CW: There is a brief scene of sexual assault in this chapter.
Isa was not surprised at all to find that training with the Scouts was far more excruciating than training as a cadet. The first couple of weeks the new recruits were taken through a variety of drills that made the drills as cadets look like child’s play.
The running they did as cadets? Tripled with the scouts. They were pushed harder in ODM training. New techniques were taught. They were thrown in with different squads each day and had to integrate themselves with the different scouts. Each squad had different routines, different approaches, and the recruits needed to learn how to adapt to different situations.
All the planning in the world didn’t mean shit when you were outside the walls and titans popped up when you least expected.
Isa also wasn’t surprised that the vast majority of the scouts were far superior in their skills than even the person holding the number one spot in the top ten. They were no joke. The best of the best.
She’d expected no less.
What she hadn’t expected was the note she’d found on her bed the night after they’d arrived on base.
You stupid bitch. How fucking dare you. You took my spot. You didn’t deserve that spot in the top ten. And you fucking wasted it. You took a spot in the top ten and then joined the Scouts? The fuck was the point of that? Are you out to get me? Trying to ruin my life? Well fuck you. I’m going to make your life a living hell.
When I’m done with you, you’re going to wish for something as merciful as death.
Watch your back bitch.
She’d definitely been unnerved by the note but hadn’t paid much mind to it. Someone who could only send a note was obviously too cowardly to actually do anything about it. She didn’t even bother bringing it up to her friends. She had just thrown the note into a drawer in her nightstand and forgotten about it.
She needed to focus on training in any case.
After one particularly gruesome day of training, she found herself curled up in Luna’s stall after dinner, satchel in a heap beside her where it had fallen from her hands before she’d promptly collapsed.
Groaning, she looked up at the mare standing above her. “Remind me again why I chose to join the Scouts?”
Isa was certain that if the mare could, she would be raising a brow and sending her a bland look.
Sighing, she nestled herself further into the hay. “I know I know. Do this and that and more. Am I always this annoying?”
Luna gave her that same look and Isa glared back. “You’re supposed to be on my side you know. Or do you want me to stop bringing you carrots?”
At the mention of carrots, Luna threw back her head, huffing in apology.
“Yea, that’s what I thought traitor.” But the words held no malice.
Pulling out her journal from her satchel, Isa sat in comfortable silence, willing the aches in her muscles to go away.
~ - ~
At the end of their first two weeks, the four girls collapsed in their barracks after another grueling day of training.
Lucy groaned, having collapsed on her bed facedown. Her voice was muffled by her pillow. “Isa is it just me, or does each day somehow get even harder?
“Nope not just you.” Isa sat on her bed, leaning back against the wall, not even having bothered to remove her boots.
“Well that’s reassuring. At least I’m not just a weakling.”
“No you are that.”
Lucy groaned and gave her a rude hand gesture, not even bothering to look up, just waving it in the general direction of Isa’s voice. “Fuck off Isa.”
Isa and Hange laughed, the lack of energy behind the insult an indication at how exhausted Lucy was.
Sherri couldn’t even make it up to the top bunk that was her bed, and had just flopped on the floor. “At least we’re finally going to get placed into squads tomorrow. All this work will finally have some meaning.”
Lucy groaned. “I don’t even want to think about that. I can only imagine we’ll be pushed even more once we’re on squads. I just hope I’m not on Flagon’s or Smith’s squads. They look like the type who’d be sadistic in their training.”
Hange was laughing even harder at the thought, tears now pooling in the corners of her eyes. “Guys, please, no, my stomach hurts too much to laugh.”
Sherri said with a sly grin, “I actually wouldn’t mind being in Squad Leader Erwin’s squad. He’s…kinda attractive. It wouldn’t be hard to pay attention to him with how easy he is on the eyes.”
Isa sat up at that. “Sherri what is wrong with you? He’s a superior.”
Isa hated to admit that she agreed, the man had fierce, piercing blue eyes, and his build and height didn’t exactly hurt…but she wasn’t about to admit that. He was a commanding officer, and for Isa, that was all that mattered.
Lucy rolled her eyes at her friend. “Oh come on Isa, don’t be a prude, don’t tell us you haven’t thought of how attractive that man is.”
Isa glared at Lucy, but its effect was watered down by the way her face flushed. “Well…I…That is completely beside the point.”
The nerve. Just because I point out that he’s a superior hardly means I’m a prude.
Lucy threw her head back and laughed. “You can’t even deny it, oh this is perfect. I half wondered if there’d ever be someone you’d find attractive.”
