch up Dillon's nose. Unfortunately, it was going to leave him with a feeling of lightheadedness and a stopped-up nose for a while.
  
  "So, how do you feel, Cadet?" the doctor questioned once the bandages were applied.
  
  "Like I got hit in the face with a stone," Dillon answered in a very nasally voice.
  
  He shook his head, bemused. "Well, you're not the first person Shadis has sent to the infirmary, and you won't be the last."
  
  "If his prejudice is anything to go by, I might win the record for how many times he sends me here," Dillon mumbled resentfully.
  
  The doctor just stared at him. "You really think he did it because he's out for your blood?"
  
  "I followed his orders, and he kicked me in the face."
  
  "I think you're taking this a little too personally."
  
  Dillon raised an eyebrow in disbelief. "Shadis almost sent me away in a casket and you think I have the problem?"
  
  "He knew what he was doing," the doctor told him. "The fracture was in just the right spot. You weren't in any danger of dying, though perhaps I could've worded my diagnosis differently." He sighed. "Cadet, I'm going to level with you: we don't get many people from Wall Sina here. You're one of the rare ones."
  
  "I know. People my age are either working, rich brats, or whatever the hell people my age do," Dillon said. "Hell if I know, and I really don't care."
  
  "Well, let me put things in perspective. Half of these cadets are from Wall Rose, and the other half came from Wall Maria. What do you think their initial reaction will be to a guy from the Interior?"
  
  Dillon paused as he thought it over. He never gave any consideration how his status would make him stand out in the eyes of his comrades. "So, Shadis had me go through all that for my benefit?"
  
  The doctor shrugged slightly. "Possibly. If you acted like a spoiled kid, you'd probably be in here with a cracked skull."
  
  Dillon grimaced at the thought. "Terrific."
  
  "Just follow orders and don't act like an actual Sina Brat and you'll be fine. The ones who can't take a hint get washed out fast, so don't give Shadis more reason to beat you until his hand is soaked with your blood."
  
  Wide, brown eyes met the doctor's. "What the hell kind of doctor are you?"
  
  "The kind who's keeping you from doing anything draining for a while like say... doing drills?" He threw him a smirk.
  
  "Well, in that case, keep talking."
  
  He chuckled. "Sorry, Cadet, but I've kept you long enough. The dizziness and the lightheadedness should have receded by now. Try not to strain yourself too badly and don't purposefully strain yourself to get out of drills. If you do, I've got some body bags that need filling."
  
  Suddenly, Dillon valued his health more than anything in the world.
  
  True to his word, Shadis put the recruits through rigorous training. 50 push-ups here, 50 crunches there, and jumping jacks that never seem to end. Anytime someone collapsed or was too slow, the gentle tones of the drill instructor were enough to get them back to exercising. Naturally, one of those exercises included running laps around the base ten times. Poor Sasha had to dodge the recruits when they caught up with her every single time. Halfway through, Dillon returned and ran the rest of the laps and exercises with them. He stumbled a bit due to his injuries, but he continued to press on. To his surprise, he wasn't called out on it. A few hours later, the sun was finally setting. The cadets, exhausted and beat, were dismissed at last. Shadis, briefly, summoned Dillon to his office for the medical report. Stiff as a board, he relayed the information to the commandant and was told to pace himself before getting dismissed. Closest to an apology he was going to get.
  
  Once he was free, the first stop Dillon wanted to make was to the mess hall. He was starving beyond belief. Hopefully, the other cadets didn't eat all the food before he got there. Once he located the building, he spotted the familiar faces of Connie, Marco, Mina, and Armin standing outside, relaxing from today's activities. The one person he didn't recognize was a green-eyed boy, who seemed to find the sunset very captivating.
  
  "Well, looks who's here," Connie greeted with a grin. "The Sina Brat himself."
  
  Dillon could tell the boy meant it in jest... he hoped, and said, "Just call me Dillon."
  
  Connie couldn't help but snicker at how bad Dillon's voice sounded.
  
  "I didn't expect for you to get hurt like that today," Mina mentioned, glowering at Connie for his insensitivity.
  
  Dillon shrugged. "Well, he wanted to break me down and started with my nose. It was just bad luck for him I had to get it patched up before it got worse." He decided to introduce himself to the one person he didn't know, holding out his hand. "Dillon Amsdale. You?"
  
  "Eren Yeager," he answered cautiously, shaking his hand.
  
  "So, what's it like living in the Interior?" Armin asked.
  
  "Lots of noise," he replied. "I worked as a blacksmith in Yarckel with my dad. Hammering here, fires there, had to get used to the environment quickly. If I couldn't concentrate on what I was doing, I got hurt."
  
  "Sounds dangerous," Marco observed.
  
  Dillon nodded. "It always is even when you know what you're doing." He spotted Sasha continuing to run and changed the subject. "So, Potato Girl's still running?"
  
  "I thought Shadis was going to kill her," Connie commented.
  
  "I know," Eren added. "One hell of a first day." He chuckled. "It's funny. Being told to run until she passed out didn't seem to bother her nearly as much as being told her meals were being dropped to one per day for the next five."
  
  Dillon instinctively snorted and his nose flared up like someone lit a fire within. "Shit!" he exclaimed, clutching it.
  
  "Dillon, what's wrong?" Mina moved next to him in case he needed help.
  
  "Stupid nose. I'm fine," Dillon groaned, frustrated. He could only hope Shadis would have a terrible accident before the three years were up.
  
  Mina and the other cadets weren't convinced, but they didn't press the issue.
  
  The only one who didn't seem concerned was Eren, who simply rolled his eyes at his antics. However, he spotted something in the distance. "Hey, what's that?"
  
  The group looked where he was pointing at and saw a horse dragging a cart of trainees away from the compound.
  
  "They're dropouts," Mina explained sadly. "They prefer to work in the fields."
  
  Marco was confused. "But... it's only the first day."
  
  Dillon could understand why they left. "Not everyone can be a soldier. Shadis put us through one hell of a workout today."
  
  Eren stared at the dropouts with disgust. "I can't believe anyone would rather pull plants than fight."
  
  The blacksmith turned to him with annoyance. "Those plant pullers help feed people, Eren. They may not be in the front lines, but they are doing a good service to humanity."
  
  The green-eyed boy glared back at him. "And I bet you've enjoyed a good meal in the Interior because of them, haven't you, Dillon?"
  
  Like the doctor predicted, this was happening. Most of these trainees were orphans due to the Titans or some other tragedy. They'd experienced homelessness, starvation, and wondering how they were going to make it to the next day. He, on the other hand, had a secure roof over his head, a job that paid well, delicious meals, and a family that loved him. He could sympathize with these kids, but unless he experienced half of what they did, he could never fully understand it. Whether he liked it or not, Dillon was going to earn the ire of some of these cadets just for being here.
  
  That being said, Eren's statement was still stupid beyond belief. Fortunately, someone else called him out on it before he did.
  
  "His point still stands, Eren," Mina pointed out. "Maybe they aren't killing Titans, but they are still going to be providing a valuable service."
  
  Eren didn't look convinced, but to his credit, he chose not to say anything in response.
  
  Marco decided to intervene before things escalated. "I know about some of us, but you never mentioned where you were from, Eren."
  
  "The same as Armin," he answered, putting on hand on the blond boy's shoulder. "From Shiganshina."
  
  Dillon's eyes widened in horror. "Shiganshina? That means-."
  
  "You were there that day," Connie finished, less shocked and more... excited.
  
  "Quiet!" Marco warned, realizing what he was about to say.
  
  Connie didn't heed his advice. "The Colossal One. Did you see him?"
  
  Eren didn't look insulted by his lack of tact, but his voice grew darker as memories surfaced from that day. "Yeah. Yeah, I did."
  
  Before anyone could stop him, Connie ran inside the mess hall, dragging Eren along for the ride, and announced, "Hey, guys! This is Eren. He was in Shiganshina that day. He saw the Colossal Titan!"
  
  Like vultures swooping in on a carcass, a crowd of cadets gathered around Eren, asking him over and over again if what Connie said was true, if he really was there when Wall Maria fell. At least they gave Dillon space so he could get his food. Some sort of messy soup and bread. Even though his nose was still healing, he could get a whiff of the meal that sat before him. Bread was definitely overcooked, and the soup was just mush with liquid flavor. Reminded him of the first time he tried cooking.
  
  Once he filled up his tray, Dillon scouted around for a place to sit. He noticed an empty spot next to that Jean guy from earlier (the bruise on his forehead was a dead giveaway), and asked, "Mind if I sit here?"
  
  "Go ahead," he answered, making a little room for him.
  
  "Jean, right?"
  
  He confirmed it with a nod and shook his hand. "And you're Dillon. Good to meet you. How's your nose?"
  
  Dillon brushed his fingers against it, sensitive to the touch. "Still swollen and a little fractured, but it'll heal. Shadis really had it out for me today."
  
  "I guess I should be thankful I only got bruised," Jean commented, indicating his own present from their drill instructor.
  
  Dillon raised his mug of water. "Here's to our first of many battle wounds."
  
  Chuckling, Jean toasted him, downing whatever was left in the mug. "So, you said you're from Yarckel, huh?"
  
  "Uh-huh," he confirmed, knowing what was on his mind. "Don't bother asking me if I have connections to the Military Police, Jean. My family and the Police are not on good terms."
  
  That piqued his interest. "What happened?"
  
  "My mother is the reason several corrupt officers are rotting in jail," he explained, eating some of the soup he got. His face contorted with disgust. "Ugh! What the hell is crap?"
  
  "Apparently, it's supposed to be food," Jean snarked, shuddering from the taste. "Blech! My mother can cook better than this."
  
  Dillon would've attempted to use the slop as an allegory for what the MPs were like, but a certain someone's voice caught his attention.
  
  "Yeah, okay? I saw the big guy," Eren confirmed, sounding exasperated.
  
  "Whoa, seriously?" Thomas asked as if he hadn't said it the first two times.
  
  One guy, Samuel, wanted details. "Okay, exactly how tall was he?"
  
  "He stuck his head over the outer wall," he explained.
  
  The comments started flying.
  
  "Whoa, wait! I heard he stepped over the wall completely."
  
  "So did I."
  
  "That was the rumor in my village too."
  
  If that happened, we'd be dead, Dillon thought to himself.
  
  "He was big, but not that big," Eren corrected.
  
  "So what did it look like?" Mina dared to ask.
  
  "It had a mouth like a corpse," he described. "And no skin. Just muscles."
  
  "And the Armored Titan?" another cadet questioned. "The one that broke through Wall Maria?"
  
  Eren didn't seem impressed. "Is that what they're calling it? In all the panic, it was just another Titan to me."
  
  Samuel was flabbergasted like everyone else. "No way. So, what were they like?"
  
  Eren stopped eating, gasping as the memories of that horrible day hit him. Dropping, his spoon, he put his hand over his mouth, sounding like he was about to vomit. Dillon looked around for a bucket, or something like that in case the poor kid needed to let it out.
  
  Marco finally had the decency to put an end to it. "Come on. That's enough questions, all right? I'm sure he'd rather not relive everything he went through."
  
  A voice of reason at last, Dillon thought, relieved.
  
  "We're sorry," Connie apologized, feeling ashamed for putting Eren through all that just to satisfy his own curiosity. "We didn't mean to-"
  
  "It's not like that," Eren assured, composing himself and taking a bite of bread. "Those stupid Titans. They're really not that big a deal."
  
  Congratulations, Eren, Dillon thought, clenching his fists. It took all of his self-control not to tear him a new one. Not only did you just spit in the face of everyone who's been killed by those monsters, but you also just made number 2 on the "people I really don't like" list.
  
  Eren wasn't done. "If we focus on mastering the Omni Dimensional Maneuver Gear they give us, then it's Titan payback time. I've waited years to be trained as a soldier. All of a sudden, the reality's sinking in. I'm joining the Scout Regiment, then I'll send the Titans back to Hell. I'm gonna butcher them all."
  
  Eren's demeanor had completely changed from a monotone voice to a bit unhinged. Dillon couldn't blame him, given all the hell he went through that day, but it was a little unnerving.
  
  "Hey, are you crazy or something?"
  
  The attention was on Jean now, who was smirking at Eren's tirade. "Not that it's my business but signing up for Reconnaissance is like a death sentence."
  
  Eren eyed him carefully. "I guess we'll see. Or, at least, I will. You seem content hiding in the Interior with the MPs."
  
  Dillon couldn't help but respond to that. "And you seem content to insult anybody who chooses to be an MP."
  
  The green-eyed boy scoffed at him. "Being part of the Military Police is a nice way of saying, 'you get a chance to hide and be safe while everyone else gets to die.'"
  
  "Not everyone has the guts to throw their lives into certain-death territory," he reminded Eren, getting really sick of his attitude. "You have to deal with the fact that some people just want to survive."
  
  "The only way we survive is if we beat the Titans!" Eren exclaimed angrily. "Why can't you people see it?" He glared at him. "Then again, why should I expect someone from the Interior to understand what we've been through?"
  
  Dillon sighed, standing up. Quickly, Eren got to his feet, prepared to fight if he needed to despite Dillon having a couple of inches above him. A hush fell over the mess hall, the cadets watching the scene unfold. Out of the corner of his eye, the blacksmith noticed a black-haired, Asian girl giving him a look that said, "touch him and I will kill you." Dillon, however, refused to stoop that low and asked a simple question. "Eren, why do you think I'm here?"
  
  That question caught him off-guard. "Uh..."
  
  "Let me elaborate. I had a home in the Yarckel District. I had a roof over head, a loving family, warm meals, you name it, I probably had it. So why would I leave a life of luxury and choose to suffer for the next three years?"
  
  Before Eren could attempt to answer, the bell rang, signaling the time for them all to disperse to their barracks.
  
  "You've got three years to come up with an answer," Dillon said, "but I think you're smart enough to figure it out sooner."
  
  Finishing up his food, the blacksmith made his way to the barracks. He was more tired than he thought and wanted nothing more than to get some sleep. It was going to be a long three years.
  
  Remastered Edits: Shadis explaining Dillon his motivations was another blunder on my part. I don't think drill instructors, much less Shadis, would take time out of their day to do that. Having a doctor with a slightly sick sense of humor seemed a bit more logical and added some humor to the mix.
  
  So, yeah. That's it. Enjoy refreshing your memory on this moment.
  
  5/18/20: Minor adjustments to some dialogue so it wouldn't seem redundant or out of place. Added some touches concerning Dillon's injury and the food as well.
  
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  The Girl with Cold Eyes
  Chapter 3: The Girl with Cold Eyes
  
  "Joining the Cadet Corps meant radically altering your life permanently. Whether you ended up in the Interior as an MP, roaming Titan-invested lands with the Scouts, or learning the delicate art of gardening in the fields, nothing would ever be the same again. Most veterans would tell you it was the first day in which their lives were changed forever. Not me. It was the day after..."
  
  (The next day)
  
  When Dillon awoke the next morning, he was faced with two things he didn't see coming. The first were the unpleasant existence of group showers. Privacy was going to be a thing of the past every time he stepped in there naked with everyone else. To say that he was a little uncomfortable with the situation would be like saying the Titans were a bit annoying. Unfortunately, he would have to suck it up and deal with it lest he incur the wrath of Shadis. Silver lining? These weren't coed showers.
  
  The other thing that took him off guard was the immediate ODM gear test after breakfast. His commanding officer left that part out when they spoke the day before. Apparently, part 1 to getting into the Training Academy was dealing with Shadis for the first day. Part 2 was seeing if the cadets could handle using stationary gear at a moment's notice. This was crucial, as Shadis eloquently put it.
  
  "It's aptitude test time, so listen up! There is no place for you here if you cannot perform. Fail, and you'll be shipped to the fields."
  
  Judging by half of the cadets' faces, it was clear they were extremely nervous, and they weren't the only ones. Dillon may have helped craft some of the swords they use for the ODM gear, but he never used the gear in his life. There was no reason to... until now.
  
  You know, in retrospect, maybe I should've trained myself to use equipment to fight Titans before entering a military academy training people to fight Titans.
  
  Since there were only four harnesses to practice on, everyone divided themselves into five random groups. Dillon decided to wait it out and watch others do it to get an idea of how to do it himself. Hopefully, Shadis would not force him up there before he was ready, especially after the broken nose incident. At least Dillon was able to be bandage-free today. Until then, he wouldn't be idle. Now was the time to learn about his comrades.
  
  He realized he was standing next to the two tallest people in the Cadet Corps. One of them was short-haired blonde with gold eyes, and the other guy had slightly longer black hair and brown eyes. The second had a couple of inches on the first guy. Time to start earning some respect.
  
  "Um, hi," Dillon greeted a little nervously. "I'm Dillon Amsdale. I don't think we've met."
  
  Blondie looked at him and held out his hand. "Reiner Braun. This is Bertholdt Hoover."
  
  He shook both of their hands, noticing how strong their grips were if his wincing was any indication. "Nice to meet you."
  
  Reiner couldn't help but chuckle a bit. "I get that reaction a lot. Don't feel too bad."
  
  "Okay..."
  
  And just like that, the three fell into an awkward silence.
  
  Come on, you idiot. Think of something! Dillon silently perused through thousands of things to talk about. Uh... "Man, you must have been lifting houses when you an infant." Even for me, that's stupid. The guy probably heard that joke all his life. "Isn't Shadis a jackass?" The guy's right there! Do you want to get shot!? "That ODM gear is something, isn't it?" he finally settled on.
  
  "Oh, yeah," Reiner agreed with a nod.
  
  Yet again, the air between them was filled with the sound of silence. Clearly, that had been the wrong choice of conversation.
  
  "So... you're the guy from Sina."
  
  Dillon was nearly taken aback by Bertholdt's voice. For a guy taller than everyone in the Cadet Corps, he spoke so timidly. Clearing his throat, he responded, "Yeah. Born in raised in Yarckel."
  
  "That's cool, I guess."
  
  "Yeah..." Dillon couldn't believe this was happening. Yesterday, he was connecting with Jean and verbally sparring with Eren. Why was he so bad at small talk? "You know, I actually helped my dad make weapons."
  
  Reiner raised in eyebrow in surprise before smirking. "You're a blacksmith, huh? Not bad, kid. That explains why you had a firmer grip than most people I've shaken hands with."
  
  "Good to know," he replied. "So, where are you guys from?"
  
  "Sina Brat!"
  
  Before Dillon could even utter a breath, a strong hand clamped down on his shoulder and whirled him around.
  
  "Does this look like a recreational area to you? Is this test boring you!?" Shadis yelled, spit flying at the blacksmith's face.
  
  "No, sir!" he answered, his voice jumping an octave.
  
  "Get up on that rig, maggot!"
  
  Screw you, Shadis. "Yes, sir!"
  
  With a salute, Dillon sped-walked to the harness as another instructor strapped him in. The belts were as tight as they could be around his waist and legs to ensure security. That was a sensation he'd have to get used to. As least he didn't have to go soaring through trees just yet.
  
  "Lift," Shadis ordered.
  
  As the harness began to rise, Dillon took several deep breaths to remain calm. Panicking would earn him a meeting with the ground and a sentence to the fields. That being said, how the hell was he supposed to work this thing?
  
  I had to have read about ODM gear at one point. He thought to himself as he felt himself slowly being raised. Please tell me I did!
  
  His eyes glowed slightly before his feet left the ground.
  
  He was standing in a corridor surrounded by sections of boxes. Each section had signs helpfully labeling what he was looking for. The sections with the most boxes covered things like "Family" and "Training with Dad," but one that he could hear was getting bigger was the "Military" section. Quickly, he ran over to the area, checking every single label for the one called "Glossed Over." It wouldn't have all the information, but it should have words that popped out to him that he saw in a book somewhere.
  
  After a few minutes, he found it, ripping the box open. Best thing about the mind was that it could clean up his messes. Inside were very few folders that were blank, so he checked them all. On the second one, he found what he was looking for: one word. Balance! It didn't say how to achieve it. Just... balance!
  
  His relieved grin faded when he felt the world slowly start tilting. He was falling in the real world.
  
  "Oh, crap," he swore, quickly getting out of this place.
  
  When he came to, Dillon's eyes widened as he realized in one second, he would hit the ground. With a grunt, he righted himself back up. It took a little wobbling, but he managed to stay up the air as calm as he could be. Slowly, he moved his arms, transferring weight to other parts of his body to acclimate to the changes. If he was going to be swinging swords, now was a good time to experiment.
  
  "Congratulations, Amsdale," Shadis said. "It seems you are capable."
  
  "Thank you, sir," Dillon replied, relieved that he passed.
  
  After about ten more seconds of hanging around, the harness lowered back to the ground. Once the belts were undone, Dillon shook off the soreness he felt, stumbling a bit. It was constricting, but necessary.
  
  As Bertholdt went up next and Shadis went off to yell at someone else, Reiner clasped his shoulder, making the teen flinch. "Nice recovery, Dillon. Thought you were gonna crash for a second."
  
  "Same here," he agreed, wiping sweat from his forehead. "Good to know that this 'Sina Brat' is capable of being a soldier."
  
  "I don't care where you're from, and no one else should, either," he said seriously. "Status means nothing in this place."
  
  Dillon shook his hand gratefully. "Appreciate it, Reiner. I look forward to getting to know you."
  
  "Likewise," Reiner responded.
  
  Now please stop trying to break every bone in my hand.
  
  Curiously, they watched to see how the others were doing. Jean was a little wobbly, like he was earlier, but he managed to stay up. Sasha looked like she pulled a muscle, and yet she still remained upright. And then there was Mikasa, the black-haired Asian girl that looked like she was planning to kill Dillon last night. It wasn't the fact that she was doing the test perfectly, no wobbling or anything that could resemble a mistake, but her face was completely emotionless. Hell, she looked bored. If he didn't see her get angry at him last night, Dillon would think she was incapable of feeling anything.
  
  "Got your eyes on a girl already?" Reiner teased, noticing how long he was staring at her.
  
  "Not for the reasons you'd think," Dillon answered.
  
  There was a yelp, catching his attention to the last harness. Poor Eren was hanging upside down with his eyes widened in horror. To make matters worse, he was getting laughed at by his peers. What were they, in grade school or something?
  
  Shadis, as usual, wasn't helping matters. "What is your major malfunction, Yeager? Straighten yourself up!"
  
  Dillon sighed at the spectacle. As much as he disliked Eren, he didn't want to see him suffer, so he turned around.
  
  (Later that day)
  
  Combat training. Finally!
  
  This was something Dillon had been looking forward to since day one... which was yesterday. It would give him a chance to challenge cadets and be challenged. Rule number 1 to life: no one stops learning until they are dead. Shadis was briefly going over the rules to the sparring, but the only parts Dillon listened to was "no permanent damage" and "two people: one armed, and one not."
  
  Once the drill instructor finished his speech, the recruits quickly split off into pairs. Unfortunately, it seemed everyone found a partner save for himself. He wandered around the area, looking for someone that was either going to finish soon, or that someone else was having as much luck finding a partner as he did. Knowing his luck, Shadis would probably end up his sparring partner.
  
  Oh, he could see it now...
  
  "... and THIS is how you break a man's thumb!" With a grip made of iron, the devil of the Cadet Corps yanked Dillon's thumb clean off his hand and held it out for the cadets to see. The appendage dripped blood onto the dirt as he spoke. "Life rarely rewards the soldiers, but when it does, never take these moments for granted."
  
  A loud thump in the back indicated the fainting of a fellow cadet. Probably that cute, blonde girl.
  
  "You're insane!" Dillon cried out, clutching his mangled hand.
  
  In response, Shadis whipped out a curved knife that gleamed in the sun. "Now, watch carefully. You'll be tested on this next part."
  
  Dillon rubbed his arm slightly to rid himself of the goosebumps that covered his skin. Part of him doubted Shadis would ever do such a thing to his cadets... but it was best not to take that chance.
  
  Thankfully, the answer came in the form of a short, blonde-haired girl that wasn't the cute, blonde girl he spotted earlier. She, too, was wandering around the area, seemingly disinterested in the exercise. Dillon figured she was only like that because she couldn't find a sparring partner either. Time to fix that before Shadis breaks something else in my body.
  
  "Excuse me," he greeted.
  
  The moment the girl turned to face him, he noticed a very striking feature about her: her eyes. They were a combination of silver and blue, for one thing, but he also noticed how cold they looked. When he looked at someone's eyes, he always saw some form of emotion, like happiness, anger, or sadness, to name a few. Hers, on the other hand, were indifferent, and for some reason, that made him a little anxious.
  
  "What do you want?" she questioned as if she had something better to do.
  
  Well, aren't you a ray of sunshine? "I don't have a sparring partner. Mind being one for a bit?"
  
  "If I must," she answered in a monotone, leading him towards an empty spot in the training field.
  
  Cold eyes, cold tone, and cold personality. Good to know she's consistent. "I'm Dillon Amsdale, by the way."
  
  "I know who you are," she said, not caring. "Do you want the knife or not?"
  
  "I'll take it," he replied, a little put off by her demeanor. "Got a name?"
  
  Once they reached a spot that wasn't taken, she turned to face him with an annoyed look. "Yes."
  
  There was an awkward pause between them. "Are you going to tell me?"
  
  "No."
  
  Dillon smirked, getting an idea. "Well, in that case, I'm gonna call you Cold Eyes... or would you prefer Short Stack?"
  
  It was here he figured out why her eyes made him nervous. It was so easy for them to shift from cold indifference to deadly, almost as if he was going be incinerated by them. The glare she gave him was the second-scariest glare he had ever seen. Shadis was number 1, naturally. What really added to the creepiness factor was how she was the same age as Dillon and she was able to pull that stare off. This easily told him pissing her off was not going to help him in this fight.
  
  Hiding his anxiousness, Dillon held the wooden knife in a left-handed reverse grip while Cold Eyes got into a fighting stance, both fists raised. She had combat training, that he could see, but so did he.
  
  Dillon made his first move, slashing at Cold Eyes twice. She quickly backed away until he attempted a third slash. She pulled him close and slammed her knee directly into his gut. His eyes bulged out in shock as pain shot through his body with the wind knocking out of him as a result. It was like being punched in the stomach by a concrete brick! Once the knee was removed, Dillon fell to his hands and knees, wheezing harshly. This was not what he expected from his first training partner. He looked up at her, finding not a twinge of sympathy or regret in her eyes. Just sheer, cold determination.
  
  Trying to push past the severe pain, he staggered to his feet and returned to his fighting stance. Without a word, she did the same. Dillon decided on a different tactic as he rushed her. The speed should have thrown her off given what just happened, but found himself surprised once more as she effortlessly sidestepped his attack, almost as if it was predictable. He had no time to react as Cold Eyes spun around, lifting her leg so high that it caught the side of his head like a sledgehammer. Down he went, his body rolling hitting across the hard ground until he was on his back. Two hits. That was all it took for him to see stars.
  
  This was nothing like the training he had with his father. Whereas Matthew was careful about truly hurting his son, Cold Eyes had no such reservations even though this was only training. She was fighting to hurt him, to disable him, to... even kill him. With her head blocking the sun, Dillon found himself staring at her once more to find that same expression on her face and this time, a cold shiver ran down his spine. Unfeeling, unremorseful, and more than willing to destroy him by any means necessary. She was not a sparring partner; she was his enemy.
  
  A second later, she was moving towards him, his eyes widening when he saw her objective: the knife. It had fallen out of his hand. If she got it, it would be all over for him. With a grunt, Dillon twisted his ribs to the right and lifted his leg. He relished the brief look of surprise on Cold Eyes' face as it bashed into her side, knocking her to the ground as a result. With no time to lose, he scrambled towards the knife and grabbed it, standing up about the same time as she did. He nearly lost his balance as he felt the world spin, but he regained it just as the terrifying girl charged him to take advantage of his injuries.
  
  Dillon sidestepped her attempt to grab him and tried slashing her neck only to miss by a couple inches. He wondered what the hell kind of training she had to be able to do that so effortlessly. The sidestep became a roundhouse and Dillon couldn't stop it. He didn't have time to think about getting out of the way. He just raised an arm and braced, his momentum carrying him into the blow. He took it without it building to full power and was close enough to feel his knuckles meet the skin and bone of the girl's cheek. She staggered back, giving him the opportunity he needed to finish her off. His moment of optimism was as short as her height when, in a swift move, his legs were kicked out from under him and he hit the ground back first. The knife was in her hands quickly which led to her stabbing his chest.
  
  "You're dead," Cold Eyes stated, looking down on him with that same, damn look on her face.
  
  A groan escaped his lips as he let out a couple of harsh coughs. He gazed at the girl that decimated him and said, "You're one hell of a fighter."
  
  "And you fall too easy," she sneered.
  
  That put him on the defensive. "Hey, I hit you twice. That has to count for something."
  
  "Right, because when you're dead, I'll be thinking, 'Hey, that moron hit me twice.'"
  
  Dillon opened his mouth to respond, and then promptly closed it. Not only did she beat the tar out of him, she just had to be right. Of course. "In that case, as my dying wish, can you tell me your name?"
  
  She rolled her eyes at his pitiful attempt at humor, but she decided to give him at least that. "Annie Leonhart."
  
  "Nice to meet you, Annie," he said as he finally started to get off the ground.
  
  "You had some training, didn't you?" Annie noted without making a single move to help him up.
  
  "Yeah, my dad taught me." He checked his head for blood only to find some bruises that hurt like hell.
  
  "So, he taught you how to spar and not to fight."
  
  Dillon gave her an annoyed look. "Are you saying all this all because I called you short?"
  
  "I'm saying all this because it's the truth, not for something so petty," she answered, getting back into her fighting stance. "If you want to fight, prove it."
  
  Gulping, he took a couple steps back. "Uh, I think you made your point."
  
  His words fell on deaf ears as Annie went for him again.
  
  Panicking, his eyes flashed as he struck her mind. Her concentration was thrown off as she stumbled, allowing Dillon dodge in time. He followed up by slamming his elbow into the back of Annie's head as she passed by with enough force to send her into the ground. She spat out dirt that got into mouth as she stood up, holding the back of her head. The moment her eyes landed on him, he could see she was pissed and pain awaited him. The hell is she mad at me for? She attacked me. He barely moved away from her slash before another leg sweep brought him down. That was really getting annoying.
  
  "Dead," she said after another stab to the chest.
  
  A pained grunt left his lips as he made no effort to stand.
  
  "Get up," Annie demanded.
  
  "So you can use me as your punching bag?" Dillon questioned. "Sorry. Not interested."
  
  He regretted saying that as her foot slammed onto his chest, pressing down on his bruised ribs. That anger still remained. "You really are pathetic, Amsdale. Giving up the moment you start feeling pain? If you want to be coddled so badly, go back to the Interior."
  
  "Are you... out of your mind?" he managed out. "What the hell did I do to you?"
  
  It was so quick, most people wouldn't have spotted it, but he did. Her expression morphed to something like... regret. In the blink of an eye, it vanished while she removed her foot from his chest. "You should go to the infirmary," she advised before walking away from him.
  
  Dillon had absolutely no idea what just happened. Just when he thought he had her pegged as the most brutal human being he ever encountered, that happened. Was she having a bad day or something and needed a way to vent? He doubted he could've caused that much anger with his humor. So many questions, but the most relevant one was whether he could make it to the infirmary before he passed out.
  
  That night, after grabbing a bite to eat from the mess hall and avoiding a sentence to a body bag (the doctor from before was thankfully sick,) Dillon was on his bed in the barracks, staring at the ceiling. The injuries, though patched up, were keeping him awake, making him realize the severity of the situation. The Cadet Corps was becoming a do or die situation, so if he broke something, he would be sent home and everything would have been meaningless. There was no question that he and Annie would cross paths again, something that he dreaded, but he wouldn't get pummeled again. He needed to be ready, and he needed to win.
  
  His thoughts were interrupted by the barracks' door opening. Coming in was Jean and Connie, both wearing grins.
  
  "There you are," Connie said. "We didn't see you in the mess hall."
  
  "I ate early," he explained. "I wanted to heal up from today's sparring session."
  
  "That was the quite the performance you put on," Jean pointed out, leaning against the side of his own bunk. "It looked like the two of you were fighting to the death."
  
  Dillon sat up, groaning a little bit from being sore. "Consider that a hard lesson learnt. In a real fight, no one is gonna hold back unless they are so good, they decide to toy with you. Why should I spar any differently?" He looked at both of them. "I can tell you two want something from me."
  
  "We thought it would be neat if you could teach us a few things," Connie stated, eyes full of hope.
  
  "That, and I wanted to know more about the Interior," Jean added. "It'll be nice to have a leg up three years from now."
  
  "Why ask the guy who got his ass handed to him?" Dillon questioned. "You'd be better off asking Annie."
  
  The looks on their faces said it all.
  
  "Oh. Creeps you out, too, huh?" Dillon shrugged. "Sure, why not? Haven't taught anyone before. We'll have plenty of time to figure something out." He turned to Jean. "So, what-?"
  
  The door slammed open, revealing Eren, who seemed to be at the end of his rope, and Armin, who was chasing after him in an effort to calm him down. Dillon raised an eyebrow at the fact there was a bandage wrapped around Eren's head, but he decided not to question it.
  
  "Please, you need to tell me how you did it!" he begged. "How did you stay upright? What's your secret?" If Eren was desperate enough to ask Jean for advice on how to use the ODM, he was literally losing hope.
  
  "Eren, calm down!" Armin urged before explaining the situation to the three. "Eren's been trying to work the ODM gear, but all he's got to show for it is a head injury. He needs help."
  
  Connie and Jean and exchanged glances and snide smiles appeared on their faces. Dillon kept his mouth shut before he decided to suggest what kind of help Eren actually needed.
  
  "What's the trick to posture control?" Connie asked in a patronizing tone. "Hard to say. Guess I've got the gift. You've just got to feel it, you know."
  
  Jean didn't help matters. "I'm trying to figure out your trick. You've screwed up every way imaginable, short of an accidental, equipment-related asphyxiation."
  
  Eren continued to plead his heart out. "Please, guys. You gotta help me. I'm begging you!"
  
  Connie's smirk widened. "That's funny. Wasn't it just yesterday you said, 'If you can't handle the pressure, you gotta leave?' No, wait. Was it 'if you're a complete idiot, you gotta leave?' Something like that."
  
  "I think you two fit the last one pretty well," Dillon interrupted, getting off his bed while glaring at them. Another groan left his mouth thanks to him aggravating his injuries, but he didn't really care. "He asks for help and you mock him for it, when less than a minute ago, you wanted my help with fighting. Hypocritical much? Eren, Armin, follow me."
  
  Surprised, the two followed Dillon outside and shut the door.
  
  "Okay, the advice I'm about to give you is advice you've probably heard today. You need to have balance." Seeing his expression look downcast confirmed his suspicions. "You did hear it today. Okay, how about advice I have trouble following myself? Hope for the best, prepare for the worst!"
  
  A look of determination filled Eren's face. "I'm not giving up!"
  
  "Good," Dillon congratulated. "I don't expect you to, but you need to be prepared for a scenario you don't want. I know you don't want to be shipped to the fields, and I don't expect you to be happy about it if it happens, but... sometimes there are battles you can't win."
  
  He quickly realized who he just said that to as he received a deadly glare from him. "I'm not going to lose, Dillon. I'm going to master the ODM gear! Just you wait."
  
  "Eren, he's not our enemy," Armin pointed out firmly before facing him. "Thanks."
  
  "Get some rest," he advised. "You've got a big day ahead of you tomorrow."
  
  Dillon entered the barracks and closed the door when he realized the two weren't coming in. Now there was just one more problem to deal with.
  
  "Don't kick a guy while he's down," he advised to Connie and Jean. "Now, if you don't mind, I need to sleep."
  
  Satisfied, the two went to their own beds as he clambered into his own. He was going to be feeling it tomorrow.
  
  (The next morning)
  
  Work through the pain. He coached himself as getting food felt like a hassle. Last time he felt like this was last month when his dad put him through a final training session. At least he didn't have to use the ODM gear today.
  
  "Hey, are you okay?" a small voice asked.
  
  Dillon turned around and saw the girl that proved that heaven was indeed missing an angel. Her blue eyes were the most beautiful he had ever seen and her blonde hair was short enough to accentuate that fact. Speaking of short, though, she happened to be the shortest cadet he'd seen, her height only coming up to his neck, but he had no problem with it.
  
  Shaking himself out of his stupor, he answered, "Um, yeah. I was just trying to get over my injuries. Still a bit sore from yesterday." More like a lot sore! "Dillon Amsdale."
  
  "Krista Lenz," she introduced with a smile. "I hope you have a speedy recovery."
  
  "You, too." He paused for a second, catching himself. "I mean, in the event you go through what I went through, I was just, uh-" When he noticed Krista chuckle, he gave up. "Never mind."
  
  "I'm sorry," she apologized, containing herself.
  
  Dillon let out a chuckle too. "Don't be. It was kind of funny."
  
  "You two gonna sit or make out?" a female voice wondered, an air of teasing in her tone.
  
  Sitting at a table nearby, he saw another girl with long black hair, some of it tied up in a ponytail, smirking at him. Her golden eyes watched them, almost as if in anticipation of what might happen next.
  
  Krista's face turned red with embarrassment as she sputtered out, "Y-Ymir!"
  
  There was nothing Dillon could think of saying other than, "Uh, I'm gonna... sit somewhere."
  
  He ignored Ymir's chuckle as he walked away. Girls weren't a priority back home, which made things a little difficult when interacting with them. He could only imagine how stupid he looked to everyone else. A relatively handsome blacksmith with a good build fleeing from two girls? Titans would fear his name in no time.
  
  He scanned the room, looking for somewhere to sit, and was surprised to find Annie sitting at a table alone. Instinct demanded to stay far away from the girl that put him in the infirmary yesterday and go join Jean. Then, he remembered he was still annoyed with him from last night and decided to live dangerously, sitting down at Annie's table.
  
  "Sleep well?" he asked, munching on a piece of bread.
  
  "As well as I could," she answered without looking at him. "What do you want?"
  
  "Can't a guy exchange small-talk with someone every once in a while?" Dillon questioned, raising an eyebrow.
  
  Annie stopped drinking her water and faced him. "You want something from me. Spit it out!"
  
  Sheesh, do you need a doctor to get that stick out of your ass? "All right, Cold Eyes. I have decided to put myself in your presence in order to execute an exchange of dialogue in an effort to trade intel."
  
  Annie gave him a blank look, unamused. "You're not funny."
  
  Dillon chuckled. "No need to treat me like a thorn in your side, Annie. I'm just interested in getting to know the girl that kicked my ass yesterday."
  
  "You can stop pretending that what I did to you didn't happen." She looked him dead in the eye. "You were afraid of me. Probably still are given you haven't lost your attempts at levity."
  
  The smile immediately vanished from his face. "I actually thought you were going to kill me a couple of times," he said seriously.
  
  Annie tapped her fingers on the table a couple of times before heaving a sigh. "It wasn't personal." And she left it at that.
  
  Dillon could tell the girl wasn't one for apologies, and that was the closest he was gonna get. "Okay."
  
  The two sat in silence as if they had an understanding with each other. Both simply sipped their water while the seconds ticked by. Perhaps it was best that he kept his mouth shut.
  
  Which is why he didn't. "Where are you from?"
  
  She sighed with annoyance. Maybe she was hoping for quiet. "Nowhere. I'm just one of the lucky refugees that fled Wall Maria."
  
  He winced at that statement. "I'm sorry that happened."
  
  Annie scoffed. "Don't be. You had no hand in what happened that day. Why bother feeling guilty for something that wasn't your fault?"
  
  Dillon's eyebrows raised. "I get the feeling there was a double meaning to that."
  
  "Maybe, maybe not." She snatched his piece of bread before he could finish it.
  
  Part of him wanted to comment on her theft, but he decided to let it go and be more productive. After all, he was the one bombarding her with his presence. "So, how the hell are you that good at fighting?"
  
  "Years of training from my father," Annie answered after she swallowed.
  
  "Sounds like he put you through hell."
  
  "Whatever it was, it made me who I am." Her eyes locked onto his again, that cold indifference ever so clear. "Friendly warning, Amsdale: I fight to win, not to spar. If you're not prepared for that, then it's going to hurt a lot. However..." She hesitated for a moment, pondering her next statement before going through with it. "... there are a couple of techniques that you'd do well to learn if you're willing."
  
  "Thanks for the offer, but no thanks," Dillon replied surprisingly.
  
  "Why? Because you want to start avoiding me now? Aren't you the gentleman?"
  
  He rolled his eyes and said, "Because I'm not going to make it easy for you to beat me next time. I will have a rematch with you, and I will win on my terms."
  
  She raised an eyebrow, but it vanished just as soon as it appeared. "If you insist. Just don't start moping when you lose."
  
  Dillon couldn't help but laugh at that statement.
  
  Now, Annie was confused. "What?"
  
  "That word," he answered. '"Mope.' It's a funny word."
  
  She rolled her eyes in annoyance. "It's not that funny."
  
  Challenge accepted. "Oh, really? See it from my point of view." Clearing his throat, he did his best "Annie" impression. '"Hey, everyone. My name is Annie Leonhart. This is my friend, Dillon. He likes to mope."'
  
  Annie's mouth started to twitch upwards. "It's... still not funny."
  
  Dillon grinned, going in for the kill. "Annie, will you mope with me? Will you be my moping buddy?"
  
  Never in his entire life did he ever see someone try so hard not to laugh. She covered her mouth to hide the smile and there were weird noises coming from her nose, though it wasn't loud enough to try attention. Despite her efforts, he heard a soft sound coming from her that came and went: a giggle. The girl that nearly gave him a concussion yesterday was giggling. His work here was done.
  
  She looked up at Dillon, who had an impish smile on his face, and glared at him. "I really hate you right now," Annie stated, removing her hand.
  
  "Completely worth it," he replied.
  
  Before she could fire a retort, the bell started to ring, signaling the time to meet Shadis at the ODM training area.
  
  "Let's go see if Eren can pull it off this time," Dillon said.
  
  "Eren Yeager," Shadis said once Eren was strapped in. "Are you ready?"
  
  "Yes, sir," he answered.
  
  There were a lot of cadets today that hoped Eren would be able to pull this off, Mikasa and Armin being the biggest supporters. Dillon was among them, wanting his determination to pay off. Dreams being crushed were never good to watch.
  
  "Proceed!" Shadis commanded.
  
  Thomas nodded, turning the lever.
  
  Slowly, the harness started to rise into the air as everyone waited with bated breath to see what would happen. Eren's determined look intensified the moment his feet left the ground. With a loud grunt, he kept himself upright for the first time. The cadets cheered loudly for him, thrilled that he accomplished what he wanted.
  
  Unfortunately, that joy only lasted a few seconds. With a surprised yell, Eren toppled to the ground, upside down yet again. No one laughed this time around. Not even Jean was smirking at his failure.
  
  The minute Shadis started towards him, Eren started panicking and begging. "No! Not yet! Once more! I can do it!"
  
  "Lower him," he instructed, disappointment in his voice.
  
  The minute he was on the ground, Eren fell to his knees in agony. There were even tears in his eyes. "I-I'm finished."
  
  "Wagner, please exchange belts with Mr. Yeager."
  
  Two things went through everyone's minds: "wait, what?" and "did Shadis say please?"
  
  "Uh, yes, sir," Thomas replied, confused.
  
  Once the belts were exchanged, the old one given to the drill instructor, Eren was lifted into the air again. This time, it was the complete opposite outcome. The green-eyed nut was achieving balance as if it came easy to him. It was so different that he almost toppled because of how easier it was.
  
  "Your equipment was defective," Shadis explained, holding the now-apparent broken belt. "If given a piece of functional gear, you might not be worthless after all. Quartermaster didn't notice this broken clasp. Might have to visit the supply depo and crack a couple skulls."
  
  Murmurs broke through the crowd. For broken equipment, Eren actually pulled it off for a little while. All Dillon could think about was how much he pitied the supply depo that would face Shadis's wrath soon.
  
  "So, you mean I... I didn't wash out?" Eren dared to hope.
  
  "You made the cut," he confirmed. "Now keep training, Cadet!"
  
  A huge grin broke out on Eren's face, the happiest anyone had ever seen him. He was going to be what he always wanted to be: a soldier!
  
  That meant he was sticking around. Damn it! Dillon thought.
  
  Remastered Edits: The fight scene between Dillon and Annie went a bit differently than in the original. I was pointed out that while the two were trained extensively by their fathers, they had different ways about sparring. Annie treats it like life and death, Dillon treats it like a spar. The following conversation they have in the morning is also a bit different.
  
  On a minor scale, Dillon's brief interaction with Ymir has been changed to something a bit more akin to his personality, and Eren has not figured out why Dillon enlisted.
  
  Anyways, feel free to comment how you see fit and I hope you enjoyed this chapter.
  
  6/12/2020: Added a bit more substance to Reiner and Bertholdt's interactions with Dillon. An awkward substance, but I hope it was good. In light of the comments I received regarding Dillon's statement to Annie: "I didn't know if you were trying to help me or not," I changed it to a more serious response. The conversation that happens between them in the cafeteria is adjusted slightly to take that into account, so I hope it works.
  
  Also, imaginary Shadis is best Shadis!
  
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  The Fools With Hope
  Chapter 4: The Fools With Hope
  
  "848. Now that was a very interesting year for me."
  
  A full year had passed, and Eren could feel himself getting stronger. The small, lanky boy was fading into the past and a more determined, slightly muscled teenager became more evident. Two years remained in his training, and the ending couldn't come sooner. How Eren longed to get into the Scouts so he could do what he vowed in Shiganshina. Kill every single Titan and reclaim the lands that were taken by those monsters? That's all that mattered.
  
  He was so deep in his musings that he almost didn't notice Reiner charging at him with the wooden knife. It was thanks to the yell his opponent let out that he was brought back to reality. Planting his feet, Eren turned just as Reiner reached him, grabbing his arm in the process. Using his momentum, the green-eyed boy had little trouble in flipping Reiner onto his back.
  
  "Sorry, man," Eren chuckled to the groaning cadet, holding out his hand. "I'll try to be more careful next time."
  
  Reiner immediately took his hand and he was pulled to his feet. "It's all right. Let's see how you do as the rogue." He held his knife out to him.
  
  Reiner was definitely one of a kind. He was like the cadets' big brother, always looking out for them. Like Eren, he wanted to be a soldier to reclaim the home he lost to the Titans, and he was one of the few that seemed to understand him... unlike a certain, brown-haired nuisance he knew.
  
  The moment he thought of Dillon, a wave of annoyance cascaded over him. That self-righteous, privileged jackass was getting on his nerves. Always with the lectures as if he was better than them, managing to say just the right thing to rally more people to his side whenever he and Eren argued about something. The end result was usually the same, with Dillon winning and Eren looking like an idiot. The green-eyed boy longed for the day to kick his teeth in.
  
  "Eren," Reiner said, getting him back to the present by tapping his hand with the wooden weapon.
  
  "Right, sorry," he replied, taking the knife.
  
  "Let me guess: brown hair, good looks, and gets under your skin?"
  
  Eren snorted, confirming his suspicions.
  
  "Figured as much. Whatever gripes you have with Dillon-."
  
  "-is something I don't want to talk about," Eren interrupted.
  
  Reiner sighed. "Fine, I won't push you."
  
  Glad that he dropped the subject, he moved onto the next one as he became fixated on the knife he held. "This training doesn't make sense. We're supposed to be learning how to fight and kill Titans."
  
  "You really don't think there aren't shitty people out there waiting for us?"
  
  The boy scoffed. "Of course not. I'm not stupid, Reiner."
  
  "Then what's the problem?" he pressed.
  
  Eren shook his head in annoyance, though not towards Reiner's questions. "The Titans lurk outside these Walls, and yet, humans continue to look for excuses to hurt and kill each other. I mean... what's the point?"
  
  His thoughts took him to an abandoned cabin where two corpses surrounded him. The cause of their deaths were precise stab wounds, and he was holding the weapon. They deserved it. He would kill them over and over again if he could.
  
  "Can't answer that for you, man," Reiner stated sympathetically, yanking him out that memory. "Life doesn't give us a say. If it wants to get ugly, it gets ugly. It's our job to be prepared. Titans, humans, wild animals, enemies come in many forms whether we like it or not. Soldiers, the ones worth their salt anyway, are ready for anything." He smirked, looking past Eren. "Don't believe me? Look."
  
  The green-eyed boy followed his gaze resisted the urge to bolt. Annie was walking around, refusing to practice it seemed. After her match with Dillon, she was steadily gaining a reputation of being cutthroat, cold-hearted, and dangerous. Needless to say, not many people wanted to be around her.
  
  "What about her?" Eren asked, hoping that he was hiding his anxiety.
  
  "She's slacking off again," he said, watching her like a hawk. "Someone should give her a talking-to. Teach her a lesson."
  
  "You have a death wish, Reiner?" Eren couldn't help but ask. "You saw what she did to Amsdale."
  
  Reiner chuckled. "Come on, Eren. How are you going to kill Titans if you're afraid of someone a few inches under you?" He didn't even wait for an answer as began his approach towards the blonde girl.
  
  Eren resisted the urge to groan and followed him.
  
  Once Annie was intercepted, Reiner stared her down. "Commandant not beating you down enough? Keep it up and you'll be as flat as the dirt you walking on. I suggest you think back to why you enlisted in the first place."
  
  Eren couldn't believe this was happening. "Reiner, what the hell is wrong with you?" For a moment, he glanced at Annie, who was glaring at him with murderous intent. Well, it was nice knowing you, Reiner.
  
  Before he could make his escape and obtain plausible deniability, Reiner seized him by the shoulders. "Okay, now go get her."
  
  "Hey, what the hell?" he exclaimed as he was pushed towards her. "You were the one who antagonized her. Leave me out of this!"
  
  "That makes an impression," Annie sneered. "You claim you want to kill the Titans yet you run like a coward."
  
  Eren froze, scowling at her. If she wanted a fight, then he would give it to her.
  
  Annie took up her typical fighting stance, looking bored as usual. Obviously, she expected him to be a weak opponent compared to her. Not if he could help it.
  
  "Don't expect me to hold back," Eren warned, charging for her with the intent to impale her. "Heads up!"
  
  Annie simply moved to the side, throwing her foot out which hit precisely on Eren's shin. Predictably, he fell to his knees, wounded.
  
  "Son of a..." Eren grit his teeth in pain as he tried to stand. "Dirty trick." His leg gave out, almost making him collapse.
  
  "Next time, don't yell, 'Heads up!'" Reiner crowed from the sidelines.
  
  "Up yours, you bastard!"
  
  "Are we done here?" Annie asked, looking over at Reiner.
  
  "Not just yet," the taller blonde stated. "You know the drill. Take up the dagger."
  
  She let out an annoyed sigh and turned back to her weakened opponent. She almost felt bad for the terrified kid. Almost.
  
  "Reiner, I'm going to-." Eren almost had a heart attack as she moved in for the kill. "Oh, crap!"
  
  Grabbing him by the chin as she went by him, she kicked his legs out from under him, making him land on his back. Unfortunately, he fell in such a way that his legs went over his head, making him look like a human ball.
  
  "There," Annie said, tossing the fallen knife to a surprised Reiner. "So, are you ready to take me on yourself, or what?"
  
  "Uh, not exactly," Reiner replied nervously.
  
  "Don't you dare," Eren growled. It was Reiner's fault for him getting stuck in this mess and Eren was going to make him pay for it. "She's got a lesson coming, right? You go get her."
  
  Reiner let out a defeated sigh and said, "Yeah, a soldier can't really afford to back down, either." With a steely gaze, he prepared to fight. "Get ready. Here I come!"
  
  By the time Eren unraveled himself, Reiner was stuck in the human ball like he was. The guy was one foot taller than Annie was and she took him down as if he was nothing. Well, he had it coming, so Eren's sympathy for him was barely present.
  
  "That's some technique," he complemented. "Who taught you how to fight like that?"
  
  "My father did," she answered.
  
  "Did you... pioneer it, or-?"
  
  "Does it really matter?" Annie cut him off. "It's pointless. Just like all of this."
  
  Now, Eren was confused. "Wait, you mean the training in general?"
  
  She looked at the other cadets that were sparring. "Hand-to-hand combat doesn't really count against our final grade. The smart ones blow it off. It's a crapshoot anyway. Only the top ten cadets get to serve in the Interior. The rest of us? Devoured by Titans in a suicidal crusade or guarding a Wall for the rest of our lives. Point is, only the idiots like you take this part of boot camp seriously."
  
  Annie stopped talking when she spotted one of the most insulting things she had ever seen. Sasha and Connie were not only not training but making outlandish versions of certain fighting styles. Connie even had the wooden knife in his mouth. If Shadis didn't grab him by the head and yell expletives at him for that stunt, she probably would've started breaking their bones herself.
  
  "Idiots, and whatever they are," she said.
  
  Suddenly, she whipped around and attempted to plunge the wooden knife in Eren's heart, but he brought his arm up just in time to keep it away from his chest.
  
  "First rule of this life," Annie continued, her tone becoming darker. "The better you are at dropping the bad guys, the more distance the powers-that-be put between you. That's what this whole stupid farce is about."
  
  "Sure," Eren replied with gritted teeth, trying to push her arm back with his other hand. "Whatever you say."
  
  Naturally, whatever plan of attack he had was foiled by a low spinning sweep kick that brought him back to his new friend: the ground. Now, he was trying to keep the knife by plunging into his neck.
  
  "Face it. You don't fight the nature of things and win."
  
  At this point, he honestly believed Annie was trying to kill him. The two locked eyes for quite a while, one pair full of fear, and the other full of apathy.
  
  Finally, Annie stood up and stared down at him. "Look around you, Eren. All the sons of bitches really expect us to do is play the game. Don't be a pawn."
  
  On that note, she walked away only to nearly run into Dillon, who had been watching the "fight."
  
  "Quite the pessimist, aren't you?" he commented, crossing his arms.
  
  "It's called being realistic," Annie corrected with an annoyed look. "I'm not an idealistic fool who thinks the world will be saved because I have determination, willpower, and all that crap."
  
  "Are you talking about Eren, Marco, or me?" Dillon questioned, a little offended.
  
  "You tell me," she challenged, circling him with the knife still in hand. She was sizing him up. "What drives you, Amsdale?"
  
  That question caught him off guard, but he stood his ground despite the anxiety he was feeling. "The hell does that mean?"
  
  "You know very well what I mean," Annie stated frostily as she glared into his brown eyes, a slight sneer on her lips. "Why are you here with the 104th? Is it guilt that drives you? Perhaps you think that coming all the way from the Interior helps the dead refugees rest a little easier." Even with that monotone, she could still sound patronizing.
  
  Dillon glowered at her. "I will admit that guilt played a factor. Nothing wrong with that, is there, Leonhart?"
  
  Annie fixed a glare on him and stopped circling him. "Get over it. They're dead. Nothing you do will change that. But if that doesn't drive you fully, what does? Why are you here?"
  
  He didn't speak for a moment. By all rights, Dillon had no reason to be here. Like his mother said, he could've taken volunteer work to help the refugees. That would be wholesome, worthwhile actions. Then, he remembered the Titans that lurked outside. Two Titans with the ability to break through the gates and allow the beasts to come lumbering in, jaws wide with anticipation.
  
  "Because someone has to fight the monsters outside these walls," Dillon answered finally. "I'm here to fight and make a difference, to make the world a better place."
  
  Annie scoffed at his response. "Congratulations, Amsdale. You're a typical, idealistic idiot. I'm disappointed. You think you can change the world because what? You have heart? You have morals? You have determination? If you think any of that matters to a Titan, you're not only an idiot, but delusional as well."
  
  "Maybe it's because I'm one of the few people that has hope," Dillon growled, his temper flaring for a second. "That's been in short supply since the day Wall Maria was breached. It's what gets me up every moment. It's what guides my actions. The hope that whatever I do will make a difference."
  
  Annie's eyes narrowed dangerously at that response, her tone becoming ominous to the point of being sinister. "Do you really think you can go against the nature of the world, that you can bend the strings of reality to match your desires?"
  
  She was testing him to see how confident he was in his statements, to see if he would falter. It wasn't going to happen.
  
  Dillon leaned in, matching her glare with his own, and spoke in a low tone. "Who knows, Leonhart? I just might surprise you."
  
  While she was a master at hiding it, Annie was shocked at how much conviction there was in his tone. He honestly believed that he had the ability to make a difference in this war. It wasn't just hope. There was something else, something he wasn't telling her. What was this surprise he mentioned? Was it possible that he was...?
  
  "So, we going to fight or what?"
  
  To his surprise, Annie backed off and headed in the opposite direction. "Not today."
  
  "What about you?" he asked before she was out of earshot, crossing his arms. "Why are you here?"
  
  Annie paused, staring at the wooden knife in her hand. "I want to survive."
  
  Dillon nodded his head. "I figured as much. You've been through hell. There's no shame in that."
  
  Both of them walked away, pondering the conversation, Annie more so than Dillon.
  
  When I think I have you pegged, you surprise me. I don't know who you are, Dillon Amsdale, but I will find out. Count on it.
  
  Later that evening, Dillon found himself at the same table as Jean and Marco. When inquired about their sparring earlier, they revealed Jean came out ahead in their matches, though he did suffer a few losses due to some quick thinking on Marco's part. Still, the training with Dillon paid off so far.
  
  Rapidly, the subjects of their conversation were changing. Right now, Jean was explaining how he managed to do cool things with the ODM gear and still conserve gas. However, given how often he was eying Mikasa, it seemed like he was trying to impress her more than anything. While he had Marco's attention, Dillon was barely paying attention, still mulling over the conversation he had with Annie earlier. He couldn't get over how downright menacing she was towards the end, almost as if she was planning to be the obstacle trying to stop him. Why was she so creepy, and why couldn't he stop trying to talk to her?
  
  "Just for a second. That's how you conserve fuel. Let your momentum do the work for you." Of course, it had to be Jean's dulcet tones to interrupt his thinking. Next time, he was going to find a corner to sit in.
  
  "Still, that's pretty advanced," Marco said, impressed.
  
  Naturally, Jean's ego was growing by the second. "It's called having a sixth sense for the finer points of your gear. You gotta do the strut if you wanna make the cut. The MPs only recruit the best."
  
  The minute the word "MP" left his lips, Dillon became fully invested with the conversation.
  
  Marco sighed wistfully. "Man, that'd be great. Working within a stone's throw of the king. No greater honor than that."
  
  "I think taking down corruption should rise a little higher on your list, Marco," Dillon pointed out. "I mean, if you want to go work for the king, that's up to you. It's just that I feel that every time Mom comes home and tells us that after days of fighting, she managed to put those smug bastards behind bars. Now, that's a treat."
  
  There was a gleam in Jean's eye. "I can see it now, Dillon. The two of us fighting side-by-side to bring down the bad guys and pick up a few girls along the way."
  
  Dillon planted his face in his hands with a groan. "Oh, God, I created a monster."
  
  One thing that he constantly brought to Jean's attention when talking about the Military Police was the corruption within their force. He theorized how the easy life in the Interior could've been Phase 1 of getting the MPs to slowly start looking the other way before they were neck-deep into the hole they were slowly digging themselves in. Now, Jean had a new motivation for joining the Military Police: fighting crime including the dirty officers. Apparently, he was also deluded into thinking that was going to help him get laid too.
  
  "Think about it," Jean urged, leaning in with a grin. "With your fighting skills, my charisma, and your mom, the DA? We'll be the greatest crime-fighting team that ever existed!"
  
  "Easy there," he said, leaning back a little from getting his privacy invaded. "Let's try to make it in the Top 10 first. Then we'll talk about this... team." It's not a... terrible idea.
  
  Satisfied, he turned to Marco. "And you can drop the misty-eyed BS."
  
  Marco's eyes widened in shock. "Huh?"
  
  "Honor doesn't have any damn part of it. You just want a nice, cushy job in the Interior while you play sentry."
  
  "That's not true!" he protested. "That's not true at all." Stop looking at me like that. You're creeping me out.
  
  Dillon's eyes widened. Why did I just hear Marco's thoughts?
  
  Naturally, Eren had a bone to pick with them. "Listen to you guys. Interior? Five years ago, this part of it."
  
  "You got a point to make, friend?" Jean questioned. "I'm right here!"
  
  Eren chuckled, setting down his drink. "Poor Jean. So misguided. And besides... I don't think your head will fit in the Interior anyway."
  
  That comment sparked a few chuckles.
  
  "Very funny," Jean said, not amused.
  
  "Eren Yeager making a joke?" Dillon asked, genuinely surprised. "I think someone flew to the moon today." Though, to be fair, it wasn't a very good one. He lifted up his mug and nearly dropped it in surprise. In the reflection of the water, he could see that his eyes were slightly silver, waxing and waning. Unwanted whispers were filling up his head at an increasing rate. Not now. Why now?
  
  Eren ignored him. "Seems a little backwards to me. Fine-tuning your Titan-killing skills so the brass will station you somewhere you'll never see one."
  
  "You'd rather I was good at getting killed?" Jean retorted. "Thank you, but I'll pass. Better to play the system than get gnawed on."
  
  Dillon's eyes flashed unintentionally as he felt a disturbing memory rise to the surface.
  
  He was in the ruins of a city that was overrun by Titans. He was being carried by someone, but he couldn't tell by who. However, what captured his attention was the most horrifying thing he had ever seen. It was a Titan, a rather large one, raising a human up to its terrifying, grinning face.
  
  "Mom!" he screamed, his eyes blinded by tears.
  
  The monster opened its mouth and bit down.
  
  Dillon yanked himself out of his memory, more than a bit shaken up. It was first time he had ever seen a Titan, and it was worse than his nightmares could conjure up. It made so much sense as to why Eren was the screwed-up individual he was.
  
  "You son of a bitch!" Eren shouted, getting up.
  
  "Bring it on, you little bastard!" Jean taunted, meeting him halfway.
  
  "Eren, please stop it," Armin pleaded as Eren grabbed Jean's shirt.
  
  "Enough!" Dillon exclaimed, stepping in between and shoving them both back, his hands holding them by their shirts. "Stand down, both of you! You're giving me a headache!" He jerked his head a little bit, various thoughts getting louder in his head. One, however, was the loudest.
  
  You think you can tell me what to do!? Eren thought furiously.
  
  Jean snorted, but he did what he said. Last thing he needed was to get more bruises.
  
  Eren, however, started yelling louder. "You rip my shirt and you're dead! Let go!"
  
  "Not until you get a grip," Dillon stated firmly, trying his damndest to ignore the cacophony in his mind.
  
  You think just because you're from the Interior makes you better than us? Eren thought. Try this on for size!
  
  To his surprise, Eren grabbed his hand that was holding him by his shirt and pushed it down. Simultaneously, Eren put his other hand on his neck in an effort to move him backwards. One quick look at the floor told Dillon his plan: he was going to try to kick his legs out from under him in a similar way Annie did to him earlier. To the untrained eye, that would've worked. Not so much to the trained eye. Quickly, Dillon wrenched his hand out of his grip, making his own move. With one hand, he grabbed his shirt again. With the other, he grabbed the hand around his neck. With both hands, he flipped Eren onto a table back first, scattering what was on it in the process.
  
  "Nice try," he complemented, staring down at Eren's angry face, "but that's not the grip I meant."
  
  Of course, Dillon forgot one detail in regard to Eren Yeager.
  
  BAM!
  
  He found himself crashing against the wall and sliding to the ground. Mikasa had come to her adopted brother's rescue.
  
  "Back off," she warned while helping Eren up.
  
  "I can handle myself, Mikasa," the green-eyed boy protested, shaking her off.
  
  Dillon wasn't paying attention, his mind becoming a complete wreck. The voices were now louder and stronger, drowning out everything that was going on around him. With a groan of pain, he held his head, trying to calm his brain enough to get himself out of here without causing an incident.
  
  Unfortunately, everyone started to gather around him. He couldn't hear them, but their thoughts quickly shifted to concerns about him. He could hear them all.
  
  "He doesn't look okay."
  
  "What's the matter with him?"
  
  "Mikasa couldn't have hit him that hard."
  
  "Maybe we should get help?"
  
  "What's wrong with him?"
  
  Shut up. Shut up! SHUT UP!
  
  In a desperate attempt for quiet, Dillon slammed the back of his head against the wall. Somehow, that did the trick... for the moment at least. "I'm fine. I..." He felt a little blood from the back of his head. Perfect. "I seem to be bleeding."
  
  Suddenly, the door slammed wide open, catching them all by surprise.
  
  "What's going on here, maggots?" Shadis demanded. He stalked towards Dillon with that nightmare-inducing glare. "Sina Brat, why are you lying on the ground!?"
  
  "I slipped, sir," Dillon lied, not wanting to cause trouble. "I don't think it's that bad."
  
  "Bullshit!" he exclaimed. "Either you come clean, or it's fifty laps around the compound for everyone except you!"
  
  Dillon grimaced. If he went with that option, he would get a lot of hate from the cadets. Looking out for his comrades was one thing; getting everyone punished when most of them had nothing to do with the incident was another.
  
  Quickly, he summed it all up. "Eren and Jean had another lover's spat. I broke it up. Eren attacked me. I defended myself. Mikasa kicked me in retaliation. The end, sir." Okay, Dillon, calm down. You've been through this before.
  
  "Is this true?" Shadis demanded, looking at the cadets that were mentioned.
  
  Reluctantly, the three said, "Yes, sir."
  
  "You three have earned yourself 10 laps around the compound! I expected better from you, Ackerman. Move!"
  
  Quickly, the three ran outside.
  
  Shadis looked back at Dillon, who was back on two legs. "Is another trip to the infirmary necessary, Amsdale?"
  
  That's the last thing I need! "No, sir."
  
  "Then get the hell out of my sight. All of you!"
  
  Like mice scurrying away from an angry cat, the recruits bolted. Dillon tried not to stumble down the stairs and barely succeeded. He ignored people asking him if he was okay and made a beeline towards the barracks.
  
  Once inside, he climbed into bed and started concentrating, putting several fingers in precise places on his head. He hated it every time this happened, even if it was just natural order of things for people like him.
  
  (Year 841)
  
  "Feeling better?" Matthew asked after wiping the remnants of blood from the seven-year-old's face. It had taken nearly fifteen minutes for his face to stop bleeding. He reckoned it was normal all things considered.
  
  Dillon looked away bitterly, refusing to answer him.
  
  The man heaved a heavy sigh as he dumped the bloodied rag into a nearby bucket. "I know it hurts, Dillon, but that's just the way things are now. Your powers are growing and those mental blocks need to be improved consistently when this happens. I'll be there to help you-."
  
  "Why can't you take them away?"
  
  Matthew, while sympathetic, shook his head. "We've been over this, son. They are a part of you. You have to get used to them."
  
  "You won't even try!" the boy raged suddenly, kicking the bucket in the midst of his tantrum. "You keep telling me that you can't, but you won't even try."
  
  "It could hurt you far worse than either of us could imagine," he told him patiently, though it was getting thin. "I'm not about to risk your life doing something that could be detrimental to you in the long run."
  
  "I'm hearing voices! My ears and nose are bleeding! How loud do I have to scream before you make it stop!?" he cried, tears filling in his eyes. "I don't want to be a freak anymore! I don't... please, Dad. Take them away."
  
  Dillon gasped as his father forcibly grabbed him. To his surprise, the man had him trapped against his chest in a firm embrace, refusing to let go. He wanted to get away, hide from all this trouble, but there was nowhere to go.
  
  "It's gonna be okay, Dillon. I know it hurts, but I'm going to be with you every step of the way," Matthew swore. "You are not a freak, you hear me? You are my son, and I love you so much."
  
  God, I was such a brat. Dillon thought to himself once the blocks were rejuvenated. The voices had finally died down to the point of silence just in time for a lot of the guys to crowd around his bed.
  
  "Dude, are you okay?" Connie asked. "You looked like you were about to vomit."
  
  "That's what happens when a walking, talking sledgehammer hits you," he replied with a grimace. "Look, I'll be fine. The bleeding stopped. Just... give me my space, okay?"
  
  The boys wisely did as he asked, though Marco patted him on the shoulder. "Get some rest, Dillon. We don't want you to go through more than necessary around here."
  
  He rolled his eyes at that. "No need to dote on me, Marco... but I appreciate the concern.
  
  Once they all headed to their bunks, Dillon found himself staring at the ceiling of the bunk above him. No matter how hard he tried, he could not take his mind off that memory. It all made sense now. Eren was so traumatized by his past that he turned it to near insane rage. He doubted anyone would have fared better in that situation.
  
  It was that line of thought that made his next decision. With a grunt, he hoisted himself out of his bunk.
  
  "Hey, where are you going?" Thomas asked.
  
  "I need some air," Dillon said in passing as he stepped outside.
  
  Thirty minutes of waiting proved to be worth it as he spotted the familiar figure of Eren heading towards the barracks with exhaustion ever so apparent. Ten laps was no joke, especially at this time of night.
  
  "Eren."
  
  The boy in question stopped and glared, green eyes brewing with a storm of anger. "What do you want?"
  
  Dillon raised his hands in defense. "I just want to talk."
  
  His eyes narrowed in suspicion. "What about?"
  
  "About us not being at each other's throats anymore."
  
  A glimmer of surprise appeared in Eren's face. Then, he responded in that stubborn tone of his, "I'm not apologizing for wanting to kick that horse-face's head in."
  
  Horse-face? I don't see it. "I'm not talking about Jean. I'm talking about you and me."
  
  It seemed like Eren would refuse, but he took Dillon off-guard with a simple, "I'm willing to talk."
  
  "Believe it or not, I don't wake up every day with the goal of making you miserable," Dillon began.
  
  "I didn't think so. That would mean thinking about something besides yourself," Eren said, his expression wary and his voice sullen.
  
  "You think I'm that conceited?" he asked.
  
  "You are. You're just like everyone I've ever met from Wall Sina."
  
  "How so?"
  
  Eren glared at him, clenching his fist. "You can't even see it. You just open your mouth and point out how everyone else doesn't see things right. You even talk about the Titans like you understand. You don't; you've never even seen one. You just hide behind a damn wall. But go ahead. Tell people off about things you don't understand. Dillon's from Wall Sina. He knows what's right and what's wrong."
  
  Dillon's eyes traveled to the ground, a little ashamed. It wasn't supposed to be this way. He never realized how arrogant and insulting he sounded to someone who witnessed the horrors of the Titans first-hand, and yet he accomplished those things. A sigh left his mouth. "You're right. I've never seen a Titan. I wasn't in Shiganshina like you were." Slowly, his eyes went back to Eren's. "But if you think that everything I have said is me thinking about myself, you're wrong."
  
  Eren looked at him impatiently, challenging him. "Go on."
  
  "Eren, I want to take the fight to those monsters," Dillon said.
  
  Nothing prepared the green-eyed boy for that declaration. Not once did Dillon talk about what branch he was going to join upon graduation. The way he carried himself, he seemed to be the type to become part of the Military Police. "You're going to join the Survey Corps?"
  
  "Yes."
  
  The surprise quickly turned to suspicion as Eren asked, "And why would I believe a Sina Brat would join the Scouts?"
  
  "Why else would you think I'm here?"
  
  Eren scoffed. "It's all about your status. You don't give a damn about what we've been through. You just want to look good to your rich brethren."
  
  Dillon gave him a look of disbelief. "Are you kidding me? Eren, have you heard nothing about my family? The Military Police wants our heads on a pike because of what my mom does. Check the newspapers. You're bound to see the Amsdale name written in a negative light. And the Garrison? I'm not the kind of guy who would spend his career guarding Walls. So, with all that in mind, Eren, what's the most logical conclusion you can make?"
  
  Now it was Eren's turn to feel cowed. Dillon Amsdale, the privileged blacksmith from Wall Sina, someone who had never seen a Titan before, was leaving the comfort of his home to join the Scouts. That took guts to make that step, as much as he hated to admit it. Eren sighed and scratched the back of his head. "I suppose if you're going to be an asshole, better an asshole that's going to do something about it. Guess I'm that sort of asshole, too. Sorry."
  
  "I'm sorry, too," he replied. "I never wanted to make enemies, least of all with someone who's been through hell."
  
  "It's just so different when you see it. When it's your family. When it's your home." It was like some of the fire in him had consumed the reserves, revealing an exhausted boy in its wake. "When it's some you care about..."
  
  "You lost someone?" Dillon asked quietly.
  
  Eren looked down. "My mom." He took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "When the Colossal Titan kicked through the gate, the rubble landed all over the place. As soon as we knew what was going on, I ran with Mikasa back to my house, but it had been smashed. My mother was trapped in the rubble. We weren't strong enough to get her out. Guys like that horse-face..." Eren clenched his fist as his mind followed its own special trail of logic. "There was a soldier there, someone who could have helped us and her. There was a Titan coming our way. I can remember its smile. It was just one all on its own. I guess the others were busy eating someone else. The bastard, Hannes, he charged it. Then he froze, turned tail and ran. He grabbed us up and left our mom behind."
  
  "And the Titan killed her," Dillon finished sadly.
  
  "That's the kind of soldiers people like Jean turn out to be. That's what caution gets you. You get to live, and someone else gets to die in your place."
  
  "So why try to get people like them to join the Scouts?" he pressed.
  
  "There's not many of us left." Eren tried not to focus on the memories of more than 250,000 people walking out of the gates to their deaths. "We need everyone they can get. I guess for the same reason you're trying to talk to an idiot like me, huh? Everyone's got something to offer. We're here to get better. To be ready for them. I guess I just want us to actually be ready for them."
  
  "Eren, if you want people to rally to fight Titans, you're going about it wrong," Dillon said carefully, trying not to anger him. "A lot of people think that if they follow you, you're going to get them all killed."
  
  "And if we don't fight we're going to get someone else killed. That's what happens when you don't think you can win. If I'm going to give my life for something, I want to be making a difference."
  
  "If you want people to follow you, you need to convince them." He gave him a pointed look. "Eren, no one is denying your passion to fight them, but when you talk about sending the Titans to Hell and that you are going to butcher them all, they think you're crazy, and I don't blame them." He sighed. "They think the end of the world is coming, and that they'll be eaten by those monsters. They want to live out the rest of their lives the way they see fit. I can't stop Jean from joining the Military Police, but at least I can give him a dose of reality on those bastards."
  
  "There are only two options: kill them all or let them eat us. I'm going with kill them all." There it was again, much to Dillon's annoyance. "You think you can convince Jean, fine. But I don't want to hear that bastard run his mouth like he knows what he's talking about."
  
  "The only thing he has to go on about the Scouts are the few numbers that return from the Expeditions and you," Dillon said calmly. "You can't fault him for having a negative perspective."
  
  "I don't care if there's a negative perspective! Everyone needs to just wake up and see the truth!" Eren shot back before reining it in. "I shouldn't take that out on you though."
  
  "I appreciate that, Eren, but I know I don't make things easy." Dillon sighed as he sat down on the steps of the barracks, giving enough room in case Eren wanted to sit. "Sometimes, I wonder if they're proud of me."
  
  "Your parents?"
  
  "Yeah. They really didn't want me to enlist, not after what happened to Wall Maria, but I couldn't afford to stay in Yarckel. For one, the Amsdale family isn't exactly admired."
  
  That perked Eren's interest. "You said the MPs want you dead. Why?"
  
  He chuckled. "My mom is an attorney who doesn't take crap from those bastards. If an MP is guilty and they are up on the stand, she ensures they are convicted. If it wasn't for Darius Zackley putting us in his protection, the MPs would have killed us all a long time ago."
  
  That explained a few things concerning Dillon's behavior. "So, your mother has more balls than horse-face, too?"
  
  Dillon still couldn't see Jean looking like a horse, but he ignored it. "More than a whole lot of people." A smirk crossed his face. "You know, with your enthusiasm, you could make a name for yourself. Join the cause, take down the assholes in the Interior."
  
  Eren shook his head, imagining the hell his mother could rain down, but also knew just how hard the MPs would retaliate. "I think I'll start with something easier."
  
  "You sure? She could use a new secretary. Just fill out a last will and you'll be good to go," Dillon offered.
  
  "No, no. I'd rather try and fight Annie again." He paused and looked around as though afraid she might here. "Never mind. I'd be dead either way."
  
  He shrugged. "Eh, Annie's not that bad."
  
  "I didn't say she was," Eren said a bit too quickly.
  
  "Easy there, Yeager. I think we'll be okay." Another sigh left his mouth. "You know, I told Annie that I enlisted because I want to make a difference. That's only half the reason."
  
  "What's the other half?"
  
  There was hesitancy in his voice now since it was hard to admit. "Because I'm afraid."
  
  "What?"
  
  "That day when the Titans invaded, I spent nearly a week believing I was going to die, that everyone around me would be devoured. I'm afraid to be eaten by a Titan. I'm afraid for my family. I'm afraid the Titans will get in again. I'm afraid of what the government will do in response if it happens again." He closed his eyes for a moment. "If I can kill one of those things, then maybe I won't be scared anymore."
  
  "Come on," Eren responded, the fire back in his eyes. "After this training, we'll be armed and ready to take them on no matter how many of them show up. If those things invade again, we'll destroy them. When we go out in the..." He trailed off and dropped his arm to his side. He stood there silently. The energy was gone as quick as it came. "I get it," he eventually said.
  
  Dillon looked up at him in surprise. "Huh?"
  
  "I saw that thing look over the wall. I saw a guy with the same training we have piss himself and run at the sight of one of those things. I saw another one just smash through the interior gate, killing everyone in its way. I saw it all. Then I nearly starved to death. I only made it because Armin led and Mikasa dragged me along. I'm nothing in the end compared to what's out there." He sighed, remembering the days before the invasion. "When I was a kid, Armin and I would get bullied all the time. Mikasa couldn't stop it permanently. I was helpless then, too. The only thing that gave me a fighting chance, the only thing that could get them to back off when she wasn't around, was the fact I didn't let myself quit. It's all I've got. And if I start thinking I can't win, then I won't. I have to try. It's the only way I can fight them."
  
  "So many people here have given up on hope. Jean, Thomas, Mina, Annie, and many more. I honestly don't know what it will take to convince them otherwise." There was a part of Dillon that wondered if revealing what he was would help, but he decided against it. Too many questions, too many paranoid conspiracies about him, and probably a trip to the dissection table would be at the end of that road.
  
  "If I didn't have that, I guess I wouldn't be any different than Jean. But Annie? Come on, she could take them."
  
  He nodded in agreement. "She could, but she doesn't see the point. That dead look in her eyes? Hopelessness."
  
  Eren nodded back. "I've seen enough of that look."
  
  "Won't be an easy fix. I can tell you that." Dillon stood up, stretching a bit. "So, are we good?"
  
  "Yeah." Eren held out a hand. "So, what do you say we make sure to help them get rid of that look, even Annie, and cut the rest of the bullshit?"
  
  He smiled, gripping his hand tightly and shaking it. This wasn't the result he expected, but it was welcome nonetheless. "I like the sound of that."
  
  "See you around then, Dillon."
  
  "See you..." His voice trailed off as his eyes widened. "Uh oh."
  
  "What?"
  
  "She has been watching us."
  
  "Shit!" Eren whirled around, a panicked look on his face. However, there was nothing there, prompting him to turn back to the smug bastard with glare. "Not funny."
  
  Dillon chuckled. "I bet if all the Titans had Annie's face, you'd be running for the hills in a heartbeat."
  
  "That would do it," he begrudgingly admitted. "Don't scare me like that. That's just beyond what's okay."
  
  Dillon laughed a little harder. "Yeah, that would be terrifying. Come on. Let's get back inside before our wonderful commandant comes after us."
  
  As the two entered inside, they processed everything that occurred. To think that just a few hours ago, they were at each other's throats. Now, they actually felt like comrades. Still, Dillon couldn't shake the feeling that they were being watched.
  
  Remastered Edits: This chapter deals with a very significant change. Thanks to Necromancy101, he helped me realize the untapped potential I missed out on. I let my bias against Eren get in the way of actually doing something with him and Dillon. Don't get me wrong: my issues with Eren aren't going to change, but in the end, I think the two needed to come to a mutual understanding of each other. Also, it gives me the change to undo how badly, in my opinion, I screwed up Chapter 4 in the original.
  
  Feel free to comment on this one, and I hope to see you guys again in the next chapter.
  
  9/30/20: Redid the scene between Eren and Reiner. Just because it was taken from the anime doesn't mean it has to be word-for-word. Personally, I think what is said here flows better. Towards the end, I added a small flashback between young Dillon and his father that explains the blocks, but also how he felt regarding his powers at the time.
  
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  The Gift of Practicality
  Chapter 5: The Gift of Practicality
  
  " Annie Leonhart. Now there was a girl that was shrouded in mystery. There were days where she and I were on friendly terms. Well, as friendly as she could get. Those were the moments where I could finally get her to open up a little more instead of her being on the defensive so much. Her mother passed away when she was younger, though she never liked talking about it. I could tell when she talked about her father that she missed him a lot. I'm hoping that she'll get the chance to see him again. When this was all over, maybe I could try helping her find him.
  
  " However, those days were rare for her. Most of time, she was cold, always wanting to push people away. Except for me it seemed. I've seen her smirk, but I've never seen her smile, except for the time I made her laugh, and that was in 847. I always wondered what happened in her life to drive her to this point. So, I concocted a plan that I hoped would finally make her days a little brighter. There were advantages to being a blacksmith.
  
  " Unfortunately, there was one obstacle that I had to get pass first."
  
  (March 20)
  
  "You wanted to see me, Commander?" Dillon asked.
  
  Shadis pulled out a brown box from his desk that had clearly been opened recently. "Open the box and tell me what's inside, Amsdale."
  
  Nodding, Dillon took off the lid, revealing two, black knives with six-inch blades. There were in perfect condition, indicating that they had never been used. There were also two, small letters engraved on the hilt: D.A. He gulped, realizing where this was going. "These are boot knives I made, sir."
  
  "How do you know these are yours?" he interrogated.
  
  "Every weapon I made has the initials D.A. on the hilts," he explained. "My father does the same thing, except his are M.A. It's not just an artist signing his work; it's doubles as an insurance policy in case someone decides to kill someone else with our weapons. Makes tracking them down easier."
  
  Shadis walked over to him, his stare as menacing as ever. "Then explain to me why these weapons were delivered to you and what you are planning to do with them."
  
  Taking a deep breath, Dillon said, "I asked my parents to send them to me so I can give them to Annie Leonhart for her birthday. I thought she would appreciate them, sir."
  
  He snorted. "The gift of weapons. How romantic."
  
  Careful, Shadis. I can smell your sarcasm. "It's not like that," he explained. "You see, I've known Annie for a while, and-"
  
  "Save it, Amsdale," Shadis interrupted, returning to his desk. "I'm holding you personally responsible if I find one of these knives in the back of a soldier. Do I make myself clear?"
  
  "Yes, sir," Dillon responded, but then a thought came to him. "Uh, sir, if you don't mind me asking... when is her birthday?"
  
  Once again, he was on the receiving end of the yellow-eyed glare. "Figure it out yourself, Amsdale. I'm not about to reveal personal information to help you get laid."
  
  Dillon blushed in embarrassment. "That's not my intention, sir."
  
  "Get out of here, maggot!"
  
  Taking the box, Dillon dashed out of Shadis's office before the commander entertained the thought of throwing one of the knives at him. He should have thought out his plans more. He couldn't ask Annie herself. She would get suspicious and the surprise would be ruined.
  
  He took another look inside and noticed a letter. He opened it up and only found two words on the paper: " Good luck !" Short, brief, and to the point. Definitely his father. Needless to say, Dillon had to come up with an idea fast in case Annie's birthday was right around the corner.
  
  Then, an evil grin appeared on his face. There was one girl who, with the right motivation, would get him exactly what he wanted.
  
  "Another piece of bread, Sasha?"
  
  Sasha gratefully took it, chomping it down. "Thanks, Dillon." It was her fourth piece.
  
  Dillon considered himself lucky. Annie wasn't in the mess hall at the moment, giving him the chance to say her name without her hearing it. She had incredible hearing after all. The first two pieces were for if Sasha knew when her birthday was, but she didn't know. The next two was for his Plan B.
  
  Once Sasha swallowed the bread, she reiterated what she was told. "So, let me get this straight. You want me to ask the scariest girl in the Corps when her birthday is so you can surprise her with your gift. Is that what I'm hearing?"
  
  Dillon nodded.
  
  "And she can't know that you're planning to tell me. The minute she finds out, she'll know what I'm up to.
  
  "If she asks why I'm asking her, what's my reason?"
  
  "Anything that doesn't put her on the path towards me," he answered. "Maybe you want to throw a party for her or something like that."
  
  "I'll think of something," she assured. "How long do I have?"
  
  "Get the date as fast as you can," he replied, equally serious. "For all I know, it could be tomorrow. The second you find out, come find me without Annie seeing you relay the information to me. I'm counting on you."
  
  Sasha patted him on the head, smiling. "Don't worry about it, Dillon. Sasha Braus has got it covered. You just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show."
  
  Why do I get the feeling those are the last words I'll ever hear from you?
  
  Not many people knew this about Sasha, but when she was sufficiently paid for a mission, nothing would stop her from completing it. Give her a piece of meat and she would take on the Titan army herself. Four pieces of bread was enough to get her to retrieve the information for Dillon as a down payment. It was going to be tough with a minor chance of injury, but she was confident she could get it done.
  
  She spotted Annie leaning against the side of the barracks, looking bored and apathetic. So, nothing out of the ordinary.
  
  Commencing Operation: Breaking the Ice. Plan A: Casual Conversation. Sasha thought as she approached the target. "Hi, Annie."
  
  The blond-haired girl barely gave an indication that she heard her other than a mumbled, "Sasha."
  
  Sasha leaned on the barracks next to her and started talking. "You know, I just realized something. I don't know a lot about you."
  
  "So?" Annie asked, her tone indicating that she wanted Sasha to leave.
  
  "So, I thought it would be fun to get to know each other," she said, ignoring Annie's unspoken request. "Let's see. I'm from Dauper Village, south side of Wall Rose. Where are you from."
  
  "Wall Maria," she answered bluntly.
  
  Sasha sucked in a nervous breath. "Okay, scratch that off the list. Um, oh! I'm 14. How old are you?"
  
  Annie rolled her eyes and gave a begrudging answer. "Almost 14."
  
  The trap is set, and the prey draws near. "Really? When's your birthday?"
  
  "Why does it matter to you?" she questioned, annoyed.
  
  Sasha groaned. "Oh, come on. You can't give me at least that? It's just a date. I just want to know something about you."
  
  Annie stared at her firmly. "Here's a fact about me you should've picked up on a long time ago: I don't like talking to people that waste my time with pointless questions. Go be a bother to someone else."
  
  Normally, those words would sting a normal person, but Sasha was not normal. As Annie walked away, she called out, "I'm not giving up, Annie. I will know the truth!"
  
  Plan A: Failed.
  
  (Later)
  
  Plan B: Casual Dialogue as a Distraction.
  
  Among the many things that cadets had to be trained in, horseback riding was essential. In order for the Survey Corps to elude the Titans and conserve gas when they ventured into Titan territory, they had to learn how to ride at high speeds and maneuver quickly. If someone fell of their horse, their days were numbered by minutes. The instructors set up an obstacle course, the obstacles being cardboard Titans. The path that was set before them would take them close to the Titans and they would have to dodge them by the skin of their teeth to get a feel for what it's like out there. Ymir learned the hard way that too much of a sharp turn could make things worse. She turned so sharply that she flew off the horse and broke her leg on the landing. Her chances of getting into the Top 10 were dwindling.
  
  Surprisingly, Sasha was a master at high-speed horseback riding. It helped that she was from Dauper, a village that was well-known for its hunters. She's tracked down beasts of all sizes so she could help her father bring food to the table. That explained her obsession with a food that was becoming rare in Wall Rose: meat.
  
  Unfortunately for a certain blond-haired cadet, that meant she could multitask.
  
  "I still don't understand why you can't at least give me a date!" Sasha shouted over the wind as she made a clean, sharp turn. "Look how easy it is. July 26. That's when mine is."
  
  It was like Sasha was sent to this planet to get Annie to snap, but she was stronger than that. There was only one way to deal with a nuisance like her: ignore her while galloping away.
  
  "Okay, how about this?" Sasha offered. "If I guess the month of your birthday, tell me. Same goes for the day when we get there! So, March!?"
  
  Does she ever shut up!? Annie wondered, getting more and more aggravated by the second.
  
  "April? May?"
  
  (Later, back at the starting point)
  
  "October? November?"
  
  "Shut up already!" Annie yelled, finally reaching the end of her rope. She came to a stop and glowered at the tormentor. "You've circled through the months three times. Get this through your thick skull, Braus: we are not friends and we will never be friends. Just leave me alone."
  
  She jumped off the horse and stalked away for the second time today to the astonishment of her fellow recruits. They had never seen Annie lose her temper like that before. They made mental notes to stay away from her even more than usual.
  
  Sasha smirked at the spectacle. I'm wearing her down.
  
  Plan B: Failed
  
  (That evening)
  
  Plan C: Too Exhausted to Resist
  
  "How about January?"
  
  Annie let out an animalistic growl, trying to get to sleep. "They will never find your body, Potato Girl!"
  
  Plan C: Failed.
  
  (March 21)
  
  Plan D: Bargaining.
  
  "Hey, Annie!"
  
  Annie wanted nothing more than to scream to whatever deity was out there to consume Sasha Braus in a fireball, so she let out a groan. "What now, Sasha?"
  
