It's been six-hundred and twelve days since the world came to an abrupt end in a hailstorm of nuclear fire, and five-hundred and twenty since the first of the survivors emerged from their bunkers.
Three-hundred and forty-seven days have passed since he's seen any other survivors, or felt the warmth of the saffron sun on his face. Snow and ash filter from the ceiling of silver clouds overhead throughout the summer, filling the crumbling city with radiated frost that turns lake water and streams to acid. Food is scarce for the packs of animals that pass through from time to time, so they never stay long and keep moving where their prey does.
The rain is the worst – corrosive enough to melt metal, radiates those it wets and kills them one week later, poisons the ground and pollutes watersheds. Sometimes it is not radiated but acidic enough to burn through flesh and corrode bone marrow in minutes.
At night he can see the sky above the neighboring city; it is leveled and the clouds constantly burn, like a ring of fire that has opened an obsidian void over the world, consuming everything with flames that dare not stray too far.
It's been three-hundred and forty-eight days since the last survivor he found, a boy named Connie, became infected, put the barrel of his pistol up to his forehead, and apologized for what his rescuer was about witness. Eren Jaeger's fingers twitch as the sound of the gun shot rings out into the back of his mind. It bounces around continuously, fading like a distant echo, a passive memory, until it finally comes to a stop.
Two-hundred days have gone like the seasons since he lost contact with his father.
It's been one-hundred and nine days since he came to this city with the only caravan of survivors he's managed to stick with since The Fall.
Eren absently adjusts the crimson scarf around his neck and sighs into the thick fabric. It's been seventy-three days since he lost his sister to a collapsing bridge; nine days since the scarf stopped smelling like her. Now its scent is unfamiliar, like smoke, like desolation, toxin, sweat, gravel, memories.
It's been five hours since he set off on this expedition to scavenge out items and food or whatever, he stopped caring a while ago and has long forgotten what the point of his mission was.
He turns his emerald gaze up to the backs of the figures moving ahead of him. One is a girl with onyx hair parted into pigtails, Mina Carolina, who he had gone to school with and conversed with regularly. The other is a man, his shoulders broad and blond hair scuffed; Reiner Braun he had introduced himself as when he single-handedly broke the necks of three men trying to mug Eren in a town about one-hundred and ninety-one days back. Somewhere high above them Thomas Wagner leaps from one roof to another, utilizing his hook-shot to carry himself up to higher perches.
Eren slings the strap of his rifle over his shoulder and climbs onto the roof of a vehicle, giving little regard to the melted corpse still strapped inside at the wheel.
"We already hit this block," Reiner remarks to him, passing by with his head craning as he glances around.
"We didn't get all of it," Eren amends, jumping down to his side. He lands with a grunt, knees absorbing the shock. "We were chased off last time when some bandits came through. I want to make sure we didn't miss anything." He treks over to a shattered display window leading into a grocery store and vaults through, glass crippling with a sickening crunch beneath the soles of his boots. He guides his eyes around the empty aisles.
Mina hops through a moment later, skittering down to his left. "Sweeping for survivors," she mutters into her radio when she disappears from sight. "It looks like the place was cleaned out. I don't see useful items or any signs of life."
Eren heads down the right side of the store, peering over the front counter and under shelves. He digs up several packs of condoms and water bottles tossed around. "Well," he states into his radio, "we can prevent pregnancies and are now three bottles of water richer."
"Nothing good?" Reiner utters hopefully. He's stationed outside, shotgun sweeping back and forth along the street corners in his line of view. "Like some smokes? I'm on my last half pack."
"I'll check." Eren hopes over the counter and leans up to the cigarette rack overhead. He thumbs the intercom switch. "Two packs of Alpines and… one Wings."
"Fuck, that's it?"
"Yeah, sorry bro."
"It's alright. Beggars can't be choosers; grab 'em."
Eren swipes the dust from the boxes and pockets them in his backpack. Mina's line crackles to life. "Eren!" She sounds overcome with jubilee and anticipation. "Come check out what I just found!"