“Well to be fair, I was a good four years older than most of the other cadets. I’m not into children.” Isa’s haughty tone only made Lucy laugh even harder. Hange was a lost cause at this point, there was no stopping her laughter. She was rolling around on the bed, hands on her stomach, gasping for air in between chortles.
Isa felt slightly betrayed that Hange was laughing at her expense. She sent a glare to her friend, which went completely unnoticed.
“Well Isa, now you have no excuse now.” Sherri’s voice had taken a teasing lilt. “You have plenty of attractive scouts to choose from, who are all older than you. So tell us, seen any that have caught your eye?”
Isa chewed at her lip. “Well…I…” Obviously Isa had found some of the other scouts attractive…but it was all pointless to her. None of them would want her, so why even bother trying. “Okay dammit, yes.”
Sherri sent Isa a smug look. “You find Erwin attractive don’t you.”
Isa wanted to wipe the shit-eating grin off of Sherri’s face. Glaring at her friend, she bit out, “Is it insubordination to find a superior attractive?”
Lucy just laughed at the question. “Probably, but who fucking cares. It’s just us.”
Isa groaned. “Fine, yes, I find a superior attractive, but I would never do or try anything, because that is crossing the line. Absolutely not. Besides, he’s well into his thirties. As attractive as he may be, I’m also not into older men.”
Is this what normal friends talk about? I don’t even know how to talk about this stuff…I don’t even want to talk about this. At least not about him. The man is a superior. This is completely inappropriate. Even if I’ve found some of the other scouts attractive, I haven’t found any that I’d want to do anything with…not that they’d want to do anything with me in any case. How the hell did we even manage to get on this topic?
“Yea but think about how experienced he is. And he looks so serious all the time, you just know he knows how to please a woman in bed.” A dreamy look had overtaken Sherri’s face.
Isa choked. “Sherri, what the fuck?” She could not believe the words that just came out of her friend’s mouth. Isa found the wolfish grin on Sherri’s face disturbing.
She did not just say that! About a superior! We should not be imagining our superiors and their skills in bed. Nope, this is just completely inappropriate. How the hell do I change topics without it being obvious I’m trying to change topics?
Sherri shrugged, grinning. “What, don’t tell me you haven’t wondered about him. A man his age is going to have so much experience to draw from, and you just know you’d leave his bed satisfied.”
Isa didn’t think her face could get any redder as she gaped at the younger girl. “Sherri, for the love of…that man is old enough to be your father! You’re not even eighteen!”
“Maybe I have daddy issues.”
Isa’s eyes widened, and she buried her face in her hands. “I can’t listen to this anymore.”
“Isa…you’re not still a virgin are you?” Lucy’s voice was incredulous at the thought.
Isa peeked out from in between her fingers to glare at Lucy. “I…well…that’s not any of your business now is it.”
“Damn I know we were all focused on training, but even me and Sherri managed to lose it.”
“I’m not having this conversation, nope, just no. I’m done. I’m going to go shower.”
Hange at this point was completely red in the face as she struggled to catch her breath from laughing so hard, and between gasps she managed to force out. “I’ll bet you are. Just don’t have any inappropriate thoughts about our Squad Leader while you do that.”
Isa was beyond flustered at this point. “Oh my…you…guys are ridiculous. Goodbye.” She slammed the door shut on her way out.
Her friends’ cackles followed her all the way to the shower. She managed to avoid them the rest of the night, needing a break from the horror that was that conversation.
Sure I’ve thought about sex before, I mean who hasn’t? But I would never imagine myself in that position with a superior, a commanding officer. I’ve also never found a guy who would be worth imagining doing that sort of stuff with. The majority of the male cadets were too young for me, so they were completely off limits, and the few that were around my age, I just wasn’t interested in. Before that, I’d never even been around guys before. And even still, I just…is it even possible for someone to want to do that sort of stuff with me?
Is it that strange that I’m still a virgin?
~ - ~
Isa had hoped that the next day her friends would drop the whole topic, but of course, she was wrong.
Lucy, the pesterer that she was, refused to relent. “Isa, now that you’re a scout, you should probably get laid at least once. I mean…you don’t want to die a virgin do you?” She rested her arm on Isa’s shoulder.
Irked at the height difference, Isa shook of Lucy’s arm. “Of course not, but…just no…I’m not having this conversation. My sex life is none of your concern. I feel wrong even talking about this with you when neither of you are eighteen.”
She also didn’t want to admit to her friends that she didn’t think there’d ever be a man who’d want her. She didn’t want to hear the usual uplifting comments that she received from her friends in times of self-doubt, which were well-meant, yet did nothing to change the fact that she felt the way she did. She’d yet to see any proof that contradicts how she sees herself, so how is she supposed to change how she feels?