  To her surprise, the irritant tossed a wooden knife to her. "I want to fight you."
  
  Annie caught it, realizing where this was going. "Let me guess: you win, I tell you when my birthday is?"
  
  "No," Sasha answered, stretching out her arms in preparation. "If I hit you once, you tell me when your birthday is. If I don't hit you, I'll never ask that question again. Do we have a deal?"
  
  The blond-haired girl sighed. "Fine."
  
  Quickly, she stuck out her hand. "Shake on it."
  
  Slowly, Annie shook her hand. "I'll make this quick." She didn't give Sasha a second to prepare. Annie tackled her to the ground and jammed the knife into her chest. She really wished it was a real knife. "We're done here."
  
  Then, Sasha did something she didn't expect: she flicked her on the nose.
  
  "Got you!" she exclaimed happily.
  
  Seriously? "I already killed you," Annie pointed out.
  
  "I'm pretty sure I'm still alive," she replied, moving her fingers to make sure.
  
  She shook her head in annoyance, feeling a migraine coming on. It was like talking to a five-year old. "For the purpose of this exercise, when my knife penetrates your chest, you lose."
  
  Sasha would not stop grinning. "You said I had to hit you once. You never said I had to beat you... or live. I flicked you on the nose; therefore, I win."
  
  Annie stared at her as if she grew three heads. Did I just get played by Potato Girl?
  
  "To shake my hand is as binding as a blood oath," Sasha pointed out seriously. "I fulfilled my terms of the bargain. Now, fulfill yours."
  
  Annie would never admit that what she did was well-played. She got off her and finally came clean. "My birthday is tomorrow, March 22nd."
  
  Sasha hopped back up, a feeling of accomplishment passing through her. "Thanks, Annie. See, that wasn't so hard, was it?" The feeling vanished the moment she was given the infamous stare that was usually followed by a major beating. Then, the evilest of all evil smirks appeared on her face, sending shivers down Sasha's spine. If she survived this encounter, she would be seeing that in her nightmares tonight.
  
  "You should've quit while you were ahead," Annie said darkly, cracking her knuckles.
  
  Groaning, Dillon threw himself off the bed after putting away his journal and opened the door that something was slamming against repeatedly. What he saw caused him to stagger back in shock. It was Sasha, but her face, which was incredibly swollen, was covered in bruises and scratches. Judging by the way she was standing, it looked like she had a limp too. Nevertheless, she was still smiling as if she was promised a lifetime supply of meat... which Dillon was smart enough to not promise.
  
  "Annie's birthday is tomorrow," she announced happily. "Mission accomplished!"
  
  "Thanks, Sasha," he replied hesitantly, a little concerned for physical health. "Are you, uh, okay?"
  
  She brushed it off. "Oh, please. If Shadis could make me run 'till I passed out, I can handle a few scrapes."
  
  Dillon shook his head. "I don't even want to know."
  
  Operation: Breaking the Ice: Successful! Reward: ten steamed potatoes.
  
  (March 22)
  
  Okay, Dillon. You can do this. He coached himself as he stood in front of the girls' barracks. Just knock on the door and ask to see Annie Leonhart.
  
  Let's think of all the ways this could go wrong.
  
  " Hey, Annie. I made you these knives," Dillon said, handing her the gift.
  
  Annie looked pleased with the gift, but no smile. "Thanks, Dillon. This is just what I needed."
  
  " Really? What for?"
  
  Without blinking, she stabbed him right in the heart with a sadistic grin on her face. "I'll give you one guess!"
  
  The last thing Dillon heard before he succumbed to his injuries was the sound of Annie laughing maniacally.
  
  Okay, that's probably not gonna happen. But there are other people who might take it the wrong way.
  
  " But, Commander, I swear I wasn't planning on assassinating you!" Dillon protested as he was being led away by two soldiers. "The anonymous tip was lying, sir!"
  
  " Defiant to the end, maggot!?" Shadis roared. "When I'm through with you, you're going to be singing like a majestic eagle!"
  
  Nobody noticed in the background Annie tossing one of the knives in her hand, smirking.
  
  Dillon shook himself out of those thoughts. Get a hold of yourself! Annie isn't a monster. She's a human being. Just knocked on the damn door.
  
  "Hi, Dillon!"
  
  With a high-pitched yelp that he would later deny making, Dillon whirled around to see sweet, beautiful Krista with a smile that could make anyone feel better about life.
  
  "Hi, Krista," he greeted, panting from shock.
  
  "I didn't mean to startle you," she said.
  
  "It's fine," he assured. "I was just lost in thought. How's Ymir?"
  
  A frown creased her face. "She won't be walking for a couple of weeks. At least she didn't get discharged to the fields."
  
  While Ymir wasn't his favorite person, Dillon still sympathized with her. "Well, at least you two can be thankful for small blessings."
  
  Curious, Krista gestured to the box in his hand. "Who's that for, Dillon?"
  
  "Oh, this? This is for Annie," he explained.
  
  The smile blossomed right back on her. "Aw, that's so sweet."
  
  Blushing a bit, Dillon stared at the door as if it was a great obstacle. "I've been trying to muster up the courage to knock on the door and ask for her, but the worst-case scenarios keep popping up in my mind. I thought that giving her this gift would finally make her smile for a change, but what if she doesn't? What if she gets annoyed with me? What if by wanting her to be happy ends up backfiring somehow?"
  
  Krista placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. "Dillon, didn't your parents ever teach you not to focus on what-ifs?"
  
  "Yes," he answered, happy that Ymir wasn't around to go ax-crazy on him for being near her.
  
  "It's hard to, isn't it?" she asked.
  
  "It is," Dillon agreed.
  
  "Here, I'll help you." Before he could stop her, Krista opened the door and exclaimed, "Annie, Dillon wants to talk to you about something important!" She turned around and mouthed, "Good luck," before vanishing into the barracks.
  
  "I wasn't ready,"he mouthed back, inwardly panicking.
  
  In about three seconds, Annie walked out of the door and stared at him blankly. "What is it, Dillon?"
  
  Hoping that he wasn't sweating and taking a deep breath, Dillon held the box out to her. "Happy birthday, Annie."
  
  Her eyes widened in shock. "Wait, this... is for me?"
  
  Okay, you can roll with this. "Don't tell me you've never had a birthday gift," he said.
  
  "I can't remember the last time I had one," she admitted, taking the box into her hands.
  
  Dillon's face fell for a moment. "Oh. I didn't know. Well, I hope you like this."
  
  Before she opened the box, Annie looked at him, realization dawning on her. "Wait a minute. It was you. You put Sasha up to it yesterday."
  
  "Guilty as charged," he replied with a smirk. "She was the only one I could think of that could get the information out of you without you figuring out that it was for my benefit. Go ahead. Open it."
  
  Annie tossed the lid off the box and stared at the knives. "Are these boot knives?"
  
  Impressed, he replied, "Good eye. I made them myself. I figured you were the type of girl that would like something with practicality. If there's ever a need to defend yourself, you've got two knives to whip out."
  
  Carefully, she stuck the knife in her boot next to her foot. "Fits like a glove."
  
  "The knives are standard issue for soldiers," Dillon added. "You should see how many we have at the Forge." Oh, come on, Dillon. What was the point of saying that? It bears no relevance to the conversation.
  
  Annie was about to do the same for the other knife when she paused. She glanced back at him, suspicion on her face. "Why are you doing this, Dillon?"
  
  He tilted his head, confused. "Huh?"
  
  Putting the box down, she crossed her arms, her eyes going cold once again. "What's the catch?"
  
  Dillon couldn't help but groan in annoyance. "Seriously? Are we really doing this again?"
  
  "No one has ever done something like this for me unless they wanted something from me in return," she shot back. "So, what is it? You want my life story? Are you expecting me to give you a gift in return? Or maybe you want me to have sex with you. I wonder how long that has been on your mind."
  
  That crossed the line. Instead of shouting at her like he wanted to, Dillon settled for the sarcastic approach. "Yes, Annie. In exchange for these knives, I want your painful backstory. Leave nothing out." He snapped his fingers as his tirade full of mockery continued. "Actually, I have a better idea. I get to have sex with you because obviously, giving you sharp weapons was going to be a prelude to a night of sexual pleasures. Is that what you wanted me to say, Leonhart? Does that answer satisfy you?"
  
  "You're mocking me," Annie stated, eyes narrowed yet again.
  
  Dillon opened his mouth to say something really stupid that could mean the end of him and pulled back from the brink. He took a deep breath and he explained his motivation. "Annie, the reason I gave you those knives is because I wanted you to be happy. That's all there is to it. You know, I've gotten to know you for over a year, and save for the one time I made you laugh, you never seemed to have anything to smile about. I just thought that this would cheer you up a little."
  
  Annie's anger slowly dissipated as the words sunk in. Like last time, she could tell that he was being sincere. He truly meant it as a gift, and she spit in his face in return.
  
  He sighed, disappointed at how things turned out. "I'm sorry I made you mad, and I'm sorry I wasted your time."
  
  Dillon turned to leave, but Annie quickly grabbed his shoulder to prevent him from walking away. "Dillon, wait!"
  
  Surprised, he turned back around and noticed how... nervous and hesitant Annie looked. This was a side to her he'd never seen before.
  
  "I learned at a young age that there are a lot of people in this world with ulterior motives," she explained, finding the ground to be an interesting sight. "They give you something to make you feel secure and safe... and then they own you."
  
  Dillon's eyes widened, shocked. "Annie, please don't tell me this is going where I-"
  
  Her head shot back up, realizing the implications behind that line. "No! That never happened to me! It's just... when I was a refugee in Wall Rose, I had to do favors for several people to survive. Sometimes it was stealing money, and other times it was delivering packages to certain people."
  
  "Drugs?" he questioned.
  
  She nodded. "I was good at what I did, and I got rewarded with food. My 'gifts' always came at a price back then."
  
  That made a lot of sense to him. Combined with the trauma of the Titan Invasion, getting separated from her father, and the fall of Wall Maria, she also had to deal with assholes who took advantage of beggars. No wonder she was so cold and angry most of the time.
  
  "I'm sorry I accused you, Dillon," Annie continued, feeling a little ashamed. "I should have known better by now."
  
  "Just promise me you won't start stabbing cadets with the knives and we'll call it even," he replied.
  
  Then, she did it. Annie gave a small, genuine smile. "Thank you for the gift."
  
  Something about that smile made Dillon feel like he won the grand prize in a tournament. It made him feel warm inside. "My pleasure, Annie. Happy birthday!"
  
  Once Dillon left, Annie headed back into the barracks where Krista was waiting with a cute smile.
  
  "Aw, wasn't that sweet of him, Annie?" she asked.
  
  Normally, Annie wouldn't have said anything, but she decided to oblige the girl this one time, taking the knife out of her boot. "Yes, it was."
  
  However, she wasn't finished. "You know what I think? I think he has a crush on you."
  
  That caught her off guard, her eyes widening. "Wait, what?"
  
  "Think about it," Krista said, listing off the facts with her fingers. "Whenever he eats, he usually tries eating with you, the two of you seem to enjoy each other's company most of the time, and he went through all that trouble with Sasha just to find out when your birthday was."
  
  Annie shook her head in disbelief, putting the knife back in its box. "You're delusional, Krista. There's no way someone like Dillon would... I mean, why would he...?" She was faltering as the facts started to come together in her mind. "Son of a bitch. He has a crush on me."
  
  Krista frowned at how she said that statement. "You make it sound like it's a bad thing."
  
  Annie scoffed, stashing the box underneath her bed. "In case I haven't made it clear, the only reason I'm here is because I want to survive. Last thing I need is some guy choosing me as his crush. Besides, why me?"
  
  She shrugged. "I can't answer that, Annie. You'd have to ask him yourself."
  
  Once she was done securing the knives, she faced Krista. "Look, just do me a favor and keep your theories to yourself. I don't need people gossiping about things that aren't true. I'll deal with this myself."
  
  Krista's face fell, feeling sad for Dillon, but she had to be sure. "You don't have feelings for him, do you?"
  
  Annie sighed. "Even if I did, it wouldn't work out. The only thing I would be good at is hurting him." She paused as a thought came to her. "Wait a minute. Why am I telling you all this?"
  
  "Because you trust me enough to keep quiet about it?" Krista suggested, resisting to urge to laugh.
  
  She groaned. "Never mind. Just go do whatever you want. I don't care."
  
  Krista took careful notice that Annie did not say she didn't have feelings for Dillon.
  
  Remastered Edits: I removed Dillon calling Annie stupid. Not exactly the smartest thing to say to her.
  
  Hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane because the next chapter is a completely new one.
  
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  Wounds of the Past
  Remastered Edits: Never seen before chapter!
  
  Chapter 6: Wounds of the Past
  
  "The average life consists of equal amounts of good and bad memories. Sure, you may get that one good moment that you can reminisce about for years to come. However, there will always be that one bad memory, that one bad day, that sticks with you for the rest of your life."
  
  Dillon looked over at Jean's table and couldn't bring himself to sit with him and Marco again. He just wasn't in the mood. Even sitting with Annie didn't sit right with him today. So, he picked a random table and sat down. Coincidentally, he was sitting next to Mikasa and across from Eren and Armin, but he wasn't paying attention. He found the food on his tray much more interesting.
  
  Armin and Eren chatted away while Mikasa listened to them quietly. Though her attention strayed to the newcomer at the table every now and again, as though unsure of just why he was there.
  
  Armin, a bit more observant than Eren, turned to Dillon with a winning smile. "What do you think, Dillon?" Armin realized a second later that Amsdale hadn't been paying attention to their conversation, so he added. "About the rankings. We were trying to figure out who's going to take the top spot."
  
  Dillon's head popped up, staring at the trio. it was the first time it hit him that he was sitting with them and he was right next to Mikasa. Hoping they didn't notice his immediate reaction, he quickly covered it up with, "Uh, I'm thinking Reiner. I mean, he's got everything: a good personality, willing to help others, and incredible strength and endurance. He's got my vote."
  
  Eren nodded his head. "Yeah, I guess that's a given." Dillon had picked one of the few people Eren wouldn't contest being better than him.
  
  "And Mikasa a natural," Armin said as he feigned bright enjoyment while studying Dillon closely.
  
  Mikasa took the comment gracefully and quietly.
  
  "Then there's Annie." Eren marked a 3 on his fingers. "I should be able to beat Bertholdt and horse-face at least."
  
  "Speaking of Annie," Armin interjected, taking advantage of Eren's words, "you normally sit with her."
  
  "Well, I wanted to give her some space in case she's sick of seeing this mug every morning," Dillon answered, pointing at his own face for enunciation. "And, Eren, you gotta level with me: how does Jean's face look like a horse? I don't see it. A buck-toothed rabbit? Maybe."
  
  Quickly changing the topic. Interesting.
  
  Eren gesticulated at his face. "You're getting close. It's just so long and he has those big teeth and eyes."
  
  He shrugged. "I've seen bigger eyes." He glanced over at Mikasa, who was looking at him intently. "Uh... you want me to go away, don't you?"
  
  Mikasa raised an eyebrow. Then shook her head. "It's okay."
  
  Dillon breathed a sigh of relief, then realized how inappropriate that came across. "Sorry. I honestly thought after my spat with Eren, I was close to the top of your 'hate' list."
  
  Mikasa fixed him with a gaze only one or two degrees warmer than Annie's. "You're blunt, aren't you?"
  
  Eren and Armin immediately went quiet.
  
  He gulped, his nervousness apparent. "I just screwed up again, didn't I?"
  
  "No. I appreciate it."
  
  It was like Eren and Armin deflated in relief.
  
  "You don't have to look after me anyway, Mikasa," Eren said in a huff.
  
  Dillon was also relieved, so he decided to engage in something he never thought he would with Mikasa: casual conversation. "If you don't mind me asking, Mikasa, how is it you're so good at... everything? Prior training?"
  
  She shrugged. "It just comes to me."
  
  Eren scowled. "It really does. Everything."
  
  Mikasa's shoulders slumped a bit, the only sign of sadness she'd ever given in front of Dillon.
  
  Dillon glanced at Armin, giving him a look that said, "I just tapped a sore subject, didn't I?"
  
  Armin gave him an alarmed look that confirmed his unasked question.
  
  "I'll just have to get better then." Eren shoveled some of the food into his mouth for emphasis.
  
  Dillon gave a sad smile and decided to help out without it sounding like he was helping. "You three are lucky to have each other, you know?"
  
  "I think so, too." Armin gestured with his fork. "I wouldn't have made it this far without either of them."
  
  "You do get into a lot of trouble." Eren nudged Armin.
  
  The blonde let out a nervous chuckle. "Yeah, kind of do."
  
  "Don't sell yourself short, Eren. You get in plenty of trouble as it is," Dillon assured good-naturedly.
  
  "It's not like I go looking for it," he mumbled.
  
  Dillon smirked. He knew it wasn't completely true, but he didn't push it. "That being said, I think it's kind of cool you have someone to pull you out if you get in too deep."
  
  Some of the cadets briefly glanced at their table, a bit surprised by what was occurring. Dillon and Eren were usually butting heads almost as much as Jean and Eren were. To see him casually interacting with them, almost like he was part of the group was astonishing.
  
  Eren rolled his eyes. "I'd be fine. I'm not a kid any more. Besides, the way Shadis likes to pick on you, maybe you need the protection."
  
  "He's not focusing on you as much, right?" Armin asked Dillon.
  
  "No, he's not," he said quietly. The comment Eren made wasn't made towards him, but he could still feel it's sting.
  
  "That's something. Besides, if he's every being too hard on you, I'll just screw up again. I'm his favorite. He'll leave you right alone." Armin's voice was quite cheerful.
  
  Eren was quick to remind him, "Actually, Sasha is his favorite. You're number 2, tops."
  
  Would I have been like that? Realizing that he couldn't change the subject from Eren's problem with Mikasa, he decided to do something before he got involved in something that wasn't his business. "I need to go. We can talk later." Something was definitely wrong.
  
  "Yeah, okay," Eren said absentmindedly. "Hey Armin, do you think you could show me how you did that navigation thing. I want to raise my grade in the classroom. The written stuff counts for something."
  
  "Oh yeah, sure. It's actually pretty simple when you think about it..." Armin started to drone on about the subject.
  
  Mikasa tuned them out as she watched Dillon. Like Armin, she had noticed something was up with him, but she couldn't put her finger on it. Making a decision, Mikasa got up a few seconds later, leaving Eren engrossed in his lesson with Armin as she followed Dillon out the mess hall.
  
  As Dillon was about to descend the stairs, he turned around once the door opened and saw Mikasa, of all people, walking towards him. "Mikasa?"
  
  She was wrapping the red scarf she always carried around her neck as she did, her face placid as usual. "You seem troubled."
  
  "Eren upset you with his comments," he explained. "I noticed. I wanted to address it but meddling into something that doesn't involve me would've made things worse."
  
  Mikasa nodded. "It is an old conversation."
  
  He sighed. "Eren told me what happened in Shiganshina, how you both lost your mom."
  
  She tightened one hand on the red scarf. "Yes. I had so few family left. Losing her was hard, but it was even harder on him."
  
  "I can only imagine." He looked at her. "Does he know?"
  
  Mikasa gave him a questioning look.
  
  "That he's hurting you by pushing you away like that?"
  
  The Asian glanced away for a moment. "I don't think he does."
  
  "Mikasa, I don't have any brothers or sisters, so I don't have the same experiences you guys do... but the only thing I can say is that if you don't talk to him, he'll never know, and things won't change."
  
  "He's not ready to change, to grow into that person yet. He's too full of his need to try and make it right."
  
  "If he can't make things right with his own family, what chance does he have out there?" He froze, thinking he crossed the line. "Sorry."
  
  Mikasa leaned up against the wall. "He's too much like his father. He looks to without for answers. I'm afraid he might never be ready to come home." She gave Dillon a pointed look. "I wanted to thank you though."
  
  "For what?"
  
  "That night he talked with you. That was the closest he's come to admitting why he's doing this to himself. To growing."
  
  "... You were the one watching us that night, weren't you?" he realized.
  
  Mikasa nodded. "You were fighting at first. I needed to be sure you wouldn't hurt him."
  
  "I understand. I'd probably do the same thing." He looked at Mikasa sympathetically. "Deep down, Eren does love you. He talks about how much you hold him back, and sometimes, I can see that, but if you talked to him, I think he'd listen. Do whatever you think is best, okay?"
  
  Mikasa hesitated a second before nodding. "I don't know what to do. I just know I need to keep him safe."
  
  "You'll be able to do that better when he stops hurting you." He held out his hand. "So, you and I, are we good, Mikasa?"
  
  Mikasa took his hand in hers. "I suppose we are. I still owe you, and I do not forget that."
  
  "Thanks." With as much effort as he could, he gave her a smile before heading down the stairs. "See you later."
  
  Mikasa didn't follow. She headed back up the stairs to the dining area. It was time to start repaying the favor.
  
  Not many things could surprise Annie, but Mikasa coming to her table was one of them. She raised an eyebrow at her approach. "Can I help you with something?"
  
  Mikasa stared Annie right in the eye. "I came to ask a favor."
  
  Now, the blonde was intrigued. "You want me to help you with something?"
  
  "I want you to help someone else with something," Mikasa deadpanned in their meeting of the deadpan.
  
  "Does it have something to do with your brother-boyfriend?" she asked. "If it's about those lessons I'm giving him, get over it. He asked me to teach him."
  
  Mikasa's eyes narrowed. "It's about Dillon."
  
  "Is that so?" Annie asked, taking a sip of water. "Since when do you care about Dillon? Last I checked, you threw him into a wall when Eren was acting like a brat."
  
  "I did. But I was able to see past that. You did not. Otherwise, you would have noticed."
  
  "Noticed what?"
  
  "Dillon is troubled. You are his closest friend here. You should talk to him."
  
  Annie scoffed. "And why would I do that? If he has a problem, he can deal with it himself. Unlike you, I'm not some bodyguard who follows him around to make sure he doesn't stub his toe, and I don't plan on starting now."
  
  "Whether you care or not is your business. I'm not here to fight you today." Mikasa left to go back to the table with Eren and Armin.
  
  Annie began playing with her food as she thought about what Mikasa said. She wasn't stupid. She knew something was up with Dillon the moment he entered the mess hall. But why should she get involved? It wasn't affecting her. Then again, Dillon did make her birthday special, something that hadn't happened in years. He didn't want anything in return except to see her happy, and today, he was miserable. She tried telling herself that he would work it out himself. He didn't need her butting into something that wasn't her business. On the other hand, he'd probably try to help her if she was visibly having a bad day.
  
  "Damn you, Dillon," she growled as she got up to leave.
  
  It took a while for Dillon to find it, but after about 20 minutes of wandering the forest, he stumbled into a clearing with a tall, beautiful tree. She would've liked it very much. Maybe even try to climb it. He sighed, pulling out his boot knife and began carving into the tree. He sharpened earlier to make sure it would be good enough to do what he needed to do.
  
  Annie lurked in the shadows for a while, as was her usual. She watched him carve, debating how best to approach him.
  
  He pulled back, seeing the "E" he put in. He smiled a bit. "What do you think, Eve?"
  
  Well, that was an opening if ever there was one. "You didn't tell me you had a girlfriend."
  
  He gasped and turned around, knife at the ready. "Annie? What the hell are you doing here?"
  
  Annie gave him a slight smirk. "Saw you leave. Your other girlfriend pointed it out."
  
  His eyes narrowed as he lowered the knife. "She's not my girlfriend." Not even a blush or a stutter. Definitely not like Dillon.
  
  Annie put her hands in her pockets and trudged over to him. "E for Eve?"
  
  "Yeah."
  
  "So, who is she?"
  
  He looked away for a moment. Part of him wanted to send Annie away, but at the same time, he felt like getting it off his chest. "She's... my sister."
  
  This day was full of surprises. "You never mentioned her before. You've only ever talked about your parents. You talk about them a lot."
  
  He closed his eyes as the memories came back. "Because she's dead."
  
  Annie stepped a bit closer. "I'm sorry." She even surprised herself by meaning it.
  
  He sat against the tree trunk, fiddling with the knife. He didn't know what prompted him to talk about it. Something he wanted to get off his chest probably. "I was four when it happened. Mom told me I was going to be a big brother, and I was so excited."
  
  Annie stood there, listening quietly.
  
  He chuckled. "Mom got big enough so that when I hugged her stomach, it was like hugging my sister. I told her how much fun we were going to have, and I couldn't wait to see her. Sometimes, I could feel her kick, almost as if she was excited, too." His voice was beginning to shake. "I hope she heard me. I hope she knew how much I loved her."
  
  Annie had a feeling she knew where this was going.
  
  "The day came, and I went to the hospital. I stayed in the waiting room for hours, but I was restless. I was jumpy. I was excited. She was coming." Tears began to fall down his face. "Something went wrong, and... she was stillborn."
  
  Annie bowed her head. She knew something like this could happen, but imagining how devastated Dillon and his parents were made it worse. "I'm sorry."
  
  "I couldn't rationalize it. I couldn't figure out what went wrong," he went on. "I'll never forget what I asked Mom once I was able to talk about it." He hesitated, remembering that day like it was yesterday, like he did every single year. "Did I hug her too hard?"
  
  Annie let out a sigh, edging closer to Dillon. "It doesn't work like that. Things happen in the body. The world is a cruel, uncaring place. And people? We're just the idiots who try and make sense of it. But it wasn't your fault."
  
  "I know... but it's still hard. I miss Evelyn so much, and I wish I knew her." He brushed off his tears as he began getting up. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't be bothering you with this."
  
  "It's not a bother." That sounded like the right thing to say. It was what grieving people said to each other when she listened in on their conversations.
  
  He sighed, putting away the knife. "I saw the way Eren treated Mikasa when she's trying to keep the only family she has left alive, and it was sickening that he couldn't see how he was hurting his own sister. I guess I started wondering if Evelyn was alive if she would think of me that way."
  
  "Maybe. You'd probably be the protective type." Annie didn't see the point in what-ifs, but Dillon seemed to want to go down this road. "But not everyone is as thick as Eren."
  
  "That's true." He stared at the engraving he made. "Every time this day comes, it hurts. I try to get it out of my system by talking to Evelyn alone, telling her all the things that have been happening. I make engravings in spots I think she would have liked. It helps sometimes."
  
  "I get having that sort of day."
  
  He looked at her in surprise. "Really?"
  
  Annie blanched. She couldn't believe she let that slip. "Y-yeah."
  
  Dillon noticed how uncomfortable she looked and backtracked. "Sorry. I won't pry if you don't want me to."
  
  Annie didn't answer him at first. She just reached forward and traced the "E".
  
  "Annie?"
  
  Annie flinched at the sound, realizing she'd gotten lost in thought at just the wrong time. "Sorry."
  
  "Did you lose someone, too?" He hesitated in asking, hoping that she wouldn't pummel him for that.
  
  "Her name started with an 'E' too."
  
  "A sister?"
  
  "Mother. My mother. Emma Leonhart."
  
  "It's a beautiful name," he said quietly. "Did you know her?"
  
  She closed her eyes briefly, thinking back. "I did for a while. Long enough. She was my hero."
  
  He couldn't help but smile a bit. He knew all about having a hero for a mother.
  
  "She died six years ago."
  
  "I'm sorry."
  
  She didn't face him. "Me too."
  
  "What was she like?" Dillon wondered.
  
  "Grumpy, passionate, hopeful, optimistic, and determined. She was loyal. Even people who wanted to hate her loved her. Didn't stop her from looking for a fight wherever she could. But she never for a moment doubted her righteousness. I'm only one of those things."
  
  "Which one?"
  
  "Grumpy," Annie said, turning to him with a sad smile.
  
  "You're also passionate and determined," he told her. "I could see it when you tried to kill me."
  
  Annie gave a shrug. "I was just bored."
  
  "I could see it in your eyes, Annie. There was passion when we fought and determination to beat me when I counterattacked."
  
  Annie looked a bit more alive at that. "It was a fight then. I always do..." She trailed off. "So did mom."
  
  "Now you have three things," he said.
  
  Annie looked away for a moment. "I never... thank you."
  
  Dillon had no idea what compelled him. Caught in the moment was the most likely answer. It was obvious that his sense of self-preservation was gone. Otherwise, he wouldn't have wrapped his arms around her, giving her a firm hug.
  
  Annie stiffened at the contact, eyes widening. She was not used to this sort of contact at all. However, she began to relax just a bit, knowing that he cared enough to do this for her. "I have one guess what Eve might have been like."
  
  "What?"
  
  Annie wrapped her arms around him, surprising him. "One of the few people I'd have liked to have met."
  
  He smiled softly, resting his on top of hers. Her hair felt nice but being able to find comfort in her felt far better. Wherever Evelyn was, he hoped she'd be happy knowing she had someone else that would've been a great friend to her.
  
  A few days had passed since that moment, and Dillon was back to his usual self as if nothing happened. When asked by Jean about what was going on, he only told him it was a personal matter that he didn't want to talk about. While Jean dropped that subject, he did have a slight bone to pick with him.
  
  "So, what the hell's going on with you and Eren?" he had asked.
  
  "We came to an understanding," Dillon had answered. "Not exactly the best of buds, but it's a start."
  
  Jean sighed. "And there goes my fun of watching you taking down that punk."
  
  "Like or not, we're on the same team, but don't worry." He patted him on the shoulder. "He's all yours now."
  
  "Very funny."
  
  However, the one most affected by that day was Mikasa. She never stopped thinking about the things Dillon told her, the concerns he had. As usual, Mikasa followed Eren about for those few days while working through things in her own mind. Eventually, she didn't even consciously decide to speak up to Eren. The words just escaped her mouth one day while they were sweeping the armory together. "Eren." She swept the broom in even strokes.
  
  "Yeah?" he asked without really paying attention.
  
  "Do you find me so much a bother?"
  
  That stopped him as he slowly faced her. "What?"
  
  Perhaps that was too blunt. "Do I bother you?"
  
  "Where the hell is this coming from?"
  
  "Never mind," Mikasa said on reflex.
  
  For a moment, the two stayed in an awkward silence, but Eren was the one to break it. "You treat me like a little kid, as if I can't do anything on my own."
  
  "I'm just trying to keep you safe."
  
  "By what? Constantly keeping me down?"
  
  "Eren?" Mikasa looked aghast. "That's not what I'm trying to do. Ever."
  
  "And yet, you do it," he growled, clenching his broomstick so hard, he thought it would break. "I get into a fight, you're always there to save the day. God forbid I actually take care of something myself."
  
  "I don't doubt you, Eren. There's just so many things that can go wrong. One punch, one kick, one mistake, and someone could..." Perhaps she wasn't helping her case.
  
  His eyes narrowed. "Well, you don't see me worrying about you. Perfect. Worth a hundred soldiers when you haven't even finished. You don't even have to try to be good at everything."
  
  Mikasa clutched her broom to her chest, those comments hitting her hard. "That's not my fault."
  
  "But you won't let me get better because you want to constantly be there to protect me from every, stupid thing," he raged.
  
  "Eren, you've come so far along the way in your training," she assured, trying to placate him. "You've done that."
  
  "And I could've gotten farther if you stopped pretending to be my mother, damn it!" he exclaimed, tossing the broom into the wall. "She's gone, okay? I don't need you to try and take her place!"
  
  The silence between them was deafening, Eren's panting being the only thing that broke it. So much anger and resentment that had been built up these past few years. He really did view her that way. As for Mikasa, it was like getting shot in the chest. All her efforts to try to help Eren, to keep him safe, and he spat in her face.
  
  Mikasa mumbled something under her breath, her hair obscuring her eyes.
  
  "What?" he questioned. "Just spit it out already."
  
  "I lost Carla, too!" Mikasa shouted as she tossed her broom aside, the words echoing in the empty armory and making him stagger back. It had been a long time since she let it out. While her voice got softer, her words had no less the impact. "She was my mother, too. My family. My mom and dad are gone. Carla is gone. You're all I have left."
  
  Eren didn't understand how this happened. "Mikasa-."
  
  "What if something happens to you, too?" she asked.
  
  He desperately tried to salvage the situation. "Mikasa, nothing is going to-."
  
  Eren only accomplished in raising her ire as Mikasa stalked towards him to the point they were nose to nose. "People said the Walls would keep the Titans out, but they didn't. Hannes said he was going to protect us, but he didn't, and he had all the training we're getting. My parents said they'd always be there for me, but they couldn't be because someone took them. Carla took me in as her daughter, she promised me the same thing my parents did, and I believed it that time to. Things happen." She just kept going, saying more words at one time than she'd shared with everyone combined over the past few days. "I've already had to grow up faster than I ever should have, and so have you. You want to so badly that you're taking risks with yourself, the last person I have left. I can't grieve for you too. I just can't."
  
  Mikasa grabbed him by the collar so he could see her eyes. There was less anger and more grief contained in them that she never truly showed. "They tell us every day in training, 'you can't do everything on your own.' You just can't. You're a part of a team. We're a team. We were since the day you saved me. You gave me back this life and I'd do anything to keep it, Eren. You're all I have left." Tears were sliding down her face now as she began to break down like she did when they first met. "They're all gone."
  
  Eren didn't know what to say in the face of all that. He never really took the time to consider how she was going through. Sure, he and his parents were there when she lost her parents, but after Shiganshina fell, and his mother died... how alone did he make her feel? He felt lower than he ever had in his entire life, and it was his fault. He couldn't take it anymore as he hugged Mikasa as tightly as he could. "I'm sorry, Mikasa," he whispered. "I'm so sorry."
  
  "I have to keep you safe, Eren." Mikasa's hug was even tighter as sobs wracked her body. "That's why I have to keep getting better too."
  
  "I just... damn it." They sunk to the ground. "I miss them so much."
  
  "So do I."
  
  "Those damn Titans. They all deserve to die," he snarled angrily as tears streamed down his face. "I want something back!" And there it was.
  
  "Eren, revenge can't come at the cost of losing you. Not for me."
  
  "Then what am I supposed to do? What's the point?"
  
  "I can't tell you how to find your own peace with this."
  
  "Peace?" he asked quietly. "I can't find it, Mikasa. It doesn't exist. I'll... I'll never be free."
  
  Mikasa didn't say anything as they held each other. This wasn't something that could be fixed. Not for a long time, at least. They were too broken, too angry, to try and move on from the pain the Titans caused them. But, for once, they felt closer to each other than they ever had in a long time.
  
  AN: Okay, there's a whole lot to talk about, so let's get to it.
  
  First, I want to thank Necromancy101 for writing Mikasa, Annie (for the most part), Armin, and Eren (first half of the story). I couldn't have done this without your help. Now, let's talk about this chapter. Also, I completely forgot to credit him, but he also did Eren during Eren and Dillon's chat in Chapter 4.
  
  Dillon having a stillborn sister was something that I've wanted to canonize for a long time. I just never knew how to properly bring her up. I once considered doing a one-shot, but after going through these edits, Necromancy gave me an opportunity, and we were both very surprised how it turned out. Roleplaying is its own art, and it shows when done right. Not to mention Annie having some common ground with Dillon and a way for them to get closer.
  
  And while I'm glad that this scene finally happened, it pales in comparison to Eren and Mikasa. Arguably, my biggest problem with Attack on Titan, at least for Season 1, is that these two don't go through character development. Things happen to them, but Eren remains the same, and Mikasa remains the same. It also shows my problem with Eren, that he seems so focused on his own pain that he shuts everyone else's pain out.
  
  I hope that we didn't make Eren and Mikasa too out of character and this was a more natural way to go about it. I'd love to know what you all think, so don't hold back.
  
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  Survival Training
  Chapter 7: Survival Training
  
  " It was supposed to be a simple exercise."
  
  Dillon lost track of how many times he wiped the sweat off his forehead. The merciless sun was bearing down on him and the other cadets as they traveled through the desert on horseback. He hoped the speed from the horses would've cooled them down, but his hopes were dashed. Still, it was better than traveling on foot.
  
  The purpose of this exercise was to establish how well the cadets could sustain themselves during a time without a crisis. They were split into two groups, traveling two different paths that led to the same destination. From there, they would exchange reports on how well the cadets did written by a cadet on each team that would observe them and journey back. The good news was they had plenty of rations and water to last them the journey to and from their destination: a forest, which had plenty of freshwater lakes inside. The test was a birthday gift and the cadets would reap its spoils. Heck, even Shadis pointed out how easy it this would be when he gave them the assignment, though he reminded them that whether in the battlefield or not, a soldier is always a soldier.
  
  Team A consisted of Eren, Marco, Dillon, Armin (chronicler), Jean, Mina, Connie, Sasha, and Krista.
  
  Team B consisted of Thomas, Mikasa (chronicler), Annie, Reiner, Bertholdt, Samuel, Franz, and Hannah. Ymir would've been on Team B if she hadn't broken her leg a week prior.
  
  However, there was one thing that concerned Dillon: Marco Bodt being the team leader. He didn't think badly of Marco. The guy had optimism that was seriously needed in these dark times, and he was friendly enough to get along with the other recruits. It's just that he couldn't see him as a person who could lead others. It was possible Marco could prove him wrong and prove his worth as a leader. Deep inside, though, Dillon knew he was a little sore about not being picked to lead the squad, but Shadis probably knew what he was doing. After all, a person can't grow without giving them the chance to grow.
  
  "So, we're not allowed to go faster?" Marco asked Armin.
  
  "Uh, yeah," the assigned chronicler answered.
  
  "It'd be stupid if we did," Jean pointed out, sounding slightly more relaxed than the rest of the team. "For once, we can just take our time."
  
  "Of course, you would say that," Eren sneered. "If you're gonna fall behind, I'm moving ahead."
  
  And here we go again. Dillon thought to himself with a roll of his eyes.
  
  "Eren, wait," Armin exclaimed as the green-eyed boy moved up ahead.
  
  Fortunately, Marco stopped Eren albeit meekly. "Eren, we need to keep the formation. Jean, what should we do?"
  
  "I don't care," Jean stated, annoyed. "Besides, you're the leader, Marco. You make the call."
  
  Marco heaved a sigh, wiping the sweat off his forehead. "Let's just continue this exercise."
  
  So much for that upbeat attitude. Dillon thought with a frown. Must be the heat.
  
  "Will you get a move on?" Eren demanded to Jean. "Don't you have any endurance for this?"
  
  "Do you ever shut up?" he shot back, irritated.
  
  Connie groaned. "And there they go again."
  
  "We have a long road ahead of us," Sasha said. "I'm not sure I can last the trip if the two keep bickering like this."
  
  "You're not the only ones," Dillon added in a low voice only they could hear. The temptation to start punching them was rising.
  
  To their credit, Eren and Jean quit going at each other's throats... for the next fifteen seconds.
  
  Jean noticed to their right a giant, gray lizard walking with them. "Check it out. Seems like that lizard is heading our way."
  
  "It's rare to see lizards around here," Marco noted.
  
  "They're delicious, you know," Sasha mentioned. When a couple of cadets looked at her strangely, she elaborated. "Seriously, they are. My family and I used to eat them. They taste like chicken."
  
  "I don't think I've had a lizard before," Dillon said. "Then again, I doubt lizards are commonplace in Yarckel." His mouth watered a little. It had been over a year since he had meat.
  
  "You can cook?" Jean asked.
  
  '"Can I cook?' he says," Sasha replied with a huge grin. "Easily."
  
  "Well, in that case..."
  
  Jean hit the horse with his foot, causing it to speed up to a gallop. He was going to hunt down that reptile.
  
  "Hey, wait!" Marco protested.
  
  "Sasha, get your cooking skills ready," Jean exclaimed excitedly. "I'm gonna get that lizard!"
  
  "No, don't," Krista protested.
  
  "I'll go after him," Eren sighed, giving chase.
  
  "This won't end well," Dillon mumbled, riding up closer to Marco. "I'm going after them before they get into another lover's spat."
  
  Reluctantly, the squad leader nodded. "Hurry."
  
  The lizard, realizing that it was being chased, made a run for it, but the small reptile was no match for the speed of a horse. When he was upon the lizard, Jean raised his sword to impale it, but instead of cutting through its flesh, it was blocked by another sword. Eren had caught up with him after all. Seizing the opportunity, the lizard fled.
  
  "Are you serious, Eren?" Jean demanded furiously.
  
  "At least I'm taking this seriously," he shot back.
  
  "Can we just have one day with you two not trying to out-dick each other?" Dillon asked once he caught up to him.
  
  "I wasn't the one who decided to go off track to chase a lizard," Eren muttered.
  
  "It's called taking an initiative, dumbass," Jean shot back.
  
  Dillon's face met his hands in frustration. It was like talking to brick walls. Loud and obnoxious brick walls.
  
  Finally, Marco, once the rest of the group made it to their position, intervened. "Enough! You're acting like a bunch of children."
  
  "Back off, Marco," Jean demanded.
  
  Marco stood his ground. "Get a hold of yourselves, all of you! If we delay, this incident will be reported." Quickly, he turned to Armin. "Armin, don't write this down yet."
  
  "O-Okay," he stuttered.
  
  Annoyed, Jean spoke his mind. "Write down, 'Jean Kirstein tries to find food during the exercise, but an annoying little shit prevents him."'
  
  "Say that again," Eren dared, looking like he was ready to draw his sword.
  
  "You let him get away!"
  
  All eyes, which were filled with surprise, were now on Sasha, who was giving her version of a glare to Eren and Jean. She really wanted to eat that lizard. Dillon resisted laughing at how adorable she looked when she was upset by disguising it as a cough.
  
  Sighing, Marco said, "Let's go. We're wasting time."
  
  "Fine," Jean conceded, continuing the long march to the forest.
  
  Before he went back to his own spot, Dillon turned to Eren. "Look, I know you two have a lot of issues with each other, but you're not helping anyone."
  
  "How are you even friends with the guy?" Eren wondered.
  
  "He may be self-centered half the time, but he can be a nice guy when he wants to be," he explained. "Kind of reminds me of you at times."
  
  "Hey, don't start comparing me to that horse-face."
  
  Dillon chuckled as he made his way back into position. Riling people up was fun.
  
  That night, the squad made camp in the forest. With the lack of any meat, they were forced to eat the food rations that were given to them. Considering the type of food Dillon was accustomed to in Yarckel, this slop they called stew was one of the worst things he had ever tasted. He wasn't the only one with those thoughts.
  
  "So, this is what food rations taste like," Connie muttered in disgust.
  
  "If we caught that lizard, we could be eating real food," Sasha pointed out.
  
  "Maybe we'll see him again on the return trip," Dillon said, trying not to vomit out the contents. He would have to get used to this stuff fast.
  
  "If I hear the word 'lizard' again, it'll be too soon," Jean grumbled.
  
  "Funny," Eren snorted. "You were desperate to catch it earlier."
  
  Jean sighed. "If it makes any difference, I was pretending I was hunting down a Titan."
  
  The green-eyed boy didn't buy it for a second, getting angry once again. "Oh, please. You don't give a damn about the Titans."
  
  The group had the same thought: Not this shit again.
  
  He stood up aggressively, causing everyone to back up a little. "Why don't you tell them all the reason you joined the Training Corps? That you're nothing but a coward who'd rather hide than fight."
  
  "Will you give it a rest already?" Dillon asked, tempted to bust a few capillaries if it meant shutting them up.
  
  "I can handle this, Dillon." Aggravated, Jean got to his feet, looming over him. "Unlike you, I actually want to live to see another day."
  
  "There won't be another day if we don't-"
  
  "Defeat the Titans," Jean interrupted, waving him off. "We know. Guess what? I don't care anymore. If you keep that attitude up, you're gonna be Titan chow like your mother."
  
  With a scream, Eren tackled Jean to the ground, punching his face as hard as he could. "You son of a bitch!"
  
  Quickly, Marco and Connie pulled the teen off Jean, holding him tightly so he couldn't go at him again. For once, Dillon gave Jean an unsympathetic look as he clutched his bloody nose. He had that coming for that low blow.
  
  "I'll kill him!" Eren raged, struggling to escape. "Let me go!"
  
  "Not on my watch," Marco said, giving the two a stern and disappointed look. "You two are going to be sleeping far away from each other as you can. If I hear one more argument between the two of you, I will make sure Shadis hears about this. In fact, don't speak to each other for the remainder of the exercise."
  
  Nice job, Marco. Dillon complemented inwardly.
  
  "Works for me," Jean replied with a scowl, looking through the supplies for a first-aid kit.
  
  Eren stopped thrashing like a wild animal, conceding to the terms. "Fine." Once he was released, he grabbed his sleeping bag and moved it to the far side of the camp.
  
  "That was a close one," Mina commented, unsettled by that scene.
  
  "Hopefully, they won't try to kill each other while they're sleeping," Connie added.
  
  "Let's not give them any ideas," Dillon suggested, knowing the subjects of their conversation could hear them. He was about to start turning in for the night when he noticed Krista looking worried. "What's wrong, Krista?"
  
  "I think I saw someone watching us," she answered nervously.
  
  Instantly, a shiver went down Dillon's spine, but he retained his cool. He spoke in a whisper. "Don't point. Where did you see this person?"
  
  Krista barely gestured to the left of her.
  
  "Go tell Marco and the others, but keep it quiet and natural," he instructed. "If we're being watched, we need to take them by surprise."
  
  Nodding, the blond-haired girl stretched a bit before heading over to other cadets. Dillon, meanwhile, slowly walked into the forest to look around. Without a torch, he couldn't see very well, so he decided to use his ears to pick up any leaves rustling or twigs snapping. He pulled out one of his boot knifes just to be safe.
  
  Come out wherever you are. Dillon thought as he scanned his surroundings of anything out of place.
  
  After five minutes of looking around, he returned to the camp where everyone seemed a little on edge for obvious reasons.
  
  "Anything?" Marco asked concerned.
  
  Dillon shook his head. "Sorry, Krista. I didn't see anyone."
  
  Several of the cadets breathed a sigh of relief.
  
  "It was probably my imagination," Krista said, reassured that there was nothing out there.
  
  "Say, did you by chance see any lizards while you were-"
  
  "Enough with the lizards, Sasha," was the chorused response.
  
  Dejected, the meat-obsessed girl sank into her sleeping bag.
  
  As Dillon set up his own bed, he couldn't get the feeling of being watched out of his mind. Still, he decided to shrug it off as paranoia and decided not to dwell on it. He should have, for if he investigated the ground, he would've noticed a footprint embedded in it.
  
  (Later that night)
  
  "AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!"
  
  Dillon's eyes shot open immediately, his heart nearly stopping from that scream. "Krista!"
  
  He scrambled out of his sleeping bag only to find himself face to face with the barrel of a rifle. He slowly looked up at the owner, who was garbed in dark green clothes and a sack over his head.
  
  "Don't move," he warned.
  
  Dillon gulped. Last time he had a gun in his face was when he was twelve and the forge was being robbed. Unlike last time, his dad wasn't around to save him. He slowly moved his head and analyzed the situation. There were four other armed men, aiming their guns at the cadets. They were surrounded. The way they stood and the way they carried their guns revealed they were professionals. One false move and someone would die.
  
  "Get their ODM gear." one of the men ordered.
  
  "What are you gonna do with them?" Eren demanded.
  
  Shut up, Eren. Dillon silently pleaded.
  
  "Let's just say you rookies just made us rich men," the man standing over Eren answered. "There's not a chance we can beat the Titans, so we might as well get rich while we still can."
  
  Angered, Eren grabbed the gun and shoved it upwards to keep himself from getting shot. He began to wrestle for the gun and shouted, "Now, everyone!"
  
  Dillon resisted the urge to facepalm. The rest of the men had them completely covered. There was too high a chance of someone getting shot. He was also unsure if he could attack all five of them mentally at the same time. Unlike Eren, he wasn't about to gamble with everyone's lives.
  
  "Eren, don't!" Armin yelled as the man behind him shoved the gun deeper into his back.
  
  Panic overtaking him, Jean attempted to make a run for it. Seeing this, one of the men fired a warning shot and the bullet grazed his cheek, leaving a scratch on it. Jean stopped dead in his tracks, shaking with fear. Eren, distracted by the sound of a gun going off, was hit in the head by the butt of the rifle. As expected, nothing had changed except for the injuries Eren and Jean sported and the tension rising higher.
  
  "Don't be an idiot next time," the man Eren wrestled with advised. "Unless you want a bullet in the head, I suggest you stay down."
  
  Eren growled angrily but complied with the order. There was no sense in getting shot.
  
  "What did you do to Krista?" Dillon asked as some of the men began taking the ODM gear.
  
  "We'll be taking her off your hands," the green man chuckled. "She'll have a lot of buyers lined up for her. Such a pretty thing, she is."
  
  The blacksmith clenched his fist, doing everything he could to resist attacking them. It was one thing to take their gear. It was another to engage in human trafficking. "You scumbags are going to regret this."
  
  "You hear that?" Green Man asked in a mocking tone. "This little shit says he's gonna make us regret our crimes. Ooh, I'm scared now."
  
  The others laughed at Dillon's empty threat just as Green Man hit him in the stomach with the butt of his gun. He fell to his knees, groaning in pain. In hindsight, he probably should have seen that coming.
  
  "Anyone else want to say something?" Green Man questioned to the other cadets. When no one responded, he said, "That's what I thought."
  
  Once the men gathered the equipment, horses with carriages arrived on the scene. Seemed like they were part of some sort of gang or something like that. While they loaded up the ODM Gear, another man walked out of the forest carrying Krista, who was looking completely terrified. The instinct to go save her was high, but the idea of getting shot in the process was higher. To make matters worse, they scared off the horses the cadets were using a long time ago, removing an advantage they had.
  
  "Today, we have decided to spare your lives," a man in red, clearly the leader, announced after they tossed Krista in the back of one of the carriages. "There's no point in wasting our ammunition on you. But if you follow us, we will kill you."
  
  Quickly, the men entered the carriages and rode off down the road, leaving behind the traumatized cadets. This was the first time something like this had happened to most of them. Dillon was accustomed to scumbags like that back in Yarckel. Eren, however, seemed more angry than traumatized.
  
  "You cowards," he snarled, his rage letting loose. "If we all attacked them, we could have prevented this."
  
  Reaching the end of his rope, Dillon grabbed Eren and slammed him against the trunk of a tree. His eyes were blazing with fury, but his voice was low. Good thing Mikasa wasn't here. "That stunt you pulled almost got us killed. If you do something like that again, you'll have me to deal with. Got it?"
  
  Eren glowered at him, but he slowly nodded.
  
  "Let him go, Dillon," Marco commanded, his voice weary. "This exercise is over."
  
  Releasing Eren, Dillon asked, "So, how are we going to rescue Krista?"
  
  "I... I don't think we can," the squad leader admitted. "If we hurry back to Shadis, maybe we can-"
  
  "By then it'll be too late!" Eren interrupted, stalking up to Marco. "I'm not gonna let them take her. If I have to, I'll get her back myself."
  
  "Not alone, you aren't," Dillon stated. "I'm going with you, but we need to come up with a plan first. We can't rescue Krista if we're dead."
  
  Eren shouldn't have been surprised Dillon would be the first to volunteer.
  
  "I owe them for this scratch," Jean added, his fingers lightly brushing the wound. "Count me in."
  
  Soon, the rest of the squad voiced in their agreement. They were all going to save Krista.
  
  "How do we catch up with them?" Connie asked.
  
  "I don't think we can find them even if we split up," Mina pointed out.
  
  Sasha snapped her fingers, getting an idea. "That's it. Let's get to a high point. 'When you get lost in the mountains, get to the top. If you get lost in the forest, climb a high tree.' That's what my father taught me."
  
  Marco smiled at her idea. "Good idea, Sasha. Let's move."
  
  The cadets gathered what supplies they needed and stashed them in sacks. They would have to carry them for the rest of their journey. The map indicated a rocky path they would have to scale in order to reach the top. Without wasting any time, they hiked all the way to the top, though that was exhausting. Traveling uphill was always a challenge.
  
  Once they reached the top of the slope, Jean was able to spot smoke in the distance. It seemed the kidnappers were at a rendezvous point of some kind. With no time to lose, the cadets slid down the slope, Sasha treating it like some sort of fun slide, and ran towards the campsite. When they got close enough, they wisely used a vantage point to spy on the kidnappers. Dillon pulled out a spyglass from his share of the supplies and looked at the site below him.
  
  "I count eight men," Dillon announced softly, handing over the spyglass to Eren. "All armed. They're gonna travel with ODM gear in one carriage and Krista in the other."
  
  "Once we load everything, we leave," the leader announced suddenly. "Hurry."
  
  "Now what?" Eren asked, passing the spyglass to Jean.
  
  "We'll be too late at this rate," Jean added.
  
  "If we go in now, we'll get shot," Marco pointed out.
  
  "I have an idea," Armin said, examining a map. The guys observing the thieves slid down the slope to listen to his plan. "Since they're going to sell the stolen goods, they'll probably take the wide exit here." He pointed at a crossroads where two roads diverged. "We need to ambush them before they get there."
  
  Connie examined the map, pointing out the flaw in the plan. "Without our horses, we won't be able to catch up with them."
  
  "The fastest way to a destination is a straight line," Dillon stated. "They'll be traveling on the road while we cut through the forest."
  
  Armin nodded in agreement. "We're going to have to run to make it there in time. If they take the wide road, we won't be able to ambush them. That being said, we need to find a way to get them on the narrow path."
  
  "Do we have any rope?" Mina asked.
  
  Eren pulled it out of his bag and handed it to her. "Here."
  
  She smirked, coming up with a plan. "If we tie this around a tree and pull it down to the road, that should keep the kidnappers from going in that direction. This will require at least three people. A spotter, someone to pull the tree down, and someone else to back us up."
  
  Connie grinned at Sasha. "What do you think, Sasha? Shall we join Mina on this excursion?"
  
  "You can count on us," she exclaimed happily.
  
  One problem down.
  
  "And if things go according to plan?" Jean questioned.
  
  "We need to attack them from the trees," Eren said. "It's the only way to take them by surprise."
  
  "Risky, but possible," Dillon pointed out, figuring out Eren, Jean, and himself would be doing the ambushing. "If we don't time our jumps just right, we'll end up with broken legs."
  
  "Armin and I can signal you guys," Marco suggested. "We still have those empty cans from our dinner."
  
  Jean grimaced as another thought occurred to him. "Wait, if the three of us are gonna attack both carriages, someone is going to have to fight alone."
  
  "I'll do it," Dillon volunteered, turning to face them, "but on one condition: can we count on you two to put your differences aside long enough to get the job done?"
  
  Eren and Jean stared at each other for a moment before nodding their heads in agreement. Krista's life was far more important to let their personal feelings get in the way.
  
  "Failure is not an option," Marco stated firmly. "Let's get Krista back!"
  
  Don't look down! Don't look down! Dillon coached himself as he stood in the trees, waiting like Jean and Eren. Heights were something he found uncomfortable to say the least, but he had to push the fear aside. In fact, he could channel that into energy he would use against the kidnappers. There weren't any wheel tracks on the road meaning they beat them to their destination, giving Marco and Armin enough time to set up the cans for the signal and for the three ambushers to take a few minutes to catch their breath. The constant running was exhausting, but they kept Krista in their thoughts to keep them going. Right now, all they had to do was trust that Mina, Connie, and Sasha could do their part.
  
  He was relieved when the sounds of horses clopping down the road broke the silence. The trio came through. Now came the hard part: waiting for the signal. He spared a glance at Jean and Eren, who were both prepared to leap off the trees at a moment's notice. There were two carriages, one for Krista, and another for the ODM gear. They had no idea which cart held which, but that didn't matter. It was almost time.
  
  Come on, Marco. Dillon pleaded inwardly while taking several deep breaths to calm his nerves. Don't be late.
  
  The vehicles were directly below them when Marco activated the signal.
  
  On cue, the three cadets leapt from the trees into the carriages. Once Jean and Eren were inside, they noticed four guys. One was driving the carriage, and the others were unarmed save for the stupid expressions on their faces. Krista was nowhere to be seen, meaning this was the ODM cart.
  
  "What the hell?" one of the men yelled, charging at Jean.
  
  Jean brought his elbow up sharply, smashing into his chin. He didn't give him a chance to recover, so he shot out his foot, kicking him out of the carriage.
  
  Looks like those lessons paid off, He thought to himself.
  
  Enraged, the two other men attacked the teens with the intent to kill. Sadly, for them, these teens were soldiers. With great speed, Eren grabbed one man's arm with one hand, grabbed his collar with the other, and tossed him to the ground as if he was nothing, heading towards the carriage driver. Jean's next opponent found himself on the receiving end of several punches to the face. To finish them off, he grabbed Eren's fallen opponent and tossed him right into the other guy, sending them careening out of the carriage.
  
  As Eren got the driver into a headlock, the carriage shook violently as it ran over something large. Judging by the sick crunch, it was a human. Jean looked to the other carriage and dropped his jaw at the madness that was going on.
  
  (One minute earlier)
  
  Dillon tore through the roof and landed with bent knees to avoid breaking his bones. There were four men in this carriage. The leader was driving the carriage, another had a weird hat on, but was armed, Green Guy was there too, and some guy wearing brown. All of them had one thing in common: he took them all by surprise. Gasping in shock behind him was Krista, her bound arms attached to a hook on a pole. At least he didn't land on her.
  
  "Remember me?" he asked with narrowed eyes, getting into a fighting stance.
  
  Imminent danger first. Dillon kicked the Hat Guy back, loosening his grip on the rifle, before engaging the other two. Two-on-one fights were difficult for obvious reasons, but as long as he stunned one of them, it wouldn't be that much of a problem. He elbowed Green Guy in the chest and delivered a hard punch to the nose on Brown Guy solved, making it bleed. Unfortunately, Green Guy wrapped his arm around his neck, constricting his breathing.
  
  "I've had enough of you damn brats," he snarled.
  
  Bam! A foot smashed into the guy's head, sending him off of Dillon and to the ground. The teen gave a grateful look to Krista before leaping back into a fray, boot knife at the ready this time. Ironically, the spot where she was held captive was safest spot for her. All that changed, however, when the wheels ran over a rock. It shook the entire carriage enough to toss Krista off the hook and into Brown Guy.
  
  "Get off," the smuggler ordered, tossing the still-bound blonde off him.
  
  Dillon stumbled right into Hat Guy, who was attempting to shoot him point blank. Fortunately, Dillon jammed his knife directly in his shoulder to prevent that. A quick kick to the groin kept him down while he cried in pain. Now armed, Dillon took aim at the remaining two goons, but Green Guy had Krista in a headlock and Brown Guy was standing next to him.
  
  "Put the gun down, or I snap her neck," Green Guy threatened.
  
  Dillon had an unsettling smirk on his face. "I told you I'd make you pay, didn't I?"
  
  His eyes began to glow, and the two men started to cry out in pain. It felt like someone lit their minds on fire. Blood poured from their ears and noses, causing them to collapse to their knees and release Krista, who was completely confused as to what was happening. Dillon charged forward and slammed the butt of the gun right into Green Guy's head, which shattered on impact. From that day forwards, Dillon didn't know what killed him: the blow to the head or getting run over by the other carriage when he fell out.
  
  "You all right?" he asked her.
  
  Krista stared at him with wide eyes. "What did you do?"
  
  "I didn't do anything," he lied. "I got lucky."
  
  After Dillon cut the rope tying her hands together, he gave a swift kick to Brown Guy's face, knocking him out. With those guys out of the way, and Hat Guy having to deal with his injuries, the blacksmith approached the Leader, pointing the knife at the back of his neck.
  
  "Stop the carriage," he ordered.
  
  "No," was the only response he got.
  
  Suddenly, he felt his legs get kicked out from under him, losing his grip on the knife. Hat Guy wasn't down for the count after all. The wounded man, with his good arm, attempted to stab his head with the knife, but Dillon quickly exploited his weakness. With one hand, he held the knife arm back. With the other, he started punching his wounded shoulder several times. Unable to take the pain any longer, Hat Man stumbled back, giving Dillon enough room to kick him against the side of the carriage.
  
  "And stay down," he demanded, tossing the Leader away from reins.
  
  "No!" the man cried, attempting to get pass Dillon, but Krista came up behind him and slammed what was left of the rifle in the back of the head.
  
  "Nice one," Dillon complemented.
  
  Krista's eyes widened when she realized why the Leader wanted to get back to the reins. "We're gonna crash."
  
  Sure enough, the horses were heading straight towards a sheer drop with no sign of turning.
  
  "Whoops!" Dillon exclaimed, wrapping his arms around Krista just as the carriage went over the edge.
  
  The vehicle was a crappy one because it detached itself from the horses on landing. Also, the fall shattered the wheel on impact. Without the wheel, the balance of the carriage was dislodged and it fell to its side along with the passengers inside. It slid across the ground until it came to a stop at the base of a rocky slope, never to be used again.
  
  Slowly, Dillon opened his eyes, his back feeling incredibly sore. He couldn't believe that he was still conscious after all that. A quick look to his left and his right showed the Leader groaning in pain and Hat Guy out cold. Brown Guy was nowhere to be seen.
  
  He must've fallen out during the crash. The teen theorized before turning his attention the blonde in his arms. "Krista, you okay?"
  
  "I'm fine," she answered. "Just a few scratches."
  
  "You know, if Ymir saw us in this position, she would probably try to kill me," Dillon assumed.
  
  Krista chuckled. "Yeah, she probably would."
  
  Releasing his grip on her, the two cadets got on their feet, relieved that they survived all of this.
  
  "You go out front," Dillon said. "I'll go out back."
  
  Nodding, she carefully stepped outside, checking to make sure she wasn't gonna get ambushed. As Dillon headed to the rear, he kicked the Leader several times in the head before he was unconscious. He did not want to get dropped on again.
  
  So, naturally, the moment he was outside the broken carriage, someone tackled him to the ground. The back of his head hit the rocky surface hard enough to daze him. The punches hitting his face weren't helping, either. Seemed like Brown Guy had a personal vendetta against him, though how he regained consciousness so quickly was beyond him. The world was spinning and turning blurry.
  
  "I'm going to kill you!" Brown Guy shouted, though his voice sounded far away.
  
  I never would have guessed. Dillon thought sarcastically.
  
  He picked up something, probably a rock, and it raised high to beat him to death with it.
  
  Brown Guy suddenly recoiled at the same steel meeting flesh sounded. A familiar boot knife pierced his head, killing him instantly.
  
  "Dillon," a voice called out as the body fell backwards.
  
  The last thing Dillon saw before he passed out was a blonde-haired cadet rushing over to him.
  
  "Hey, I think he's waking up."
  
  "Shh! Not so loud, Jean. He's still hurt."
  
  "Sorry."
  
  Groaning in pain, Dillon slowly opened his eyes. His body felt sore and his head felt like something was pounding against it. Judging by the nice bed he was laying on and the bandages around his head, he correctly guessed that he was in the infirmary. Standing over the bed was Jean, Krista, Eren, Mikasa, and, surprisingly, Ymir. Seemed like she was finally off her crutches.
  
  "Hey, guys," Dillon greeted weakly.
  
  "Welcome back to the land of the living, Dillon," Jean replied with a grin.
  
  "How are you feeling?" Krista asked.
  
  "Like someone hit me in the head with a hammer," he answered. "What happened? Last thing I remember was getting attacked."
  
  "Annie saved your life," Eren explained. "She threw a knife right into the guy's head."
  
  It was slowly coming back to him. He remembered a knife lodged in the scumbag's skull, and someone with blonde hair shouting his name. He furrowed his brow in confusion. "Wait, how did Annie even get there if she wasn't on our team?"
  
  "Armin shot a flare after Eren and I retrieved the ODM Gear," he replied. "It didn't take long for the other team to meet up with us."
  
  "And the other kidnappers?"
  
  "They were arrested by the Military Police," Krista answered. "They're not going anywhere anytime soon."
  
  "I gotta say, Dillon," Ymir said, smirking. "Taking on four kidnappers alone to save Krista was pretty badass." She wrapped her arm around Krista protectively. "Just keep in mind that she's taken."
  
  Dillon rolled his eyes in annoyance. "Understood, Ymir."
  
  "You could've gotten yourself killed," Mikasa admonished finally, seeing that no one else was addressing that fact.
  
  "It wasn't the ideal situation, but there was only three of us. Someone had to make that sacrifice."
  
  "Don't worry, Mikasa," Eren added. "He held his own. He knew what he was doing."
  
  "Besides, would it have been better if Eren was alone or Jean was alone?" Dillon pressed.
  
  She let out a sigh. "Fair enough, I guess. I just... I don't want you to get hurt, Dillon."
  
  Ymir raised an eyebrow at that statement. Usually, Mikasa was fussing over Eren and Armin. Now, Dillon was added to the mix. Interesting.
  
  Krista gave Dillon an apologetic look before asking, "Can you all give us a minute please?"
  
  Jean nodded. "Shadis is waiting on my report on what happened out there anyways. See you later, Dillon."
  
  "See you, Jean," Dillon said.
  
  "Thanks for what you did," Eren added as he and Mikasa left.
  
  When they exited the room, Ymir did something no one expected. She limped over to Dillon's side and kissed him on the cheek.
  
  "Thank you," she whispered.
  
  Dillon stared at her in shock, his face turning red. Did that just happen? "Uh... anytime?"
  
  Continue to smirk, Ymir left the room as well, putting a finger to her lips. Clearly, she didn't want anyone to know she was capable of being nice to people outside of Krista. Whatever.
  
  With everyone else gone, Krista sat at the end of his bed. "So, care to tell me what you did to those men?"
  
  Dillon knew this was coming, and he still tried to deny it. "Krista, I have no idea-"
  
  "Please don't lie to me," she requested. "I understand if you're scared I'm going to tell someone, but I promise you that I won't."
  
  The blacksmith gestured for her to come closer. Slightly confused, she walked over to his side as he grasped her hand tightly. He wanted to make sure she understood the severity of the situation. "Krista, I want you to swear to me right now that what I'm about to reveal to you will never be spoken to anyone unless I say so. Do you swear it?"
  
  Slowly, she nodded her head. "I swear not to tell anyone, Dillon."
  
  Satisfied, Dillon said, "What you saw in the carriage was real, Krista. I attacked their minds with my powers to distract them long enough to win."
  
  Krista's eyes widened in astonishment. "How is that possible?"
  
  "I have no idea," he confessed. "My dad has the same abilities, but he doesn't know where they came from either. I can remember anything I've ever seen or heard if I can concentrate, I can read minds, and I can attack them. There's probably more, but I haven't figured it all out yet."
  
  Slowly, she processed the information, but then an unfortunate implication came to mind. "Dillon, have you been using your powers on any of us?"
  
  His eyes widened in horror. "What? No! I would never do anything so stupid." He stared at her with hurt in his eyes. "Is that what you think I've been doing to everyone? Subtly controlling their minds so that would like me?"
  
  Krista's eyes widened at what she practically accused him of. "Dillon, no. I mean..."
  
  "Controlling people to do what I want, bend them to my will. Do you have any idea how much the idea scares me, Krista?" He stared at his hand. "If I did that, then I'd be no better than those monsters that tried to kidnap you." A sigh left his mouth. "I shouldn't bash you too much for wondering that, though. I'd be scared, too."
  
  Now she really felt bad and sat next to him on the bed. "Dillon, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
  
  "It's alright," he assured. "It's just an accusation I need to get used to. Never had friends growing up, so this is my first time confessing to one."
  
  "You never had friends?" she asked, surprised. "But you're so... social."
  
  Dillon chuckled. "Try having a defense attorney as a mother and a man who makes and sells weapons to customers as a father. You tend to pick up on a lot of things that prepare you. Also, the whole 'Amsdale Family hated by MPs' thing probably keeps them away." A sad look appeared on his face. "It would've been nice, though."
  
  "Well, you have friends not." Krista gave him a reassuring smile as she placed her hand on his. "Don't worry, Dillon. Your secret's safe with me." Then, she kissed him on the forehead. "Thank you for saving my life."
  
  On the outside, aside from the intense blushing, Dillon kept his cool. "No problem, Krista." On the inside, Oh, my gosh! I got kissed by two girls today! This is amazing! There's hope for me after all!
  
  "I'll go let Annie know you're awake," she promised. "Just to let you know, she stood by your side until we got you into the infirmary."
  
  She winked at him before leaving.
  
  Why did she wink at me? He wondered. Oh, well. At least I can thank Annie for saving my life soon.
  
  "Well, look who's back?"
  
  Dillon's eyes widened in horror, recognizing his voice. "Oh, crap. It's you."
  
  The doctor walked inside with a grin on his face. "I was unavailable the last time you were here, so I think it's time we made up for lost time."
  
  "I want a new doctor!" Dillon shouted.
  
  (One week later)
  
  Whoever came up with the definition of boredom was probably in this exact situation. Dillon inferred, glaring up at the ceiling in annoyance.
  
  Over the past one week, he had spent his time staying in this exact room, sleeping in this exact bed, and staring at the exact same four walls. Granted, moments where he had to relieve himself were always welcome, but those moments were few each day. He kept having to take things slow and steady. However, all that was changing when the doctors announced that if he passed one of their examinations, he would be discharged and be able to return to his fellow comrades. Then, he could finally get away from that doctor. Making jokes at the blacksmith's expense about how things could've been worse, explaining said outcomes graphically, really got under his skin. He did not need to know what happened when a human's head was run over by a carriage.
  
  However, what was bothering him the most was that Annie hadn't come to visit in all this time. He received several visitors from his class, all wishing him a speedy recovery, but Annie was nowhere to be found. If she saved his life and stayed with him until he reached the infirmary, why was she avoiding him now? Did he do something wrong?
  
  "Dillon, you have a visitor," Dr. Get-Out-Of-My-Life-Already announced. "Annie Leonhart?"
  
  Finally! "Thanks, Doctor. You can send her in."
  
  A couple of seconds later, his five-foot savior walked through the door. For some reason, it didn't matter why she didn't come sooner. She was here now, and that was all that mattered.
  
  "There she is," Dillon greeted with a wave and a grin. "How are you, Annie?"
  
  "I'm fine," she answered, approaching his bedside. "How long until you get discharged?"
  
  "Hopefully soon," he guessed, unsure. "I'm getting sick of lying in bed doing nothing."
  
  "Could've been worse," Annie pointed out, her hands by her side. "They could've been preparing your body for funeral arrangements."
  
  "And I have you to thank for that," Dillon said sincerely.
  
  He didn't see it coming. Annie's fist launched right into his cheek, leaving behind a nasty bruise. Despite the pain, Dillon let out a low, "Ow!" to keep the doctors from rushing in.
  
  "What the hell was that for?" he demanded, sheltering his injury with his hand in case there was another punch in store for him.
  
  Annie, yet again, was glaring at him, though he was spared the evil eye this time. "That was for being a complete dumbass. What the hell were you thinking going after those criminals alone?"
  
  "I made a calculated risk," he explained, still shocked by her actions. "It paid off, didn't it?"
  
  "You dependedon dumb luck to get you through," Annie shot back, annoyed that he wasn't getting it. "It doesn't matter that it paid off. You can't accomplish missions hoping that something will save you at the last minute! If I had been a second slower, you would've been dead, too. So, let me ask you again: what were you thinking?"
  
  Dillon contemplated his actions that night. He was tempted to let her in on his secret and explain that he was capable of taking on those monsters. He could've chosen to explain how, logically, he was the best choice of the bunch to pull something off like that. Instead, he took out the logic and went with the emotional appeal. "I just wanted to make sure that the only person at risk of injury or death was me."
  
  Wrong answer.
  
  Annie grabbed him by the collar and jerked him up close to her face. Her low voice indicated he was in serious trouble. "You listen to me and listen carefully. I can't believe you have the audacity to be so selfish."
  
  "Annie, what-"
  
  "Don't interrupt me," she ordered, scaring him into submission. "There are people in your life that depend on you, that care about you. Jean, Connie, Sasha, Eren, Mikasa, Armin, and Krista are the ones I can think of at the top of my head. What about your parents? Did you think about how they would feel if they found out their son perished trying to take on armed goons alone? No, you didn't. The only one you thought about was yourself!"
  
  Dillon lowered his head as the words sunk in. The excitement of being able to save Krista and live to tell about it changed to the cold, harsh truth. Looking back, he realized how careless and foolish he was. The disappointment on her face made it worse for him.
  
  "Look at me, Dillon," Annie said, albeit with less of a commanding tone. Once his eyes were back on hers, she decided to wrap things up. "Next time, I might not be there to save you. Don't pull a stunt like that again."
  
  Finally, she released her grip on Dillon before heading towards the door.
  
  "Annie!" he called before it was too late.
  
  She stopped and looked back. "What?"
  
  "You're right," he admitted sadly. "I was reckless... and stupid. The only reason I'm alive is because of you. I'm sorry."
  
  The blond-haired girl sighed, walking back to him. "Dillon, just keep in mind that your life is valuable to a lot of people. Next time, use your head and think things through." She frowned when she noticed the purple blotch she left him. "Sorry."
  
  "It's fine," Dillon responded, feeling the sting. "Damn, that hurt. What are you, made of steel or something?"
  
  She shrugged. "Something."
  
  "Still, it takes a good friend to point out when I screwed up badly, so thank you for that."
  
  Annie's eyebrow raised in confusion. "Friend?"
  
  Dillon nodded slowly. "Yes, friend. A person whom one knows and with whom one has a bond of mutual affection-"
  
  "I know what a friend is, smartass," she interjected, annoyed yet again. "I just... really?"
  
  "Well, why not?" he asked. "I mean, we respect each other, we talk to each other in a pleasant way... occasionally, and you saved my life. I'd say that qualifies for us to be friends."
  
  "Do you really want someone like me to be your friend, Dillon?" she questioned.
  
  "I think you'd be a very good one," Dillon answered honestly.
  
  Annie thought about it for a moment, wondering how she got to this point. She could just say no and walk away, and yet, she felt something inside telling her to go for it. After all, she could have worse friends. "Don't expect any "Get Well Soon" notes from me."
  
  He chuckled. "Wouldn't dream of it, Annie."
  
  Annie walked back to the door, but ended the conversation with, "See you soon, Dillon," before leaving. Once she was away from the eyes and ears of the infirmary, she facepalmed repeatedly.
  
  "You idiot!" she exclaimed to herself. "What is wrong with you? Why did you agree to be his friend? It's not like you-" Her eyes widened in horror as the reality of the situation hit her. "I care about him."
  
  Not. Good.
  
  Remastered Edits: Eren and Mikasa have been updated to reflect their amicability towards Dillon now. I know I might get some comments how Mikasa has seemingly brought Dillon into her circle of "people she doesn't want to get hurt at all" friends. Considering everything Dillon has done for her and Eren, despite him not knowing just how much of an impact he made, I figured it'd be the most logical step she would take. After all, she believes she owes him. Don't worry, though. Eren is still king over Mikasa overprotecting him.
  
  Also, the conversation between Dillon and Krista went a little differently. I hoped it shed more light on who Dillon is as a person.
  
  Anyways, I look forward to your comments and I shall see you all in the next chapter.
  
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  The First Confession
  Here's something I'm gonna do every now and then: song cues. The way this works is that when you see a number like this (1*), you play the song listed in the AN next to the number. When you see that same number again, stop the music.
  
  1. Mr. Hans Kung Fu from The Karate Kid Soundtrack
  
  Chapter 8: The First Confession
  
  " It was 850. Graduation was drawing near. I was not the same boy that stepped into the Training Corps all those years ago. Now, I'm stronger, smarter, and a soldier. Whether or not I made it into the Top 10 was irrelevant, though becoming an MP to help take down the corrupt sons of bitches in the Military Police was a nice prospect. Then again, my chances of getting into the Top 10 were very slim. I didn't know everyone in the 104 th . For all I knew, there were 10 other people that were as strong as Mikasa Ackerman. I knew she was going to make it in. We all did.
  
  " I have many memories that I have yet to jot down. I could talk about how I took on Jean and Connie at the same time and they beat me out of sheer dumb luck. I could also bring up the most embarrassing moment during these three years: being given The Talk. Those were images that I did not need in my head. However, one memory stands out as being the one that, in my opinion, changed everything.
  
  " It was my birthday. I had turned sixteen, and I had the craziest dream that night. Needless to say, I didn't sleep well. I stumbled into the mess hall with dark circles in my eyes..."
  
  Dillon rubbed his eyes, trying to ward off his sleepiness. What he'd give just to take the day off. He didn't realize he was mindlessly wandering around until he bumped into Marco. "Oh! Sorry, Marco."
  
  "It's fine, Dillon." Marco said, although he looked concerned. "You don't look too good. Did you sleep at all last night?"
  
  He answered with an open-mouthed yawn. "I did, but the dream I had last night wore me out."
  
  "So, you're tired? But you still have-" Marco was cut off promptly.
  
  "What!?" Came a yell from behind him. All of a sudden, a hand turned him around and Dillon found himself face to face with a worried Sasha. "What do you mean you're tired? Your rematch is today. You can't be tired."
  
  "What re-oh shit," Dillon swore, his eyes bulging out. "It's today?"
  
  "Yes, you idiot," Sasha said, shaking him. "Oh, God, we need to get you coffee now. Hold on, let me go see if I can steal some!"
  
  Once again, Dillon found himself cursing his stupidity. He promised Annie that today would be the day he defeated her in a sparring match. Naturally, word got passed around, and now everyone was looking forward to watching the two fight again. Heck, Jean even started a betting pool... secretly of course. No need to get the always-so-pleasant Shadis involved in any illegal activities.
  
  Marco shook his head as Sasha ran off. "Dillon, I know how much this means to you, but you can still walk away. There is time. And despite what some people say, knowing when to stop shows wisdom just as much as being able to win the fight."
  
  "Normally, I would agree with you," Dillon replied with a sigh, "but this is Annie we're talking about. She treats any sparring session as if she was actually fighting someone no matter the circumstances. If I back down now due to fatigue, any respect I have from her will vanish."
  
  "Do you really believe that, Dillon?" Marco asked, moving beside him and putting his arm on his shoulder. "Annie likes you, Dillon. And I mean, likes you. If you just explain the situation to her, she'll understand. I know she will."
  
  Dillon gave him a look of astonishment. "Wait, what did you say?"
  
  "What, that she'll understand?" Marco asked, confused. "You honestly don't think she will?"
  
  "No, before that."
  
  "That you believe she'll lose respect for you?"
  
  Either Marco was playing dumb or seriously not getting the point. Whatever the case, it irritated Dillon. "Did you say Annie seriously likes me?"
  
  "Well, yeah," he answered with a shrug. "Everyone knows that, much as she tries to hide it. I thought you did, too."
  
  The blacksmith frowned as he thought about their interactions over the past two years. They were friendly, she was opening up a little more, and they seemed to get along fine together. In fact, it was like she was... enjoying... his....
  
  A grin broke out on Dillon's face. "Oh. My. God. She likes me!"
  
  Marco chuckled a bit, shaking his head. "You are staring down the barrel of her kicking your ass, and that's your reaction?"
  
  "This is my chance, Marco," Dillon said after he made sure the girl in question wasn't around. "If I defeat Annie, it will not only increase her respect for me, but it shows that I can handle myself against a trained opponent. It will prove that I'm worthy of her affections!"
  
  Marco put one hand to his face, groaning. "Dillon, that attitude is going to get you killed. You don't need to prove yourself worthy of her affections."
  
  "Nonsense," he assured. "We're using fake knifes. I'll live."
  
  "No, that's not what I-"
  
  "Dillon," Sasha shouted, coming running up to the duo, carrying a cup covered in a saucer. "Here, I got this coffee from Shadis. Don't ask me how."
  
  He wisely accepted her generous offer and gulped it down. He almost spat it back out as he felt his throat light on fire. What kind of person puts himself through a torturous drink to stay awake? Swallowing the bitter taste, he said in a raspy voice, "Well, that was something."
  
  "He might have spiked it, I honestly don't know." Sasha chuckled nervously, thinking about how she obtained it.
  
  "Commandant Shadis," Sasha said as she walked into his office and saluted. "I am sorry to interrupt your morning, sir, but it is a matter of life and death!"
  
  Shadis turned to look at her, and she shrank back under his icy glare. "It better be nothing less than that, Cadet. Speak quickly."
  
  She gulped and stood up straight. "Cadet Amsdale is challenging Cadet Leonhart to one hand-to-hand fight. However, due to a dream last night, he is fatigued and irrational."
  
  Shadis closed the distance between them fast and spoke in a dangerous, low tone. "You'd better pray there's more to this story, Braus."
  
  Her pupils shrank in fear, backing up against a shelf. "Well, uh, I was thinking-."
  
  "Thinking requires intelligence, something you lack, maggot," Shadis continued. "Otherwise, you wouldn't be wasting my time. Now, here is what will happen: I'm going to sit down in my chair and forget this incident. You will take two seconds to get out of my sight, or I will shove my boot down your throat until you love it! Is that clear!?"
  
  "Yes, sir!" Sasha bolted out the door.
  
  If Shadis had investigated the shelf, he would've noticed a small bag of coffee beans missing.
  
  Marco facepalmed. "Sasha, please tell me you didn't-."
  
  "Regardless, you need to have it," Sasha interrupted, ignoring him. "Otherwise you are screwed in this fight!"
  
  With a disgusted look, Dillon downed the last of the drink. To its credit, the coffee did make him feel more energized. "Well, it's doing its job. Thanks, Sasha." As he handed her back the now-empty cup, he said, "You know, you were in my really weird dream last night."
  
  She blinked. "I hope you don't mean what I think you do by 'weird'. I don't want Annie using those knives of hers on my throat."
  
  "Not like that!" Dillon took a deep breath and began his tale, getting more rapid and energetic as the story went on. "So, what happened was you and Jean got into a fight over something stupid. I can't remember what it was about, though, but then Commander Pixis ordered you two to settle your differences with a cooking competition. You killed a giant boar with a bow and arrow for its meat, Jean was a complete asshole to his mom, but then he created an omelet to fight against your boar meat. Then Jean, Mikasa, Armin, Connie, and Krista transformed into Titans and Jean won the cooking match."
  
  Marco and Sasha just looked at him. "Oh, my God," Sasha said, putting her hands to her head in panic. "Shadis did spike the coffee. He's gone insane."
  
  If Dillon's stupid grin was anything to go by, the caffeine was kicking in. "If by insane, you mean ready to kick Annie's ass in an epic duel that will have me as the victor, then I am insane!"
  
  "You sure sound confident," came a voice from behind him. Marco and Sasha both froze and promptly ran away. Annie walked around to the front of him. "If you couldn't win before, why do you think you can win now?"
  
  He began listing out the reasons with his fingers. "Let's see: I've been training for this moment ever since I lost, I'm not gonna screw up this time, and coffee."
  
  She raised an eyebrow at the last one. "Coffee? You expect me to believe that? Cadets don't get coffee during training."
  
  "Shh! It's a secret for some reason."
  
  Annie shook her head. "You're going to lose this, Amsdale. I don't know why you think otherwise."
  
  "Because I'm not gonna hold back," Dillon answered, crossing his arms. "Last time, I underestimated you, but not today."
  
  "Right... well, I'll try to remember that when I dislocate your shoulder."
  
  He smirked. "Think you can reach it from down there?"
  
  She gave him one of her patented glares. "Say that again, and I won't even wait for breakfast to be done."
  
  Dillon's eyes widened when he remembered something important. "Oh, crap. I didn't have breakfast yet!"
  
  "You're right. I did, though." She moved around him and patted him on the back roughly. "Eat up. Don't want you at a disadvantage."
  
  "Aw, you do care!"
  
  Annie rolled her eyes, scoffing. "Just eat."
  
  As Dillon went off to get his meal, he paused as horror etched on his face. He just made fun of Annie's height before their match... again! Forget trying to win her affections. By the time she was through with him, he would be sent home in a box.
  
  After breakfast, they had leisure time due to it being Sunday. But instead of relaxing, everyone had gathered in the training yard in order to watch the two go at it.
  
  Nervously, Dillon did a few stretches. The coffee wore off several minutes ago, and he was already preparing a five-minute apology speech for his behavior to Annie, who was currently eying him like a hawk. He hoped that she wouldn't make him suffer too much. Taking a breath, Annie walked towards the center and put her arms up in her usual stance. She wanted to get this over with, preferably without killing him, but at the same time making him hurt for the joke about her height earlier.
  
  "Brings back memories, doesn't it, Cold Eyes?" Dillon asked as he tossed the fake knife up and down. Yeah, that name will never catch on.
  
  She didn't reply, hardening her gaze as she prepared herself for his charge.
  
  At the same time, the audience were chatting amongst themselves about who would be the winner.
  
  "No offense to Dillon, but I think Annie is gonna beat him," Mina predicted. "She's too good."
  
  "Yeah, but Dillon is a good fighter as well." Jean replied. "He taught Connie and I both."
  
  "Except Annie has the best footwork I've ever seen," Eren pointed out. "Trust me. I've been on the receiving end of it every time she trained me."
  
  "It's an even match," Mikasa commented. "It could go either way."
  
  "Bullshit!" Connie said. "He can kick her ass from here to Utopia."
  
  "I'd like to hear you say that to Annie's face, dumbass," Ymir muttered.
  
  "Don't be rude," Krista scolded.
  
  Gulping, Dillon stepped into the ring, knife at the ready. This was the moment that would change everything. Either he lost and Annie would view him as she did before: a pathetic nuisance, or he won and earn more of Annie's respect. Like Mikasa said, it could go either way. Unfortunately, his mind started to wander to the worst-case scenario where he was on the ground, battered and broken, with Annie staring down at him with disappointment. "I thought you were better than this!"
  
  "I'm not pathetic," he stated suddenly.
  
  This caught her off guard, causing her guard to drop slightly. "What do you mean, you're not pathetic? Who said you were?"
  
  Wait, did he say that out loud? Dillon's guard dropped slightly as he realized there was no going back. "I'm not going to lose, Annie. Your respect is too important to me."
  
  There was no response until she chuckled. "Is that really what you think?" she questioned. "You deserve this beating, if that's the case."
  
  Dillon gave her a confused look. "What?"
  
  "Dillon, you're one of the smartest people here, but, bright as you are, apparently, you aren't as perceptive as I thought."
  
  "Then would you please tell me what I'm missing?" he asked.
  
  "If you're too thick to see it, I'll just have to pound it in," Annie said, retaking her stance.
  
  All right, Annie. He thought to himself, getting ready to attack. Let's rumble.
  
  1* Dillon made the first move, aiming for her neck with the knife. Surprised by his speed, Annie was forced to back from his slashes and jabs. He was aiming to end the fight quickly. Once he got close enough, she grabbed his wrist and tried to sweep him off his feet with her leg. Prepared for that, Dillon jumped over it, trying to stab her. They wrestled with the knife, with Annie pounding his side with her fist. He got out of her grasp by punching her in the face, making her stagger back. A spin kick, however, knocked the knife out of his hand.
  
  "Damn it," he swore, moving in front of the knife while holding his wounded hand. He took a risk by kicking it back so that neither of them would get it.
  
  "Easily breakable as ever, Amsdale?" Annie questioned, taking her stance again.
  
  "Fight's just started, Leonhart," he said.
  
  Annie charged at him, throwing several punches and kicks at him, though it was mostly kicks. Dillon blocked each one, stepping backwards. He knew he couldn't let Annie get the knife, but if he kept moving back, that's exactly what was going to happen. So, to rectify that, he grabbed her by the shoulders and kneed her in the gut. Then, he shoved her back and spun around, his foot crashing against the side of her head.
  
  As Annie got back to her feet, Dillon was already on her, throwing several quick, precise jabs at her. It was like fighting a completely different opponent. Any preconceived notions she had about him vanished as she actually struggled to stay on the defensive. She ducked under another spin kick and she kicked him right in the chest. Now, she was on the offensive. Quickly, she tried aiming for his shins, but he was blocking each blow. And he was smirking too. With a growl, Annie finally landed a punch on his face, making him stagger back. She grabbed him by the wrist and performed a successful leg sweep. What she didn't count on was him rolling backwards, wrapping his legs around her neck, and pulling her down to the ground with him. He kicked her away before she could try anything else and got to his feet. However, his smirk vanished the moment he saw her pick up the knife.
  
  "Whoops," he said sheepishly.
  
  '"Whoops' indeed," Annie replied with an evil smirk.
  
  Naturally, the blond-haired girl was the first one to charge, slashing at him. He was barely able to block the knife from hitting anything by grabbing her wrist. She almost got him, but he managed to get behind her and wrap his arms around her waist. With a loud yell, Dillon lifted Annie up in the air and bent backwards, slamming her hard into the ground. Dazed, Annie lost her grip on her knife, which the blacksmith promptly snatched up. By the time she was back on her feet, she felt the wooden blade slice her throat in a quick movement. It was over! *1
  
  Annie was panting, eyes wide as she realized that he had defeated her. Instead of disappointment, as most were expecting, she gave a small smile to Dillon. "Just like Shadis said: you are capable."
  
  The 104th spectators applauded, even the ones that bet on Annie.
  
  "That was awesome!" Connie exclaimed.
  
  "He's... really good," Eren admitted.
  
  That smile alone made the entire fight worth it. "Good fight, Annie. I think it doubles as your birthday gift to me, too."
  
  "If I had known, I'd have gotten you flowers," she teased.
  
  "Flowers aren't my thing," Dillon chuckled, wiping the sweat off his forehead.
  
  "Will you two get a room already?" Ymir interrupted, looking miffed.
  
  If Jean's smirk was anything to go by, she lost the bet.
  