He shoulders the pack and jogs to the other end of the store, finding Mina kneeled down in front of a shelving unit. "Check it out check it out check it out!" She squeals eccentrically, scooping up the bottles of conditioner into her arms. "I've missed you my precious L'oreal… come to mama!" She zips open Eren's bag and stuffs the objects inside, forcibly shoving him to face convenient directions as she pushes the bottles down towards the bottom.
Eren watches Reiner trot to the door, his hulk visible through the ash stains streaking across the door panes. He moves one arm to his belt and his side of the line sparks to life. "Guys… problem."
"Big problem?" Eren asks in return.
"A Horde problem," Thomas remarks from his position on the roof. He's peering through his sniper scope, zooming in on the mass of disfigured bodies sprinting down the street. "They're chasing some girl in this direction. What should we do?"
Mina and Eren nod to each other and he slides his rifle from his shoulder in synch with her as she draws out her side arm, kicking back the hammer. "Reiner, wave her over!" Eren calls, gesturing for Mina to head towards the back door. "Look for a way out back! Thomas, clear the street behind us and wait for Mina!"
Mina sprints off on cue as Reiner sprints inside, unclipping the grenade belt from his waist. He hooks his thumb into a pin. "She saw me, just twenty seconds off now. You got an escape plan?"
Eren flips on his walkie-talkie. "Mina?"
"Back door was barricaded! I'm moving the board now!"
"You have ten seconds!"
Eren points his rifle to the open window, leaning the stock into his shoulder, squinting into the scope. Silence fills the brim of the store; snarling echoes out in the distance, overlapped by blood-curling screeching of the infected horde and Reiner's rapid, deep-chested breathing. Without warning the girl leaps through the window, landing on her shoulder and rolling up to her knees.
Hardened, sapphire orbs snap up to meet them, her haphazard golden bangs falling out like a curtain in front of her eyes, cheeks smudged with the dirt of surviving in the wilderness for Heaven knows how long.
"Come with us!" Reiner declares and she obeys without a word, dashing through the exit into the back hall.
A moment later the first infected groans can be heard from just outside.
"Light 'em up," Eren orders.
Reiner pops the pin and chucks the belt down the aisle. It slides along the slick tile right before the window; the creatures flood into the windows, clawing and ripping and tearing at each other to fit through all at once, collapsing to the floor and amongst the dam of shredded, grotesque flesh. The duo immediately turn and bolt out the room, Reiner slamming the door behind them and locking it with a chair under the knob just as the monsters on the other side slam into the division.
The door down the hall is wide open and Mina is shadowed out against the light. "Let's go!" She screams, ushering them over. They dart out the exit and Mina slams it shut; the blonde is across the road, gesturing them over towards the building with flailing, insistent, desperate arms. She ducks down behind a lowered platform leading into a courtyard and they join her a moment later, hurtling down the steps, Reiner behind Thomas after Mina tailing Eren.
A moment later the grenades combust together, blowing open the entire building into a tornado of fire, a gale of flames that engulfs the waves of writhing infected.
And suddenly all is stilled.
Eren takes a moment to cool down as his heart slams into the cage off his chest, blood pulsing like a banging sledgehammer into his skull. He pushes off the wall and steadies himself on his feet. "The sound might have attracted others. Let's get out of here and head back to base."
"I'll gladly copy that," Reiner utters, climbing to his feet.
Eren offers his hand out to the blonde and she, after taking a moment to glance from that up to him, accepts his gesture so he can haul her to her feet. "Come with us," he coerces, "we can protect you from them, alright?" She nods in agreement. "Oh, I'm Eren, and this is Mina, Thomas"—the two of them wave—"and Reiner"—the hulky man grunts, patting down his pockets and cursing about his lost cigarette lighter. "What's your name?"
She lifts her hands and moves them accordingly, forming what vaguely looks like a series of capital letters.
"Alice?" He guesses. She shakes her head.
"Anna!" Mina tries next. Another shake.
Eren scratches the back of his head. "Annabel? Amy?"
"Amaya!" Thomas declares and the blonde slaps her hand over her face.
Without warning Reiner shouts, rushing up to them, grabbing Eren by his backpack and guiding them hastily into the closest alleyway between two structures. "Guys, we need to go! The explosion attracted a whole shit-load of them!" Over his shoulder the approaching snarls reverberate through the air, the thick stench of black mold and burned flesh hitting their senses. The outlines of the creatures move into sight.