Even though she’d refused to listen to anything those people told her, eventually, when you hear the same words over and over again, they start to stick, digging their barbed thorns in you and growing like a weed that spreads and feeds all over.
Isa, you’re never going to get a man if you act and dress that way.
Isa what man is going to choose to want a woman like you? No, the only way you end up with someone is if we arrange it. That is to come eventually.
Isa a girl as plain looking as you will never amount to anything. You should be grateful we’re even helping you.
Isa, your hair is dreadful, we’ve told you time and time again that the braid does nothing for you. I don’t know why you don’t let the maids do your hair.
Isa if you cannot contain yourself, you’re going to end up alone. No amount of arranging can change that if you don’t act as a noblewoman.
Isa that dress looks horrid on you, have you gained weight? Goodness, we just had that fitted. We’re going to have to start watching what you eat more closely.
And on and on and on.
At first, she’d brushed off their words, but eventually, the weed took hold, and she started to wonder if she would be alone forever, if she was unlovable, undesirable, unwanted.
She hated even thinking that way, because odds are, she would die as a scout, and none of that would matter.
But at some point, more everything, started to take on an additional meaning.
Thankfully, Commander Shadis had arrived to give them their assignments, ceasing the conversation, and her thoughts, from continuing. The squad leaders were standing next to him, intimidating expressions on their faces.
Isa couldn’t even look at Squad Leader Erwin without thinking of what Sherri said the night before. The recruits all saluted their superiors as they waited for their assignments.
Command Shadis looked over the new recruits with beady eyes. “Recruits, we’ve evaluated your performance over the past couple of weeks, as well as looked over the head instructor’s notes and have decided your placement.”
The Commander placed Isa, Sherri, and Derek with Squad Leader Flagon. Lucy, Uma, and Hange were placed with Squad Leader Erwin. Isa was relieved that she wouldn’t be placed under the command of Squad Leader Erwin. After that conversation last night, she’d prefer to never have to speak to him.
The remaining recruits would all be placed under the command of Team Leaders.
Isa tried to remember how the hierarchy in the Scouts worked. If she recalled correctly, the Commander was at the top, obviously. Directly beneath him were Squad Leaders. Each Squad Leader was in charge of not only their own squad, but the Team Leaders directly below them. Each Team Leader was in charge of their own Team.
The Scouts with the most skill or the most promise were chosen directly by Squad Leaders for their own personal squad. Isa and her friends must have made an impression on the higher ups, seeing as they were assigned to squads instead of teams.
Isa smiled to herself. Off to a promising start already. I can do this.
After the meeting concluded, they split off with their respective Squad Leader for further assignment.
Squad Leader Flagon led the new recruits over to the forest where the rest of his squad was waiting.
“Recruits, introduce yourself and state where you come from.”
Isa, Sherri, and Derek all took turns in introducing themselves to their new comrades. In Flagon’s squad, there was a man named Sairam, and two other girls, Sofia and Ingrid.
Well that explains why we were assigned directly to Flagon’s squad. It’s pretty small without us. They must have just had a loss.
Flagon explained that today, the recruits would be integrated into the squad, and he needed to see their abilities further in action. The previous weeks, the recruits had worked with various different teams. Now that they’ve been assigned to his squad, he needed to see how they worked with his other squad members.
They set off into the forest to start taking down the titan dummies that were set up. Isa was paired with Sairam. They came across their first titan hiding behind a grove of trees, arms sticking out, ready to attack.
“Here runt, let me show the princess from Mitras how it’s done.”
That irked Isa so much, that in a boost of speed, she sped past Sairam, neatly slicing the nape of the dummy before Sairam could so much as blink.
That’ll show you, pretentious little bastard.
“Hey, what was that!”
“Just reminding you that size and where you come from doesn’t matter when it comes to killing titans. You should keep that in mind.”
Why is it that he's judging me just because I come from Mitras. That doesn’t mean shit outside the walls. It’s not like a titan is going to care which wall I come from. They’re not going to look at me and go, ‘oh look, it’s a Mitras citizen, better not eat her.’ No. I have just as much of a risk of dying as any other scout. That sort of bias is the shit you’d expect from people in Mitras, not outside of Mitras. I guess where you come from doesn’t matter when it comes to being an asshole.
Just because I’m from Mitras, doesn’t mean I can’t hold my own against titans…I hope.
“Why you little—”
“Isa! Sairam! Focus!”
“Yes sir.” Sairam fixed his glare on Isa.
Refusing to be intimidated by the black haired scout, she met his glare with one of her own. “If it’s alright with you, and not too much of a bother, we can work as a team, like we were assigned to do.” She watched as his teeth set at her haughty tone.
Even though he reluctantly agreed, Isa still ended up competing more with Sairam than actually working with him.