  Annie's smile dropped as she blushed, clearing her throat. "Good job, Cadet Amsdale. It is nice to see one person took it seriously."
  
  Suddenly, it hit him like a ton of bricks. "I wouldn't have lost your respect if I lost because I take this seriously. Is that it?"
  
  She rolled her eyes. "It took you long enough, Dillon. Do all blacksmiths have hard heads? Or are you just especially thick?"
  
  He shrugged. "Take your pick."
  
  "I think the second is more applicable." she said, walking past him.
  
  "You always know what to say, don't you, Annie?" Dillon joked.
  
  "I'm smarter than you. Of course I do."
  
  Dillon couldn't help but appreciate the way she swayed her hips as she walked away. Wait, when did she ever do that?
  
  Jean wrapped his arm around him. "You, my friend, are getting a birthday celebration tonight."
  
  "Um... okay?"
  
  (That night)
  
  The party at the mess hall was about the same as any gathering, except when the blacksmith arrived, they all toasted to his victory and for turning sixteen. Naturally, he faded into the crowd after a while. Even after thirty minutes, the subject of the conversation was still on Dillon and Annie.
  
  "I can't believe how incredible Dillon is at fighting," Mina commented.
  
  "He took on Annie and not only lived, but beat her," Samuel added.
  
  Ymir scoffed. "Please. Blond, short, and cold was pulling her punches. The two clearly rigged the whole thing."
  
  "Better not let Annie catch you saying that," Connie stated with a smirk.
  
  "Watch it, Springer," she warned.
  
  "I'm impressed he was able to beat her," Mikasa commented.
  
  "I haven't seen a fight like that that since you and Annie went at each other," Armin added. "Evenly matched, properly trained, they are a force to be reckoned with."
  
  "Shame that their hand-to-hand combat isn't going to mean much against Titans," Eren said sadly. "That being said, Annie seemed to be enjoying herself in that fight."
  
  Armin nodded in agreement, mulling it over. "It's quite a contrast to how she usually acts around us."
  
  Eren snorted. "Not exactly a 'pointless skill,' is it?"
  
  Sasha and Krista, on the other hand, were having a different conversation.
  
  "So, you risked bodily harm just to get her birthdate?" Krista asked.
  
  "It was completely worth it," Sasha responded. "The two are made for each other."
  
  "That is so true," she agreed with a smile. "I never thought I'd see the day when Annie Leonhart would fall for someone, but it happened. I thought she was going to end it before it began, but she never did go for it."
  
  "She'd better go for it," Sasha warned. "I did not get busted up just so that the two would never become a thing."
  
  It was then Jean, after bragging about how good Dillon was, realized something. "Hey, anyone see Dillon?"
  
  Marco shook his head. "No, and I don't see Annie either."
  
  A smirk appeared on the brown-haired boy's face. "Someone is about to get lucky tonight."
  
  Marco sighed. "Jean, I doubt either of them would go for something like that. You saw Dillon's face after he walked out after hearing the Talk for the first time."
  
  He chuckled, remembering that incident. "Yeah, you're probably right, Marco. I'll go find him."
  
  (Outside)
  
  I'm gonna do it. The blacksmith in question thought to himself as he searched for Annie. I'm gonna tell the truth, that I have mind powers, and that I like her. I'm sure things will be fine, but what if they aren't? What if she rejects me? What if she stabs me in the-no. You are not pulling this stunt tonight. Keep. Calm.
  
  Finally, he spotted her, sitting absentmindedly on the steps of the girls' barracks.
  
  "Hey, there you are!" Dillon greeted, getting her attention. "I didn't see you at the party."
  
  "I don't do parties," Annie responded in her usual monotone. "Why were you looking for me?"
  
  "Firstly, I was missing you," he answered. "Secondly, I wanted to talk to you about something important." He took a seat on the steps, making sure there was enough room for her sit down.
  
  Annie had a huge suspicion about where this conversation was about to go, and she had been dreading it. She cursed herself for not ending it at the start, but she could never find a way to do so... or she wasn't looking hard enough. Now, Dillon had provided the best, and worst, opportunity for her, and she was going to take it. But first, a false sense of hope.
  
  She sat down next to him. "What's going on, Dillon?"
  
  He took a deep breath, trying to calm his nerves. "To be honest, Annie, I'm not sure how to tell you this and I'm don't know how you're gonna react."
  
  "Just say it," Annie urged calmly. "Get it over with." She had never seen him this shy.
  
  "Uh, okay," Dillon replied, letting out a nervous chuckle. "Well, um, Annie, we've known each other for almost three years, and, uh, we've been through a lot, haven't we?"
  
  She nodded cautiously. "Yes."
  
  He was fiddling with his fingers as he tried to find to right way to admit the truth. "You see, Annie, I figured that since I trust you and I like you, I want to tell you something."
  
  ...
  
  ...
  
  "Well?"
  
  He cleared his throat nervously. "Right. Uh, first things first." Finally, he looked and spoke in a serious tone. "Before I say anything, I want you to promise me that you will never tell anyone what I'm about to tell you."
  
  Annie was a little taken aback at how different Dillon was acting. She had a feeling that this wasn't a confession of his feelings towards her. This was something else entirely. Wait a minute...
  
  " Who knows, Leonhart? I just might surprise you!"
  
  She kept her expression neutral when she answered. "Fine. I promise not to tell anyone, Dillon."
  
  "Thank you," he replied, realizing there was no turning back. "Annie, I have an... ability that I've had since I was a kid. You see... um..." Take the plunge you moron. "I have mind powers!" He blurted out that last part before he could stop himself.
  
  Slowly, Annie raised an eyebrow in disbelief as she repeated what he said. "'Mind powers?'"
  
  Dillon nodded quickly, realizing he was about to lose her. "Yes. I know you think I'm crazy, and I don't blame you, but before you write me off as insane-"
  
  Too late.
  
  "I can prove it to you."
  
  It was so tempting to just walk away and leave the crazy teen to his own delusions, but Annie was curious to see if he could prove it. "Okay, Dillon. I'll humor you, but if you waste my time, I will kick you so hard you're gonna lose some teeth."
  
  Dillon's anxiety increased when he could tell she wasn't kidding. Wait, why am I nervous? I know I'm not lying! Deciding to grow a backbone, he began to speak in a confident tone. "I want you to think of four random numbers. I want them to be so random that it would be impossible for me to guess. Tell me when you're ready."
  
  It only took her a few seconds before she said, "Done."
  
  "Just to warn you, you might feel something... weird in your head," he told her, looking at her intently.
  
  Annie stared right back at him, wondering what he was going to do, and then his eyes glowed briefly. She wanted to lean away, but something kept her from doing so. It was as if she was locked in this position. Suddenly, she felt something tap her head from the inside.
  
  "17," he said.
  
  Another flash of his eyes and another tap.
  
  "93."
  
  Tap.
  
  "48."
  
  Tap.
  
  "956."
  
  When his eyes died down for the last time, Annie was finally able to break away from his stare via clambering to her feet in shock. "What the hell!?"
  
  "I know it's a lot to take in," Dillon admitted, slowly getting up, "but I'm not your enemy, Annie."
  
  "Stay out of my head," she demanded while backing up, but then a horrifying thought occurred to her.
  
  Dillon stiffened as he was given the infamous Leonhart Stare. Last time he was given that was when the two first fought almost three years ago. This was not going to end well. "Annie, I know what you're thinking right now." Real poor choice of words.
  
  "I wonder how long you've been doing that for?" she asked in a sinister tone, approaching him one step at a time.
  
  He needed to pacify her fast, that image of him getting stabbed by her coming to mind. "Until tonight, Annie, I have never read your mind!"
  
  She scoffed in disbelief. "And what makes you think I would believe you?"
  
  "Remember that sensation you felt in your head?" Dillon questioned. "The tapping? That's how you would know if I was trying to get something from your mind whether you knew it or not. A memory, a passing thought, things like that. If I was being aggressive about it, it would be far more painful than a tap."
  
  She crossed her arms, still unconvinced. "How do I know you're not lying?"
  
  Carefully, Dillon approached her, hands raised in surrender to show he wasn't gonna try anything. "All I can tell you is that I never invaded your privacy like that. Whether you believe it or not..." He sighed, a little downcast at how things were spiraling down. "I can't do anything about that."
  
  For a while, Annie looked at him, trying to decide if what he was saying was true. He was right about one thing: he couldn't prove it to her. This was a choice she had to make on her own. She thought about the interactions they had and how he just wanted to get to know her a little better each time.
  
  She massaged her forehead, getting a headache from all this new information, though another thought came to mind. "This is how you were able to take on those kidnappers."
  
  "That, and my skills as a fighter," he added, trying not to brag. His next statement helped. "I got cocky, and I would have died if you didn't save me. It was a much-needed reality check."
  
  "Does anyone else know?" Annie wondered curiously.
  
  "Only Krista," Dillon told her. "I made her vow not to say a word to anyone, too."
  
  The blond-haired girl sighed, coming to a decision. "I'm going to trust that you haven't done anything to invade my mind." She held up her hand to stop him from saying anything. "But, there is one thing I need to know: why did you tell me this?"
  
  Once again, his anxiety came back for revenge. "Um... because..." Come on, Dillon. Man up and say it. "I really like you, Annie!"
  
  And there it was. The words she feared he'd say. "Why?"
  
  Calm down, Dillon. He composed himself properly before explaining himself. "Annie, I think you are an amazing girl, and you've helped me get better while I've been here. You are also beautiful, and when you smile, it makes you even more beautiful."
  
  Blushing, she turned away, fiddling with her hair a bit. "I'm not that beautiful."
  
  "Yes, you are," Dillon assured. "I wish you saw what I see right now."
  
  So do I. Annie willed herself to look at Dillon, finding it harder and harder to do what she needed to do. "Dillon, stop. We can't do this."
  
  His face fell a bit, but he wasn't about to give up just yet. "Why, Annie?"
  
  She sighed, her expression morphing to one he hadn't seen on her before: sadness. "Dillon, I'm not good for you. I'm not someone you should like, let alone love."
  
  "Why don't you let me be the judge of that?" he asked calmly.
  
  Please walk away. "I'm only going to hurt you!" she protested.
  
  "If you don't want to hurt me, I can roll with the punches," he replied. "Heck, the only time you've hurt me intentionally was when you slugged me in the infirmary." His eyes widened when he realized what was wrong with her. "Annie... why are you so afraid?"
  
  The walls around her heart chipped away by the second. Dillon was getting a glimpse at the real Annie Leonhart: someone who was afraid to get close to anyone. He had no idea why, but he had to venture this guess.
  
  "Do you think I would hurt you?"
  
  Annie shook her head, turning away from him. She didn't want him to see her turmoil anymore. "There are things about me that you don't know, Dillon. Things that I've done that I'm not proud of. I can never tell you what I'm hiding because when you find out, you will hate me for the rest of your life, and I won't blame you for it." She tuned back around, her eyes glistening with tears. "So, please, save yourself from me."
  
  Slowly, Dillon approached her with that caring expression on his face and placed his hands on her shoulders. He wanted her to feel his sincerity. "Annie, I am going to promise you two things right now. First, I will never force you to reveal your secrets to me, with or without my powers. It is up to you to tell them to me on your own terms. Second, when that day comes, when you decide to tell me the truth, I can't say I won't be mad at you if your secrets are as bad as you say they are... but I won't leave you. I will be there for you despite them and we'll take it one day at a time. Do you believe me when I say that?"
  
  Stop doing this. Annie pleaded inwardly. Stop being... you! "Don't make promises you can't keep."
  
  "I'm gonna do my damndest to keep them," he said.
  
  The two stared at each other for a long time. Annie looked up at those brown orbs that stared down at her with compassion. She felt inferior to Dillon in ways he could not comprehend. She couldn't believe that out of all the girls in the Training Corps, she was chosen to be his special somebody. On his end, Dillon was lost in her beautiful eyes. It was like looking at the sky, except it paled in comparison to her. He knew she wasn't perfect, and neither was he for that matter, but he didn't care. All he wanted to do was be there for her and be with her.
  
  He didn't realize they were leaning in until their lips met.
  
  The two felt a surge of energy within their bodies as if their own bodies were approving of their first intimate moment together. There was a rush a warmness that flowed through them that made it all feel so... right. There was truly no way to fully describe their very first kiss, but, needless to say, it was something they both enjoyed.
  
  Dillon was the first to pull away, blushing furiously. "So... did I do okay?"
  
  Annie chuckled, which helped her own blush start to disappear. There was a word to describe him right now: dork. "Yes, Dillon. It was a good kiss." With a sigh, she decided to throw caution to the wind. "All right. Let's do this and see where it goes."
  
  The blacksmith wanted nothing more than to do a happy dance right then and there, but that might be a little too much. A grin, however, broke out on his face as he realized Annie Leonhart was officially his girlfriend. "This is gonna be great." He embraced her, taking her by surprise. "Thank you so much, Annie!"
  
  "Easy there, Dillon," she responded, hugging him back.
  
  It was like he received the greatest gift in the world. Then again, he probably thought he did.
  
  When he ended it, she could tell he wanted something from her. It didn't take a genius to figure it out. "You want to kiss me again, don't you?"
  
  "If that's okay?"
  
  If there was any evidence to prove Dillon had never been in a relationship with another girl, this was it. The kid who could take on four adults was shy about wanting to kiss his newly-established girlfriend. It was hilarious, and kind of adorable. He'd have to work on that.
  
  "Don't ask," Annie advised. "Just do it."
  
  Before he could respond, she initiated their second kiss. Judging by the looks on their faces, they were really enjoying this.
  
  "Hey, Dillon, there you-huh!?"
  
  The two pulled away from each other and looked at the person who dared interrupt this moment. Of course, it had to be Jean, who looked completely dumbfounded at the sight he stumbled into.
  
  "Umm..." The brown-haired intruder scratched the back of his head nervously due to the glares he was getting. "I'm gonna go somewhere else and leave you two alone."
  
  "No, stay," Annie offered, pulling out her boot knife with an evil grin. "In fact, this would be a good time to get to know you better, Jean."
  
  Never in their lives did they see a human disappear out of sight so quickly.
  
  I definitely chose right! Dillon thought before he busted out with laughter. In a few seconds, Annie soon followed, though hers was less vocal than his.
  
  That morning, they started out as friends, and now, for better or for worse, they ended their day as a couple.
  
  Remastered Edits: Some blink-and-you'll-miss-it moments from the fight scene, the Shiganshina Trio having a different conversation about the fight, and the biggest change is how Sasha obtained the coffee. Seemed more in character that way.
  
  I hope you all enjoyed this trip down memory lane, and I'll see you all in the next chapter.
  
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  Graduation Day
  Chapter 9: Graduation Day
  
  " News about Annie and I being a couple was met with surprise by very few people. Marco was right. The Corps knew about our feelings for each other. According to Annie, Krista was outright cheering when she found out. On my end, I was being congratulated by everyone. Eren was impressed that I managed to get through to her cold exterior, but I knew that underneath all that was a woman I could count on and care about.
  
  " Over the next few months, Annie was becoming a little more friendlier and was smiling a little more often. People were asking how the hell I managed to pull a feat like that off, but I simply answered that I cared a lot about her. Out of all the cadets she had come to know, it seemed her best relationships outside of mine were with Eren and Armin. Eren, because they had a student-teacher thing going on, and Armin because he was smart. I don't get jealous because I know Annie. She would never abandon me for someone else.
  
  " Finally, the three years of hell came to a close. On the day of graduation, it was over. The Top 10 List was revealed, too... and I was on it."
  
  "Number 5," Dillon said, staring at the chart. "Beaten by Annie, Bertholdt, Reiner, and Mikasa. I can live with that."
  
  Everyone was talking about this moment. Lowest to highest, this was the Top 10: Sasha Braus, Connie Springer, Marco Bodt, Jean Kirstein, Eren Yeager, Dillon Amsdale, Annie Leonhart, Bertholdt Hoover, Reiner Braun, and, to no one's surprise, Mikasa Ackerman. And, as usual, she was barely fazed by it. Lots of people were extremely disappointed that they didn't make it, but it was what it was and there were no second tries.
  
  When he saw Shadis's evaluation of him, though, he didn't know whether to laugh or be insulted. "Dillon Amsdale. Easy to dismiss as a spoiled shitling from Wall Sina, it's shocking to see he has decent aptitude. He displays good hand-to-hand combat ability, and has gained the trust of his comrades through sheer sincerity alone. His ideals and recklessness, however, could prove to be detrimental in his military career, but that remains to be seen." Shadis had good points, and Dillon would take these to heart, but he had a feeling no one else was graced with the honor of being labeled a shitling in their evaluations.
  
  Looking around, he noticed that Annie wasn't around. Knowing her, she probably came by earlier, saw where she was placed, and left. Moving passed the people that congratulated him, he remembered a spot just outside the compound where Annie and he spent some time. They even brought a bench over so they didn't have to keep sitting on the ground. Sure enough, he found her sitting there, contemplating things.
  
  "Is this seat taken?" Dillon asked with a stupid grin.
  
  Annie rolled her eyes, but she moved to her left to give him enough room.
  
  "Thank you," he replied, sitting down. "You know, now that I look at you, you remind me of someone I know."
  
  "Your imaginary girlfriend?" she questioned.
  
  "She's more of the real kind," he replied, sipping his water. "She kind of looks like you. Blond, blue eyes, good-looking body, and is a really good woman."
  
  "Sounds like a total skank," she commented. "So, what does that say about you?"
  
  "Don't let her hear you call her a skank," he warned. "She could kick your ass faster than you can say, 'Whoops.'"
  
  "Fine. She's not a skank. She's just a bitch."
  
  Choose your words very carefully. "Depends on how she's feeling. She can be a bit cold, but you know why I like her so much? She challenged my convictions and helped me become a better man. I gave her something I've never given anyone here: my complete trust. She's one of a kind and I'm lucky to have her in my life." He took a sip for that declaration.
  
  If Dillon was paying attention, he would've noticed Annie flinch slightly before forcing a smile. "Glad to hear it"
  
  He returned the smile. "So, number 4. How does that make you feel?"
  
  "Like you should have tried harder," she answered bluntly.
  
  And just like that, the smile was gone. "What?"
  
  "Let's see: picking fights with Eren at the start, making reckless decisions that almost got you killed, fraternizing with a fellow comrade-."
  
  "Yeah, yeah, I get your point," Dillon muttered. "I wasn't the model cadet. Still, I didn't enlist so I could be number 1."
  
  "I'm not surprised Mikasa won," Annie said. "Abnormal piece of work if I ever saw one."
  
  "And what does that make me?"
  
  "A freak of nature."
  
  Dillon rolled his eyes. "Aren't you the flatterer?"
  
  Annie briefly smirked at him before she went back to her neutral expression. "In any case, I know you plan on using your powers a lot out there on the Titans. I don't blame you, but you need to be careful. One false move and the Scouts will come at you with everything they've got."
  
  And here we go. "I'm not gonna be joining the Scouts, Annie."
  
  She stared at him surprised. "What?"
  
  "I'm going to join the Military Police," Dillon said.
  
  Her eyes widened at that declaration. "Why? I thought the Inner Wall was dangerous for you."
  
  "The Inner Wall is dangerous for a lot of people, Annie," he explained. "That's why I'm going. I want to make the world inside the Walls safer, especially when it comes to the MPs. Lots of corruption to weed out."
  
  "But Dillon, you'll be a target," Annie protested. She remembered him mentioning how many MPs his mom helped put away and how much the MPs hated the Amsdale family because of it.
  
  He frowned a bit, realizing something. "And if I go, you'll be a target too."
  
  "Wasn't even thinking about that, but yeah," she agreed.
  
  He sighed. "Damn it. I want to be with you, Annie."
  
  "And I want you with me."
  
  "So, maybe it shouldn't matter. If we're targets, then that makes our jobs easier. With my powers and your skills, they won't stand a chance."
  
  She sighed, massaging her temple. "Dillon, we can't just join up and fight everyone."
  
  "Wouldn't I be doing the same if I joined the Scouts?" he asked. "Instead of fighting Titans, I'm fighting humans."
  
  "At least Titans can't get in the Walls," she growled, looking over at him. "Are you that naïve?"
  
  Dillon wanted to point out that Titans already got in the Walls thanks to the Colossal and Armored Titans. "Annie, I want to help people. Shouldn't you be happy that I'm trying to stay alive so that you and I can actually make this work?"
  
  "Trying to stay alive by vowing to ultimately try and destroy the ruling body? That makes sense," she spat sarcastically.
  
  He refused to get angry and settled on a calmer approach. "Annie, have you ever been to the Interior?"
  
  "No, I haven't," Annie responded, wondering where he was going with this.
  
  "I've spent my entire life there save for the past three years. I've seen MPs do horrible things. Assault people for looking at them funny, make shady business deals, knowing that no one is gonna call them out on it, and if any of the cases Mom told me about are anything to go by, they think they can do anything they want and get away with it." He clenched his fist. "People are suffering here, Annie. Even if we take out the Titans, we would still have to deal with a poisonous branch of the Military, and unless people take a stand against it, it's going to remain poisoned."
  
  Annie didn't say anything for a moment, taking the things he said in. "You think one man can do that on his own?" she asked
  
  "No, but I won't be on my own," he informed her.
  
  "And who's going to support you?"
  
  "My mom and Jean," he listed out instantly. He didn't list her because of her asking that question. His instincts turned out to be right.
  
  "Not me," she said quietly. "I care about you, Dillon. You know I'd help you out with anything, but this? It's too dangerous."
  
  "You don't have to," he assured. "Once we become MPs, I'm not gonna force you into this."
  
  "Thank you," Annie replied gratefully.
  
  "However, I expect to hear all about how you single-handedly took down an entire drug ring."
  
  She raised an eyebrow. "Beg pardon?"
  
  "Too much?" Dillon asked, trying to think of something else. "Okay, how about a gang of notorious thieves?"
  
  She rolled her eyes more out of amusement than annoyance.
  
  He wrapped his arm around her shoulder. "I can see the headlines now: 'Annie Leonhart, after two weeks undercover, brings down notorious thieves and returns very rare artifacts to the museum.' Then next week: 'Annie Leonhart rises to the rank of Captain for her incredible deeds!'"
  
  Annie turned to him and gave a small smile. "What am I going to do with you?"
  
  "I'm hoping it involves kissing," Dillon answered.
  
  "If you insist."
  
  She leaned in and gave him a nice kiss which the two were enjoying profusely, until...
  
  "There you guys are! I've been looking for you!"
  
  Damn his timing. Dillon thought grimly as the kiss came to an abrupt end.
  
  Annie glared at Jean. "What?"
  
  He raised his hands in defense. "Shadis is rounding us all up to practice what's going down in Trost tonight. I didn't want you two to be late."
  
  Dillon sighed. "I forgot we have a dress rehearsal."
  
  "Trost? What's going on in Trost?" Annie questioned. "I thought we had the graduation ceremony."
  
  "Annie, the graduation ceremony is in Trost," Dillon reminded her.
  
  For the first time, the blond-haired girl was lost. "I thought we were having it here at the compound."
  
  "The dress rehearsal is in the compound," Jean explained.
  
  "Oh," she said, shaking her head. "Sorry. Didn't sleep well."
  
  "Jean, we'll catch up in a second," Dillon assured.
  
  Normally, Jean would come back with a crude joke, but considering the company that was before him, he settled for, "Don't take too long," before running off.
  
  "Annie, there's one more thing I want to do," Dillon said.
  
  She looked at him in confusion. "What?"
  
  His eyes flashed, cutting her off. There was a strange sensation inside her mind, as if a part of her was opening up. Once his eyes stopped glowing, she still felt it, but it didn't bother her.
  
  " Can you hear me?" he asked without moving his mouth.
  
  " Y-yes," she stuttered, eyes wide.
  
  " I established a mind link with you," he explained. "This can allow us to talk mentally. We can give each other helpful advice during a combat situation, or you can give me answers to a math test."
  
  " You could have asked first, Dillon," she rebuked, not used to it. "It's strange."
  
  Eyes wide, he quickly shut off the link. "Crap! Annie, I'm so sorry." Oh, this isn't good. I didn't ask.
  
  "You're fine," Annie assured. "Just let me know next time, okay?"
  
  He nodded. "Okay. Should I reestablish it?"
  
  "Yes," she answered. "I need to get used to it."
  
  Dillon's eyes flashed, and that sensation was back.
  
  " So... is this a permanent thing?" she asked.
  
  " I can shut it off at any time," he assured. "Also, I won't be able to hear your thoughts unless you're trying to contact me, and the same goes for me."
  
  " So, if I want to shut off the link...?"
  
  " Just concentrate on getting rid of it and you can do it too," he replied.
  
  Annie took a deep breath and focused on the feeling, trying her best to shut it out. It took a few seconds, but it was gone. She decided to test it out. Dillon? Can you hear me?
  
  "Well? Did it work?" Dillon asked.
  
  "Guess so," she said, deciding to give it one last test. You're an idiot.
  
  "The downside is that I'm the only one that can reestablish it," he added.
  
  "Can't you keep it open and just give me a switch, or something?" she questioned.
  
  "Uh, I don't know how," he admitted sheepishly.
  
  "Well, ask your dad. It'd be really useful."
  
  "Once we get to the Interior, I'll ask him," he promised. "Shall we head back before. Shadis breaks my nose for old time's sake?"
  
  "If he does, just fill his head with thoughts of his mother in a swim suit," Annie suggested.
  
  Instinctively, Dillon started to gag. "Oh, God, I think I'm gonna throw up."
  
  "Don't. It's a turn-off."
  
  "There are some things people must never think about," he stated. "That is one of them."
  
  "You'll live," Annie replied in an unsympathetic tone.
  
  "Let's just double time it and avoid the situation altogether."
  
  "Fine by me. Ready, set, go!" she shouted quickly, running ahead of him.
  
  "Hey, no fair!" he protested, giving chase.
  
  (Trost District; Graduation Ceremony)
  
  218. That was the number of Cadets that were graduating from the 104th Cadet Corps. It was humbling experience for the top 10, who stood in a line in front of everyone else, that they made it despite so many people vying for it. It was honor that they did not want to go to waste.
  
  "Do you have heart?" some head honcho commander Dillon didn't know the name of questioned.
  
  All the cadets saluted. "Yes, sir."
  
  "As of this moment, you have three options open to you!" he announced. "Choose wisely! The Garrison Regiment, whose job is to reinforce the walls. The Scout Regiment, who rides out into Titan Country to take back what was once ours. And the MP Regiment maintaining law and order-"
  
  Bullcrap. Dillon thought.
  
  "-under orders from his Royal Majesty! Those cadets eligible for the MP have already been named. The rest of you? Take a look. These are the top of your class!"
  
  Dillon allowed himself a small smile he felt so many eyes upon them. He, like everyone else, worked hard to earn this position. It was a moment he didn't see coming. In fact, many things in his life in the Training Corps he didn't see coming, but it was all behind him. Now, they were truly soldiers for humanity.
  
  Once the ceremony ended, the cadets split off into various locations across Trost. They would be taking a week off before they had to choose between the branches. The section Dillon was a part of entered a pub. Naturally, none of them were allowed any alcoholic drinks at the time, so they all settled with water or some type of juice. Dillon was thrilled to find apple juice, a drink he loved since the moment he could drink liquids.
  
  As he downed his fourth cup, he approached Jean, who looked dejected.
  
  "Hey, buddy, why the long face?" Dillon asked, sitting down next to him. "You made it in the Top 10. You should feel proud."
  
  "How in God's name did I get ranked under Eren?" he questioned, downing his drink that he wished was alcoholic.
  
  "It doesn't matter, Jean," he replied. "You beat 208 people. That should cheer you up. I didn't beat Annie, and I'm fine."
  
  Jean would've responded to that, but he noticed something. "What's up with Bertholdt?"
  
  "Come again?" he asked, looking at Bertholdt who quickly looked away when Dillon saw him.
  
  "He's been shooting you dark looks lately," Jean stated.
  
  Dillon sighed. "I've seen it from time to time. I asked Reiner about it, but he wouldn't explain it to me, but I have a feeling it has something to do with Annie."
  
  "Ex-boyfriend?"
  
  "More like ex-crush," he answered. "He never told her how he felt, and he resents me for beating him to the punch. He'll get over it."
  
  Jean stared at him. "So, Reiner did explain it to you."
  
  Dillon paused to think about it. "Yeah, he did."
  
  "Are you insane?" the loud voice of Thomas exclaimed.
  
  That stopped all conversation as all eyes looked at who Thomas was talking to: Eren.
  
  Realizing that everyone was paying attention, he spoke quieter, but still had that fear. "How many people have died? We're talking a fifth of the population. If that doesn't paint a picture for you, I don't know what will. This is our life now. We can't beat them."
  
  Dillon just shook his head. Thomas, do you have any idea who you're talking to?
  
  "Yeah, so what?" Eren growled. "We buckle, take it all lying down? Things have changed. Maybe not a hell of a lot, but enough. They aren't the mystery they were five years ago. There's still a long way to go, but we've made progress. Every battle we lost taught us a lesson, gave us the tiniest inroad towards something like hope. You're telling me it's better to just cut our loses, let all the death and destruction be meaningless? Just to ball it up and accept it!? Not on your life!" By now, Eren was shouting. "Humanity's future lies just outside the Walls, and I'm gonna clear the way! I'm gonna take back what was ours! I'll drive them out, and as long as at least one of us can say that, we're not done."
  
  When no one spoke, Eren furiously charged outside, not wanting to be in the pub any longer, with Mikasa and Armin running after him.
  
  Slowly, the cadets returned to their conversations, though it was far more subdued. Dillon didn't say anything for a while, continuing to enjoy his favorite drink. He was surprised that Eren was actually trying to motivate people. Sure, the whole, "I'm gonna kill all the Titans," rhetoric snuck in, but it was serious progress. Dillon considered chasing after them, but he decided against it. As much as he was friends with them, this seemed like something only the three could deal with. When he saw Annie get up and leave, he followed her outside the pub.
  
  "Quite the speech Eren gave, wasn't it?" Dillon noted as he leaned against the wall. "Didn't think he had it in him."
  
  "I knew he was capable of good things," she replied.
  
  "So, the pupil has impressed the teacher at last," he said. "I know you took him under your wing for a while."
  
  "I saw potential."
  
  "Well, if he keeps this up, it's gonna lead to good things." Dillon pulled out a newspaper and tossed it to her. "Once we get into the MPs, I found our first case. Someone's been smuggling weapons and selling them to the Underground. Could be someone looking to make easy money, or it could be someone trying to start a riot, a gang war, or a revolution. Lots of possibilities."
  
  "Probably just money," Annie figured as she looked it over.
  
  "Well, in a week, we'll find out," he stated with a grin.
  
  She shrugged. "You don't have to come with me, you know."
  
  "I want to," Dillon pointed out, moving closer to her.
  
  "Why, though?" she asked, putting it aside. "I thought you wanted to make a difference."
  
  "Annie, we talked about this already," he reminded her. "Weeding out the corruption in the Military Police is just as important as going out there and killing Titans."
  
  "Is it, though?"
  
  "Annie, why do you want me to not join the MPs so badly?" he questioned. "Wouldn't you rather have a relationship with me where you can see me as opposed to riding out into Titan Territory where the survival rates are low?"
  
  "I'd rather not worry about you getting a knife in your back," she stated, crossing her arms.
  
  "Well, the alternative extreme seems to be inside the stomach of a Titan," he said.
  
  "At least you can cut out of a Titan's stomach," Annie pointed out.
  
  Dillon was getting really sick of this argument. His attempts to make Annie and himself happy at the same time were failing. He thought it was settled this morning, but clearly, he was wrong. Then, as he thought of it, Annie would probably send most of her time trying to keep Dillon safe like a bodyguard, something that would make her miserable in the long run. He also began to wonder if Annie wasn't his girlfriend that he would even consider the MPs.
  
  "Would it make you happier if I enlisted in the Scouts?" Dillon finally asked.
  
  "No," she answered bluntly. "The Garrison, preferably."
  
  He scoffed at that suggestion. "And what am I gonna do in the Garrison? Sit around and wait for the Colossal Titan to break down the Wall?"
  
  "And there it is," Annie said, giving him a stern look. "Dillon, you're trying to have it both ways. You want to be with me, but I know you well enough to know what you really want. You still have that dream of changing the world with your powers, making that positive difference you think you can make. Tell me the truth: do you really think you'd be happy to be in an environment where everyone hates you and wants to kill you no matter what your feelings are for me?"
  
  There was some hesitance before he answered. "No."
  
  "Then don't enlist in the Military Police. I've already made my choice. You need to make yours. I want you to stay alive, Dillon. I wish you would give up this dream of yours and stay alive... but I won't force you to do something you don't want to do."
  
  He let out another sigh, not wanting to ask this, but he had to. "Annie, if I join the Scouts... would you break up with me?"
  
  She gave him a shocked look. "What? No!"
  
  "Oh, thank God," he replied in a relieved tone.
  
  "Why would you ever think that?" she demanded, sounding insulted.
  
  "Because I wanted to do something risky even though you don't want me to," Dillon answered.
  
  "Dillon, I would never break up with you," she assured. "Granted, I might try and kill you, but never break up with you."
  
  "Wait, what?" he questioned, confused.
  
  "Nothing. Just venting."
  
  "Sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."
  
  Annie shook her head. "You didn't. Trust me."
  
  And the confusion was back in an instant. "Then why did you say you might try and kill me?"
  
  "Because you might catch me at a bad time... of the month?" she answered lamely.
  
  Dillon tilted his head at her. "Annie, you've been acting really strange today. What's going on?"
  
  "Nothing, Dillon. Just nervous," she admitted, looking away.
  
  He sat down on some stairs. "Annie, why don't you sit down and tell me why you're nervous."
  
  "Because I don't want anything to happen," Annie replied, sitting down with him.
  
  Once again, he wrapped his arm around her shoulder. "Annie, no matter what happens, I'm gonna do everything in my power to stay alive."
  
  "Please do," she pleaded. "I can't lose you."
  
  "You won't," he promised. "Annie, there is something I want to know: are you ever going to tell me what you're hiding?" Ever since she told him about the fact she was hiding a dark secret, he had been more than a little curious as to what she was keeping from him. Maybe now that graduation happened, she would tell him.
  
  Unfortunately, all he got was a hesitant, "Someday, Dillon. I promise."
  
  Well, it's a start. "Remember what I said: I won't leave you when you tell me."
  
  "I know that, Dillon," she assured.
  
  He kissed her on the lips. "Just wanted to remind you."
  
  There was a silent moment between them as Dillon continued to hold Annie the way he did. It was nice for them to be able to do this and enjoy each other's company.
  
  "Dillon. Do you care about me?" Annie suddenly asked.
  
  Normally, Dillon would joke, but he had been around Annie long enough to know that now wasn't the time. "Yes, Annie. I do."
  
  He could hear the hesitation in her voice. "Then I'd like to tell you a secret. Promise me you won't get upset."
  
  "I'm not gonna promise something I can't keep," he informed her, "but I will still be here."
  
  She sighed, deciding to just say it. "I have a bad feeling about tomorrow."
  
  "Why tomorrow?" he asked.
  
  "I don't know," she answered. "I just feel like something bad might happen."
  
  He gave her a confused look. "I'm missing the part where you didn't want me to get upset."
  
  She took a deep breath. "I... I think it might be the Colossal Titan."
  
  For the first time in his life, Dillon gave her a look of suspicion. "Annie, why would you say that?"
  
  "I don't know, Dillon. It's... it's just a feeling I have. I can't explain it."
  
  Then it hit him. "Is it almost that time? The time when Shiganshina fell?"
  
  She nodded. "Yes. It's been five years."
  
  He sighed. "That explains it. You saw him, didn't you?"
  
  "Yes, I did."
  
  "That explains it. The trauma is surfacing up again," Dillon explained.
  
  "Dillon, please, just promise me you won't do anything hasty if something happens," Annie pleaded.
  
  He sighed. "I'll be careful. I won't pull a stunt like I did to those kidnappers."
  
  "Thank you," she replied gratefully, leaning into him.
  
  "If the Colossal Titan shows up, we'll take him together," he stated.
  
  "Agreed."
  
  The two leaned against each other, finding comfort within each other. If Dillon paid more attention, he would've noticed that Annie didn't believe she deserve this from him.
  
  (The next morning)
  
  Okay, so Dillon might have been a little off with saying that they would get a week off. While their workload had been greatly lessened, they still had things to do, like wall maintenance. Sections of the 104th would be divided among parts of Wall Rose to clean up the cannons to make sure they're in working order and spruce up the wall a little. Some of them believed the Wall Worshippers had something to do with the latter.
  
  Until then, a crowd had gathered around the road to greet the prominent members of the Survey Corps: Commander Erwin Smith, the blond-haired leader of the Corps, Hanji Zoë, a Squad Leader who also happened to be a scientist, and Captain Levi, the short, black-haired soldier who was apparently Humanity's Strongest Soldier. If the rumors behind him were even a quarter true, humanity was in good hands.
  
  "Heads up," some random guy announced. "The main unit of the Scout Regiment is back."
  
  "That's right, Commander Erwin," another guy yelled. "Did you give those ugly bastards a thrashing!?"
  
  "Look, it's Captain Levi," yet another guy pointed out. "They say he's like a one-man army."
  
  Said one-man army just scoffed and mumbled, "Spare me please."
  
  "Do you feel how excited everybody is?" Eren asked, looking happy for the first time in years. "It's like the crowd just has a different energy now."
  
  "Well, we are going on five years without incident," a red-headed cadet named Hannah pointed out. "Seems like a good omen."
  
  "And you should check out all the cannon upgrades," the tan-skinned cadet next to her, Franz, added. "The sight alone oughta be enough to scare them off."
  
  "That's the truth," she replied.
  
  "That's a load of bullcrap, you idiotic couple!" Eren raged.
  
  Lord, give me one day without Eren bitching about something, Dillon inwardly pleaded.
  
  Said couple started blushing furiously.
  
  "Whoa, whoa, whoa! This isn't what it looks like," Hannah protested, looking away.
  
  "Knock it off, man. It's embarrassing," Franz added.
  
  Dillon just rolled his eyes at the spectacle. The two were lovesick dopes. In his own relationship with Annie, he was the lovesick dope.
  
  While Eren, Mikasa, and Armin were greeting that Hannes guy Eren told Dillon about, Dillon took the time to read again a letter he received from his parents that morning. It was an apology from them for not being able to be here today, but they promised to show up tomorrow and invite him and Annie to the Interior for dinner. When he told her about, she was intrigued to meet his parents. He had a sinking feeling that it would consist of 25% eating, 25% getting to know Annie Leonhart, and 50% embarrassing him. In other words, he was looking forward to the get-together and dreading it.
  
  About an hour later, several cadets that consisted of Eren, Sasha, Dillon, Mina, Connie, Samuel, and Thomas finally began their work on their section of Wall Rose. The majority of them were assigned to cannon examinations while the others were attending the wall via dusting or removing objects that didn't need to be there.
  
  Of course, given that Eren was there, he had to shout about something, but for once, it wasn't something bad. "What the hell do you mean, 'you're joining the Scouts!?"' Eren demanded, bewildered. "What happened to the MP? That was your whole thing!"
  
  "Don't worry about it," Connie replied. "A guy's allowed to change his mind, okay?"
  
  "Same here," Dillon added. "Annie and I had a long talk, and I've decided to join the Scouts as well." Now, how do I break the news to Jean?
  
  "Wait, you weren't gonna join the Scouts?" Eren asked.
  
  Crap. Dillon chuckled nervously. "I, uh, was going to, but then Annie came into the picture, and since she was going to be an MP, I thought she would've liked it if I was with her, and, well, we talked. So... here I am."
  
  Eren stared at him and the others. "What's going on?"
  
  "I think your speech yesterday lit a fire under them," Mina suggested.
  
  I'd give an eight out of ten. Dillon thought. Points off for the "I'm gonna kill every Titan" part.
  
  "Ain't nobody talking to you!" Connie shot back, turning to face them. "His temper tantrum had nothing to do with it!"
  
  "Take it easy," Thomas advised. "It's not like you're the only one."
  
  "What? Are you serious?" Eren asked, calm for a change.
  
  Before he could answer, Sasha walked over to them holding her jacket tightly over her. "Can you guys keep a secret?" She opened it to reveal a huge slab of raw meat. "Because I totally helped myself to the officer's pantry."
  
  Dillon slapped his forehead hard while everyone just looked at her in shock.
  
  "Sasha, they could throw your ass in the clink for that," Eren exclaimed.
  
  "Seriously, what is wrong with you?" Samuel questioned.
  
  "What isn't wrong with her?" Connie snarked, sounding defeated and annoyed.
  
  "It'll be fine," Sasha assured, drooling while sounding like she was about devour the whole slab herself. "I'm willing to share. Oh, can you imagine the sandwiches?" She started chuckling madly.
  
  Dillon slowly started backing up, a little unnerved by her.
  
  "Put it back," Connie ordered.
  
  "Yeah," Mina agreed, worried. "Do you have any idea how rare meat's been since the Titans took Wal Maria?"
  
  "Um... little bit," the food addict answered. "Yeah." She knelt down and opened a hatch to stash the meat in. "Look at it this way: pretty soon, we'll take back all the room we'll need for livestock."
  
  Samuel took a whiff of the meat and said, "I would really like a slice, please."
  
  "Hey, if he gets one, so do I," Connie stated, changing his tune completely. "Just so you know."
  
  "Me too," Mina added. "I want in on it, too."
  
  Eren looked at the group as if they were insane as they split off to continue working.
  
  "Come on, Eren," Dillon stated with a grin. "Let's get back to work before the powers-that-be notice us slacking off."
  
  "See you guys at lunch time," Mina said as she went to clean off the cannon closest to her.
  
  Eren smiled and stared out at the wonderful city of Trost. A downward look revealed barricades and cannons ready to shoot anything that dared to come through the gate. Has it really been five years? Look at us! Ready to stand tall once again. We can do it! Mankind didn't start this fight, but we're gonna-
  
  "Hey, slacker," Dillon said with a smirk. "If you're done staring at the city, could you-?"
  
  Suddenly, a bolt of lightning crashed behind them and instantly appeared a creature that caused everyone to stare in horror.
  
  It was massive, standing about 60 meters. Steam billowed from its body, creating a slight fog. There was no skin on its body. Only flesh. The only skin that was on it was pink and covering its face like some sort of mask. There were no lips on the thing, so they could all see its giant teeth as it seemed to glare at them.
  
  The Colossal Titan had returned.
  
  Remastered Edits: Not much except for three things: I finally added an evaluation for Dillon thanks to GodzillaFollower1998. I changed a bit from both conversations Dillon has with Annie. I cut out the "you could've done better than anyone else" thing because Necromancy101 pointed out how that's the type of thing to avoid when you don't want to write an overpowered character. I also hammered a bit in the second conversation about Dillon's motivations for wanting to join the MPs, and I had Annie point out that he's trying to have it both ways.
  
  Hope you all enjoyed this one. The Trost Arc is going to go down a little differently. More changes are in store and they are gonna be good ones.
  
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  The Invasion of Trost
  Chapter 10: The Invasion of Trost
  
  Never in his entire life had Dillon been so terrified. This skinless monster that towered over Wall Rose was looking at them as if they were nothing but insignificant insects. Before any of them could do anything, steam jetted out of its body like a current, knocking the cadets off the Wall. To make matters worse, its large foot smashed through the gate, large pieces of gate and Wall flying. Quickly, most of the cadets managed to attach themselves to the Wall and stop their fall except for Samuel, who was clubbed in the head by the debris. Thinking fast, Sasha detached her cables, ran down the Wall, shot a cable into his leg, and fired the other one into the Wall, securing them both.
  
  "Try not to move," she yelled. "Understand?"
  
  All Samuel could do was groan.
  
  "That was too damn close," Eren commented.
  
  "Oh, God, no," Thomas said, looking at the wall. "Not again!"
  
  The cadets stared in horror at the newly formed hole in the Wall that would be big enough for invading Titans.
  
  "They're gonna get in," Thomas continued, his panic overtaking him. "They're gonna get in. They're gonna get in!"
  
  None of soldiers were more horrified by the turn of events than Eren Yeager. He was there when Wall Maria fell to the same, damned monster. He was there when the Titans invaded and proceeded to kill so many people. He was there when....
  
  "No," he snarled in defiance. "This is over. I'm gonna put a stop to this. I will. This ends now!" Drawing his swords, he began making his way up as he yelled to his fellow comrades. "This is it, people. Do or die!" Quickly, he started giving orders. "Mount the cannons, Squad 4. Take out the Colossal Titan! This is our chance! Don't let it slip away!"
  
  Shaking himself out of his stupor, Dillon trailed behind him. He was a soldier and he was not going to cower from the thing he spent three years training to kill. Unlike everyone else, Dillon had mental powers and he was going to use them to their full capacity. If Eren was right, they could end this all now. As he got closer to the top, lots of pieces of the Wall fell towards him including a couple of cannons. He barely dodged the wreckage by swinging around them, having several close calls and the scratches to prove it. Seemed like the Titan was getting rid of the defenses.
  
  Crap, it's intelligent. Dillon realized when he reached the top.
  
  He spotted Eren attach a cable into the Colossal Titan's back as he swung around, but then the Titan's gaze fell on him. Gulping, Dillon was about to attack when he noticed something in the monster's eyes, something different: a faint twinge of recognition. The blacksmith shook his head furiously. There was no way the Titan knew him. They just met today. Surely, he was seeing things. However, he saw something else in its eyes that made his anxiety rise: anger.
  
  How the hell is it displaying human emotions?
  
  "Dillon, move!" Eren shouted.
  
  Snapping out of it, Dillon jumped away from its palm that slammed down where he was. Running a safe distance, he noticed Eren swinging around and landing on its arm to run up towards the head, but the Titan, to his surprise, was ignoring him. Dillon prepared to hit it with a mental attack, but steam shot out from its body and hit him. It wasn't enough to send Dillon off the wall, but it was enough to make him grunt in pain as he felt his body heat up. He couldn't see anything, but the worst part was that he felt like he was being boiled alive. Instinctively, Dillon leapt off the wall and it was a good thing too. A second later, the Colossal Titan's fist smashed down where he was standing a second ago.
  
  After falling for a bit, Dillon latched himself to the Wall and just hung there, leaning against it. His skin felt like it was on fire even though it wasn't, he was sweating up a storm, and he was panting heavily.
  
  "Dillon, are you all right!?" Connie exclaimed, shocked.
  
  "Ask me... later," he responded, out of breath and his voice hoarse.
  
  There was a loud scream courtesy of Eren and then silence.
  
  Concerned, Thomas zoomed up to the top and noticed that the Colossal Titan had vanished and Eren was hanging off the other side of the wall, dumbstruck. "Eren, where'd he go? Did he get away, or did you take him out?"
  
  "He's gone," Eren answered, trying not to panic. "Exactly like five years ago. He's here one moment, then gone the next. Just like that."
  
  Mina quickly made her way towards Dillon. "We need to get you to HQ fast."
  
  Still panting like a dog, he just nodded.
  
  "I'll get you there." She turned her back to him. "Get on."
  
  Carefully, he wrapped his arms around her neck and she took off towards HQ.
  
  "It's going to be okay," Mina promised, trying to stay strong for his sake. "We're going to survive this."
  
  "Need... water," Dillon stated weakly.
  
  "You'll get it. Just hang on."
  
  After about ten minutes, the two reached HQ as she slowly lowered herself down to the ground. Placing Dillon in a sitting position against the Wall, Mina grabbed an empty canteen.
  
  "I'm filling this up with water," she said, doing just that.
  
  He barely gave a nod, still panting.
  
  Once it was full, she handed it to him. "Drink slowly."
  
  With shaking hands, he lifted it up to his mouth, taking a few sips. Then, he poured the whole thing on his face to cool him down.
  
  "Feeling better?" Mina asked.
  
  "Yeah," he answered. "Might need another one though."
  
  "I'll take care of it," she assured, taking the empty canteen to refill it.
  
  "Cadets!" a commanding voice exclaimed.
  
  Mina instantly snapped to a salute as a tall man with brown hair, eyes, and beard stalked up to them, glaring angrily. This was Kitz Voormin, a Captain of the Garrison troops. Dillon struggled to stand, so he settled for a salute on the ground. They noticed a young, gray-haired woman wearing glasses standing next to them, giving them a stern look. They had no idea who that was.
  
  "Are you deserting your posts?" he questioned, looking ready to shoot them on sight.
  
  Mina explained their actions quickly. "Sir, as you know, the Colossal Titan breached the Wall. Cadet Amsdale attempted to attack him, but he was nearly boiled alive by the steam that Titan produced. To keep him from passing out, I brought him here to hydrate him."
  
  "Judging by how he looks like a dehydrated dog, I think she's telling the truth," the woman stated.
  
  You're too kind. Dillon thought sarcastically.
  
  "Rico, get him to interrogation room for questioning," he ordered.
  
  "Yes, sir." With the gentleness of a crab, Rico hoisted the teen up. "Come on. Let's go."
  
  "I need water," Dillon said, nearly falling over.
  
  The woman growled, putting his arm on her shoulder and walking him inside the building. "Quit your whining, Cadet, or I'll feed you to the Titans myself."
  
  Voormin turned back to Mina. "Cadet, get your ass inside and fill up your tank!"
  
  "Yes, sir," she replied, heading to the refueling station quickly.
  
  Inside, Rico put Dillon down in a chair and gave him a canteen of cold water. "Anything else, Cadet? Perhaps a soft pillow or a warm blanket?"
  
  Seeing that she had a higher rank than him, he chose to answer respectfully. "No, ma'am."
  
  She snorted, pulling out a notepad, ready to write the report. "Good. Because I have better things to do than to babysit recruits."
  
  At this time, Voormin stepped into the interrogation room, getting right in Dillon's face."Tell me everything about the Colossal Titan."
  
  Taking a sip of water, Dillon said, "It was huge and skinless, but it was intelligent."
  
  "What do you mean by intelligent?" he questioned.
  
  "It knew to take out the cannons first," he explained. "Once it was finished, it disappeared." He looked at him dead in the eyes. "The Colossal Titan's singular purpose was to bring down our defenses and let the Titans in. Nothing more."
  
  Rico raised her eyebrows, interested. "According to the reports five years ago, all the Colossal Titan did was kick down the gate before disappearing. And you say that it used steam against you?"
  
  He nodded. "Think of it like a tidal wave of steam coming at you. Mina Carolina, the cadet that brought me here, wasn't kidding that it tried to boil me alive."
  
  The captain sighed. "It's not much, but it's more than we had five years ago. Can you continue to fight?"
  
  "Five minutes, sir," Dillon requested. "That's all I need."
  
  "Granted. Let's go, Rico."
  
  The woman followed him out, leaving Dillon alone to his thoughts.
  
  Why didn't I say anything about that Titan wanting to kill me? Dillon wondered. Maybe because I was seeing things... right?
  
  Closing his eyes, he traveled right back to that very moment, the moment the Colossal Titan saw him. He studied the memory, watching as how it immediately turned its attention on him. He wasn't imagining things. The Colossal Titan had it out for him.
  
  It doesn't make sense. He thought, drinking his water. None of this makes any sense.
  
  With a sigh, the teen stood up and headed towards the refueling depot. The time had finally come to fight Titans, and he needed to go after them with everything he had. Everything depended on it.
  
  The entirety of the 104th had gathered in the courtyard of headquarters. Most of them were terrified, but they managed to keep it together. This was what they were trained for and they were going to defend their homes.
  
  "I want everyone divided into four squadrons just like we practiced," Voormin ordered, though it sounded like he was on the verge of panicking. "All squadrons are responsible for supply readiness, message relay, and enemy combat under the command of the Garrison Regiment! The intermediate squadron will be taking the vanguard, the cadets will be taking the middle guard led by the support squad, rearguard will go to the elites. I expect you all to man your posts knowing the advanced team was wiped out!"
  
  There were several shocked gasps from the cadets. Things were getting bad quick.
  
  "That's right!" His voice was cracking just a little. "The outer gate is history. The Titans are in. This means the Armored Titan is likely to reappear. If, and when, he does, the inner gate will also be history."
  
  There were whispers scattering throughout them all about how this was horrible and thoughts about how they were all gonna die.
  
  "Quiet!" Voormin ordered. "Those of the vanguard be ready! Your mission is a very simple one: defend the Wall until the evacuation's done." He glared at all of them. "Now, be aware, all of you, that desertion is punishable by execution. If it comes to it, lay down your lives. Dismissed!"
  
  "Yes, sir," they all responded.
  
  With the debriefing over, many of the cadets ran off to their respective squadrons to prepare for battle. Unfortunately, there were a lot of them that were beginning to panic, including Jean.
  
  "Why did this have to happen now?" he asked in fear. "Just one more day and I would've been heading for the Interior."
  
  It didn't help when he watched another cadet vomiting his guts out while Krista attempted to comfort him.
  
  Not even Dillon was immune to the fear that was slowly consuming him. He sat against the wall, staring at his shaking hand. Almost dying wasn't new to him, but that fear was far more evident today than ever before. He had encountered his first Titan and he was almost killed. Never in his life had he come so close. Never in his life was he so terrified. He was so wrapped in his thoughts that he ran into and over a warm body. The person in question squeaked and fell to the floor. Her brown hair was tied back now, but it looked messier than before. Sasha was tanner than almost all the other girls, but her face was deathly pale and sweaty.
  
  "Sasha?" Dillon asked, shocked to see her in that condition.
  
  She scrambled to her feet, clawing at the wall for her support. "I'm sorry, I..." Her mouth opened and closed a few times. He could hear her heavy breathing. She closed her mouth, gritting her teeth slightly. She tried to talk again, but still no words. She gestured at him, perhaps asking how he was or flailing about for help.
  
  Dillon's eyes widened in horror, thinking she was having a seizure. "Sasha, you need a medic." He was about to turn and find one.
  
  Sasha seized his arm, gripping it tightly.
  
  Dillon grunted in pain. "Sasha, let go. I'm trying to-"
  
  She shook her head, trying to compose herself. Then she blurted the thoughts on her mind. "Are we going to die?"
  
  So, that was it. A panic attack. He kicked himself for not seeing the symptoms sooner. He was like this when they broke through Wall Maria, a scared and panicked kid, and he was on the verge of another one now. He wasn't going to lie to her, so he told her, "Whatever happens, we're going to fight, and we won't let them win." He needed to be strong for her.
  
  "That's just what people say," Sasha whispered, her hand going limp. "I..."
  
  She stood there for a few moments as soldiers bustled around them. Some were frantically checking and re-checking their gear. A few huddled into corners to say final goodbyes or to offer prayers to whatever they believe in. A few even cried. Most had a stricken, trance-like look about them as each was haunted by the thoughts that plagued men and women facing death.
  
  "My stomach hurts."
  
  Dillon gripped her shoulders. "Listen to me, Sasha. I know you're scared. I'm terrified. That Titan almost killed me twice, but we have to beat our fears together. If we don't, we are all going to die." Dillon prayed that she would understand. He was on the brink of losing it like the rest, and he needed to get something accomplished.
  
  Sasha's lowered look quivered, but she nodded her head. "R-right."
  
  Thank you, Lord. "How's Samuel?"
  
  "They've moved him to a field hospital here in Trost. I think the grapple went through his femur. He can't fight like that. They say they'll move him out with the others when they can."
  
  "You saved his life, Sasha. You had better reaction times than any of us."
  
  "But what if he's not evacuated in time? We're soldiers, but we're hardly one of their priorities." She looked about to cry. "We're their shields, but we don't even get the same food they do."
  
  "Sasha, don't focus on the what-ifs," Dillon said desperately. "We can't. Please."
  
  "They'll throw us all to them if they have to," Sasha mumbled, her voice oddly monotone for food being the subject. "Then they'll eat well. You can tell a lot about people by how and what they eat compared to those around them. I miss it... like it's a part of my soul and if I can have it, I'm okay." She never said what it was. "Krista nibbles like she grew up some place where people had to be fancy, but stuffs it when no one is looking like she's desperate. Ymir likes to act all selfish, but I know she stole food to give to kids who didn't have better. Eren doesn't care about taste and treats whatever is in his way as an inconvenience. Then there are the people who send us to die. They take the best and send us to those things who'll eat us. I notice more than people think I do." Her voice became a whisper as she brushed a stray hair aside. I know what's going to happen."
  
  Dillon was at a complete loss. He didn't know what to do, what to say. He couldn't help her, much less himself. Helpless. That's what he was.
  
  She gave him a look that mirrored that helplessness. "You eat like... you're alone in some ways. You share it like you share yourself, but you never get back what you need. I knew that when you traded your food to me for..." She trailed off for a moment. "You ate better when she was around you after that. I think she made you happy." Sasha grabbed his shoulder. "Dillon, Annie eats food with... I dunno. Like she doesn't think she deserves it, like someone begrudges her every bite. She looks lonely all the time. You've got to find her, Dillon. Don't let her feel that right now."
  
  Dillon felt pulled in so many directions. He was trying to help her, but she was trying to help him instead. "But, Sasha, you're... I can't just leave you." Sasha, tell me how to help you.
  
  Sasha stood up straighter and tried to put on a brave face. It looked more like her "I have an upset tummy" face. "I'll be..." She deflated a bit. "Just be safe, and, uh, remember, that big ugly thing pulverized our meat in that box, so let them have it."
  
  He gave her a brief hug and immediately went to go find Annie. He found her walking through the crowd, craning her head this way and that. She was already kitted up. "Annie!"
  
  Her head snapped in his direction and she pushed through to him. Despite her height, no one stayed in her way for long. Once they got close enough, Dillon immediately hugged her tight, wanting nothing more to collapse at this very moment. Hell, his legs nearly gave in. She held him just as tight without hesitation. A rare display of affection from someone so recalcitrant at times about holding hands or much else.
  
  "Annie," he whispered. "I... the Colossal Titan. It... oh, God."
  
  "I saw," she said into his shirt. "Everyone did."
  
  "I was on the Wall. He was right in front of me."
  
  Annie pulled away sharply and looked him up and down. "Are you hurt?"
  
  "Some slight burns from the steam and a few scratches, but that's... that's not important." He hesitated, afraid she would think him insane. "Annie, that thing looked at me and... it tried to kill me."
  
  "What?" She shook her head. "But last time it just went for the gates?"
  
  "It did go for the gates. It knocked off the cannons so we couldn't use them, but when Eren tried going after it, it still targeted me. It wanted me dead."
  
  "Dillon, how could you know that? It's an aberrant titan. Why you?"
  
  "I don't know!" His voice was a little louder than he meant. "I could see it in its eyes. Recognition. Anger. Human emotions. I didn't imagine it. I swear. I've never seen a Titan before... so why did it know me?" He let out a shaky breath. "You think I'm crazy, don't you?"
  
  She stared at him and for a second there was no coldness. He could see raw fear shining in her eyes. Her shoulders slumped, and she appeared almost feeble. "It was a life or death situation for you. You'll think all kinds of things. Doesn't make you crazy. Just cause they have people's shapes doesn't make them think like people."
  
  Dillon shook his head. "What am I supposed to do, Annie?"
  
  She looked at a loss. "I don't... stay alive. That's what you do." She reached up to touch his face. "Are you listening to me? Stay alive. This isn't us sparing, these aren't training dummies, and for god's sake none of us live in the world that Eren Yeager pretends we do. When you see them, people will freeze. That's when people die."
  
  Dillon placed his hands on top of hers, trying to commit her touch to memory. "I won't freeze."
  
  "Yes, you will," she said in a hollow tone, as if she had prior experience. Her home had disappeared to the Titans. Maybe she had. "Every one of them will, but recover and survive. Don't attack them from the front, and whatever you do, don't descend into a group of them, even if someone you love is in their hands. And if you have to, run."
  
  Dillon opened his mouth to respond, but then he closed it. All he did was place a kiss on her forehead. "I love you." It was the first time he ever said those words to her.
  
  "I..." Annie looked, if anything, more shaken than before. "Please don't die. I know you don't want to use your powers, but if you have to, do it. Survive. I can't... that can't be how today ends. That can't be the thing that haunts me most of this day. Please."
  
  "I won't die. I'm coming back."
  
  She nodded, but still shied away from his touch. "Then go. Don't say goodbye. Just go."
  
  "Why can't I say-?"
  
  "Because it can't be goodbye." Her voice fluctuated with emotion just for one moment.
  
  It hit what she was saying, and he simply nodded, a sad expression in his eyes. Heaving a sigh, he let her go and began making his way for his squad.
  
  Off to the side, he could see Eren and Mikasa having a talk, and judging by their expressions, it wasn't a pleasant one. He wanted to go over there, but there was no more time. He could only pray that they would all make it out alive.
  
  Once he got close to the squad, Dillon realized was composed of Franz and Hannah, but there were also two other people with them. One was a black-haired boy with a stocky appearance and hazel eyes. The other was a dirty blond-haired girl with brown eyes.
  
  "All right," Franz said, gulping. "Let's, uh, introduce each other quickly. Franz Kefka."
  
  "Hannah Diament."
  
  "Dillon Amsdale."
  
  "Elsa Glöckner."
  
  "Vaughn Hoffer."
  
  "Captain Voormin has assigned me as team leader," Franz explained. "As stated, our main objective is to hold the Titans back by any means necessary."
  
  Hannah gulped nervously as the thought. Even though she trained for this, she was not keen on dying today.
  
  "Can it even be done?" Vaughn asked quietly. "There are so many of them."
  
  Dillon sighed. "We won't get anything done if we just stand around here talking about it."
  
  Elsa nodded in agreement. "If we die, we die for humanity. That's all there is to it."
  
  "Squad 31, move out," a nearby officer ordered.
  
  "That's us," Franz realized. "Time to go."
  
  Though they were nervous, the five were determined to do everything in their power to keep humanity safe. They just hoped it would be enough to make a difference.
  
  Squad 31's position was about two miles east of Squad 34, which was Eren's group. In the distance, they could see Titans of all shapes and sizes walking around the city looking for humans to eat. While the Colossal Titan was frightening on its own, seeing these beasts wander the streets was something else. The way the Titans moved, almost like they were drunk at times, the cemented grins on their faces, they truly were creatures out of their worst nightmares.
  
  "Freaky as hell," Vaughn commented.
  
  "What's the plan, Squad Leader?" Dillon asked, trying to hide his own fears.
  
  "Charging in isn't going to work against these things," Franz stated. "We're gonna need a much better approach." He paced back and forth, trying to think of one.
  
  "Maybe we should let them come to us," Hannah suggested nervously. "I mean, we could hide out in these buildings and strike when they get close."
  
  Her clearly-not-her-boyfriend gave her an encouraging smile. "That's actually a good idea. We can split off into two groups. One group will have to draw the Titan in, and the other swoops in and kills them quickly."
  
  "It's a risky plan, but I'd choice that over charging in like a suicidal maniac," Dillon said.
  
  Elsa, who had been quiet this whole time, added, "I'm in."
  
  The squad zoomed forward, drawing closer to the Titans. Their first target was a twelve-meter Titan that had a stocky appearance. Quickly, they split off into two different buildings via the windows. Vaughn, Franz, and Hannah one the left side, and Dillon and Elsa on the right.
  
  "Get ready to move," Elsa whispered, swords at the ready.
  
  Nodding, the blacksmith prepared his weapons as well as the thumping sounds drew closer. His heart raced with every step of the Titan. It was like drums coming from Hell itself.
  
  The twelve-meter could smell them. That much was clear. The question was which group it would go for. Suddenly, it roared and charged to right side. The humans inside were closer.
  
  "Move," Dillon shouted, jumping out of the way of a hand that almost grabbed him.
  
  "Come and get us, you bastard," Elsa taunted, trying to keep its attention on them.
  
  It reared its head back in preparation to slam into the opening face-first, but the sound of flesh being cut made it freeze for a moment. Slowly, it fell to the ground, its nape having been split open. The other three landed inside, Franz's sword covered in blood.
  
  "You two okay?" he asked.
  
  "Next time, you're the bait," Dillon replied, just a little shaken up.
  
  He chuckled and stared at his sword. "My first Titan kill."
  
  "Good job, Franz," Hannah complemented.
  
  The moment was interrupted by a rumbling sound and the ground shaking violently.
  
  "Three Titans incoming," Vaughn announced after looking outside, horrified. "Two ten-meters and one fifteen-meter."
  
  Switching out the blade for a new one, Franz said, "Stay together and take them out quickly."
  
  "Yes, sir," they all replied.
  
  Firing their cables, Squad 31 zoomed out onto the nearest rooftop to get a better view of the situation, but it was too late. The fifteen-meter was the first to reach them, lunging at the building they were standing on.
  
  "Run," Franz yelled.
  
  Barely, the five jumped away as the Titan crashed into the building, demolishing it completely. Most of them were able to grapple to a different building. Franz, however, flew right into the side of the building, falling to the ground in a heap.
  
  "Franz," Hannah cried, throwing caution to the winds as she descended to the ground to help him.
  
  Dillon watched the scene begin to unravel quickly. The two ten-meters were closing in fast and the fifteen-meter was reaching out for Franz. Hannah managed to slice its fingers off and attempted to pull Franz away, but he was too heavy. She was too caught up in despair to notice the fifteen-meter reach with its other hand. Vaughn looked like he was about to try and bolt, and Elsa was prepared to go down fighting.
  
  I once said that I thought I could be a good leader. Dillon thought to himself as he steeled himself for what he was about to do. Time to find out.
  
  His eyes started to flash as he shouted out orders. "Vaughn, Elsa, hold the ten-meters off! I'll take care of the big guy."
  
  "You got it," Elsa replied, going for the one on the right.
  
  Vaughn was more reluctant. "But, Dillon-"
  
  "Go!" he ordered, focusing all his energy on the monster in front of him.
  
  The Titan stopped, instinctively clutching its head in pain. Blood began leaking from its face as Dillon made the capillaries in its brain burst. Given that this thing was bigger, it took a lot more mental strength to do so. When he noticed Hannah finally pull Franz away from the Titan, Dillon swung around on the cable and sliced open the nape, killing it instantly.
  
  Elsa and Vaughn were doing pretty well. Surprisingly, Vaughn was a better fighter than he let on once he let go of his fear. He managed to blind the ten-meter Titan he took on before slicing its nape. Elsa cut open the Achilles Heel on hers, making it fall to the ground. She quickly killed it before it could get up. With the Titans dead, Squad 31 managed to scramble to a high rooftop as the bodies left behind began to decompose quickly.
  
  "Is everyone all right?" Dillon asked.
  
  Franz nodded, rubbing his sore head. "I'm gonna have a wicked headache in the morning."
  
  Suddenly, Elsa stalked up to him and pointed a sword at his neck.
  
  "Elsa, what are you doing?" Vaughn questioned.
  
  "What are you?" she demanded.
  
  "Elsa, I don't-" The point hit his neck.
  
  "You stared at the Titan, and blood began to pour from its face," Elsa stated, glaring at him. "So, I'm gonna ask again: What. Are. You!?"
  
  Gulping, Dillon answered, "I'm a human with psychic abilities."
  
  "Psychic abilities?" Vaughn repeated.
  
  "You know, mental attacks, levitating objects, things like that."
  
  Elsa's grip on her sword tightened, the tip nearly touching his neck."How is that possible?"
  
  "It's a long story!" he replied quickly.
  
  "Condense it," she ordered.
  
  "Elsa, there's no time for that," Franz interjected, walking over to them. "As much as we all want to ask him questions, we have more important things to worry about."
  
  "Squad Leader, you've seen what he's capable of," she shot back. "How do we know we can trust him?"
  
  "I just saved Franz's life," Dillon pointed out, frustrated. "Are you seriously going to forget that?"
  
  "There's an angle," Elsa growled. "There has to be. How can anyone trust you with that kind of power?"
  
  "Elsa, please," Hannah said, putting a hand on her shoulder. "He saved Franz's life."
  
  "And do you really think I'd use my powers to hurt humanity when there are Titans that will do whatever they take to eat us?" Dillon added.
  
  It was a long ten seconds, but after that passage of time, she sighed and lowered the sword. "Fine, but if you try anything-."
  
  "I get it." Dillon turned to Franz. "What's our next move?"
  
  "How long can you do that for?" he asked.
  
  "I don't know," Dillon said, "but I'm gonna go all out."
  
  Hannah rushed over to him, taking out a handkerchief. "You're bleeding."
  
  Dillon was about to retort, but she wiped the blood from his nose. Once she was done, he finally spoke. "It happens if I go too far."
  
  "So, it's not gonna last long," Vaughn realized.
  
  "I was high on adrenaline, but now that I'm not, I can take it easy. I can give the Titans some nasty headaches and you guys can deliver the killing blow. The more I strain to use these powers, the more likely I'm gonna get dizzy and lightheaded."
  
  Franz nodded. "We'll keep an eye out if the strain becomes too much for your mind."
  
  "Got it."
  
  What went from an attempt at a cloak-and-dagger plan turned into a hit-and-run tactic. With Dillon's abilities, they could actually go search for Titans to kill. Granted, there were Abnormals, Titans that displayed bouts of intelligence, to worry about, but it was thanks to the blacksmith that their lives were made a little easier.
  
  "12-meter dead ahead," Vaughn announced, growing a lot more confident as of late. "Who wants that one?"
  
  "I'll take it," Hannah said with a grin. "You guys have been having all the fun."
  
  "It's only been fifteen minutes," Franz informed her.
  
  "And I only got one Titan kill," she stated.
  
  Dillon rolled his eyes while making them glow. "Go for it, Hannah."
  
  She charged towards the Titan as it held its head in pain and slashed its neck. Unfortunately, the cuts were too shallow.
  
  "Circle around and try again," Franz exclaimed.
  
  "You holding up there, Psychic?" Elsa questioned.
  
  "Can't stay on this guy much longer," he said. "Hurry up."
  
  Quickly, Hannah circled around and cut the nape, striking a killing blow. "Yes!"
  
  "There we go," her not-boyfriend congratulated.
  
  "What's the tally so far?" Vaughn asked.
  
  "Four for me," Elsa answered, "five for Franz, three for you, and two for both Hannah and Dillon."
  
  "I should point out that I assisted on most of your kills," Dillon reminded them, "so my number is above all of you."
  
  Suddenly, drops of water began to fall from the sky. It quickly increased to many as a downpour of rain fell on them.
  
  "Feels nice," Vaughn commented, letting the rain wash over him.
  
  "Let's take a couple of minutes," Franz suggested.
  
  Dillon sat down and rested against the window, finally able to relax for a bit.
  
  "Hey," Elsa said, standing next to him. "Sorry about earlier."
  
  "You were confronted with something you couldn't comprehend," he replied. "Sure, I'm just a little ticked off, but I can't completely hold it against you." Wouldn't be the first time.
  
  She sighed. "This whole thing is so insane. Right after graduation, we immediately get attacked, and now I'm standing next to the only human with abnormal abilities."
  
  "It's a lot to take in," he agreed. "You should've seen my girlfriend's reaction."
  
  "What's her name?" she wondered.
  
  "Annie Leonhart. Cold at first, but she warms up after a while."
  
  She chuckled. "Glad you have someone to live for."
  
  "I'll introduce you if we run into her." He looked up at her. "What about you? Have anyone special in your life?"
  
  Before she could answer, the bell began to ring in the distance.
  
  "The civilians made it out," Hannah realized, smiling.
  
  That's when the reality of the situation hit Vaughn. "At what cost?" When the squad looked at him, he explained himself. "I mean, we're the only ones in our squad to have someone like Dillon. Everyone else had to fight these Titans without the advantage we have. Can you imagine how many have died already?"
  
  Dillon looked down at the street and noticed that some of the puddles were mixed with blood. Whether it was Titan blood or human blood, the point was made. Soldiers have been giving up their lives all day to make Trost safe. It was a sobering thought.
  
  "They won't be forgotten," Franz promised as he looked at Headquarters from afar. "Let's head back to Headquarters and regroup with the others. Gas is good on my end. How about you guys?"
  
  "Good enough to make it," Dillon answered.
  
  "I'm good," Elsa assured.
  
  "Same as Dillon," Vaughn stated. "I'll make it."
  
  "I have enough," Hannah said.
  
  Dillon stood up... and promptly stumbled, the world spinning.
  
  "Easy there," Vaughn warned as he and Elsa held him back, concerned. "You okay?"
  
  Shaking his head to ward off the dizziness, he answered, "I think I reached my limit."
  
  "I can carry you the rest of the way," Franz offered.
  
  Once again, Dillon found himself piggyback riding his way to safety, and he was sufficiently annoyed. "Twice in one day. This better not become a regular habit."
  
  "Wait, this happened before?" Hannah asked.
  
  "Later," he replied with a sigh.
  
  Squad 31 was on the move again except it was a little quieter this time around. Some of them began to notice the dead soldiers lying in the streets, and they were grisly sights to behold.
  
  "I recognize some of them," Vaughn whispered. "People that I knew in Training."
  
  Worried, Dillon made a mental call to his girlfriend. "Annie, are you there?"
  
  There was no response.
  
  He was about to try again, but the lightheadedness got worse. Seemed like communications would be shot for a while too. Until then, he would have to hope that he wouldn't see Annie among the bodies.
  
  "We're about halfway there, guys," Franz stated. "Let's keep up the-"
  
  There was a loud roar that came from their left, causing their eyes to widen in horror. A thirteen-meter was coming at them, full speed. Instantly, Dillon tried a mental attack, but he didn't have the strength to do it.
  
  "We can't lead that thing back to HQ!" Vaughn stated. "We have to kill it now."
  
  "I've got it," Elsa assured, pulling back.
  
  Before anyone could stop her, she dodged a bite attempt and circled around, ready to cut open the nape. Then, it happened. Her tank ran out of gas. Thrown off balance, she made a cut that wasn't deep enough to kill it. She crashed against the side of a building, which shattered her gear. She fell to the ground as she cried out in pain, her arm twisted at an odd angle. Elsa was completely vulnerable.
  
  The minute that happened, Franz put it all together. Elsa lied to them. She knew that she had the least amount of gas, but she pretended everything was fine. She didn't want to be a burden and was willing to sacrifice herself if it meant getting the rest of the squad got to safety.
  
  She didn't want them to save her.
  
  With a pained look, Franz made the hardest call of his life. "Keep going!"
  
  Hannah, who was about to turn around, stared at him in shock. "Are you crazy? That thing's going to eat her!"
  
  "Damn it, Hannah, I know," he shot back, his eyes glistening with tears. "We're running out of gas, and we have to make it to Headquarters without delays!"
  
  "Please, don't make me leave her," she begged.
  
  "Run!" came the final cry of the woman they were leaving behind as the Titan lifted her up.
  
  "I'm sorry," Franz whispered as they continued forward towards their objective.
  
  "Elsa, no!" Hannah shouted, about to turn around.
  
  "Don't you dare go back," Franz commanded angrily, though there was pain in his words. "I won't lose you, too!"
  
  Part of Vaughn wanted to go back and save her, but more Titans were coming their way. There was no time. He felt like a horrible person as he obeyed his squad leader. Hannah was openly crying, and she still followed her squad away from her friend.
  
  All four of them could hear her screaming as the Titan crushed her body in its hands. The pitch of her voice got higher and higher until it suddenly stopped. Aside from the cables pulling them forward, there was dead silence. Elsa Glöckner was no more.
  
  Remastered Edits: Props to Necromancy101 for writing Sasha and Annie's lines in the middle. I really liked how that turned out. You can also see a reference to the Attack on Titan 2 game. Also, also, I emphasized a bit more on the emotional toll this is taking on everyone, that no one really has it completely together. I hope I did that a bit more justice.
  
  I hope you all enjoyed this one. If you think these changes were big, wait until you see the next chapter.
  
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  The Price of Survival
  Apologies for the longer wait time. I didn't expect the edits to take as long as they did. Be prepared for that for the rest of the chapters. If I take too long to post something, most likely it's because of all the changes I'm making. Here's 10,000 words to make up for that.
  
  Chapter 11: The Price of Survival
  
  The rain didn't last very long in the city of Trost. Within twenty minutes, it had subsided, but its work was finally done. The blood of the slain soldiers had spread throughout the city like a river, as if wanting to constantly remind the survivors that sacrifices were made today. They didn't need such reminders, for the memories of their comrades getting killed by the Titans were branded into their memories.
  
  The 104th gathered on a collection of rooftops, exhausted and traumatized. They had seen so many horrible things today that they would never forget. Lives snuffed out at a moment's notice, screams of the dying echoing in their minds, and the thought that they, too, would suffer the same fate.
  
  "Hey, Jean," Connie said. He was one of the few that put aside the trauma. "What are we gonna do?"
  
  The brown-haired teen didn't even look at him, finding the roof a far more interesting sight. "We can't do anything. They finally gave us the order to withdraw, and we're all out of gas. Of course." He sighed. "I can't believe this is how it's gonna end... because of those damned cowards."
  
  "You mean the supply depot?" Connie asked, confused. "What is going on? Where are they!?"
  
  "They all lost their will to fight," Jean explained. "I can understand why... but they abandoned their duty to supply us, barricading themselves inside HQ. And, of course, Titans have swarmed the place which means we can't get the gas ourselves."
  
  Connie was getting more aggravated by the situation. "Then why are we waiting? We gotta go! Start thinning their numbers so we have a chance! Sitting here on this roof is completely pointless. Eventually, the Titans are gonna come for us."
  
  Jean didn't say anything and only gave him a cold look.
  
  "We don't have much gas left," he went on. "We'll just waste what little we've got if we try to run. And without our mobility, we're completely screwed."
  
  "You're using your head for once, Connie," he noted. "Nice going, but I'm not sure if we've got the numbers needed to pull this thing off. The veterans in the vanguard force have all been killed. How exactly do a bunch of rookies pull off a suicide mission like this? I mean, let's assume half our forces survive the initial assault. Then what? The supply room is probably crawling with Titans in the three to four-meter range. I don't see us accomplishing much there."
  
  The words sunk in as Connie lost the drive he had. "It's... hopeless."
  
  Jean let out a sigh. "God, what a dull life this turned out to be." He looked up for a second. "Any sign of him?"
  
  He shook his head. "Annie asked me the same question not too long ago."
  
  Jean chuckled a little. "Bastard's too stubborn to die. If anyone has a chance of making it, it's him."
  
  On another part of the roof, Sasha attempted to rally the troops. "Come on, guys. We can do it! Right? Let's go. If we all work together, we can make this happen. I know we can. All right? I'll take the lead."
  
  Her words fell on deaf ears. The cadets were too traumatized to even move. They had seen horrors they never imagined in their worst nightmares.
  
  Discouraged, she looked around for a kindred spirit and found Armin sitting in a corner, looking down. She quickly ran over to him. "Armin, it's time to go!"
  
  He was just like the rest of them: petrified and motionless.
  
  Nearby, Annie kept a sharp eye out for any sign of Dillon. She knew he wasn't dead given that their mind link was still open, but her attempts at contacting him mentally were met with silence. There were lots of reasons why that could be, so she kept her ears and eyes out.
  
  "It's not like you to hope," a voice said.
  
  She forgot that she was standing next to her squad. "He's still alive, Reiner."
  
  "How can you be sure, Annie?" Bertholdt asked, giving her a confused look. "None of have seen him since the debriefing earlier."
  
  "I can't explain it... but I know he's not dead," she replied.
  
  "You really care about him, don't you?" Reiner realized.
  
  Annie didn't answer that for a moment, but then she said, "He's my boyfriend. Of course I do."
  
  "Must be nice to have someone like that in your life," Marco stated, giving that same traumatized look everyone else had. "Someone that cares about you, someone that loves you. When I die, I'll have no one."
  
  "Hey, don't talk like that," Bertholdt rebuked. "We're gonna get through this."
  
  "It's no use," Marco replied, lost in despair. "There's too many of them. I don't think any of us are going to survive this. I've come to accept my impending demise." He looked up at the wall ahead, so close but not close enough. "I just... wanted my death to mean something."
  
  At this time, there was nothing they could do to help Marco. Not while he was like that.
  
  Their ears perked up at the sounds of ODM gear being used. Some of the cadets look over to see four other cadets arrive at the scene, practically crashing onto the rooftop. They recognized this group as Squad 31, but one of their members was clearly injured as he was carefully lowered onto the-
  
  "Dillon," Connie said, running towards him.
  
  Jean and Sasha's eyes widened, quickly joining him.
  
  The blacksmith didn't look injured save for some blood running from his nose.
  
  "He got dizzy and nearly passed out," Franz explained. "He needs water." He turned to Hannah. "Hannah-"
  
  He knew the slap was coming and made no effort to dodge it. Seeing that look in her eyes, that look of betrayal, it hurt him more than the slap. Unable to look at him anymore, Hannah sat on the edge of the rooftop, burying her face in her hands.
  
  With a sigh, Franz sat next to her, his face still stinging. "I know you're furious with me, Hannah, but I had no choice."
  
  "We could've saved her," she wept.
  
  He shook his head sadly. "No, we couldn't. The tanks were too low to attempt attacking the Titan and Dillon was too incapacitated to help. I didn't want to leave Elsa either."
  
  "Then why did you?" Hannah questioned, giving him that same look. "Why did you tell us to leave?"
  
  "Because we had to live," he answered, pulling her close.
  
  She couldn't find it in her to resist his attempt to comfort her, so she just let him.
  
  Connie handed him his canteen. "Here."
  
  Like earlier, Dillon knew to take careful sips as he sat up in a sitting position. "Thanks."
  
  "Move!" Quickly, his friends moved aside to make way for Annie as she knelt down next to him, worried. "What happened?"
  
  "I didn't... recover fully from the Colossal Titan's attack earlier," he lied openly, but on the mental side... "Too much strain on my powers."
  
  She let out a sigh. "You just don't know your limitations, do you?"
  
  Normally, Dillon would've had a snarky comeback, but not this time. Not after losing Elsa. He was still shaken up over her death.
  
  Annie picked up on his pain. "Something happened."
  
  He nodded sadly. "We lost someone: a girl named Elsa Glöckner. She... she didn't tell us that she was almost out of gas and... she was eaten." A tear fell from his face. "I can still hear her screams."
  
  Doing the only thing she could do, Annie embraced him gently, rubbing his back. "I'm sorry, Dillon."
  
  "Why are they doing this, Annie?" he asked quietly. "Why do they hate us so much?"
  
  "I don't know," she answered.
  
  "There is no reason," Reiner stated, kneeling down to their level. "The Titans are feral monsters who want to kill us all. That's what they want."
  
  "Thank you for your help, Reiner," Annie spat, annoyed.
  
  He sighed, ignoring her. "Amsdale, I know today has been hard on you. It's been hard on all of us-"
  
  Fricking. Understatement. Dillon thought to himself.
  
  "-but you've gotta put all of this aside. We have a mission to complete."
  
  It was really strange for him to get sympathy from Annie and a dose of reality from Reiner. Nevertheless, he nodded. "You're right. We're not done yet."
  
  "Annie!"
  
  The blond-haired girl glanced at Mikasa, who had just arrived on the scene. Seemed like she decided to abandon the rearguard after they evacuated the civilians.
  
  Mikasa slowed down upon seeing Dillon's condition. "Dillon, what happened?"
  
  "I had a very long day," he answered, turning around to face her. "I'm shaken up and dizzy, but I'll live. Appreciate the concern."
  
  "You need to get to a medic."
  
  "Great idea. How?"
  
  Mikasa was taken aback by his biting tone.
  
  He let out a sigh. "Sorry. I... I just want this day to be over."
  
  She nodded in understanding as she went back to talking with Annie. "I know how bad things have gotten. It's selfish, putting personal matters on the forefront, but have you seen Eren's squad?"
  
  "Some squads made it back," Annie answered, "but I don't know about Eren's."
  
  Reiner pointed his thumb to Armin. "We found Armin. He's over there."
  
  Seeing the blond boy, Mikasa ran towards him. "Armin!"
  
  He continued to stay silent, and even curled himself into a ball as she stopped in front of him.
  
  "Armin, are you okay?" she asked gently as she knelt down in front of him. "You're not hurt, are you?" With every second of his silence, she grew more worried. "Where's Eren?" Her voice took on a tone of desperation. "Armin!"
  
  Finally, Armin looked up with her, tears falling down his agonized face.
  
  Inside, Mikasa felt her life being torn apart as she finally realized the truth.
  
  At this point, many of the cadets had gathered around, wanting to know what happened.
  
  "They were..." Armin spoke, his voice breaking. "The cadets of Squad 34: Thomas Wagner, Nack Tierce, Mylius Zeramuski, Mina Carolina-"
  
  Dillon's head popped up at that name. No. Not Mina.
  
  "-Eren Yeager."
  
  His heart nearly stopped.
  
  "These brave five... upheld their duties. They died valiantly in the field of battle." Unable to take it anymore, Armin broke down completely.
  
  The cadets grieved with him, though none of them had the strength to break down like Armin did. Many of them bowed their heads in mourning, and some were staring at Armin, trying to comprehend the things he said. They couldn't believe that Eren Yeager, of all people, met an untimely end.
  
  Mikasa felt like someone pulled out her heart and crushed it before her eyes. She failed. She failed to take care of him when she needed him. She broke her promise to his mother, and now he was dead too. Once again, Mikasa was alone, and this time, it would stay that way.
  
  Dillon wasn't better off. Everyone seemed to disappear as he remembered the times he had with Eren. The first time they managed to come to a true understanding that blossomed into a good friendship. And now, after everything the boy went through, he died at the hands of a Titan? Then, there was Mina. He remembered how she was the one to come with a good plan to help save Krista from those kidnappers two years ago. How she carried him to Headquarters after the Colossal Titan attacked him. How she was more... hopeful about things.
  
  One of his hands turned into a fist. The Titans. Those monsters. How dare they come here and take innocent lives? Nothing mattered to them except how many humans they can shove down their throats. Dillon's hatred for them began increasing. They didn't deserve to exist in this world and prey upon the weak. He was going to-.
  
  "Dillon!"
  
  The blacksmith snapped out of seeing red and slowly faced Annie, who was looking at him with worry. He felt his face getting drenched by his own tears, struggling to cope with the loss of his friends. "It's not fair," he found himself saying.
  
  Annie could've delved into how life wasn't fair, but it wasn't the time for that. All she said was a simple, "I know."
  
  "I'm so sorry, Mikasa," Armin wept softly, wrapped up in survivor's guilt. "It should've been me that died. Not Eren. I couldn't do a thing. I'm worthless."
  
  Letting out a sigh, Mikasa knelt down and placed her hand on his. "Armin, calm down. There's no time to get emotional right now."
  
  Armin looked at her and nearly flinched at the sight. Mikasa's eyes were completely devoid of... anything. It was like they were dead.
  
  "On your feet," she ordered, pulling him up. She began walking to the other side of the roof. "Marco, if we eliminate or bypass the Titans at HQ, we can refuel our gear and get over the Wall? Is that assessment correct?"
  
  "Well, uh, yeah, I guess so. Sure," he answered, a little put off by the change in demeanor, "but there's just too many of them out there, even with you on point."
  
  Mikasa stopped and glared at him. "I can do it!"
  
  Marco instinctively back up.
  
  "I'm strong," she stated, pulling out her sword and raising it in the air. She had everyone's attention now. "Real strong. None of you come close. You hear me? I am a warrior!" It sounded like her voice was beginning to break.
  
  Dillon felt his heart shatter at the girl trying to remain strong even after everything. He wanted to say something, anything, but found himself at a loss for words.
  
  "Know this," she went on. "I have the power to slay all of the Titans that block our way... even if I have to do it alone. As far as I'm concerned, I am surrounded by unskilled, cowardly worms."
  
  The cadets stared at her, surprised. Some were upset that she had the gall to insult them, though it was getting them out of their traumatic state. On Dillon's end, he just stared in shock, wiping his face until the tears were gone. What the hell was going on?"
  
  The rant continued. "You all can just sit here and suck on your thumbs and watch how it's done!"
  
  "Wait, Mikasa, are you out of your mind!? That's crazy," Hannah protested, brushing away the final remnants of her tears.
  
  "You can't be serious, trying to take them out by yourself," a male cadet added.
  
  "Mikasa, we have to stick together," Dillon interjected at last, realizing what she was really going to do. "You can't just go off and-"
  
  "Don't tell me what I can and can't do, Dillon," Mikasa warned, glaring at him, making him recoil. "If I can't be beat them, then I'll die, but if I win, I'll live... and the only way to win is to fight."
  
  Before anyone could stop her, Mikasa took off, ready to kill or die trying.
  
  "She can't be serious," Dillon said, eyes wide.
  
  Jean scoffed. "You know, I was expecting something more motivational. Her way with words was kind of a letdown." He drew his swords, shaking. "I blame everything about this on you, Eren."
  
  Newfound energy coursed through Dillon's energy as he found his drive. The time to mourn was over. It was time to fight. "See you at HQ," he said mentally, drawing new blades.
  
  "Be careful," Annie warned.
  
  "Hey, don't just stand there," Jean shouted to all the cadets. "We weren't taught to let our comrades fight alone. Unless you are a coward, in which case, stay out of my way!"
  
  With that, Jean and Connie dived off the roof, heading towards their objective.
  
  "Squad 31, move out," Dillon ordered, taking charge again.
  
  The remaining members looked at him, shocked.
  
  "For Elsa," he stated.
  
  Nodding, they gathered around him. "For Elsa."
  