Eren's voice echoes off the slick concrete walls blockading the group on both sides, forcing them to sprint straight towards the dim street ahead. The alleyway is narrow and reeks of spoiled sewage and black mold (or perhaps it's the smell of the deformed corpses hot on their tail). Shrieking fills the brim of the claustrophobic escape route.
The other end of their straight path is blocked off by an oncoming group of infected, the one directly in front characterized by the jaw hanging freely from its skull. Eren leads them down a split path without a second thought.
It's always damp beneath the winter sky, a drawback for the group member now lagging behind. He gasps for air but for him it's like breathing through a straw… a straw you would stick in an alcoholic beverage. Pain is beginning to override his adrenaline and even fear could no longer keep him going. His chest is set ablaze, lungs tightening beneath the binds of his chest muscles, his knees threatening to collapse beneath his weight –
Ragged hands grab Thomas by his forearm and opposing shoulder, slamming him up against the wall with such force his head snaps back and his skull splits against the impact.
"THOMAS!" Mina exclaims, hesitating momentarily as the Infected rips his throat open like wrapping paper. Blood explodes from his lips and coats the creature's face. "No!"
The rest of the group hurtle around the feast and charge for her. She reflexively turns and sprints after her team, catching up with ease as they burst out of the alleyway and race towards the building formerly known as City Hall. Its pristine pillars are hugged along the rim by vines and rise up against the ceiling several stories above them. Its windows are grimy, eerie and shattered.
The largest member throws the doors open and allows his team passage into the building. He, Eren and the blonde slam the divisions shut just as the monsters smash into the other side. Mina wedges a crowbar and shovel into the handles, sealing them from the menacing hoard outside and costing them two weapons.
"Find an escape!" Eren demands, pressing his back to the door. "We don't have much time! They'll find a way in!" Mina had fallen to the dusty floor on her knees, gasping for breath and choking back tears. Eren lowers to her height. "Mina," he utters and moves his hand to her back, "hey, come on, we need to keep going. It's alright. Just keep your head up until we get to base."
She swipes her eyes with the back of her sleeve. "Okay, okay I'm good. Let's go."
She gets up and readies her side arm, moving for the right corridor, passing by Reiner who turns and heads left. Eren turns to the girl at the base of a musky window, digging a pole out from the wreckage. "Are you looking for a weapon?" He asks and she nods. "Oh, here then." He slips a magnum from the back of his belt and passes the grip to her; she accepts it carefully. "Defend yourself with that."
The girl opens her mouth to say thanks, or so he assumes, but she remembers that her voice has long since left her. She turns to the grimy window, dragging her thumb along the pane to form a series of lop-sided, cursive letters: A-n-n-i-E LEoNhardT.
"Annie," he reads aloud, "your name is Annie?"
She smiles up at him, brushing topaz bangs from her face, and cranes her chin up so he can see the thick scar running from point of her neck to another. He furrows his brow, moving his fingers up to caress her tender flesh. "What the fuck…? Annie, who did this to you?" She slides her hand up to curl her slender digits around his palm. Her touch leaves sparks on every particle of his skin. "Annie," he continues, "I, uh-"
Reiner's voice abruptly echoes out into Eren's radio. "Guys! I found us a back door into the next street! There aren't any infected out here. Left corridor, two rights!"
Eren gestures for Annie to go ahead and she does without complaint. Mina emerges from the right, instinctively regrouping with her leader and following him into the darkness of the building.
The infected continue to pound on the door.
It's been thirty-seven days since they lost Thomas Wagner.
Eleven days since a scouting unit came back with only one survivor out of seven that had been holed up in an abandoned hospital – a man named Levi, said to have been in the air force before The Fall, off duty somewhere half way across the country as it all went down. He knows better than the rest of them how to survive in their terrain and the best way to conserve their supplies in the lobby of the building.
And it's been only twelve minutes since Eren first found out from the only doctor in the building (who also has a criminal record of mutilating her murdered victims, even though she now satisfies her homicidal cravings by dissecting radioactive corpses) that his sister's boyfriend isn't holding up so well anymore.