  Giving Annie a smirk, Dillon charged off the building with Squad 31 right behind him.
  
  "Never expected that from Jean," Reiner commented as he, Bertholdt, and Annie followed them.
  
  With a sigh, Armin put one foot in front of the other, catching up to Marco who waited for him.
  
  "Hey," Sasha shouted while on the edge of the roof. "Seriously, come on, you bunch of chickens!"
  
  Properly motivated, the rest of the cadets gave a shout of determination before following Sasha off the roof. Even the sun was starting to shine its way through the clouds.
  
  The entire group followed Mikasa, who was taking down the Titans that came near them, towards the path to Headquarters. They had to avoid fighting to conserve gas and blades, and they did their best to jump from rooftop to rooftop, using gas sparingly. Dillon aided by launching quick, precise, mental attacks on the Titans Mikasa didn't get, stunning them long enough for the rest of the cadets to get through.
  
  "Don't overdo it," Annie warned.
  
  "We're going to make it," he swore.
  
  Then, it happened. He felt time slow down as he watched Mikasa, who was far ahead of them, run out of gas. She crashed onto a rooftop before falling to the street below.
  
  No, no, no, no, no, no, NO! Dillon couldn't take it anymore as he broke off the group, making a beeline for the girl. He was not gonna let Mikasa get added to the casualty list.
  
  "Dillon, what the hell are you doing?" Annie demanded.
  
  "I'm done watching my friends die!" he practically shouted.
  
  "You're going to get yourself killed. There's nothing you can do."
  
  "Watch me," Dillon growled, his mind made up.
  
  There was a spike in frustration and anger through their link. "You thick-headed, idealistic idiot!"
  
  Whatever else Annie said, Dillon ignored. He was going to save his friend.
  
  Mikasa didn't quite understand how she survived the fall. Some sort of sheet she fell on, but she didn't care anymore. She stared at her broken blade, the blood of the Titans gone at this point. It was her last kill. She killed three today, maybe more, but it wasn't enough. It would never be enough. Nothing she could do would bring back the boy who gave her that scarf she always wore.
  
  With a sight groan, she managed to get up and move a few steps. However, her legs gave out, forcing her to her knees. First, her parents, then Eren's parents, and now Eren himself. Despite her strength and abilities, she couldn't protect the people that mattered most to her. In the end, she was a useless little girl that wanted the suffering to just end.
  
  Then, the sound of ODM gear attracted her ears as someone landed next to her, hoisting her up. "Come on. Get up. We've got to move."
  
  Mikasa's eyes widened as she turned her face to Dillon, who, despite the exhaustion coursing through his body, had that fire in his eyes. A fire that she no longer had. She managed to wrench herself out of his grip. "Dillon, what are you...? The ODM isn't made for two."
  
  The ground began to shake with slow, rhythmic beats.
  
  "I can carry you," he assured. "Get on."
  
  Mikasa hesitated, giving him a sorrowful look. Why was he making this so hard for her? "I don't want to get killed, too."
  
  "What are you talking about? Just get on. It's so simple."
  
  "Get out of here!" Mikasa urged, pushing him away.
  
  Behind him, she saw a fourteen-meter rounded the corner. It was a good distance away, but that wouldn't last long.
  
  Dillon stared at her, putting the pieces together. "You were never planning to make it to Headquarters. This... this was your plan."
  
  She couldn't stand to look at his mortified expression. It only made things worse. She wanted to be alone. "Just leave me already."
  
  Anger coursed through Dillon's veins as he pulled his swords out. "So, that's it? You're just going give up and throw your life away because Eren's gone? What about Armin, you dumbass? You're really going to commit suicide instead of helping someone who needs you?"
  
  "Why can't you just go?" Mikasa begged, her voice cracking again.
  
  The Titan drew closer to them.
  
  "Because I'm not going to leave someone I care about to die!"
  
  She froze, staring at him with a slack jaw. "What?"
  
  Dillon refused to let up as he glared at her. "Tell me something, Mikasa: is this what Eren would want for you? If you really think that, then you never knew him at all."
  
  Mikasa wasn't in Trost anymore. She was six years younger watching a man strangling Eren, the boy who rescued her and killed two of her captors. Despite how tight the man held onto his throat, he managed to speak to Mikasa. "Fight," he said. "You have to fight." He wanted her to live from the start. Even if he didn't survive.
  
  Then, there was Armin. Another important part of her life. He was always the voice of reason among them, using his intellect to figure out solutions instead of trying to bash skulls like Eren tried to. He was always there for them... and she was willing to leave him alone in this cruel world.
  
  Finally, there was Dillon. By all rights, he should've left her to her own demise, but here he was, standing in her defense against an incoming Titan. He was the one who managed to help Eren come out of his shell a little more, and he was the one who inspired Mikasa to speak her mind back in Training. He really cared about them, and this was the thanks he was getting? Throwing his life away to ensure she would live?
  
  The Titan's hand reached out for Dillon as the blacksmith prepared to fight, but he wouldn't get the chance. Mikasa pulled him back, slicing off the fingers of the monster. It didn't seem to register the pain and it slammed its other hand where she was. The girl jumped away, landing on her feet as she stared at her opponent. Like the rest of its kind, the Titan was persistent, going for another attack with its regenerated hand. However, Dillon intervened, leaving a large gash in its hand to distract it from her.
  
  "Dillon, stay back," Mikasa urged.
  
  Before he could respond, the Titan swung its hand once more. The blow barely missed them, hitting the wall instead, but the wind from the attack sent the two flying, crashing further down the street. Mikasa coughed harshly as she got to her knees, scratches across her face now. Dillon didn't fare better, his face having his own set of scratches and his eyes glowing. If they didn't do something quickly, the Titan would-wait, his eyes were glowing?
  
  She blinked, wondering if she was seeing things, but there was no mistaking it, especially when the sun came out again. His eyes had turned into a silver glow, staring intently at the Titan. The monster's nose bled some as it stumbled to the ground in an awkward heap, its face smashing into the brick road. Dillon received another nosebleed as the glow died down, his face paler and panting heavily.
  
  Did... did he just...?
  
  Mikasa was beginning to form a question when loud stomping from behind jerked her out of the distraction. Another Titan, about fifteen meters, had appeared on the other side of the street. The two cadets were sandwiched in as the Titans drew closer. It was too late to try and escape on Dillon's ODM gear.
  
  "Annie's gonna be so pissed," Dillon said, drawing new blades. He was steeling himself, ready to fight until the bitter end.
  
  "Live long enough to see it," Mikasa replied, doing the same thing. Her eyes hardened as she let out a battle cry, preparing to attack with everything she had.
  
  The new Titan from behind stomped hard, forcing Dillon and Mikasa into the air as its foot went through the brick road. It swung its fist directly at the smaller Titan's face so hard, bones shattered. The smaller Titan went flying as it slid across the road upon landing. Aside from a few more bruises once they hit the ground, Dillon and Mikasa were fine as they stared wide-eyed at their unexpected savior.
  
  "What was that?" Mikasa asked, shocked beyond belief.
  
  "That Titan... just saved us," Dillon said, almost at a loss for words.
  
  This Titan was quite different than the Titan they usually faced. Its body was lean and so ripped that any bodybuilder would be put to shame. Its ears were pointed, and its eyes were green. Letting out an exhale of steam from a lipless mouth, the Titan roared at the top of its lungs that sounded more like a high-pitched screech, forcing Dillon and Mikasa to cover their ears. To their rising shock, this Titan ignored them, charging right at the Titan. It lifted its foot and began stomping on the Titan's neck over and over, roaring with each stomp. A Titan was killing its own kind.
  
  "Is this even real?" Dillon wondered aloud, unable to take his gaze from the scene.
  
  Mikasa had no response, her eyes fixated on this moment. She was so focused that she didn't even hear Armin swoop in and take her off the ground until they landed on a rooftop. Connie did the same for Dillon, dropping him off as well.
  
  "Mikasa, are you okay?" Armin asked, worried.
  
  "Are you guys all right?" Connie added.
  
  Dillon nodded. "We're still alive."
  
  "Then we'd better get out of here," Connie advised. The ground shaking immediately caught his attention. "Crap! Two fifteen-meter Titans."
  
  Seeing that one of the Titans was the newly-dubbed Rogue Titan, Mikasa said, "No. That one's different."
  
  "It saved our lives," Dillon pointed out, indicating the corpse of the Titan it killed.
  
  Armin's eyes widened. "What? How...?"
  
  The blacksmith shook his head. "I have no idea."
  
  The Rogue Titan let a challenging roar, prompting its opponent to roar back. As if things couldn't get any weirder, the Rogue Titan took up a fighter's stance. It was intelligent. The Titan charged at it only to receive a fist to the side of the head. The monster's head soared away from its body, crashing into a nearby tower and destroying it in the process. The Rogue Titan stared at its hand, which was nothing more than bones thanks to that punch. However, the regeneration took care of that problem. As for the now-headless Titan, it tried to get up, only for a stomp to the nape to keep it down.
  
  "It... it just finished it off," Armin said, almost in a daze. "It knew exactly where the weak spot was!"
  
  Connie had enough of this. "Come on, guys. It's time to split. Last thing we need is him coming our way."
  
  The blond boy, however, was completely focused. "No. He has no reaction to us. Any other Titan would've been on top of us by now."
  
  "It seemed to understand the skill of hand-to-hand combat," Mikasa added. "What is that thing?"
  
  "A freaking miracle if we're lucky," Dillon answered. Maybe, just maybe...
  
  "Just chalk it up as another Abnormal," Connie urged. "Hell, they're always an unpleasant surprise, right? Forget about it. Let's get out of here."
  
  "Connie, her tanks are empty," Dillon reminded him. "She can't exactly go anywhere."
  
  That took him off-guard. "Huh? Then what are we gonna do? We can't clear HQ without your help!"
  
  "There's only one thing to do." Armin knelt and removed his tanks. "I know there isn't very much left in them, but it's better than your empty ones."
  
  "Armin!" Mikasa responded, eyes wide.
  
  "This is our only choice," he replied, filling her tanks up. "It'll be a complete waste if I keep them. But... use this gas more sparingly. Everyone's lives are riding on you."
  
  She gasped as it dawned on her what she had done. She had led the cadets to their deaths in an effort to die killing Titans. Who knew how many were killed by her recklessness? Tears glistened in her eyes, forcing her to look away so no one could see them.
  
  "There! Got it!" Armin exclaimed upon finishing. "The ODM gear's functional and I restoked your blades. Just... just leave me this one, okay?" He held the single bled, shaking. "It's just that I would rather this be my end, not-."
  
  A single slash of a sword knocked the blade out of his hands and onto the streets below.
  
  "The next person to even think about killing themselves will get a broken nose," Dillon growled angrily, ignoring the looks from his comrades.
  
  Mikasa winced, seeing him glance at her briefly.
  
  "I don't... why'd you...?" Armin stuttered.
  
  "We're going to make it to Headquarters together," he went on. "I don't care how, but it's going to get done, okay?" He let out a pained groan, holding his head as the lightheadedness and dizziness returned with a vengeance.
  
  "Whoa, man." Connie caught him as he stumbled. "You're still injured."
  
  This prompted Mikasa to think back to a few minutes ago. She didn't imagine things. Somehow, Dillon caused the Titan to fall without touching it. She wanted to question it, find out everything about this strange power that Dillon was hiding, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. Now wasn't the time. Right now, they had to get back to HQ. She knelt to Armin's level, taking his hand into hers. "Armin, I will not leave you behind!" The fire had returned to her eyes, and she would be damned before she let it die again.
  
  Not much could steer Annie into rage, despite her expression being contrary to that, but Dillon's antics did just that. The idiot was risking his life on the off-chance he could save a girl that had a death wish. If Mikasa wanted to throw her life away, that was her business, not Annie's. So, naturally, Dillon had to get involved by wasting more gas to reach her and despite the fact he was already wounded. Part of her wondered why she didn't go after him if she was that concerned for him. Survival seemed like the logical choice, but by doing so abandoned Dillon to whatever fate would befall him. It was that thought that prompted some guilt to build within her. It quickly faded when she continued thinking about how stupid he was being, and once he made it back, she was going to let him have it.
  
  As Annie drew closer to Headquarters, the cadets grew more confident and began to split apart to reach HQ a different way. Unfortunately, by doing so, a couple of them plummeted to the Titan-infested streets below. Seeing the fallen soldiers as easy meals, Titans of various sizes charged at them, jaws wide open and arms outstretched. Jean, who landed on a nearby rooftop, could only watch in horror at the carnage that was about to commence.
  
  "Tom, hold on," a cadet cried out, jumping into the fray.
  
  "We're coming," that Vaughn guy promised, joining them.
  
  Annie winced as an eight-meter snatched Vaughn out of the air, snapping his spine in half. He was killed instantly, his body going completely limp in its grip. The soldier that the cadets went to save, Tom, was bitten in half, his blood coursing down the hand of his devourer. She couldn't avert her gaze as she listened to the death throes of the cadets, begging for help. The worst one was seeing a girl get her arms torn off as she screamed in agony. They were taking their sweet time eating her, and the cadets had to listen to it too. A terrible, horrible way to die.
  
  "Annie," Bertholdt said, concerned.
  
  Snapping out of the daze she was in, she turned her back, unable to look at him or the carnage that was occurring. Any second now, Dillon could be one of the cadets. She could feel his fear, his anger, his exhaustion, and so much more. She was terrified that she would feel him die.
  
  "Let's go!" Jean suddenly shouted. "Make a break for HQ while they're distracted!"
  
  It seemed that he came to a difficult conclusion: sometimes sacrifices had to be made in order for others to survive. Checking her gas supply one more time, she followed in the direction of the cadets. The others trailed behind her, ready to be done with this horrible day.
  
  "Give it everything you got!" Jean shouted to everyone that could hear him.
  
  As they got closer to Headquarters, they had to use their ODM Gear to get past a group of Titans that were waiting for them. Jean got caught by a Titan, but a quick slice of the pointer finger allowed him to escape and keep going. Annie navigated around the monsters almost like a dance, focused solely on her objective. No matter what happened, she was going to survive.
  
  Never in all their lives did the cadets try so hard to get to safety. The building was practically an arm's stretch away... with at least a dozen Titans between them. The soldiers' numbers began to dwindle as the creatures managed to catch them with their hands or run out of gas at an ill opportune time. Ignoring their screams, the surviving cadets pressed onwards.
  
  Finally, the window drew near, and Annie used the rest of his gas to reach it. Shielding her hands and face, she smashed into and through the window, landing unceremoniously on the ground. Several other smashes indicated that more of the cadets made it as well. She had to move out of the way as a few went through the same opening she made. At long last, they arrived where they needed too.
  
  "How many of us made it?" Jean asked, holding his face in horror. People died from the orders he gave, and he had to live with that for the rest of his life.
  
  Sniffling caught his attention, causing him to look under a desk. There were two soldiers, a man and woman, curled up in balls and hiding. The woman's face was covered in blood, but it didn't appear to be hers.
  
  Slowly, Jean stood. "Hold on a sec. You guys with the supply team?"
  
  "Yeah," the male soldier answered.
  
  Jean hoisted the man up and punched him dead in the face, breaking his nose and knocking him out.
  
  "Jean, stop," Marco exclaimed, holding him back from going further.
  
  "You cowards," the teen roared. "You left us out there on our own! People are dead because you didn't have the guts to do your job."
  
  "The Titans were coming at us from every angle!" a female soldier tearfully wailed, shielding her fellow comrade from further harm. She was almost incoherent when she spoke. "They drove us out of the supply room, okay!?"
  
  "It's your job to deal with it and back us up anyway," he shot back.
  
  Suddenly, they were cut off from an unearthly roar. It sounded like a howling wind containing the souls of the damned. The Titans were not finished with them yet.
  
  "Hit the deck," a cadet shouted as a wall exploded, sending that cadet flying down the hallway.
  
  Two Titans smashed their heads into the building, attempting to eat whatever came near to them. Panicking, the soldiers attempted to flee for the exits, but there were so many of them, it was a jumbled mess. If they kept this up, everyone was going to die.
  
  Then, a giant fist slammed into the Titans' heads, sending them flying away from the building.
  
  Annie's jaw dropped at the sight of their savior. It was a 15-meter Titan with green eyes and pointed ears like an elf. It wasn't trying to attack the soldiers; It was going after the Titans that were attacking them.
  
  "Did... did that just happen?" Reiner asked.
  
  "Yes, it did," Annie replied, equally shocked.
  
  A window smashing caught their attention. They looked to see Mikasa, Armin, Dillon, and Connie entering the building scratched up, but alive.
  
  Relief coursed through Annie's body as she saw her boyfriend alive and well... until she remembered that he was the idiot who nearly got himself killed.
  
  Jean was the first to say something to them. "Mikasa, Dillon, you're-"
  
  "Man, that was a close one," Connie interrupted, sounding a little excited. "I was running on fumes. We made it here, though. It was crazy, but we did."
  
  "Armin, that plan was completely insane," Dillon added, shaking his head while panting. "I can't believe it paid off." He started to stumble again only for Mikasa to catch him.
  
  Connie started patting Armin on the back, a wide grin forming on his face. "You're a certified genius! As far as I'm concerned, your word is law." Finally, the bald cadet looked up at them. "Check it out! We found an Abnormal that's got a bone to pick with its own kind. And the best part? He couldn't care less about us! That's right, you heard me! This big, beautiful S.O.B. is our ticket out of here!"
  
  Jean looked at him as if he was insane. "Are you serious? A Titan's not gonna help us. You're out of mind if you think this can work."
  
  "It is working," Mikasa shot back. "For whatever reason, he's rampaging against them. Stand back and let him do it. Trust me. You'll see. Either way, what choice do we have? Right now, that thing is our best chance at survival."
  
  The Rogue Titan, gave a loud roar, drawing the Titans closer to it.
  
  "It did save our lives," Dillon reminded him simply.
  
  Jean brushed his hands through his hair, trying to come to grips with everything, so he just gave a frustrated grunt and headed towards the exit along with everyone else.
  
  "I'll take him off your hands," Annie said, using her weight to support Dillon as they trailed behind the others. "Low gas, bleeding face, diminished abilities, and you thought the best course of action was to attempt to save Mikasa?"
  
  "I had to try," Dillon protested, going weak in the legs.
  
  Grunting, she slowly lowered him into a sitting position, which gave him the chance to see her glare. "How did you make it out? With your intellect? Your fight prowess?"
  
  "... The Titan saved us," he admitted glumly.
  
  "What a surprise," she sneered. "If you weren't so injured, I'd start knocking sense into you because it's clear that you lack it. You can't just keep throwing your life away like that and expect everything to turn out fine." She clenched her fist. "I watched cadets die pulling the same stunt you did. I listened to them scream as they were turned into bloody mush. That could've been you, Dillon."
  
  Dillon looked down. "I'm so sorry I put you through that. I just... Eren's dead, Annie. And Mikasa? I didn't-"
  
  "Want her to die, too," Annie finished for him. "Dillon, I get that, but I want you to live. I... can't watch you die, too." Her voice was trembling a bit. "I just can't."
  
  Weakly, he managed to wrap his arms around her. "I'm sorry."
  
  She managed to rein in her emotions just in time as she hugged him back. "I need you to stay close to me. I'll do whatever I can to keep you alive."
  
  Taking a deep breath, he responded with a simple, "I will."
  
  Annie helped him up as they continued their walking, her expression not betraying the feelings she had.
  
  "Did my squad make it?" Dillon asked.
  
  There was an uncomfortable pause. "Franz and Hannah did. The other guy, Vaughn... a Titan got him."
  
  Dillon closed his eyes, another wave of grief hitting him. "Damn it."
  
  "Just hold out a little longer. It's almost over."
  
  They entered a room where the lift had descended into the refueling station. According to the others, Armin and a few other cadets went down there to see how many Titans occupied the area while Jean took a few others to go look for some guns. For now, they could rest.
  
  "Can you walk?" she asked.
  
  Dillon righted himself, his pain dying down a bit. "Yes."
  
  Annie joined Reiner and Connie, the latter continued gushing about how amazing the Rogue Titan was. Dillon would've made to join him, but noticed Bertholdt was sitting in the corner alone. With a sigh, the blacksmith walked over to him.
  
  "Mind if I join you?" he asked politely.
  
  "I thought you'd want to be with Annie," Bertholdt replied.
  
  "I figured you and I could talk for a bit," Dillon said.
  
  He paused for a moment before relenting. "Fine."
  
  Satisfied, Dillon sat down next to him. "Bertholdt... I've noticed you've been giving me dark looks lately. What's going on?"
  
  "Didn't Reiner already tell you?" he questioned, his eyes narrowing.
  
  "Maybe, but I want to hear it from you," Dillon responded. "Bertholdt, I consider you my friend, and when a friend of mine is upset with me, I have the right to know why."
  
  With a sigh, Bertholdt admitted it. "I wanted to tell her so many times... but I didn't."
  
  "Why not?"
  
  "Because... I didn't know how she would react," he confessed sadly. "I doubted she felt the same way, and I thought it would upset her."
  
  Dillon phrased his words carefully. "Look, Bertholdt, I'm sorry things didn't work out for you, but I'm not sorry for becoming Annie's boyfriend. I hate to say it, but you need to get over it."
  
  "What's so special about you, Dillon?" he asked suddenly. "Why you?"
  
  The blacksmith paused, thinking it over. "I don't know, and if I did, it's not my place to tell you."
  
  "I don't want her to get hurt," Bertholdt said. "How do I know you aren't going to hurt her?"
  
  "Because Annie would break every bone in my body if I did anything to her," he answered. "I'm going to do my damndest to make her happy, Bertholdt. That much I can promise."
  
  Bertholdt didn't respond this time, just sitting there in silence.
  
  Dillon decided it was best to leave him where he was and returned to Annie. Just as he did that, Jean's team returned with crates of rifles while Armin's team came back from their scouting mission.
  
  "Good news," Jean announced, putting down the crate he was holding and opening it. "Courtesy of the Military Police." He let out a couple of coughs. "And covered with a layer of dust."
  
  As Armin laid out a map of the refueling station, Jean cleaned out the rifle and checked to see if it was still functional. Once the inspection was complete, Jean asked, "Are you sure buckshot is the way to go? Seems like we might as well throw spit wads. Come on, guys. Are guns even effective?"
  
  "I don't know, but they're bound to be better than nothing," Armin answered as he presented his plan. "We're looking at seven Titan in the supply room of the four meters tall variety. If we time this perfectly, this much ammo ought to be enough to do the trick. Step 1: we lower a group into the area by a lift to get the Titans' attention. Step 2: when the Titans come within range, the group fires in all four directions simultaneously, blinding them. Then, the hard part. The moment of truth, as it were.
  
  "Before the Titans have enough time to recover, seven of us swoop down from the ceiling and strike their vital regions. That's it. That's the plan. It puts all our lives on the line. If we screw up, we're dead. That's a hell of a risk for one attack, but it's our only chance. Seven people have to slay seven Titans in one blow at the same time. We're gonna need the best of you. The seven soldiers most physically gifted and adept with their parring blades. You'll be the difference between life and death for the rest of us. I'm sorry. That's how it is."
  
  "Seems like a sound plan," Reiner said with a smirk.
  
  "When you get right down to it, the risk is the same for everyone," Annie pointed out. "Doesn't really matter who goes."
  
  Armin started faltering. "Look, I'm, uh... ready to be talked out of this. One half-baked strategy can't be our only option, right?"
  
  Ever the encourager, Marco stepped in. "Hey, don't be so hard on yourself. Come on. With what we're looking at? If this is our only option, it's a well-thought out plan. If we give it our all, we might just pull it off."
  
  "It'll be fine," Mikasa assured. "You just have to be confident. You're a better strategist than you give yourself credit for."
  
  Armin gave her a look of surprise.
  
  "I'm serious. Your mind saved Eren and me more than once."
  
  "When did I ever save you?" he asked, confused. "I never-."
  
  He was cut off by the lift doors opening loudly.
  
  "All right! The lift's ready to go," Franz announced. "Guns are loaded in the stocks. Let's go kill some Titans."
  
  "You didn't realize it at the time," Mikasa explained, helping him up. "We can talk about it later."
  
  Mikasa, Reiner, Bertholdt, Annie, Dillon, Connie, and Sasha all volunteered to be the seven soldiers that would take out the Titans. Of course, Annie made sure Dillon was in good enough condition to pull such a feat before letting him join. While the rest of the cadets lowered the lift into the supply room, the group of seven filed down the stairs.
  
  "So, I'm gonna ask the obvious question," Connie informed them. "Can we do this without ODM gear?"
  
  "No problem," Reiner assured. "These guys are only four meters tall. Their weak spots are not that far above eye level."
  
  "Size isn't the issue," Dillon stated. "The spot's still one meter high and 10 centimeters across."
  
  '"Back of the head to the nape of the neck,"' Sasha reiterated from their lessons.
  
  "Worst comes to worst, you can always shove one of these up their ass," Reiner joked, holding up his sword. "That's the other weak spot."
  
  "Seriously?" Connie asked.
  
  "Did I miss a day of training?" Sasha wondered.
  
  Dillon cracked a grin. "Is there a backstory to that claim, Reiner?"
  
  "Remind me to tell you about one day," he answered.
  
  "And as a bonus, he'll talk out his ass," Annie snarked.
  
  Connie looked at her as if she grew a second head. "Did... did you just make a joke?"
  
  She turned her head and gave him a deadpan expression. "What? Was it not funny?"
  
  His eyes widened in fear and quickly answered unconvincingly, "No, it was hilarious! Ha ha ha! See?"
  
  "Okay, that was pretty funny," Dillon admitted.
  
  "You could learn a thing or two," Annie pointed out, turning her head back to the front.
  
  "Are you implying I'm not funny?" he asked.
  
  "I'll let you wonder."
  
  With a snort, he changed the subject. "Why did you let me volunteer?"
  
  "Because I know you can handle it, and your aim with a gun is shit." Blunt as always.
  
  Dillon rolled his eyes. "Thanks a lot."
  
  "That's what I'm here for."
  
  The seven grew quiet as they drew closer to the ground floor. Quietly, Mikasa opened the door, signaling the others to follow her cautiously on the walkway. The loud footsteps of the Titans unnerved them, but they remained calm. Everyone was counting on them to succeed. Carefully, the seven soldiers split off, stepping onto different rafters. The timing had to be perfect in order for this to succeed.
  
  Amidst the stomping, they heard the lift getting closer before it came into view.
  
  "Good," Marco whispered. "We're still at seven."
  
  Immediately, all the cadets in the lift pointed their rifles in four directions as planned.
  
  "Okay, nice and easy," Marco continued.
  
  A blonde-haired Titan started walking by, but then it caught their scent. It turned quickly to them, frightening a few of the cadets.
  
  "Don't lose your cool," Jean exclaimed quickly. "Fire only when they're all within range."
  
  Slowly, the seven Titans approached them, ready to make meals out of them. The soldiers in the rafters waited patiently for the attack to begin. As Marco repeated for them to stay steady, the Titans had them completely surrounded. There was no chance of them escaping. It was do or die.
  
  "Fire," Marco yelled.
  
  All the guns went off, blinding all seven of them at once. With determination, the seven soldiers launched themselves off the rafters and slashed as hard as they could when they reached their napes. Five Titans fell down dead, but Connie and Sasha didn't cut deep enough on their Titans. Sensing them, the two Titans turned around, looking like they were glaring at them.
  
  "I'm sorry," Sasha said nervously, backing up a lot. "I didn't mean to sneak up on you."
  
  "Oh, crap," Connie swore, terrified.
  
  "Sasha, move," Dillon shouted.
  
  The brown-haired girl lunged out of the way as the Titan attempted to body slam her. Quickly, Dillon ran to its nape while it was down and delivered several slashes, killing it. Annie got to a higher point and killed Connie's Titan in one precise slash.
  
  "Dillon," Sasha cried, burying her face into his chest as she cried. "I'm so sorry!"
  
  "It's, uh, all right," Dillon replied uncomfortably. "Um..."
  
  "Get off him, Sasha," Mikasa ordered.
  
  Nodding, she brushed away her tears as she walked away.
  
  "I owe you one," Connie said to Annie.
  
  "No worries," she assured before turning to Dillon. "You only needed one slash."
  
  "I wanted to make sure it wasn't going to get up," he explained.
  
  "Fair enough," she conceded.
  
  "They're all dead," Jean announced. "Start loading up supplies!"
  
  "It worked," Armin exclaimed happily.
  
  Marco grinned before falling backwards, nearly fainting. Fortunately, two cadets caught him in time.
  
  Once the lift was lowered to the ground, everyone immediately started refueling their tanks. The ones that finished first kept an eye out for anymore Titans in case more tried to invade their Headquarters. If there were, they'd be ready this time.
  
  Sasha, however, was in the middle of a breakdown. "I caved in front of the whole gang. I'm never gonna be able to face any of them ever again!"
  
  "Damn it, feel sorry for yourself later," Connie demanded. "Focus on escape."
  
  Dillon rolled his eyes as he filled up the tanks. All that was left was to get over the wall and then it was over. Of course, there was still the hole in the Wall to worry about, but one problem at a time. The fact they had survived this long spoke volumes. He was surrounded by good soldiers, and he wouldn't trade them for anything.
  
  "Almost done?" Annie asked, putting her gear back together.
  
  "Just one more tank," he replied. "It's been a long day."
  
  "We just need to make it over the wall," she assured. "How's your head?"
  
  "Still healing. Give it a day or two, and I should be back to normal."
  
  Annie kissed him on the lips. "Does that help?"
  
  Dillon grinned. "Maybe another one might do the trick."
  
  Smirking, she gave him another kiss.
  
  "Aw, you two are so cute together," Hannah interrupted.
  
  Dillon sighed, looking at the remaining two members of Squad 31. Normally, he would be irritated, but he was just mildly annoyed this time. Hell, he was relieved to see them. "Glad you guys made it. How are you two holding up?"
  
  "We're good," Franz answered. "We've... worked it out."
  
  Hannah nodded in agreement before introducing herself. "I'm Hannah Diament, and you must be Annie Leonhart."
  
  "I remember you two," she replied. "Did Dillon cause you any trouble? He can be a handful."
  
  "Quite the opposite," Franz stated. "He saved our squad earlier today."
  
  Dillon blushed a bit. "It was nothing."
  
  Annie punched him in shoulder. "Don't be so modest, Amsdale. You did good today."
  
  He looked down a bit. "I heard about what happened to Vaughn. I'm sorry I wasn't there to help him."
  
  "It wasn't your fault," Hannah pointed out, sadness coming into her voice. "You were trying to save your friend. I can't blame you for that."
  
  "All right, let's get out of here!" Jean exclaimed.
  
  Dillon sighed, getting up. "Music to my ears."
  
  Once the rest of the tanks were filled, the cadets busted out of HQ, free at last. Many of them made a beeline for the Wall, but some of them saw Mikasa get on another rooftop, staring down at something.
  
  "Mikasa?" Armin asked, joining her. "What are you doing? We have to leave now!"
  
  "Look down there," she said.
  
  His eyes widened in horror as he watched two thirteen-meter Titans pin the Rogue Titan to the Wall. They were chewing on its body, attempting to devour it.
  
  "Cannibalism?" Armin questioned as the Titan roared in pain. "Can it not regenerate like the others?"
  
  "This sounds stupid, but I was hoping he'd be the key for us," Mikasa admitted. "That he'd help mankind break the cycle. Turn the tide long enough just to give us a ray of hope."
  
  "She's right," Reiner agreed as he, Bertholdt, Annie, Jean, and Dillon joined them on the rooftop. "He's too valuable to just let die. There's too much we can learn from him. I think it's perfectly clear should be to get the scavengers off him. He's no good to us picked apart."
  
  "Don't even think about volunteering, Dillon," Annie warned.
  
  "I wasn't going to," he replied.
  
  She gave him a look.
  
  "Anymore."
  
  "Are you out of your mind?" Jean asked. "We have a path out of this nightmare and you wanna stay?"
  
  "Think about it," Annie said. "Having an Abnormal as an ally would be an incredible advantage, right?" "I mean, we already have one already."
  
  "Love you, too, Shorty," Dillon replied in a deadpan tone.
  
  "You are very lucky you're my boyfriend." "The cannons have nothing on a Titan that likes to rip apart its own kind."
  
  Jean could not believe what he was hearing. "Do you hear yourself? You make him sound like a new friend!"
  
  Armin gasped suddenly. "Oh, no. It's the one that ate Thomas."
  
  As if he heard them, the Rogue Titan charged at the blond-haired Titan, roaring loudly. Its arms were pulled apart by the two that were chomping at him, but he still ran for that Titan. He fastened his teeth around its nape and lifted it up in the air by its jaw alone. A crunching sound indicated that he crushed its weak point, killing it. Seeing a Titan coming for him, he tossed the lifeless body in it, knocking it into a building.
  
  "Holy shit," Jean whispered. "What was that you were saying?"
  
  With a final roar, the gravely wounded Rogue Titan fell on its knees and crashed to the ground, seemingly dead.
  
  "Because I think it's a moot point now," Jean finished. "All right, enough of this. Let's go while we still can. We're lucky the ugly bastard didn't get bored. We'd have been next on the menu."
  
  "Whoa!" Dillon exclaimed, staggering back.
  
  The brown-haired boy got a closer look. "What? What's wrong?"
  
  The blacksmith simply pointed at the body, and like the others, their eyes were widening.
  
  Something was pulling itself out of the nape, something... human. The flesh did not want to release him, but after a good pull, the pieces were detached. Amidst the steam the corpse was emitting, they could see a brown-haired boy that they all recognized.
  
  "Is that... Eren?" Dillon asked quietly.
  
  Mikasa launched herself down there despite Armin calling out to her. She ran towards him and embraced him the moment she got close enough. Dillon quickly followed her up to the Titan's corpse, much to Annie's chagrin. At least she could watch his back. Mikasa held Eren against her for the longest time before feeling something. Lowering her head to his chest, she could hear... his heartbeat.
  
  "Mikasa, is he...?" Dillon couldn't even bring himself to finish that question.
  
  "He's alive," she whispered, tears streaming down her face.
  
  Her composure shattered within seconds as Mikasa began to sob uncontrollably. Dillon climbed onto what was left of the corpse and gripped her shoulder tightly, a few tears falling. He couldn't believe that Eren was alive after all this time. After all the darkness that enveloped this day, an impossible miracle finally shined through. Mikasa barely registered the physical contact as she continued to weep. She wept for losing Eren, she wept for finding him, and she wept for knowing that his life had been changed forever.
  
  Remastered Edits: Well... where do I begin?
  
  Simply put, now that Dillon and Mikasa's relationship had changed, he decided to try and save her life. I was going to go somewhere in this chapter where Mikasa confronts Dillon about his powers like Krista did, but considering they're trying to make it out alive and the appearance of the Rogue Titan, that fell by the wayside very fast. I hope you all enjoyed their interactions.
  
  Naturally, his reaction to Eren's death and revival was different. Since the two are friends, he could stand to be upset about it.
  
  Writing from Annie's perspective was a lot more fun this time around. After a year and a half, I think I'm getting the hang of writing her. When it came time for Annie to rebuke him, I didn't want a repeat of what happened when he went after the kidnappers, so I added some vulnerability to Annie, that she doesn't want to lose Dillon. That constant remains clear.
  
  Hope you all enjoyed this chapter and I'll see you all in the next one.
  
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  A Chance to Strike Back
  Chapter 12: A Chance to Strike Back
  
  "Eren Yeager the Titan. And here I thought I was special, but low and behold, Yeager surpassed me in that regard. I can only wonder what the hell happened to make him turn into one of those things. According to Armin, he lost his leg and arm before he was devoured by a Titan, so he had regeneration abilities like a Titan. Wish I had regeneration. Would go well with my powers.
  
  "Naturally, the whole event spooked the Garrison Troops, so they planned on "interrogating" Eren about whether he was human or not, and whether he was a threat to humanity or not. Honestly, I couldn't blame them. Over 100 years of Titans killing them and considering that the Invasion of Trost had been so recent, tensions were extremely high. That being said, their version of interrogation meant a bullet to Eren's head at the end, and that was something the human race couldn't afford to let happen.
  
  "And it was out of my control."
  
  There were certain situations Dillon never expected to be in. He didn't expect to rank five in the 104th. He didn't expect to be attacked by Titans just after graduation. Most of all, he didn't his friends to be literally up against the wall with several squads of Garrison Troops surrounding them.
  
  After the cadets made it over the wall, the soldiers who witnessed the whole thing slapped a gag order on them all under threat of being charged with treason. As Dillon followed Annie, he knew that Eren was going to undergo a field interrogation. He didn't have to be a mind reader to sense the paranoia in the air. They were probably gonna find any excuse to kill him along with Mikasa and Armin, who stood by his side despite the odds. And if nobody stopped the Garrison...
  
  "Annie," Dillon finally said, coming to a stop.
  
  She turned and looked at him, her eyes cold. "What?"
  
  He let out a sigh. "I... there's something I need to do, and you're not going to like it."
  
  She continued to stare at him, waiting for him to get on with it.
  
  "Those soldiers are going to look for any possible reason to kill Eren. Hell, the fact that he was... a Titan-" He still couldn't believe it. "-is probably going to be the reason." He stared at Annie. "I can't wait around, Annie. I... I need to make sure he and the others make it out alive."
  
  "Don't be stupid," she replied bluntly. "They're scared, they're under attack, and they have guns."
  
  "I know, but they're my friends."
  
  "And how will you be helping them if you get yourself killed?" she asked, stepping up to him. "It's not like you can do anything anyway."
  
  "Yes, I can. I'm strong enough to be able to hold off the cannon men." He looked down at her. "Annie, Eren is the best chance that we have at not only winning the battle but turning the tide of this war. Think about it: we have a better chance of surviving now than ever before. If Eren dies, that hope dies with him." Dillon closed his eyes. "He's my friend, and... someone who could save us all."
  
  Annie couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Hold off the cannon men? Are you thinking of fighting them? Don't be a fool. That's treason. Hell, if they tell you to stand aside and you don't, that's disobeying an order in a time of war. They'll kill you just for that."
  
  "But Annie-."
  
  "This isn't a courtroom and you are not a commanding officer," Annie interrupted without hesitance. "When you took an oath as a soldier, you promised to be a good little boy who nods his head when his superiors tell him to do something. You are a grunt." From her end, it looked like she was getting through. "Say you can hold off the cannon men. You've used a power no one understands because it'll be obvious it was you. What if he transforms and kills you all? Doesn't really matter, cause once they realize you've used force, you're dead."
  
  Then, there was a fire in his eyes. "I swore an oath to protect humanity. If I have to become humanity's enemy..." His voice trailed off, the fire all but extinguished. Whatever facade he had vanished as he spoke. "I can't make the difference Eren can. Even with my abilities, I'm not good enough. I've watched people die like you have. I need this, Annie. I need to believe that Eren can give the hope we all need."
  
  "You're only remembering the convenient part of your oath. It doesn't matter what you need. They need to feel safe and they'll kill anyone to do it. There's nowhere you can run if things go bad, and your plan to use Eren to save humanity? It's not worth shit if humanity's best and brightest don't agree."
  
  Dillon's knees were wobbly to the point where he almost fell to them. He knew she had a point, a very good point. By all rights, he needed to listen to her and walk away. And yet, he took a deep breath and let it out. Things couldn't be this way. "It's a risk I'm willing to take, Annie. I have to take it."
  
  "Don't be stupid, Dillon." It felt more like a plea this time.
  
  His mind was already made up as he looked at her. "I'm sorry, Annie. I know I hurt you when I went off to save Mikasa and now I'm doing the same thing again." He clenched his fist. "But I'm not gonna let my friends die. Not when there's a chance I can do something about it. I just can't. Because if I stay here and they die, I'll live the rest of my life wondering if I could've done something."
  
  Annie glared at him. "Get over yourself. The whole world doesn't turn on you. Their lives? They don't depend on you either. Look after yourself, damn it!"
  
  He looked back where he left the trio. Eren was still unconscious with Mikasa and Armin by his side. There were too many unknowns. This wasn't a simple matter of rescuing a friend anymore. With the Garrison bearing down on them, what could he really do to fix things? "I..."
  
  "Don't do it."
  
  He turned back at Annie, a look of hopelessness on his face. "I can't do anything. I can't fix this. I can't save them."
  
  "Welcome to being human," Annie muttered.
  
  Dillon tried to cling onto something, anything, that would give him hope for the future, but he couldn't find it. All he could see in his mind were his friends getting blown to bits by paranoid soldiers. His eyes were wide and his breathing rate increased dangerously.
  
  Annie stared at him, at first not comprehending. "Dillon?"
  
  His body jerked with a gasp, almost as if he just registered that she was there. His wide eyes and breathing rate, however, remained. It was like he was caught between reality and something else. Something harmful.
  
  Annie's eyes widened ever so slightly, and she stepped forward. It was rare for her to be the one to initiate contact between the two of them. Sparring was one thing. That was violence. She understood that, but this? This was something else entirely. Her fingers brushed up against his sleeve, gently grasping his upper arm. He just stared at her, not saying a word. It was like he couldn't talk. She held his gaze, her cold eyes suddenly mesmeric. But within the coldness she displayed, there was concern, a small spark of warmth. She guided him out of the way of traffic to the side, moving slow and steady. She listened to his rapid breathing. It sounded louder to her than all the distant shouting.
  
  Then, within their mind link, an image appeared almost like a nightmare. She watched as Eren, Mikasa, and Armin were gunned down mercilessly, their pleas falling on deaf ears. First, Mikasa got in the way, swords drawn, and the rounds would pierce her body first. Blood poured her chest as she sunk to the ground. Armin, horrified, tried to drag Eren away, and their bodies became filled with holes. The back of their heads exploded as they, too, fell. The bodies of his friends were lying there as their blood sunk into the ground. Then the situation repeated. And then it happened again. And again. And again. And again.
  
  "Dillon, look at me," Annie spoke slowly and softly. "Listen to me and what I have to say. We don't know what's going to happen. You don't know what's going to happen. You can't. What you can do is be here with me, now, in this moment. Listen to my voice. You're going to be okay. I can't tell you what's going to happen, but you're breathing in this moment right now, and I need you to stay in this moment with me, into the next moment, and then the next."
  
  The more he stared at her, the more he regained control of his breathing. The image was fading away from the link, though whether he still saw it or not was a mystery.
  
  She guided in him into a sitting position on a box, moving beside him. She then reached down to slide her hand under his, slowly enclosing it in a loose grip. "You feel that?"
  
  Dillon nodded. He opened his mouth to talk, but aside from a few noises, he couldn't reach that moment yet.
  
  "I can't make promises to you about what is going to happen. But I'm here now."
  
  Another nod followed by a word at last. "Okay." His throat felt very dry all of a sudden. "Water. Where can I get water?"
  
  Annie stood back up. "Come with me." She kept ahold of his hand.
  
  "Okay." He let Annie guide him while he managed to come back to reality. "Did I hurt you?"
  
  "What?" She looked puzzled.
  
  "That... moment I had. I could tell you were reacting to what I felt."
  
  "It's fine. I've seen it before. You're not the first today and you won't be the last."
  
  The relief Dillon felt was little, and then he saw the 104th cadets had gathered around nearby. Sasha was caterwauling about something, Marco was holding down a freaking-out cadet named Daz, Connie was engaging in a conversation with Krista and Ymir, the former of which looked extremely worried, Reiner and Bertholdt were off to the side, and Jean was watching Marco trying to calm down Daz until Dillon and Annie approached. He turned to face them, his facial expression unreadable.
  
  "Where have you two been?" Jean asked. His tone was almost even.
  
  "Trying to get over the fact that I can't do anything about Eren, Mikasa, and Armin," Dillon answered glumly. His own expression didn't betray what he just went through.
  
  "What?" Jean looked back and forth between the two of them. "Look, that's beyond our level right now." He scratched the back of his head. "I still can't believe... what we saw."
  
  Annie helped Dillon over to one of the boxes, only releasing him so she could hunt for some water.
  
  He took a seat, staring at Jean. "You look like shit, buddy."
  
  "So do you, man." Jean tried to give Dillon a smile, but he couldn't manage it.
  
  Dillon sighed. "They're worse than I thought. Damned monsters. Why can't they just...?" He shook it off. "Forget it. We've got bigger problems." He spoke a little softer so no superior could hear them, gag order be damned. "If the military acts on their paranoia, we're going to lose the best chance humanity has at surviving. I know what you think of him, Jean, but you saw it, too. He's what we've been needing."
  
  Annie reappeared with a canteen and stopped Dillon from going on by holding it up for him.
  
  Jean shook his head. "Damn it, I don't..." He ran a hand through his hair. "He turned into one of those things, Dillon. I've been seeing what those things do all day. Our friends." He shook his head. "We've lost too many already. I don't know what to make of any of this."
  
  "Normally, this would be the moment I say something inspiring or meaningful." He scoffed, taking a sip of water. "I've got nothing."
  
  "It was never supposed to be like this. Only a couple more days and I'd be in the Interior." He grimaced, like he was surprised that thought didn't make him feel any better. "Why now? Why after all this time?" Jean took a deep breath to calm his nerves, then let it out.
  
  Annie said nothing as she quietly kept an eye for anyone who could report to the Garrison for the conversation that was being had.
  
  Once he finished taking a drink, Dillon responded with, "Who knows? I'm just worried the Armored Titan will come back." He paused. "Come to think of it, I haven't seen that bastard today. According to the newspaper, it showed up shortly after the breach in Wall Maria, but it's been hours."
  
  "You think that it'll come again? That they're acting in coordination?" Jean leaned in close. "I mean, the first part happened just like last time."
  
  "It's too coincidental," Dillon agreed. "Somehow, those two Titans are working together. And get this. The Colossal Titan didn't attempt to eat a single human. That goes against the fundamental nature of the Titans." The moment those words left his mouth, an image of Eren came to mind. A human being able to transform into a Titan and defy the instincts of other Titans. "Oh, God."
  
  "What?"
  
  "Give him some space," Annie interjected, stepping in. "Take a breather, you two. They're probably going to send us out again soon."
  
  "Annie, wait a minute. Listen." Dillon's voice dropped to a whisper. "Those two Titans, the Armored and the Colossal... what if they're like Eren?"
  
  Eyes widening, Jean started to say something, but Annie stopped him.
  
  "There's a reason we were ordered to silence. You start spreading things like that, paranoia follows. Can you imagine what people will do to each other once they start to believe their neighbor might be a Titan?" She looked between the two of them. "They could tear each other apart."
  
  Dillon sighed, holding his head. It was still healing from how much energy he exerted. "You're right. We need to keep this between the three of us for now. At least, until we can figure out a better way to prove this theory." Of course, that means I'd have to wait until one of those Titans show up again. I think I'd like to avoid that.
  
  "I just want to know what the hell is going on," Jean said with a grunt. "I just want to figure this damn thing out."
  
  "We'll find answers," Dillon assured. "One way or the other."
  
  Jean let out a chuckle, a real one. "There's your inspirational, idealistic statement right there."
  
  "I have a quota to fill," the blacksmith snarked as went for another sip.
  
  The two leapt off their boxes in horror when there was the sound of an explosion.
  
  "What the hell was that!?" Dillon yelled, looking down the direction where it came from.
  
  There was a large plume of steam rising to the sky. The only way steam would be rising from that was if there was a Titan. Already, the cadets around them were panicking.
  
  "Came from where they took Mikasa." Jean shot towards the commotion.
  
  Ymir must have heard him because she shook her head in irritation. "Of course, that's who would come into his mind."
  
  Reiner and Bertholdt soon went after him, taking the rooftops.
  
  Annie started to follow, then stopped. She then held out a hand to Dillon. "Can you stand?"
  
  Dillon managed to stay on his own two feet and nodded. "Yeah."
  
  "Come on."
  
  It took just over a minute for them to reach the source of the smoke, which was the area where they were forced to leave Eren, and what they saw dumbfounded them.
  
  Reiner asked the question that was on everyone's minds. "What the hell is that?"
  
  Amidst the shroud of smoke and steam, there was a half-formed Titan sitting there. Its bones were completely exposed and there were only scatterings of flesh on its body. It even had eyes. To add the disturbing display before them, the Titan started moving a little, freaking out the soldiers that were there.
  
  "It's alive," one of the soldiers said fearfully.
  
  "Captain Voormin!" Rico was not above being terrified, but she was able to keep herself from losing it.
  
  Unlike Voormin, who was on the verge of losing it, especially when the Titan's single eye looked right at him. "Let's see what it does. Maintain your distance! All squads remain alert. It can strike at any time. Artillery crew, get that cannon reloaded!"
  
  "It's gotta be Eren," Dillon muttered, moving to the side.
  
  "Dillon, what are you doing?" Bertholdt asked, concerned.
  
  "Trying to see if our friends are alive," he answered, his eyes glowing for a brief moment before fading. He moved, making it look like he was trying to get a good view on them while not getting spotted by the Garrison. "Mikasa, don't freak out. It's me. Talk mentally."
  
  Amidst the chaos, he thought he heard a sharp gasp. Then, an anxious voice penetrated his thoughts. "D-Dillon?"
  
  "Yes, Mikasa. I'm here."
  
  Poor girl was trying not to succumb to her hysteria. "I-I wasn't imagining what I saw. You... you attacked that Titan without touching it. How is that possible, Dillon? What are you?"
  
  "I'll explain everything later. Are all of you still alive?"
  
  "Yes. Armin's with me, but I don't see-." She was cut off when a plume of steam erupted from nape of the creature. "He's inside the Titan!"
  
  "Listen. The Garrison still has you all pinned down. This little steam show should by you some time. If things get bad, I will blast as many soldiers that I can so you can escape."
  
  "But Dillon, you'll be-."
  
  "I don't care," he responded. "You three have to survive this." He saw Annie coming for him. "I need to go."
  
  Once again, he found himself face-to-face with a glare. "Did you just forget what I told you?" she asked in a quiet voice.
  
  "Did you eavesdrop on my conversation?" Dillon asked back, staying quiet.
  
  "No. You're too predictable. If I have to knock you out so you won't do something stupid again, I will. Don't test me. Especially after everything that's happened today."
  
  "Listen," he urged. "Just one more second. This is a last resort plan only. The Garrison won't be able to figure out that I'm the one causing the problem. I'm only going to interfere if they try to kill them again. Honestly, I'm hoping they'll come up with a plan before things go straight to hell."
  
  Annie let out a sigh, knowing that she wouldn't be able to deter him. "If that moment comes, you do what you have to. Just like I will."
  
  Dillon didn't dare ask what that would entail, mostly because he nearly had a heart attack when the Titan's skull crashed to the ground, causing more steam to fog up the area. "That bought them some time."
  
  As they returned, Reiner immediately asked, "Did you see them?"
  
  "Yeah, I did," Dillon lied. "Briefly, but I caught sight of blonde hair that was moving. They're still alive."
  
  "Captain Voormin," Rico said from below. "The cannon is almost reloaded. We're ready, sir. What are your orders for the next attack?"
  
  "A-All troops will await my signal!" he shouted.
  
  "Yes, sir."
  
  "This is not good," Jean muttered. "That trigger-happy captain is going to kill them all."
  
  "If that happens, we're all dead," Reiner added unhelpfully.
  
  Dillon said nothing, eyes on the two people in charge of the cannon. He needed to take them out first. The simplest plan would be to use his powers to block the cannonball from leaving the cannon. However, he knew those two would not survive the explosion. There was no way in hell he was going to start killing soldiers. The only way he could buy time and get them out alive was a mental assault. It would hurt like hell, but it was better than the alternative.
  
  Sure enough, they finished reloading the cannon, giving a wave.
  
  "Artillery crew has reloaded, Captain," Rico confirmed. "It's your call, sir."
  
  The captain didn't answer, eyes locked on the scene before him.
  
  Voormin and Rico would go next. Dillon planned. With the chain of command crippled, it'll fragment the troops. And then... I pray we all make it out alive.
  
  Then, he heard a clanking sound and the sound of running footsteps. The Garrison soldiers looked ready to panic as Armin charged out of the smoke.
  
  "Halt, halt, halt!" Voormin ordered as the weapons were aimed at the blonde.
  
  Once Armin skidded to a stop, he raised his hands in surrender to keep their guns at bay.
  
  "Is this supposed to be your true form, monster?" Voormin demanded, losing it. "I don't buy it! I'll give the signal to fire! I mean it!"
  
  Cowardly, paranoid, and stupid, Dillon thought, preparing himself. That's an interesting combination.
  
  "Eren is not a foe of humanity," Armin professed. "We're willing to cooperate with military command and share everything we've learned about his powers!"
  
  "Your pleas fall on deaf ears," the captain shot back, spit flying out of his mouth. "He revealed his true form and because of that threat he cannot leave here alive. If you insist he's not an enemy of ours, show me proof! Otherwise, we'll blast him back to whatever hole he crawled out of!"
  
  "You don't need any proof," Armin pointed out desperately. "The fact of the matter is it doesn't matter what we perceive him to be!"
  
  "What?"
  
  "The reports say hundreds of soldiers saw him," he explained. "And those who were there saw him fighting other Titans... and that means they saw him get swarmed by Titans as well. To put it plainly, the Titans saw him how they see each and every human being: as their prey! And it doesn't matter how else you look at it! That is an irrefutable fact!"
  
  Dillon couldn't help but smile a bit. One thing he always admired Armin for was his way of talking through situations. He had a feeling Mom would draft him into being a defense attorney if she could.
  
  Some of soldiers started lowering their weapons, believing Armin's statements. They realized that he raised a very good point.
  
  Unfortunately, Voormin refused to accept it. "Prepare to attack! Don't let yourselves be swayed by his cunning lies!"
  
  You have got to be kidding me. Dillon was tempted to go down there and punch the captain in the face.
  
  "The Titans' behavior has always been beyond our comprehension. I wouldn't put it past him to assume human form. He's... speaking our language in an attempt to deceive us! I refuse to let them continue this behavior anymore!"
  
  Mortified, Armin briefly turned around to the two cadets behind him. They didn't say anything and remained impassive. They were ready for anything. However, Eren gave him a brief nod of encouragement. Gritting his teeth, Armin whirled around and slammed his fist right onto his heart.
  
  "I am a soldier!" he declared. "And I have dedicated my heart to the restoration of humanity, sir! Nothing could make me prouder than to die for such a noble cause! If we were to use his Titan ability and combine it with the manpower we have left, I believe we can do it! We can retake this city! For humanity's glory and what little time I have left to live, I will advocate his strategic value!"
  
  Armin's voice seemed to echo throughout the city it was that loud and powerful. The pride the cadets had for him soared hearing him say all that while facing down the guns pointed right at them.
  
  "Captain Voormin," one of the Squad Leaders said, "his words are worth considering. Maybe we should-."
  
  "Quiet!" Despite all that he heard, Voormin refused to listen to reason. Once again, he began to raise his hand to signal the cannon to fire.
  
  It was as if time slowed down. Eren's hand went for his mouth, Mikasa's hand went for her sword, Armin's eyes widened in horror, and Dillon's eyes began to glow. It was going to be complete chaos in just a few seconds.
  
  Then, a firm hand grabbed Voormin's arm, preventing him from going any further.
  
  "That's enough," a grave voice stated. "You should really do something about your nervous disposition, Captain Voormin."
  
  Stopping Voormin was a much older gentleman with a bald head and a gray mustache. Unlike the other soldiers, this man was more interested in talking things out.
  
  At first, Dillon was shocked, but, as his eyes returned to normal, a smirk appeared on his face. They were saved.
  
  "C-Commander Pixis," Voormin stuttered.
  
  Pixis moved past him and stared at Armin, who somehow managed to stay still with his hand still on his chest. "Can you not see this soldier's heartfelt salute? I've only just arrived, and I'm quite aware of our situation. Gather our reinforcements. I think we can give these young soldiers the favor of hearing them out."
  
  Armin's response was to sink to his knees, a relieved smile on his face.
  
  "Cadets, I would like to have a word you on top of the Wall in ten minutes," he stated. "Should be enough time to get some water. You all look thirsty."
  
  "Th-thank you, sir," Armin stuttered, feeling like he was about to faint.
  
  Then, Pixis looked at the rooftops with a smile. "Ah, do my eyes deceive me, or is that you, Dillon?"
  
  Surprised the attention was on him, he quickly saluted. "Yes, Commander. Good to see you again."
  
  The older man chuckled. "My, my, have you grown. Tell me, is your mother still with that father of yours? If she's divorced him, I'm happy to be a shoulder to cry on."
  
  Dillon's smile faltered. "No, Commander. They are still happily married."
  
  Pixis let out a laugh. "Just my luck. Well, send them my well wishes when you can and tell your dad he's a lucky old dog."
  
  The blacksmith resisted the urge to roll his eyes. The man had not changed. "Sir, permission to accompany my friends?"
  
  "Request granted. Nine minutes."
  
  Dillon let out a sigh of relief as he turned to the others. "That was too close."
  
  "You're telling me," Jean replied. "So, why are you going with them?"
  
  "Well, I want to help with the planning." It wasn't a lie, but that was only half the story.
  
  "Try not to fall off," Annie warned. "It'll take weeks to clean up that mess."
  
  Now, he rolled his eyes. "Love you, too, Annie."
  
  Nine minutes later, Eren, Mikasa, Armin, and Dillon all approached Commander Pixis, giving him a salute.
  
  "Let's take a stroll for a bit," he requested, walking down the path on the Wall while sipping something out his plastic flask. From the smell, it definitely wasn't water.
  
  Quietly, the cadets followed him.
  
  "Hey, Mikasa, can you still hear me?" Dillon asked.
  
  "Yes," she answered. "I told Eren and Armin what were able to do."
  
  It was so hard not to react to that. "You what!?"
  
  "They won't tell anyone," Mikasa quickly promised. "In case things fell apart, I wanted them to know what you were willing to do, and they're grateful for it. We all were."
  
  Since Dillon couldn't audibly sigh, he settled for a mental one. A flash of his eyes later, and all of them were linked. "So, she told you?"
  
  "Yeah," Eren responded. "This is weird."
  
  "Happens to first-timers. You get used to it."
  
  "How is this possible?" Armin wondered.
  
  "I inherited these abilities from my father. He's always had them, but his father died when he was young. Maybe it runs in the family."
  
  "This is an incredible ability," Armin said. "Dillon, you could do so much with this."
  
  "That's what I'm planning on," he assured. "By the way, don't worry about Commander Pixis. He's a good and reasonable man."
  
  "You sound like you know him," Mikasa pointed out.
  
  "Met him once when I was nine," Dillon explained. "Can't remember off the top of my head the circumstances, but it had something to do with one of my mom's cases. He said something about me having potential, and then he left. He's weird, but Mom thinks well of him."
  
  Pixis turned to the edge of the Wall and looked down. Below him was a horde of Titans, arms outstretched towards him and jaws wide. The commander simply clicked his tongue, sounding disappointed. "Nope, not any of you. Eaten by a Titan wouldn't be so bad... if it was a sexy lady one."
  
  Right, because gender is very important when your being grinded into mush. Dillon thought, shaking his head in annoyance.
  
  Taking another sip of his drink, Pixis turned around. "Now, tell me what this is all about."
  
  So, Eren began to divulge his life story as fast as he could, about how his father somehow turned him into a Titan after the fall of Wall Maria, and how he had the key to the basement which contained the secrets of the Titans.
  
  "And that's that," Pixis said once he finished explaining. "So, visiting this cellar should clear everything up?"
  
  "Yes, sir," Eren answered. "Well, at least I think so."
  
  "For the moment, there is no way to validate all of the claims you've made." Pixis turned his head and pointed at his head. "For now, I'll just catalog them in here. With that said, I can usually tell the difference between the disputable and the sincere... which is why I personally guarantee your safety."
  
  The cadets breathed sighs of relief.
  
  The commander's eyes landed on Armin. "You're Cadet Armin Arlert. Is that correct?"
  
  "Yes, sir," he responded, saluting.
  
  "You mentioned the plan to harness this so-called Titan ability and then utilize your friend's power to retake the city," Pixis pointed out. "Do you believe it could work, or were you grasping at straws trying to save your hides?"
  
  "Well, both, Commander," Armin admitted. "I was going to suggest that Eren, using his strength as a Titan, to lift that giant boulder."
  
  "What giant boulder?" Dillon asked.
  
  "There's a giant boulder that's a landmark in this city," Mikasa explained quickly.
  
  "We could use it to block off the Titans' entry point." Armin let out a sigh. "That was the best idea I could come up with on the spot. I just wanted to make everyone see how Eren's ability might provide a solution to the problem we all face."
  
  Pixis simply turned around, thinking about his solution.
  
  "Granted, I was pretty desperate to survive," he admitted.
  
  '"Desperate to survive,' huh?" Pixis repeated as he continued drinking. "That's as credible a reason as any, son." Wiping his mouth from any traces of drink, he walked to Eren and kneeled to his level. "What do you say, Cadet Yeager?"
  
  "Say, sir?" Eren asked, confused.
  
  "That hole," he elaborated. "Do you think that you can plug it up, son?"
  
  Eren hesitated to give a definite answer. "Well, I-I don't know. It's possible... but at the moment, I don't understand my power any more than you do. It's just I feel that any answer I give would be irresponsible because I don't know."
  
  "Ah, yes. Of course. My apologies. I asked you the wrong question," Pixis replied with sincerity, before a serious look invaded him. "Are you willing to, Cadet Yeager, or not?"
  
  His green eyes widened as he felt the responsibility of the task come crashing down on him. Subtlety, Pixis gestured behind him and Eren looked back. So many houses with people living with them, and so much life that were contained in just Wall Rose alone. If he failed his duty, then every single person within Wall Rose would die. He made an oath to protect and serve humanity, and he couldn't let his doubts get in the way of that.
  
  "I'll do it," Eren promised. "I'll do it! I don't know if I can seal that hole, but... I'll do it."
  
  Pixis grinned, patting his soldiers. "Excellently said. You have the heart of a lion." He walked to another part of the wall and yelled, "Staff Officers, up! We have a plan to flesh out!"
  
  Armin's eyes widened. "Wait, we can't actually be going forward with this-?"
  
  "Armin, it's a good plan. Stop doubting it," Dillon interrupted, having enough. "If Pixis believes in your plan and Eren, then we're going through with it."
  
  "He seems like a guy who knows what he's doing," Eren agreed. "He has it all under control, like he has a bird's eye view of the situation. Either way, we've got another problem to deal with before we can get your plan off the ground, and my gut tells me the commander's keenly aware of it."
  
  "Which would be?" Armin wondered.
  
  "Titans aren't our only foe," he said.
  
  Immediately, Dillon thought of the MPs. Once they found out about this, things would get really interesting really fast.
  
  Before they could ask him to elaborate, Pixis interrupted them. "Look sharp, soldiers!"' He was back with several officers behind him. "The fate of mankind rests on your shoulders."
  
  The cadets thought the same thing: No pressure.
  
  "ATTENTION!"
  
  The soldiers that had been gathered at the base of wall were instantly silenced by the commander's shout.
  
  "Take note," Pixis ordered. "The blueprint of the Trost Recovery Operation is this: our primary objective is to reseal the hole. Yes, you heard right. What's more, it will be done manually."
  
  That caused several mutterings that doubted his claims.
  
  "As for how the task will be done," he went on, indicating Eren, "that's where this fellow comes in. Allow me to introduce Cadet Eren Yeager!"
  
  The teen simply gave a salute in response.
  
  Dillon allowed himself another smirk as he thought about what the rest of the 104th was thinking right now.
  
  "Don't let appearances fool you," Pixis warned. "This young man is in fact the successful product of cutting edge science. Fantastic as this may sound, Cadet Yeager possesses the ability to fabricate and control a Titan body at will. Recall the massive boulder roughly a league from the gate. Having assumed Titan form, Cadet Yeager will hold said boulder on his back, take it to the hole, and voilà! And this is where you all come in! Your job will be to defend him. Yes, defend a Titan against its own kind."
  
  "They're lying," Daz screeched out from below. "I'm not gonna be drawn into sacrificing myself for this crap! We're just disposable tools to you people! You expect us to live and die by whatever comes out of your mouth!?"
  
  This caused a domino effect where a sizable section of soldiers all started muttering their disbelief of this situation and started walking away. Some were too emotionally compromised to deal with this anymore, and others wanted to spend what time they thought they had left with their families.
  
  Naturally, Voormin's response helped no one. "Traitors! I'll shoot you all where you stand!"
  
  If this keeps up, there's gonna be a riot on our hands. Dillon thought with worry.
  
  Pixis once again called for attention. "Anyone who wishes to leave... will by my personal order not be charged with treason! Those who have seen a Titan firsthand will not be expected to revisit such horror again! Whomever this applies to, you may leave with my blessing. Additionally, anyone with family or loved ones they would spare from the same problem may also leave. The crown will continue to recognize your service. Thank you, and good luck!"
  
  The soldiers that were prepared to leave stopped dead in their tracks before turning back around and fell back into formation. They did not want to leave their loved ones to suffer at the hands of those monsters.
  
  The commander went on. "Now, think back four years ago, namely the operation to retake Wall Maria!"
  
  Dillon snorted. Is that what they called it?
  
  "I bring it up because you all deserve to have your suspicions confirmed. Officially, we labeled it reconnaissance, but, in fact, as probably most of you know, it was little more than a purge. A thinly disguised exercise in population control. We knew this in our hearts. Of course we did, but we turned a blind eye. We supported the state-sponsored myth because the deaths of our fellow human beings allowed us to survive, pure and simple.
  
  "The guilt is ours, and we share the blame. All of us. The citizens of Wall Maria sustained themselves on the wholesale slaughter of the refugees who'd flown to us for help, but turnabout is fair play, is it not? If Wall Rose succumbs, the population will fall by a whole other order of magnitude. The lands comprising Wall Sina would only support half the people now living. If we're wiped off the face of the Earth, the culprits will not have been the Titans, let me assure you. No, no, we'll have done it to ourselves! If the line isn't drawn now, it won't be drawn at all. If we must die, let us die here!"
  
  Slowly, Dillon looked over the Wall behind him. He saw countless hordes of Titans wandering the city, looking for humans to devour. He saw the hole that allowed them to get in in the first place. Everyone would be counting on Eren to lift that boulder and seal the Wall, but so many people would die today. That being said, if he had to die to save humanity, so be it.
  
  Remastered Edits: I didn't expect it this time, but after looking at it, I decided not to have Dillon stay with Mikasa and Armin. It wouldn't have really added to anything. Instead, I've decided to add some more flaws to Dillon as he struggles on the hardest lesson he has to learn: he can't control everything. Also, this gave way to some much-needed time for the friendship between Dillon and Jean. I'm hoping to continue on improving that friendship.
  
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  The Battle of Trost
  Chapter 13: The Battle of Trost
  
  Shortly after Pixis's speech, every single soldier who wasn't critically injured got to work. More cannons were mounted on the wall and aimed at the horde of Titans that were increasing in number. Armin came up with a good plan to have many of the soldiers lower themselves close to the Titans so that they would be lured away from Eren as he sealed the wall with the boulder. Not to mention that they would be in just the right spot for the cannons to take quite a lot of them out. On the other side of things, Eren was getting an elite squad of his own that would protect him: Rico Brzenka, Mitabi Jarnack, and Ian Dietrich, the leader. Admittedly, the Shifter was concerned with having the woman that was more than willing to kill him on the spot, but Pixis swore that unless things went horribly wrong, he had nothing to worry about.
  
  "I'm so sorry, Eren," Armin apologized like he had been doing for the past few minutes. "I was just talking out of my head. It wasn't my intention for you to be pulled into all this."
  
  "Stop apologizing," he said. "The fact is you have a gift for strategy and you know it. I believe in you, Armin."
  
  Mikasa finally spoke up. "Eren, I really think I should-."
  
  "I know," Eren interrupted, staring at her.
  
  She couldn't help but flinch. Last time they talked, she was attempting to defy orders to be closer to Eren, and he set her straight via a headbutt while telling her off. It was the last conversation they had before...
  
  "This plan has the chance to go straight to hell," he told her, surprisingly subdued. "You're strong, Mikasa, but we're going right into the heart of the Titans."
  
  "So are you." Mikasa hoped the pain wasn't visible in her eyes.
  
  Eren shook his head. "It's not up to me."
  
  "Ackerman," Ian interjected. "I want you on the squad that will be providing Yeager with backup. We'll need your skill."
  
  Her expression considerably brightened up. It had been too long since Eren had seen her like that.
  
  While Eren wished Mikasa would stay behind for her own sake, he was still feeling a bit down about everything that happened. In all his efforts to try and take care of himself, he ended up in the belly of a Titan. He shuddered, still remembering those high-temperature acids that burned his skin and sought to dissolve him. He decided to let Mikasa have this moment, just this once, because he wasn't going to let it happen again. He would get stronger, and he wasn't going to depend on people like a parasite.
  
  Refueling his canteen and his gas tanks for good measure, Dillon took several deep breaths. He truly felt that he was going on a suicide mission this time, and, despite his convictions, the last thing he wanted to do was die today. He had so many reasons to live now, one of which was blond and short. Still, if it came down to it, he would swallow his fear and give up his life in service to humanity.
  
  "Hey, there you are," a familiar voice said, interrupting his thoughts.
  
  Dillon smiled a little and greeted, "Hey, Marco. How are you holding up?"
  
  "About the same as the rest of us," his freckled friend answered.
  
  The blacksmith let out a sigh. "So... this is it."
  
  "Yes, it is," Marco agreed, humbled by the situation they were in.
  
  "Still thinking of joining the Military Police when this is over?" Dillon asked.
  
  "I don't know," he admitted sheepishly. "I'm a little conflicted now, all things considered."
  
  "I understand." Dillon frowned a bit, the worst-case scenario coming to mind.
  
  Seeing the change in expression, Marco clapped his hand on his shoulder. "We're going to make it. Sure, this plan is risky, but I think we'll pull it out."
  
  Dillon chuckled. "That's what I've always liked about you, Marco. Your optimism is a welcome change to this environment."
  
  "Don't lose your optimism, okay?" he requested.
  
  He nodded. "I won't."
  
  Giving each other a brief hug, the two grappled on top of the inner wall just in time for Pixis to give his sendoff speech to all the soldiers.
  
  "Not once in this century of terror has mankind risen above the Titans," he stated. "Their every craven, bloodthirsty advance has left a wake of inestimable loss for us. Lives taken, territory abandoned. However, should we succeed, we'll make history. Today is the day lands taken by our greatest enemy will be reclaimed. For the first time, we will know what it means not to run, but to meet the Titans head-on and win! Now, it may seem an insignificant lot of land compared to the vast tracts of former glory long abandoned, but as a symbol, as an idea, Trost's regain shall stand as a reclamation of pride and hope beyond measure. A leap greater than we have ever taken!"
  
  The soldiers let out a soldier's cry with pride and determination. Their fears meant nothing to them at this point. Now, they were ready to fight.
  
  The elite squad guarding Eren, with Mikasa added to the group, took off running along the path on top of the Wall. It was too dangerous for them to use their ODM gear without attracting the Titans to them. Sure, the soldiers were doing a good job keeping the Titans distracted by climbing down the Wall and staying just out of reach of the monsters. It was like luring a bunch of dogs to a juicy steak just out of their reach. Still, it wasn't a risk worth taking. And even that wasn't enough. Several squads of soldiers were doing their best to corral the Titans into that one corner spot. It worked, but a lot of the soldiers were killed.
  
  About ten minutes later, a green flare shot into the air, signaling the start of Eren's mission. Suddenly, there was a bright flash as yellow-green energy crackled in the distance. Given the roar they heard afterwards, that was how Eren transformed into a Titan.
  
  What are you looking at? Dillon asked inwardly with a sneer as one of the Titans stared up at him. You know, it makes me wonder what's going in that head of yours. Why does your kind want to kill us so badly?
  
  It occurred to Dillon that he never actually tried to read the mind of a Titan considering every single one tried to eat him. He began to wonder what was going on in that beast. Maybe he could find something that gave him answers. However, just as those thoughts came, they left. Now was the worst time to experiment. He needed to focus on the task at hand and not get sidetracked, especially since the fate of humanity was at stake now more than ever.
  
  Then, the soldiers gasped at the sight of a red flare emitting in the distance. That meant... the plan failed. They started muttering to themselves, wondering if this was going to be end of them after all, that the half-baked plan was all for nothing.
  
  Even Marco couldn't resist falling a bit into despair. "It's over. We failed."
  
  Dillon shook his head, unable to believe this was happening. After everything they've gone through, after all the lives that were sacrificed, it was over?
  
  "What the hell?" Armin asked himself, clenching his fists. Before they knew it, Armin ran down the path. "Dillon, come with me."
  
  "Duty calls," Dillon said to Annie as he followed the blonde-haired boy, a little caught off guard by his demand.
  
  "Armin, Dillon, what are you two doing?" Marco questioned.
  
  The two didn't answer as they went as fast as they could towards Eren's position.
  
  "What the hell happened over there?" Dillon demanded.
  
  "I don't know," Armin shot back, worried. "We need to get over there and figure out what's going on. We can't fail. Not now!"
  
  Damn it. Dillon swore inwardly. If this plan blows up in our faces, humanity will never recover. The downfall of Shiganshina led to the downfall of Wall Maria. If Trost falls, so does Wall Rose. If you're dead, Eren, I will find a way to bring you back so I can kill you myself.
  
  For ten minutes, the two cadets continued running down the path. Titans weren't close to their position, but they couldn't take the chance of drawing them in with their presence. Too much was at stake to pull any stunts like that.
  
  Seeing a familiar Titan corpse sitting on the ground in front of the boulder, the two grappled over, panting heavily.
  
  "Eren," Armin gasped, trying to catch his breath. "Eren, what are you doing? Wake up!"
  
  "Are you kidding me?" Dillon asked, getting aggravated fast.
  
  Unfortunately, the situation was growing steadily worse. Titans were trying to get close to Eren, though the elite squad was keeping a few of them at bay. The problem was that the number of Titans moving towards Eren was growing, and there were too few soldiers to kill all of them.
  
  With a growl, Armin grappled down to Eren's shoulder and started yelling at Mikasa, who just killed a thirteen-meter that was on a nearby rooftop. "Mikasa, why'd the plan go belly-up!? Why on Earth is he slouched here like this?"
  
  "Armin, get away!" Mikasa warned. "It's dangerous. Something went wrong. He lost control and wound up like that!"
  
  Dillon clenched his fists in anger. To think that everything that had led up to this point had been for nothing. Would this really be how it would end? A plan that failed to even start and the continuing end of humanity?
  
  Then, a thought occurred to him. If there was no verbal way of reaching him, there was only one alternative. It was risky, especially since he hadn't done something like this in a while, but he had to try. It felt like it had been so long since he had been useful.
  
  "I tried to snap him out of it, but he wouldn't respond," Mikasa went on. "He's been out like this for the past few minutes."
  
  "But the plan," Armin protested.
  
  "Guys, calm down," Dillon interrupted. He glanced to see that Rico and the others were occupied before going on. "I think I can reach Eren."
  
  "How?" she demanded.
  
  Dillon tapped his head. "I'm gonna try and reach his mind, try to work things out. Armin, I'm gonna need you help with this."
  
  That took Armin by surprise. "Me?"
  
  "I'll explain when we get inside." The blacksmith stared at Mikasa. "I need you to keep that Titans off our back. Can you handle that?"
  
  She gave a firm nod.
  
  "Right, stupid question."
  
  While Armin was prepared to help Eren in any way he could, he wasn't quite sure what he was going to do. "Can you pull it off?"
  
  "I will pull it off," he swore, his eyes beginning to glow. "Hang tight, Armin. This is gonna feel strange."
  
  To Armin, he began feeling the sensation of being pulled down into something before his vision went black.
  
  Groaning, Armin opened his eyes and found himself lying down on a brick road. Slowly, he looked up and his eyes widened at the sight before him.
  
  This place was Shiganshina, which was completely in ruins. It was completely deserted and oddly quiet save for his own breathing. Curiosity compelled him to open the nearest door, which revealed a six-year old Eren being spun around by his father, looking happier than he's ever been. Suddenly, there was a brief flash and the people were replaced by a Titan that had the most unsettling grin on its face. Before it could lunge at him, he closed the door, his chest heaving from that sudden shift.
  
  "This is Eren's mind," he realized.
  
  "Yup," Dillon answered as he came into view. "Everything you see here reflects who Eren is and how he came to be."
  
  "And the houses contain his memories," Armin realized.
  
  "Some are easily accessible, but others are locked and bolted down. That's where he hides his secrets."
  
  Armin looked around in awe of the world he was in. "This is incredible."
  
  Dillon's eyes began to glow as he searched for something. "I know it's a lot to take in."
  
  Armin flinched when he heard the sound of a rumble nearby. Looking up, he spotted the source. Dark, ominous clouds approaching, the thunder sounding very similar to a Titan's roar. "What the hell is that?"
  
  "Probably his mind registering us invading," he answered. "It won't be long before his mental defenses kick in."
  
  "Defenses?"
  
  "We're foreigners invading a mind, Armin," Dillon explained. "It's going to treat us like an infection that it has to fight off."
  
  Armin gulped, staying on guard. He needed to stay focused and not let this whole thing overwhelm him. "We probably don't have much time, then. What's the plan?"
  
  "Right now, we have to find Eren and snap him out of whatever's going on."
  
  "Find him? What does that mean?"
  
  "Since Eren is unconscious, we have to find him and wake him up. He's essentially the center of his own mind. Once we do that, we give him a nudge into consciousness."
  
  "I think I know where he could be," Armin said. "This is Eren's hometown. He might be at his house right now."
  
  "If you know where it is, lead the way," he ordered.
  
  Nodding, the blonde walked quickly towards the house. "This way."
  
  Dillon followed, keeping an eye out. "Armin, there's something I need to warn you about. If the defenses manage to kill you in this place, you'll be thrown out along with some nasty side effects."
  
  Before Armin could question what kind of side effects, the ground started to rumble. "Now would be a good time to run."
  
  The two dashed down the road as the rumbling got worse.
  
  "What kind of defenses are we gonna run into?" Armin questioned, stumbling a bit.
  
  "Probably something Eren associates with strength," Dillon answered as the street started to crack. "Could be panthers, could be creatures that don't exist like golems-"
  
  He was interrupted when, up ahead of them, two human-sized Titans crawled out of the ground and let out their roars.
  
  "Or they could be human-sized Titans," Dillon finished as two more popped out from behind him, much to his annoyance. "I should've known."
  
  "We're surrounded," Armin cried out, wishing he had weapons right now.
  
  Normally, Dillon would try to educate Armin on how to use the mental world to his advantage, but now was the worst time to do it. "Armin, sword or gun?"
  
  He gave him a confused look. "What?"
  
  "What do you prefer?" Dillon elaborated frantically as the Titans drew closer. "Sword or gun!?"
  
  "A gun!"
  
  Concentrating, a bright light shined in Dillon's hands and two weapons appeared: a sword and a revolver. Quickly, he shoved the gun into Armin's hands. "Start shooting and start running!"
  
  Armin fumbled with the gun, still in shock by what just happened. "But I don't have-!"
  
  Letting out a frustrated grunt, Dillon's eyes flashed and the two Titans in front of him were sent flying back by an unseen force. He pulled Armin back as he dismembered the other two Titans before slicing open their napes.
  
  "I'm only going to say this once," he said, panting a bit. "We have ways to fight back, but you've got to put aside parts of reality. That gun you have? I want you to honestly believe that you don't need to constantly fill it up with bullets because if you don't, you will run out and get torn apart by the defenses. Reach Eren and don't die." The ground started shaking again. "I'll try to keep Eren's concentration on me. Go!"
  
  Nodding quickly, Armin hit the ground running just as more Titans started manifesting.
  
  "Come on, you cannibalistic monsters!" Dillon taunted as another sword appeared in his hand. "Show me what you can do!"
  
  "What's... where am I?"
  
  Darkness surrounded him and the silence was eerie.
  
  " What am... what am I doing? Am I sitting?"
  
  His voice sounded so weak and he felt like his entire body was running a fever, but there was nothing he could do about it. He couldn't even move no matter how much he strained himself.
  
  "I can't see. What day is it?"
  
  Suddenly, light opened up to him, showing him exactly where he was.
  
  He was sitting on a chair with a blanket wrapped tightly around him. His father was sitting at the dinner table, waiting for his food. Mikasa was cleaning their dinner plates with his mother, chatting about something that he couldn't hear.
  
  "That's right. Of course." He let out a yawn. "Weird."
  
  With a yelp, Armin barely dodged a Titan that lunged at him. That was way too close. Up ahead, he could see the stone stairs that led to Eren's house. Once he got there, he would do whatever he could to save his best friend. He was not going to fail him or humanity. They were going to win.
  
  However, that victory was going to be hard to obtain, for a Titan tackled him down, prepared to bite his neck off. Quickly, Armin brought up the revolver and pulled the trigger. The brain of the Titan exploded and slumped its body on the blonde. Whether the same rules applied in the physical world or not in regards to their regeneration abilities, it didn't matter. Armin shoved the Titan off of him and continued his way up the steps. A couple more Titans came at him and he instinctively let out several shots. Six rounds, two (hopefully) dead Titans. Armin panted heavily, staring at the gun. He couldn't believe it worked.
  
  Passing by their steaming corpses, Armin thought he heard very faint voices coming from inside the house. Familiar voices. He tried to open it, but it was locked tight. He fired a shot at the doorknob, prompting two things to happen. The bullet bounced off the doorknob, and the world around him shook like an earthquake. If the groan he heard was anything to go by, it hurt Eren more than helped him. This was definitely the center he was looking for.
  
  "Okay," Armin muttered nervously. "Probably not a good idea to use brute force."
  
  He dashed to the window and saw Eren's family: Grisha, Carla, and Mikasa. It looked like a happy memory he tried to intrude on, so why the locked door? This wasn't a traumatizing moment. He looked down and noticed a pillow against the window with dark brown hair sticking out of the top. It was Eren, but something felt off. He couldn't explain it, but it felt like Eren was the outlier in this memory.
  
  And then, realization struck. This was where Eren was currently trapped.
  
  "Eren, can you hear me?" the blonde yelled, placing his hands against the window. "You've got to pull it together. If you stay like this, we're all going to die. Whatever this body's doing to you, fight it. You're Eren Yeager, damn it! What's this steaming hunk of flesh have on you, huh!?"
  
  There was a brief pause as he waited for Eren to respond. Armin was about to start banging the window to get his attention, but then he heard his friend's voice, coming from everywhere.
  
  " What is he talking about? Fighting? What?" He sounded exhausted and confused. "So tired."
  
  This is bad. Armin thought to himself as he hit the window with his fist. "Come on, damn it! Wake up! Get out of there! We need you! Eren!"
  
  There was no response from him.
  
  Meanwhile, Dillon was unleashing his fury upon the human-sized Titans, and it felt good. After everything these creatures did to his race, this was payback in its finest form. Granted, none of these were real, but it still felt good nonetheless. Pieces of flesh flew all over the city thanks to his sword techniques, blood stained the road and buildings, and the number of Titans attacking him were dwindling. However, he had to be careful. Sure, his telekinetic powers were greater in the mental world than they were in reality, but he couldn't use them a lot. It drained him faster, and he needed to concentrate on staying inside Eren's mind until they were done.
  
  After beheading the last Titan, the ground shook again, but it was a rhythmic shake. Dillon's attention was on the storm that was nearly upon him as well as the new mental defense that came to confront him. He couldn't help but feel nervous at the sight of an eight-foot Titan that resembled Eren's Titan form. It gave the intruder a roar, demanding battle.
  
  His defenses are adapting. Dillon thought as he shook the blood from his blades. This isn't gonna end well.
  
  Taking the initiative, Dillon charged at the Titan, swords at the ready. He swung down and Rogue caught them with his hands. Surprised, the blacksmith tried to pull his weapons away, but his grip was two strong. With a grin, the Titan lifted his foot and kicked him right in the gut. The force of the blow sent him flying into the nearest building, crashing into the wooden wall hard. Tossing the swords away, the cuts on the Titan's hands regenerated quickly.
  
  As Dillon gasped for breath, for the wind was knocked out of him, he yelled in pain as random memories assaulted his mind. They were going too fast without context, making him disoriented. Quickly, he got out of the house, and the images subsided after a few seconds.
  
  I wish I wasn't right. Dillon thought as Rogue approached him.
  
  Frantically, Armin hit the window harder, more desperate than he ever felt in his life. "Your mom, remember? Remember what they did to her! You were hellbent on avenging her death! You swore to massacre the Titans!"
  
  Finally, Eren turned to face him, looking exhausted. "You're not making any sense, Armin. Open your eyes. Mom's not dead."
  
  Cracking his neck, Dillon charged again. This time, it was time to fight the old-fashioned way: good old unarmed combat. Dodging a right cross, Dillon struck out hitting Rogue twice in the face, using his powers to make the blows worse. Thanks to this world, his powers were stronger. The Titan growled back and started punching back, his fists having the strength of five men behind him. When Dillon blocked, his arms were instantly injured and bruised and wasn't long before one of the punches connected, hitting him right in the face. Not only did he nearly cough out blood, but the world started spinning, a clear sign of dizziness. With a psychic blast, Rogue flew backwards, impacting another house, but he was barely fazed by it. In fact, the attack only served to piss him off.
  
  This time, the Titan charged, and before Dillon could react, he was tackled down by the beast. Pinned down, he received a severe punch to the face, breaking his nose. Another punch gave him a black eye. Another punch had him bleeding. Each felt like getting punched by heavy stones.
  
  Finally, Rogue stood up and grabbed him by the throat. He was strong enough to lift him up into the air. The blacksmith tried kicking him, but he was losing oxygen fast. With a roar that rattled his eardrums, the Titan tossed Dillon headfirst against a window, shattering the glass on impact. He fell to the ground, bleeding from the back of his head now. Once again, memories flashed through his eyes, but this time, for one second, he caught a glimpse of a black-haired, green-eyed woman that was staring at him. However, he had no time to ponder that woman. His grip on this world was lessening by the second. If he passed out or died, Armin would be left at the mercy of the mental defenses.
  
  Tears of fury welled up in Armin's eyes as he tried so hard to shatter the illusion. "Eren, please! You have to push through it! It's not real! Listen to me! If you don't get a move on, the Titans are going to kill us! It will all end right here!"
  
  "Armin, seriously, what the hell's gotten into you?" Eren asked. "What's this get-a-move-on crap? Don't wanna move anything. Right here's good enough for me. It's not like I... wanna be a Scout." For a moment, he grew hesitant of his statements.
  
  Rogue was about to deliver the final blow via a foot stomp on his head when the world began to shake a little, catching his attention. He realized that Dillon was just the distraction, and that someone else was hurting his master. He let out another roar, this one full of fury, and began making his way towards Armin's position.
  
  No... Armin... Dillon thought weakly as he did his damndest to try and stand up.
  
  Armin did hear that roar, and he fell to his knees, his voice dropping to a whisper. "Eren, please. For me. Wake up." Tears streaked down his face. "Remember when we were kids? All we could talk about was the world outside. You know... beyond the Walls."
  
  I will not give up. Dillon told himself, forcing his battered body to stand. He called his swords to his hands.
  
  "Frozen tundra that stretches to the skies," Armin continued. "Sand dunes, the oceans, forests, the world my parents wanted to see."
  
  "Eren!" Dillon shouted, levitating a brick right at the Titan's head.
  
  Rogue stopped and turned around, growling at the interloper.
  
  "Is that the best you can do?" he taunted through bloodstained teeth.
  
  The Titan, predictably, gave a roar in response.
  
  " I've always thought you've outgrown that dream," Armin said. "I was kinda sad it didn't come up anymore. But then I realized you've decided to let it go because you didn't want me to join the Scouts."
  
  "No, I... just..." Eren finally stood up, dropping the blanket he had on him. The reality was sinking in.
  
  Dillon picked up his swords, the blades glowing bright orange like they came out of a furnace. It was sapping more psychic energy than usually, but he had no choice. "Come on!"
  
  Rogue charged at him, ready to rip him to shreds with his bare hands this time.
  
  This time, when the blacksmith slashed at him, the swords easily cut through his arm, amputating it. The Titan let out a roar in pain, but Dillon was far from through with him. He continued to cut him apart as the world's shaking grew more violent.
  
  " Tell me, honestly, even though your first step beyond the Wall meant hell on Earth, even though it meant risking your life gambling on the possibility of dying like my parents, why?" Armin questioned, driving it home. "Why throw caution to the wind and venture outside?"
  
  Eren slowly turned around, staring at Armin in shock. "What kind of question is that? Don't play dumb. You know damn well why." The shaking was so bad that Armin almost toppled over as the house Eren was in erupted in flames. "Because... the world outside the walls is my birthright!"
  
  "Dillon, get us out of here!" Armin exclaimed, trying to get away from flames.
  
  With a single slash, the nape was cut and Rogue fell dead at last, its limbs scattered away from its body. "Finally," Dillon said in a raspy voice. "Hang on."
  
  With another flash of his eyes, blackness began to overtake them. And then, he heard something.
  
  "Such power..."
  
  "What?" Dillon managed out, but it was too late.
  
  "-up. Come on, Dillon. Get up. Wake up!"
  
  Dillon's eyes popped open and he shot up in a sitting position with a loud gasp, catching Armin off guard. He felt a lot of warm liquid on his face, and a quick rub revealed it to be blood. He felt it coming from his nose and ears, but fortunately, his eyes were blood free.
  
  "How long was I out?" he asked, coughing.
  
  "Only a couple of minutes," the blonde answered, having his own bloody nose thanks to that trip. "Listen, it worked. Eren's carrying the boulder to the breach right now!"
  
  Dillon looked past him and saw it with his own eyes. The Rogue Titan was carrying the boulder over his head, walking slowly. He came through at last, though one could only imagine how much weight was boring down on him right now. If the steam he kept emitting from his body was any indication, it was a lot.
  
  "We did it," Dillon said with a smile. "It's happening."
  
  "I'm gonna get you to a medic," Armin assured.
  
  "No," he stated firmly. "I'm seeing this through."
  
  "Dillon-."
  
  "I'm not wimping out over a few, burst capillaries," Dillon interrupted. "We have to give it our all, and I have no right to walk away from this. Not now."
  
  Armin sighed, knowing there was no way to convince him. "Stay close to Mikasa and I."
  
  "That I can do," he replied, but then his eyes glowed briefly. "I severed the mind link with Eren. I don't want him to get distracted by our thoughts while he's carrying that boulder."
  
  Quickly, the two grappled over to the rooftop where Mikasa was standing on with a group of soldiers, including Ian. Mitabi and Rico were nowhere to be found. They were all watching Eren in complete shock. They couldn't believe he was pulling it off.
  
  "Mikasa!" Armin called out, getting hers and the others' attention.
  
  "Armin, Dillon!" she exclaimed, eyes widening. "You're hurt."
  
  "Don't worry about it," Dillon said. "It'll pass."
  
  "He came out of it somehow," Armin announced. He couldn't say out loud what really happened near all the soldiers. "We're set. He's determined to see the mission through to the end. As long as we've got his back as he heads for the wall, victory will be ours!"
  
  "Then let's give it our all," Dillon responded, drawing his sword.
  
  "Defend him!" Ian commanded. "To the last man if that's what it comes to! Eren must reach the gate! I don't want a single Titan anywhere near him!" He turned to the three cadets. "The three of you, go! I want you near Eren immediately! Hop to, soldiers! That's an order!"
  
  "Sir, yes, sir," the trio responded.
  
  Ian moved forward to attack the five Titans coming Eren's way, but he froze when he caught something. On the ground, three soldiers were running after the Titans.
  
  "Team Mitabi, what are you doing?" Ian demanded.
  
  "The ugly sons of bitches lost all interest in us!" Mitabi shouted back. "We need to get close enough to grab their attention."
  
  "Hey, big guy, over here!" a soldier next to him yelled.
  
  "You walking away?" Mitabi challenged. "Maybe you want us to shove our blades right up your smelly asses!"
  
  The ploy partially worked as the two closest Titans turned around and went after them.
  
  "All right, make a beeline for those buildings," Mitabi ordered, swallowing his fear.
  
  "They're insane," Armin commented, horrified. "Going on foot down there is suicide. If they get cornered somewhere, there will be nothing they can do!"
  
  "That's the idea," Dillon said quietly, Elsa's sacrifice coming to mind.
  
  "Let's move out," Ian interrupted, sounding a bit melancholy. That quickly changed the moment he landed on the ground with his team. "Everyone follow Team Mitabi!"
  
  "Come on! We have to go," Mikasa said.
  
  Ian's team managed to lead the remaining three Titans away from Eren, who now had a relatively clear shot to the hole.
  
  "I'm going to help them out," Dillon exclaimed, taking to the skies.
  
  "Dillon, wait!" Mikasa protests fell on deaf ears.
  
  Mitabi's team continued to taunt the Titans until the beasts reached them. One of his comrades was quickly devoured, and Mitabi himself was crushed by falling debris. All that remained was Ian's team. With a scream, Dillon cut down a nearby seven-meter Titan, saving a soldier in the process. Sacrifices had to be made, but at least he could prevent unnecessary death if at all possible. Unfortunately, because of his weakened state, that was the only person he could save. Ian's team was quickly devoured by the other Titans, including Ian himself, who kicked a guy out of a Titan's hand in exchange for himself.
  
  We're going to live. Dillon told himself as he tossed his boot knifes into the eyes of a Titan, blinding it. Humanity will survive to fight another day. You can do this, Eren!
  
  There was a loud scream, and he looked to see the final Titan blocking Eren's path fall dead thanks to the assistance of Rico and Mikasa. He was so close.
  
  "Go!" Armin screamed.
  
  With the loudest roar he could muster, Eren slammed the boulder right into the hole, sealing the Wall at last and causing the ground to shake for a moment.
  
  We... we did it. Dillon thought as he felt like the day just got brighter. We beat them!
  
  He couldn't celebrate the victory that long, even as the yellow flare pierced the sky. There was another Titan on his tail. Quickly, he grappled to the top of the roof, but the monster was just as tall as the building, and it was too close for him to escape. He was far too weak to attempt a mental attack at this point.
  
  Miraculously, a green blur zoomed by, cutting the nape instantly. The lifeless Titan collapsed to the ground as Dillon's eyes followed the blur. Whoever that person was, he effortlessly took down two Titans that were converging on Eren's position.
  
  Dillon decided to sit down, exhausted from today's events. He felt like a little bit of rest wouldn't hurt now. His eyes began to close and the last thing he heard was someone he didn't recognize asking if he was all right.
  
  (Two days later)
  
  With a groan, Dillon slowly opened his eyes. His head was hurting like hell, no surprise there, and he felt some pressure of them. A quick forehead touch revealed that his head was wrapped with a few bandages. He must've suffered some head trauma, but he had a feeling it would be gone in a few days. Looking around, he realized he was in a medical tent with a doctor standing over him. A very familiar doctor.
  
  "Well, look who's finally awake," he noted.
  
  Another groan left his mouth, one of irritation this time. "Why does it always have to be you?"
  
  "Believe it or not, my life doesn't revolve around you," the doctor said. "I volunteered since Trost was having a shortage of doctors. It's just a happy coincidence I ran into you."
  
  "Happy," he grumbled. You enjoy my pain too much.
  
  "So, let's get on with me doing my job. How are you feeling?"
  
  "Tired and sore," Dillon answered. "How long was out for?"
  
  "You've been in and out for the past couple of days," the doctor told him. "Fortunately, you weren't in critical condition, but you did suffer some head trauma. I can't pinpoint the source of it. Do you remember how it happened?"
  
  "No," Dillon lied. Wasn't the first time he was asked that. "The last thing I remember was Eren sealing the Wall."
  
  "I see." The doctor wrote down that response. "Well, you should stay here for one more day, and then you should be discharged provided you pass our examinations."
  
  "Thank you, Doctor," he replied sincerely.
  
  His eyebrows rose. "A thank you that wasn't begrudging or sarcastic? Progress."
  
  "Don't push it."
  
  The doctor chuckled. "By the way, Cadets Annie Leonhart and Jean Kirstein are waiting outside the tent," he informed him. "That is, if you want to-"
  
  "Send them in," Dillon interrupted, wanting to see his friends.
  
  The doctor gave a single nod before exiting the tent, letting the two in. Both of them looked completely worn out. He wondered how much sleep they've gotten recently. He sat up just in time wrap his arms around Annie as she embraced him, resting her head on his shoulder.
  
  "Hey," he whispered.
  
  "Hey," she whispered back.
  
  "I was afraid I wouldn't see you again," Dillon told her.
  
  "So was I," Annie replied. "Armin told me what you did. Nice job."
  
  A small smile appeared on his lips. He let out a relieved sigh, enjoying the comforting presence of his girlfriend, when he noticed Jean was standing in the back, looking forlorn. "Jean, are you okay?"
  
  His friend didn't speak for a moment, but when he finally met his gaze, it was full of defeat and bitterness. "Marco's dead."
  
  Those two words snapped Dillon out of whatever relief he was feeling. "What?"
  
  "I... I found his body during the clean-up," Jean added, trying to keep it together. "He... it was him."
  
  Dillon relinquished his hold on Annie and turned around, facing the ground. He couldn't believe that Marco, of all people was dead. That optimistic, freckled guy he considered a good friend was gone.
  
  "Don't lose your optimism, okay?"
  
  The words he spoke seemed oddly prophetic, almost as if he knew he was gonna...
  
  "They're dead," Dillon said quietly, tears streaming down his face. "Elsa, Vaughn, Marco, and... everyone who died to..."
  
  He couldn't hold it in anymore. He buried his hands into his face, the grief hitting him brutally. So many people died that day thanks to the Titans, and he wished desperately there was more he could've done. Deep down, though, he knew that he did all he could, and yet that made him feel worse.
  
  Annie hugged him tightly. "Let it out, Dillon. I know it hurts, but I'm here for you."
  
  Humanity managed to strike back and gain a victory at the cost of hundreds of lives. Such was the nature of war.
  
  Remastered Edits: Not much this time, but I hoped the changes were substantial. I decided to show that Mikasa and Eren's relationship was a little bit different in a way that didn't revolve around Dillon. I gave a bit more detail into how the mindscape works, but I suspect that won't be the edit you all will be talking about. Someone's taken an interest in our resident psychic user. I look forward to hearing what you all think about that. Also, the good doctor has returned
  
  I look forward to your comments and I shall see you all in the next chapter.
  
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  The Trial of Eren Yeager
  AN: Sorry for the delay in posting this chapter. My co-writer and I were discussing at length about how to make the chapter better, and we started going in a direction that didn't really pan out after a few days. So, I kept the majority as is. Don't worry. There are still some major edits. Enjoy.
  
  Chapter 14: The Trial of Eren Yeager
  
  (Four days after the Battle of Trost)
  
  Prison wasn't kind to its inmates. In many cases, the cells were just there to keep the prisoners slated for death row. They didn't have to suffer the environment very long. The ones that were going to be there for a long time had to deal with two meals a day consisting of stale bread and a mug of water each day. Not to mention that there were little to no regulations on how the Military Police can treat the inmates. They could give one of them a beating, and no one would bat an eye. After all, prisoners were the lowest of the low.
  
  Occupying a cell in an isolated section of the prison was Eren Yeager, who had been there in a coma since Trost. Instantly, after making sure he was still alive, the MPs had him brought to the dungeon and chained to the wall. Since he was underground, he couldn't transform successfully, not that he wanted to. When he eventually awakened, he was visited by Commander Erwin and Captain Levi. They wanted him to use his abilities to retake Wall Maria and find out if his father was telling the truth about the secrets of the Titans lying in his basement. At first, Levi was skeptical, but when Eren declared that he wanted to join the Scouts so he could kill the Titans, it was enough for Levi to put a little bit of trust in him. Granted, he made it clear that if Eren betrayed them in any way, he would personally cut his head off. Before they left, Erwin urged Eren to hold on just a little bit longer until he had his trial.
  
  Until then, the Shifter had to deal with the MPs that were keeping watch over him for the next few days. While Eren understood why they were doing this, the insults the guards gave him really got under his skin. Whenever he asked them for something, or they gave him his meals, they would always say something like "I hope you burn in Hell, freak" or "to think the people of Wall Rose are praising a monster." Again, he knew that deep down, they were terrified of him, but it was getting on his nerves.
  
  Why is it taking so long? Eren thought, staring at his chains again. Are they really planning on leaving me here? I didn't do anything wrong! Damn it, why can't they-
  
  His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a door opening nearby. Either these were more guards coming in to replace the current ones, or someone was paying him a visit.
  
  "What are you doing here?" one of the guards demanded, glaring at whoever came in.
  
  "I'm here to see my client," a female voice responded in a clipped tone.
  
  "Of course, it had to be you defending this freak," he snarled.
  
  "Noted. I am obligated to be alone with my client, so take your leave."
  
  Begrudgingly, the guard signaled the others and walked out. Once they were gone, the mysterious female came into view. She had brown hair that was tied up in a sleek ponytail, brown eyes that were slowly losing their stern gaze, and a black one-piece dress with the skirt ending just below the knees. Definitely a civilian, but what would a civilian want with him, especially one from Wall Sina? Then, he noticed her carrying a briefcase in one hand, a clipboard in the other, and a pencil in her ear. There was only one reason someone with all that would pay him a visit.
  
  "You're my... lawyer?" he guessed, confused. He hadn't asked for one yet. He didn't even know he got one.
  
  "Only if you want me to be," the woman answered with a warm smile, confirming his suspicions. "My name is Carolyn Amsdale, Mr. Yeager."
  
  He raised an eyebrow. "Amsdale? You're Dillon's mom?"
  
  She nodded. "Yes, I am."
  
  "He mentioned you were a lawyer for the Kingdom," Eren said. "Why are you defending me?"
  
  "Because you are wrongly accused of treason," she explained, taking a seat on the chair in front of him, "and you saved our lives. I have no reason not to help you." Carefully, she placed the briefcase down.
  
  "I can see where he gets it from," Eren said.
  
  "What do you mean?" she wondered curiously.
  
  "Dillon doesn't usually hesitate to save people, especially his friends, if he thinks he can make a difference. Like how you're trying help me, a freak."
  
  "Eren... do I have permission to call you Eren?"
  
  He nodded.
  
  "You are not a freak, Eren," Carolyn told him in a sincere tone. "You have an incredible ability and it's because of you that we're alive."
  
  "I guess you know a bit about unnatural abilities," he inferred.
  
  She was surprised that Eren knew, but she let it go. "Yes, I do." She sighed, thinking about Dillon for a moment when he was in a related situation. "When my son discovered his abilities, he was terrified. He begged his father to take them away, that he didn't want to have an ability that almost killed him."
  
  That caught Eren off guard. "He never mentioned that." Seems like we have a bit more in common, then.
  
  "It's something he doesn't like talking about," Carolyn explained. "It took my husband weeks to convince him he wasn't a freak, that his powers were a gift." She looked at him in the eyes. "I know you're scared, and you have every right to be, but that's why I'm here. I want to help you, Eren."
  
  "Well, thanks, I guess. But I don't exactly have high hopes for a positive outcome," he replied in a pessimistic tone.
  
  "Leave that to me. Now, before we get started, I'm legally obligated to ask this: do you want me to defend you in court? And before you ask, I do not care what they say about me after this."
  
  Now Eren realized where Dillon got his determination to do the right thing no matter the consequences. "If... if you don't care about what they think, then I'd welcome the help."
  
  She smiled. "Let's get started. And Eren? You can call me Carolyn or Mrs. Amsdale. Whatever makes you feel comfortable."
  
  "Alright, Mrs. Amsdale. What do you need from me?" he asked.
  
  "There are a lot of questions I need to ask you," she said. "The MPs are ruthless and they will use anything they can find to bury you. For me to properly defend you, I need you to be completely open and honest with me. Can you do that?"
  
  "Yes, ma'am," Eren answered.
  
  "All right." She took out the pencil so she could take notes on the clipboard. "So, let's start off with some easy questions. In 847, you enlisted in the military. Why?"
  
  "Because I wanted to join the Scouts and kill all the Titans," he explained. "Sure, they have a high death rate, and joining their branch sounds like I'm asking for a death sentence, but they are the only ones fighting for what we need."
  
  "And what is that?" Carolyn pressed, writing it down.
  
  "Freedom," Eren said. "Freedom from these Walls, and from the monsters that lurk outside of them."
  
  "And even when you had a chance to get away and be safe in the Military Police, you declined that offer instantly, didn't you?"
  
  "I would never take that offer," he stated. "Not if it meant making a difference out there."
  
  She smiled knowingly at that familiar statement before she continued the questioning. "Let's move on to the meat of the issue. When did you first discover you could transform into a Titan?"
  
  "I didn't even know I could before I saved Mikasa and Armin from the cannon ball," he replied.
  
  "So, you have no recollection of the first time, then," Carolyn deduced.
  
  "No, not really," Eren admitted, looking away for a moment. "I just remember the Titan biting my arm off, I landed in his stomach and it went black."
  
  "Oh, my God," she said, horrified. She could only imagine how horrible that was for him to be inside a Titan's stomach and bleeding to death on top of that.
  
  "The last thing I remember before Mikasa and Armin waking me is saying that'd I'd kill every Titan," he added, hoping that it would help.
  
  Quickly, she jotted that down. "That might be useful. So, you focused on that goal and you transformed?"
  
  "Yes, and it was similar when I rescued my friends. I put my hand to my mouth an-" He stopped there, wide eyed at what he was saying. How do I know all of this?
  
  Carolyn waited patiently for him to go on. "And what?"
  
  He shook himself out of his stupor and looked at her. "What?"
  
  Her concern was growing. "Eren, are you okay? You look like you saw a ghost."
  
  "No, I'm fine, it's just... I don't know how I know this," he said, confused.
  
  "Eren, whenever you've transformed, are you conscious?" she asked.
  
  He shook his head. "Not the first time. The second time, I wasn't fully enveloped."
  
  "And the third time? When you carried the boulder?" Carolyn pressed.
  
  "I wasn't at first. Armin and Dillon broke me out of it, though."
  
  She sighed. "That's a double-edged sword right there."
  
  He turned his head back to her. "What do you mean? What happened?"
  
  Carolyn hesitated. If she didn't tell him, then if they brought it up, they would see that he was legitimately surprised, but he could lose control of his emotions and get himself killed. If she did tell him, he would remain calm when they brought it up, but would think it was intentional. Let's hope this works. "Eren, according to the report, when you transformed in the Trost for a third time... you lost control and attacked Mikasa Ackerman."
  
  His eyes widened in horror, pulling against the chains instinctively. "What?"
  
  "She's fine, Eren," she quickly assured, raising a hand to ease his worries, "but I wanted to tell you now because they are going to use that against you today."
  
  "Why did I attack her?" Eren demanded.
  
  She needed get him to calm down before he did something he would regret. "Eren, from what you've told me, this was the first time you've been able to transform. All that power, I can only imagine how hard it would be to stay in control. The problem is that the fact that this all so new to you, and they want to use that as an excuse to put you to death."
  
  He shook his head, the frustration he had been feeling coming to a head. "But I sealed the wall! Doesn't that show them anything?!"
  
  "Eren," Carolyn exclaimed sharply, losing her gentleness. "Take a deep breath and calm down!"
  
  Taken aback by her demand, Eren did as she said.
  
  "This is a very delicate situation," she explained. "Right now, humanity is afraid of you. They don't know you, so they don't understand you. If you lose control of your emotions... someone in there is going to retaliate. And, as much I will do everything in my power to protect you, I am not bulletproof."
  
  "I-I'll do my best," he said quietly, feeling like a scolded child.
  
  "That's all I can ask for," she replied before frowning. "Eren... there is one more thing I have to ask you."
  
  "What is it, ma'am?" he asked.
  
  "Looking over your records, I found a... disturbing piece of information about you, something that, were it any other situation, I wouldn't pry, but I have to. Did you kill two men when you were nine years old?"
  
  "Yes," he answered without hesitation
  
  "Why?" Her tone wasn't judgmental in the slightest.
  
  "Because they were nothing but animals," Eren responded with a snarl.
  
  "What did they do you, Eren?" She knew something of this nature was quite sensitive, but to defend him properly, she needed all the facts.
  
  "Nothing. But they killed Mikasa's parents and kidnapped her. They were going to sell her for a high price because she's one of the last Orientals in the wall. I did what I had to so I could save someone."
  
  Carolyn let out a sad sigh. "I know. Believe me, I know. I'm sorry I brought that up, Eren, but I know your character is gonna come into question. I've been in Wall Sina long enough to know that. I needed to hear your side so I can defend you if they attack you in that way."
  
  The teen gave a small nod. "I understand."
  
  "Now, let's move onto your friends and family starting with Mikasa Ackerman."
  
  (The next day)
  
  After the complete clean-up of all the bodies of soldiers in the streets to prevent disease from infecting people, the members of the 104th had their funeral that Dillon unfortunately missed due to his injuries. The minute he got out, he went to the smoking pyre and paid his respects. He was forced to say goodbye to Marco, Mina, Elsa, and Vaughn, the four people that he got to know that were gone too soon. The images of the dead were so engrained in his mind, it made him lose his appetite. He couldn't believe how many of these cadets were able to stomach food after what happened. As for Annie, she was a different story.
  
  She sat as far as she could from anywhere else, her food sitting untouched in front of her as she stared off into space. She was always quiet and a loner, but her cheeks looked gaunt and her eyes were hollow. Her gaze was lifeless, like she stared into an abyss. That brave, comforting face she had on when he woke up was nonexistent.
  
  The others weren't much better. Everyone took grief, horror, worry and loss their own way. Armin might have showed an inner bravery at Trost, but now he was as shaken and small as he appeared to be their first day of training. Mikasa was more animated than before, though hers was no doubt born of worry. It was like she could barely sit still.
  
  Dillon had tried to approach Annie, wanting to comfort her in some way, but his words fell on deaf ears. She even told him to leave her alone, closing herself off the mind link in the process. As for the blacksmith himself, he needed something, anything, to talk about. That feeling of helplessness was crawling through his body and he needed to get away. So, he moved his tray over to Mikasa and Armin's table.
  
  "Hey, guys," he greeted. "Can I join you?"
  
  Armin glanced at Annie, then quickly looked back to Dillon, as if he'd accidently answered the question he'd been about to ask. "Sure." He shifted over to make room.
  
  Mikasa glanced up at the question, her movements not fluid and graceful like they usually were.
  
  "Thanks." He took a seat. "How are you two holding up?"
  
  "We're doing..." Armin deflated before he could even get the reflexive lie out. "We're doing."
  
  "Yeah, me too." Dillon glanced over at Mikasa. "Eren's going to make it through whatever the MPs throw at him."
  
  Mikasa gripped her fork a little tighter. Her fingers shook the implement ever so slightly. "Do you really think that?"
  
  He nodded. "Trust me. Mom's going to be right there with him."
  
  Mikasa made a small noise in the back of her throat and glanced around. "They tried to shoot him even when they needed him. These people... they're scared idiots..."
  
  "I can't exactly blame them," Dillon muttered, telepathically talking to them for a moment. "If word got out what I was, they'd be thrown into quite a frenzy then, too."
  
  " Someone who could see their corruption and ferret out their secrets? You're a threat they'd kill in a heartbeat." Mikasa set the fork down. " Or they'd try to use you. Either way, I wouldn't let it happen. I would..." Mikasa sighed. " I'd be useless in that situation too wouldn't I. Like I am now."
  
  " Well, if I ever need to be broken out of prison, I'll let you know."
  
  " We need to make sure it is kept secret," Armin reminded them, ever the source of logic. " There's not really anywhere to run and hide around here. And if the Titans attack again, and win, that ability to run and hide gets harder. We have to get them to see that Eren is useful. That's our only hope."
  
  "The dogs won't even part with their belongings to save their skins or others," Mikasa said.
  
  "What?" Armin asked.
  
  Dillon tilted his head. "What are you talking about?"
  
  "Just something during the attack."
  
  "Mikasa, what happened?" Armin pressed.
  
  Another sigh left her mouth. "The reason the evacuation took so long. There was a merchant trying to move all of his precious belongings through the gate. The carts were completely loaded down and too wide to get through. So, he stalled survivors trying to escape." Mikasa grimaced in frustration. "Those are the kinds of people with money and power around here."
  
  Dillon raised an eyebrow. "Wait, this merchant... was he an overweight, bald man?"
  
  "That could describe a lot of them," Armin found himself muttering.
  
  "He was."
  
  "And was this man saying he owned a bunch of companies in Trost?"
  
  Mikasa nodded. "He was pushing a lot of bullshit like that, yes."
  
  Dillon sighed. "I should've known. Dimo Reeves."
  
  "Who?"
  
  "You don't know who Reeves is?" Seeing their confused looks, he said, "Right. You're from Shiganshina. Reeves is the head of the Reeves Company, a merchant organization that's located in Trost and operates all over the Districts."
  
  Armin flinched. "That's not a good enemy to make." He looked to Mikasa. "What did you do?"
  
  "Made an enemy," Mikasa answered with a shrug.
  
  Armin put his face in his hand.
  
  "I'm guessing your charm included threatening his life?" Dillon guessed, praying he was wrong.
  
  His prayers weren't answered. "That and a sword."
  
  Now it was Dillon's turn to face-palm. "Great."
  
  Armin mumbled something unintelligible into his hand.
  
  "Then I had his cart tossed so people could get in. Lots of valuables in there. Since it was at the gate, what people didn't steal was probably destroyed by cannon fire." Mikasa looked somewhat pleased by the thought.
  
  "You're not helping your case," Dillon muttered. "It's 841 all over again."
  
  That piqued her interest. "Oh?"
  
  "The Reeves company is the import/export of Amsdale's Forge. They help us get materials and deliver our products and we pay them a reasonable sum. Simple as that. In July, we found out that we were getting less money from our products and all evidence pointed to the Reeves Company taking more than what they were owed."
  
  "What'd you do about it?" Armin asked.
  
  "I was eleven. I couldn't do anything, but my father took it to Reeves himself and... he may or may not have broken Dimo's nose."
  
  Mikasa smirked. "It couldn't have happened to a nicer man."
  
  Dillon fixed her a pointed look. "That stunt almost cost us our livelihoods, Mikasa."
  
  The smirk fell right off her face, her eyes drifting to her food.
  
  "He was ready to destroy our lives. Lawsuits, medical bills, ending the deal, it was a really bad time for us." He sighed. "Fortunately, thanks to the records we kept, my father managed to find out who were the ones in the company doing the skimming and made a deal with Dimo. Dad would pay for the medical bills, and, in exchange, Dimo would disown the thieves from the company and keep the original deal with us. If he didn't, word would get out how the Reeves Company were stealing money from everyone, whether it was true or not. They could destroy us, but we would take them down, too."
  
  Armin stared at him in shock. "Your father blackmailed him?"
  
  "Trust me. I'm not proud of it. Mom gave him quite the earful when she found out what he did, but there was no backing out." He fiddled with his fork. "My father made a mistake and it almost sunk us."
  
  Mikasa sighed, her eyes not leaving the food. "I was so angry. I wasn't thinking about the consequences. Battle makes those moments feel like they don't matter. Then we're back in the world where they do."
  
  "If it makes you feel better, a lot of witnesses saw what Dimo was doing. He tries to make a move against you, Trost comes after him."
  
  "I don't think it would be that simple." Armin finished off the last of his soup. Whereas most of the cadets seemed to lose their appetites, Armin ate more.
  
  Dillon shrugged. "We'll deal with that problem if the time comes."
  
  Before she could say anything in response, the door opened loudly with an officer standing in front of it. "Cadets Mikasa Ackerman, Armin Arlert, and Dillon Amsdale. Hop to!"
  
  The three cadets in question stood up and saluted. "Sir!"
  
  "You're ordered to attend and act as witnesses in today's deliberation!" he announced.
  
  "Sir, permission to attend as well?" Annie requested suddenly, getting up.
  
  The officer gave her a scrutinizing look before nodding. "Granted. Head on out."
  
  Quickly, the four cadets followed him outside where there was a carriage waiting for them.
  
  At first, Dillon was confused about why Annie was coming with them out of nowhere until he remembered Trost. "Annie, do you seriously think I'm gonna get myself into trouble?" Dillon asked, opening the carriage door and letting Armin and Mikasa in.
  
  "Dillon, you have a natural tendency to throw yourself into the thick of danger and hope for the best," Annie answered bluntly, giving him a pointed look. "I'm not about to let you get shot because of your recklessness."
  
  He let out an annoyed grunt as he stepped inside. "Great. You're turning into a bodyguard."
  
  "Use your head once in a while, and maybe I wouldn't have to be."
  
  A small smile, however, appeared on Armin's face. "Familiar, isn't it, Mikasa?"
  
  She fiddled with her scarf uncomfortably. "I'm not that bad."
  
  Ever the tactful one, Annie replied, "You're right. You're worse."
  
  "Excuse me, I've gotta pee," Eren stated.
  
  "No, you just went," one of the guards stated.
  
  The Shifter frowned. "Then can I have some water?"
  
  "Hey," the other guard cut in, having enough. "You're not getting a damn thing, got it!? Damn monster!"
  
  He was going sir-crazy after being in this cell for so long. It wouldn't have been that bad if he wasn't chained to the wall. He couldn't move from his bed, and he couldn't even stand. Every time he wanted to do something, he was forced to ask the guards that hated him to help him. His only hope for anything changing was the trial that was happening today.
  
  Can Mrs. Amsdale really help me? Eren asked himself. I mean, she seemed sincere, but-
  
  Whatever his thoughts were fled when he saw a female face slam in between the bars and stare at him like she was going to devour his soul. He let out a frightened gasp as he backed up quickly.
  
  For a moment, the woman with glasses just stared at him before grinning. "So, you're Eren. Are you well? How are things?"
  
  "Uh..." was all he could say.
  
  "I'm sorry you've been waiting so long," she said sincerely, "but here's your chance to finally get out."
  
  That got his attention as he breathed a sigh of relief.
  
  "One thing," she quickly pointed out as she pulled out a pair of shackles and held them out to him. "You'll have to put these on me, okay?"
  
  With a sigh, Eren nodded. At least he wouldn't be chained to the wall anymore.
  
  Pretty soon, he was released from those chains before getting attached to the new ones. He noticed that there was a blond-haired man with her, who was eying him suspiciously, but Eren ignored that. He figured he would have to get used to that treatment for a while. The woman, the man, and the two guards began escorting him out of the cell block with the woman striking up conversation.
  
  "My name is Zoë Hanji," she introduced. "Section Commander for the Scouts."
  
  Suddenly, Blond Man leaned down and started sniffing him.
  
  "This is a fellow commander, Mike Zacharias," Hanji added nonchalantly.
  
  Eren made his disgust known, trying to get away from him.
  
  She chuckled at that. "Oh, don't mind him. He has a habit of giving people a thorough sniff. Tends to laugh through his nose a bit, but I don't think that he intends it to be derisive."
  
  It didn't help that Mike chuckled, almost looking appreciative by his smell.
  
  I never thought I'd say this, but I think I want to go back to my cell. Eren thought, clearly uncomfortable to be around these people.
  
  "Quirks aside, he's still a skilled Section Commander," Hanji assured.
  
  Sure.... "So, uh, where's that woman that was going to represent me?" Eren asked.
  
  "Carolyn?" A grin appeared on her face. "Let me tell you something, Eren: you're being represented by the best lawyer in the Walls. If there's anyone that can get you into our good graces, it's her. Granted, she's the only lawyer we know, so there's that."
  
  "You know her?" he questioned, surprised.
  
  "I've seen a few of her trials. She's good." Then, she let out a sad sigh. "Aw, crap. I've been prattling on with small talk and now we're here."
  
  His eyes widened when he stared at the double doors in front of him. What?
  
  She shrugged. "Well, I'm sure it's fine. It's probably better if I don't explain anyway."
  
  The two guards moved in and started shoving Eren inside the doors, much to his displeasure.
  
  "Hey, hold on," he exclaimed, looking back.
  
  Hanji's expression turned completely serious. "It might seem callous, but remember: we've all put our faith in you, Eren. Best of luck." With that, she slammed the doors behind him despite his protests.
  
  Eren was forced to face forward and saw a staggering sight. The prison, or at least the holding cell he was held in, was underneath the courthouse, which was filled to the brim with people staring at him in complete silence. He stared down the aisle which ended with a podium that was meant for the judge and his aides. In the middle of it all was a pole that was clearly meant for restraining prisoners, meaning him. Standing near it was Carolyn, who was waiting for him. Her expression was completely neutral at the moment, making him hope he was right to trust her.
  
  Seeing that he wasn't moving, one of the guards shoved him forward with his rifle. "Move it!"
  
  Once they got close enough, the guards took off the pole and forced Eren to his knees. They put the pole back in the gap between his arms and back, restraining him completely. It was the most uncomfortable position he had ever been in, but he had to deal with it.
  
  To the right of him were the MPs, the merchants, and a few Wall Worshippers including the head one, Pastor Nick, wearing his usual black robes. The fact that these cultists gained so much influence over the years astounded him, meaning that he was in trouble. With them was the Commander of the Military Police, Nile Dok. The man had reputation of being cruel and short-tempered. What was interesting was that he was glaring at Carolyn, so he had no idea if that was good or bad for him.
  
  On the left were the Scouts, including Commander Erwin and Captain Levi. He was a little surprised that Commander Pixis was there as well, but given that it was his operation that helped seal the Wall, he might be there to vouch for Eren's skills. However, what caught him off guard was the fact that a few of his friends were here: Armin, Mikasa, Dillon, and even Annie. They had all come to see him... or maybe they were ordered to.
  
  Finally, the door opened near the judge's stand, revealing an older gentlemen with a gray beard and hair. His coat bore many medals, indicating that this man was Darius Zackley, the Commander-and-Chief of the Walls, and the one that held Eren's fate in his hands. Folding his jacket neatly and placing it on the stand, he sat down.
  
  "All right," Zackley started. "Shall we begin? Carolyn Amsdale, you have chosen to defend Eren Yeager. Is that correct?"
  
  "Unashamedly, Your Honor," she answered. "I believe that this is the right thing to do."
  
  This caused a few murmurs throughout the crowd and Nile cleared his throat to get her attention. "Carolyn. I see you're defending traitors instead of prosecuting soldiers. What happened?"
  
  "Today will determine whether that is the case or not, Mr. Dok," she stated in a clipped tone.
  
  Mr. Dok. Already, that carried so much meaning. She completely disregarded his rank.
  
  He furrowed his brow in confusion. "Whether or not what is the case?"
  
  "Whether or not Eren Yeager is actually a traitor. Please, keep up."
  
  Nile fixed a glare on her. "He's a Titan in human form. How is he not a traitor?"
  
  "Order!" Zackley interrupted, though Carolyn caught a very quick twinkle of amusement in his eye. "Mrs. Amsdale, are you fully aware of what will happen to you if you lose this case?"
  
  Eren's eyes widened a bit. Carolyn never mentioned that she would be punished if she lost, too.
  
  "Yes, Your Honor," she answered, "and it's a risk I'm willing to take."
  
  He sighed. "Very well. The revelation of Eren Yeager's existence could not be contained. In the end, we need to publicly disclose the facts to the people, or we will be facing widespread civil unrest. The regiment that I will place you in will determine your fate: Military Police, or the Scout Regiment. To begin, the Military Police will make their statement. Commander Dok, if you would."
  
  "Yes, your Honor," Nile said. "Our recommendation is that, following a thorough investigation into Cadet Yeager and his anatomy, he be terminated immediately." He looked at the report before looking back to Eren. "While his presence and abilities did assist us in this recent campaign to reclaim Trost district, as previously stated, his mere existence is causing rebellious and seditious thoughts and speech. After gathering everything we can for him, we would see him made a fallen warrior for Humanity."
  
  "Unacceptable!" Pastor Nick exclaimed. "This verminous fiend has defiled the mighty Wall; therefore-"
  
  "Pastor, please control yourself," Carolyn requested, her annoyance for the head Wall Worshipper made clear. "This verminous fiend has fixed up the mighty Wall. If anything, you should be thanking my client."
  
  The pastor started sputtering angrily. "How-how dare you speak to me that way, you immoral whore?"
  
  "Says the pastor who just called me a whore. Truly, you are the bigger man here."
  
  "Your grievances with each other will have to wait," Zackley demanded, but he stared directly at Nick, "but if you call her a whore again, Pastor, you will be thrown out of here. Am I understood?"
  
  "Y-Yes, Your Honor," he stuttered, giving the stink-eye to a smirking Carolyn.
  
  "Now, I would like to hear the Scout Regiment's Proposal. Commander Erwin?"
  
  "Yes, sir," Erwin replied, taking a step forward. "I, Erwin Smith, as commander of the Survey Corps, propose the following: We welcome Cadet Yeager into our ranks. Reinstate him as a soldier and the Scouts will utilize his Titan abilities to retake wall Maria."
  
  While the people were whispering among themselves, the Commander-in-Chief asked, "Is that it?"
  
  "Yes, sir," Erwin answered. "With his assistance, I am wholly convinced we can retake wall Maria. Ergo, I think our top priority is perfectly clear."
  
  "Quite bold," Zackley responded. "Assuming you were given clearance, where do you plan to launch this operation from? Commander Pixis, the gates in Trost have been completely sealed. Is that correct?"
  
  "Yes," Pixis answered in a grave voice. "I doubt its gates will ever open again."
  
  "We will depart from Karanes district to the east," Erwin explained. "From there we will move towards Shiganshina. A new route can be established as we move and-"
  
  "That's preposterous!" a merchant interrupted. "Our time and money is best-spent sealing up all the gates. They're the only parts of the Wall that the Colossal Titan can break, right? Let's reinforce the damn things and wash our hands of the entire affair!"
  
  "Shut up, you merchant dog," a Scout shouted. "With this power, we can finally return to Wall Maria!"
  
  "We can't afford anymore childish antics or delusions of grandeur," that same merchant shot back.
  
  Carolyn was about to interject, getting a headache, but someone spoke up.
  
  "Squealing louder won't help your case, pig." Levi interjected. "While we're bolstering our defenses, do you think the Titans are going to stand idly by? And when you say 'we', are you speaking for anyone besides than you and the other fat merchants?"
  
  Carolyn gave an appreciative nod to the captain. She could always count on him to take the MPs and the merchants down a peg, but enough was enough. "Your Honor, if we can please focus on the matter at hand?"
  
  Zackley slammed his hand down several times, catching everyone's attention. "Enough! Save your squabbles for a more appropriate setting." Once they've been sufficiently cowed, except Levi, he addressed Carolyn. "Do you wish to answer a question I have for Mr. Yeager, Mrs. Amsdale?"
  
  "Eren?" Carolyn questioned. "It's up to you."
  
  "I'll answer it, sir," Eren said, understandably confused by what was occurring.
  
  "Mr. Yeager, as a soldier you have made a solemn pledge to answer humanity's call! Can you still serve by controlling your ability?"
  
  Don't lie, Eren. Carolyn pleaded inwardly. Tell the truth.
  
  "Yes! I will sir!"
  
  I can work with that.
  
  "Really?" Zackley asked skeptically. "The mission report I have from Trost contradicts that statement. After transforming, you tried to crush Mikasa Ackerman."
  
  "Your Honor, he's aware of that," Carolyn stated. "I informed him."
  
  "I wasn't in control at the time, sir." Eren explained. "But as soon as I regained control, I was able to seal the wall effectively."
  
  Carolyn flashed him a quick smile of approval. He listened. She had too many bad experiences where her clients thought they knew better.
  
  "Where is this Mikasa Ackerman?" Zackley questioned, scanning the courtroom.
  
  "Here, sir," Mikasa said, raising her hand as she glared at Rico, who filed that report.
  
  "Did Eren Yeager assault you in Titan Form?" he questioned.
  
  Carolyn noticed Nile Dok was ready to pounce on something. Oh, Nile. You think you have us beat. How adorable.
  
  "Yes... he did, your Honor," Mikasa answered hesitantly, "but prior to that, he saved me twice using his abilities! Once when I was about to be attacked, and then again when we were about to be shot with a cannon. I'd like for you to take that into consideration."
  
  Come on, Nile. Don't disappoint me. She taunted.
  
  "Objection," Nile called. "I have evidence and a reason to believe that Cadet Ackerman's testimony may be biased!"
  
  Gotcha! "Objection!" Carolyn shot back, keeping a neutral expression. "While we can only take her word for it on the first instance, there were at least forty witnesses for the second one. Mr. Dok, do you think the Garrison Troops will all be biased as well?"
  
  "You mean the Garrison troops who saw him summon a Titan body from nothing?" he shot back.
  
  "It protected Mikasa Ackerman, did it not?" she asked simply.
  
  Nile growled, but he didn't have a single response to counter it. "That doesn't change what kind of person Yeager is!"
  
  I knew he would bring this up. "Then please enlighten the court, Mr. Dok. What kind of person is Eren Yeager?"
  
  "A killer," he stated coldly, picking up a piece of paper. "After the Yeager family adopted Mikasa Ackerman, we launched a full investigation into the circumstances behind it. Eren Yeager and Mikasa Ackerman, at the tender age of nine, took down three adult kidnappers by stabbing them to death."
  
  There were a lot of concerned murmurs at that statement, but Carolyn crossed her arms. "Would you rather let the kidnappers sell them like human property to be abused and molested, Mr. Dok?"
  
  Nile winced from that underhanded blow. "No. But the fact that this boy decided to take the law into his own hands and kill three people rather than wait for the proper authorities, who arrived soon after the incident, combined with the fact he can barely control his abilities, supports the fact that he is dangerous."
  
  "So, attempting to dissect said dangerous boy is a clever idea?" she retorted.
  
  "The process would be carried out under heavy guard and with the boy under anesthesia," he assured.
  
  Carolyn sighed, deciding to compose herself. "Mr. Dok, and everyone else, I think you have all forgotten crucial details regarding my client."
  
  "Like what?" Nile asked angrily.
  
  "Let's look at the facts, and I'll go slow just for you."
  
  "Might want to make sure it's slow enough for the pigs to understand as well," Levi suggested.
  
  "Thank you for your suggestion, Captain, but I believe we would be here for the next two hours," Carolyn replied.
  
  "Mrs. Amsdale, if you please?" Zackley interrupted.
  
  "Fact Number 1: Eren Yeager is a Soldier. He has trained in the 104th Training Corps for three years and graduated in the Top 10. And despite the opportunity to live the luxurious life of an MP, safe from harm and worries, he has chosen to fight Titans instead. That should speak volumes about his character."
  
  Thank you, Mrs. Amsdale. Eren thought to himself with a slight smile on his face.
  
  "Fact Number 2: Eren Yeager can transform into a Titan. While I will concede that his lack of control as of right now is troubling, I believe he possesses the willpower to control his emotions and remain focused. If I was wrong, we would all be dead and the Titans would have taken over Wall Rose by now!
  
  "Fact Number 3: Eren Yeager is a fifteen-year-old boy, and he has done more for humanity than any of have in the last 50 years. He has gone through Hell several times in the last six years. He lost his parents in Shiganshina, he was forced to kill two kidnappers at age nine, he was eaten by a Titan, and was almost killed by the people he swore to protect, and despite all of that, he did something no one has done for us as of late: he gave us hope. Hope that we can finally fight back against the Titans. He sealed up the Wall and saved our lives. Instead of condemning him to death, we should be thanking him for his service. With all that said..." To everyone's astonishment, Carolyn turned around and saluted Eren. "... Thank you, Eren Yeager, for saving humanity."
  
  "That's a mighty fine salute," Pixis commented quietly, his respect for her all too apparent.
  
  Everyone's eyes were wide at what just transpired before them, save for Levi and Erwin, both of whom looked rather apathetic to what was going on. Murmurs started running through the crowd about how she was right and the fact that Eren could help. Meanwhile, Nile and the reverend were looking around at the others in confusion.
  
  " She has a flair for the dramatic," Annie noted.
  
  " That's my mom for you," Dillon replied. "Puts on a performance of a lifetime and the people will find her more favorable."
  
  "Mrs. Amsdale," Zackley intoned. "While you make good points, you have yet to address the crucial one."
  
  Carolyn faltered, but it was so subtle, no one could see it. "Yes, Your Honor?"
  
  "How can we trust that Eren Yeager will not lose control at another crucial moment?"
  
  Uh oh. Carolyn thought as she backed up, giving an apologetic look to her client. She knew what was about to happen. "I'm sorry, Eren."
  
  Eren gave her a confused look. "Sorry for-"
  
  He was cut off by a foot slamming directly into his face. It was strong enough to send a tooth flying out of his mouth. Eren looked the assailant, who was Levi, in shock only to get kicked in the ribs twice. He finished it off by slamming his foot onto his head, practically making him eat the ground he walked on.
  
  "Eren," Mikasa exclaimed, murder in her eyes. She stood up to go save him, but Armin held her back. It wouldn't do her any good if she tried to kill Humanity's Strongest Soldier.
  
  "Personally, I live under the philosophy that showing is better than telling," Levi said coldly as he kicked Eren a few more times.
  
  "Levi, wait," Nile protested, eyes wide with fear.
  
  Levi pressed his foot against Eren's face and asked, as if bored, "What?"
  
  "If you keep this up, he'll... he'll transform."
  
  "Is that so?" Another kick. "You wanted to dissect him, Nile. Where was your concern then?" He grabbed Eren by the hair and held his beaten face for all to see. "I heard that when he was a Titan, Eren took out 20 Titans before collapsing from exhaustion. His intelligence makes him dangerous, but he doesn't have the experience I have. Killing the brat won't be an issue if he gets out of hand. Can any of you say the same? Is that enough for you?"
  
  Zackley nodded. "Considering all the evidence and the testimonies, I hereby transfer Eren Yeager to the custody of the Scouting Regiment, effective immediately! Should Eren Yeager prove his worth, humanity will accept him. If not, he will be transferred to the Military Police. This court is adjourned."
  
  Carolyn breathed a sigh of relief and ran to Eren's aid. "Eren, are you all right?"
  
  "Hurts," he answered.
  
  "That was the point," Levi said.
  
  Carolyn rolled her eyes. "I'll be with you all in a bit. I have a few people I need to speak with."
  
  "Thank you, Mrs. Amsdale," Eren quickly said.
  
  "Anytime, Eren," she replied with a smile.
  
  Picking up her briefcase, she walked over to Dillon, who embraced her. "Thank God you're safe."
  
  "Hey, Mom," he said with a grin. "You have no idea how much I missed seeing these."
  
  Carolyn shrugged. "Just another day on the job for me." She looked at the MPs with concern. "Though I think they might be a little ticked this time." For now, she put it aside and asked, "Are you and your girlfriend able to make it for dinner?"
  
  "Yes," he assured. "Bring out your best work. I want this dinner to be a memorable one."
  
  She smiled. "It already is. My little Dillon has grown up."
  
  He blushed furiously, thankful that Annie was talking to Armin and Mikasa. "Mom..."
  
  "Sorry. I'll see you two tonight."
  
  First things first: she needed water. As she poured some in the cup from a nearby pitcher, she noticed the MPs giving her the evil eye. Considering how many corrupt officers she helped put away, that wasn't surprising; however, these carried a lot more weight. In their eyes, she defended a Titan, the sworn enemy of humanity. She had a sinking feeling that this might be the case that will push them over the edge, and if that happened...
  
  She shook her head, trying to rid herself of such thoughts. This happened often after the trials she won, and it was no different now. Her name would still be tarnished by the MPs, but they wouldn't try anything... hopefully.
  
  Once she made sure she wasn't needed for anything else, Carolyn entered the private room Erwin managed to get. She almost ran into Hanji, who was holding a tooth while running outside, claiming that she needed a bag. "Sorry I'm late."
  
  "You're quite alright," Erwin assured as she closed the door. "We were simply explaining our strategy to Eren."
  
  "How are you feeling, Eren?" she asked, still concerned for him.
  
  "Sore," the Titan Shifter answered.
  
  She sighed. "Sorry I didn't warn you about that. It kind of slipped my mind."
  
  "And here I thought you were the smart one," Levi snarked.
  
  Carolyn rolled her eyes, sitting down next to him. "Normally, I wouldn't do this, but I need to ask a favor of you."
  
  "Go on," Erwin said.
  
  "Tensions are usually bad between the MPs and my family, but this trial made things far worse than before." She sighed, massaging her forehead as she tried to hide her anxiety. "I know I sound paranoid, but... if anything happens to Matthew and I-."
  
  "Your son is one of us, Mrs. Amsdale," Erwin told her. "We'll do what we can to help him if the worst happens."
  
  "... And if someone tries to get to me through him-."
  
  "You really think we'd let some asshole kill him?" Levi interrupted. "They'll be Titan vomit by sundown."
  
  She nodded as she stood up. "Thanks for your help in there."
  
  "Try not to sound like an actress attempting to win an award next time and we'll be even."
  
  "How about I rope you two into having dinner at my house instead?" Carolyn suggested the captain and the commander.
  
  "You've been asking us for years," Erwin told her with a little bit of mirth in his tone.
  
  "And you've been dodging me for years."
  
  "Sorry, but we'd rather get killed by Titans, not by food poisoning," Levi said.
  
  She rolled her eyes. "You're hilarious, Levi. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to beat my son and his girlfriend home so I can get dinner started."
  
  "Go," Erwin insisted.
  
  "It was nice to meet you Eren," Carolyn said warmly. "Good luck out there."
  
  "Thank you," the boy replied as she left. "I can't believe someone like her exists in Wall Sina," he replied.
  
  "She's a rare breed in Sina, but let's focus on the matter at hand," Levi grunted.
  
  "Uh, right," Eren responded nervously.
  
  Remastered Edits: So, something my co-writer pointed out to me was that Annie was still going through a lot after Trost; therefore, she wouldn't be in the right mindset to try and cheer Dillon up. So, I decided to replace that with bonding time with Mikasa and Armin. I also added more of Levi when it came to beating up Eren. Carolyn addressed most of the worries except for the most crucial one. I also cut out unnecessary statements from the last part of this chapter.
  
  I hope you all enjoyed this and I shall see you all in the next chapter.
  
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  The Next Step
  AN: As promised, the new title page has arrived. Please look up Dreamangel-ren on Deviantart and support her.
  
  I apologize once again for keeping you all waiting. Lots of things happened. I went to my very first anime convention, got some things signed by the voice actors who did Annie (YES!), Ymir, and the Beast Titan, I had to house sit for over a week, but in the end, I didn't exactly focus on this story. However, during this time, I made a very important decision: I turned off my Patron account and removed the moments where I tried to link you guys to it in previous chapters.
  
  I went into that account very naïve and ignorant about what I was doing, and I needed to be called out on it which my co-writer ended up doing. Making money off of YouTube video reviews is one thing. It's your own content. However, making money off of Fanfiction, where you are piggyback riding on borrowed material and using at least half of the scenes and lines from the anime, it's unethical. Once again, I thank Necromancy101 for being a friend that was willing to call me out on what I was doing. I made a mistake, and I rectified it. Any money given to me was returned (granted, it was one patron, but still.) I hope you all understand, and I am sorry for making that decision in the first place.
  
  Also, if anyone who is reading this currently makes money off of their Fanfiction, just keep in mind that due diligence must be done to the original creator and their work must be supported first and foremost. It is our duty as fans who are borrowing their stories to pay them homage. That's is all I will say on the matter.
  
  In the meantime, we have a chapter to get to.
  
  Chapter 15: The Next Step
  
  Back before he enlisted, Dillon always found carriage rides boring. The way they moved so slow through the districts annoyed the hell out of him. Now, though, he didn't mind boring. It gave him time to process so many things, like the fact that he was going to introduce Annie to his family. He wasn't worried that they wouldn't like Annie; he was more concerned with how many jokes they were going to make at his expense.
  
  Just roll with it. He coached himself. Besides, I'm an Amsdale. I can take a joke.
  
  Yarckel was quite different from the other districts. Located on the west edge of Wall Sina, the town was where most of the industry happened. It wasn't just weapons being manufactured. Building materials for homes, packaging meat and other foods properly for the safety of the consumers, creating and fine-tuning the ODM gear, and much more. Considering how much the people of the Walls depended on these things, the workers were paid handsomely for their services. To many people, they have earned their keep.
  
  Dillon's heart skipped a beat when he saw the familiar street. The reality of returning home was hitting him with the force of a Titan's fist. Three years was a long time, and he was worried about how things have changed. Still, part of his anxiety was curbed after seeing his mom in action. She still had it.
  
  Once the carriage came to a complete stop in front of his house, Dillon opened the door, taking in the atmosphere of his old home. "Welcome to Amsdale's Forge, Annie!" He breathed in the familiar air and let it out. "It's good to be home."
  
  Annie hopped out and looked up at the building. "Sure is nice to live in the Interior," she said in a bland tone.
  
  "Well, that's what you get to look forward to now."
  
  Annie smirked a bit. "That a proposal or are you just talking about the food?"
  
  He tilted his head in confusion. "Uh, I meant since you're joining the Military Police, you get to live in the Interior."
  
  "Too easy," she muttered.
  
  "I don't understand," her clueless boyfriend said.
  
  "Guess you don't." She put her hands in her pockets. "So, do we knock?"
  
  "Considering that the bottom floor is the store, no." He opened the door, a bell ringing in response with his girlfriend following him quietly.
  
  Finally, Annie found the person to put to his name. He had a very good physique, confirming that Dillon did indeed train under him. His brown hair was well-kept, and there was a small beard on his face. He managed to make the unshaven face look nice.
  
  "Welcome to Amsdale's Forge! You looking to-" Matthew stopped what he was doing and stared at his son in surprise. "Dillon?"
  
  "Hi, Dad. I'm home," he said sheepishly.
  
  The older man closed the distance between them, wrapping him in a tight embrace. "Thank God you're all right!"
  
  "I'm alive, Pops," he assured. "I'm alive."
  
  Annie stared at the two quietly, an unmoving statue just standing in the entryway.
  
  She got noticed when Matthew's eyes drifted to her. "Give me a second, Dillon." Releasing him, Matthew walked over to her while clearing his throat. "I'm sorry, Miss. How can I help you?"
  
  Her reaction was delayed, as though he shook her out of a daze. Then, she looked him up and down. "I'm with him," she said with a jerk of her head.
  
  Matthew's eyes widened in surprise. "Wait... you're Annie Leonhart? The one that my son liked to write about in his letters?"
  
  "Didn't Mom tell you we were coming?" Dillon asked, confused.
  
  "Of... Of course." The older man shook his head in annoyance. "I've been in the Forge too long." He held his hand out. "Matthew Amsdale."
  
  Annie looked down at it for beat, then withdrew one hand from her parka to take Matthew's. "Letter Girl," she deadpanned.
  
  "Catchy name."
  
  "I guess so." She pulled her hand back, a slight smirk coming to her face. "Exactly what was in these letters?"
  
  "Lots of things, actually." His own smirk was much wider.
  
  And it begins. Dillon grumbled to himself.
  
  "Why don't you show Annie around the shop?" Matthew suggested heading to a back door. "I'm gonna go check and see if his mother is finished with dinner.
  
  "Uh, sure." Once the man was gone, Dillon gestured around him. "So... this is the shop. What do you think?"
  
  Annie craned her head to look around. "It's different than I imagined." She walked over to one of the walls and inspected the display.
  
  Her eyes swept the line of weapons, and she paused at one in particular, something that seemed outside the norm. Her cold eyes reflected the gleam of the metal and she leaned in close. It was a hammer like object with a spike on one end. Definitely not a typical weapon to be used. "It's a war hammer," Annie said softly. "May I?"
  
  Dillon had a feeling she would be drawn to that first. Most customers were. "Of course. Be careful. It's a bit heavy."
  
  She hefted it easily, but she didn't swing it. Instead, she guided it through the air in slow motions, then ran her fingers over it. "You family made this?"
  
  "Yeah, we did," Dillon answered, walking over to her. "One of the hardest projects we've ever done. Getting the weight right, using the right amount of resources, it was a challenge."
  
  "Why?" Annie said, then paused. "It's not a very... practical weapon in the interior, is it?" She reached up and pointed out the spike on one end. "This is for piercing armor. It wouldn't do a thing against titan skin. Then there's this." She tapped the head itself. "This will kill any unarmored person by cracking their skull. But even if you wore a helmet, the stress it would put on the head and the neck... are you expecting armored opponents?"
  
  He chuckled at how her mind was trying to process its existence in the shop. "No. We built three of them. This was the first, and the other two were commissioned by weapon collectors."
  
  Annie set it back into place. "Did they commission it after they saw this piece and wanted it for themselves?"
  
  "Yes. We didn't sell them this one because..." He sighed wistfully. "It was the first project my dad and I did together." He traced his hands over it. "Heavy materials, trying over and over to get the right shape, so many burns and scratches, but we came out on top in the end."
  
  "It's a hard piece for a first time."
  
  She scanned the wall, seemingly unaware she'd become more talkative and less guarded. "This I can understand." She traced the dull side of a long falcata almost to the tip. "It's designed for flesh and light armor."
  
  "Do you like it?"
  
  "Very much," she murmured. "It's practical. Not for ceremonial use or mere dueling." She gestured to a set of thinner blades nearby.
  
  "Would you like to have it?" he offered.
  
  "Huh?" She blinked as though brought out of focus for a moment. "What?"
  
  Dillon detached the sheath from the wall. "You like it, and I want to give it to you. Consider it a late birthday present for you."
  
  She gaped at him in disbelief. "That sword has to be worth more than all I own and the clothes on my back."
  
  "I've got it covered," he promised, putting the falcata in the sheath and handing it to her.
  
  She took it gingerly and stared at the sheathed weapon. "It's beautiful." Then she shook her head. "Where would I keep...?" Her practical side warred with a side of her Dillon didn't know she had. "I'll make it work." Her fingers tensed and relaxed and she clutched the weapon to her chest. "Thank you."
  
  He smiled back. "You're welcome, Annie."
  
  "Come on up, kids! Dinner's on," Matthew yelled from upstairs.
  
  "Coming, Dad!" Dillon called back. "Annie, leave the falcata here. We'll get it on our way out."
  
  "Kids," Annie scoffed under her breath as she took his advice. "Anything I should know before I stick my head in the wolves' den?"
  
  Dillon chuckled, leading her up the stairs. "You'll be fine, Annie. If anything, I'm gonna be the one on the chopping block."
  
  Her smirk was short-lived as she said, "Wait," while grabbing his shoulder.
  
  He stopped, looking down at her. "What's wrong?"
  
  "Dillon... are you still going to join the Scouts?" Annie asked.
  
  The blacksmith was tempted to tell her that now wasn't the time to ask that, but he just decided to nod. "I can save more lives that way."
  
  "If you're sure," she responded with a sigh.
  
  "You're upset with my decision."
  
  "A little," she admitted. "I know I pushed you to join, but that was before Rose got invaded."
  
  Dillon resisted the urge to groan. "In other words, we're back to square one."
  
  She shrugged. "I guess you could say that."
  
  He sighed, leaning against the wall. "Ugh."
  
  "Let's not ruin dinner with that, though," she said, wishing she didn't bring it up.
  
  "Yeah, we can discuss it later," he agreed, opening the door to the dining room.
  
  Basic tables were made of dull wood and the chairs would be no different. The wood for the table, however, almost seemed like it could reflect the sun when it would shine through the windows. One could imagine how much work went into creating one. Even the chairs seemed to be of the same design with padding on the seats no less.
  
  "There you are," Carolyn greeted once they entered the dining room, hiding their dishes under lids. "Glad you two could make it."
  
  "Hi, Mom," Dillon said, gesturing to his girlfriend. "This is Annie Leonhart."
  
  She walked up to the blonde, holding out her hand. "A pleasure to meet you at last, Annie."
  
  Annie reached out her hand. She at first went for a firm grip, then found herself second-guessing the move, leading to the most awkward mid-change handshake she'd ever been a part of. "Hi. Uh, I'm Annie... Leonhart... like he said."
  
  She smiled sweetly at her, letting go. "You two hungry?"
  
  Dillon breathed in the fumes of the familiar food, his mouth watering. "Three years since I've eaten in Yarckel."
  
  "Try my whole life," Annie said under her breath. She tried not to look impressed, failing miserably.
  
  "You can relax, Annie," Carolyn assured. "No one's going to bite."
  
  Annie gave a stiff nod.
  
  "So, how did you beat us here?" Dillon wondered. "I know we left before you."
  
  "I borrowed a horse," she answered. "It was a lot faster than a carriage."
  
  Fair enough. "Well, we're ready to eat!" Dillon announced, clapping his hands with excitement.
  
  "Uh-uh," Carolyn said sternly. "Wash your hands first, young man. You, too, Annie."
  
  He made his way over to the faucet. Oi, I have not missed being told to do something that is so simple .
  
  "Hear it is," Matthew said, holding out one of the letters.
  
  Dillon's eyes widened. "Dad, please don't!"
  
  "Oh, I want to hear this," Annie stated with an evil smirk.
  
  All Dillon could do was glare at Annie as his father read his first letter.
  
  "Let's see, let's see. Ah, here we go. This letter is dated to when you two first met."
  
  Once he finished washing his hands, Dillon was looking for an escape route, but there was none to be had. He was trapped in the bowels of humiliation.
  
  Annie washed her hands quickly and practically ran to the table.
  
  '"Today, I had my first day of combat training, and I came across the creepiest girl I've ever seen,"' he read.
  
  Dillon buried his face in his hands, sinking into his chair.
  
  '"I mean, she looked nice and all, but her eyes. Cold and unnerving. One would think she was about to kill someone at a moment's notice.'"
  
  "Night is still young," she commented, glaring at Dillon.
  
  '"She calls herself Annie Leonhart, easily the-"'
  
  "No!" Dillon interrupted. "Do not finish that sentence."
  
  "The what?" Annie asked, having a feeling she knew what was at the end of the sentence.
  
  Matthew went on as if nothing happened, enjoying this immensely. '"-easily the second shortest person I've seen here.'"
  
  There was a loud thumping as Dillon hit his head on the table.
  
  "Short, huh?" Annie repeated, eye twitching.
  
  "Honey, that's enough," Carolyn scolded, snatching the letter from him.
  
  "And there goes my fun," Matthew lamented, though he was still smiling.
  
  "Annie, please don't be upset at him," she urged.
  
  "Oh, don't worry," she assured, smiling wide. "I won't do anything... yet."
  
  Matthew brought out another one. "There's more where that came from."
  
  "Matthew," Carolyn warned. "You're getting the couch if-"
  
  "Trust me, honey. It'll be worth it." He opened it up. '"Dad, I need your help. Remember that Annie girl I told you about? I want you to send over two boot knifes that I've made for her birthday. I think someone like her would like a gift that has a practical use. You're probably wondering why I'm doing this for her. See, the thing is I want to brighten up her day a little. When I talk to her, she seems sad most of the time, and I feel bad that I can't do anything about it. I only made her laugh once, and that was nearly a year ago. I just want to make her happy just once and let her know that I care about how she feels. I want to see her smile. I bet you anything it's a beautiful smile."
  
  He did indeed receive a smile and a blush from said girl as she looked away.
  
  Balancing humiliation with heartwarming content. Well played, Pops. Dillon thought.
  
  "Thank you for saving my son's life, Matthew," Carolyn said in a deadpan.
  
  He chuckled. "I may be cruel, but I'm not that cruel."
  
  "All right. Let's dig in!" Carolyn removed each of the lids, revealing fresh boar steak, surrounded by green beans, potatoes, and corn coated with lemon-brown butter dressing.
  
  Annie unconsciously licked her lips. She hadn't had meat in years.
  
  "First things first." Matthew stood up, raising his glass. "A toast to the men and women who fought in Trost to keep humanity safe. May the survivors find solace, and may the dead be at peace, knowing that their deaths were not meaningless."
  
  "Here, here," Dillon said, clinking his glass with them.
  
  "H-here here," Annie agreed, clinking her glass with theirs quickly before gulping down a drink.
  
  Dillon took a sip and instantly winced. "I am not gonna be a drinker any time soon."
  
  Once they all sat down, they dug into their meal.
  
  One bite of the steak made Annie's eyes widen. She chewed slowly, savoring the taste and trying not to make any noise. The moment she swallowed, she looked to Dillon. "I owe Sasha an apology. She isn't crazy."
  
  He grinned, knowing that not even his stoic girlfriend could remain that way after having meat like that.
  
  "You like it?" Carolyn asked, hoping she did.
  
  "Yes." Annie was already cutting herself another piece.
  
  "Careful, Annie," Matthew warned. "Some of it is getting in your mouth."
  
  In a choice between glaring, giving a biting comment, and eating, Annie chose the latter.
  
  Dillon rolled his eyes, but he changed the subject. "So, how have things been in Yarckel while I was away?"
  
  "I hired a couple of experienced smiths to help me out with the Forge temporarily," Matthew said.
  
  "Temporarily?" Dillon asked.
  
  Matthew sighed. "They thought it best to leave after a couple of months."
  
  A frown creased the boy's features. "Sorry, Dad."
  
  "Downsides of being an Amsdale?" Annie decided to ask.
  
  "Unfortunately," Carolyn admitted. "My job does not make it easy on Matthew and Dillon."
  
  "There's a reason I had my education at home," Dillon added, sounding a bit glum.
  
  That explains a lot. Annie gazed at Carolyn. "Why do it? If it causes you grief, then maybe you should consider another line of work that doesn't involve putting your lives in danger."
  
  The bluntness surprised Carolyn, but she didn't think too much about it. "Because if I don't do it, things will remain the same. More MPs will continue to abuse their power and hurt the people that get in their way. I know what I do is dangerous, but it's something that has to be done."
  
  Annie's look seemed to bore into Carolyn until Matthew decided to change the subject.
  
  "I can't believe the Titans got in again," he said.
  
  "That Colossal son of a bitch," Dillon growled. "One minute he's there, and the next, he's gone after making a hole in the wall."
  
  "You saw him?" Carolyn asked, worried.
  
  "He was hard to miss," he replied, not wanting to give details.
  
  "Honestly, your mother and I are relieved you made it out alive," Matthew said.
  
  "You and me both." Dillon would never forget that moment for as long as he lived.
  
  "Can you imagine having that power?" Matthew asked. "To transform into a Titan?"
  
  Dillon shook his head. "Pass. I wouldn't be able to handle the power. I think I'd be freaking out for days."
  
  Carolyn couldn't help but notice Annie had a downcast expression on her face now. "Annie, are you okay?"
  
  "We lost good friends that day," Annie answered quietly. "Eren couldn't save all of them."
  
  Matthew sighed. "It's a terrible price to pay and I'm sorry you two had to go through that."
  
  That downed Dillon's mood instantly as the memories of his fallen comrades came into his mind. "Thomas Wagner, Mina Carolina, Vaughn Hoffer, Elsa Glöckner, and Marco Bodt are the people I can think of at the top of my head. They were good people that were gone too soon."
  
  "They'll be happy knowing that the battle is over and that the Titans can't get through for a while," Carolyn said as she looked to her son. "Dillon, have you decided what you're going to do now?"
  
  Dillon didn't want to face Annie, wanting to stand firm in his decision. "I'm going to join the Scouts like I originally planned."
  
  Carolyn's sadness was very apparent. "There's no shame in the Garrison."
  
  "And work with a coward like Voormin?" he growled. "Not a chance in hell." He composed himself quickly so he didn't go off on a tangent. "You all know what I can do. I was able to give the Titan a hard time out there. I killed some of them." His eyes brightened up a bit as he spoke, his eyes fixed on Carolyn. "After all that, how can I not go through with my plan? If I do nothing to help people with my powers in the best way possible... then I don't deserve them."
  
  Annie didn't respond to that, though her normally cold eyes were now tinged with melancholy. "You really believe that, don't you?"
  
  Dillon nodded. "Yes."
  
  Matthew sighed, but he was expression was that of understanding. "We had a feeling you would say that, and we'll still support your decision."
  
  Dillon looked at them, a little surprised. "You guys aren't mad at my decision?"
  
  "Son, you're an adult now," Matthew stated. "This is your life, and you're free to choose how you live it. I think you've made a good decision. Granted, we're very worried about your safety, but we'll support your decision. Honestly, I think it's better than joining the Military Police."
  
  That made him smile a little. "Thank you."
  
  "So, Annie, what made you decide to enlist in the MPs?" Carolyn asked.
  
  Swallowing her meat, Annie said, "Because I want to survive. Staying in the Interior means I'll stay as far away from those Titans as I can. Not everyone has an ability that can put the odds in their favor."
  
  "I see," Carolyn replied. "Just be careful. It's easy to become... complacent in that line of work."
  
  Annie stopped, putting her fork down. The icy look had returned, now directed at Carolyn's mother. "What, you're planning on arresting me, too? Another corrupt MP to add to your collection?"
  
  "Annie," Dillon said quickly, taking her hand into his. He needed to salvage this situation before things got out of hand. "She didn't mean it like that. Before I left for training, they warned me about not falling into a bad crowd. You know how that is, right?"
  
  At the urging of her boyfriend, she started to calm down a bit despite the thoughts in her head about his mother. "Sorry. Shouldn't have said that."
  
  "It's my fault. Dillon trusts you and I shouldn't have implied that there was a chance you would..." Carolyn let out a sigh. "I don't care how many MPs I've managed to convict over the years, Annie. We all know how bad things are in that regiment. When MPs abuse citizens, I need to stand up for them."
  
  "And how many clients survive you standing up for them?" Annie asked.
  
  Carolyn hesitated before speaking again. "Sometimes, they'll try to intimidate my clients to stay quiet or call off the whole thing. Their families, their friends, their businesses... it's all fair game to them, and there's no concrete proof linking them to the crimes." Then, a small fire appeared in her eyes. "But if I let them intimidate me, intimidate the people I'm trying to help, the Military Police wins. I will never let them do that."
  
  Annie locked eyes with her almost like she was having a staring contest. "Then you'll be happy to know I'll be keeping my nose clean." It was small, but the edge was there.
  
  Once again, Matthew was there to turn things around. "Well, it's nice to know we'll have another friend in the MPs."
  
  She raised her eyebrows. "Another?"
  
  "Not all MPs are horrible people," Dillon pointed out.
  
  "Corporal Kyler Hauer," Carolyn explained, feeling a bit more relaxed. "She's a good woman. It's thanks to her I was able to help indict many of the corrupted officers. She wants to fix the Military Police as much as I do.
  
  "Unfortunately, Annie's stationed in Stohess," Dillon told them.
  
  "So is Kyler," Matthew said.
  
  His eyes widened. "Wait, what? When did that happen?"
  
  "A month ago, Kyler was approved a transfer," Carolyn explained. "She thinks that Stohess has a lot more corruption than Yarckel now, so she's going to try and straighten the MPs out over there. You can trust that woman with your life, Annie."
  
  An idea came to Dillon with this new information. "You know, while I'm in the Scouts, I could send letters to Annie through her."
  
  "That's a good idea," Annie admitted, "provided I don't put her in danger."
  
  "Talk to Kyler and ask for advice on that," Carolyn stated.
  
  "I will," she replied, continuing to eat her meal.
  
  "Unfortunately, MPs who actually want to make a difference are hard to come by," Matthew pointed out.
  
  "But one day, things are going to change for the better," Carolyn said. "I just hope we're there to see it."
  
  "I'm sure you will be," Annie said.
  
  "Hey, Dillon, would you mind stepping outside for a bit?" Matthew requested.
  
  Nodding, he got up, though he gave Annie's shoulder a gentle squeeze before leaving the kitchen.
  
  "Annie, perhaps you could tell us a bit more about yourself," Carolyn suggested, both pairs of eyes on the blonde.
  
  Feeling on the spot, she asked, "Hasn't Dillon told you everything he knows about me?"
  
  "Nothing too personal," Matthew assured. "You don't have to tell us your life story."
  
  "There's really nothing to talk about. I escaped Wall Maria when it fell, I had to survive for a couple of years, and I ended up in training so I could get out of my hellish life."
  
  "And Dillon?" Matthew pressed. "How does he fit into your life?"
  
  Annie paused for a moment. "I never planned on someone like him to come into my life, but now that he's there, it's hard to see him out of it. He's a good man, but he's so damn foolish."
  
  "In what regard?" Carolyn wondered.
  
  "He's too idealistic," Annie explained.
  
  Carolyn sighed. "I think he got that from me."
  
  "What is it about his idealism that bothers you, Annie?" Matthew asked without sounding judgmental.
  
  She shook her head. "The fact that he thinks he can change everything. I know he has psychic abilities, but even they have limits. It's almost like he's desperate."
  
  "Examples?"
  
  "He was prepared to go stand in front of cannons in an effort to save his friends," she explained bluntly.
  
  Matthew facepalmed. "He thought he could take out the people holding the cannons, didn't he?"
  
  The blonde gave a simple nod.
  
  "Annie, has this been a recurring thing?" Carolyn asked.
  
  Another nod. "Yes. Yes, it has. Chased after kidnappers with guns alone, went after someone who fell in Titan territory while having low gas and weak abilities, and I had to basically drag him away from betraying the oath he swore in an effort to save Eren." She shook her head. "It's going to get himself killed."
  
  "Annie, going after the kidnappers, saving lives with low resources, preparing to stand in front of a cannon... it has nothing to do with idealism, no matter what he said," Matthew revealed.
  
  Now, she was surprised. "What do you mean? What other things could it be?"
  
  He let out another sigh. "It has everything to do with a fear he has: a fear of failing."
  
  It was like all the pieces of the puzzle started coming together for Annie.
  
  " I just wanted to make sure the only person at risk of injury or death was me."
  
  "I'm not going to lose, Annie. Your respect is too important to me."
  
  "I can't do anything. I can't fix this. I can't save them."
  
  " Annie, if I joined the Scouts... would you break up with me?"
  
  "It all makes sense now," Annie said.
  
  "Growing up in the Interior has been good to Dillon," Matthew explained, "except when it came to the MPs. Seeing the horrible things they did to civilians took a toll on him, especially after his powers began to manifest. When a child is forced to watch a man have his leg broken by a 'servant of the people,' it cuts deep. If Dillon believes that he can make a difference, he's going to dive in head first because he's afraid that if he doesn't, someone will get hurt or die. He's afraid to fail the people around him in that regard."
  
  "Has Dillon told you about the time my husband accidentally dislocated his arm?" Carolyn asked.
  
  Her eyes widened a little bit. "You did what?"
  
  "It was an accident, and I tried to set it back immediately," Matthew said quickly. "Dillon refused and told me to teach him how to set it back himself. Why? Because if it happened to him in a combat situation, he didn't want to burden anyone with his injury and fix it himself. For context's sake, this happened a few months before he left for the Training Corps, so imagine what was going through his mind. His arm gets dislocated, a comrade comes over to help him set it, and both are promptly eaten as a result."
  
  Annie shook her head. Dillon, you moron...
  
  "Annie, are you planning on talking to him about it?" he asked.
  
  "If I don't, he's not going to survive in the Scouts," Annie answered. "Don't worry. I'll handle it." Because, apparently, you two haven't.
  
  Carolyn smiled. "I can see why he likes you so much. Which brings us to something we are legally bound to say."
  
  "If you break his heart, we're coming after you," Matthew promised.
  
  Annie nodded, knowing that these two would follow-up on that threat should it come to that. "I expected as much."
  
  "Dillon, you can come back now," Carolyn called out.
  
  After a few seconds, the young blacksmith came back into the kitchen. "So how much of my reputation did you destroy while I was away?"
  
  "None," Annie assured, rolling her eyes. "As if anything they could say could ruin how I feel about you."
  
  With a grin, he kissed her on the cheek.
  
  The four of them continued to eat, chatting about various things like stories that Dillon left out in his letters courtesy of Annie. She would not let the opportunity to embarrass her boyfriend pass her by. When dinner came to a close, Dillon told them that he had given Annie a falcata.
  
  "I'll pay for it," Dillon assured once Annie retrieved it.
  
  Matthew held up his hand. "Think nothing of it. Consider it a thank-you-for-staying-alive gift."
  
  He paused for a moment. "In that case... can we use the guest house tonight?" Dillon requested after waving down a carriage. "It's getting late and Ehrmich is closer than Trost."
  
  "No one's using it at the moment, so sure," he answered. "Make sure you leave it as you found it."
  
  "Yes, sir," he promised.
  
  "Thank you for the dinner," Annie said. "It was delicious."
  
  "You can thank me by dropping by for a visit whenever you feel like it," Carolyn replied.
  
  "Maybe," she replied in a noncommittal tone, stepping inside the carriage.
  
  "I'll see you guys next time," Dillon assured, embracing his folks. "Love you."
  
  "Love you, too, Dillon," they responded.
  
  With a wave goodbye, Dillon departed, the carriage going down the street.
  
  "You have interesting parents," Annie commented once they were out of view.
  
  He nodded in agreement. "Best in the world. Wouldn't trade them for anything."
  
  "You guys have a guest house?" she asked, trying to take her mind off them.
  
  "It was an investment that surprisingly paid off," Dillon explained. "Helped us stay out of debt for years. Then again, when you live in the Interior, you're bound to make a lot of money somehow."
  
  "By now, your family's probably loaded," she noted.
  
  "You could say that," he agreed.
  
  Annie sighed, deciding to address it now. "Dillon, there's something I need to talk to you about."
  
  "What about?" Dillon asked, concerned.
  
  "It's about a trend I've been noticing about you since I've known you," she explained. "I didn't really put the pieces together until I addressed it to your parents and... it makes sense."
  
  Oh, Lord, what did they say? "Go on."
  
  "Dillon, you are afraid of failing the people around you," she stated. "Especially me."
  
  "We're in a relationship, Annie," he replied. "Shouldn't I try hard to not upset you?"
  
  "The problem is when you do upset me, or when you think you'll upset me," Annie went on, pressing onwards. "The times where you did reckless things and you felt crushed that I got rightfully upset with you. Then, there was the moment when we sparred on your birthday, where you thought I would call you pathetic if you lost. And then you asked me if I would break up with you if you joined the Scouts. That's not normal, Dillon!"
  
  Dillon looked down, heaving a sigh. She was right, and there was nothing to defend himself with.
  
  Annie placed her hand on his. "Look, you're going to upset me. It's going to happen whether you like it or not. And I'm going to upset you. It's only human. When those times come, you need to be able to handle it and move on. Unless you do something incredibly immoral, I'm not going to break up with you. Trust me, it won't be that easy." She gently lifted his head to face her. "Do you believe me?"
  
  He stared into her compassionate eyes and nodded, squeezing her hand gently. "I do."
  
  "And whether you're in a relationship with me or a soldier in the Scout Regiment, you're going to fail, Dillon. You're going to fail badly, but a good soldier doesn't let that get him down. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and keep moving forward. Got it?"
  
  He gave her another nod, committing this advice to his memory. "Got it."
  
  Satisfied, Annie gave him a short, sweet kiss before she leaned back, resting her eyes for a bit.
  
  A couple of hours later, the sun had set over the horizon, giving way to the night sky. Save for a few clouds, the stars were out in their full glory, shining down on the Earth's inhabitants. It was nights like this that reminded many people that there was still beauty to be found on this planet. Though, in Dillon's case, the beauty was closer to him than the stars.
  
  After paying the carriage driver, the two entered the guest house. It was a quaint, two-story place with all the necessities. A look at the furniture showed that most of the money went into getting the nicest things. Then again, it was a Wall Sina house, so it wasn't that surprising.
  
  "Here we are," Dillon said, putting his stuff down. "Home away from home."
  
  "Definitely a house fitting for the Interior," Annie noted, placing her newly-acquired weapon on a table.
  
  He grinned. "Yeah, the pillows here are some of the best, and this place has a nice view."
  
  "Yeah..." Her voice trailed off as she began scuffing the floor nervously.
  
  Dillon took notice. "Annie, are you okay?"
  
  She didn't answer, her gaze fixed on the ground.
  
  "Hey, talk to me," he said, stepping closer to her. "What's wrong?"
  
  "I never expected this to happen," Annie said quietly. "I always repelled people, and yet here I am."
  
  Dillon looked lost. "I don't understand."
  
  She shook her head, though it wasn't clear if it was out of annoyance or pity, but she finally looked up at him. "Honestly, you probably could've done better with Mikasa. She has a body men want. Hell, Jean foams at the mouth just watching her."
  
  Then, it clicked in his brain, and his eyes widened. "Wait, you thought I was bringing you here to... um...?" Dillon's face turned redder than it had ever been.
  
  Now, Annie was perplexed until she began to realize what Dillon was thinking... or wasn't thinking. "Wait, you didn't bring me here to...?" Even she couldn't prevent the blush from appearing on her face, though it was more out of embarrassment for jumping to conclusions.
  
  Dillon was getting more than a little flustered. "Well, I, uh, didn't mean to imply that I was, um, you see, Ehrmich was closer to Trost, and I didn't think of how this would look to..."
  
  The two fell into a very awkward silence, purposefully avoiding each other gazes. They never truly thought about this before, even when the cadets had to hear the Talk. However, Dillon would be the first to say that Annie was a very attractive girl. Granted, on a technical level, Krista probably had everyone beat, but he didn't see it that way. Despite the coldness, despite her sometimes-off-putting personality, he found Annie beautiful. She let him see who she was, and he cared about that girl. On top of that, there were times he began to wonder... certain things about her. Even Annie wasn't immune to those thoughts. She knew Dillon had a good physique on him, but to actually see it seemed very appealing. His personality might've been a detriment before, but she started to appreciate that more about him, though she would be there to knock sense into him.
  
  Annie made the first move after taking a deep breath. "Dillon, if you want to... I'm ready."
  
  Dillon didn't expect that, his surprise being a dead giveaway. "What? Are you serious?"
  
  She sighed. "You're going to be joining the Scouts in a few days, and you'll be going on the next Expedition."
  
  "So, you're doing this just in case," he summed up.
  
  Annie nodded. "But it's something I want to do, too."
  
  Dillon let out his own deep breath. "Okay, I was not prepared for this... change of plan. Uh..."
  
  "I'm guessing you've never done this before," she said, that awkwardness hanging in the air.
  
  He shook his head. "Never."
  
  "Neither have I."
  
  Another pause passed between them.
  
  The blacksmith looked behind him at the awaiting bedroom. "Let's head to the bedroom."
  
  "That's a good start," Annie replied, following him inside and closing the door behind them.
  
  "So... this is happening," Dillon said nervously.
  
  "Dillon, if you don't want to do this, I'll understand," she assured. "No hard feelings."
  
  "No, I do want this," he said with a bit more conviction. "I just..." He let out a sigh. "Let's take it slow."
  
  She nodded in agreement. "Whenever you're ready."
  
  Taking another deep breath, Dillon slowly brought his lips to hers. It was a simple kiss the two were very familiar with, but something changed. He felt like his body was compelling him to do more with that kiss, to go deeper somehow. Their kiss became more passionate, more vigorous, and it felt good if their moans were anything to go by.
  
  Their jackets were taken off quickly, along with Dillon's shirt. Annie knew that he had been training hard with his father, but his chest showed it. He had definitely worked out for most of his life. Faded scars indicated the injuries had suffered over the years, including a few burns from working in the Forge.
  
  Without saying a word, Annie ran her hands slowly over his chest, causing him to shiver a little. To have a girl explore his body like this was... there were no words for it. She loved how his muscles felt, how strong he felt. She could add that to the growing list of things she loved about him.
  
  "Relax," she whispered, feeling his heart pounding in his chest. "It's just me."
  
  After he nodded, the two continued to kiss each other with an added sense of exploration. Her shirt was the next to come off, leaving her clad in a gray bra. He noticed there weren't nearly as many scars on her, which surprised him. From what she told him of her training, it was very similar to his, yet her body didn't show nearly as many scars on him. How the hell did she pull that off?
  
  "Do you... like what you see?" Annie asked in a bit of a sultry tone, despite her own blushing.
  
  "Yes," Dillon answered after a brief pause.
  
  "Let's take it to the bed," she suggested, walking past him with a slight sway in her hips.
  
  This was a completely different side of Annie Leonhart. He had seen her cold, happy, and vulnerable, but here she was... wow.
  
  Once again, he followed her and once she laid herself on the bed, he laid himself on top of her, pressing his body against hers. They stared into each other's eyes, taking each other in.
  
  "You're so beautiful," Dillon said softly.
  
  Annie smiled back. "Come on, Amsdale. Don't keep your girl waiting."
  
  The minute his lips fell onto hers, their night got far more enjoyable.
  
  As Matthew finished closing up shop for the night, his eyes widened in horror. "I gave two teenagers who are in a committed relationship the keys to the guest house... alone."
  
  ...
  
  ...
  
  ...
  
  ...
  
  "What the hell was I drinking?"
  
  Remastered Edits: So, instead of push knives, Annie gets a falcata. I, once again, thank my co-writer for giving me a hand with some additional weapons that could be found in Amsdale's Forge. Lord knows I needed a variety than just swords and knives.
  
  The dinner scene has quite a few differences that people might notice. One of my problems with my story was that everything was about Dillon. If you compare this story to the old version, you'll definitely see the difference. Adding tension to what Carolyn does and what Annie wants to be seems to be the right call.
  
  And lastly, due to learning more about Annie's personality, the lead-up to the bedroom scene was changed.
  
  I hope you all liked what you read, please leave reviews should you choose to, and I'll see you all in the next chapter.
  
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  Into the Scouts
  AN: This chapter is quite a bit shorter than the last few chapters. I apologize about that.
  
  Chapter 16: Into the Scouts
  
  As the morning light shined through the windows, Dillon slowly opened his eyes. He felt worn out, like he ran a lap or two on the Wall. For a moment, he couldn't remember why he felt that way until he noticed Annie's head resting on his bare chest, her normally combed hair in a mess. Last night's events quickly came to mind, making his face flush red. He still couldn't believe that he and Annie had sex. There were so many things that happened, things that he couldn't understand, things that he actually freaked out over. It was awkward, to say the least, but there were some things to like.
  
  Gently, he stroked her bare shoulder, causing her eyes to flutter open a bit.
  
  "Morning," Dillon whispered.
  
  For a moment, Annie just stared at him, almost as if confused by what was going on until she, too, remembered last night's antics. "Dillon? Did we really...?"
  
  He gave a slow nod. "Yeah, we did."
  
  Slowly, she got off him, purposefully avoiding his gaze as she stared at the ceiling. Her normally cold eyes were filled with shock and regret.
  
  Whatever good things Dillon thought about vanished just by seeing that look on her face. "Annie, I'm-"
  
  "Don't go there," she said quietly. "I just... I never expected this to happen."
  
  "Neither did I," he admitted. "I didn't expect a lot of things last night. Sorry for freaking out."
  
  "For what it's worth, I understand." Annie grimaced. "I thought it was bad when we had to sit through sexual education last year."
  
  Dillon looked away, though his thoughts were broadcasted to her. I couldn't even get it right.
  
  "That's not what I meant. I mean, you didn't do bad. It was just awkward. There were things I liked, and I know you liked some things, too."
  
  "Maybe we should change the subject," he suggested as his face turned red again.
  
  "No, we need to talk about this," Annie said, turning towards him. "I don't want to leave here thinking we made a mistake."
  
  He was quiet for a moment, thinking about this whole situation. They had given themselves to each other, and there was no turning back from that. They were far from being masters of something like this, but still... "It wasn't a mistake. I'm glad we did it."
  
  "Because got the chance to see me naked?" she asked.
  
  "Because it was with you and not someone else," he answered.
  
  Now, Annie was blushing, too, though sadness crept into her expression. "I'm going to miss you, Dillon."
  
  "I'm gonna miss you, too, but I'm going to make it back." He stroked her bare shoulder. "And when I do, I'll take you out on a real date."
  
  In took her a bit, but Annie closed the distance, pressing her lips against his. "I'd like that very much."
  
  They stayed in a bed for a little longer before hitting the showers. It was the longest they ever had, but the hot water in Wall Sina felt much better than the water during Training. After the shower, Dillon and Annie quickly got to work on the bedroom to remove as much evidence as they could of them being there. It took about an hour, but they managed to remove all evidence of them being there. However, Dillon was dreading the eventual conversation he would have with his parents regarding their... actions. They were smart enough to put two and two together.
  
  Once that was finally done, the two took a carriage back to Trost. Upon arrival, they went their separate ways. Annie had to pack up her room for her eventual move to the Interior, and Dillon wanted to speak to a few of his comrades. Trost was still undergoing repairs, but the city was slowly getting repopulated. The talk among the civilians was how a Titan saved their lives and how the idea of retaking Wall Maria didn't seem so out of reach anymore. Some went far as to start praying to the Rogue Titan for deliverance from the evil monsters beyond the Walls.
  
  Great. Another cult. Dillon thought with a grimace. As if the Wall Worshippers weren't enough.
  
  The sour thoughts were quickly quenched when he spotted the two people he had not seen in a while. "Franz! Hannah!"
  
  "Dillon," Franz greeted with a grin, giving him a hug. "Haven't seen you in a while."
  
  "Same here," the blacksmith responded, returning the hug as well as giving one to Hannah. "I'm glad you two made it."
  
  "So are we," Hannah said. "There were a lot of close calls, but we survived."
  
  It was easy to tell that the Trost Invasion had an effect on the two. After what happened, Dillon believed more people were gonna sign up for the Garrison instead of the Scouts, and he didn't blame them. If it weren't for his powers, he wondered if he would be as confident to join the Scouts as he was now.
  
  "I'm guessing you two are gonna join the Garrison Regiment?" Dillon asked.
  
  Franz nodded. "We've seen enough Titans to last a lifetime, but if they break in again, we'll be ready to fight."
  
  "Well, I'm happy for you two," he said with a small smile. "You deserve to have time for each other."
  
  This time, they didn't deny it. In fact, Hannah smiled at that, though there was a blush coming upon her. "We're going to look out for each other from here on out."
  
  "Good." Dillon let out a deep breath. "I'm going to join the Scout Regiment. I can put my powers to good use there."
  
  "It still baffles me," Franz admitted. "A guy with psychic abilities and now a human that can turn into a Titan. What the hell is going on?"
  
  "No idea," Dillon said, shaking his head in amusement. "Who knows? Maybe the next abnormal person that comes around can breathe fire or something."
  
  "Let's hope that doesn't happen," he responded nervously. "I'd rather not have to get my sanity checked on a regular basis."
  
  "In any case," Hannah interjected, "the Scouts are lucky to have someone like you."
  
  Dillon blushed in embarrassment.
  
  "I know I should have said this a long time ago, but thank you for saving our lives," Franz said sincerely. "If it weren't for you..."
  
  Dillon looked away for a moment. "I wish I could've done more." Before the two could say anything else, Dillon put an abrupt end to the conversation. "I'm going to look for the others. It was good seeing you guys again."
  