Jean had been remaining in his room for most of the days since the death of Mikasa, rarely moving out to eat, seen by the night patrol out on his apartment's patio. He can be heard in his room in the midnight hours talking to his own shadow, telling his lost love how he misses her, wants her back, wishes the radiation would just kill him so he wouldn't have to live without her any longer. There is no radiation so far out here.
Eren is in his room, an end apartment on the top floor so he can walk out onto the roof and watch the neighboring city's sky burn intensely. He used to watch this scene with Jean and Mikasa long before she had saved her brother from the collapsing bridge, her mangled body flashing before his eyes – memories that smear across the pine and fade only seconds later. I miss you too, he thinks to her, in case she's listening.
His radio crackles to life. "Eren!" It's Hange Zoe, their doctor. "Get down here! I can't stop him!"
Eren races down the stair case seven steps at a time until he hits the lobby floor, tearing down the halls into Hange's office. He slams the door open –
"Jean! Don't do this!"
Jean is pressed against the farthest wall, barrel of a pistol pressed against his temple, his blood-shot eyes wide with fear as he glances from Hange, several feet away, to Eren and back again. A short, blond boy is crumpled on the floor, hissing about his broken nose as he clutches it protectively, blood seeping through his fingers and pooling onto the unevenly marked tile. "Armin!" Eren exclaims, kneeling at his side.
"I'm okay," his best friend remarks, waving him off, "stop him, he's acting delusional! Punched me in the face and took my fucking gun!"
"It isn't worth it anymore!" Jean snaps, kicking back the hammer. "It just isn't worth it!"
"What's not?!" Eren demands as he moves to his feet. "What's not worth it, Jean?"
"Living!" The opposing man sobs, his grasp on the weapon quaking violently. Tears swell in the brim of his eyelids. "I… I loved her, Eren! I loved her so fucking much! And this world took her away from me!"
Eren steps closer, gradually sauntering up to Hange's side. "Okay, Jean, it's okay…"
"It's not fucking okay!" He roars back, silencing the room instantly, primal terror shattering its way through Eren's being. "You don't know! You don't – you don't…!"
"I do know!" Eren replies and takes another full step forward. Jean doesn't register the movement. "This world took my sister from me, Jean! It freely took my parents and now it claimed my very own sister. You think it doesn't hurt me too?!"
"She was my only hope!" He points the nozzle of the sidearm at the boy who immediately raises his hands defensively. "I lost everything, Eren, I have! I lost my best friend, my parents, my brother, the love of my whole fucking life and our unborn child!"
Something bordering a couplet of overlapping fear and despair immediately racks its way through his system. "Mikasa was…pregnant?"
"There is nothing left for me here! I can't keep existing in a world that doesn't want me, doesn't want us to be together!" The pistol returns to the point of his temple. Tears are crawling down his cheeks one after another, dripping from his chin, splattering to the floor. "I've lost all my hope. I've lost my only hope."
"Jean," Eren starts, approaching him and pausing so he is within arm's reach. "Mikasa wouldn't want you to live like this! She would want you to move on – to find someone else to give your heart to and live life as it should be lived!"
He moves his fingers towards Jean's armed wrist as the taller boy hesitates.
The brunet takes a moment to sob quietly, but as soon as Eren's touch meets his he jerks with a start. "She was my only life," he mutters grimly.
"Jean, don't you dare-"
He pulls the trigger.
His skull explodes into the force of the intruding bullet, bits of bone and brain matter splattering across the wall and beds to his left, liquid garnet spraying across Eren's figure. Jean's limp body slides to the floor, smearing the wall behind him with his fluids, and Eren falls backs to the floor, desperately swiping at the crimson warmth on his face. Armin's desolate scream finally reaches his ears.
Zoe lands on her knees, pulling Eren away from the cooling corpse, her befallen words muted to his paralyzed mind.
Mikasa's scarf is now covered with Jean's blood, with Jean's hope –
The building is connected to a water treatment plant so his faucet's contents are clear and cool when Eren dunks his face under the bath tub's surface. His bloodied clothes are strewn about along the floor, freshly washed scarf hanging from the towel rack to dry, the stench of copper still too strong for him despite the open window. He hasn't had a bath in almost a week. Because he's been busy. Because he's stopped caring about himself, really. It's too much work to fret over miniscule details.