  "Take care, Dillon, and good luck," Hannah finished as they departed.
  
  The blacksmith sighed as they disappeared. This was one of those times where he didn't want to think about that day and all the people that were killed by Titans. It was moments like those that made him wonder if joining the Scouts was a good idea after all. Despite his promises, there was no guarantee that he would be able to survive the Expeditions. He shook his head in annoyance. Now wasn't the time for paranoia. He made his decision and he was going to stick with it.
  
  As he wandered around the city, his thoughts drifted to that woman he saw in Eren's mind. There was something about her that seemed... strange. It didn't feel like a memory where Eren was interacting with her. He couldn't put his finger on it, but the more he thought about that woman, the more he wanted to know who she was and why she existed in Eren's mind. And then there was that voice. He could've sworn he heard someone before he left Eren's mind.
  
  Knock it off, Dillon. He rebuked himself. You're about to be joining the Scouts and you're more interested in trying to figure out a random woman and random voices. Priorities.
  
  There were many things he needed to think of, the most important one being his mind blocks. Annie was right about one thing among others: he needed to be at his full strength if he was going to be fighting Titans. He needed to remove a block before the Expedition. His mind had finally healed up since the invasion, so there wouldn't be added dangers to the process. All he needed to do was figure out the opportune moment to do so with his dad.
  
  "Dillon," a familiar voice called out.
  
  He turned around to see Jean walking towards him. "Hey, Jean. How are you?"
  
  Jean sighed. "Barely hanging in there."
  
  Dillon gave a sympathetic nod. "I know the feeling. I'm sorry I missed the funeral."
  
  "Don't be," Jean replied, leaning against the side of a building. "There was nothing you could do about it."
  
  "So, what are your plans now?" Dillon wondered.
  
  "I've decided... that I'm gonna join the Scouts," Jean answered, though it was hard for him to say that.
  
  That surprised Dillon. He honestly believed that after everything that happened, Jean would be far less inclined to join any other branch than the Military Police. "What changed?"
  
  "Reality punched me in the gut," he explained. "It's like Eren said: we have to fight or else Trost will only be the beginning."
  
  "I see," Dillon said as he stood next to Jean. "You know what the last thing Marco said to me? 'Don't lose your optimism.'"
  
  Jean chuckled. "Marco was one of a kind. Outside of Reiner, he was one of the most likeable cadets in the 104th." He let out a sigh as he thought about previous events. "He saved my life in Trost. Part of me wonders... if that's what killed him."
  
  "It wasn't your fault, Jean," Dillon assured. "The battle was a high-risk high-reward situation. We were all prepared to die so that humanity could continue to survive. If it wasn't for the timely arrival of the Scouts, you'd be adding my name to the list of casualties."
  
  "I know," he responded. "It's just hard to move from what happened."
  
  "I don't think anyone's moved on from Trost, Jean," Dillon told him. "It's gonna be a while before that happens."
  
  The two men stood in silence. They would be joining the Scouts soon and be facing the danger head on. They could only hope that things would change with Eren's abilities. That thought alone gave them a small measure of comfort. With Eren's determination to kill every last Titan, those monsters would rue the day they invaded Shiganshina all those years ago.
  
  (The next day)
  
  Of course this had to happen. Dillon thought grimly as he stood with his friends.
  
  After the Battle of Trost, two Titans were captured to be researched and experimented on. For six days, the scientist of the Scouts, Hanji Zoë, spent as much as she could with the two so she could get some answers regarding them. However, last night, someone killed them, effectively destroying any hopes humanity had of learning more about the Titans. The 104th was ordered to turn in their ODM gear and be questioned about their activities by the Scouts.
  
  "When did you last replace your shaft?" the male Scout questioned as he perused documents pertaining to Sasha's ODM gear.
  
  "After the mop up, sir," she answered. "That was six days ago."
  
  The female Scout crossed her name off the list. "She's clear."
  
  "Okay, you're good," he stated before addressing the rest of them. "Who's next?"
  
  Krista spoke up. "I'm with Squad 42. Krista Lenz, sir."
  
  As they questioned her, Dillon watched the scene with crossed arms. The cadets were tossing around theories as to why someone would kill the only Titans they had. The most common one was that a soldier was consumed by his hatred to the point where he slaughtered the Titans for revenge. It wasn't implausible, but it was highly unlikely. The consequences of killing the captured Titans were far too great that someone with the most vitriolic hatred for the monsters would think twice.
  
  Dillon, however, had another theory in mind, and it was a frightening one: there was a traitor in their midst. The job was done professionally and quietly, so it wasn't a random soldier consumed by rage. This event had been planned from the start. Killing the Titans ensured that humanity would not discover anything useful about them. But what possible reason would anyone work with the Titans, creatures that ate humans? What could they possibly gain?
  
  A soldier seeking revenge, or a traitor working with Titans. Dillon concluded, shaking his head. This whole thing is a complete mess.
  
  "Guess someone hated looking at those Titans more than I did," Connie said.
  
  "The sad thing is that they may have helped the Titans more than anything," Armin replied. "All that knowledge lost and for what? Someone's personal revenge? It just doesn't make any sense."
  
  "Well, it might sound dumb, but I'm glad they did it," Connie confessed.
  
  "What?" Dillon asked, slowly turning to his bald friend.
  
  "Before I actually saw a Titan, I was convinced I wanted to be a Scout and take them all on," he explained. "Now I never want to lay eyes on one again. And today, we have to pick which regiment to join."
  
  "Whatever you think is best, Connie," Dillon answered quietly.
  
  Connie sighed in annoyance. "Hey, Annie, do you think Jean meant it? You think he's serious about signing up for the Scouts?"
  
  Armin looked at him with surprise. "Wait, Jean said that?"
  
  "Who cares?" Annie questioned in that cold tone she was known for.
  
  "So, you're sticking with the MPs, huh? I'm starting to think I might go that way, too," Connie admitted.
  
  "Tell me something," Annie said. "If someone ordered you to die, would you do it?"
  
  Dillon wondered if that question was directed at him too. The lives lost in the Scouts were not to be taken lightly. It was very possible that men and women died because they were ordered to so that the others could live. If it came down to it... he wasn't sure. It was like having to choose between humanity and Annie, a choice he never wanted to make.
  
  Connie's eyes widened. "What? Of course not."
  
  "Well... then my advice is that you do what's best for you," she said. "And what about you, Armin?"
  
  "I think I might," Armin answered. "If the situation truly called for it and my sacrifice might save others. Not that I'd want to."
  
  "So, you've decided then." Annie sounded saddened from Armin's response.
  
  "I've planned to join the Scouts from the start," he said.
  
  "Come on. Not you too, Armin," Connie pleaded.
  
  "I'm impressed," she admitted. "For a mouse, you've got guts. I'll give you that."
  
  "Uh, thanks, I guess," Armin replied with a bit of a smile. "You know, you don't have to hide that you care anymore, Annie."
  
  Annie raised an eyebrow at him. "Huh?"
  
  "You're trying to discourage us from the Scouts. You're looking out for us," he explained. "Is that why you're joining the MPs? I bet you think you can do some good there, too."
  
  "Can you guys see those headlines?" Dillon asked with a small grin forming on his face. "How Annie Leonhart singlehandedly takes down the drug lords hiding within these Walls?"
  
  "I think that's a little much," Connie said with a shake of his head.
  
  She rolled her eyes at them. "Whether I do that or not is irrelevant. I just want to live and give myself and Dillon a chance at living a good life together." She let out a sigh. "Look out for him, will you? He gets himself into trouble when I'm not around."
  
  "You can count on us," Armin assured.
  
  "Thanks, Mom," Dillon muttered.
  
  Annie gave him a look of warning, but she didn't respond.
  
  Connie still had trouble wrapping his head around it. Ever since he knew Annie, she was always the cold creepy girl that could stab him in the middle of the night if she wanted to. Now here she was, looking out for them like she actually cared about them. The reason for that was standing right next to him.
  
  Once everyone was cleared, Dillon, along with many of the cadets, headed straight for the platform where Commander Erwin was going to try and persuade the 104th to join the Scouts. He had a sinking feeling that more were going to say "No" than enlist. With the dangers of the Titans exposed to them in the worst way possible, all of them were terrified of those creatures. Whether or not that fear would overcome them was up to them.
  
  "Hey, Amsdale," Reiner called out as he got closer. "Come here!"
  
  "What's up, Reiner?" Dillon asked once he reached him and Bertholdt.
  
  "Bertholdt has something to say to you," he explained, nudging the tall cadet to talk.
  
  Bertholdt cleared his throat and sighed. "I'm sorry. It wasn't fair of me to treat you like the bad guy."
  
  Dillon nodded. "I understand why you were upset. No hard feelings." He held out his hand. "Truce?"
  
  Hesitantly, he shook it. "Truce."
  
  "With that out of the way, what Regiment are you two joining?" Dillon wondered.
  
  "Military Police and Garrison Regiment never really appealed to us," Reiner said. "We want a chance to strike back at the Titans, so that's what we're going to do."
  
  Dillon remembered these two lost their homes to the Titans. "Scouts it is, then. You know... we just might have a chance now."
  
  "Because we enlisted?" Bertholdt asked.
  
  "Of course not," he answered bluntly. "We've got a Titan on our side now."
  
  Reiner chuckled at that. "That we do, Dillon. That we do."
  
  "Cadets, fall in," a nearby sergeant ordered.
  
  Quickly, the cadets started filling up the space in front of the platform. For about an hour, they waited for Erwin and the other Scouts to show up. By that time, night had fallen upon them. Torches were lit throughout the area to provide light for everyone. Once everything was set, the commander stepped out onto the platform.
  
  "Good evening," Erwin greeted. "I am Erwin Smith, Commander of the Survey Corps, also known as the Scout Regiment."
  
  How many names does this regiment have? Dillon wondered.
  
  "Today, you will choose your regiment," he informed them. "Let's cut to the chase here. The Scouts need you. We need all the warm bodies we can get. After the recent Titan attack, you now know firsthand the horror of which they are capable... as well as the limits of your own skill. However, this battle's aftermath gave humanity a big chance for victory. I refer to Eren Yeager. After selflessly risking life and limb, he has proven beyond a doubt his unwavering loyalty to our cause. Hope live in him. Eren didn't just help deter the Titan invasion; he's offered us a means to discern the truth of their origin."
  
  That caused a stir in the 104th. Eyes were widened, and whispers were voiced throughout them. To learn the origin of the Titans could lead to their ultimate destruction. Humanity's freedom could be just within their reach. However, there were some who doubted his claim, brushing it off as a propaganda stunt to get more people to join the Scouts.
  
  Erwin went on. "Intel suggests that the cellar of Eren Yeager's home in Shiganshina holds a vital secret regarding our enemy. We will form an expedition to find this secret. We find it, and use it to break free of the Titans' tyrannical hundred-year reign once and for all."
  
  Shouldn't be that difficult. Dillon thought. A straight shot to Shiganshina, we find out the truth, and we're back home.
  
  "Before we can reach the aforementioned cellar in Shiganshina," he continued, "another problem must be dealt with. We must retake Wall Maria. Of course, this is much easier said than done."
  
  On cue, Mike and a female Scout stepped out of the shadows holding a crude map of the Wall cities. Dillon recognized her as the Scout that saved his life in Trost.
  
  "Now that the gate in Trost has been rendered inaccessible, we'll be forced to stage future operations from the Karanes District further east. Thus, the battalion route we've been establishing is now completely useless to us."
  
  Dillon raised an eyebrow. Why are you telling us this stuff? Wouldn't that information be best told at the Scout briefings?
  
  "Over the course of those four years, we've incurred losses in an excessive sixty percent. Sixty percent in four years! That's a horrifying figure. A month from now, we will conduct a recon mission outside the Walls. Recruits among your ranks will be expected to take part. I estimate a third of them will die. After four years, most will be dead."
  
  And just like that, the cadets went from being excited at the prospect of winning the war to being mortified by the reality of the situation. Erwin wasn't pulling any punches and he wasn't about to glorify life as a Scout. The best Scouts were the ones who knew the risks and still joined up anyway.
  
  "But those who endure will amongst the most capable soldiers alive," Erwin assured. "Now having heard this dismal state of affairs, whoever still wishes to put their life on the line and join us... remain here. But first, ask yourself: can you give your heart? Can you give everything for humanity!?"
  
  To have that be demanded of them was a tall order. Unlike the other branches, this one truly required for soldiers to be willing to die for their people. It was a burden that whoever joined would not take lightly.
  
  "That is all," Erwin finished. "Those who want to join other regiments are dismissed."
  
  And just like that, people started leaving the area in flocks, Annie being among them. As she passed Dillon, he grabbed her arm for a brief second, making her face him for the last time.
  
  "I love you," he whispered.
  
  "I love you, too," Annie said softly, kissing him on the lips. "You'd better come home."
  
  "I will."
  
  With that, Annie joined the cadets without a backwards glance.
  
  For a brief moment, Dillon felt a surge of fear rush through him. He had seen what the Titans were capable of, and he had seen people get eaten by them. He truly realized that he could be next, that he could end up as nothing more than Titan fodder, begging and screaming for his life as giant teeth came down upon him.
  
  No! He told himself. You are not going down that road. Not now. You are a soldier of the 104 th Cadet Corps. You have incredible abilities. You are going to live.
  
  In less than a minute almost all of the cadets had left except for 18 soldiers. Among them were Mikasa, Armin, Ymir, Krista, Jean, Sasha, Reiner, Bertholdt, Connie, and Dillon. While there weren't many people here, the fact that most of the Top 10 stayed behind spoke volumes to the Scouts.
  
  "I ask you," Erwin said. "If you were ordered to die, could you do it?"
  
  "We don't want to die, sir," Jean shouted.
  
  A small smile appeared on the commander's face. "Of course. Let us hope that you don't, then. You who stayed? You are now one of us! Allow me to welcome you to the Scout Regiment! This is a genuine salute, soldiers!" He slammed his fist against his heart. "Together, we give our hearts!"
  
  All 18 cadets saluted, most of them trying and failing to stay composed. Most of them were terrified of staying and half of those people had tears streaming down their faces.
  
  "Joining the Scouts," Jean muttered. "This is so stupid."
  
  "I just want to go home," Sasha cried.
  
  "Oh, man," Connie stuttered. "What the hell?"
  
  Hearing Krista softly cry was enough to break Dillon's heart.
  
  Naturally, Ymir offered her "helpful" advice. "If you're gonna keep crying, then don't stay."
  
  Dillon was about to tell Ymir to shove it when Erwin spoke again.
  
  "Those of you standing here have worked through your fear," he stated. "You have proven yourselves courageous. Each one of you has my respect."
  
  I... I made it. I'm a Scout. There was no turning back.
  
  Remastered Edits: I decided to make the morning after a little more awkward between them, especially given the context. I adjusted the dialogue a bit with Franz and Hannah to replace any statements that didn't sound like something that would be said. Other than that, there weren't many edits.
  
  I hope you all enjoyed this chapter, and I shall see you all in Chapter 17... another old-shame chapter.
  
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  The Calm
  Chapter 17: The Calm
  
  It had been over a week since Dillon had joined the Scouts. The first thing that happened was that the Wings of Freedom emblem was added to his jacket. While that was cool and inspiring, it was nothing compared to the green cloak he was issued. He had no idea what it was made out of, but it felt so nice and looked so cool. Not to mention the fact that it kept him warm during the cold days and nights, so there was its practical use.
  
  After the introductory week, the cadets, now labeled as rookies, were sent off to different squads throughout the Regiment. During the Expedition, the rookies would have to depend on these squads, completely, to keep them safe. In order for them to reach the point where they could depend on their respective squads, they needed to work with them and get to know them.
  
  Currently, Dillon was following Section Commander Dieter Ness to his squad via horseback. The horses the Scouts had were much faster than the ones he used back in Training. He almost fell off when his horse took off with great speed, but he managed to adapt quickly. Ness told him that he would need to train with his horse often so that his steed would get used to him and follow his commands. He would also need to come up with a name for him.
  
  Fifteen minutes later, Ness pulled on the reins, making his horse come to a halt. Dillon did the same as a black-haired man who looked older than Ness approached him.
  
  "Morning, Darius," Ness greeted, dismounting.
  
  "Dieter, what a nice surprise," Darius replied, shaking his hand as he eyed the teen behind him. "So, this is the rookie you've forced upon us."
  
  He let out a chuckle. "This is Dillon Amsdale. Ranked five in the Training Corps."
  
  "Number five, huh? Maybe the Titans will taste the difference."
  
  A frown quickly appeared on Dillon's face.
  
  Ness rolled his eyes. "Try not to test that theory during the Expedition. We need all the soldiers we can get."
  
  "I'll whip him into shape," he swore.
  
  Ness, after dodging his horse's attempt to eat the white bandanna on his head, turned to Dillon. "Amsdale, this is Darius Walbrunn, you're new squad leader."
  
  Instantly, the blacksmith saluted.
  
  "At ease, kid," Darius responded. "We'll take it from here."
  
  Nodding, Ness got back on the horse and took off, leaving Dillon along with the squad leader.
  
  Darius smirked, seeing how rigid he was acting. "Relax, kid. This isn't boot camp, and I'm not Captain Levi."
  
  "Yes, sir," he replied, trying to loosen up a little.
  
  "And don't call me 'sir,'" he ordered. "Makes me feel old. Bring your horse to the stable and I'll introduce you to the rest of the squad."
  
  "Yes, si-Squad Leader."
  
  Once Dillon got his horse settled in, the rest of the squad made themselves known. Two of them were black-haired males, though one had a mousey face. The last one, however, was young woman with light brown hair.
  
  "Dillon Amsdale, meet your comrades. Jensen Auttenberg," Mouse Face, "Marcus Brotz," The other guy, "and Maria Adler." She was the only woman in the squad.
  
  "I'm looking forward to working with you," Dillon said sincerely.
  
  "Let's get one thing straight, rookie," Marcus stated, stepping forward with a glare. "There are three things I hate in this world. Titans, horse poop, and ass-kissers. If I wanted my ass kissed, I'd go find a prostitute, so don't even bother trying."
  
  Dillon gulped, thinking that he just made a terrible start.
  
  The glare quickly receded followed by a chuckle. "Easy there, rookie. It was a joke."
  
  "Don't mind Marcus," Jensen advised, rolling his eyes. "Take everything he says with a grain of salt, and you'll be fine."
  
  Dillon chuckled awkwardly, trying to figure out what was going on.
  
  "Easy there, rookie," Maria told him. "Unlike Titans, we don't bite. And before you ask, you're not my type."
  
  His eyes widened at the sheer bluntness of that statement. "Uh, I already have a girlfriend."
  
  "All right, cut the chatter," Darius interrupted. "We've got a lot of training to put him through before the Expedition, so let's get to it."
  
  Jensen nodded, taking the initiative. "Come on, Dillon. I want to test your combat skills."
  
  This squad is strange. He thought as he followed him.
  
  (18 days before the Expedition)
  
  Despite the weird start, Dillon began to feel more comfortable around these guys. True, they had all been through hell in previous Expeditions, but the fact they were able to crack smiles and tell jokes every now and then was refreshing. Then again, Dillon could do that despite his own trials in Trost.
  
  When he wasn't with the squad, Dillon was in class with the rest of his friends. Combat training was at a minimum and most time was spent studying that long-range formation Erwin came up with. All the rookies were being assigned as horse suppliers or running relay signals. However, where Eren would be in the formation was very unclear, almost as if it was just an afterthought.
  
  Once classes were done, the cadets would file out and head to their respective squads. The more time spent with their squads, the better cohesion there would be between them. There were passing by the castle when they heard it.
  
  "Hey, Mikasa, Armin!"
  
  The two cadets froze at the familiar voice. It had been far too long since they heard him. Armin turned around with a grin on his face and Mikasa looked worried and relieved.
  
  "Man, am I glad to see you guys," Eren said.
  
  Mikasa grabbed his hand firmly. "Eren, did they mistreat you in any way? Like subjecting you to cruel experiments or some sort of mental anguish?"
  
  "No, not at all," Eren answered.
  
  Her eyes darkened as she thought back to the courtroom. "That pipsqueak took things way too far. I will make him pay for it one day."
  
  "Easy, Mikasa," Dillon urged. "Assaulting an officer isn't gonna look good on your record." He patted Eren on the shoulder. "Nice to see you're holding up."
  
  "Same to you," he replied.
  
  "Hey, Eren," Connie greeted as the rest of the cadets came back.
  
  "Long time no see," Sasha added.
  
  Eren's eyes widened, scanning his group of comrades. "Wait, if you're all hear does that mean... you've all joined the Scouts."
  
  "No, we all decided to come get your autograph now that you're famous," Dillon snarked.
  
  "I bet those Wall Worshippers would appreciate that," Ymir added dryly.
  
  "I see," Eren said. "So, does that mean Jean, Annie, and Marco joined the Military Police?"
  
  Dillon winced as Jean came up behind Eren, catching the Shifter's attention as he turned around.
  
  "Wait, you joined, too?" It was a day of surprises for him.
  
  "Marco is dead," Jean told him.
  
  Eren staggered back at the news. "What... what are you saying? Marco's not dead. You're just kidding around, aren't you?"
  
  "Why the hell would he joke about something like that, Eren?" Dillon growled, clenching his fist.
  
  His green eyes widened in horror. "No, it can't be."
  
  "I wish I could tell you he died heroically or honorably," Jean went on. "Truth is, I don't even know how he went out. He died alone. There was no one there to see it happen."
  
  "Marco's dead..." Eren whispered.
  
  "All right, rookies, form up!" Ness ordered, a soldier carrying stacks of green cloaks and uniforms. "Your new uniforms are here."
  
  It didn't take any of them long to get changed, the blue and white wings now ordained on their shoulders and backs, but the tone was very somber. The deaths of their friends, especially Marco, weighed heavily on them. Trost was not something they could easily get over, and it would be in the backs of their minds for a very long time. They also wondered how long they would last out there before a Titan ate them.
  
  Once he was fully changed into his uniform, cloak and all, Dillon stepped outside, leaning against the wall.
  
  "Hey, are you okay?" Krista asked, following him outside.
  
  "Trying to be," he answered with a sigh. "I can't believe I'm here right now. We're about to go on a risky Expedition, and I don't know if I'm going to make it back alive."
  
  Looking around to make sure no one would hear, she said, "Well, you have your powers. That has to count for something."
  
  "Not much. If they were more, I could've saved more lives."
  
  "Dillon, anyone who knows you knows you did the best you could," Krista pointed out. "I bet Annie has told you that."
  
  "Many times, but..." He looked down. "I can still hear Elsa scream. I can hear the Titan eat her. I can hear Hannah begging Franz to go back."
  
  She didn't say anything for a moment, but she finally asked, "Have you talked to Annie about this?"
  
  "I didn't want to burden her about this," he said.
  
  "She's your girlfriend, Dillon," she reminded him gently. "If you don't talk to her, you're not going to get anywhere."
  
  "I wanted to, but she thought that I invited her over to-" Dillon immediately froze. Oh, son of a bitch!
  
  "Dillon, what are you talking about?" Krista wondered curiously.
  
  He could not prevent the blush coming onto him. "Um..."
  
  Her eyes widened as the implications settled in. "Oh, she thought you wanted to... sleep with her. I can imagine how awkward that must've been." When Dillon didn't respond, her jaw fell open. "Oh, my God. Dillon, did you-?"
  
  "Did Dillon do what?" Ymir interrupted, stepping outside. Like Training, the two were attached at the hip.
  
  "Oh, um, nothing," Krista lied in a vain attempt to save him.
  
  "Oh, sweetie, you're a terrible liar," Ymir said sweetly as she looked at Dillon. Seeing how red his face was helped put the pieces together. The smirk on her face was evidence enough that she figured it out. "Well, well, well, has the boy finally become a man?"
  
  "What-What's that supposed to mean?" he sputtered defensively.
  
  Ymir grin widened. "Holy crap. You actually did Annie, and you lived to tell about it." Before anyone could stop her, Ymir grabbed Dillon's arm in pulled him inside.
  
  "Ymir, stop," Krista demanded, following them. "Leave him alone."
  
  "Hey, everyone!" Ymir said loudly, getting their attention. "I've got news for you all: Dillon banged Annie!"
  
  Someone please kill me right now. Dillon begged inwardly.
  
  Shock covered the cadets' faces as they stared at him.
  
  "You did what?" Eren asked with wide eyes.
  
  Ymir slapped Dillon on the back. "Innocent, naïve Dillon finally remembered where to put it."
  
  "Ymir!" Krista pulled her away, face red out of embarrassment. "Stop it."
  
  "I knew it was only a matter of time before that happened," Jean said, smirking. "So, Dillon, how'd it happen?"
  
  Dillon just sunk to the ground, his hands covering his reddened face, causing most of the cadets to laugh.
  
  "That's enough," Mikasa intervened, walking towards Ymir until they were nose-to-nose. "Whatever Dillon does in his personal life is none of our concern, Ymir, so leave him alone."
  
  Ymir was silent for a moment as the Asian stared her down, but she relented. "Sheesh, it was just a bit of fun, Mikasa. Loosen up for once in your life."
  
  She glared at her before returning to the others, giving the ones who laughed at Dillon a warning look. Clearly, their enjoyment at Dillon's expense touched a nerve with her.
  
  Sasha, however, was more focused on the result of this revelation. While she was surprised that Dillon went as far as he did with Annie, she also noticed that, for a moment, everyone's moods were lifted save for Bertholdt's. Was that your plan all along, Ymir?
  
  (13 days before the 57th Expedition)
  
  "... So, unfortunately, everyone knows about what happened that night," Dillon wrote, heaving a sigh. "I'm really sorry I screwed up, and I hope you aren't completely pissed off at me. On a slightly positive note, I'm getting my next block removed in a few days by my father. That should open a few more doors with my abilities. Wish me luck. Dillon."
  
  "You seem a bit on edge, rookie," Jensen noticed, looking up from the book he was reading. "Girl troubles?"
  
  "When she gets this letter, there probably will be," Dillon answered glumly.
  
  "You wanna talk about it?"
  
  "No offense, Jensen, but this very personal."
  
  Jensen rolled his eyes, holding up his hand to show the ring Dillon never noticed before. "Married with a kid on the way, Dillon. I think I might know more than you about these things."
  
  "I appreciate the credentials, but I really don't want to talk about." Dillon put the pen down, staring at the letter he wrote. "Why the hell are you here and not with your wife?"
  
  "You know, I could be a jackass and tell you it's personal, but I won't," Jensen responded. "This is my last Expedition. I tried to leave sooner, but Commander Erwin needs as many soldiers as he can get. She's only a few months along, so I'll be able to support her during the other half of her pregnancy."
  
  "That's good, I guess." It was clear Dillon's focus was on his troubles more than what his comrade said.
  
  "You know, if you made a mistake, and she's all that she's cracked up to be, I think she'll realize that you're only human," he said. "I mean, spilling the beans about your first time isn't the end of the world."
  
  Dillon's head shot up, staring with wide eyes. "How did you know that?"
  
  Jensen smirked. "I overheard some girl blabbing about how you were getting it on with your girlfriend."
  
  Ymir, I am going to kill you!
  
  (10 days before the 57th Expedition)
  
  One of the upsides to being in the Scouts was that visiting family members and loved ones were welcome unless something important was happening at the time. Sadly, the reason was that the Scouts wanted to give their families a happy moment just in case they didn't come back. In this case, Dillon going to visit Matthew served a greater purpose than just creating a memory.
  
  That being said, his squad leader wanted to make sure Dillon was properly educated on the way there.
  
  "Red flare," Darius began as he and Dillon rode their horses down the path.
  
  "Titan spotted," he answered.
  
  "Purple flare."
  
  "Emergency."
  
  "Yellow flare."
  
  "Mission is terminated, be it successful or a failure."
  
  "Black flare."
  
  "Abnormal Titan spotted."
  
  "Green flare."
  
  "Formation change."
  
  "Blue flare."
  
  "Retreat."
  
  Darius nodded, pleased with his answers. "Good job. You didn't get purple and blue mixed up this time."
  
  Dillon smiled as they came to clearing. Standing in the middle was his father, who was clearly waiting for him. "Hey, Dad!"
  
  "Nice cloak, son," he complemented.
  
  "Thanks." He hopped of his horse, who whinnied a little. "It's all right, Maximus."
  
  "You have two hours, Amsdale," Darius informed as he turned to leave. "Don't be late."
  
  "I won't."
  
  Satisfied, Darius cracked the whip and headed back into the forest.
  
  "You sure you want to do this?" Matthew asked once he was out of earshot, concerned.
  
  "I have to," Dillon stated. "If I'm gonna be fighting Titans, I need to be stronger."
  
  He sighed. "All right. Remember, this is going to be painful, but I'll do everything I can to help you through it."
  
  "How isolated are we?" Dillon wondered.
  
  "A half mile radius from everyone," Matthew answered. "Get ready."
  
  Nodding, Dillon closed his eyes trying to relax.
  
  His father did the same as he stretched out with his powers. He perused his mind, though it wasn't intrusive. All he was doing was looking for the right block to remove. In less than a minute, he stumbled upon it.
  
  "I found it," Matthew announced. "It's time."
  
  Dillon's nervousness level increased drastically in response.
  
  "Son, you need to relax," he urged. "The more you stress about this, the more painful this is going to be. You have to calm down. Take a deep breath."
  
  The young blacksmith did as he said, inhaling deeply, and exhaling calmly. On the exhale, Matthew quickly made his move. Like ripping a bandage from a wound, he struck the block, destroying it instantly.
  
  Dillon cried out in pain, collapsing to the ground and holding his head. He felt a rush of energy flowing in and out of him as a result, and it didn't feel right. Various sticks around him started levitating in the air automatically. Without concentration, he wasn't able to control his abilities.
  
  "Dillon, you have to focus!" Matthew exclaimed, grabbing his shoulders. "You need to concentrate and let the power flow through you naturally."
  
  "I'm trying," he stated through gritted teeth as blood ran from his nose.
  
  "You have to relax. The pain is only temporary."
  
  Dillon started panting heavily as he tried to think of something, anything, to distract him from this unnatural change happening to him. He closed his eyes tightly, trying to block it all out. Then, he started to imagine what Annie would do or say if she was here. How would she try to help him?
  
  Come on, Dillon. They are counting on you. She would probably say. You've got to pull this off. I know you can do it. You survived Trost; you can damn well survive this.
  
  He started taking deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling slowly. With every breath, the sticks that were floating in the air started to lower to the ground. The pain started to recede into a headache, indicating that it was working. Once the sticks hit the dirt, Dillon slowly opened his eyes, wiping the blood off his nose.
  
  Matthew was staring at him in surprise. "That went smoother than I expected."
  
  "What, did you think I was going to explode?" Dillon joked, a little exhausted.
  
  He shook his head, giving him an amused look. "You did good, Dillon. I'm proud of you. What did you focus on?"
  
  "I started thinking about what Annie would be saying if she was here," he replied.
  
  "I see. I've been meaning to talk to your current relationship."
  
  His eyes widened a little. Oh, crap!
  
  Matthew sighed, not wanting to ask, but felt like he needed to know. "Son..."
  
  "Yes," Dillon answered instantly, deciding not to deny it, and save his father from asking the most awkward question a parent could ask their child.
  
  "I had a feeling it would escalate to that," he said. "I'm not judging you on your actions, and I don't think your mother will either. It's normal for relationships to become sexual, especially during these times. Just... how do I say this?" Pausing for a moment to collect his thoughts, he continued. "How do you feel about Annie?"
  
  "I love her," Dillon responded.
  
  "And I can tell she loves you, but I want to know what you are planning to do with that in mind."
  
  He pursed his lips for a moment. "I want to marry here in the future, but I don't know when the right time for that is. Right now, she's in the MPs, and I want her to go somewhere stable before I discuss wanting to spend the rest of my life with her."
  
  "And what about your commitment to the Scouts?" Matthew pressed. "It's something you can't simply walk away from."
  
  "I know, Dad," Dillon said, massaging his sore head. "Look, we just started all of this. Our new positions in the military and our relationship going to new heights. Once things settle down a little, then we can start talking about our future together."
  
  Matthew paused for a moment before giving a single nod. "All right, Dillon. If you need any advice, your mother and I will be there. Just do me a favor: don't use the guest house next time."
  
  Dillon's face flushed a bit. "I, uh, wasn't intending to at first, but, um..."
  
  He quickly held up his hand. "I don't need to know."
  
  Dillon nodded. "Yeah, let's end this conversation here and move on to something a little more important right now." With a flash of his eyes, one of the sticks flew towards him. "Whoa!" He dodged out of the way as the stick went passed him and shattered against a tree.
  
  "Looks like your levitation skills have improved," Matthew noted with a smirk.
  
  "This is going to take a lot of practice," Dillon said, "but it should be enough for me to help my squad more frequent this time." He began getting excited. "Just think, Pops. This was just removing one block. Think of what could happen when they all go!" I can see it now.
  
  He would be standing in the middle of a large field as hundreds of Titans would rush towards him with the intent of eating him. Would he let them? Not a chance in hell. With a single flash of his eyes, all the Titans would stop dead in their tracks. Then, one by one, their heads would explode. Victory, at last!
  
  "Dillon!" Matthew said loudly, snapping his fingers to get his attention.
  
  Dillon shook himself out of that daydream. "Oh, sorry."
  
  "I know what you're thinking, and right now, it's far too dangerous to try and remove your last blocks," he stated. "You can't forget about your limits, Dillon. The bar may have been raised, but there's still a bar."
  
  "I won't forget," he promised before staggering a little, the world spinning.
  
  "Had a feeling that would be a side effect," Matthew said before handing him a canteen.
  
  As Dillon gratefully drank it, he hoped that the removal of this block would give the Scouts a better chance to survive along with Eren.
  
  (3 days before the Expedition)
  
  -and with the block removed, I can finally levitate objects without straining. Granted, they're small objects, but it's still progress.
  
  Hate to say it, but this the last letter you'll get from until after the Expedition. In the next few days, I have to focus solely on preparing for this. Don't worry. I'm coming back home, and when I do, I'm gonna find you, and then I'm going to kiss you. Also, I'm definitely going to introduce you to my squad. I think you'll like them.
  
  I love you with all my heart.
  
  Dillon
  
  Annie let out a sigh as she put the letter down, rubbing her eyes as conflict entered her mind. There was so much that she wanted to tell him, that he deserved to know the truth, but she couldn't. If he knew, he would endanger everything that she worked so hard to get to... no matter how much she didn't want to do this.
  
  "Is that from your secret boyfriend?" her roommate asked annoyingly.
  
  Out of all the people Annie had to room with, she had to room with Hitch Dreyse, the resident gossip. Ever since the first day, the girl had been bugging her time and time again, trying to dig her claws into her personal life, especially when it came to the letters. She was far worse than when Sasha tried to squeeze her birthday date out of her, the difference being that she tolerated Potato Girl's existence. Not so much for this girl.
  
  "Shut up, Hitch," Annie said coldly.
  
  The girl had the gall to pout. "Aw, come on. Can you at least tell me he's cute?"
  
  Her response was to get up and walk out the door, stuffing the letter in her jacket.
  
  "You're no fun!" Hitch shouted at her.
  
  Annie let out a deep breath, putting all thoughts of murdering her roommate aside and walked straight to Kyler's office, knocking on the door.
  
  "Who is it?" a woman asked from inside.
  
  "Annie Leonhart, Corporal," she answered.
  
  "Come in."
  
  Annie entered the office, taking in the scenery once more. Several paintings were hung on the wall, gifts given to her for her services. There were several books in her shelves, many of them on the history of the Walls, the ones that weren't forbidden, that is. Near her window was a carrier pigeon, chirping happily as he waited to deliver the next letter.
  
  The black-haired woman in her early to mid-forties stood up from her chair. "Come to deliver another letter?"
  
  She nodded, pulling out a different letter that was already sealed. "It's going to be the last one for a while."
  
  "I understand," Kyler replied, taking it and putting it inside the bird's pouch. "Dom has gotten quite the workout this month." Taking the pigeon in her hands, she tossed him out the window, causing him to fly back to the Survey Corps Headquarters. Once that was done, she turned back to Annie. "Something wrong, Leonhart?"
  
  "I don't really want to talk about it," Annie answered, but then she decided to give her something. "I'm not a fan of hiding."
  
  "It's a sad part of life right now," Kyler said sympathetically. "Unless you and Dillon want to head to the Utopia District and start a new life, you're gonna have to get used to it for a while."
  
  The blonde nodded, turning to walk out. "Thank you for your help, Corporal Hauer."
  
  "One more thing, Annie," she said as she sat down in her chair. "Secrets tend to make themselves known. I hope you're prepared when the time comes."
  
  That was oddly specific. "I assume you're talking about me and Dillon?"
  
  "Whatever is outside of that is none of my business," Kyler said. "I'm just warning you as a friend."
  
  "I'll keep that in mind," Annie responded as she left the office. That woman is weird sometimes. That being said, she's right. I have to prepare...
  
  (Nightfall)
  
  "... and then Levi walks up and asks me, 'What the hell were you thinking?' And I answered, 'I was thinking that I needed to replace my shoes.'"
  
  The squad cracked up at that joke save for Dillon, who gave a forced chuckle. As far as funny stories went, that one ranked close to the bottom. He quickly took a drink from his mug before he voiced what he really thought of his "humorous" story. A tradition that this squad did was go to the nearest bar and drink beer before the Expedition. They were smart enough not to do this the night before the Expedition, so whatever hangovers they would have would be gone by then.
  
  "Geez, Amsdale," Marcus said. "That's your fourth mug. You're gonna get one hell of a migraine tomorrow."
  
  "That's true," Dillon agreed. "If I was drinking alcohol, that is."
  
  "What?" Darius exclaimed, looking at him with shock. "What are you drinking, then!?"
  
  "Apple juice," he answered simply, showing them his drink. "The nectar of the heavens."
  
  "It's a drink for wimps," Darius stated with a shake of his head. "You disappoint me, Amsdale."
  
  Dillon rolled his eyes. "One, alcohol tastes disgusting to me. Two, you guys are gonna be walking around with migraines tomorrow. I think I have the advantage over you."
  
  "It's all part of the experience, Dillon," Maria told him as she sat down next to him with her second mug.
  
  He shrugged as he took another sip. "You know, I've been with you guys for nearly a month, and I don't know much about you."
  
  "What, do you want our life stories or something?" Jensen asked, his speech sounding slightly slurred.
  
  "Whatever you guys feel like sharing," Dillon responded nonchalantly. "I mean, I already know a little about Jensen, but no so much everyone else."
  
  Putting down his mug, Darius began. "I've been in the Scouts for nine years."
  
  The blacksmith let out a whistle. "Nine years? How the hell have you survived this long?"
  
  "Skill and luck, rookie," he answered with a sigh. "I've been thinking of leaving once my tenth year comes around. Head on to the Training Corps and become a drill instructor like Keith did."
  
  That name struck a chord. "Keith Shadis?"
  
  Darius nodded. "The same. He was the previous commander of the Scouts until about five years ago after a botched expedition. Seventy percent of our forces were slaughtered by the Titans before we made it back home, and Keith just... broke down."
  
  Hearing that story put so much into perspective for his former instructor. "Damn."
  
  "He's a good man," Darius said, taking another drink. "It's a shame what happened."
  
  With a sigh, Marcus decided to spill. "I've only been a Scout for a few years. I wanted to get into the Top 10 so I could be an MP, but I ranked eleven. Since I couldn't get into the Interior, I figured joining the Scouts would be fun." He let out a mirthless chuckle. "Some days, it is fun. Other times, not so much."
  
  "I see." He turned to Maria. "What about you?"
  
  She sighed. "I joined the Scouts so I could get away from the Wall Cultists."
  
  "It's because of your name, isn't it?" Dillon guessed.
  
  "Being named after a Wall was considered heresy in their eyes, and it made me the subject of their attempts to shame me," she stated in a slight bitter tone. "The Scouts don't give a damn about your name; they only care about if you have the guts to give your life for humanity."
  
  This got depressing fast. Dillon thought sadly. "I'm sorry you had to go through that. If it's any consolation, I know a bit about what you went through. Unfortunately, it was the MPs that had a problem with the Amsdale family."
  
  Jensen chuckled. "Oh, trust me. We've heard the stories about your mother. The Scouts think very highly of her."
  
  "No pressure, then," Dillon muttered.
  
  "Carolyn fights her battles in the heart of the corruption within the Walls," Darius reminded him. "We take the fight to the corruption outside the Walls. Whatever you do will not be considered less than her actions."
  
  "Don't worry, Darius," he assured. "I know. It was just a joke."
  
  The squad leader frowned a bit. "Well, I just wasted a lecture on you."
  
  "Most of your lectures are wastes," Marcus teased.
  
  Darius gave him a withering glare.
  
  Before things could escalate, Maria cleared her throat, raising her mug. "How about a toast to the Wings of Freedom for finally having an opportunity to avoid being Titan chow?"
  
  "I second that," Jensen replied.
  
  The soldiers clinked their mugs together before downing their drinks. Things were going to be different this Expedition, and they were looking forward to it for a change. The only certainty was that Dillon was going to come home no matter what. He promised Annie several times, and the last letter fueled that promise.
  
  Stay safe. I love you.
  
  Annie
  
  Remastered Edits: So, before I get into the edits, I want to talk about the original chapter. At the time, I was posting one chapter each day or two days, and I really wanted to get to the next one, so I REALLY rushed this chapter. I wasn't a fan by how little content and development I put in the chapter, so this is something that needed to change. Granted, it's still a montage but with some meat on its bones this time. I feel a lot better about it this time.
  
  Big change, of course, is the added scene of where the 104 th briefly reunites with Eren. I figured that would be a good time to drop the ball about what Dillon did with Annie a couple of chapters ago. I also made the following scene with Jensen different in light of that.
  
  So, unless I change my mind, there won't be major changes in the upcoming chapters save for a few exceptions.
  
  I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter far more than last time, I look forward to your reviews, and I shall see you all in the next chapter.
  
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  The 57th Expedition
  Happy Father's Day!
  
  AN: So, here's a question that I'd like to get an answer on whether you're a newcomer or someone that has stuck with me since the old version. Should I bring over the old Author's Notes so you can get my first impressions and reasons for the chapters or just stick with explaining the Remastered Edits? Please let me know in either review format or sending me a message.
  
  Anyways, since this is a special chapter, I'm bringing back the music. Here's a reminder on how the song cues work: when you see a number like this (1*), you play the song listed in the AN next to the number. When you see that same number again, stop the music. If you see a time on it, stop the music at that very second. You can find all of this on YouTube. I'll list the channel names they are under. Also, you may have to either repeat the song, or slow down your reading depending on where I placed the end marks.
  
  1. Mikasa vs. Female Titan on Mr. Clean's channel.
  
  2. Female Titan Theme by Yurilica
  
  3. Addicted to a Certain Lifestyle from Sherlock: Original Television Soundtrack Music from Series Three.
  
  Chapter 18: The 57th Expedition
  
  At long last, the day had finally come. It was time to start the Expedition that, if successful, would change everything. The Scouts had mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, they had a Titan fighting for them and his basement contained a valuable secret they needed. On the other hand, they had to get through hordes of Titans to reach Shiganshina first, and that came with all kinds of risks. The biggest one was the flat ground they would be traveling through. It was the least optimal situation the Scouts wanted to be in considering their ODM gear would only be good for grappling on trees or the Titans themselves. Still, at this point, it was a risk worth taking.
  
  In the early morning, the Scouts had gathered everything they needed for the Expedition and rode off towards Karanes District's gate. Dillon was stuck in the middle along with squad, and he couldn't tell who was who with all the green cloaks in the vicinity. All he knew was that Eren was in front and he probably won't run into him until they reached his hometown.
  
  As he thought of the Shifter, his mind drifted to a conversation Jean had with Eren not too long ago, something that had be gnawing on him.
  
  "Hey, Eren, I heard that while you were in Titan form, you intentionally tried to crush Mikasa," Jean said, making his disdain very clear. "Mind telling us what that's all about?"
  
  Eren stiffened, remembering how the courts accused him of doing just that.
  
  "You're wrong," Mikasa lied quickly. "He thought he was just swatting a fly, nothing-"
  
  "Mikasa, don't lie," Dillon interrupted quietly. "Jean has the right to know the truth. They all do."
  
  "Like how you got that scar on your cheek," Jean added. "Looks pretty deep."
  
  Dillon's eyes widened, noticing the wound on her face for the first time. Either Mikasa purposefully hid it from him to prevent any questions arising, or he was so caught up in his issues, he didn't even notice. Probably the latter.
  
  "Apparently, it's true," Eren confessed. "When I was a Titan, I-I tried to kill Mikasa."
  
  The confirmation intensified Jean's ire. "Apparently!? As in you don't remember whether you did or not? So, basically, you can transform into a 15-meter Titan at will, but when you do, you don't actually have full control over it?"
  
  "Not yet, but that's right."
  
  Jean let out a sigh, looking at his fellow cadets. "Do you hear that everyone? What a fine situation this is. Our lives and the fate of all mankind rest on his shoulders. I'm guessing we'll all end up like Marco, dead before-"
  
  "That's enough, Jean," Dillon interjected, walking to him. "This isn't ideal, but it's the only chance we have and you know it."
  
  "Am I wrong, Dillon?" Jean asked, looking right at him. "Can you say beyond the shadow of a doubt that you can trust Eren with our lives, with humanity's future?"
  
  The blacksmith froze, finding himself at a loss for words. With everything he heard about Trost, the good and the bad, after knowing Eren as long as he did, could he actually do it? He could feel the gazes of Eren and Mikasa on him as he was unwilling to face them.
  
  " That's what I thought," he said when Dillon took too long to respond.
  
  " Stop it!" Mikasa demanded. "Why are you chastising Eren about it now? Just give it a rest."
  
  Jean turned to face her. "Listen, Mikasa, unlike you, most of the rest of us aren't willing to just throw our lives away for him on a whim. We need a reason. The truth. We want to know what we're laying our lives down for. Otherwise, we might hesitate when the time is at hand. What we want is a guarantee from Eren. Show us what you're worth. Prove it to us. We're asking you to make us believe you're worth dying for!"
  
  Whatever kept Jean's composure at bay snapped as the brown-haired teen stalked towards Eren and grabbed him by the shoulders.
  
  " Jean!" Dillon moved to pull him away, but Armin held him back.
  
  " You think you can do that?" Jean demanded. "If you can, then we're with you. All the way!"
  
  Despite that declaration, Dillon still didn't have an answer to the question Jean asked him. Could he trust Eren because he believed in him, or because there was no other option left?
  
  "You seem nervous," Marcus pointed out, bringing him back to the present.
  
  "It's my first Expedition," the teen explained, shaking it off. "Why wouldn't I be?"
  
  "Take a breath and calm your nerves," Jensen advised. "Last thing we need is for you to have an anxiety attack in the middle of the Expedition."
  
  You look nervous for one second and then they immediately jump to the extreme. He thought, but he didn't voice his displeasure. He didn't want to start an argument.
  
  Suddenly, the bell started to ring, prompting the Scouts to clench their reins in anticipation.
  
  "Titans have been lured away from the gate," a Garrison soldier announced. "Gate opens in thirty seconds.
  
  Dillon began taking deep, calm breaths. You're an Amsdale. You can do this.
  
  "This is it," a Section Commander announced. "This is the day humanity takes a giant step forward! Now let's show those Titans exactly what we're made of!"
  
  All the Scouts raised their swords, letting out a war cry.
  
  "Open the gate," Erwin ordered.
  
  The massive, stone gate slowly started to rise.
  
  The Titans are not going to win this time. Dillon swore inwardly, a look of determination appearing on his face. Their days are numbered, and our freedom draws near. We will win!
  
  Once the gate was open completely, Erwin gave his first command. "Forward!"
  
  With a crack of the reins, the Scouts took off, their horses giving out a widespread neigh.
  
  "It's officially begun," Erwin continued. "The 57th Recon Mission! Scouts, move out!"
  
  Dillon stayed as close as he could to the Scouts, but he could finally see glimpses of his friends. He hoped that they were in good hands and that he would see them again.
  
  Quit worrying. He rebuked himself. They've trained for this day same as the rest of us.
  
  A rumble caught his attention. To the left was a fat 10-meter, approaching them slowly. Two Scouts had already diverged from the formation to take care of it, so there was no need for Dillon to be concerned. However, his eyes flashed, giving the Titan a migraine on the spot to make their lives a little easier.
  
  Erwin let out his next command. "Long range formation: go!"
  
  One by one the Scouts split off into their respective squads. As the blacksmith rode with his, he spotted Ymir and Krista nearby.
  
  "Good luck, guys!" Dillon shouted.
  
  Krista looked and grinned at Dillon. "See you later."
  
  "Leave some Titans for the rest of us, Amsdale," Ymir added with a smirk.
  
  Nodding, Dillon continued onward, ready for whatever would come his way.
  
  With the red flares being fired, the Survey Corps were able to track the Titans, and with Erwin firing the green flares, they were able to stay a course that didn't involve running into Titans save for a small few. However, there were unfortunate exceptions that they had to account for: Abnormals, which was what Ness and his partner, Luke Cis, were chasing after. It was trying to head for the center of the formation, but it wasn't going to make it if they could help it. Especially since Armin, whose job was to hold onto a spare horse for the duration, was going to be in its way any minute.
  
  "The nape's all yours, okay?" Ness shouted. "I'll go for the legs!"
  
  "You've got it," he yelled back.
  
  Quickly, Ness drew his swords and fired a hook into the Titan's heel. He skidded on the ground towards him, performing a slash once he got close enough. With the Achilles tendon severed, the Titan crashed to the ground.
  
  "All yours, Cis," Ness said once he landed back on his feet.
  
  Cis let out a yell as he leaped into the air. Two slashes later, the nape was split open and the Abnormal was dead.
  
  "Way to go," Armin complemented with a grin. "Nicely done, Ness!" Compared to how things were in Trost, seeing experts who had been fighting Titans for a long time take down the monsters was a relieving sight.
  
  "Not so bad," Ness muttered as his horse galloped towards him obediently. "Hey, nothing scares you, huh?" He climbed on, petting its mane. "That's my little darling Charrette."
  
  As the two rode towards Armin's position, they felt the ground rumble. Looking behind him, Ness caught a glimpse of a 14-meter running towards them in the distance, gaining up on them quickly.
  
  "Aw, hell," Ness said in a dejected tone. "Not again. What are those right-wing spotters doing?"
  
  "Looks like we've got another Abnormal on our hands," Cis stated. "It's not their fault."
  
  The Titan was getting closer, its skinless form becoming clearer.
  
  "Ugh, I hate these things," Ness complained, drawing his sword. "Fine, one more for the road, then."
  
  Cis nodded in agreement. "Right."
  
  However, Ness was far from being done with his venting. "Damn it. Someone gonna tell me why we deserved two in a row? Bad enough it's an Abnormal. It's gotta be fourteen meters. This is gonna be a pain in the ass."
  
  When he looked back again, he gasped. The Titan was nearly on top of them. Quickly, the two soldiers split off just as a foot came crashing down where they were. Closer inspection revealed that this Titan was completely different from the other Titans. This one had a feminine build, its chest a dead giveaway. Her blond hair was nearly long enough to cover her eyes, and the speed she was going was almost faster than the horses. Shocked beyond all reason, Armin fired a black flare into sky, gazing at this Female Titan with wide eyes.
  
  "It's moving so fast," he commented, trying so hard not to panic. "Too fast!"
  
  "We have to keep it clear of Arlert," Ness exclaimed. "Cis!"
  
  "On it," he replied, firing a hook into her back.
  
  Cis grappled up with a yell, ready to slice open her nape. However, this Titan had other plans. She grabbed Cis just before he reached her nape, and with a single squeeze, crushed his body. Ness fired a cable into her back as well, but she pulled it out. All he could do was scream as the Female Titan slammed him into the ground, killing him instantly as she tossed Cis's body away.
  
  Shock gave way to horror as Armin stared at the Female Titan, who came to a sliding halt. She just killed two soldiers, who spent half their lives fighting Titans, effortlessly and brutally. If there was more indication that this wasn't a simple Abnormal, that was it. He flinched when her head turned in his direction, and his blood ran cold when she started running at him.
  
  Panic overtaking him, Armin grabbed the reins and urged his horse to get him out there while holding onto the reins of Ness's horse. The heavy stomping behind him was increasing his terror as he tried to urge his horse to go faster. His mind was racing, thinking about how this Titan showed intelligence like the Colossal Titan, like the Armored Titan, and like... Eren.
  
  It's a human being wrapped in a Titan body! He realized. Why? Why?
  
  Giving a quick look behind him, he saw that the Female Titan was so close to him. Thinking that he was going to die, he released Ness's horse, trying to at least save its life. It barely dodged her foot as it disappeared into the distance. Armin looked up and saw her foot raise directly above him. So, this would be how it all ended. A stain underneath the foot of a human in a Titan's body.
  
  To his shock, her foot overshot him by just a little bit, crashing down in front of him. His reared back sharply and Armin couldn't hold on. He flew off his horse and crashed onto the ground. There were some scrapes on his hands as a result of the fall, but he was still alive... for now. As he tried to get up, the earth shook violently, making him freeze. The Female Titan was on her knees like he was, and her hand was reaching out for him. Every instinct was telling him to get up and run, but he was petrified, unable to move. Why didn't she kill him? She intentionally missed him, so what was the point?
  
  Her fingers pulled his hood back carefully, exposing his head. Taking a risk, Armin raised his head and stared at the Female Titan. Her face was so close. He could see her eyes this time, blue with what appeared to be a silver tint. Unlike most Titans, she actually had lips, and her other teeth were mostly covered up. She seemed to be... smiling at him for some reason, and that just confused him more. What added to it was the fact she somehow looked familiar.
  
  The seconds that ticked by seemed to go on forever until she released his hood. Carefully, the Female Titan stood up to her full height, making sure that Armin wasn't in her way, and started running again.
  
  Armin was visibly shaking, putting a hand on his face. He couldn't rationalize this, couldn't figure it out. A human fighting against her own kind, killing them, yet she didn't kill him. All she wanted to do was see his face.
  
  "Armin!" a familiar voice yelled.
  
  Snapping out of his daze, Armin looked right to see Reiner galloping towards him with a spare horse, which was a good thing since Armin's took off out of fear. "Reiner!"
  
  Reiner shook his head, untying the spare from his own. "What the hell are you doing? This is full-blown Titan country. You can't be without a horse. Climb on!"
  
  Nodding, the small blonde got on, trying to shake off what happened. In a few seconds, the two were on the road again heading straight for the Female Titan.
  
  "I came as fast as I could when I saw the black smoke," Reiner explained, his eyes drifting towards their quarry. "Nice ass for an Abnormal you gotta admit."
  
  Reiner, this is not the time. "It's not an Abnormal," Armin corrected. "It's a person controlling a Titan body."
  
  Reiner gave him a look of surprise. "Wait, what?"
  
  "I'll explain in a second," he replied, pulling out his flare gun, which was damaged when he fell. He tried putting it back together, but it wouldn't take. "Come on. Work, you piece of garbage. It's an emergency!"
  
  Fortunately, someone fired a yellow flare behind them.
  
  "Well, look at that," Reiner assured, looking back at the familiar cadet. "Jean got you covered."
  
  As Jean caught up with them silently, more shots were fired. Looking right, they saw several streaks of yellow piercing the sky.
  
  "Shit," Reiner swore. "The right-wing spotters have taken too many casualties."
  
  "Yeah, apparently most of them were wiped out by a Titan ambush," Jean explained. "I don't know how it happened, but it was bad. Sons of bitches were lightning fast. Whoever's left is trying to hold them off, but that means there's no one on lookout duty. Talk about a setback, right? If we don't watch our backs, we're all gonna get wiped out!" It sounded like he was about to cross the line into full blown panic.
  
  Armin's inquisitive mind, however, was in motion. "Wait, she came from that direction. Does that mean...?" He looked forward at the Titan in question. "Could she have led the Titans here like a commander?"
  
  "Who, her?" Jean asked, confused. "Why the hell is she running from us? Is she an Abnormal?"
  
  "No, she isn't," Armin answered. "I still don't know how it's possible, but she's another human who's taken Titan form, someone who has the same power as Eren!"
  
  Jean glared at him. "Please say you're not serious."
  
  "Why would you think that?" Reiner questioned.
  
  "Titans eat people, but they're not murderers," he explained. "They just feed on instinct like any other creature. This one was different. When the others went for her nape, she struck them down in cold blood. Swatted them like flies. She didn't eat them; she killed them and moved on! That's out of character, even for an Abnormal. The Titans that took out the right-wing? I think she brought them here, just like the Colossal and the Armored when they struck. I just know it." He was talking to himself at this point. "She's not just simply satisfying her bloodlust; she has it in for us, or perhaps, more specifically, I think she's going after someone in particular. At that point, the question becomes who, and why."
  
  Gee, I wonder who a Titan like that would be interested in? Jean thought sardonically.
  
  "Hey, wait a second. Could it be Eren?"
  
  Called it.
  
  "Eren?" Reiner repeated. "He's with Levi Squad. They're spearheading the right wing... or they were last I heard."
  
  That caught Jean's attention. "Wait, Levi's team? I'm pretty sure you're wrong there, big guy. My copy of the plan had them in the left wing."
  
  "That's odd because my copy had them at the front of the right wing, too," Armin added, "which, now that I think about it, doesn't make sense. Putting them at the vanguard like that wouldn't be smart strategically."
  
  Reiner tilted his head in confusion. "Then where exactly are they supposed to be?"
  
  "Come on. Where else?" Armin asked. "The safest place in the whole formation, which I assume, at least, would be rear of the center rank."
  
  "Armin," Jean exclaimed. "Now's not the time to be chasing our own tails about this. We gotta get word out on how dangerous this one is. Smoke signals aren't gonna cut it! At this rate, she'll cut down the command squad. We let that happen, and the formation goes to hell and we all die!"
  
  "You have a plan?" Reiner asked.
  
  "More like a wing and a prayer," he answered. "Look, we've got to try and distract her so that the platoon has a chance to retreat. If we're careful, from this distance, we should be able to manage it and make it out alive."
  
  The two cadets gave him odd looks.
  
  "Well, maybe," he added sheepishly. "She's smarter than the ones we usually deal with. You can take my word for it. From her perspective, we're little more than insects. One swipe of that arm and we're all flattened." What I'd give to have Dillon with us. With his powers, we could manage something more feasible.
  
  Jean grinned awkwardly, his panic rising again. "Is that a fact? Heh, what a terrifying thought."
  
  "Seriously, what have you done with the real Jean?" Reiner wondered. "No offense, man, but the one I knew could only be counted on to look out for himself."
  
  He chuckled. "Your people skills need work. Believe me, friends, I'm still all about number 1. I just don't want to end up as a pile of bones that no one can identify." His mind drifted to the funeral where he tried to determine which bones were Marco's. "The thing is, I get it now. I get what needs to be done if we're going to survive this fight, and last I checked, nobody forced us to take on this position! Now, are you with me or not?"
  
  Armin and Reiner stared at him for a moment, seeing that Jean was being absolutely serious.
  
  Deciding to add on to the plan, Armin pulled his hood over his head. "Pull your hood up all the way over your head. She won't try to kill you if she can't see your face." In response to their confused looks, he quickly elaborated. "If she's looking for someone specific, she won't mow us down unless she knows for sure we're not them."
  
  "Good idea," Reiner replied, pulling his hood up. "As far as she knows, any one of us could be Eren underneath this getup. That's actually kind of an encouraging thought. You never know. Maybe we'll get lucky, and she'll be nearsighted to boot."
  
  Jean had no idea what was going on through that guy's head, and he didn't really want to know. He decided to address Armin instead "Not gonna lie. The way you clung onto Eren like a security blanket all the time used to creep me out, but I always knew you were brilliant." He topped it off by putting on the hood.
  
  "Uh, okay, thank you, " Armin replied, looking at Jean strangely. "Not sure how I'm supposed to take that, but thanks."
  
  Keeping quiet, the three urged their horses to pick up the pace. Within a few minutes, they managed to catch up to the Female Titan. They had a feeling she could sense them, but it was possible she was waiting for them to make the first move.
  
  She's slower than we she first chased after us. Armin noted inwardly. Tired, maybe? Let's hope. We slip up, and we'll lose her. We have to do this now before she gets her wind back.
  
  Reiner stayed directly behind her, Armin moved to the right, and Jean moved to the left. The trio knew that she was dangerous, but they needed her alive if what Armin said was true. Jean planned to go for the Achilles heel quickly without any fancy moves. One false move, and he would be dead.
  
  Kissing the hilt of his sword for good luck, Jean made the first move, firing a hook into the heel. Unfortunately, his aim was off, and it bounced off of her. Instantly, the Female Titan turned around, swiping her arm with her. She created a gust of wind that blew off Jean's hood, blowing his cover instantly. Seeing that he wasn't Eren, she quickly moved to the next one, knocking the horse right out from under Armin. He let out a scream as he crashed harder on the ground, shattering his ODM gear and causing his forehead to bleed. He was going to be feeling that for a while if he survived this time.
  
  Facedown in the grass, Armin barely opened his eyes to see her looming over him again. His eyes widened, expecting her to crush him into bloody pieces, but she still didn't strike the killing blow. Why was she sparing him again? Then, a horrible thought crossed his mind, and if he was right...
  
  "Armin!" Jean shouted, firing another hook.
  
  This time, it managed to pierce her muscle and stick. Naturally, she turned around to face him, rearing her arm back. As he moved up, he was forced to detach his hook, and fire it into her side as she took a swing at him. Barely, he managed to dodge her attack as he zoomed around towards her nape. To his horror, she quickly put a hand over it, covering it up.
  
  What? Jean shouted inwardly. She's protecting her weak spot!?
  
  Now, the panic came as the Female Titan's eyes landed on him. Jean was completely exposed, vulnerable to any attack she had planned. Her free hand curled into a fist and she brought it back, ready to smash him to pieces.
  
  "Jean, don't let that suicidal maniac die in vain!"
  
  The Female Titan stopped, hearing Armin's words. Jean was flabbergasted, but he quickly landed on the ground behind a tree, getting to a safe distance... relatively, as Armin continued shouting.
  
  "She did it," he accused with unbridled rage. "She's the one who killed him! I told him the right wing was suicide, but he went along anyway, and now he's dead thanks to her!"
  
  Jean had no idea what Armin was talking about, but it was doing the trick, for the Female Titan remained frozen, almost as if she was contemplating her next move.
  
  Having enough of all this, Reiner threw his hood off, charging straight for her.
  
  "She crushed him with her foot! I saw it with my own eyes!" Armin continued. "His entrails were stuck to his foot!"
  
  Reiner impaled his hook into her shoulder, heading straight for her nape, the most idiotic move he could make. She, unfortunately, was not an idiot. As he passed by her face, she gave Reiner a smirk before catching him with hand, trapping him. The blonde struggled to get free, but she was crushing his lungs and had his arms pinned, making it impossible for him to escape. She placed her thumb on his head, and there was a sickening pop, blood spraying everywhere.
  
  Jean staggered back, mortified by his friend's death. "Reiner? Oh, God. No."
  
  Armin stopped shouting, staring at the Female Titan in horror.
  
  Suddenly, there was a loud yell, and her hand exploded, Reiner busting out of there with blood covering him. His swords were shattered, but he was free. Quickly moving behind the Female Titan, Reiner landed, picked Armin, and started running for their lives while she started at her regenerating hand for a moment.
  
  Once the blood evaporated, Reiner spoke quickly. "That should buy the platoon enough time! I say we follow suit and get out of here! If, she doesn't have an appetite for people like you say, then I'm guessing she's not gonna follow us."
  
  Sure enough, the Female Titan stood up, and started running southeast of their position.
  
  "All right! Looks like she's in retreat!" Reiner noted, relieved. "Poor thing's running home with her tail between her legs.
  
  Armin looked back, realizing that she was heading for the center rank, going for Eren. This was not over by a long shot. To make matters worse, there was someone she would run into before she reached Eren. If I'm right about who she is... then God help Dillon.
  
  (An hour later)
  
  It started off so well. Dillon simply followed his squad and watched them kill Titans easier than he could. While he wanted to aide them outside of subtly using his powers, they didn't let him. It was nice thought that his squad wanted to keep him alive, but he wanted to more. Unfortunately, his time was possibly coming when a messenger rode up to their squad to give them bad news.
  
  "The right wing's wiped out?" Darius demanded when he got the message. "Impossible!"
  
  "It's the truth," the messenger said, equally distraught. "There's an Abnormal that's been taking the Scouts down like they were nothing."
  
  This is not good. Dillon thought, unable to comprehend how badly things have gone south in such little time.
  
  To make matters worse, several black flares penetrated the skies behind them.
  
  "It's right behind us!" Maria exclaimed.
  
  "Keep it together," Darius demanded, looking ahead. "See that village? We'll lure the Titan in there." He looked at the messenger. "Get out of here."
  
  Nodding, the Scout took off, leaving the Squad to fend for themselves.
  
  "Lots of grappling points," Marcus realized with a grin. "We'll take the Abnormal down easily."
  
  "Don't get cocky, Mark," Jensen warned. "If we're not careful, we're gonna end up like the right wing."
  
  "Jensen, Maria head into the village and take vantage points to target her heel and nape respectively," Darius ordered. "Dillon, stay with me at all times. Marcus, stay behind and go for the spinal cord. When I give the signal, attack!"
  
  "Yes, sir!" they all responded.
  
  "And for the last time, don't call me 'sir!'"
  
  "Darius, I can help," Dillon assured. "Maybe I can take another vantage point."
  
  "Rookie, you're not as experienced as us," Jensen said. "Let us handle it."
  
  "But I-" He stopped, letting his statement die in his throat. He wanted to reveal his abilities, but two things stopped him. They wouldn't believe him and they would ask too many questions. Neither of those things needed to happen right now. What also made him pause was the ground shaking violently.
  
  "Go," Darius shouted. "Rookie, with me!"
  
  Jensen and Maria went on ahead while Dillon stayed next to Darius. Marcus fell back, waiting for the right moment.
  
  I need to trust that these guys know what they're doing. Dillon thought as he put on his hood. The temperature was getting colder. If things go south, I'll intervene with everything I've got.
  
  After a few seconds, the Titan came into view, charging at them.
  
  Dillon looked back and his jaw dropped in shock. Is that... a Female Titan? When did those start coming around?
  
  "Eyes forward," Darius growled.
  
  "Sorry."
  
  As the Female Titan pursued them, Jensen quickly grappled onto a tall building, catching her attention for a moment. She covered her nape so he wouldn't get any ideas as Darius loaded his flare gun.
  
  "Hey," he yelled, pointing it at her. "Look down here, you monster!"
  
  She looked down just as he pulled the trigger. She tilted her head to the side, barely dodging it, but she started slowing down to a halt.
  
  "Now," Darius commanded.
  
  Jensen took the spine, Maria went for the nape, and Marcus went for the heel.
  
  "Bring that bitch down," Darius added as he and Dillon circled her. "Attack!"
  
  "For the soldiers you killed," Maria stated.
  
  "We're gonna make this hurt," Jensen promised.
  
  Come on, come on. Dillon urged, thinking that they finally got her.
  
  Then it all went straight to hell.
  
  The Female Titan grabbed the hook in her spine and pulled it out as she jumped into the air, taking the others with her. Everyone's jaws dropped in horror. This Titan was far smarter than they believed and there was nothing they could do about it. Marcus could only widen his eyes as she landed directly on him, turning him into a puddle of blood and crushed organs. Maria tried to get away, but quick foot stomp ended her life quickly.
  
  "Fall back," Darius commanded to a mortified Dillon.
  
  Briefly snapping out of his frozen state, Dillon followed his squad leader
  
  All that was left of the three was Jensen, who was dangling from her hand, and he did the only thing he could do. "Put me down! Put me down!" he pleaded.
  
  Dillon brought his horse to a halt, looking back. The Female Titan was smiling at this, like a cat who just caught a squirming mouse. He shook his head, realizing what was about to happen. "No. Don't."
  
  Then, she started spinning him around in her hand like some toy, increasing his horror. She was... she was enjoying it. She was reveling in it. Tears fell down Dillon's face as he watched his friend suffer the worst death one could from her. "Jensen," he whispered.
  
  "We have to go," Darius said, trying to keep it together. "We have to get out of here."
  
  Burning anger filled Dillon's body as he glared at the monster. He was taking her down now. With a yell, the blacksmith charged towards her, intent on avenging his friends' death. He couldn't hear the Squad Leader calling for him as his attention was solely on this thing. By the time his swords were drawn and his mind prepared for an attack, she suddenly slammed Jensen's body directly in front of him. Maximus, unable to maneuver fast enough, tripped over the body. Dillon flew off at a high speed, hitting the ground hard as his ODM gear broke apart on impact. He was lucky that none of his bones were broken, but he was bleeding from several areas of his body, including his head.
  
  1.* "No," was the last thing Darius said with wide eyes as the Female Titan's foot reared back. She kicked him into the air like kicking a ball, killing him and his horse instantly. As they flew into the air, she turned around and slowly started approaching the only survivor of this slaughter.
  
  Dillon managed to get on his hands and knees as he stared at his dead comrades in horror. Jensen's body was the only one intact, and it was horribly mangled, mouth open in a permanent scream. He didn't know them long, but they were his friends, and now they were rotting in the ground. He was agonized, angry, and afraid, the three things he didn't want to be at this moment.
  
  This Titan, she's... human like Eren. Dillon realized, a moment of clarity hitting him.
  
  The ground shook with every footstep the Female Titan made, forcing him to face her again. She was taking her time getting to him, that sadistic smile still etched on her face. She was planning on killing him, there was no doubt about that, but it seemed like she was gonna toy with him first just like she did to poor Jensen.
  
  That wasn't the worst part; the worst part was the fact Dillon could've prevented this from happening. If he attacked her mentally from the start, his new friends would be alive demanding answers to his abilities rather than rotting in the ground. He underestimated the monster, and his squad paid the price. What have I done?
  
  With a clenched fist, Dillon started to shake, his rage building with every second. The Female Titan was not gonna get the last laugh. Not now or ever again. He was going to find out who she was, and then he would destroy her. Pieces of the ground started floating into the air as his eyes glowed, fueled by his rage. Slowly, he got to his feet, and dared to glare at her. "If you're expecting me to run, get ready to be disappointed, you heartless bitch!"
  
  Concentrating as hard as he could, his eyes glowed their brightest as he began his attack. He was wrapped up in his fury, his desire for revenge, that he failed to notice the Female Titan's smile turn into a look of horror. *1.
  
  2.* When Dillon opened his eyes, he came upon something he had never seen before. There stood the gigantic brain of his enemy, but it was encased in blue crystal that sparkled. It was actually beautiful to look at. Shame it had to be wasted on the Female Titan of all creatures.
  
  The plan was simple: uncover the identity of this creature and make it hurt while doing so. If he accidentally killed her, oh well.
  
  Unsheathing his swords, he ran to her brain and got the first sign that this wasn't going to be easy. For starters, the area started to shake violently as he heard the angry growls of the Female Titan. That didn't take long. What he didn't expect were five, crystallized, human-sized versions of the Female Titan sprouting from the brain. First time he came across legitimate defenses that were charging towards him. Impressive? Yes. Dangerous? Naturally. Did he care? No... for about two seconds.
  
  The minute his sword struck one the Crystal Titans, his weapon shattered into several pieces. A fist slammed into his face, knocking him to what constituted as the floor. Instantly, the Crystal Titans were on him, punching and kicking him as hard as they could. Adding to this was the sound of a deep voice yelling, "Get out!" over and over. Finally, one of them grabbed his other sword and plunged it into his stomach, making him scream in agony. If they killed him here, the Female Titan would have the chance to kill him in the physical world. He was beginning to lose consciousness fast.
  
  Memories flashed through Dillon's mind as he thought of Jensen, the man who had a pregnant wife to return to, being spun around like a kid spinning a rock attached to a string. He thought of Maria, the girl persecuted by the Wall Worshippers for sharing the same name as the outer wall, becoming a stain on the Female Titan's foot. He thought of Marcus, a man who wanted to help make the world a better place, sharing the same fate as Maria. He thought of Darius, the grizzled leader that was ready to leave behind the life of a Survey Corps soldier to teach at the Military Academy with Shadis, now under pieces of debris that was thrown at him. And finally, he thought of Annie, the love of his life, the woman he wanted to live the rest of his life with, waiting for him.
  
  "You'd better come home!" she had told him.
  
  With a scream filled with determination, Dillon pushed himself up, throwing all the Crystal Titans off him. Pulling the sword out by the hilt, which hurt like hell, he spun in a very quick circle, decapitating all five of them at once. He stared at his hand, which was bleeding profusely like the stab wound in his body, but he couldn't allow himself to let them bring him down. They hurt like hell, but he had to keep going. If this was reality, he would be lying on the ground, dying, but this was his world. The pain was lessened greatly... for now.
  
  He jumped to the top of her brain, still ignoring her voice, and brought his sword down. Like before, the sword shattered, but he wasn't giving up.
  
  " Nice try," Dillon exclaimed, his sword regenerating its blade and turning bright orange as if it just came out of the forge, "but you're only hurting yourself!"
  
  The burning sword was impaled directly into the Female Titan's brain. It felt like an earthquake was rampaging around him as a feral scream sounded. It was hurting her. Good! Twisting the sword, he started to see blurry images going through his mind without context. Now came part 2: latching onto the memory he needed, which was her identity. Unfortunately, she wasn't making it easy for him. More Crystal Titans were being summoned to stop him. This time, they were trying to pull him off the brain. Frustrated, Dillon blasted them off with his powers, but they just kept coming. They tried to drag him off, but he held on, more determined than ever to find the truth.
  
  The images were beginning to slow down, showing signs that the monster was getting exhausted, though she wasn't the only one. That feeling of light-heatedness was coming back and the wounds he sustained were getting excruciatingly painful. Not to mention that the Crystal Titans' efforts were getting more frantic by the second. He needed something that could tell him instantly who the Female Titan was before he passed out.
  
  "Who are you?" he demanded, shoving one of the Titans off him. "You can't hide from me forever!"
  
  Finally, he found the memory that he was looking for: a moment where she was looking in the mirror. At last, he would finally see who this was. *2.
  
  In two seconds, he figured out who the Female Titan was.
  
  In two seconds, he faced a realization he never could have conceived.
  
  It was if time itself came to a grinding halt.
  
  Looking at him, or the mirror due to the memory he found, was a blonde-haired, silver and blue-eyed girl. A girl he thought fondly of. A girl who meant the world to him.
  
  "No," Dillon whispered with a mortified look, his hands shaking.
  
  He let go of the sword and the darkness consumed him.
  
  In the physical world, Dillon collapsed to the ground, exhausted from that intense attack. Blood fell from his nose due to the immense strain. The Female Titan, on the other hand, stumbled backwards and fell right into a nearby house, destroying it. There was some blood coming from her ears and nose, but thanks to her regenerative abilities, her injuries would be healed soon. However, none of that mattered compared to the pain Dillon was going through. He was on his hands and knees with his head facing the ground.
  
  "It's not true," he said on the verge of losing it. "It can't be true. You're back home waiting for me. It has to be a trick just to get me confused." He wasn't paying attention to the footsteps coming towards him as tears were starting to fall. "Please, don't. Don't do this to me."
  
  The ground shook a little harder this time, forcing the blacksmith to look up. The Female Titan was now on her knees, staring down at him. Now, he noticed the resemblance. She had the same blond hair, the same nose shape, and the same silver-blue eyes as... as...
  
  "Annie?" Dillon asked in a quiet, agonized voice.
  
  Gone was the sadistic monster she presented herself as. Gone was the desire to complete her mission and kill all that got in her way. There was only sadness and regret in her eyes.
  
  "I'm sorry, Dillon," Annie finally responded through their link.
  
  3.* His eyes widened when he heard her voice in his head. Only Annie and a few other people could use his mental link. It was slightly overlaid with the sound of the same deep voice he heard in her mind. Whatever doubts he had about her identity were instantly crushed the moment she spoke. The monster that killed so many people was the woman he loved. He clenched his teeth so hard, he thought they would shatter. Dillon never tried harder to not break down in all his life, and it was hurting him. The tears still fell, but they were restrained.
  
  Out of the corner of his tear-filled eyes, he noticed the Female Titan's hand reaching out for him.
  
  "Get away from me!" Dillon screamed, getting up quickly and slashing at her hand with his sword.
  
  Instinctively, Annie retracted her hand with three less fingers attached to them.
  
  Dillon backed up and pointed his bloodied sword at her while panting with rage. His emotions were boiling over beyond anything he had ever felt before, fury and agony leading the charge. He felt like he was going be consumed by them if the pain in his chest was anything to go by. He noticed that her expression had taken on hurt, but it wasn't because of the pain of losing three fingers, which were regenerating; it was because he did that to her.
  
  Seeing that made Dillon's rage spike. "No! You don't get to.... You don't...." He was losing his ability to speak as the hand that held the sword was shaking violently. "You...."
  
  He couldn't hold it in any longer. The sword clattered to the ground as Dillon broke down completely, falling back to his knees. The tears cascaded down his face at an alarming rate as he wept loudly. The memories of his time with Annie flashed through his eyes, except now, her face was replaced by the Female Titan's. The memories were being tarnished by that thing! He was so caught up in them he didn't realize that her giant hand, now fully regenerated, had gently wrapped around his body. He gasped sharply when he felt her giant thumb brush against his face, taking away the tears that stained it. Her touch was full of tenderness, a stark contrast to the monster that murdered his friends.
  
  Annie looked down at the human in her hand, an internal war raging within her mind. She knew that when the truth came out, Dillon was going to get hurt, but her imaginings of this moment paled to the real thing. Seeing him so betrayed, so vulnerable, so... broken made her want to put an end to her mission right then and there. The fact that she did this to him made it worse.
  
  "Why?" Dillon asked, weak from the sobbing.
  
  "You would never understand," she answered sadly.
  
  "I can't understand if you don't tell me," he said, wanting answers. "Please, talk to me, Annie!"
  
  "I can't," the Female Titan shot back, her raised voice stunning him into silence. Feeling more than a little guilty, she lowered it back to normal tones. "I never wanted to hurt you, Dillon."
  
  "Well, that fixes everything, doesn't it?" Dillon replied with biting sarcasm. "I'll be sure to keep that in mind when I walk over the corpses you've made."
  
  "This is war, Dillon," she countered, the coldness she was known for coming back. "It was going to end up this way."
  
  "War?" he repeated, glaring at her. "You call this slaughter 'war?' You call what you did to Jensen 'war!?'"
  
  " Who's-" Annie stopped as she remembered the young man she held by his cable... and what she did to him.
  
  "You smiled," Dillon stated with utter disgust. "You smiled as he begged for his life. You could've just ended his life quickly like the others, but instead, you spun him around like a fucking toy! "
  
  There was no rebuttal to that statement. In that one moment of weakness, Annie chose to enjoy something so horrible and wretched. Like everyone else she had killed, she would have to live with his death for the rest of her life.
  
  Dillon went on with the intention of twisting the knife. "You know what's so funny? This was his last Expedition. Jensen was going to be a father, and because of you, his wife is a widow, and the child will grow up fatherless. Then again, who's to say you give a damn about any of that? Nothing like a good killing frenzy to brighten up your day, huh, Annie?"
  
  Annie's eyes narrowed at those accusations. "You think you know me so well, don't you?"
  
  It was at this moment Dillon made the effort to stare at the Female Titan's eyes directly. He spoke softly, but his words had the impact of a punch to the gut. "I never knew you at all." He felt a wetness come into his eyes again as his voice quivered a little. "I don't know if the girl I fell in love with was real or not. What was the point of it all? A twisted joke? Was it!?"
  
  Annie didn't blame him for thinking that. That was the image she was presenting herself as. She let out a sigh, steam coming out her mouth, and explained. "Falling in love with you was never supposed to happen. I was supposed to remain detached and friendless, so I could complete my mission without hesitation. I was going to end it on your birthday, Dillon. I wanted it to be so painful you would have no reason to try to seek me out. That failed miserably. Then, you provided the perfect opportunity with your reckless and suicidal actions in Trost. You gift-wrapped that breakup for me." Her free hand clenched into a fist. "It was right there... but you couldn't give me that either, could you? How am I supposed to kill you if I still love you?"
  
  Dillon's eyes widened in response to the admission. If that was the case, then there was still hope. "Annie... please stop while you still have the chance. There's still time. M-Maybe there's a way we can salvage this somehow. Maybe we can-"
  
  "We can't," she interrupted sadly. "It's too late for me. I started this and I intend to finish it." She started stroking his cheek gently with her finger, her lips forming into a sad smile. "Being with you was the best thing that ever happened to me, Dillon. I can never thank you enough for the time we had together." A couple of tears fell down her face. "I wish things could've been different, but I'm going down a path you can't follow."
  
  "Annie, please!" Dillon begged, the tears streaming down his face again. "Don't do this."
  
  " I have to," she replied, making his head sink. "I don't expect you to ever forgive me. Just know that I'm sorry this had to happen. Goodbye, Dillon."
  
  Annie released her grip on him before backhanding him into the side of a house. As he crashed against it, the last thing he saw was the moment where he and Annie shared their first kiss. He blacked out on impact, crumbling to the ground. He was alive, but to be sure, she checked his pulse and was relieved to feel his heartbeat. Quickly, she stood up, realizing that she wasted a lot of time talking to him. She needed to get to Eren before he got away.
  
  Hardening her expression and wiping away a couple of tears that she didn't realize fell, the Female Titan charged out of the village, leaving behind four corpses and a shattered soul. *3.
  
  Remastered Edits: There were some dialogue changes throughout the story in an effort to make the dialogue flow a bit more smoothly. I also changed the "flick" to a backhand because a flick, realistically, probably would have broken Dillon's ribs. However, the biggest change was the flashback in the beginning. I was going to add it to the previous chapter, but I think that would've broken the tone I had there. And trust me, Dillon's statements and lack thereof regarding Eren aren't going to be forgotten.
  
  I hope you all enjoyed this chapter, I look forward to your reviews, and I shall see you in the next chapter.
  
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  A Really Bad Day
  Chapter 19: A Really Bad Day
  
  The anxiety continued to rise in Eren as he and Squad Levi entered the Forest of Giant Trees. The right flank had been decimated by that Abnormal everyone was talking about, and now they were isolated in the forest. The entire mission seemed to be spiraling with no end in sight. He wondered if his friends made it out, but he couldn't dwell on that. Not when there were more pressing matters to discuss.
  
  "Captain. Captain Levi!"
  
  "What?" he asked, his annoyance made clear.
  
  "Come on, sir. We're in a forest," Eren pointed out nervously. "We won't see a Titan until its right on top of us. The center rank's totally cut off. Something's coming up on the right, isn't it? So, what are we supposed to do? Avoid Titans or defend the wagons?"
  
  "Quit whining and move from the obvious already," Levi ordered. "Neither of those is an option anymore."
  
  Eren was beyond confused at this point. "What... what are you talking about?"
  
  Levi resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "Haven't you noticed what's around you? Take a look at these big-ass trees. Perfect environment for ODM gear, wouldn't you say?" When he didn't respond, the captain went on. "Take my advice, Eren: calm down and use your head. The best survival tool is your brain."
  
  There were more questions Eren had, but he wisely didn't voice them at this time. "Yes, sir."
  
  "This doesn't make any sense," Oluo Bozado, the brown-haired man with the weird face, muttered. "What are we doing here? There's gotta be a reason. I mean, they know, right? They've gotta."
  
  And just like that, Eren's nervous increased greatly at that. To think that Squad Levi, and perhaps even Captain Levi himself, were in the dark as to what was going on. Gunther Schultz, the black-haired guy in the squad, brought up the idea of a hidden objective within the Expedition days prior, so hidden that Squad Levi was kept out of the loop, but what could it be at this point?
  
  As he puzzled his mind for any possible answer, a gunshot was sounded behind him. He looked back and saw a stream of black heading towards the sky. He had seen many of them today, but this one was much closer than he cared for. "Black smoke!"
  
  "It's right behind us," Gunther growled.
  
  "Damn thing's been on our ass since we came here," Eld Jinn, the blonde-haired man, noted.
  
  "Blades drawn now," Levi ordered. "It'll happen in the blink of an eye. Be ready."
  
  Instantly, each Scout pulled out a single sword, ready for the inevitable confrontation. There was a rumbling sound that was steadily getting louder. Sweat poured from their faces, both from being tired and from being nervous, but they were ready for this. This was what they were trained for.
  
  The sound of ODM gear caught Eren's attention as he turned his head to see a Scout, facing whatever was attacking him. That something made itself known as the Female Titan charged out of the trees, snatching the Scout of the air. With her thumb, she punctured the gas tanks and she dropped him into some nearby bushes. With the Scout disabled, she ran parallel to the squad, preparing to intercept them.
  
  "Go! Move it," Levi commanded.
  
  Eren's mouth dropped as her hand nearly snatched him off his horse, missing him by inches. Skidding to a stop for a brief moment, the Female Titan charged at them, her prey finally in sight. He made the mistake by continuing to stare as an unsettling grin appeared on her face. That was going to be in his nightmares for a while.
  
  "Oh, shit," Gunther swore. "How the hell are we supposed to use evasive maneuvers in here!?"
  
  "It's catching up," Eld warned.
  
  "Captain, engage the ODM gear?" Petra Ral, the ginger-haired woman of the Squad, questioned.
  
  Levi didn't answer as he seemingly contemplated the situation.
  
  "Captain!" she shouted, desperate for an answer, but she still didn't get one.
  
  As the Female Titan pursued her quarry, three Scouts zoomed out of the trees, going after her.
  
  "Reinforcements!" Petra pointed out.
  
  Two of the three Scouts moved in to attack her directly. She moved her head to the side and caught a hook that was aimed for her neck. Slowing down a little bit, she tossed the soldier right into the trunk of a tree, knocking him out. She grabbed another hook, pulling the second Scout towards her. Once again, she punctured the gas tanks and dropped him onto the road, bruised, but alive.
  
  "She's... she's sparing them?" Eren couldn't help but ask, his fear of the Titan lessening a little bit.
  
  "That doesn't make sense," Gunther replied, equally surprised. "Why would she spare Scouts now of all times? It takes less effort to kill us then it is to keep us alive!"
  
  Oluo shook his head. "She's still dangerous! We need to take her down now! On your word, Captain!"
  
  Eld let out a snarl. "I don't care if she's grown a conscience in the last few minutes. I'll cut that bitch!"
  
  Petra shook it off and tried getting Levi's attention again. "Captain, say something!"
  
  In an instant, the entire squad minus Eren started clamoring, demanding to know what needed to happen. The green-eyed boy knew that this Titan still wiped out the right wing, and he was still enraged about all the people she killed, but her recent actions caught him completely off guard. It was clear that she was like him, a human in a Titan's body, hence why she was performing such intelligent actions. Why did she start caring about the blood on her hands?
  
  "Cover your ears," Levi finally ordered, pulling out his flare gun.
  
  Quickly, the Squad did as he said as he pointed it into the air. He pulled the trigger, releasing a shot that let out a high-pitched noise. Despite their efforts, the sound was still deafening to them. Fortunately, it wasn't permanent as it slowly went away.
  
  "Was that an acoustic round?" Eren asked.
  
  Levi ignored him and addressed his squad. "Remind me, what is our mission again? Is it to simply act on impulse in the heat of the moment? Let me answer that question for you: it's not. This squad's mission is to keep this brat alive whatever the cost. Don't forget it." He sighed. "I don't know what that Titan's game is, but the situation hasn't changed. We keep pushing forward on horseback. Is that clear?"
  
  "As a bell, sir," Petra answered.
  
  "But for how long?" Eren wondered. "We can't keep running forever. She's right on top of us as it is. If we don't do something soon-." His eyes widened as a couple more Scouts joined the fray. Yet again, she snatched them out of the air, destroyed their tanks, dropped them in some bushes, and continued forward. "Why is she doing this!?"
  
  "Eyes front," Gunther demanded angrily. "Stop looking behind us!"
  
  "Eren, we want answers as much as you do," Eld said, getting his attention, "but, unless Levi's planning to sit down and discuss the matter with her over tea, we stay the course!"
  
  He's making jokes because he feels that risk of dying is lessened. Eren thought. She may be sparing the Scouts, but maybe that's just to lull in me into a false sense of security. Whatever her reasons are, she won't stop at nothing to get me, unless... He sheathed his sword and slowly raised his hand. I can take her down myself. I don't need to depend on anyone. As a Titan, I'm practically an entire squad. He put his teeth on it, preparing to draw blood.
  
  "No, Eren!" Petra yelled before it was too late. "You're only to assume Titan form when your life's in extreme peril! That was the agreement! You swore an oath!"
  
  There's a Female Titan trying after me, Eren stated mentally. I'm damn sure this constitutes as 'extreme peril.'"
  
  "Eren," she pleaded.
  
  "I wouldn't blame you," Levi surprisingly said. "Do as your conscience dictates... but Eren, listen. You are not inherently evil. Your ability to change doesn't make you a monster."
  