Annie enters the bathroom, wordlessly as ever, stepping carelessly over the clothes. He watches her move up to him from the corner of his eye. "Hey," is all he says.
She crosses her arms, hooking opposing fingers under the hem of her shirt and sliding it up over her head. Her hands curl over her belt, pulling her denim jeans down, kicking them off with her socks. He doesn't pay much attention to her as she slides out her hair tie and steps into the water with him.
"I'm alright," he tells her quietly, "just a little shaken up."
She wades over to him to curl against his chest, tucking her head under the crook of his neck. He strokes the plane of her shoulder and sighs into her hair. "Is Armin doing any better?" She nods. "That's good… that's good."
After a moment she sits up on her knees, pressing her lips to the familiar corner of his mouth, trailing her nails up along his torso. He leans his head back as her hands wander lower, gliding her touch along his shaft and back up along his waist. "I didn't think it'd be this hard," he admits, "I didn't think I'd lose so much, give up everything that ever mattered in my life…"
She plants a chaste kiss against his lips and he leans up to meet her, sliding his tongue into the heated cavern of her mouth.
"I don't want to lose you too," he whispers against her, gliding his thumb along the scar of her neck, received when she had been captured by the Rebellion Uprising during The Fall. Her blood, like a few of the survivors under Eren's watch, is immune to the infection caused by the radiation (an infection that turns you psychopathic, insane, blood-thirsty, like the creatures roaming around outside). They had kept her silent as they experimented, mutilated, tortured her. The scars on the underside of her arms tell him everything else he wants to know.
His touch freely traverses the apex of her torso and presses up against the bud of her womanhood. She moans into his jaws, rocking her hips to his steady tempo as he strokes her tenderly. "I don't want to lose you too, Annie…"
You won't, she wants to tell him, but those words always, always, always fail her, and she can merely resort to kissing him deeply, stroking him to life with eager fingers, guiding him to her entrance so he can divert his mind elsewhere. She leans her head into the crook of his shoulder and hums soothingly in her throat. He relaxes beneath her, settling his back against the wall of the tub.
She rolls her hips downwards, swallowing his familiar member with ease, and with a small loll of his head she brings herself up and down again. He groans her name. She wishes she could do the same.
They pick up a steady tempo that sends shockwaves through the surface of the water; she rides him hard and fast, gasping when he thrusts up to meet her, digging her grip into his scarred shoulders when he tweaks her nipples and strokes her clit. She can feel his pressure building; she tilts her chest back, angling herself just right so he can strike her most sensitive bundle of nerves. He's close. She can feel it. "Annie," he stresses into the crook of her neck, asking for permission, and she nods.
A burst of heat fills the cavern of her body. It's warm and consuming, igniting every nerve ending in her torso; her impossibly tight muscles suddenly explode into fire and she goes limp against him, waist moving to its own accord to drag out her orgasm. She lifts herself from his softening manhood to settle against him again. His fingers thread through her golden locks, so strong, so gentle.
She never had much before The Fall. Now she only has him.
And she doesn't want to lose him either.
It's been fifteen days since Jean Kirstein put a bullet through his own head. Thirteen since they buried his corpse in a graveyard up the street with the rest of the fallen survivors.
The expedition leads his group – Mina, Reiner, Annie, himself – to an abandoned amusement park that has suffered the most damage over the years. The radiation of The Fall has rusted every metal contraption within the bordering fence; the Ferris Wheel is dissolved but still spins on its axis, the screaming swings rocking to and fro like the blades of a guillotine, stained with rust and darkness.
The roller coaster has collapsed; the corrosive acids of the poisoned rain had eaten through its legs so it could no longer support itself. The merry-go-round is a horror house of grotesque, mutilated animals that gallop in gradual circles. The sky rides such as the Rocket Ship for children are all falling apart, lying in rubble on the ground or screeching as their loosened gears rotate them around and around and around –
The Ferris Wheel spins. It does not stop.
"Spread out," Eren orders, "look for infected and anything we can use, but clock yourselves to meet back here in thirty. The rain's coming in and I do not plan on being stuck in it." He flips out his watch, setting the countdown in synch with his team. "Our goal is to find batteries; we're running out in the stock room."