  Eren was reminded of a moment when, a couple weeks prior, he accidentally transformed. It was a partial transformation, but still. Levi Squad was prepared to cut his head off, believing him to be a threat to humanity. Only the intervention of Levi and Hanji was he able to survive the encounter. Granted, Hanji was more interested in studying the Titan corpse he left behind. Despite his squad apologizing for their actions, it was still hard to forget that incident and how quickly they turned on him. It was one of the reasons why he was hesitant to trust them now.
  
  "That said, it could be the other way around," Levi added. "How are you supposed to know when to draw the line? Whether you lose control or freely give it up. Maybe it's the same." He sighed. "Look, Eren, we don't agree because our experiences brings us to opposing views. That's life. At the end of the day, there's no reason to go against how you see it. The choice is yours. You can trust yourself, or you can trust the people who are willing to put their lives on the line for you. I don't know which way is better. I never have. Should I act on my own instincts, or put myself in the hands of my comrades and trust them? Either way, there's no guarantee. In the end, you choose what you choose. If afterwards, your regrets are at a minimum, good for you."
  
  Now, Eren was truly conflicted. He didn't want to needlessly endanger his squad, no matter what the Female Titan was doing. On the other hand, if he did transform, that would show that he didn't trust them and could fracture whatever bond he had with Squad Levi. Not to mention the fact that these Scouts were the best of the best, and if they were confident enough to stay the course, then he figured that maybe he should to.
  
  "Eren... please, trust us," Petra pleaded.
  
  "Come on, make up your damn mind," Levi urged.
  
  Gritting his teeth, Eren yelled, "I'm with you!"
  
  The remaining Scout that was going after the Female Titan was trapped in her hand. She slowed down a little bit and slammed him into the tree hard enough to knock him out. With those Scouts out of the way, she continued her pursuit. In fact, she picked up the pace, sand and dirt kicking up behind her.
  
  "She's accelerating," Gunther noticed, eyes wide.
  
  "Keep going!" Levi responded.
  
  At this rate, she'll catch us for sure. Eren thought before shaking his head. No, his squad trusts in him, and I have to as well. We're at death's door, and we've lost so many soldiers, but we push forward. He looked up and noticed the Female Titan's hand was reaching out for him. She was so damn close. It was so tempting to sink his teeth into his hand.
  
  "Fire!" Erwin's voice commanded.
  
  Suddenly, the trees erupted with hooks firing from every direction. Hundreds of them penetrated the Titan's skin, but she had enough time to cover her nape with her hands. She was completely trapped and immobilized, her chase finally coming to an end.
  
  "Everyone, hitch your horses a bit further on," Levi ordered. "Switch to ODM gear. I have to break away for a little while. Eld's in charge until I get back." Preparing to depart, the captain turned around. "Tuck Eren away out of sight, away from the Female Titan, and see to my horse!" With that, he fired a hook into the nearest tree and took off towards the capture site.
  
  Eren was still in shock. They managed to capture the most dangerous Titan he had ever seen. Normally, he would be livid that they were taking her alive, but after she started sparing the Scouts, he wanted answers.
  
  "What do you think of us now, Eren?" Gunther questioned. "We managed to outsmart the damn thing!"
  
  "Let this be a lesson to you, greenhorn," Oluo added. "Don't ever underestimate the Scouts! Never again! Agreed?"
  
  "Agreed," Eren answered.
  
  Their stoic faces quickly melted into grins. It was finally over.
  
  Back at the site, Levi grappled up next to Erwin. "She's not putting up much of a fight," he noticed.
  
  "That's no reason to let our guard down," Erwin told him. "Good work leading her here. I'm more than a little impressed."
  
  "Erwin, she spared the rear contingent," Levi informed.
  
  The commander of the Scouts gave him a surprised look. "What?"
  
  "She took the effort to make sure they would survive, but destroyed their tanks or knocked them out so they wouldn't interfere," he elaborated. "I'll be sending some Scouts to pick them up."
  
  "I see." Erwin stared at the Female Titan from behind. Who knew what she was thinking. "It doesn't change much, but it is something to consider."
  
  "I think it got to her," Levi theorized. "Her conscious is probably plaguing her right now, but what I don't get is what could have caused this."
  
  "Perhaps we can use her regret to our advantage."
  
  The captain snorted. "Planning on cutting a deal, Commander?"
  
  Instead of answering him, Erwin turned to the rest of the cannon men. "Second and third waves, fire!"
  
  As if there weren't enough hooks in her already, about 200 more penetrated her skin, making movement completely impossible.
  
  "We need a little insurance," he explained.
  
  Levi glared daggers at her. "I can't believe we're actually considering something so stupid."
  
  "Levi, she has answers we need," Erwin reminded him firmly. "If we can somehow get her to cooperate with us-"
  
  "The right wing is dead because of her! Are you seriously going to act like that never happened?"
  
  "No!" Now it was Erwin's turn to glare at him, drawing the attention of the Scouts. "Do not think of me so callous as to brush of their deaths like they were nothing. We did what was necessary, and we have to live with the deaths of our brave Scouts. Right now, we have to decide the best way to deal with her. I'm keeping every possibility open."
  
  Levi sighed, the day getting to him. "Do what you have to do."
  
  Down below, Hanji was having the time of her life. "Poor thing. Can't so much as bat an eyelash, can she? Must be terribly frustrating. Get used to it, my dear." As whenever she was dealing with Titans, the more excited Hanji got, the creepier she became. "Biology can sometimes be a curse. Case in point, the more your wounds heal, the stiffer your joints become!" She let out a laugh before looking up at the trees. "Now, what in the world is the holdup for the extraction of our esteemed guest? It won't get any easier. Strike while the iron is hot, I say."
  
  Deciding it was best to hold all the cards, Erwin ordered Levi and Miche to cut her hands off in order to leave her nape exposed. Both men drew their swords and plummeted towards her. To their surprise, a layer of blue crystal appeared on her hands just before their swords made contact. Their weapons practically exploded on impact, shattering into hundreds of pieces.
  
  An impressive ability. Erwin thought as the two men fell back. She can harden portions of her body. Question is... how many blade strikes will it take to cut our way through? Too many in any event. Time is short. With a single gesture, he summoned one of the cannon men.
  
  "Yes, sir?" he asked.
  
  "Prepare an artillery round," Erwin ordered. "Should she refuse to cooperate, I want her hands blown up."
  
  The Scout staggered back. "With... with all due respect, Commander, there's a risk if we use the cannons. The hands will get blown off, but whatever's beneath them will too, sir."
  
  "A fine point, soldier," he agreed, "which is why you'll aim carefully and sever them at the wrists." He put a hand on his shoulder. "On my signal, I want an all-out salvo."
  
  "Yes, sir."
  
  Replenishing his blades, Levi returned a landed directly on the Female Titan's head. "Knock, knock. We know you're in there," he said with a sinister tone. "Why don't you make this easy and come out and stop wasting our time?"
  
  As expected from Titans, there was no response.
  
  "Seriously, what can you hope to gain by stalling? If you're thinking we'll let you go, we won't. If you're thinking of trying to escape, don't. All you should be thinking about are the good men you killed today. That was on your mind when you spared the rear contingent, wasn't it?"
  
  She let out a soft growl, confirming Levi's suspicions.
  
  "Remorse stings, doesn't it?" Levi went on, sounding slightly sympathetic. "The minute you start letting it in, it snakes through your mind, refusing to let up. It's one hell of a curse. So, what the hell happened that gave you a change of heart?"
  
  The Female Titan stayed silent.
  
  He snorted. "Despite the blood on your hands, I'm trying to be nice here. So, here are your two options: you come out and we have nice, little chat, or we blow your hands off, drag you out, and force you to spill everything. What's it going to be? If you're smart as I think you are, this isn't a tough call."
  
  For a moment, there was dead silence between them. It was almost like she was considering his words. Then, she opened her mouth and let out a loud, deafening roar. The forest seemed to shake in response and the Scouts had to cover their ears. Once the ran out of breath, the Female Titan went back to being silent.
  
  "Nicely done," Levi complemented sarcastically. "I almost lost my composure."
  
  Miche, however, smelled the air and zoomed up to Erwin's position. "They're coming."
  
  "From where?" the commander questioned.
  
  "From every direction," he answered. "Fast. Dozens!"
  
  Erwin's eyes widened as he felt the ground rumble violently. They were coming. "Faster on the artillery, gentlemen!" he commanded, drawing his sword.
  
  Miche growled. "There they are. First waves closing in on the east. They're coming in fast!"
  
  Seeing them, Erwin tried to salvage the situation. "Wagon defense squad, intercept now!"
  
  A trio of Scouts charged for the Titans, but to their surprise, they paid them no heed and continued to run. Their target seemed to be the Female Titan.
  
  "What the hell!?" a Scout shouted. "They past right by us!"
  
  "Three Titans have broken through," another Scout announced. "Captain Levi!"
  
  "Hey, what did you do?" Levi demanded, slamming his foot on her head angrily. "You called in some friends, didn't you?"
  
  With a growl, Levi launched himself at the Titans, cutting them down in a matter of seconds. He wasn't called Humanity's Strongest Soldier for nothing. However, a four-meter got past him and started biting the Female Titan's leg. To make matters worse, about a dozen more Titans showed up, intent on going after her.
  
  "All hands, commence combat," Erwin shouted. "Defend the Female Titan at all costs!"
  
  With a battle cry, the Scouts charged, slicing at the Titans with everything they had. Unfortunately, there were too many of them. Once the bigger ones reached her, they started dismembering her, biting off her arms. They were devouring her before them. No matter how many Titans died, more showed up to take their place. Once the Female Titan's head was removed, Erwin closed his eyes, realizing that the mission had failed. There was a time to fight, and a time to retreat. The time for fighting was over.
  
  "All hands, fall back," he ordered. "Redeploy the formation! Fall back to Karanes District!"
  
  Reluctantly, the Scouts withdrew, letting the Titans have the prize. They fled to the trees, watching the monsters cannibalize their own. All that remained were pieces of flesh and bones.
  
  "We've been bested," Erwin said, sounding defeated.
  
  "Don't give me that crap," Levi snarled. "Not now. Not yet!"
  
  "Think about it," he continued. "The enemy was prepared to make sacrifices. Enormous ones. So committed to keeping her secret, she would rather let herself be cannibalized than exposed."
  
  "That whole song and dance in the courtroom, and this is what we've got to show for it," Levi said, clearly upset. "We scurry back home with our tails between our legs, and Eren's right back in chains or worse. I doubt Carolyn can do anything about it this time."
  
  "Don't go jumping off that bridge until we get to it," Erwin warned. "Right now, our only concern is getting back without sustaining further casualties however we can." He stared at the steam for a moment, contemplating the situation.
  
  "I'll go gather my squad," Levi said, preparing to move out.
  
  "Not yet," Erwin stated. "Replenish you blades and your fuel."
  
  "I can deal with what I've got," he shot back. "We're running against the clock as it is. Why?"
  
  "Because I said," Erwin answered in a tone that held no room for argument. "That's an order."
  
  There was a brief pause before the captain spoke again. "Whatever you say, sir. I trust you implicitly."
  
  As Levi left, the gears turned in Erwin's head. He saw the Titans devour the Titan, but the not the person inside. If his instincts were right, and they usually were, this day wasn't over yet.
  
  Deep in the forest and wearing a stolen cloak with ODM gear, Annie brushed the sweat off her forehead. That was far too close for comfort, but it had to be done. She had to complete her mission now before it was too late, before Eren got away. It was true what Levi had said, that she was feeling remorse, but she had to put it aside. Every second she spent thinking about it drove him further away. Every second she spent thinking about...
  
  "Annie, please! Don't do this!"
  
  She shook her head, trying to get him out of her head. Ever since that incident, his voice had been plaguing her mind, like he was manifesting into her conscious. The guilt was starting to eat away at her, creating doubt in her mind. Was this even worth it anymore?
  
  Yes. She answered to herself as she pulled out a flare gun. I know what I'm fighting for.
  
  Taking a deep breath, after all the blue flares signaling the retreat were fired, she fired a green flare into the air and waited. She hoped Squad Levi would believe her to be their captain and respond. Pretty soon, a streak of green filled the air. They weren't too far ahead.
  
  Don't worry, Dad. Annie thought as she tossed the gun aside and prepared to go after them. I'll be home soon.
  
  Up ahead, Eren flew with Squad Levi as they finished telling stories about their first encounters with the Titans. For once, he finally felt like part of the group, and was finally able to relax around them. It had been a hard mission for all of them, but the Expedition was over and the Female Titan's identity would be discovered. Despite the losses they suffered, in a way, capturing her was an incredible victory.
  
  As he continued thinking about these things, Gunther noticed a cloaked figure zooming next to them. "Captain Levi?" he asked, confused. Then, his eyes widened. "Wait, that's not-oh, shit!"
  
  The mysterious Scout quickly changed course, charging for him. Before Gunther could react, a precise sword slash severed one of his lines. He let out a scream as he fell, but the remaining line tightened, saving him from an untimely demise. However, due to his momentum, he crashed headfirst into a tree, out cold in an instant.
  
  The rest of the squad turned around, flabbergasted at how quickly that happened.
  
  "Gunther," Eren cried out, heading towards him. "Are you okay?" Once he saw that he wasn't dead, he announced, "He's still alive!"
  
  "We'll have to go back for him later," Oluo stated, dragging Eren away quickly. "Keep moving!"
  
  "We're just leaving him?" Eren shouted as he started grappling away.
  
  Behind them, the traitorous Scout was following them quickly.
  
  "Who is that?" Petra demanded, furious that they had been played.
  
  "Keep her away from Eren," Eld ordered, realizing who was tracking them down.
  
  "Damn it," Oluo swore. "Hey, Eld, what are we doing?"
  
  "There isn't time to get the horses," he stated. "Make for HQ at full speed!"
  
  To their surprise, the assailant headed away from them, disappearing into the trees.
  
  "Is that the Female Titan, or did she have an accomplice?" Oluo wondered.
  
  "Whoever it is, they're gonna pay if it's the last thing I do!" Petra promised, eyes blazing with rage. It didn't matter if Gunther was alive. Since her mission was take or kill Eren, the Female Titan was going to destroy humanity, so sparing them meant squat at this point.
  
  Eren looked back along with the others, and a bolt of lightning crashed down, causing an explosion of energy that crackled around them.
  
  "I hate being right," Oluo complained.
  
  "No time to lose," Eld reminded them. "Move it! It's coming for us!"
  
  Like something from their worst nightmares, the Female Titan emerged in her fourteen-meter form in an instant, chasing after them. Her eyes seemed to glow as she ran, giving off a very creepy look.
  
  "Damn you," Eren cursed, furious. "Not again! I'll kill you! I swear I will end you!" He raised his hand to his mouth again.
  
  "Eren, don't," Eld intervened. "We've got this. The three of us can handle her. You get back to base! Go, now!"
  
  "I can fight, too," Eren protested.
  
  "For the love of God, Eren, just go," Eld shot back. "This is our only course of action! We cannot afford to put you at risk!"
  
  "Have you learned nothing?" Oluo questioned, insulted. "After all this, you still doubt our skill!?"
  
  "Is that true, Eren?" Petra added, looking hurt by the unsaid statement. "I thought you had faith in us, that you trusted us!"
  
  Eren gritted his teeth, but conceded and took off, sheathing his swords. "I have faith in the Levi Squad! Good luck!"
  
  With Eren out of harm's way, the trio turned around to take on the Female Titan.
  
  "You get one chance to stand down," Eld warned as he approached her.
  
  She let out a growl as if she was saying, "Bring it."
  
  "Take her down hard and fast!"
  
  Eld charged forward, prompting her to take a swipe at him, but he pulled back, releasing an excess of smoke that blinded her. With her concentration briefly stilted, Oluo and Petra moved in, slashing out her eyes before she could stop them. With her eyesight gone, she was forced to cover her nape with both hands and back up against a tree so they couldn't reach it.
  
  "There, that should buy us a minute until she regenerates," Eld informed them.
  
  "We'll reach her well before then," Petra assured.
  
  "To hell with capturing her," Oluo added. "We're gonna kill you!"
  
  "We're gonna carve you up," Petra promised.
  
  "We'll make you pay, bitch," Oluo finished. "Sparing Gunther changed nothing!"
  
  Oluo and Petra once again made their move. This time, they swung up into the air before plummeting down, slicing her body just above the chest in two different locations, and that was just the beginning. Eld joined in the fray, cutting up her arms and severing the tendons within them. Soon, her arms went limp and fell down, useless.
  
  "Now go for the neck," Eld ordered, going in first with blades at the ready.
  
  "Take out the muscles supporting her head," Oluo advised.
  
  "Let's carve our way to the nape," Petra said, eyes blazing with fury.
  
  It was clear the Squad Levi was out for blood at this point, and there would be no stopping them.
  
  However, one of the Female Titan's eyes popped open far sooner than they anticipated. Eld was in no position to dodge as she bit down on him, trapping him in her mouth. It was so tempting to bite him in half. She could do it and they could do nothing to stop her, and yet, she lowered her head, and spat him out. Eld went tumbling across the ground before slamming into the trunk of tree. Groaning, he was out in seconds.
  
  "Eld," Petra screamed. Her gear started to malfunction, and she was unable to get higher than the ground level. "She can see again? That's impossible!" Then, it hit her. The Female Titan channeled all her regeneration abilities into reforming one eye, which was currently staring at her. Petra was next.
  
  With a growl, the Titan charged at the ginger-haired woman, causing her to panic. Her arms were useless, but her legs weren't.
  
  "Petra, pull yourself together," Oluo shouted, trying to get to her before the Female Titan did. "Pull up!"
  
  It was no use. She couldn't get away. Yet again, the extension of mercy went to her as well, for once she got close enough, she simply stepped on her line, stopping Petra completely as she fell to her stomach. She looked up in shock just in time to get kicked aside. It was a very light kick, for Titan standards, but it was enough to knock her out.
  
  That left Oluo, who growled angrily. Once again, Squad Levi was humiliated and played. He was not going to let her get away with this. Firing a hook into her neck, he zoomed towards her, intent on slicing open her nape. Unfortunately, her nape crystalized just before he slashed. The swords broke apart, leaving him defenseless. Quickly, the Female Titan grabbed his line by her teeth and slung him aside, her intention to knock him out as well. When he hit the tree, though, there was a sickening sound as his neck broke on impact. Her single eye widened as he fell lifelessly to the ground.
  
  Eren, who came back when he heard Squad Levi failing, was beside himself. They had tried so hard to bring her down, but they were unable to stop her. And now, Oluo was dead. He may not have liked him as much as the others, but he was a good soldier. He was one of the best, yet there he was, lying lifelessly on the ground.
  
  Something inside the Titan Shifter snapped. This monster killed so many soldiers just to get to him, and another soldier paid the ultimate price. He wasn't going to take it anymore. Not now, or ever again. He trusted them, and they failed. Now, it was his turn.
  
  "I'm going to... KILL YOU!"
  
  Biting down on his hand at last, there was another explosion as Eren's Titan form manifested around him. As he landed on the ground, he let out an enraged roar. For once, the Female Titan had the sense to look nervous as he ran at her like an out-of-control predator. Good, because he was going to rip her apart. The power felt so intoxicating, filling him with energy unlike anything before. She was nothing compared to him.
  
  Forming his hand into a fist, he launched a haymaker, expecting it to send her flying. However, he underestimated her speed as she dodged out of the way. His Titan body was more sluggish than hers, giving her the opportunity to kick him in the ribs. It didn't do a lot, only serving to piss him off. She couldn't really fight back until her wounds were recovered, so she just had to stall for time. Eren pushed back, making her slam against a tree. Groaning a bit, the Female Titan moved to the left as steam erupted from her wounds. Just a little longer.
  
  With a snarl, Eren launched a three-punch combo, but none of them hit her. She was too fast for them, even for the uppercut her threw next. Finally, the punch after that connected, sending her toppling to the ground. She managed to land on her feet and started running away, causing Eren to chase after her. His roars continued to shake the forest as his anger increased tenfold. He continued to attack her, yet she moved like a dancer, nimbly dodging his attacks. However, she slipped and fell backwards. Before she could get up, Eren was on top of her, pinning her down.
  
  I made the wrong choice when you came after us! He thought angrily. I made the choice to trust my teammates, and it got Oluo killed!
  
  He threw a punch at her, but she moved just enough for his hand to hit the ground instead, creating a hole in it. Eren yelled in pain as he felt his hand and arm break.
  
  I should never have left it to them, He continued, clearly in anguish. I should have fought her from the very start! He was losing control of his emotions. It's all my fault! I should have killed her!
  
  With another roar, Eren slammed his fist into the ground, missing her again. Now, both hands were broken. The two Titans were locked into a staring contest, waiting to see who would regenerate first.
  
  I should have changed into a Titan then. He lamented, thinking about when she went after them the second time. No, even before that. I should have fought back, and with Captain Levi there, we would've beaten her! We could've captured this monster! You think sparing a few Scouts changes what you are? Do you? You're nothing but a killer who wants to destroy humanity! I've made my choice and you've made yours! His voice was becoming more feral and his Titan form began shaking. Something was wrong, but he didn't care. Once my hands heal, I'm going to rip you out, and I will devour you!
  
  Suddenly, her other eye opened, and she grabbed his arm, snapping out of whatever frenzy he was in briefly. Wrestling with Eren, she pulled back and kick him in the chest hard, sending him flying backwards and into a tree. Getting over his shock, he quickly got up, his attacks becoming sloppy and predictable. His punches missed, and he threw one so hard he actually tumbled to the ground. Eren tried so hard to hit her, but he kept missing her. Why the hell did she have to be so good at fighting?
  
  Once he got close, the Female Titan hardened her hand, and delivered a nasty uppercut, destroying his jaw. However, he managed to bring it around and slam his fist into her gut so hard that she was sent flying into the air, hitting the ground hard. Considering the missing jaw he had, the bruised back she received was nothing. Getting up quickly, she moved out of the way of his knee, which slammed into the tree instead.
  
  He was exhausted, and bleeding. The fight was starting to give out of him. Eren put up his fists for one final assault, and then she took a stance. A very familiar stance. His eyes widened in horror. No. That's impossible.
  
  The Female Titan took advantage of his hesitation and hardened her leg. When she swung it, his world went black.
  
  The kick Annie launched not only cut the tree he was standing next down, but it beheaded him, too, making the body sink to its knees. She was relieved that she had beat Eren, but she also felt guilty. Despite what other people thought, she did think of Eren as her friend, but she couldn't think about that right now. All she had to do was collect him and get the hell out of this place. It would be hard to keep Eren under constant supervision and restraint, but she was prepared for that. It didn't matter if he hated her anymore; all that mattered was finishing her mission.
  
  With a grimace, she knelt down next to the headless corpse and began opening her mouth. The strands of flesh keeping her jaw connected stretched beyond normal capacity and even snapped in some places. Her jaw was completely unhinged. She bit down on the nape and tore it out, exposing Eren to the outside. Spitting out the piece of flesh, she bended over, ready to trap him inside her mouth.
  
  When she blinked, she didn't see Eren anymore, but Dillon, who had tears streaming down his face.
  
  "Annie, please," he begged.
  
  Eyes widening, Annie recoiled away, slamming her jaw shut. She shook her head, trying to shake that image out of her mind, but it refused to leave her alone. It was like he was haunting her now, preying on her conscious again.
  
  I spared those soldiers. She thought angrily. Isn't that enough for you?
  
  "Eren!" a familiar voice cried out.
  
  Of course, she had to be here. Quickly, Annie pulled Eren out of the nape just as Mikasa made her appearance. She gasped when she saw her best friend trapped in her grip and prepared to attack. The Female Titan roared, warning her to back off. Realizing what she was doing, Mikasa lowered her weapons, her glare fixated on this monster.
  
  Satisfied that she wasn't about to be attacked, Annie stared at Eren, who was looking at her with fear on his face.
  
  Stop looking at me like that. She pleaded inwardly. Stop making this so hard, Eren.
  
  "Why are you doing this?" he asked weakly.
  
  Annie growled, angry at herself for not just taking him and run. It was becoming harder and harder to do so. She had to do it. There was no other option. Why was she hesitating now of all times?
  
  Then, the image of a brown-haired boy appeared in her mind. The stupid, smiling moron who challenged her to a fight and got his ass kicked. A persistent boy who began to sit next to her and strike up conversation. A naïve boy who thought he could make a difference in the shitty world they all lived in. A kind boy who, without anyone forcing him to, gave her a gift for her birthday. A reckless boy who fought to save his friends no matter how dangerous things got. A boy that gave her something that she never thought to get: her first kiss.
  
  Her face contorted with rage, shaking. He did this to her. He made her feel this way towards these insects, these enemies, these... people. She hated him more than she ever had in this moment. She wanted to find him and crush him for this, feed him to the Titans, do everything humanly possible to rid him out of her life. She wanted nothing more than to make him pay for being the one she loved so much.
  
  Damn you, Dillon. Damn you!
  
  Annie's eyes drifted down to her target once more, pitying him. Eren never asked for any of this and hurting him was the last thing she wanted. Still, bringing him home would finally put an end to this... wouldn't it? Couldn't things just finally be over? Her eyes closed as she thought about this whole thing. There was only one decision she could make.
  
  Mikasa's eyes nearly bulged out of her sockets. The Female Titan, the creature that had torn through their ranks like they were nothing, moved towards her. She prepared for a fight, but she didn't get one. Covering her nape with her hand in case she tried something, the Female Titan gently lowered Eren to the ground, and opened her hand, letting him go. She wasn't toying with him or planning on stepping on him. She just simply released him. Carefully, Mikasa glided down to the ground, slowly approaching Eren. As much as she wanted the Titan dead, he was top priority. Any sudden movements could endanger him.
  
  Said Titan Shifter couldn't understand it. After all she did to reach him, she changed her mind? He remembered that she started sparing the Scouts, and that, in retrospect, Oluo's death was an accident, but this made no sense. "Why?" Eren asked again, on the verge of passing out.
  
  She just stared down at him for a moment before standing to her full height. Mikasa, who had reached Eren, stood in front of him, sword raised. However, there would be no fight, for the Female Titan turned and ran deeper into the forest. Within a minute, she vanished from sight.
  
  "Eren!" Mikasa exclaimed, embracing him tightly. "Are you all right!?"
  
  "I... I don't know," he answered weakly. "I don't know what's going on."
  
  "Come on!" Levi interrupted, landing next to them. "Titans will be swarming soon."
  
  "Captain... your squad..."
  
  "They're safe," he assured. "But Oluo didn't make it." The captain was clearly grieved, but he remained calm. "Let's go. It's over."
  
  Hoisting Eren over her shoulder, Mikasa took off. She looked back, thinking that the Female Titan would try again, but she didn't see her. She was just gone. Whoever you are, you're dead.
  
  Remastered Edits: Very little in this chapter, but I edited Annie's mindset when she couldn't bring herself to take Eren. I hope that you all enjoyed this chapter, I look forward to your reviews, and I will see you all in the next one.
  
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  The Truth Revealed
  Chapter 20: The Truth Revealed
  
  Levi let out a sigh, massaging his head as he rode out of the forest with a team of Scouts. It had been half an hour since the fight, and he was exhausted. He considered his squad lucky that the Female Titan had started showing mercy, but the same couldn't be said for Oluo or the people she killed prior to the change of heart. Oluo had a rather large family, and Levi was not looking forward to telling them that he was dead. No matter the man's faults, Levi was honored to fight alongside Oluo, and Levi would never forget him.
  
  Eren had passed out shortly after Mikasa carried him away, and Levi was greatly worried for the boy's future. None of what happened was his fault. The Female Titan was just too experienced, and he was too green. The Military Police wouldn't care about that as long as they got their precious Titan to experiment on and dissect. If worse came to worse, Levi would break him out of there and get him into hiding. He was humanity's last hope and a good kid, and he refused to let him suffer at their hands. He also decided to meet up with Carolyn to make sure she wouldn't get caught in the crossfire if things went south.
  
  The minute he thought of Carolyn, he immediately thought of Dillon. No one had seen him since the Expedition started. He was with Darius's squad, a squad that he also hadn't heard from. If the Female Titan encountered them, and he was as headstrong as they said he was...
  
  Am I going to find your body, Amsdale? He wondered. If I do, will I recognize it?
  
  "Captain, we found more survivors," one of the Scouts announced, riding back with a couple wounded.
  
  "Just like the others," Levi noted. "Injured, but alive."
  
  "There's a village across the bridge," he continued as the wounded were led to a wagon to be checked on. "Seemed like there was a fight over there."
  
  "Let's check it out," Levi suggested, riding forward.
  
  Nodding, the Scouts followed him as they entered the village and what they saw made them stop. There were four bodies lying on the ground. One of them was a bloodstain, the second was crushed into a house, the third was horrible mangled with an open-mouthed scream, and fourth seemed to be in a sitting position nearby.
  
  "We've got a live one," Levi stated, jumping off the horse and rushing to him. "Soldier, are you injured?"
  
  There was no response.
  
  "I asked you a question," he said, kneeling down next to him. "Are you-? Amsdale."
  
  Sure enough, it was Dillon and looked like he had been through the worst kind of hell. His eyes were vacant, almost as if they were dead. His breathing was shallow, and he just sat there without moving. He didn't even give an inclination that he heard Levi.
  
  "Kid, can you hear me?" Levi asked quietly.
  
  Dillon still didn't move or talk.
  
  The captain let out a sad sigh, looking at the other Scouts. "He's in shock. We'll have to carry him back."
  
  "Yes, sir," the Scouts replied, helping Dillon onto one of their horses.
  
  "The rest of you gather the bodies," Levi ordered. "We're bringing them home."
  
  They saluted and got right to work.
  
  Before he left, Levi took notice of something. This was the first carnage he had seen. These people were killed brutally and effectively, but outside the village, the rest became wounded. This was where the bloodshed ended. Whatever the Female Titan was doing before changed after she left this village, and something in his gut told him Dillon knew what.
  
  What does the kid have to do with any of this? He wondered as he galloped out of there. I won't know until he talks... if he talks.
  
  For the next couple of hours, the Scouts were persistent in searching the fields for every wounded soldier or corpse they could find. Once they passed the boundaries of the village, that's when the bodies started piling up. They found Darius's corpse near his horse, what was left of him, that is. Many of the bodies were chewed up, but the majority of them were crushed in some fashion. It just reminded the Scouts of how easily hope could be taken away. They wrapped the bodies up in with cloth with the intention of burying them once they got back to the Walls. At least they could give them and their families that small shred of decency.
  
  The rookies were all given separate tasks. Ymir, Krista, Connie, and Sasha were attending the horses, which meant bandaging their wounds and preparing them for the ride home. Jean and Armin, however, had the job of aiding the Scouts with filling up the wagons with bodies.
  
  "This is the part of the job I'll never get used to," Jean said sadly.
  
  "You're not alone in that," Armin replied.
  
  The brown-haired teen shuddered. "Feels like death is just everywhere. All I can think about is how will it end? Which one of us is next and whether it'll be me?"
  
  "Try not to obsess over it," Armin advised after a pause. "Only thing that train of thought is good for is breaking your nerve. Believe me. Push it out of your mind."
  
  He let out a sigh as he and Armin carried in the last body. "I suppose you're right. No, I know you're right."
  
  As they put the body with the others, Captain Levi approached them. "Arlert. Kirstein."
  
  The two saluted quickly. "Sir?"
  
  "We found Dillon Amsdale," he said.
  
  Jean's eyes widened. "You found him? Is he all right?"
  
  "No," Levi answered. "Come with me."
  
  Quickly, the two jumped out of the wagon and followed him with worried expressions on their faces. Their minds raced with possibilities as to why the captain wanted them to see him, the biggest possibility being he encountered the Female Titan and came out gravely injured. If that happened, Jean would make it his mission in life to find and destroy her.
  
  "The squad Amsdale was a part of encountered the Female Titan," Levi explained. "They were all killed except for him."
  
  "Why did she spare him?" Jean wondered.
  
  "No idea," the captain admitted. "He's been unresponsive ever since we recovered him."
  
  Levi led them to a wagon where Dillon was in. He was sitting on the edge and looking down on the ground. His expression nearly mirrored the stare Armin had when after Eren's supposed death in Trost.
  
  "Dillon," Jean said, recoiling at the sight of his friend.
  
  The blacksmith didn't respond, remaining motionless.
  
  "If he says anything, report it immediately," Levi ordered, walking away.
  
  Sighing, Jean kneeled down so that he could see his face. "Hey, buddy, can you hear me?"
  
  Silence was the answer.
  
  "Dillon, it's me, Jean," he urged, trying to find something to elicit a response. "Come on, man. Say something."
  
  He continued to say nothing.
  
  "I don't know what the hell I'm doing," Jean muttered.
  
  Armin finally spoke up. "Jean, I don't think there's anything we can do. I think the only people that can reach him right now are his parents or Annie."
  
  "Yeah, good idea," Jean agreed before turning back to his best friend. "It's gonna be all right. Once we're back in the Walls, we'll get you some help."
  
  Then, Dillon's mouth started to move, sounds coming out of his throat.
  
  Jean's eyes widened in surprise, not expecting results so soon. "Dillon-"
  
  "Jean, wait," Armin urged. "I think he's trying to say something."
  
  The sound slowly turned into a soft "I..." There was a slight shift in his eyes, the despair getting more apparent. He still didn't look at them, though, but he seemed to be making an effort. "I... know who... she is..."
  
  Jean's eyes nearly bulged out of their sockets at that startling revelation. "What?"
  
  Armin didn't say anything, sadness creasing his features. Ever since the Female Titan reacted when Armin called Eren the "suicidal maniac," his suspicions about who she really was increased. With Dillon in the state he was in and being the only one left alive in his squad, it was obvious that he was spared like he was. The clincher was when he reacted the moment he said Annie's name.
  
  "Who is she?" Jean asked quickly. "And how do you know?"
  
  And just like that, Dillon returned to his silent state.
  
  "Hey, talk to us, man!"
  
  "He's gone," Armin said glumly. "I'm gonna go tell the captain what happened."
  
  Jean clenched his fist with a growl, feeling completely helpless. He shook it off, though, grabbing hold of Dillon's shoulder. "Don't worry. We're going home soon."
  
  "Dillon!"
  
  Jean and Armin were surprised to see Mikasa, of all people, run up to the motionless blacksmith, putting her hands on his shoulders.
  
  "Dillon, please tell me you're alright," she begged, looking at his eyes, horrified by the emptiness in them. "Come on. Say something!"
  
  Like the others, she was unsuccessful at pulling him out of his comatose state.
  
  Armin sighed. "He's been like that ever since he was found, Mikasa. He needs time."
  
  "... Who did this to him?" she demanded in a low, dangerous tone.
  
  Jean felt a shiver go down his spine as he answered. "It was the Female Titan. Dillon was the only one who made it out alive."
  
  "I should have killed her when I had the chance." The minute she found out who the bitch was, she was going to chop her into pieces until there was nothing left. Titan or human, she would die.
  
  "Mikasa, there's nothing we can do about the Female Titan right now," Armin said, approaching her. "We need to get ready to leave before the Titans get here."
  
  She exhaled the rage out of her mouth so she wouldn't do anything drastic. The idea of hunting down the monster sounded very appealing, but she had priorities. "I'll take care of him." Without hesitation, Mikasa lifted Dillon out of the cart and carried him towards Eren's. She would protect him and Eren with her life. On any other occasion, it would have been a hilarious sight, but there was no room for levity. All that mattered was getting home.
  
  Once several Scouts reported Titan activity not too far from their position, the Regiment immediately mounted their steeds and took off for Karanes District. They knew the moment they reached the District, things would get worse, but there was nothing they could do about it. They needed to focus on getting to safety before it was too late.
  
  "Wait," a voice called out from behind them.
  
  A few of the Scouts looked behind them to see two Titans running after a couple of stragglers, one of which was carrying a body on his back. Several of the soldiers didn't take having to leave some of the bodies behind very well, so two of them decided to head out into Titan territory to retrieve one of them.
  
  "Titans spotted at the rear," the Scouts announced as a red flare was fired into the air.
  
  "Full speed, all soldiers," Erwin ordered.
  
  "Our best chance might be to circle back," Levi suggested. "Make a beeline for the trees. We can't put up much of a fight out here."
  
  Erwin shook his head. "No, our best option is to make for the Wall."
  
  Levi growled, but he didn't debate the commander.
  
  The soldier carrying the body, a man named Dieter, ducked under a Titan swinging his hand at him. Unfortunately, the wind from the attempted attack caused the body to fall off. His eyes widened in shock, but things got worst. The Scout that went with him was plucked off his horse, letting out bloodcurdling screams as he was mercilessly devoured. Dieter, enraged, attempted to kill the Titan singlehandedly only to be trapped in its fist. As he screamed in terror, Mikasa pulled back and launched herself at the Titan, cutting its nape quickly. As the beast fell, Dieter crawled out of his hand, terrified and ashamed. In his attempt to bring his friend's body home, he caused the death of another Scout.
  
  The other Titan, on the other hand, was more focused on pursuing the Scouts who were riding along with the bodies.
  
  "It's about to be right on top of us!" Armin exclaimed.
  
  "Terrific," Connie replied sarcastically. "As if this day couldn't get any worse."
  
  "Ground's too flat to engage ODM gear, and not only that..." He looked to his left and noticed three more Titans coming after them. "We'll soon be outnumbered."
  
  "Come on, Armin," the bald teen pleaded. "There has to be something we can do."
  
  Armin eyed the wagon that contained the bodies. With that added weight, the horses were slower than the usually were. There was only one thing to do.
  
  "It's gaining on us," one of the two Scouts in the wagon stated.
  
  "I'll jump behind the bastard and distract him," the second Scout said, pulling out his swords. "That should give you the chance to-."
  
  "Don't bother." Levi, who slowed down to aide them, interrupted. "We've got to jettison the extra cargo. Dump the bodies."
  
  The first Scout stared at him, flabbergasted by his order. "But... but sir-."
  
  "Do you know how many corpses are already left behind?" the captain questioned. "These aren't special. Dump them. Consider it their last service to the cause." His brutal honesty hid the grief of doing this. Levi never wanted this to happen, but it had to be done.
  
  "Are we doing this?" the second Scout cried out. "We can't be seriously doing this!"
  
  The first Scout looked down before making up his mind. "I'm sorry, but there's no other way!"
  
  With that, he kicked open the door and started tossing the bodies out one by one. The wagons were picking up speed, the gap between them and the Titans increasing. Levi had a feeling one of those corpses was Oluo, but he shook it off. He couldn't get sentimental when it came to survival. Once the last body was jettisoned, the survivors took off full speed, leaving the Titans behind. It was finally over, but nothing would ever be the same after this. The 57th Expedition was one of the greatest failures of the Scout Regiment, and humanity would never forget it. All thanks to the actions of a traitor.
  
  Dillon groaned as his eyes opened, his blurry vision started to focus. He felt drained in so many ways, he thought he'd pass out. Once he could collect himself, he realized that he was in a room with Hanji sitting across from him, giving him a concerned, but relieved, look.
  
  "Can you hear me?" she asked. "Dillon?"
  
  "Where am I?" he wondered weakly.
  
  "You're in Scout Headquarters," Hanji answered. "We found you in a village near the forest. Your eyes were dead, your breathing was minimal, and you remained motionless for the next few hours."
  
  "Damn," was the only reply he could muster.
  
  "However," she went on, "there was one moment where you said something. When Armin Arlert and Jean Kirstein tried to snap you out of your motionless state, you said, and I quote, 'I know who she is."' She looked at him dead in the eyes. "Dillon, I know what happened in that village was probably the worst experience you've ever gone through, and I wish that we didn't have to do this... but we need to know exactly what happened there."
  
  He didn't answer right away, looking down at the ground. He could hear the bones snap, the bodies squishing beneath giant feet, and horrible, whishing sound as if something was being spun. "I can't."
  
  "Dillon..."
  
  "I said I can't!" Dillon shouted suddenly, glaring at her. "Just leave me alone!"
  
  Hanji noticed it in his eyes: the fear. He was terrified. There were brief moments that he was looking around, expecting her to come busting through to get him. She gave him a sympathetic sigh and approached him slowly. She pulled her chair with her and sat in front of him. "Dillon, please look at me."
  
  Slowly, Dillon attempted eye contact. He was visibly shaking.
  
  Talking to people that suffered severe trauma like this was never easy since every person reacted differently. She needed to tread lightly to get the answers. "Dillon, she's not here. This is a safe place for you. You can tell me."
  
  "It hurts," he whispered.
  
  "I know it does," she said, "but you need to be stronger than this. It's the only way we can protect everyone. You need to tell me."
  
  He let out a shaky breath, knowing that she was right. There was no other choice. "We... we just got word that... that the right wing had been killed. Darius ordered the others to split off and get ready for the attack and kept me by his side. I wanted to help, but he didn't want me to get killed. Then... she showed up."
  
  '"She' being the Female Titan?" Hanji asked.
  
  Dillon nodded quickly. "Yes. She was chasing after us and... they attacked her and..." Tears were springing to his eyes. "She killed them. And Jensen... oh, God." He buried his face into his hands as the memories resurfaced.
  
  She really didn't want to ask, but she had to know. "What did she do to him?"
  
  "She... held him by his cable," Dillon continued, his voice breaking. "He begged her to let him go and... she smiled." He could still see that smile. That horrible, sadistic smile she gave to him. "And then..." He closed his eyes, hearing Jensen being spun around and his bones snapping in the process. "She started spinning him around and she was enjoying it!" Dillon cried out, the tears falling down his face. He was breathing heavily, almost to the point of hyperventilating.
  
  Hanji's eyes widened in horror. She hadn't witnessed the Female Titan killing people, but this went beyond sick.
  
  "I tried to attack her," he went on, trying to regain his composure, but failing, "but she used his body to throw me off my horse before killing Darius. Then she was coming for me."
  
  This is it. "What did you do?"
  
  "I got angry, and I prepared to fight her to the death," he answered, talking a bit quicker as if his life depended on it, "but then she saw my face... and I started seeing hers." He started shaking again, but it wasn't out of fear. "I recognized her."
  
  "Dillon, who is she? You need to tell me right now."
  
  His lips trembled for a moment and then he blurted out the six words he never wanted to say. "Annie Leonhart is the Female Titan!"
  
  And just like that, Dillon completely lost it. It was far worse than when he was in that village. His sobbing was so filled with anguish that it sounded like he was screaming. She remembered seeing the girl at the trial and knew that the two had a relationship. This was the deepest level of betrayal one could ever experience, and it grieved Hanji to see Dillon go through it.
  
  "Why?" he shouted, slamming his fist into the table. "Why did she do it? Why?"
  
  "Dillon-" Hanji tried to get his attention, but he was gone. He wouldn't listen to anyone.
  
  He continued to beat the table, almost as if he wanted to break it. "Why didn't she kill me? Why didn't she kill me!?"
  
  Hanji stayed silent as she watched Dillon sink off his chair to the ground, asking "Why?" repeatedly. He curled into a fetal position, eyes slammed shut. He was unable to cope, unable to be free of his pain, unable to move on. Understandably, he just continued to cry.
  
  Quietly, the scientist walked out, motioning for the two Scouts waiting outside the door to watch him. Once they were inside, Hanji approached Levi, who had been listening to the whole thing.
  
  "It all makes sense now," the captain said in a monotone. "She hurt the man she loved, and she tried to make up for it." He snorted. "Lot of good that did."
  
  She let out a sigh, shaking her head. "What do we do with him?"
  
  "I'm putting him under temporary suicide watch," he answered. "When things settle down, I'm suspending him from the Scouts. He's no good to me in this condition." He wasn't disappointed in him; he was disappointed in the circumstances Dillon was shoved into.
  
  Hanji stared at the closed door. "I hate to say it, but Annie knows that by keeping Dillon alive, her cover's blown. By now, she's probably long gone."
  
  "I doubt it," Levi stated, sipping his tea. "She ran in the direction of the Walls. She's worn out, but she wants to keep up appearances."
  
  "Why come back here if it's too dangerous for her?" Hanji wondered, confused.
  
  "Hell if I know," he muttered. "She had Eren right where she wanted and she let him go. I have a feeling that if she's still here, she won't be for much longer."
  
  "Do you think it's possible that Annie would be open to-"
  
  "If she wanted Amsdale in her life, she would've taken him and run," Levi interrupted, knowing where she was going with that line of thought. "Besides, the kid's too broken to try and reason with her. All he'll accomplish is reminding Leonhart of the pain she caused, and she'll run faster."
  
  Hanji massaged her forehead, trying to think of something. "We don't have the resources to go after her right now. Eren's too weak from the fight, and we lost forty percent of our forces. Not to mention the Military Police is going to take custody of him soon."
  
  After the disastrous Expedition, Erwin was immediately summoned to the capital. Zackley, albeit reluctantly, revoked their custody of Eren Yeager. In a few days, he would be on his way to the Interior where the Military Police would be waiting for him. One could imagine what they would do to him.
  
  "Then we stall for time," Levi said, putting the cup down.
  
  (The next day)
  
  With a tired yawn, Annie made her way back to her room. She spent the better portion of the night and the morning drafting up two letters. One was addressed to Dillon, telling him everything regarding who she was, where she came from, the secrets of the Titans, and everything else she knew. By the time humanity was hunting her down, she would be in hiding, somewhere they couldn't find her. Once they searched her quarters, they would find the letter and know the truth.
  
  The second letter she sent out by a different carrier pigeon this morning. It was addressed to her comrades, asking them for an extra week to try and capture Eren before they moved on to the next phase of their plan. If her request was granted, it would buy humanity enough time to prepare for their attack. It was the least she could do after everything she did.
  
  She sighed sadly, her mind never ceasing to return to the Expedition, to Dillon. Once she returned to the Walls, she felt the link between them sever. The last emotion she felt from him was fear. Fear of her.
  
  I hurt you so much, Dillon. Annie thought for the umpteenth time. I'm sorry.
  
  Finally, she entered her bedroom and was surprised to see a letter waiting for her on the bed. Curiosity overtook her as she took it, examining it. Her first thought was that it came from Dillon, but the handwriting on the envelope indicated someone else wrote it. Carefully, Annie opened the envelope and pulled out the letter. As she began to read it, her eyes widened in horror and she started shaking her head in denial. "No. No!"
  
  " Right now, the only reason she's leaving is because she believes that her identity has been compromised. Unfortunately for us, Amsdale will never have had a chance to tell us."
  
  "Officer Annie Leonhart,
  
  I, Erwin Smith, Commander of the Scouting Regiment regret to inform you that during the 57th Expedition into Wall Maria, Dillon Amsdale perished. We tried to bring his body back for a proper burial, but we were pursued by Titans. We were forced to leave his body behind to give the survivors a chance to escape.
  
  You have my deepest condolences and my apologies for bringing you such terrible news."
  
  The scientist slowly faced him. "Levi, that is a very dangerous gamble to make."
  
  "If we let her run, we might as well spit in the faces of all the Scouts that died today," Levi growled. "They deserve better than that."
  
  For the first time in so long, Annie felt her entire world crash around her. It couldn't be true. Dillon had his powers. He could prevent the Titans from eating him with his powers... unless he was in a position where he couldn't use his powers, like... being unconscious.
  
  Oh, God. She thought as she felt tears come into her eyes. What have I done?
  
  The dam burst and Annie started to weep, the letter falling from her hand. She loved Dillon more than anyone else in the world, and not only did she betray him in the worst possible way, but now, he would never be coming home.
  
  "I'm sorry, Dillon," she cried out, burying her face in her hands. "Please, forgive me!"
  
  Her anguished cries drew the attention of her fellow officers, but she yelled at them to get away from her, which they wisely did. She wanted to be alone, to suffer in solitude. The world didn't take away Dillon Amsdale; she did, and she could never make it right. She really was a monster.
  
  "The moment Annie finds out we played her this way, she'll make it her mission in life to kill us," Hanji warned.
  
  "Then she won't find out," Levi said simply. "As of right now and as long as she lives, Dillon Amsdale is dead."
  
  Remastered Edits: Not a whole lot this time. I cut out the scene where we see Dillon hiding himself inside his mind. In the grand scheme of things, very unnecessary. I did add a little bit of Mikasa interaction since their relationship is different from the original.
  
  I hope you all enjoyed this chapter, I look forward to your reviews, and I'll see you all in the next one.
  
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  Breaking Point
  Chapter 21: Breaking Point
  
  (One day later)
  
  Getting some actual sleep was unsurprisingly difficult for Annie. The people she killed in brutal, horrific ways, the terror she brought upon them as she was hellbent on completing her mission, and, of course, Dillon's accusations and agony, were memories that would not leave her alone. She could only imagine how his parents were suffering right now, knowing that their son would never come home because of what she did.
  
  Despite all this weighing on her mind, she managed to climb out of bed and get ready for the day's events. She had to keep up appearances until she found another opening. With the custody of Eren being transferred to the Military Police this afternoon, it would give her plenty of opportunities to take him. All she had to do was wait and play her part.
  
  As she descended down the stairs, Annie took note of the fact that her fellow officer cadets were standing in a line. She was late again.
  
  Normally, Hitch would make some snide, snarky remark on her appearance, tardiness, or whatever came to mind. Today, however, she said in a gentle tone, "Hey. I didn't think you'd show up today."
  
  Annie didn't respond, choosing to fall in with the rest of them.
  
  "So... how are you doing?" Hitch asked.
  
  "I didn't ask for your pity, Hitch," Annie said coldly, "so don't give it to me."
  
  "I'm just trying to-"
  
  "Leave her alone, Hitch," a black-haired cadet, Marlowe Freudenberg, rebuked. "You're not helping."
  
  "You don't know that," Hitch shot back, sounding insulted.
  
  "Knock it off," a silver-haired cadet, Boris Feulner, ordered quietly as he heard footsteps approaching their position
  
  They saluted their commanding officer, Dennis Aiblinger, as he walked sluggishly towards them with a stack of papers in his hand. His brown hair was a mess and he didn't even have the decency to clean up his unshaven appearance. The fact that he smelled like alcohol made it obvious where he was last night.
  
  "Thanks, guys," Dennis greeted, sounding exhausted. "I called you all here 'cause I've got actual work for you today, not just the same old crap. It's got something to do with the Scouts being summoned to the Capital. Sometime today, they'll be passing through town along the main street."
  
  Annie raised an eyebrow, interested.
  
  "HQ has already provided a security detail, so we're only being asked to assist until the convoy's clear. ODM use in city limits has been authorized. You'll follow beside the convoy as additional security. There's a barge waiting to take you to the starting point. Dismissed."
  
  "Sir, a question, if I may," Marlowe said.
  
  "Hmm? Go ahead," Dennis muttered.
  
  "What exactly are we supposed to be protecting this convoy from, sir?"
  
  The officer looked at him, seemingly confused by the question.
  
  Marlowe decided to elaborate. "It's just that I've never heard of anyone defying the government. They're just glad to be safe."
  
  "Unless your name is Amsdale," another cadet snarked nearby.
  
  That got a few chuckles out of them, including Dennis.
  
  Annie resisted the urge to tighten her hand into a fist.
  
  Marlowe sighed in annoyance. "As I was saying, there are petty criminals, sure, but I find it hard to imagine any actual organization existing within the Wall to attempt a strike. I mean, what possible motive could they have?"
  
  "Man! Aren't you serious?" Dennis responded in a patronizing tone before shoving the papers into Marlowe's hands. "You can be in charge of this. Everything you need to know is right here."
  
  "Huh?" was all he could manage, staring in shock.
  
  "We officers are busy enough as it is," Dennis explained as he began walking away. "Prove that you can handle this one yourselves. Oh, and you better not screw it up, got it?" Letting the rookie officers to take command of a situation seemed like a good way to test their aptitude... were it not for the fact Dennis entered a room that was in the middle of a poker game.
  
  Annie had only been here for a month, but she truly understood why Carolyn wanted to take the fight to- Stop thinking about it. She berated herself.
  
  Shortly after all that, the officers went to the courtyard, feeling quite glum about their situation.
  
  "Damn, this stinks," Marlowe grumbled.
  
  "Got that right," Hitch agreed. "The amount of slacking that goes on in this outfit is even more than I imagined. I mean, that's why I chose to join, but still."
  
  Marlowe paid her no heed, furious about the whole situation. "Bastards. They're all irresponsible, self-absorbed imbeciles. All of them!"
  
  "So, what does that make you, Marlowe?" Boris asked. "You chose the join the Military Police. You're a slacker just like the rest of us."
  
  He gave him a withering glare. "You're wrong, Boris. I'm nothing like the rest of you degenerates." He turned to the rest of the officers now that he had their attention. "I joined up because the Military Police is in dire need of repair."
  
  It was like fate was making fun of Annie. She killed her boyfriend, and now she was dealing with an officer who reminded her painfully of him.
  
  Hitch clapped her hands sarcastically. "Wow, that was great, Marlowe. You sure your last name isn't secretly Amsdale?"
  
  "She's one of the few people that actually do something," Marlowe said defensively.
  
  "Aw, that's so cute. She's your role model."
  
  "Seriously, Marlowe, what has she accomplished in the long run?" Boris asked. "Yeah, she helps lock up a few officers here and there, but nothing the MPs can't replace. Hell, the most she gets done is tightening the noose around her family's neck. That family's nothing more than a bunch of naïve idiots, kind of what you're being right now."
  
  Annie didn't dare look in Boris's direction. If she did, he might end up on the ground with a few missing teeth. Granted, she didn't completely disagree with his statements, but still.
  
  "I know I can make a difference," Marlowe shot back. "I'll work my way to the top, and then once I'm in charge, I can install a new system to make sure all those who are dishonest pay for their transgressions. It's as simple as that. The MPs just need a little discipline and nothing more. I'll shape back into the people they're supposed to be."
  
  Hitch couldn't take it anymore. She busted out laughing, falling to the ground in a cackling heap. "Wow, that is something, and I thought you were a total buzzkill before!"
  
  "It's a lofty ideal," Boris said. "Good luck with that."
  
  "What's the point?" Annie finally interjected, getting their attention. "I think if a do-gooder like you was actually put in charge of this regiment, you'd quickly find yourself working alone."
  
  "Really? That's the first thing you open your mouth to say?" Marlowe asked.
  
  "Don't get me wrong. I don't doubt your sincerity. I know conviction when I see it." She let out a sigh. "You're not the first person I've met who thought they could take on the world and change things for the better. It takes a lot of courage to go against the flow. I respect that."
  
  A lot of good that did for him. The demons in her mind taunted.
  
  She ignored them. "Of course, it could be that you're all just a bunch of fools."
  
  "They might be, but don't go lumping me in with them," he ordered. "Is that understood?" When she didn't answer, he waved her off. "Bah! Enough chit-chat. Let's go!"
  
  A fusion of both Eren and Dillon. Fate really hated her.
  
  "The escort wagons are scheduled to pass through the outer gate in forty-five minutes," Marlowe stated as the rookies, all armed with rifles, followed the canal. Once we arrive, everyone take up your positions. Got it?"
  
  "Yeah, yeah," Hitch replied, bored out of her mind. She even gave out an exaggerated yawn until she bumped into Marlowe, who came to a complete stop. "Hey, watch it, bud!"
  
  However, they all quickly realized what caught Marlowe's attention. A couple of MPs and a merchant stood in front of a ship with a giant crate that had the MP insignia on it.
  
  "That's our gear," Hitch said, shocked.
  
  "Shipping it to the Interior?" Boris suggested.
  
  "Isn't it a bit strange, having the Merchants' Guild conduct the transport?" Marlowe asked, his voice low. "What are they up to?"
  
  Once the crate was loaded into the ship with no trouble, one of the merchants handed over a white bag to the MPs, filled to the brim with something. The MP pulled a coin out, inspecting it, before putting it back in the bag with a grin.
  
  Marlowe's rage reached a breaking point. "Those bastards are illegally selling government property!" Having enough, he stalked towards them.
  
  "Hey, this isn't our assignment," Boris objected.
  
  "Well, look at him," Hitch said with a grin. "Crusader Man's the genuine article."
  
  Boris crossed his arms, shaking his head. "Well, I suppose we have time to spare. This should be entertaining."
  
  The barge started sailing down the canal by the time Marlowe reached the oblivious MPs.
  
  "I'd say we earned ourselves a drink," one of the said before noticing him. "Hey, what are you looking at, rookie?"
  
  "You-you can't sell government equipment," Marlowe said indignantly. "It's against the law!"
  
  "Is that so?" the other MP asked with a raised eyebrow.
  
  Marlowe's anxiety was growing, but he maintained his stance. "Those supplies are the property of the hard-working citizens who pay for them with their taxes. And that means-"
  
  The first MP started cracking up. "Can you believe this guy? A rookie blackmailing his superior officers. I'm thinking you've got a bright future ahead of you, kid." He took out one of the coins and slipped it into the boy's pocket. "Go spend it on a girl, alright? She'll help you unwind."
  
  Marlowe was shaking, he was so angry. He grabbed the man's shoulder. "Hey! What you did was against the law!"
  
  The man's response was a rifle butt to his gut. Marlowe doubled over before getting slammed on the head with the weapon, losing his own in the process.
  
  "Why don't you go run to that Amsdale bitch?" the MP suggested, kicking him. "If it means so much to you." Another kick. "But the only place you'll end up is in the ground like their precious son." A kick to the face sent Marlowe hitting the ground hard. "You're under arrest for the treasonable offense against an officer."
  
  "Blatant disregard for the rule of law-" Marlowe managed out, coughing out blood.
  
  "-is standard procedure. So is this!" He raised his weapon to continue beating the poor kid.
  
  Suddenly, an iron-hard grip caught the MP's arm, freezing him in place. He looked to see Annie, who was fixing him a murderous glare, before he got shoved back. "I think that's enough, sir." She practically spat that last word.
  
  "You little bitch," the MP snarled, preparing to give her the same treatment.
  
  "Enough!" a voice from behind them commanded.
  
  The two officers froze before turning around, saluting. "C-Corporal Hauer!"
  
  The rookies saluted as well. Even Marlowe managed to despite the fact he was on his knees.
  
  Kyler's piercing gaze was burning into them. "Trying to beat a fellow officer to death? I'd say that was conduct unbecoming of an officer. Wouldn't you agree?"
  
  The second MP's face blanched. "Corporal, we can explain."
  
  "I'm sure you want to." She snapped her fingers as two other officers got off a nearby bench, both wearing civilian grab. "Travis Lang, Mitchell Phelps, you're under arrest for illegally selling government property, taking a bribe, assaulting an officer, and resisting arrest."
  
  "This is ridiculous!" Travis roared as he was shoved against a wall while being handcuffed. "That punk was blackmailing us. Arrest him!"
  
  "Actually, he wasn't," Kyler corrected, crossing her arms. "Not a single word that came out of his mouth could be taken as blackmail. But, now that you mention it..." She removed the coin from Marlowe's pocket. "... I can add attempted bribery to the list. Get them out of here."
  
  The two MPs were swearing abuse, threatening to make them pay, as they were led away to their imprisonment.
  
  Kyler noticed that a crowd of civilians were gathering nearby, prompting her to waved them off. "Police business. As you were." Once they began dispersing, she helped Marlowe to her feet. "What's your name, rookie?"
  
  "M-Marlowe Freudenberg, ma'am," he answered.
  
  "You're lucky we were watching the deal go down, Marlowe," she said. "Otherwise..."
  
  "Ma'am, with all due respect, why didn't you intervene sooner?" Hitch asked.
  
  "Well, the added charges are a nice bonus for those two." Kyler's levity vanished as she stared at Marlowe. "But you need to know and understand the consequences of taking on those that outrank you alone. You want to fix the system? Don't dive in headfirst and think it's all gonna work out. Am I clear, rookie?"
  
  "Y-Yes, ma'am."
  
  "And Leonhart? Once your duties are done, I want you in my office."
  
  "Understood," Annie replied.
  
  "Carry on." With a nod, Kyler departed from the premises.
  
  "Well, that was lucky," Hitch said, cracking a nervous smile.
  
  "Definitely wasn't spontaneous," Boris observed. "She was probably sitting on that deal ever since she got word on it."
  
  "I couldn't stop them myself," Marlowe muttered, staring at the ground in shame. "I was too weak to handle it."
  
  "You're a lowly grunt compared to the monsters here," Annie responded, staring into the distance. "You do what they tell you to do, or there will be consequences. That's the life you chose when you entered the Military Police. But if you see a light at the end of this dark tunnel, go for it. I only hope you have a plan to reach it instead of reckless endangerment."
  
  Marlowe sighed, looking at her. "Your friends. Did they... were they able to do it? Make that difference?"
  
  "In some ways, they did. Maybe more than they realized. Those people, people like you, aren't called normal in any respect. You're called special. There were times I wanted to be that way." Her eyes drifted to the ground, the memories haunting her once more. "But that won't happen. I'm just an ordinary girl going with the flow of this world. If it means I live to see another day, then I have no reason to be different."
  
  Marlowe had no idea how to respond to that, so he stayed quiet, letting it all sink in.
  
  Just a little more time, Dad. She thought.
  
  Once the moment had finally come, Annie stood completely still as the convoy passed by, keeping her usual stoic face. It was the last place she wanted to be right now, but this was part of the job. She knew that inside one of the heavily guarded carriages was Eren being taken to the capital and she felt sorry for him. All he wanted to do was help humanity, but now, he was going to be executed by them. The irony was not lost on her. However, this was a golden opportunity. With Eren in Military Police custody, she could snatch Eren and run. Perhaps things were looking up after all.
  
  Once the last carriage passed by, Annie began following the rest of the MPs back to their headquarters, going past an alley in the process.
  
  "Annie," a familiar voice whispered.
  
  She stopped dead in her tracks and waited for everyone else to pass by before heading into the alley. Standing there wearing a big, green raincoat was Armin himself.
  
  "Hello," he greeted, sounding a little melancholy.
  
  "Armin," she responded, looking more than a little surprised to see him.
  
  "I'm sorry about Dillon," he said, looking down a bit.
  
  Annie sighed, feeling that pang in her heart yet again. Everything today reminded her of Dillon so far, so why should Armin be any different? "Did they... did they find the Titan responsible?"
  
  Armin shook his head. "No. We only found his body. We tried to return him home, but the Titans forced us to... we had to leave the bodies out there."
  
  He doesn't even get a proper burial. Annie was at a loss for words, her eyes welling up again. "You did what you had to."
  
  To her surprise, Armin wrapped his arms around her. "I'm so sorry, Annie."
  
  She hugged him back, a couple of tears falling from her face. "I miss him so much."
  
  It was killing Armin to see Annie in such a state. This plan made him stoop to levels that some would deem unforgivable, but he had no choice. Not when humanity's future was at stake. "I miss him, too."
  
  Annie pulled back, wiping her face dry. "I should head back. We can talk later."
  
  "Annie, wait," Armin interjected. "I... I need your help."
  
  "What's wrong?" she asked, concerned.
  
  "Eren's being transferred over to the custody of the Military Police," he explained. "At least, that's what they think is happening. Right now, he's in hiding, and we need to get out of the Walls for a while. Unfortunately, that means we need to get past the checkpoints, and... I don't want to put you in such a position, not after everything that's happened, but-"
  
  "I'll do it."
  
  Armin's eyes widened in shock. "Wait, what?"
  
  She put her rifle down, leaning it against the wall. "It's the least I can do. Eren's my friend, too."
  
  He smiled a little. "Thank you, Annie."
  
  "Thank me when we get out of here," she replied, pulling out a gray ring and putting it on.
  
  "What's with the ring?" he wondered.
  
  "It's sort of my good luck charm," Annie admitted. "I have a feeling we're gonna be needing a lot of it today."
  
  "Didn't know you, of all people, would need something like that."
  
  "There's a lot you don't know about me, Armin," she said.
  
  Armin couldn't help but wonder if they ever knew her at all.
  
  (Scout Headquarters)
  
  Like the past couple of days, Dillon had been sitting in the chair in his room, though he looked more depressed this time. Today was the day the Scouts would finally capture Annie. According to Levi, once that was accomplished, they would never see each other again, continuing the illusion that he was dead. Fortunately, the captain left behind the rest of Squad Levi to keep that from becoming a reality. It was kind of creepy how they kept a constant eye on him and how the room was stripped of anything that could be used to kill himself with. He didn't even have shoelaces. Still, it had to be done.
  
  "What have you told my parents?" he had asked Levi.
  
  "For now, they believe you died in the Expedition just like everyone else," the captain had answered. "In order for the ruse to work, only the Scout Regiment will know the truth. It's possible you may have to stay in hiding for the rest of your life should we succeed."
  
  Dillon couldn't help but clench his fists. "So, I'm never gonna see them again?"
  
  "Don't put words in my mouth, Amsdale," Levi had warned, though he was calmer given the emotional turmoil he was going through. "They will know the truth eventually, but only them. We can't let the truth reach Leonhart. Otherwise, there'll be hell to pay."
  
  He didn't ask Levi if they were going to kill Annie, or worse. He couldn't think about that. Not anymore. So, he continued to stare at a bowl of untouched soup. He couldn't remember how long it had been there.
  
  "You should eat," Petra said soothingly. "Trust the Captain. It's all going to be okay."
  
  Eld nodded in agreement. "He's never let us down yet."
  
  "I'm not hungry," he muttered.
  
  "You haven't eaten in more than a day." Petra leaned just a bit closer.
  
  "Why do you guys even care?" he asked glumly. "You know what my relationship was with... her." He couldn't even say her name.
  
  "We've been ordered to protect you, so that's what we do." Eld stopped his pacing by the door. He'd been the most agitated being left behind.
  
  "Look, kid, how were you supposed to know?" Gunther said. "No one did for years, including the rest of your comrades. Spies lie. It's what they do. Isn't your fault."
  
  He scoffed. "I really thought she would be the one. I thought she wanted... forget it. It was stupid."
  
  "Yeah, probably best to forget it." Gunther leaned back in the chair opposite Dillon. "Bitch is a stone-cold killer."
  
  "How could someone enjoy it?" he asked suddenly. "How can anyone treat us like insects and take glee in our deaths?"
  
  "She's crazy," Eld said at exactly the same time other two said similar things, though their words were "psycho" and "monster."
  
  Dillon shook his head. "You know the worst part? She actually warned me she would hurt me before we became a couple."
  
  "She what?" Petra asked, surprised.
  
  "Should have listened to that warning," Eld muttered. "Big time."
  
  "Yeah, yeah, laugh it up," he growled.
  
  "It's called misery." Eld shrugged. "With side helpings of betrayal, crazy bitches and genocide. We're all dealing with it."
  
  "Crazy what now?" Petra frowned at Eld.
  
  "Female Titan?"
  
  Petra nodded. "Yeah, point there."
  
  "What I don't get is how anyone could do it," Gunther muttered. "They killed thousands. They let the titans in. Why? That kind of evil. Why?"
  
  Dillon was tuning them out, his eyes not leaving the soup. It was a red color, similar to blood. There was a lot of blood spilled that day, especially when the Female Titan stomped out Marcus and Maria. Pieces were flying, the red liquid splattered everywhere...
  
  "Dillon?"
  
  He gasped sharply, standing up so fast, he accidentally knocked the soup over. He just stared at the group, gazing at each member as if they were going to attack him.
  
  Gunther held up a hand carefully. "Hey, calm down. Do you know where you are?"
  
  He swallowed despite his throat being dry. "I'm... at Scout Headquarters."
  
  "You remember why you're here?"
  
  Dillon closed his eyes, the images still engrained. "Because I'm messed up, right?"
  
  "Hey, you're not the first one to... go somewhere else after the things you've gone through," Petra said in a surprisingly soothing voice.
  
  Dillon shook his head. "I can't stop seeing her. She could come for me and I couldn't stop her."
  
  "She won't be able to after today." Eld smirked. "They're going to catch that thing and chain her up. Then, well, I don't think it'll take the Captain long to learn what we need to know."
  
  "Maybe." Dillon was a bit skeptical about the plan. Knowing Annie, she wouldn't go quietly. "I don't know if I said this, but I'm sorry about what happened to... Oluo. That was his name, right?"
  
  Petra looked down.
  
  Eld grimaced.
  
  Gunther leaned against a wall and sighed. "Yeah, that was his name."
  
  Seeing their reactions, he said, "Sorry," as he tried cleaning up the mess he made.
  
  "We've all lost people. The point of this is to try and not lose more." Gunther slammed a fist into the wall. "Today, fucking today, we change the tide."
  
  "How? What are we to her? She's a Titan. It's a miracle anyone survived that damn Expedition."
  
  "We've killed Titans before. Erwin's got the brains, we have her identity, Levi, is, well, the Captain, and we've got the numbers. She'll be trapped before you know it." Eld crossed his arms.
  
  Dillon shook his head. "She's too strong. She's too powerful. I don't even know how Eren stood a chance."
  
  "That's why we've got speed, swords, and traps if she transforms. If all goes well, she won't be able to. Hanji theorizes she's got to bite herself to transform like Eren, so we know how to stop her too." It sounded like Eld was trying to convince himself as much as Dillon.
  
  Dillon sighed. "Maybe you three should've gone to Stohess. You survived her."
  
  "We've got our orders," Petra said once more. "What the Captain says goes."
  
  "But you fought her. You have the skillset to take her on."
  
  "I wouldn't say that. We lost." Eld shoulders slumped. "That's how we lost Oluo."
  
  "She got all of us," Petra added, shivering at the memory. "Took us all down like annoying insects. We were helpless."
  
  Dillon paused, catching onto that statement. "Wait, what?"
  
  "When we fought her, we were like toys. She didn't even kill... most of the people she caught. Guess she'd had enough murdering by the time she got to us." Eld made a scoffing sound. "Could have just as easily been eaten by a wandering titan for all her mercy was worth."
  
  "She... spared you?" No, that can't be right. Annie's the Female Titan. The Female Titan is evil.
  
  Eld nodded. "Yeah. Not dozens of our comrades or thousands of people behind the walls, but yeah. Us. I think Oluo's death was an accident."
  
  Dillon stared at them in shock, unable to comprehend this new information. "But, she... that's impossible. She was hellbent on taking Eren, right? Why would she... what happened?"
  
  "She just gave up. Surrendered him to Mikasa and walked off." Gunther shook his head as he thought about it. "Honestly, I don't get it. What was the killing even for if she was just going to give up?"
  
  Dillon tuned them out once more as he digested their words. Annie, the same person that destroyed his life, the same person that slaughtered his friends with a smile, not only took the time to spare as many Scouts as she could but abandoned her mission. Why would she change? His mind went back to the village like it usually did, but instead of the scene that always played out, there she was, stroking his cheek tenderly with a sad smile. This time, he paid attention to the expression in her eyes: regret.
  
  " Being with you was the best thing that ever happened to me, Dillon. I can never thank you enough for the time we had together."
  
  The wheels in his mind were turning rapidly. If she abandoned her mission because of me... but now she thinks I'm dead. His expression of disbelief turned into horror, his eyes widening. "Oh, no."
  
  "Dillon, talk to us," Petra urged quietly.
  
  "I need to get to Stohess," Dillon said, getting up and throwing on his cloak.
  
  Squad Levi immediately sprung to action. Petra and Gunther stood behind him as Eld stood in front of the door, crossing his arms.
  
  "You're not going anywhere," Eld responded sternly.
  
  "Eld, you have to let me go," Dillon pleaded. "I'm the only one that can stop her!"
  
  "We already have a plan, Dillon," Petra assured, placing her hands on his shoulders in an effort to placate him.
  
  "The plan is going to fail, Petra," he said, moving away from her and towards the back of the room. "Now that she thinks I'm dead, nothing is going to hold her back."
  
  "You're right about one thing, kid: she thinks you're dead," Gunther pointed out. "You go out there, and she'll smear you across the buildings."
  
  Dillon clenched his fist, but he let out a deep breath. "I know. I know she can kill me easily. I've seen it up close and personal."
  
  "Then why put yourself in a position where she can kill you?" he pressed.
  
  "Because... because I love her," Dillon answered quietly. "And I know that it's not too late to make it right."
  
  "Don't be an idiot," Petra snapped with a stern glare. "It's not that she can kill you. Once she finds out about how you lied to her, she's going to want to!"
  
  "I'm not stupid, Petra!" he shot back angrily. "I know damn well that she's going to be pissed to the point where killing me will seem like a good idea, but it's a risk I have to take. You three were willing to die to keep Eren safe. I'm willing to die to keep humanity safe and save Annie from herself. If I don't go out there and give everything I have to protect the woman I love, I'll regret it for the rest of my life." He had another reason, but he was cut off before he could say it.
  
  "Then live with it," Petra said coldly. "There is more at stake here than your girlfriend."
  
  "Start facing reality, Amsdale," Eld growled. "You're not leaving."
  
  Dillon sighed before looking at them. He knew what had to be done, and he knew there would be no turning back. "I'm not a traitor. Remember that."
  
  With a flash of his eyes, the door swung open, sending Eld toppling forward. Pushing the blonde man out of the way and kicking Petra away, Dillon quickly engaged Gunther, delivering two quick blows to his stomach before spinning around and elbowing his head, knocking him back. Petra moved quickly, dropping low and tackling him, slamming him into the wall. Bringing her head up under his, she smacked him in the chin and pinned him to the wall by his neck with her forearm. His eyes glowed again, making her clutch her head in pain. He pushed her back and did a spin kick against that hit the left side of her head, sending her crashing to the floor. He rolled under Gunther's attempted punch, but he was kicked in the gut, driving him close to Eld. Eld grabbed him and slammed him to the ground, pinning him down under his heavier weight.
  
  "You're not leaving, Dillon," he repeated with gritted teeth.
  
  "Hundreds of people are going to die, including Annie, if I don't go out there," he growled, trying to think of a way out of this.
  
  Gunther was losing patience. "Annie won't die, you idiot. They want her alive."
  
  "She won't let them," he said, struggling as hard he could. "Please, Eld. Let me go!"
  
  "No," Eld replied coldly. "We have orders. As do you. And I'm NOT letting you endanger lives!"
  
  Dillon let out a snarl as anger rose inside of him again. Their plan to capture Annie was endangering every single person in Stohess. The moment she transformed, the casualty rate would rise. And to think he went along with it. To think he wanted it. He wasn't going to let this happen.
  
  With a yell, a blast of psychic energy released from him, sending Eld off of him and caused Gunther and Petra to crash against the walls. Furniture scattered across the room with the wooden chairs breaking upon impact. All in all, the room was wrecked. Dillon quickly got up, and landed a hard jab on Eld's nose, nearly breaking it. He snaked underneath a punch, jumped, and kicked Eld in the chest, making him fall to the floor.
  
  "I endangered lives by going through with the plan," Dillon said coldly as he ran out the door and traveled down the corridor.
  
  With a groan, Gunther was the first to recover as he looked around the dismantled room, flabbergasted. "What the hell did he do!?"
  
  "I don't know," Petra moaned, holding her head in pain.
  
  Gunther moved to go after Dillon, but he fell, his leg twisted by the impact. He also felt a sharp pain in his gut. "Son of a bitch."
  
  "I think my ribs are broken," she groaned quietly, curling up.
  
  "Mine, too. Eld, what about you?" he asked.
  
  The only response was a low groan. He was barely conscious.
  
  Gunther slumped to the floor, panting heavily. "That damn idiot's gonna get himself killed."
  
  "By who? Annie, us, or the captain?" Petra asked with a growl.
  
  "Preferably, us," he answered as he heard the distinct noise of a horse galloping away and people shouting.
  
  "Wouldn't mind that. Get a medic," she requested just before she fainted.
  
  "Medic..." Gunther moaned as he passed out too.
  
  (Stohess)
  
  Later, Annie and Armin met up with Mikasa and Eren, both of whom were disguised in their raingear. Naturally, the two gave condolences for Dillon's passing, but fortunately for her, they left it at that. Quietly, the four traveled down the back roads to avoid the soldiers, and so far, it was working.
  
  "We made it," Eren commented quietly. "Can't believe it was so easy."
  
  "Hush," Mikasa said.
  
  Eren brought up a very good point. It was too easy. In fact, there hadn't been a single person on this road in the time they spent going down it. Something was very off.
  
  "The Military Police hard at work," Eren sneered. "I'm almost surprised they bothered to show up at all."
  
  "Let's just keep moving," Mikasa urged.
  
  "Hopefully they haven't noticed my stand-in yet," he continued, ignoring her. "He's not gonna hold up under close scrutiny. After all, Jean and I look nothing alike."
  
  Here we go again. Annie thought to herself, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. Some things never change.
  
  "It's close enough," Armin assured, sounding a little annoyed. "You both have that same angry scowl and the same boulder-sized chip on your shoulder."
  
  "Yeah, but I don't have his horse-face," he protested.
  
  "Hey," Annie interrupted, getting a headache from their bickering, "so if I had refused to help you guys out, then what was your Plan B for getting over the wall?"
  
  "We would've used our ODM gear to barge right through the checkpoint," Armin answered.
  
  "That's stupid," she commented. "Why didn't you just avoid all this trouble in the first place? You could've escaped before reaching Stohess, right? I mean, why wait until now?"
  
  "I felt that this town's complex layout would allow us to squeeze a bit more time out of our body double ploy," he explained. "Of course, a head-on assault is ill-advised, so as long as the convoy acts like its following orders, then everyone keeps their defenses down."
  
  Interesting assumption, but there was one gaping flaw: Armin was praised for his tactical prowess. If they wanted to get Eren out cleanly and effectively, he wouldn't have needed Annie to tell him the obvious solution. In fact, it seemed like his plan needed to have her be involved.
  
  Suddenly, it all started to make sense. Armin begging her for help when he really shouldn't have needed it, the deserted streets, the sorry excuse for a Plan B, it all added up to one thing: she was being led into a trap. They knew!
  
  "I see," Annie said coolly. "It's a very good plan."
  
  Eren and Mikasa quickly glanced at each other, wondering if she was starting to catch on.
  
  Armin gasped. "There it is."
  
  The three followed Armin to a staircase that led underground, a place that a certain Titan Shifter wouldn't be able to transform in if she needed to.
  
  "Here?" Annie asked.
  
  "Yeah," he confirmed, walking down the stairs with the others following. "We'll pass through here. It's what remains of an underground city they were planning to build way back when. And, if I'm right, it should lead us to the vicinity of the outer gate."
  
  "Nice work, Armin," Eren complemented. "It's amazing."
  
  The three stopped suddenly when they realized Annie was still at the top of the stairs, making no moves to follow them.
  
  "Annie, what's the matter?" Eren asked, confused. "You're not afraid of dark, crampspaces or anything, are you?"
  
  "So what?" Annie replied as if insulted. "So what if I am? I wouldn't expect a suicidal maniac like you to understand. You don't know what it is to be an ordinary girl crippled with fear."
  
  Armin cringed. She knew what they were up to.
  
  Eren, however, was persistent. "A girl who can flip a full-grown man upside down has nothing to fear of the dark. Cut the crap. Let's move."
  
  "No, I refuse," she stated firmly. "Above ground, I'll help. Otherwise, the deal is off."
  
  There was a long pause between all of them, the tension rising. They all knew each other's secrets now.
  
  "Quit being stubborn, damn it!" Eren yelled, losing his patience. "Just get the hell down here! Move! We're running out of time, and-"
  
  "Stop shouting," Mikasa interrupted. "Someone will hear you."
  
  "I'm sure it's fine, Mikasa," Annie said. "It seems that for whatever reason, this place... has been completely deserted." She gave Armin a look of disappointment. "That hurts me. It really does. The way you're looking at me now... if I didn't know better you didn't trust me, eh, Armin?"
  
  Armin was clutching a gun in his hand at this point, but he kept it hidden from view. He was shaking out of panic, though. It was time to voice his suspicions the day when the Scouts inspected their gear when the two Titans were killed. "Annie, tell me, what were you doing with Marco's ODM gear?" When she didn't answer, he went on. "It had all the same dents and scrapes. See, I helped him with maintenance, so... I know you used it."
  
  "Yes," Annie responded. "I found it. Found it and took it."
  
  The blond-haired boy gulped. "Then, the two Titans we had in custody. It was you that killed them!"
  
  "No one knows," Her monotone voice was becoming very unnerving. "But if you suspected this since last month, why did you wait this long to say anything? You could've warned Dillon if you wanted to."
  
  "Because even now, it's difficult," Armin answered, his voice losing all confidence. "I just didn't want to believe I was right. So, I stayed quiet. But then, out in the field, the fact that you didn't kill me then and there, that's the moment that set us on the path to our current situation."
  
  A deadly silence passed between them as the wind outside picked up speed.
  
  "Yes," Annie said. "We're here because I let you live. Of course, I never dreamed you'd end up cornering me like this." Now she was talking to herself. "Why? Why didn't I do anything then?"
  
  Having enough, Eren started to beg. "Annie, please! You've taken this joke far enough! Just tell us this was all some kind of horrible prank. It's not too late. Come on, we'll understand. Come down and let's talk! You can prove to us that we're mistaken by walking down these stairs. Prove we're wrong to accuse you!"
  
  Annie lowered her head sadly. "We both know I can't. Like I told you, I don't have the constitution for it."
  
  He continued trying to appeal to her humanity. "Annie, stop! We're talking about a matter of life and death!"
  
  "Work with us, Annie," Armin pleaded. "We can reason this out like human beings!"
  
  "Enough," Mikasa interrupted, unsheathing her swords. "I'm not listening to another word of this. No point!"
  
  "Wait!" Armin yelled, taking the Oriental girl by surprise. "Think about Dillon, Annie. Would he want you to go down this road? You have the capacity to do the right thing." Now Armin really wished Dillon was with them right now. He could've salvaged this.
  
  For a moment, something changed in her eyes, something that told Armin she was actually thinking about it.
  
  Eren put his two cents in, desperate to put an end to this nightmare. "Out in the forest, you spared several Scouts when you could've killed them instantly. You let me go, Annie! Why did you let me go?"
  
  Annie was now conflicted, remembering her contradictory actions that day.
  
  Armin pressed on, hopeful that things could resolve peacefully after. "You knew what you were doing was wrong. Please, Annie. For Dillon's sake, you were willing to help us. For Dillon's sake, don't do this!"
  
  The trio eyed Annie carefully, waiting for her to make the next move. They all hoped she would see reason and give up. She was even looking down, the guilt weighing heavily on heart it seemed. Armin cautiously took a step forward and then... she started to laugh. It started out small, like as if she heard a funny joke. Then, it escalated into a full-blown cackle, sending shivers down their spines. Even Mikasa was disturbed by the complete shift in personality. Right then and there, Armin knew that they lost the opportunity to solve this diplomatically.
  
  We were so close. He thought grimly.
  
  Once Annie was done, she stared down at them as if they were beneath her. The deadpan voice was gone, replaced by someone they didn't know. "It always went back to him. That's probably why I spared Armin and Jean." Her gaze landed on Eren. "I let you go because I saw him, but I won't make that mistake again. Dillon is dead, and he can't hold me back. I'm glad you know, Armin." She sounded so sincere at this moment. "I can finally stop hiding it. So much different than the dread, the shame and the guilt I felt when he found out. At least I could be a good person for you, Armin. For now, at least. It looks like you won your bet." She then grew a disturbing, psychotic grin. "But I'm going to gamble, too, and here's my wager!"
  
  She raised her hand to her mouth, ready to bite down.
  
  Realizing that she was a lost cause, Armin fired the acoustic round into the ceiling.
  
  On cue, several soldiers in civilian garb charged out of the buildings and headed towards Annie. The shot Armin fired disorientated her long for her to be grabbed and gagged so she couldn't transform. She struggled as hard as she could, but there were too many of them. Quickly, she unsheathed a hidden blade from her ring, shocking Mikasa. Realizing what was about to happen, the Oriental grabbed both boys and ran down the stairs.
  
  "What are you-" Armin protested.
  
  "It's too late!" Mikasa pointed out, going deeper into the underground.
  
  With one final glare sent to them that made it clear she was coming after them, Annie sliced her finger with the blade.
  
  From outside Wall Sina, people could see the lightning descend from the sky. They felt the ground shake violently, almost as if there was an explosion.
  
  "What the hell was that!?" a bystander shouted.
  
  "Perhaps it's a gift from the heavens," a Wall Worshipper suggested with wide eyes. "A gift to the righteous and those who believed."
  
  "Out of my way!" a voice yelled behind him.
  
  The cultist quickly moved just as Dillon passed by, his stolen horse going at full speed. Releasing that psychic blast earlier did a number on him, but his determination and adrenaline rush kept him going. He knew that flash anywhere, the sign of a transforming Titan. He had a feeling that the Titan in question was Annie, and that thought alone made his anxiety increase once again. That meant he wouldn't just deal with a pissed-off girlfriend; he would be dealing with a pissed-off Female Titan.
  
  Cross that bridge when you get there. He told himself.
  
  As he made his way for Wall Sina, he didn't know what he was riding to: a new beginning or a gruesome death.
  
  Remastered Edits: I never expected to add the scene with Annie and the Military Police, but I thought it would be interesting to have it focus a bit more on the fallout from the previous chapter instead of immediately kicking everything into high gear. It also gave me a great excuse to use Kyler again, a woman who needed more time to shine. I deleted the part where Armin said Dillon killed himself. That was needlessly cruel. I also changed the interaction between Dillon and Levi Squad to make it more realistic. After all, they just lost not only their comrade-in-arms, but the entire mission. They'd be rooting for her capture and death.
  
  I hope you all enjoyed this chapter, I look forward to your reviews, and I'll see you all in the next one.
  
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  Titans Unleashed
  Chapter 22: Titans Unleashed
  
  As Eren dashed down the stairs, he stopped for a moment, watching a transformation take place for the first time. As the bodies of all the people that tried to restrain Annie scattered, bones and flesh began to form where she was standing, growing at an accelerating rate. He saw her dive into the nape of the Female Titan as it stood to its full height. Something in his gut told him that this time, she would not hesitate, she would not show restraint, and she would never stop until she captured him.
  
  "Oh, God," Eren whispered.
  
  His eyes widened as the Female Titan's hand plunged into the broken corridor, missing Eren by inches. Mikasa quickly grabbed him and pulled him away as Armin quickly followed. Annie tried to reach in further, but her arm wasn't long enough. Realizing that her quarry had vanished, her arm snaked out of the corridor.
  
  "Damn it!" Armin swore as they continued making a run for it. "That ring! She must've known I was lying to her from the very beginning. She knew we were leading her into a trap. I could've... I should've tried a different approach. We should've used Dillon to stop her!"
  
  "Save the should haves until we get out of this," Mikasa ordered. "The question is what do we do next?"
  
  Gritting his teeth, Armin nodded. "Okay. First, we rendezvous with Squad 3. Then, we get the hell above ground. We... we fight her out in the open." He looked at his best friend. "That means we're switching to Plan B. She's all yours, Eren. Got it?"
  
  "Yeah," he answered, still reeling from what just happened.
  
  "Over here!" someone up ahead shouted, waving his hand. It was Squad Three as the other members came into view. "What happened? Was Plan A a no-go?"
  
  Oh, it went just wonderful. Armin thought sarcastically before addressing them. "Afraid so, yes. As of now, we're going with the backup option."
  
  The trio slid to a halt, take a moment to catch their breath.
  
  Suddenly, a giant foot crashed through the ceiling, stomping on the entire squad. The force of the blow was so strong, it caused a dust storm that briefly covered the trio. Coughing, Armin opened his eyes to see the Female Titan's foot slowly rise back up, leaving behind crushed bodies.
  
  "She caved in the ceiling," Armin said, horrified.
  
  "We've got to pull them out of there," Eren said, taking a step for them before Mikasa grabbed his hood and pulled him back.
  
  "Eren, get back," she told him, dragging him away.
  
  "What? No, wait!" The Shifter tried to break free, but Mikasa wouldn't let him. Even if they were still alive underneath the rubble, it didn't matter. Top priority was keeping Eren out of her hands.
  
  "What was that?" Mikasa demanded, trying not to start raging... yet. "Does she not care if she kills you, too?"
  
  "She took a chance," Armin answered gravely. "It was risky, but she gambled on Eren being able to survive. We're dealing with someone who's been backed into a corner." He began running with the two trailing behind him. "She's desperate, which makes her all the more dangerous!"
  
  They backtracked as quickly as they could, but they soon realized that what was left led straight back to Annie. Knowing her, she would keep stomping her way into the Underground if it meant getting what she wanted, what she needed.
  
  "Damn it, we're cut off," Armin said, panting heavily. "If we try to get airborne with our ODM gear, she'll swat us like flies. If we-." He was cut off by another crashing sound and saw that she was getting closer to them. His voice started trembling. "If we stay here, it's only a matter of time before we're crushed."
  
  Determined, Eren stood up. "I know what I have to do. I'll change. I'll shield you guys like that time with the cannon fire! Get in close!"
  
  "But-!" Armin protested before he pulled them close to him.
  
  "All right, brace yourselves!"
  
  Taking several breaths at a rate that people would think he was hyperventilating, he bit his hand as hard as he could, digging into his flesh and bone. Judging by his muffled screaming, it hurt like hell, but the worst part was that nothing was happening outside of receiving a self-inflicted wound.
  
  "Oh, no," Eren said, his eyes widening in horror. "Not again! Why now?" He collapsed to the ground in pain. "We don't have time for this! Just work, damn it!"
  
  "Don't try to force it," Armin advised over Eren's angry growling. "You have to have a clear goal in mind like Hanji said. Come on, you can do this. We know you can!"
  
  "Believe me, I'm trying," he raged, sinking his teeth into his hand once more and succeeding in doing nothing but causing himself pain.
  
  Mikasa knelt down to his level, but instead of offering him words of encouragement, she was pissed. "Really? Are you sure you're not having second thoughts? Doubts about Annie?"
  
  He didn't respond as if confirming what she accused him of.
  
  "Eren..." Armin said softly, wondering what was going through his mind at the moment.
  
  "It's her," she stated coldly. "The Female Titan. No matter how much you don't want to believe it, that-"
  
  "I know that she's the Female Titan, damn it!" Eren yelled, catching Mikasa off-guard. "Get off my back! I know what she is!"
  
  "Then what is it?" Mikasa demanded. "What the hell is holding you back from doing your duty as a soldier, from fulfilling the oath you swore?"
  
  Eren looked away, his voice dropping to a whisper. "She... she let me go."
  
  Armin sighed in response before nodding. "She did."
  
  "She spared the rear contingent," he continued, his voice shaking. "She spared Levi Squad. Oluo's death was an accident. She's... she's not evil!" He shut his eyes tightly. "Why couldn't we find the right words to say? I know she can be reasoned with! I know we don't have to-!"
  
  Mikasa grabbed him by the collar and pulled him close to her face. She was furious. "Annie. Doesn't. Care. Anymore! Whatever actions she took back in that forest does not apply here. Did you not see what she just did? She stomped out those soldiers like they were nothing to her, and she'll keep killing people until she gets what she wants: you! She's a murderer, and a traitor. Get your head out of your protective shell and fight, damn it!" She glared right into his eyes. "Unless there's something deeper going on."
  
  Eren didn't answer her, his mind a complete mess. It was so hard for him to rationalize Annie as this monster. Everything they went through, everything she had done for him, how could it all be just a lie?
  
  Eren grunted as he rose to his feet, covered in scrapes and bruises, a little blood running from his lips. Thirty minutes he had been sparring with Annie, but it felt like hours. Despite his body begging him to stop, he refused to do so. He needed this. He needed to win.
  
  "Still on your feet?" Annie observed, taking her stance yet again.
  
  "I'm not giving up," he growled, charging at her again.
  
  She backed up, blocking and dodging his blows. Usually, they were out of control at this point, but he managed to keep his cool. To his credit, he was pushing her back, keeping her on her toes, but eventually, he screwed up. He threw a wild punch, and Annie took advantage of that by using his momentum against him, tossing him to the ground. She even locked his arm behind his back.
  
  "Damn it!" Eren swore, grunting in pain. "You always win."
  
  "I've been trained to do this for most of my life, Eren," she reminded him.
  
  He sighed, frustrated with himself. "Of course."
  
  Annie raised her eyebrows, letting him go. "What's going on, Eren?"
  
  "Nothing. Forget it. Let's just keep going."
  
  She rolled her eyes, hoisting him to his feet. "Is it about that chokehold I put you in last week? I was trying to teach you a lesson."
  
  "It's not that," Eren said defensively.
  
  "Then what is it?"
  
  He avoided her gaze. "I... I don't like wasting your time."
  
  Annie blinked. "What?"
  
  "You're trying so hard, and I keep getting tossed around," Eren explained, not wanting to admit it. "I'm trying so hard to use what you taught me, and I'm still failing."
  
  Her cold eyes bore into him. "Is that what you really think?"
  
  He nodded. "Yeah."
  
  "Then you're one hell of an idiot."
  
  Eren's head popped up, surprised. "What?"
  
  Annie put a hand on her hip, giving him a stern look. "You came to me because you wanted to learn from me. If I thought you would waste my time, I would've said no, but I didn't. I didn't come out of the womb as good as I am now, so stop with the pity party." Her expression softened just a bit. "You shouldn't let Mikasa get to you."
  
  "She never had to try," Eren said glumly. "She's always been... perfect. Always coming around to save my ass. I care about her, but it's difficult dealing with that."
  
  "Mikasa's a special kind of beast," Annie replied. "You don't find people like that walking around this place. And, just for the record, you are learning, dumbass. You're more focused and concentrated, and you're starting to put me on the defensive. So, quit the pity party and open your eyes before I knock some sense into you the old-fashioned way."
  
  Eren couldn't help but chuckle, looking at her. "You're something else, Annie."
  
  She shrugged. "Thanks, I guess."
  
  Eren felt a bit more at ease now, and honestly grateful for her. Annie was someone that pushed him into being better than what he was, someone that didn't hold his hand. Mikasa was very protective, and Annie wanted him to take care of himself. He always appreciated that about her. It also helped that he was seeing life in her normally cold eyes. She really did enjoy fighting despite commenting how useless it was, and she seemed to enjoy teaching him, too.
  
  "Uh, Eren, is there something on my face?" Annie asked.
  
  "Huh?" Eren shook his head as if snapping out of daze. "Sorry. I was..."
  
  "You might have a concussion." She tossed him a canteen. "Take a few minutes. If you're too dizzy, we'll do this another time."
  
  "Um, okay." Before she could walk away, Eren quickly stopped her with a, "Hey, Annie?"
  
  She looked over her shoulder. "What?"
  
  Whatever he was going to say died in his throat, so he settled for a simple, "Thanks for helping me."
  
  A small smile appeared on Annie's face, if only for an instant. "I appreciate that, Eren. I really do."
  
  "Say something!" Mikasa demanded, snapping him out of it.
  
  "Mikasa, stop!" Armin interrupted, pulling her back. She was becoming too emotional about this if her accusations were anything to go by and she looked like she was gonna start throttling Eren. "This isn't getting us anywhere." Quickly, he drew his swords. "I know what we have to do. Mikasa will head for that opening, and at the same time, I'll make a run for the exit! I'm sure Annie will go for one of us." Armin put his hood on. "When she does, run in the opposite direction for all you're worth!"
  
  "Are you out of your mind?" Eren objected. "What the hell kind of good is it gonna do if one of you gets killed!?"
  
  "If we stay here, all three of us will," he shot back. "Mikasa, you ready?"
  
  Putting her cloak back on, she nodded. "Yeah, good luck!"
  
  Eren was stunned as both his friends ran in opposite directions, and possibly to their deaths. "Mikasa, Armin, don't do this! I'm not worth it, you hear me? You don't have to go!"
  
  Finally, Mikasa stopped, turning around briefly. "What choice do we have?" She closed her eyes, remembering the one thing that she was taught all her life. "The world is a cruel place!" Throwing her hood up, Mikasa left the corridor, leaving him completely alone.
  
  Eren bowed his head, quietly sobbing at how horrible things were going. His friends were going to die to try and save him, humanity was vulnerable to whatever the Female Titan had planned, and Annie...
  
  Please stop. He begged inwardly.
  
  It was the last thought he had as the ceiling caved in above him.
  
  As Armin exited the Underground, his pupils shrank at the scene before him. Annie stomped into and through another house, but her foot was exactly where Eren was. If he wasn't dead, she just buried him alive.
  
  "Oh, no. Eren!" he yelled in horror as he took to the skies.
  
  The Female Titan paid him no heed as her eyes landed on Mikasa, who was coming at her full speed and swords drawn. Growling, she charged her, ready to bring her down. Once she got close enough, she trapped the Oriental in her hand, but Mikasa sliced her way through, dodging the falling fingers as she fell.
  
  "I won't let you take him," she swore.
  
  While Annie was preoccupied, Armin dived into the ruined house, searching for his friend. He found him lying face down with large pieces of rubble pinning him to the ground.
  
  "Don't worry, Eren," he assured as he started lifting the large debris off of him. "Just stay with me!"
  
  As Mikasa continued her deadly dance with Annie, she dodged an attempted swipe while leaving a tremendous gash on her arm. The swipe took out the rooftops of nearby houses including the hook Mikasa had embedded in one of them. Frantically, she tried to get out of there, but a large rock hit her square on the head, knocking her out as she plummeted to the ground.
  
  Satisfied that the little irritant wasn't in her way anymore, Annie continued making her way towards Eren's position only for a squad of Scouts to start their attack.
  
  "Detain her at all costs," the leader of the squad commanded. "Whatever it takes!"
  
  Once her hand finished regenerating, the Female Titan glared at them. No one was getting in her way this time, especially not him. They made their choice, and they would die for it.
  
  Further into Stohess, Nile Dok continued to walk with the wagons carrying Eren Yeager along with Erwin and Levi. Contrary to what they thought, he didn't like this any more than they did. For a while, he actually hoped the kid would be the key they so desperately needed to win this war against the Titans. However, the latest Expedition proved that the enemy was too strong, and Eren's powers were too unpredictable. Just because Nile was doing what had to be done didn't mean he felt good about it.
  
  His silent musings were interrupted by the smell of smoke. He glanced up to see a large plume of it in the distance. "What the hell's going on?" he asked himself before giving an order to the nearby MPs. "Escort Squad, have a look! I'll hold this position!"
  
  "Sir, yes, sir," Marlowe replied before grappling away with Hitch and Boris right behind him.
  
  "This is bad," Nile said as he began planning his next move. "What the hell could be going on this far in?"
  
  "Nile," Erwin called out, stepping out of the wagon with Levi. "Deploy all troops immediately! We should assume that a Titan has already appeared."
  
  The commander of the Military Police was flabbergasted by his statement and his surprising calmness. "Are you out of your mind? This is Wall Sina. There's no way that a Titan would suddenly show up here!"
  
  The situation started escalating when Eren quickly got out of the wagon he was held in.
  
  "Who told you to move, Yeager?" the MP guarding him demanded, attempting to restrain him.
  
  "How about this damn wig you should've noticed, moron?" Faux-Eren shot back, pulling off his black hair that revealed light-brown hair.
  
  The MP staggered back in shock, realizing that he had been played.
  
  "Call me Yeager again, and it's your ass! Got that?" Jean threatened as he grabbed his cloak and ran to Erwin's position. "Commander, what's the plan?"
  
  "Ask Squad 4 for equipment," he answered.
  
  "Sir," Jean quickly threw on his cloak and got to work.
  
  "I like the brass balls but try not to swing them so hard you get yourself killed," Levi advised.
  
  "Commander," another Scout called out, landing in front of him with a case containing the ODM gear.
  
  Nile was too stunned to speak as the Scouts, Jean, and Erwin began putting on the gear quickly. He had been fooled, but for what purpose. This wasn't just an attempt to keep Eren out of the MP's hands. This was something else entirely.
  
  Then, his suspicions began to rise as he remembered the mission report from the Scout Regiment, how a Female Titan displaying the same intelligence as the kid tore through their ranks with the intent of capturing him. The only explanation was that she was human like he was, and if that was the case....
  
  She's here. Nile realized. The Female Titan is in Stohess right now!
  
  Now, his anger began to bubble as he put it together. Erwin lured her out into the open, out in a city containing thousands upon thousands of civilians. With no prior warning. If she was the cause of the attack in the distance, so many people would be killed.
  
  "All right," Erwin exclaimed as he prepared for departure. "All of you with me! We're rendezvousing with the capture squad."
  
  "No," Nile yelled, pointing his rifle right at Erwin's chest. "The hell you will!"
  
  The rest of the MPs took aim at Erwin and Levi, preparing to fire.
  
  "This is outright treason," he snarled. "I am well within my rights to shoot you where you stand!"
  
  "Think, Nile," Levi said in a drawl voice. "I find it hard to believe you're actually as thick-headed as you look. You're a hair-trigger away from making the worst mistake of your life."
  
  "Take off the gear before I shoot you!" Nile ordered.
  
  It was a standoff, and any sudden move could mean the difference between life and death.
  
  The battle with the Female Titan was going about as expected: horribly. The Scouts were trying to disable her and take her alive, but she was too quick for them. She knocked a Scout into and through a building and crushed another one in the palm of her hand. Mikasa, regaining consciousness, let out a battle cry and sliced her Achilles' Heel, trying to bring her down, but the wound was too shallow. Fortunately, they were at least buying time for Armin to get Eren out of his predicament.
  
  "Just hold on," Armin pleaded as he finally moved the large piece of rubble off of him. "I'm almost there, Eren!"
  
  "What the hell is going on?" Jean demanded as he landed behind him.
  
  "He's stuck in here," he explained frantically.
  
  Jean's eyes widened. "Why didn't he just change into a Titan?"
  
  "He couldn't transform," Armin admitted. "Annie's actions during the Expedition is holding him back from taking her on."
  
  The brown-haired boy clenched his fist. "You've got to be kidding me."
  
  Shaking his head, Armin continued digging him out. "We'll worry about that when he's safe. Help me out."
  
  Growling, Jean stalked over to Eren. "Enough of this bullshit, Eren! It doesn't matter what Annie did. The reality is that she's not letting anything hold her back." He glared down at his fallen form. "Look at yourself. You're humanity's best chance of living. We're putting our lives on the line out there, and this is all we can expect from out last, best hope? Is this what Marco...?" He gritted his teeth so he wouldn't breakdown. "Damn it!"
  
  He would've gone on, but there was a loud crash nearby. The two men looked to see large pieces of rubble coming for them and they moved quickly. The landing sent the two flying and buried Eren deeper into the ground. This time, there was a large, wooden stake impaled in his chest. At this rate, he was going to die.
  
  "Eren..." Armin whispered, trying to contain his panic.
  
  Jean growled, drawing his swords. "We can't do a damn thing until we deal with her!" With that, he charged into the fray.
  
  Armin sighed, knowing what had to be done, but he spoke to Eren one last time. "Listen, I said something to Jean recently: to rise above monsters, we have to abandon our humanity. What we fight, we become. Fire with fire. Look at her. Annie can do it. I don't know why, but there it is. It's simple: you have to match her heartlessness to win!"
  
  There was a way to keep Annie from continuing her path towards Eren. It was going to be the lowest blow he could strike, but it was necessary if he wanted to keep him alive. As Annie smashed another Scout into a building, Armin ran out and called out to her.
  
  "Annie!" he yelled angrily. "Dillon would be so proud of you, wouldn't he?"
  
  The Female Titan's eyes widened at those words before growling at him dangerously.
  
  "You should be thankful he's dead, so he'll never see what you've become!"
  
  Annie clenched her fists as she let out an animalistic snarl. Why you little....
  
  Suddenly, there was a loud yell behind her and she quickly crystalized her hand as she blocked her nape. Jean cursed loudly as his swords shattered, but he took off. "Armin, follow me!"
  
  Quickly, Armin grappled away just as her fist landed where he was. The two were heading deeper into the city as a livid Titan charged after them. Sometimes, emotional instability was a good thing to take advantage of, especially when making the target focus on the wrong thing.
  
  As Annie passed by a building, her eyes widened as she fell into another trap. Once again, several cannons fired at her, impaling her skin with the hooks and barbs. Some of ropes actually tied her up. She pulled as hard as she could, but instead, she slipped and fell to the ground with a loud thump, shaking the whole District. With her on the ground, the Scouts tossed a large, spiked net onto Annie, keeping her pinned. And somehow, she managed to keep her hand on her nape after all that.
  
  "Nice work," Hanji congratulated, the mastermind behind this plan. "And here I thought having a Plan C was nothing short of paranoid. Oh, Commander Erwin, you genius." The scientist grappled down to Annie's level, approaching her without a shred of fear. "Now, do us a favor: behave yourself."
  
  Annie's pupil shrank when she put the tip of her sword inches from her eye.
  
  "Oh, calling your cohorts to dinner isn't an option," Hanji taunted, a manic look appearing in her eyes and her voice becoming sinister. "So, let's not waste that lovely singing voice. In fact, let's not waste anything. No, no, I'm going to read your entrails. Every part of you has a story to tell."
  
  Eyes widening, Annie stuck her leg out and did a ground swipe, taking out many of the cannons that were keeping her down. The Scouts were forced to retreat as she freed herself from the confines and took off down the street.
  
  "She got away," Mikasa snarled.
  
  "Damn it," Hanji swore. "We didn't have time to set enough traps. Don't let her get away!"
  
  The Scouts were in full pursuit as the Female Titan tried to head back to the area where she believed Eren was at. She tossed pieces of debris at them, knocking several Scouts aside, but the majority of them continued after her. Mikasa was out of control as she tried desperately to cut her apart, but a kick sent her flying, crashing onto the ground harder than before. She didn't get up.
  
  "Mikasa!" Armin screamed.
  
  Weak. Useless. Pathetic. Bleeding. Dying.
  
  Five words that described Eren's situation perfectly. He had no idea how much blood he lost, but he knew that it wouldn't be long now. It'd be so easy just to die right now. Let the world go on without him. The weight was just too much for him to handle. And now, a friend he trusted, someone he cared about, was a traitor. How could she do that to him? To Dillon? To humanity? His vision was turning blurry as he felt unconsciousness slowly start to take him. There was no point in fighting anymore. He just wanted to leave this wretched place. Who knew? Maybe there was life after death, and he would finally be reunited with... his...
  
  Eren's eyes shot open, a new wave of energy coursing through him. He watched her die, get eaten by a Titan with a sickening smile. He promised that he would avenge her. He would kill all the Titans and take back the land that was taken by them. Taken by... Annie. No, Annie wasn't like those creatures. She wasn't going off mindless instinct. She chose to slaughter her own people. She chose to sadistically kill them. She chose to break the only person that ever loved her. She chose to betray them all. She was a monster. She was a snake, pretending to be human and pretending to care. She was the Female Titan, and he would kill her if it was the last thing he did!
  
  He began pushing himself against the wooden stake, trying to pull himself out. It hurt unlike anything he ever felt before, his body making a disgusting, squelching sound, but pain didn't matter. It never did. Every time he was knocked down, he got back up again no matter how many times he lost. He had the power at his fingertips to end this once and for all. No one would get in his way because he would kill Annie. No, rip her apart. Make her wish she died the moment she was born. Make her feel all the pain that she caused him.
  
  An inhuman scream erupted from his throat as fire consumed him.
  
  A gigantic lightning bolt descended from the sky, causing a massive explosion in the distance. Annie slid to a stop as she waited for the inevitable. Eren had transformed, and he would be coming after her. She was prepared for that eventuality, and she would take him down like she did back in that forest. The ground began shaking its loudest as footsteps drew closer to her. He was running so fast that the windows he ran past shattered.
  
  Annie turned around to meet him head-on but was too slow to react to him punching her dead in the face. It was so hard she was sent flying into a chapel, destroying it completely and killing the majority of the people inside. Her eyes widened at the carnage beneath her, but she had to brush it aside. Eren was playing by her rules now, and that meant he wouldn't hold back. Hearing him roar, she quickly got to her feet and took off with an angry Titan hot on her trail. Just because there would be collateral damage didn't mean she wantedit, so she led him away from the civilians.
  
  Eren, however, didn't give a damn where they fought. He was going to rip her to shreds no matter what happened. She would die by his hand one way or the other. By running, she was only delaying the inevitable.
  
  Hanji, Armin, and Jean quickly followed them, ready to aid Eren if things went south.
  
  "Well, looks like our boy's finally in control," Hanji noted.
  
  "Still, there's no guarantee that things will end in our favor this time," Armin said.
  
  "Are you kidding me?" Jean asked. "He wouldn't have transformed if he didn't think that he's got this, okay?"
  
  "I don't doubt that," Armin replied, "but determination alone isn't enough to win a fight. You of all people should know that. It'll take more than that to beat Annie. A lot more."
  
  Eren roared angrily as he continued his pursuit of Annie. She was taking him to level ground, a place not only away from the civilian population, but a place where the Scouts would be useless. She turned around, grabbing onto a building to slow down and dislodging whoever was too close to the edge. The two stared each other down, ready to end this.
  
  Annie, always so cynical! Eren snarled inwardly. Like everything around you was pointless! Nothing worth a second look. What you were to Dillon? Just another mask to hide behind as you used him for your own benefits. In the end, he means nothing to you just like we don't mean anything to you!
  
  As if she could hear him, Annie got into her fighting stance, ready for the battle.
  
  But every now and then, I could see through the act, especially when you were showing off your fighting skills. Maybe hand-to-hand combat didn't count for squat in our final grade at the Academy, but for you... it was a different story altogether. Yeah, about that much, at least, it was obvious you were a liar. Fighting's your whole world, but what exactly are you fighting for? What could possibly be worth all this death and destruction!?"
  
  With the loudest roar he could muster, Eren charged. Annie hardened her elbow which she used to catch the punch. Unlike last time, though, his hand didn't break. He had gotten stronger. She tried to kick him, but he blocked it, grabbing her leg in the process. He lifted her into the air and tossed her into a building, dazing her. Her eyes widened as he charged through another building just to get to her. Nothing mattered except her, and if this kept up, the entire city would be leveled.
  
  This was a far cry from every time she had fought with Eren. This wasn't even a person anymore. He had become nothing more than a rabid animal set on one goal: killing her. Before, she could've used that to her advantage, but this was different. He was faster, stronger, and barreling through every obstacle and person that got in his way. She could see glimpses of people being propelled out of buildings from their fight. For the first time in her entire life, Annie was afraid of Eren.
  
  "You say there are two of them hashing it out in the streets?" Nile demanded, furious.
  
  "Yes, sir," the MP who gave him the report answered. "The city's collapsing like a house of cards. It's just... it's horrifying. We can only guess how many casualties."
  
  Growling, Nile pointed the rifle back to Erwin's chest. "Erwin, your arrogance has brought Hell to our door!"
  
  "I know," the Scout commander replied as the screams of dying civilians filled the air. "I acted on my own authority, and I offer no excuses."
  
  Lowering his gun, Nile grabbed him by the collar, speaking in a deadly tone. "You knew what this would do to us, you son of a bitch. You knew and our lives be damned! Why, damn you? Why?"
  
  "For humanity," Erwin answered. "For victory."
  
  "Don't give me that!" he yelled, pointing the gun at him again. "You're nothing but a traitor! I oughta kill you right here and now! None of the higher-ups would fault me."
  
  He sighed. "Do as your conscious dictates. My post is yours."
  
  That caught Nile off guard. "What?"
  
  "The Female Titan must not escape," Erwin stated. "Deployment is through here and Byrer is in command of divisions. Work with them closely and do whatever is required to stop her."
  
  "Shut up," Nile demanded, a look of panic appearing on his face. The last thing he wanted to do was deal with the situation alone. Despite how much he wanted Erwin's head on a pike for bringing death and destruction to his home, he knew that he couldn't handle the Scouts, not when they and the MPs were constantly at each other's throats. Maybe ten years ago, he could've, but now... "Do you... do you really believe that all this is for the good of us all!?"
  
  "I have faith it's a step in the right direction," Erwin said, standing by his convictions.
  
  Gritting his teeth, Nile lowered his gun. "Everyone, lower your rifles! Place this man under arrest. The rest of you, deploy immediately! As of now, focus on evacuation."
  
  "Yes, sir," the MPs shouted, moving out.
  
  Nile glared at him one final time. "Erwin, I wash my hands of you and leave you to the high court."
  
  "I'll accept their judgement," Erwin promised as he was shackled. "Thank you, Nile." He turned to the captain. "Levi, for now, stay here. A pointless death wouldn't suit you."
  
  Levi's eyes narrowed. "No, I doubt it would... any more than it would suit anyone else." He had to concede that if he tried anything, he would just get in the way. For now, he would wait. If his instincts told him to go help Eren, then he would do so in a heartbeat. He only hoped that things were going to come to an end.
  
  The Scouts watched in horror as Stohess fell to ruins. Buildings were demolished, some of them were on fire. Corpses littered the streets, most of them being civilians. The two had been fighting for only ten minutes and already, they caused so much pain and suffering. Still, it needed to be done if Eren was going to take Annie down. Sacrifices had to be made for humanity's continued survival.
  
  Eren roared and charged once again, but Annie hardened her leg and cut his off with a single swipe. He wasn't deterred as he continued the assault, punching her into another building. The two were getting exhausted, Eren more so than Annie. It was only a matter of time before someone gave out.
  
  Annie... Annie...
  
  Clenching her fist, Annie slammed her leg into Eren, pinning him to a building. She knew that she had a home to return to, a father that needed her. The Rogue Titan sunk his teeth into her crystallized leg, keeping her from pulling away. Furiously, Annie hardened her fist and started pounding Eren's head as hard as she could. She had to get out of here even if it meant failing her mission.
  
  Annie, I've always believed in you. Her father had hugged her so tight, not wanting to let her go. I've always been on your side.
  
  With an anguish-filled roar, Annie bashed Eren's head so hard, it actually caved in. His jaw was loosened, and she was able to get free. His body was practically torn apart, steam coming out from everywhere. She gave him a sorrowful look before she took off, running for the Wall. She could scale it if she moved fast enough. It was over. She was going home.
  
  "ANNIE!"
  
  Remastered Edits: A lot more than I expected. Before, this scene was another case of rushing to the finish line. The following chapter was so important to me that this one took a pretty big hit. So, I decided to focus a bit more on Eren. One of my biggest complaints in the entire series is the lack of character development... at least for Season 1. How could Eren be so unwilling to fight Annie when up until that point, they only shared ONE conversation? Just one. A flashback was definitely in order, and I hope you guys enjoyed it. I also added Eren's point of view as he transforms once again.
  
  Hope you all enjoyed this chapter, I look forward to your reviews, and I shall see you all in the next one.
  
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  One Final Chance
  AN: So, I went to Animazement not too long ago, and I got to meet Elizabeth Maxwell (Ymir), Jason Liebrecht (Beast Titan), and, incredibly, Lauren Landa (FREAKING ANNIE LEONHART!). All three signed the cover page you see on my story. Trust me, it was a wonderful experience, one I hope to do again next year if I can. But enough about that. Time for the end of the Female Titan Arc.
  
  Chapter 23: One Final Chance
  
  (Five minutes ago)
  
  The view from on top of any of the Walls was one to truly behold. One could see so much of the Districts that surrounded him and come to the realization that the world was vast and he was a speck compared to it. Such insightful thoughts were not on Dillon's mind as he stared down into Stohess District. What was once a glorious city was now a city of fire, smoke, and death. Even from up here, he could hear the people scream in terror as they ran or died trying.
  
  It grieved the young blacksmith to no end to see this. This was what the plan resulted in: hundreds of lives killed, and the survivors' lives destroyed. He let the Scouts go forward with this plan, and this was the price that was paid... because he wasn't strong enough to get off the floor until now.
  
  In the distance, he could see Eren and Annie in their respective Titan forms battling it out. Judging from the roars and how the city shook with every blow, it was a brutal one, meaning that it would get dicey once he was close enough. He wondered briefly if he could stop them fighting long enough to plead his case. Could he actually pull it off?
  
  Only one way to find out. He thought as he checked his gas supply. Not much left, but it'll have to be enough.
  
  Before he took the plunge, a wave of fear passed over him. This was it. The moment he entered the city, he would be heading towards the battle, towards... her . So much of him wanted to just stay and wait it out, wait until Annie was not a Titan. Then again, at this point, that wasn't going to happen. No matter what he wanted, he was getting the Female Titan.
  
  Closing his eyes, he jumped off the Wall before the Garrison could question his presence. As he fell, he took a few seconds to enjoy the rush before impaling his hooks into the Wall. So much easier than taking the stairs, and more fun. However, there was no more fun to be had, for he had a mission to complete, a more-than-likely suicidal one. He grappled into the city as he began to smell blood, death, and fire. It reminded him of Trost, and for some reason, this felt worse.
  
  Maybe it's because the woman you love caused this. Dillon thought sardonically. Just a thought.
  
  As he traveled deeper, he began to see people hiding in their homes, terrified for their lives. He sighed, knowing that the only thing he could do help them was stop the person causing this no matter the cost. Quickly, the living humans started turning into dead ones as he drew closer to the fight. So many corpses, and so many horrible ways they died. Buried alive or stomped on without a second thought. He felt bile rise into his throat, but he shoved it back down. He could not stop for anything. Annie was the objective, and she was so close.
  
  He managed to make it a block away from the fight as the ground shook with every blow. He couldn't see them, but he could damn well hear them. Unfortunately, it was at that moment his gas ran out, causing him to crash onto the ground. It hurt, but he could still move. Quickly, he ran down the block and peeked around the corner, his eyes widening at what he saw. The Female Titan had Eren pinned against the side of a building, continuously punching him with a crystalized hand while, for some reason, screaming at the top of her lungs.
  
  Dillon's pupils shrank when he saw her for real this time. There she was, the being of his recent nightmares, the one that never ceased to haunt him. For a moment, he wasn't in Stohess, but he was back in that village, hearing the spinning... spinning... spinning...
  
  Breathing heavily, he retreated back into his cover, sinking into a sitting position. He couldn't do it. He couldn't muster up the will to stop her. Once Annie realized that he deceived her, she was going to kill him. Petra was right. This was a foolish move, and he should never have come here.
  
  Stop it. He demanded inwardly, trying to seize control of himself. You are stronger than this. You know what you have to do. You will not falter. You will not fail. Get off your ass and make this right!
  
  Determined, Dillon stood up and unhooked the ODM Gear from his body, letting it fall to the ground. At this point, it was unnecessary weight. He sighed as he prepared to step out there. He had to move fast as he felt rumbling footsteps coming down the street in front of him. Now or never. Dillon took several breaths and yelled at the top of his lungs just as she was running by. "ANNIE!"
  
  The Female Titan's eyes widened as she stopped mid step, hardening her hand as she grabbed the building to slow down. It couldn't be him. He was dead! She was tempted to shake it off and keep running for the wall.
  
  Dillon's eyes flashed and reestablished the mind link he severed days ago before she could brush it off as hearing voices in her head. "It's really me, Annie."
  
  Annie shook her head. It had to be a trick! It had to be, but... she felt it. That connection in her mind that she missed so much. Slowly, she turned around, unable to believe her eyes as he stepped into her view. He looked exhausted, but he was alive. " Dillon?" she whispered.
  
  Slowly, he nodded his head while approaching her. "Yes." He gave a sideways glance to a rooftop where Jean, Hanji, and Armin were watching this unfold. They were clearly astounded to see him now of all times, making him worry they were going to try to save him from her. He didn't want that to happen, especially considering the state he was about to put her in. Remembering the mind link he established over a month ago, he spoke mentally to Armin. "Don't intervene unless she kills me or makes a run for it. No arguments." Hoping they got the message, he focused on the Female Titan.
  
  Annie didn't know which emotion felt more real right now: the relief, or the sorrow at seeing him again. She had lost nearly everything when he died, but he was back. She wanted to hold him and never let him go as to never lose him again. "You're alive," she managed out.
  
  Another nod of his head. "I am."
  
  He was wary of her, still afraid like he was during the Expedition. Her actions in Stohess did her no favors. One thing, however, gnawed at her. " How? They told me you died."
  
  Dillon hesitated for the longest time, finding himself at a loss for words. Taking a deep breath, he admitted the truth. "I... we had to make sure you would have no reason to leave. If I was dead, if the loose end was taken care of... you would still be here."
  
  In an instant, all those feelings she had towards him were replaced by a steadily growing rage. Dillon Amsdale, the man she loved the most, had not only sold her out, but faked his death to trap her. Annie clenched her fists, letting out a low growl. " You lied to me? Manipulated me?"
  
  Dillon was unable to face her as he said the one word that sealed his fate: "Yes."
  
  The Female Titan let out an enraged roar and charged him. He couldn't help but let out a frightened yelp as he was scooped up in her hand as she passed by him. With another roar, she punched said hand into a building, dislodging pieces of it in the process. It wasn't hard enough to kill him, but enough for him to feel the impact.
  
  After all that talk, all those idealistic convictions he stood for, he ended up being like the rest. A conniving soldier who would do anything to achieve his victories. She wanted to kill him, turn him into a pile of crushed flesh and blood. A hard-enough squeeze and it would be all over. She decided against it, looking down at the pathetic human with a glare. She would get answers, see just how he would try to worm his way out of this, and then she would make him regret not staying in the hole he crawled out of.
  
  Jean's eyes widened in horror and prepared to launch at her to save his best friend. "I knew this was gonna happen. Come on!"
  
  "Jean, don't," Armin interrupted, pulling him back. "We can't do anything."
  
  "Why the hell not?" he demanded, glaring at him as he yanked himself out of his loose grip. "She's going to kill him."
  
  "Because this is his choice," the blonde answered. "He's going to try and reason with her. Do what we failed to do earlier today."
  
  "She's too far gone," Jean shot back, unable to believe they were considering this.
  
  "If she was, Dillon would be dead right now," Armin pointed out quickly. "But if we intervene, she will kill him for sure. I don't like this anymore than you do, but we have to give him this chance."
  
  "I can't believe he would be so foolish as to put himself in harm's way like this," Hanji said, shaking her head in disbelief. "He really thinks he can pull this off, doesn't he?"
  
  Jean let out a frustrated grunt, staring down at the unfolding scene. "Damn idiot. He really believes it." Whatever luck was on the blacksmith's side, Jean prayed he would still have it. He wasn't ready to say goodbye to another friend.
  
  The sheer helplessness Dillon felt was astounding. His arms were pinned inside her fist, trapping him, but that paled in comparison to the murderous glare that was fixed on him.
  
  " This is all your fault, Dillon!" the Female Titan roared.
  
  Dillon avoided her gaze, fear all too evident in his eyes. How could he respond to that? The images were starting to come back. He was in the one place he never wanted to be: at her complete mercy.
  
  Seeing him avoid looking at her only fueled her ire. "If you want to live to see another day, look at me and tell me why, you son of a bitch."
  
  It was becoming too much. He was losing himself, on the verge of a panic attack. He was going to die. It was all over.
  
  "Dillon!"
  
  He gasped, looking to his right. What should've been a welcome sight for anyone made his heart sink.
  
  Mikasa had arrived on the scene with the others, her shock all too apparent, even from a distance. At that moment, Dillon knew what would happen. Mikasa would charge down there in an effort to save him, Annie would kill him and her, and the carnage continue. So much death and destruction that could happen in seconds.
  
  No more.
  
  "Don't you dare try and save me," Dillon warned mentally.
  
  Mikasa couldn't believe what she just heard. "Dillon?"
  
  "This between me and her. Back off!"
  
  The Female Titan's patience was running thin as she slammed her fist again, jostling him. "Answer me!"
  
  Dillon fought past the trauma that sought to unravel him as his brown eyes slowly met her giant, angry, blue ones. His own anger started to return as his quiet voice began to raise in volume. "I did it for Jensen. For Marcus. For Maria. For Darius. For Oluo. For Marco. For every single soldier youkilled!"
  
  " So, your brilliant idea was to put me in a position where I had to kill even more?" Annie growled.
  
  "You did all that on your own," Dillon shot back, not caring that he was arguing with someone who could pop his head off at a moment's notice anymore. "I may have forced you into a position where you had to make a choice, but, in the end, it was still your choice. You could have given yourself up earlier, but you chose to transform instead."
  
  " Because I have to get home, Dillon," she told him. "I don't care if I have Eren or not anymore. I have to get out of here!"
  
  He paused and gave her a confused look, his anger put aside for now. "What are you talking about?"
  
  She stopped when she realized what she had said, what she revealed. She let out another growl, though it was more towards her own carelessness. " Forget it. You don't need to know."
  
  "And there you go again," he responded, frustrated with her. "'I wouldn't understand.' 'You can't tell me.' 'I don't need to know.' Enough already! Did you ever think if you tried to explain yourself earlier, maybe, just maybe, we wouldn't be in this situation?"
  
  " And if I told you?" Annie retorted. "If I said, 'Hey, Dillon. I have a secret to tell you. I'm a Titan Shifter sent here to capture someone,' how would you have reacted?"
  
  "That's not explaining yourself, and you know it."
  
  " What is there to explain?" she yelled, doing everything in her power to not snap his body in half. "What do you want from me!?"
  
  "The truth!" Dillon shouted back, catching her off-guard. He would not break this time. "I want to know what was so worth it to you to kill so many people as if they meant nothing to you. Forty percent of the Scouts are dead, and an entire district is stained with the blood of innocent people and for what?" Breathing heavily, his voice lowered, yet it had the same impact. "Why are you doing this?"
  
  Annie didn't expect him to take her head-on like this, her brief expression of shock indicating that. She thought he would cave like he did back in that village, but here he was, hashing it out with her. She could feel his pain, his rage, and the fear he attempted to hide, yet he was putting her on the defensive. The shock vanished and the anger returned, though it was slightly diminished. "I want to go home. I want to go back to the home that I was forced to abandon five years ago, when I was sent here to get Eren."
  
  One word stood out from the explanation. "Forced? You... you were forced to...?"
  
  Now, her anger faded, replaced by a look of hurt. "You think I wanted to do this?" Annie asked quietly. "To come here, kill all these people, take Eren... you think I wanted this?"
  
  Dillon's eyes widened as the implications sunk in. Sure, he knew she felt regret for her actions, but he didn't consider that to be a possibility. "I... couldn't see it. I could only see that smile." And everything else that went with it.
  
  Annie snorted derisively at him. "Don't tell me you've never felt that way when you fought someone or when you killed a Titan."
  
  For a moment, the image of a man in green attire came to mind. A scumbag that threatened to kill someone he cared about. Someone who thought himself above repercussions. Someone who didn't know what kind of hell Dillon would rain down on him for hurting Krista.
  
  " I told you I'd make you pay, didn't I?"
  
  Dillon shook himself out of that memory and glared at her. She had no idea what her brutality did to him, but right now, that didn't matter. He was not going to play a game to see who hurt who the most, though that statement pissed him off. "In case you've forgotten, Titans are trying to eat every single one of us. When I kill Titans or anyone else, for that matter, I'm trying to save lives. You're trying to end them."
  
  " No, I'm trying to get one person," Annie corrected. "Only when I have Eren can I leave."
  
  Dillon looked at her incredulously. How was she not getting it? "And then what!? You take away the one person that has given us any semblance of a chance to live, guess what happens? Without Eren, the Titans will kill us all. You'd be condemning every single person in these Walls to death. But you don't give a damn about any of that, do you? As long as you get what you want, we can all be devoured by Titans for all you care!"
  
  " No!" With an ear-shattering roar, she slammed her fist against the building behind Dillon, narrowly missing him. The top floor was wrecked as a result, yet the structure was still standing. Panting heavily, she lowered her hand as she looked at him with pain in her eyes. "That's. Not. True, damn it. I care about you all. I may act cold, but that's all it is. An act! I care, but..." She put her head down. "I just want this all to be over. I want to go home."
  
  With the Female Titan's grip on him lessening, Dillon managed to free both his arms. He needed to calm down. Riling her up like that would make things worse. "The cost is too high, Annie. You could go home, but every man, woman and child would pay for it with their lives... including mine. I would not abandon my duty. I would kill as my Titans as I could if it meant giving humanity a chance to survive. Of course, I wouldn't last long, and I would eventually die. It's the only way it would end. You know that."
  
  Annie didn't meet his gaze as those words echoed in her mind.
  
  Dillon could feel her trembling just a little bit. He knew he was getting through to her. "Annie?" he asked when she didn't respond.
  
  Letting out a sigh, she made eye contact with him, worn out from everything. "Dillon, what do you want?"
  
  "I want the fighting to stop," he answered, "but I don't want to lose you."
  
  " Why? In the end, I've done things that can't be forgiven," she pointed out. "I can't stay here. If I do, they'll kill me."
  
  "And what about the people who sent you here?" Dillon pressed. "What do you think they're gonna do to you when you return as a failure, Annie?"
  
  " I'd..." She struggled to find something to cling on to. "You're asking me to risk my life for these people. I'm drenched in their blood."
  
  "Our best chance is to surrender into their custody," Dillon said. "If we can prove that we're more valuable alive, they won't kill us."
  
  " Who is we?" she muttered. "They love you. They hate me."
  
  "I just interfered with a military operation and outed myself as a mind reader, Annie. No matter what happens, they're coming after me too." He snorted as he thought about Eren's trial. "Knowing the MPs, they'll want to carve out my brain for 'Humanity's Cause.'"
  
  " Then we can both leave," Annie pleaded. "I can get us both over the Wall. We can escape this place!"
  
  Dillon let out a sad sigh, shaking his head. "Annie, as relieving it would be to leave all of this behind, to leave the war for good, I have family and friends that need me, too. I can't abandon them to their deaths. I know what I'm asking you is beyond risky. It's practically suicidal, and after what I did you, I have no right to ask you this, but..." He took another deep breath. He honestly thought he wouldn't get this far, but now that he did, there was no turning back. "If I told you that I will not let them torture you or kill you, will you be able to trust me? Just one. Last. Time?"
  
  She shook her head, more lost than she ever was. "I don't know what to do, Dillon."
  
  "I know," Dillon said softly.
  
  Taking a risk, he stretched his hand out towards her face. That surprised her, given how just a few minutes ago, she was ready to kill him, but here he was, trying to reach her.
  
  Annie closed the distance, bringing him closer to her face. Once he was close enough, Dillon placed his hand on her cheek. She flinched, not used to this kind of contact as a Titan. Worried that he somehow hurt her, he retracted his hand only for the Female Titan to lean her head in just a little bit, indicating she wanted this. She needed to feel his touch. Cautiously, he placed his hand right back on her. He knew her body currently emanated heat, but her skin wasn't scalding as he feared it would be; in fact, it felt like she had fever all over her body. It was... surprisingly nice.
  
  "Annie, please give me the chance to make this right," Dillon pleaded quietly.
  
  " Do you really think you can protect me from them?" she asked him.
  
  There was no certain way of knowing, that much was true. "I guess we'll find out together, won't we?"
  
  " I'm scared, Dillon," she admitted, holding him close.
  
  "So am I, but I made you a promise... and I'm going to keep it." Not caring that they were being watched, and not caring that that their fates from here on out would be intertwined because of his actions, Dillon leaned in and kissed the woman he loved on her giant lips.
  
  Annie's eyes widened at that. She felt it, that was for damn sure. But she honestly didn't know what to make of it. So, she did what came naturally: closing her eyes, she relaxed into it and kissed back.
  
  Was it awkward that he was kissing a woman whose lips enveloped his entire face? Admittingly, a little. Did he care? No, he did not. Even after everything she had done, Dillon still loved her, and would continue to do so for the rest of his life. It wasn't just an action confessing their love to each other once again. It was laying down everything the two had gone through right at that very moment when words failed. It wasn't an intense kiss, but it was the best one they ever shared together.
  
  Jean's jaw dropped, completely at a loss for words. There were so many questions he had. How was Dillon able to keep a steady conversation with someone who couldn't talk? Why was he able to call out Annie without getting splattered? And, most importantly, was Dillon Amsdale seriously making out with the Female Titan?
  
  Mikasa had so many questions, but, like Jean, her jaw fell open the moment the two started to kiss. Did Dillon just to decide to forget the fact that his girlfriend was responsible for the deaths of many soldiers and civilians? And that was just today! She slaughtered soldiers in the Expedition and scarred him for life. She was responsible for all the lives lost in Shiganshina. How could he still love her after all of that? None of this made any sense to her.
  
  Armin, while observing the situation carefully, was still surprised by Dillon's actions. Judging from the one-sided conversation he could hear, though, he was not trying to help her escape. He desperately wanted the woman he loved to stop on her own volition. He hoped that kiss wasn't a goodbye kiss. Unfortunately, he also knew that what Dillon did would have serious ramifications.
  
  Hanji, however, had a grin stretched out to full capacity. Dillon's actions were making history, though she would be having a long talk with Levi Squad to find out what went wrong. When they started to kiss, however, her inner romantic started squealing with delight. True, out of all the people the young man could have fallen in love with, it had to be the Female Titan, but still. If Dillon came through, she promised herself not to torture the girl. There were far more possibilities to explore if both of them were willing. Right now, she had to wait and see.
  
  After what felt like an eternity, they pulled away as Dillon rested his head against hers, both of them closing their eyes. The warmth of her body was so soothing and so calming, it was like the rest of the world didn't exist. The only thing that mattered right now was each other.
  
  "I love you so much, Annie," he whispered.
  
  "I love you, too, Dillon," she whispered back, tears of relief and sadness sliding down her face.
  
  "Oh, come on. The kiss couldn't have been that painful," he teased.
  
  Despite the circumstances, Annie couldn't help but chuckle a little at the joke, wiping them away with her other hand. He smiled back, happy that they could share possibly their last laugh together before...
  
  "It's your move, Annie," he told her. "What's it gonna be?"
  
  The crossroads laid before her and it was time to choose. She looked up at the group, now joined by several more Scouts and soldiers from the Garrison, all eying her with apprehension and hands drawn to their swords. As expected, they all feared and hated her. Well, the crazy woman with glasses was grinning as if she was given all the wealth in the world, but she was the only exception. And, of course, Little Miss Perfect-Soldier was glaring at her, waiting for her to make a wrong move. For a second, her eyes landed on Armin, who visibly flinched when she locked eyes with him. Considering she was trying to kill him earlier, that wasn't very surprising.
  
  Next, her eyes landed on Eren, who was still lying slumped against the building, though there was less steam coming out of his body. The regeneration process was almost complete, and he would be getting up soon. Once he did, all hell would break loose.
  
  Then, the Female Titan looked over her shoulder at the Wall, close yet so far. That was the only way of escaping Stohess. She could just abandon the mission completely, leave, and never come back. If she was fast enough, she could make it. She could go back to her hometown, back to her father, but this was only the center wall. She still had to make it all the way to Rose, but the trip would be worth it once she got out... until she got back. When the people who forced her into this learned of her failures, she'd be killed.
  
  Finally, her eyes went back to Dillon, who stood hopeful and fearful of her decision. He was the only reason that she was so conflicted right now. She wanted to hate him for it, for making things complicated for her, but at the same time, she felt grateful that someone like him was in her life. He came all this way and risked certain death just to make things right. He even stood up to her despite being in such a vulnerable position. There was no question as to whether he had a set or not, and she admired him for it.
  
  Annie closed her eyes for a moment, trying to come up with the right decision. She heard the voices of the two people she loved battling it out in her head. Only one of them would win.
  
  "Annie, I've always believed in you."
  
  " I made you a promise, and I'm going to keep it."
  
  "Your dad is the one person who is on your side."
  
  "Annie, please give me the chance to make this right."
  
  "Promise me... that you will return."
  
  "It's your move, Annie. What's it gonna be?"
  
  A few more tears streamed down her face, finally making her choice. I'm sorry, Daddy. She looked down at Dillon and nodded. "I'm going to surrender."
  
  Dillon allowed a small smile to enter on his face as he looked back and shouted, "Annie is giving herself up! It's finally over."
  
  The soldiers widened their eyes in shock, some even dropping their swords. Did he just say what they thought they heard him say?
  
  "He did it," Jean said in disbelief. "He actually did it."
  
  Armin couldn't believe it either. He honestly thought that Annie would ignore his pleas and try to escape, but she didn't. He was never happier to be wrong in his entire life.
  
  "I can't wait to see look on Erwin and Levi's faces when they see this," Hanji said, eager to get started with those two. "A human that can communicate with Titans? This is incredible!"
  
  Mikasa, on the other hand, felt like wringing someone's neck as she continued to watch the Female Titan and Dillon carefully with narrowed eyes. "The day's not over yet."
  
  None of them were more relieved than the human she had in her hand, who felt like he just fought tooth-and-nail for a stay-of-execution verdict. Come to think of it, that was pretty accurate to what was going on. With Annie choosing to surrender, he knew that he wouldn't lose her again... hopefully. Unfortunately, there was a new problem that Dillon would have to face. He just outed himself as a mind reader, and his actions today were going to be brought to court for examination. If his mom's actions brought intense scrutiny on their family, his actions would have even bigger ramifications.
  
  I saved Annie and prevented more people from dying needlessly. He reasoned to himself. It was all worth it. Still, it didn't stop him from being worried, and he wasn't the only one.
  
  Like Dillon, Annie was concerned not just for his wellbeing but her own. She still believed that humanity would fight their hardest to get her executed no matter what her boyfriend could do. Worst-case scenario, the two would either die or have to run away (that would take some convincing) and live the rest of their lives as fugitives. And then, of course, there was the small matter of her abandoning the mission and betraying the other Titan Shifters in the process. Once they found out that she willfully surrendered, the clock would start ticking. Either they would run, or their plans would accelerate. She doubted the two of them could be convinced to stop. Mentally, they were too far gone than she was.
  
  "We're going to get through this," Dillon said, interrupting her thoughts.
  
  "I hope you're right," she responded.
  
  Suddenly, a loud, rage-filled roar cut in. Shocked, Annie looked to see Eren standing up with his wounds regenerated and murder in his now-blue eyes. Not only that, his veins were glowing orange and parts of his body were on fire. He looked like something out of her worst nightmares. "What the hell?"
  
  "Oh, shit!" Dillon swore, fear all too evident on his face.
  
  "Get out of here, Dillon," Annie demanded as Eren prepared to charge.
  
  "Can't. I don't have any gear," he said.
  
  She groaned. "Of course you don't. Hang on!"
  
  The street was too narrow for her to sidestep Eren's charge, so she had to take it. She held Dillon against her chest with one hand to protect him, which she hardened for good measure, and held out the other, ready for impact. The Rogue Titan crashed into her and tackled her to the ground, consumed with fury. With her free hand, she held his face back, but it was only going to be temporary.
  
  Quickly, Annie placed Dillon on the ground and yelled, "Run!"
  
  Once the teen was back on his feet, he ran as if the fires of Hell were about to consume him just as a fist from Eren smashed into her face, making it cave in. He wrapped his hands around her throat and began to choke her. The Female Titan tried to pry his hands off of her, but he was too strong. It was clear that Eren had no interest in taking her alive, and his fingers were trying to snake around to her nape. So much for giving herself up.
  
  Hanji would not stand for it. "Cut him out! We need her alive."
  
  Nodding, several Scouts, including Jean, charged towards the Titans, swords at the ready. Mikasa was more hesitant; she wanted Annie to die for what she did. That being said, she knew she had answers that they needed in order to win this war. With a frustrated yell, she followed her comrades towards the battle.
  
  Seeing them on their way, Dillon chose not to stand idle. He needed to distract Eren long enough for the Scouts to do their job. Quickly, he reestablished a mental link with Eren and began to speak to him. " Eren, that's enough! "
  
  The Rogue Titan's eyes landed on Dillon, growling at him like a rabid dog about to pounce. The good news was that he had his attention. The bad news was that he had his attention.
  
  " Eren, it's over, " he said. " There's no need to fight anymore. Let her go! "
  
  The Titan's response was to roar loudly in his direction, forcing Dillon to cover his ears. It was clear that he didn't want to talk. He was worried that he would take a swipe at him for trying to save Annie, but, fortunately, he didn't have to find out. A precise slash from Jean cut open the nape, and Hanji pulled the exposed Eren out of the Titan's body, which was frozen in a state of fury. Once he was completely free and out of the way, Annie pushed the empty vessel off her and to the side before getting up in a sitting position. Too close.
  
  "Don't move, you monster!" one of the Scouts demanded, his voice riddled with fear.
  
  The Female Titan analyzed the situation. The remaining soldiers had her surrounded with swords and rifles pointing at her. They were waiting for her to make the first move. Instinctively, she covered her nape to keep them from getting any ideas. She would come out by herself.
  
  Eren was taking this as well as he could. "Why the hell did you stop me?"
  
  "Because she surrendered," Hanji answered sternly. "We need her alive."
  
  Panting, the Titan Shifter, who had red marks on his eyes, glared at Dillon, wanting nothing more than to beat the living crap out of him. Annie was the enemy and she deserved to die for all the things she did to them, and yet here Dillon was, keeping her alive. After everything they've been through, and the blacksmith threw it all away for a traitor. "You son of a bitch."
  
  A look of shame appeared on Dillon's face for a moment. "I had to, Eren."
  
  Unfortunately, things got worse when Dillon saw Mikasa's expression as she stood before him. He could see so much in her eyes. Betrayal, anger, confusion, and so much more. "How could you?" She didn't even raise her voice, yet it had the same impact
  
  Dillon opened his mouth to speak, but she didn't give him the chance. She launched her fist right into his face, knocking him to the ground.
  
  The Female Titan let out a growl of warning, glaring down at her. She was not above killing Mikasa if she had to.
  
  Fortunately, Hanji intervened, walking towards them. "Stand down, Mikasa. It's over."
  
  Mikasa looked at her superior with pained eyes. There was nothing she could do. Heaving a sigh, she backed off, checking up on Eren.
  
  "You all right?" Hanji asked, approaching Dillon, who managed to get back on his feet.
  
  He nodded, wiping the blood off his lips. "Yeah. Just tired."
  
  "Aren't we all? You have a lot of explaining to do, but..." she gave him a brief smile, "you did good, Dillon."
  
  "Thank you, Section Commander."
  
  Patting him on the shoulder, Hanji approached Annie. "So, about the whole 'going to dissect you' thing..."
  
  "What did you say?" Dillon asked, caught off-guard by that.
  
  She ignored him. "Can we pretend that never happened and start over?"
  
  The Female Titan rolled her eyes, but she gave her a nod.
  
  "Excellent!" Hanji faced the soldiers, giving them all a stern look. "Anyone who assaults Dillon Amsdale or Annie Leonhart without provocation will be facing a court martial. Is that understood?"
  
  "Yes, ma'am," some of them responded reluctantly.
  
  "I said, 'Is that understood?"'
  
  "Yes, ma'am!"
  
  Satisfied, Hanji glanced at her newest asset. "Well, Annie, you can come out now."
  
  "No turning back now," Annie said to herself.
  
  "We'll get through this," Dillon assured.
  
  She sighed and hardened her fingers, slicing her nape open. Once most of the flesh was gone, Annie pulled herself out, landing on the ground and panting. She was just as tired as the rest of them. There were red marks on her eyes like Eren had, indicating that it was a momentarily side effect for Shifters. As Dillon helped her up, Hanji approached them with a pair of handcuffs.
  
  "Dillon Amsdale and Annie Leonhart, you are both under arrest," she announced as the two were immediately shackled. "Any attempt to escape or transform will be met with lethal force."
  
  "It's gonna be okay, Annie," Dillon promised.
  
  "I know," Annie said.
  
  Once they were secure, the Scouts began the march towards the capital. Nearby, Dillon saw Captain Levi eying them with eyes narrowed. He wasn't sure what was going through his head, and he had no idea if he would be advocating for their survival or their execution, especially once he heard about what happened to his squad. Hell, he didn't really know who was going to be on their side after all this.
  
  He let out a sigh. He did what he deemed was right and he succeeded. Annie had surrendered, and humanity was getting another Shifter plus a guy with mind powers. However, Dillon knew that fight was far from over. So many people would be calling for their heads, whether they be Scouts, Garrison Troops, or MPs. At least he wasn't alone. He and Annie would go through this together and come out stronger. He didn't come all this way just get executed.
  
  One day at a time. Dillon thought. One day at a time.
  
  Remastered Edits: Not much, actually. I added a bit more depth in pretty much everything, changed a few lines to make them more natural, but this is pretty much the same as it was when I first posted this chapter.
  
  AN: This has still been my favorite chapter I have ever written. Thanks to my first co-writer, Steel, he helped make this scene come alive. The response I got when I posted this a long time ago was astounding. It really meant a lot that people wanted to see a scene like this. I just never realized how much at the time. And the fact that all of you are still with me after all this time... you guys are awesome, you know that?
  
  So, next arc is the Project Psion Arc. Hoo boy. That got a mixed reception in the old version, and I take responsibility for that. Let me assure you all that you are not getting the same version that was in the original. The next two chapters will be roughly the same, but after that... it's going to be a VERY different story. I hope you all enjoyed this chapter, I look forward to your reviews, and I'll see you all in the next one.
  
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  Trial of the Female Titan
  AN: I want to warn all the anime-only fans who reading this story. There are going to be a whole lot of MANGA SPOILERS that uncover the majority of the mysteries in the show. You have been warned.
  
  Chapter 24: Trial of the Female Titan
  
  Growing up in a District like Yarckel, one quickly learns to grow accustomed to noise. It was hard to escape from it with everyone being so active and talkative. Even at night, parties were thrown that disrupted the peace, but with little to no regulation, there was nothing anyone could really do. They could only cope by letting the noise be a natural part of their lives. Because of this, there was one thing Dillon couldn't stand: silence. The world would come to an eerily stop every time this happened. No voices fill it, no wind to soothe the spirit, and no activity that could distract from the deafening sound of silence.
  
  Fortunately, there was a small noise that helped break it. A dripping sound that occurred rhythmically and continuously. Even the flies provided aide to his plight, buzzing around the wonderful smell that drew them in. His eyes followed the little insects as they crawled into Marcus's mouth. At least that was intact for them. It wouldn't be long before vultures would show up and lay claims on the prizes that were before him. Jensen was probably the best of them all since his body was still intact. Perfect for any animal wanting to-
  
  CLANG!
  
  Dillon released a frightened shout from his throat, trying to get to his feet. However, something pulled him back and brought him to the ground, resulting in a pained groan.
  
  There was a snigger coming from nearby as a rifle moved away from the bars. "What's the matter, freak? Scared of your own shadow?"
  
  Dillon let out a low growl, but he didn't take the bait. All he could do was get up and sit on the bed without pulling against the chains. Counting off the hours the guards changed their shifts, he could figure out that he had been imprisoned for two days, and the conditions here were terrible. Nothing he could do about them. Just enjoy the sweet aroma of his body odor, the bathroom bucket, and the most uncomfortable bed he had ever slept in.
  
  Could be worse. He reasoned to himself. Could be a dissection table.
  
  He let out a sigh, rubbing his eyes and feeling the bags under them. He hadn't had a good night's sleep in a long time. With the guards provoking him for laughs and water dripping from a nearby leak, rest was nearly impossible to obtain. Even if he was able to block those distractions out, he knew that when he closed his eyes, she would be waiting for him. Nothing he could say or do would stop her. The only thing she wanted to hear was his screams.
  
  He shook the images out of his head so he could focus on something else. His thoughts drifted to Annie as he wondered how she was doing. The MPs split them up the second they were imprisoned so they couldn't "plan their escape." They sat him down in a room for a long time, interrogating him on his past, his family, his actions, and why he pulled all those stunts the day of the Stohess Operation. The MPs despised them both, suffice it to say, and they were looking forward to doing everything in their power to make the two suffer. However, Dillon decided to leave out the fact his father had the same powers and himself. No need to drag his parents through more mud than was necessary.
  
  And then there was the long-awaited meeting with Commander Erwin and Captain Levi.
  
  " Let me be perfectly clear: you disobeyed direct orders and assaulted three high-ranking soldiers," Erwin said seriously, his piercing gaze seemingly staring into Dillon's soul. "You knowingly and willingly interfered with a military operation that was created to defeat the Female Titan."
  
  "I did what needed to be done," Dillon said, wincing at how tight his restraints were. Being chained to a chair by his arms and legs was quite uncomfortable, but he would have to suck it up. After all, in the eyes of humanity, he was a dangerous and unpredictable prisoner. "My intervention prevented more lives from needlessly being lost."
  
  "Perhaps you're right," Erwin admitted, "but the question remains as to why you would risk your life in such a manner. Why take matters into your own hands instead of letting the pieces fall where they may?"
  
  "I knew Annie enough to know that she wouldn't go down without a fight," Dillon explained. "She's a dangerous person to take on."
  
  "We already had contingencies for that," Erwin said patiently. "Again, why did you choose to step in?"
  
  He let out a tired sigh. Lord knew he hadn't had a decent rest in a while. "I was the only person who could talk Annie down and stop the conflict, so that's what I did. Having her as an asset to humanity and not a prisoner seemed like the more reasonable solution."
  
  "Or maybe you just wanted the bitch to keep you warm at night," Levi growled, glaring at the blacksmith.
  
  "That wasn't my-"
  
  Levi immediately backhanded him, cutting him off. "Don't play games with me, brat. I spoke to my squad. You confessed your fucking heart out, saying how you still loved your precious blonde." It was subtle, but a look of disgust had indeed come upon him. "I hope you didn't trip over all the bodies she left on your way into her arms."
  
  Dillon spat out a mixture of saliva and blood off to the side before fixing his eyes on the captain. "You're right. I did save her because I loved her, but I also wanted to serve the people I swore to protect when I enlisted. You got what you wanted, and I got what I wanted. That's all there is to it."
  
  "You also put us in a precarious situation," Erwin pointed out, getting their attention. "The damage done to Stohess was severe, and the people are calling for Annie Leonhart's head. To appease them means we would sentence her to death."
  
  "That's not gonna happen under any circumstances."
  
  This time, it was a punch courtesy of the captain. "You don't get to decide her fate, Amsdale. Learn your place."
  
  By now, Dillon's nose was bleeding as he tried to stay focused. There was too much at stake for him not to. " Look, we all know what happened out there. I was the one who got Annie to stand down. You don't need to kill either of us, not when we have so much to offer. You have Annie, someone who is extremely talented and versatile in her Titan form. Not only can she fight against the Titans, not only does she have valuable information, but she also can train Eren to use his Titan form better. These are not opportunities you want to cast aside."
  
  Erwin didn't say anything as he continued to stare. It was like he was looking for any possible weakness to exploit, any imperfections that could be capitalized on. "And what are you offering, Cadet Amsdale?"
  
  "I can attack the Titans in ways that no one else can," Dillon answered. "I can levitate objects, I can read and attack minds, I can do a hell of a lot with my abilities. Granted, I could use a lot of improvement, but I know I have worth in this war. If that wasn't the case, you two wouldn't be here."
  
  "You and Annie could become great assets," Erwin agreed, "but I'm more concerned about your divided loyalties. Your loyalty to humanity and your loyalty to her. You're very fortunate that you stayed true to both without sacrificing one for the other. However, a time could come where you would have to choose one or the other. I will ask you a question, and if you lie to me, the deal is off. Should Annie betray us again, will you kill her for the sake of humanity?"
  
  Dillon's gaze hardened as he leaned in closer, speaking carefully. "This is her last chance. If Annie stabs us in the back after everything, I will make her regret it. I will fight her, I will bring her down, and I will kill her."
  
  The two men locked eyes with each other, trying to stare to other down. The seconds nearly turned into minutes before Erwin nodded, satisfied with the answer. "Very well. I'll see to it that you and Annie are released into our custody."
  
  Dillon resisted the urge to sigh in relief. It wasn't over yet. "However, in exchange for everything we're giving you, I want something in return."
  
  "How about you two get to keep breathing?" Levi responded with a glare. "You're in no position to-"
  
  "Let's hear them," Erwin interrupted.
  
  Dillon nodded. "My parents. They'll probably be targeted because of my actions. I'm not sure what you guys could do, but I don't want them to get caught up in this mess."
  
  "We'll look into it," Erwin assured. "Anything else?"
  
  "As for Annie and myself, no torturing, we get to draw the lines on the experiments, and we'll share a room, not a cell."
  
  Levi's jaw tightened, but he didn't say anything.
  
  Once again, Erwin was silent as he contemplated the boy's requests. "If you both cooperate, torture is far less likely to happen. I cannot make guarantees at this time for your other requests, but they are something to consider."
  
  "Understood, sir," Dillon agreed. "If there's nothing else...?"
  
  "Let me make something clear, Amsdale," Levi said, grabbing him by the collar. "If we had our way, that bitch would be getting sliced into pieces and you would be facing a court martial followed by a trial for treason, but since this world is full of shit, that's not going to happen. If she turns against us, if she even thinks about disobeying an order, you'll be joining her in an early grave."
  
  The strong façade was cracked with Dillon's eyes widening in fear. "Y-Yes, sir."
  
  Dillon let out a sigh, shaking his head. He may have convinced the Scouts to help him, but he still had to convince Zackley. After everything that happened, he wasn't to sure the man would be receptive to this. This whole thing is a complete mess. He thought to himself.
  
  Then, he heard the door opening and footsteps coming towards his cell. "Leave us," a familiar female voice ordered.
  
  "Yes, Corporal," the guards replied, vacating the area.
  
  "Kyler, good to see you again," Dillon greeted in surprise as she came into view.
  
  "It's been a while, hasn't it?" she replied with a concerned look. "Conditions are as bad as ever, I see."
  
  "Yeah, they are." He let out a sigh. "I'm surprised you're talking to me after everything."
  
  "Considering what happened, you could use a friend or two," Kyler explained sadly. "Why didn't you or your parents tell me about this?"
  
  "I didn't want to risk someone finding out," Dillon answered. "If the wrong people knew what I could do, I'd be heading straight for dissection."
  
  "Ignoring the fact that I know how to keep a secret, after the stunt you pulled in Stohess, that option is gonna end up on the table."
  
  "I had no choice," Dillon protested, defensive. "If I didn't intervene, a lot more people could've died and-"
  
  "And was kissing a Titan all part of that plan?" Kyler interrupted, crossing her arms.
  
  A blush came onto his face as he avoided her gaze. "That was... um..."
  
  She rubbed her forehead as a headache began forming. "Dillon, I know that was Annie and I know you care about her, but you could not be in hotter water even if you tried."
  
  "What about my parents?" Dillon asked, worried.
  
  "I won't sugarcoat it. The Military Police shut down your father's shop and have been interrogating him and Carolyn for the past couple of days."
  
  Dillon's eyes widened, shooting out of his bed. "What? They had nothing to do with this!"
  
  "Do you really think the MPs are gonna let this opportunity slide?" Kyler responded sternly. "They've been waiting for a moment like this for a long time. The child of Carolyn Amsdale having incredible powers and made out with a Titan, the enemy? You gave it to them, Dillon!"
  
  Words failed Dillon as he sat on the bed. The burden of all the lives lost weighed down on him but knowing that his parents' livelihoods were destroyed because of him, it was unthinkable.
  
  The hardness in her eyes gave way to sympathy. "I know you didn't mean for this to happen, but it did. Carolyn has been forced into reclusion, so she can't defend you. You and Annie are on your own."
  
  "How long until the trial?" he asked quietly.
  
  "An hour. I volunteered to keep an eye on your mother until the trial is over. She'll be okay."
  
  "Thank you." Dillon finally managed to look at her. "Kyler, can you tell my parents I'm alright and that I love them?"
  
  She nodded. "I can do that. Take some time to rest. You're going to need a clear head today."
  
  As she turned to leave, Dillon called out to her. "Kyler!" He hesitated, the question frozen inside his throat, but he needed to know. "How many people died that day?"
  
  Kyler didn't answer at first, her back still towards him. She wanted to spare him from the truth, and yet, the words came out of her mouth softly. "354 casualties, most of them civilians." She didn't wait for a response as she continued her walk out of the cell block.
  
  Dillon's eyes drifted to the ground, his mind going back to the carnage in Stohess. 354 souls taken. Men, women, and children. In the end, he had no one to blame but himself.
  
  Annie was barely aware of the cold bite of the chains around her wrists, digging into the pale flesh of her thin wrists. She was aware of the guards outside her cell but paid them no heed. If she left them alone, they left her alone. She had spent enough time around the MPs to know that much. Her mind was no preoccupied by her impending trial, but of Stohess. Of her lover's resurrection. Dillon. Her heart clenched, and her stomach turned. Five years of living within these Walls, of lies and half-truths, of clawing her way up a mountain of corpses to reach her father. All of it thrown away... for him .
  
  Annie loved Dillon, there was no doubt of this. But she also loved her father and everything he had taught her, everything she had promised him, she was now going against. For Dillon. It was unlike anything she knew. It went against everything Annie was taught. It scared the shit out of her. It was caught between two loves. One for her father and for Dillon. She told Dillon she trusted him and she did... but how much could she? How far could she let that trust go?
  
  Footsteps echoed from the corridor.
  
  "I'm here to speak to Annie Leonhart," a familiar voice informed the guards. "Alone."
  
  "Do you have clearance?" the guard asked.
  
  There was a rustling of papers. "Right here."
  
  A pause ensued, but the guards nodded, exiting the block just as Jean came into view.
  
  Of course. If anyone would be here to spit at her when she was at her lowest, to scream and rage, it would be him. Well, better his pompous ass than Eren or Mikasa. Especially Mikasa. She met his tawny eyes with her icy blues and said nothing. What was there to say?
  
  Jean stared back, a mixture of anger and something else she couldn't identify in his eyes. He looked weary, almost like he hadn't slept for days. However, when he spoke, his typical sneer when he argued with Eren raised its ugly head. "You look like shit."
  
  "So do you," she said with no emotion. No way in hell would she break in front of him of all people.
  
  Jean fixed her with a glare as he stepped closer to the bars that separated them. "You know... I almost smuggled a gun in. One shot and they'd be cleaning your brain off the floor. Maybe I'd get kicked out of the Scout Regiment, but these MPs would be more than happy to look the other way. The only reason you're still alive right now is because of my best friend."
  
  It came to no surprise that he felt that way. The line of people wanting to kill Annie was exceptionally long. "And here I thought you came to kill me."
  
  His hand curled into a tight fist. "I want to... but I need answers."
  
  Marco. That was the last thing Annie wanted to talk about. Among many, that memory haunted her. "The ones I have to give might not be the ones you need."
  
  "I don't care!" Jean's raised voice echoed throughout the corridor. There was a significant amount of pain dripping from his tone. "I just need to know the truth. About Marco."
  
  Annie sighed, and the chains rattled as she sagged. She knew he wouldn't leave her alone until he got what he so desperately wanted. "I suppose Armin told you I had his gear, too."
  
  He nodded slowly. "Yeah, he did. He also told me you were the one that killed him."
  
  Distant screams and pleas echoed in her mind. She wished him no harm, but she had no choice. "I am."
  
  "Why? What possible reason could you have for killing Marco?"
  
  "What does it matter? I still killed him. I killed your friend. Would the circumstances or details change how you feel about that? I'm a murderer. I'm his murderer. You know that now. Leave it at that."
  
  "Answer me, damn it!" Jean demanded angrily.
  
  She still refused to face him. She couldn't. "I'm sparing you the details. You get the peace of having someone to hate. You don't want to know the why or the how."
  
  Jena gripped one of the metal bars, almost like he was using it to keep himself standing. His voice went back to being low, but it was a bit shaky. "When I found Marco, there was only half of him left. The other half was bitten off. You fed him to the Titans. Didn't even have to balls to do it yourself."
  
  Annie closed her eyes, reliving that terrible moment. "Most people wouldn't understand the terror. Not until they were on the ground with one of those things coming at them, unable to escape. I knew that fear years ago and I knew it again in Trost. You know it, too. What it's like to be their prey." She opened her eyes and gave him a pained look. "To be small. To lose all control. That's how he died. In absolute fear and agony. I took his gear. Then I watched it happen. He was begging for someone, anyone, to help him."
  
  "And you let him die so you could cover your ass," Jean growled.
  
  "Yes," she said in just above a whisper. If it had been up to her, she would have made Marco's death as painless as possible. She wouldn't have been able to look him in the eyes (eyes that said so much and expressed so much hope and care) and take his life. She'd have preferred to have made his death quick and without warning, through the back and through the heart. Less than Marco deserved. The act of a cowardly killer.
  
  Jean was at a loss for words. He knew the truth, but he didn't know what to do with it. He didn't know what to say to make the pain he felt lessen. "The hell did we do to you, Annie?" he managed out.
  
  "It's never been about that to me. I just want to go home." She sagged against the wall like a broken doll. "Knowing doesn't make it better, does it?"
  
  He shook his head, glaring at her once more. "I want you to die, Annie. I want the trial to go wrong and watch as the Military Police executes you, but if that doesn't happen and you beat those odds, I'm gonna make sure you don't drag Dillon into the ground further. I won't let you kill him, too."
  
  Annie nodded but didn't say anything.
  
  Having enough, Jean began walking away, his mind swimming from everything. "The hell does he see in you?" he muttered.
  
  "Don't know," Annie muttered to the empty air. Even now, she didn't know why Dillon was so stupid enough to go after her.
  
  If there was one way to describe Dillon's current situation, it was like walking to his execution, which would probably happen if he lost. He shook his head, trying to rid himself of such thoughts. The day wasn't over yet, and the victor hadn't been declared. The time to fight was before him, and by God, he would fight to the bitter end.
  
  "Keep moving," the MP ordered, slapping his back with the rifle.
  
  Assholes. He thought with a sneer, but continued to move at the pace they wanted him to.
  
  Soon, they opened the doors to the courtroom, shoving him inside. The last time he was here, he was part of the audience. Now, he would be the one tried and judged. What a strange life he led. A quick look around revealed that the benches were devoid of military personnel and civilians. This room was practically empty save for the commanding officers up ahead. They seemed like miles away, but at the same time, judgement was coming upon him and Annie. Nile would be after their heads and the Scouts leaders were in hot water after everything. If there was an obvious clue that the odds were stacked against him and Annie, this was it.
  
  He let out a sigh as they chained him to a pole next to Annie, who got here before he did. He was not looking forward to this. The Scouts were on his side, albeit reluctantly, but they still had to contend with the wrath of Humanity. He looked over to his girlfriend who looked as terrible as he did and asked quietly, "Are you all right?"
  
  She didn't turn to face him as she spoke. "No." Her voice was a dry rasp.
  
  "We're going to make it," Dillon swore mentally just as Zackley approached the podium, taking a seat.
  
  The older man eyed them with an analytical look that gave Erwin's a run for his money. "We are now in session to determine the fates of Annie Leonhart, also known as the Female Titan, and Dillon Amsdale, the boy with his own unnatural abilities. Since this is a private trial, you will keep everything that is said and revealed in this room confidential, or there will be severe consequences."
  
  Dillon swallowed nervously. There was no turning back now.
  
  "Commander Dok, you may begin."
  
  "I won't waste time on introductions, so I'll get right to it." Nile Dok's voice was tense as a tightrope. He glowered at the two, specifically Annie, with undisguised contempt. "We believe that Annie Leonhart and Dillon Amsdale should both be examined, thoroughly, before being swiftly executed. Unlike Eren Yeager before them, whom we will admit, was a rash decision to remove, these two have committed crimes against humanity. Death of soldiers, the destruction of Stohess and decent in the ranks. These are crimes that demand punishment."
  
  Dillon almost protested against those accusations until he remembered what he did to Levi Squad. Even if Nile was wrong, he couldn't exactly go up against him. His status as well as Annie's were the lowest in the room.
  
  Zackley nodded, turning to the Scouts. "And Commander Erwin? What do you have to say on the matter?"
  
  Erwin Smith was calm, almost eerily so as he stood straight with his hands behind his back. His blue eyes were clear, and his voice rang strong throughout the room. "Let Annie Leonhart and Dillon Amsdale join our ranks. We will utilize their abilities to retake Wall Maria and fight the Titans. That is all."
  
  "No, it's not, Commander." Zackley's piercing gaze was on Erwin. "I find it hard to believe that the Scout Regiment can handle both the Female Titan and Dillon Amsdale given everything that's happened."
  
  Erwin met Zackley's gaze evenly, voice not faltering an iota. "What happened was a necessary step in the future of mankind. To push forward, sacrifices have to be made."
  
  "Sacrifice?" Nile snarled, glaring lividly at Erwin. "The damage to Stohess makes what happened to Trost look like a minor skirmish! Homes have been wrecked, families have been torn apart, and people are lying dead in the streets. You call that necessary?"
  
  Erwin's voice turned icy as he replied, "I've already answered that question for you, Commander Dok."
  
  "And considering we're the only ones capable of fighting Titans unlike your band of idiots, Nile, we do what we have to," Levi added, his contempt for the commander all too apparent.
  
  "Except you weren't capable," Zackley interrupted, holding up a sheet of paper. "The reports I have concerning both Expedition and Stohess show gross miscalculations, plans that fell through spectacularly, and the only reason the Female Titan is with us is because of dumb luck."
  
  "With all due respect, Supreme Commander," Erwin said. "Luck is a factor that has walked hand in hand with the Survey Corps since its conception. Yes, our plans missed many marks, but in the end, we have bared fruit: We now have a second Titan Shifter, and a soldier with abilities the likes of which we've never seen."
  
  "We'll get to those missed marks in a bit," Zackley told him. "For now, let's discuss the 'fruits' of your labor, starting with Dillon Amsdale."
  
  Dillon gulped as he felt five pairs of eyes on him.
  
  "Commander Dok, you and your men interrogated the boy when he was arrested. Tell me about him."
  
  "His abilities make him just as dangerous as the Titans," Nile began. "To be able to penetrate minds with a thought, levitate objects with a glance, how can we risk the lives of humanity by letting a person like him roam free?"
  
  "I've been roaming free for the past sixteen years, Commander, and I've never used my powers to hurt innocent people," Dillon assured carefully. "I only used them against those that meant to hurt me or my friends."
  
  "Or whoever your family directs you towards," he accused with narrowed eyes, leaning closer. "In fact, considering the anti-Military Police crusade Carolyn is on, the sway you hold over minds could have been used against good men and women to further her agenda."
  
  Levi responded in his typical, deadpan way. "Congratulations, Nile. That's the dumbest statement I've ever heard you make. You really think a child who sucks face with Titans is some mind controlling mastermind? And if he was, why wouldn't he be using his powers on us to get what he wants? This isn't a public trial where you can sway people with your paranoia."
  
  "Erwin, for once, keep that dog of yours on his leash," Nile sneered.
  
  "That's enough!" Zackley intervened before the captain could even think of breaking Nile's jaw. He gave them all looks of warning. "If none of you can keep it civil, I will send you all out and make the decision without your input. Is that clear?"
  
  "Understood, sir," Levi answered.
  
  "Yes, sir," Nile added.
  
  Satisfied, Zackley's eyes landed on Dillon once more. "You have exceptional abilities, but do you have the will to use them for humanity?"
  
  He nodded. "Yes, sir. I do."
  
  "Commander Dok, ignoring the abnormal powers he contains for a moment, what is your assessment of Dillon Amsdale?"
  
  "In a single word, sir: stubborn." Nile's gaze was loaded with disappointment, perhaps wondering how such talent could have gone to waste. "Though he diligently answered all our questions, he remains steadfast in his 'love' for the traitor. He is convinced that he can control and stop her, if needed. I cannot say if it is madness or not."
  
  "Control her how, Cadet Amsdale?" Zackley asked.
  
  "My powers allow me to attack Titans in ways they can't defend from," Dillon explained. "If Annie betrays us, I can bring her down with everything I've got."
  
  "So, you are willing and able to choose humanity over the person you love should the case call for it?"
  
  Dillon pursed his lips. "If the case called for it, sir."
  
  A soft, choked sound reached his ears. Dillon dared to glance at Annie, seeing her lowered head fanned by her loose blonde hair. She didn't look at him. For a terrible moment, he wondered if she ever would again.
  
  "Is there a problem, Cadet Leonhart?" Zackley asked, staring down at her.
  
  She flinched at the sound of her name and Dillon heard her take a deep, calming breath that only slightly wavered. Without raising her head, her voice rang cold and firm as a hammer. "No."
  
  Zackley knew she wasn't telling the truth, but he didn't press the matter. There were other concerns to be had. "I find your declaration hard to believe, Cadet Amsdale. According to the report submitted by Section Commander Hanji, after the events of the Expedition, you lost control of yourself and were put into suicide watch until further notice."
  
  "What?" The word was choked and full of horror. Annie was looking at him through a curtain of her hair, a single watery eye staring at him with mute, horrified disbelief that he knew would quickly morph into blistering guilt.
  
  Zackley went on as if there were no interruptions. "Why did you want to kill yourself?"
  
  Now, Dillon avoided Annie's gaze as he spoke. "I... I was afraid, I was angry, and I lost so much that day."
  
  "She slaughtered your entire squad and left you alive, correct?"
  
  The ground was looking very friendly to Dillon, seeing that moment once more. "Yes."
  
  "Dillon..." Annie sounded as if she was on the verge of tears. He didn't dare face her.
  
  "And therein lies the paradox," Nile spoke up, sounding only slightly shaken by what he had just learned. "Cadet Amsdale has seen was the traitor can do at first hand. He knows what she is truly capable of. And yet, despite this, he still retains affection for her. Again, I question his sanity with the utmost sincerity."
  
  "As do I," Zackley agreed. "What possessed you to go back to Stohess?"
  
  Dillon sighed. "I knew that I could talk her down, end it all without bloodshed. I believed that if I didn't go, more people would die, or Annie would." He finally managed to look up at Zackley, his determination coming back. "I truly care about her, Supreme Commander, but I know humanity needs her at this critical moment. Let her prove her worth as someone who can help us strike back at the Titans and put an end to this damn war."
  
  Nile tsked, shaking his head. "The boy is clearly affected by his own personal feelings for the girl. His opinion of what's best for humanity only works for him if the girl is alive and by his side, somehow blind to the blood on her hands."
  
  Dillon's head popped up, turning towards Nile with a look of barely-contained fury. "What?"
  
  Fortunately, Zackley spoke in a stern tone, cutting off the impending argument at the pass. "Actions speak louder than words. While you were able to convince her to surrender, your mentality leaves much to be desired. You cannot be depended upon."
  
  "Supreme Commander-!"
  
  "Enough."
  
  That single word was like a punch to the gut. His words were falling on deaf ears. He promised Annie she would be safe, and he was failing her.
  
  He looked to the Scout leaders. "Commander Erwin, let's discuss the operation you conducted in Stohess. While you accomplished what you set out to do, hundreds of lives were lost. Was this the only course of action, or did you not consider all possibilities?"
  
  "We did not consider the possibility of her managing to transform during her capture," he admitted. "We thought that even if she did somehow manage it, we would have Eren. But he was unable to shift."
  
  Zackley raised an eyebrow. "Unable to shift? Explain."
  
  "Annie Leonhart was a close comrade. He could not separate the girl he knew to the Titan that was hellbent on completing her mission."
  
  Nile scoffed. "So even their supposed trump card didn't work."
  
  This is bad. Dillon thought, trying to keep it together.
  
  "I'm afraid that this doesn't bode well for you, Commander," Zackley said. "A failed Expedition, unable to consider Leonhart being able to shift when you caught her, Eren Yeager being unable to do his duty, and the ensuing brawl that caused collateral damage and death."
  
  Nile immediately followed up on that. "Not only does this prove a pattern of constant failure in numerous expeditions and excursions, but also one of neglect for the lives of their soldiers and the people inside these walls. From using one of their own as bait to being unable to catch Leonhart, in both scenarios mind you, the Scouts have shown that despite their best intentions, they simply cannot do what they claim they are capable of. They claimed to be able to control Yeager, and yet HE is the reason for most of the destruction and loss of life in Stohess!" Taking a moment to calm down via a deep breath, Nile asked, "Can we, can humanity, actually trust the Scout Regiment after all this?"
  
  Zackley didn't respond to the question, putting his hands together in deliberation. He eyed the two prisoners as if he was looking for something. Good or bad, no one could tell.
  
  Dillon, on the other hand, was panicking, his breathing rate becoming rapid. After everything they've been through, it was all coming apart. There had to be something to say, something to prove, that would get Zackley on his side. So, he decided to do what he always did: swing for the fences. "Supreme Commander!"
  
  Only Nile recoiled from his sudden shout. The others fixed him with a stare, though Erwin's eyebrows raised slightly.
  
  Clearing his throat nervously, Dillon calmed down. "Sorry. If I could say something?"
  
  Zackley nodded. "Go ahead."
  
  "Annie surrendered," he began. "Remember? She gave herself up. If she was willing to do that, is it too much of a stretch to believe she would fight with us? Think of what she gave up, the risk she took. She could've killed me. It would've been so easy for her. Kill me, take Eren, and run, but she didn't. The hell is the point of pulling a fast one on us now? I'm not blind to the atrocities she committed, but I'm also not blind to the fact that we need Annie Leonhart as an ally, not a prisoner. This is not an opportunity humanity can brush aside. The Colossal and Armored Titans are still out there, and we don't know when they'll strike. Pumping her for information can only get us so far. We need her to live to we can live. And if you still doubt me because of my relationship with her, know this: I have always fought for humanity's best interests. Since the day the Titans invaded Shiganshina five years ago, I wanted to put an end to it. No more Shiganshinas, and no more Trosts. That's what I've always wanted." He finally looked at the woman he loved. "Without Annie, it'll just keep happening until all of us are dead."
  
  There was no response from any of them. Not even Nile came back with a scathing remark like usually did, though he had a look that said he was wasting his breath. Dillon risked a glance at Annie and saw her still staring at the ground. Even through the mental link she was unreadable, clearly closing herself off.
  
  "Your opinion is noted, Cadet Amsdale," Zackley said, putting the reports away. "We will reconvene in an hour. By then, I will have made my decision. Cadets Amsdale and Leonhart will return to their cells until then. Dismissed."
  
  The two were promptly detached from the steel poles before being led out of the courtroom. Dillon risked looking back at Erwin and Levi, noticing their stoic expressions. He didn't know if they had a plan that would get them out of this mess. For now, all he could do was wait it out until it was time.
  
  " It's not over yet," Dillon assured, trying to keep Annie's hope alive. "There's a chance he might-"
  
  " Just stop talking already."
  
  Dillon was taken aback by her voice. She sounded so defeated, as if she was already accepting her fate. He began to wonder if they lost the trial, if Annie was sentenced to die, what would he do. Stay loyal to humanity and let Annie die, or help her escape while betraying everything else he fought for?
  
  To say that Carolyn was restless was like saying Titans made people uncomfortable. She was pacing back and forth waiting for any sort of news. With Matthew held in a separate room, neither him nor Dillon communicating mentally in the past couple of hours, she was isolated, practically going stir-crazy. Part of her wondered if the MPs had her confined here just so she could watch her son get judgement passed on him.
  
  "You keep pacing like that, you're gonna wear out the floor," Kyler warned.
  
  "I hate this, Kyler," she said, not making an effort to stop. "Dillon needs me, and I can't do a damn thing to help him."
  
  "Even if your name wasn't mud, no one would let you defend him," Kyler pointed out, standing up. "I know this recusal sucks, but Carolyn, you and I both know you can't change this. It's the law."
  
  "The law is gonna get my son killed!" Carolyn slammed her hand on the table, glaring at her friend. "What kind of parent allows that to happen, Kyler?"
  
  "A shitty one, but that's not you," she reminded her calmly. "You're doing all you can by not barging in there like a lunatic. Not to mention the fact that Commander Erwin and Captain Levi are backing him up."
  
  "I doubt it," she muttered, taking a seat as she held her head to soothe the migraine in some way. "Disobeying direct orders, assaulting three officers, interfering with a military operation, and fraternizing with the enemy. And those are just the charges I've heard. They have a lot of reasons not to help him."
  
  Kyler gave her a look. "Carolyn, your cynicism is clouding your common sense. Dillon's abilities are not only unheard of, but they helped achieve something no one else has. We have the Female Titan. Imagine all the information we can siphon out of that bitch."
  
  "Do me a favor and don't bring Annie up," Carolyn requested, an edge to her tone.
  
  The corporal let out a sigh. "Sorry. I'm just trying to help."
  
  "Thank you, Kyler."
  
  She smiled a bit. "Don't worry about it. Your son's gonna be okay. No idiot would kill a Psion. The advantages of his powers are incredible to think about."
  
  Carolyn nodded in agreement, but then something stood out in those words. "Wait, what did you say?"
  
  Kyler gave her a confused look. "I said, his powers are incredible to-"
  
  "No, before that." The lawyer's eyes bore into hers. "What did you call my son?"
  
  Her eyes widened ever so slightly. "Carolyn, I think you need to take it easy for a bit."
  
  Slowly, Carolyn stood up, her expression a mixture of suspicion and fear. "You called him a Psion, Kyler. I have never used that word in front of you, my son, or anyone else. So, how the hell do you know that word when Matthew and I are the only ones here who know it?"
  
  Kyler didn't say anything for a moment as the two were locked into a staring contest. Then, her eyes narrowed slightly, and an unsettling smirk crossed her lips. When she spoke, her voice was different and slightly higher. "Well, I guess that means I can stop hiding now."
  
  Carolyn staggered back, horrified. "That voice... it can't be."
  
  Kyler stalked towards her, her smirk turning into a terrifying grin. "You have no idea how long I've waited for this day."
  
  Remastered Edits: Quite a lot this time around. Special thanks to GodzillaFollower1998
  
  As more information about Annie came about in the manga, I decided to shift towards that. It opened a lot of doors to possibilities, especially concerning the relationship between her and Dillon. It's going to be quite the rough road for them, which is one of the reasons I cut out the flashback from the old version and replaced it with Dillon conversing with Erwin and Levi.
  
  Jean's response to Annie's confession regarding Marco feels more believable instead of what I did before where he pretty much accepted what she did. At the advice of Necromancy, I turned the public trial into a private one as to not reveal Annie's identity to the public for the time being. It also allowed for there to a slightly better chance of saving Annie instead of an outright loss. And finally, Kyler revealing herself. Now that I gave her character development, it made sense to show what actually happened this time around.
  
  I hope you all enjoyed this chapter, I look forward to reading your reviews, and I'll see you all in the next chapter.
  
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  New Reality
  AN: This chapter is a little shorter than the others I've written. I hope the content makes up for that.
  
  Chapter 25: New Reality
  
  Two days. That's all it took for Matthew's life to get thrown into a frenzy. The forge he spent nearly half his life putting blood, sweat, and tears in was now the property of the Military Police until "their investigation was concluded." The weapons were also seized, probably to be sold to the highest bidders or kept for personal usage. To make matters worse, since the shop was also part of their house, the Amsdale family was officially homeless until further notice. Deep down, he knew a day like this would come, but he never imagined it being the fault of his own son. Matthew wasn't an idiot. He knew why Dillon did what he did just like why Carolyn did what she did. Good intentions with unfortunate consequences.
  
  In Dillon's case, his good intentions happened to be attached to Annie Leonhart. Just thinking about the girl made his blood boil. He took her into his home, he let her sit at his t