They scatter down several rounding paths, Reiner towards the sky ride area, Annie the merry-go-round and fun houses, Mina the roller coasters, and Eren the Ferris Wheel lined with mini-game stands. Eren checks every stand in the back rooms for anything he can use but doesn't find anymore than a handful of paperclips, two boxes of pins, and a smashed cell phone on a melted corpse (it looks like he was blown back, reaching up for the ceiling in desperation as the radiation set in and he boiled alive from the inside out).
Those who were not in bunkers at the time of the detonation were evidently most affected.
He steps up to the massive wheel scraping against the bereaved sky, craning his head up to get a good look at it. "Well shit," he utters to himself, "I remember now… I haven't been here since I was a kid! I went on you with my mother." There is no response from the ethereal object. It just creaks. Groans. Screams. Spins. "Yeah, but that was a long time ago… I'm all grown up now."
From the corner of his eye he catches sight of Reiner meeting a fork in the path, turning on his heel and heading down to where Mina might be.
"Yeah," he grumbles, "now it's much different."
Elsewhere, at the same time, Annie finally reaches the fun houses lining the walkway leading away from the merry-go-round. More like a freakshow-go-round, she thinks humorlessly, sliding through into a mirror maze. The back room offers her a pack of batteries that are corroded from the radiation previously in the air. That means every battery we find will be dead and gone. Dammit.
She would have to tell Eren so they could head back to base before the storm came in.
She turns to head out when a shadow darts through the mirror maze, slamming head-first into a panel and shattering it upon impact. A scream hitches in her scarred throat and she presses against the wall, cloaking herself in darkness. Oh shit. Oh shit. Shit shit shit –
The infected monster, once a business man judging by the shredded three-piece suit he's still wearing, hisses at the reflection in the spider-web cracks snarling back. Ragged fingers claw at the image, attempting to assert its dominance as head of the pack. Gritting her teeth, she sneaks around it towards the exit, rifle set tight against her thigh to prevent any shifting of its latch.
Shards of broken glass crunch beneath her boot.
She goes rigid as the creature snaps its head in her direction, nostrils flaring to inhale her scent carried in the air. Her breathing catches in her throat. The growling intensifies and the creature starts towards her on a slight shamble; the nose of her rifle flips up into its face, aimed for the forehead, the weapon stilling in her grasp.
It slams into another mirror, bellowing at the shards that fall harmlessly to the floor.
Annie flees out the exit and shuts the door behind her. The infected creature continues to break the mirrors within, disregarding its presence in the reflection and battling itself for dominance over the prey that is no longer there.
Across the way she spots the Ferris Wheel and, after shouldering her rifle and deciding that Eren would hopefully be in the area, heads for it. There are no infected ones in the streets, thankfully, so she reaches him in a matter of minutes. He's peering up at the rotating contraption like it's the most interesting thing in the world, even though the corrosive acids have long since destroyed its beautiful architecture.
"Annie," he remarks as she approaches him, "what keeps you going at the end of the world?"
She reaches up to him, touching his chest with her palm.
"I see… I've been thinking, lately. About us. About me." He turns his emerald eyes up to the crestfallen sky. "I should be like Jean – I should have given up, right then and there, when Mikasa pushed me off that collapsing bridge. I lost my whole family, Ann… and I wonder why the last thought to ever cross my mind was to take this gun"—he puts his side arm up under his chin—"and pull the trigger."
She tilts her head quizzically.
"And it's because I have hope. I know that some people, like Jean, have lost their hope, their faith, their courage… but I keep going because I have hope. I've always had hope." He slides the pad of his calloused thumb over the arch of her cheek. "And you give me more of a reason to keep fighting than ever before."
"Hope," Annie utters suddenly, voice quiet and raspy in her injured throat, but still speaking volumes. Still speaking.
Eren allows a small smile to settle into his features. "Yeah," he agrees, leaning down to kiss her. "Yeah, I definitely have hope."
The Ferris Wheel grinds to a halt.
A/N: Hey everybody! Welcome to my revamped and continued version of Those Who Fall, Those Who Fell Farther~ Gonna make this a complete story from this point on so I hope everyone sticks through with me till the end!