His arrogance will be the death of him out there if he isn’t careful. Or worse, one of his comrades.
It wasn’t until the end of training that Sairam finally seemed to grasp the concept of working with Isa instead of competing with her. When they came across titan dummies in clusters, instead of him cutting Isa off, he would actually call out which ones he was aiming for, allowing Isa to maneuver towards the remaining titans.
It wasn’t perfect, but at least there was improvement.
Flagon would alternate between ODM training and endurance training. At random times, he would call for them to run laps, and they had to do so with their ODM gear, making the new recruits more sluggish than normal. They did receive a short lunch break, and then it was back to training.
Makes sense to have us do this. If we’re stuck out there, we need to be able to run with our gear on. We can’t exactly just take it off whenever we want. Without it, we’re completely vulnerable…doesn’t make this suck any less though.
Finally, Flagon ended training. He assigned replacing the rubber napes to the new recruits, while dismissing the others.
They made quick work of it, and then Isa and Sherri made their way to the showers before meeting Lucy and Hange at the mess hall for dinner. Lucy and Hange were already seated, and Isa was surprised to see Uma sitting with them.
They must have gotten along well today. I never really got to speak with her much while we were cadets.
Sherri and Isa sat with the three other girls to enjoy the usual dinner of bread and stew with meat. Suddenly ravenous Isa dug in, while she listened to the other girls share their experience in training.
Lucy was currently struggling to raise her spoon to her mouth. “I’m telling you. The man is a sadist. He has to be. There’s no other explanation for why he’d torture his squad members.”
Isa rolled her eyes at her friend’s complaints. “Or maybe he wants to make sure you don’t die out there and to do that you have to be in top physical condition.”
It’s like they’ve forgotten that we’re training hard to make sure we don’t get shoved down a titan’s throat the minute we step foot outside the walls. Does the intensity of training suck? Hell yes. Do I care? Hell no.
“Isa can’t you just let me have one thing.”
“…I hate you.”
“No you don’t.”
Lucy glared at Isa and then rolled her eyes. “Well I don’t care what you say, even if it makes sense. I bet he’s even a bit sadistic in bed too.”
Isa choked on the bite of food she’d just put in her mouth. “Lucy what the fuck. We talked about this. Can we not talk about our superiors that way?”
This again? What is with them? Is this all they ever think about now?
Lucy pouted. “Dammit Isa, can’t I have some fun.”
“Not if it means talking about our superior’s sex lives…so no.”
Giving up on trying to eat, she put her spoon down, and rested her head on her hands, elbows resting on the table as she teased Isa. “Come on, don’t deny it. I bet you’ve been wondering since last night what the man’s like in bed. You even admitted you found him attractive.”
Uma perked at that. “You find Squad Leader Erwin attractive Isa?”
She crossed her arms as she grumbled. “I only said that to get them to shut up and leave me alone. Talking about ridiculous nonsense as if we aren’t training to make sure we don’t die the minute we step foot outside the walls.”
Uma hummed. “Yet your red face says otherwise,” the teasing note in her voice set Isa’s teeth on edge.
Isa glared at Uma. “Not you too. Why do we even bother talking about this stuff?” Groaning, she let her head rest on the table, not wanting to meet her friends’ eyes.
Lucy looked at Isa blandly. “Because it’s one of the few things that keeps us sane when we’re training to make sure we don’t die the minute we step foot outside the walls.”
She turned her head sideways on the table to glare at Lucy. “Really…you had to copy me word for word?”
“Just so you could hear how ridiculous you sound.”
“Now I hate you.”
“Is she always like this?” Uma asked.
Hange, who had been watching the entire exchange in amusement, merely said, “Yes.” not even bother to ask to whom Uma was referring. The answer was the same.
A deep voice spoke up behind Isa. “I can assure you Recruit Lucy, that while not really any of your concern, I am not a sadist.”
The sight of five pairs of eyes boggling at Squad Leader Erwin would have been funny to Isa in any other situation, if she wasn’t currently in said situation.
Holy shit, what are the odds of this actually happening? Why does this happen to me? I’m just glad that it wasn’t me saying those ridiculous things…
Lucy's face had paled at the realization that her comments had not been for her friends’ ears only. “Squad Leader I—”
Erwin held up a hand. “Save it recruit. I only came over to inform you three that we will be meeting in the forest tomorrow bright and early and to be prepared for ODM training with horses.”
Shrinking in her seat, she gave a weak, "Yes sir.” Lucy’s voice, which had been confident and teasing only moments earlier, was now meek, the embarrassment written all over her face.
“And thirty laps for the three of you tomorrow. Maybe that will keep your mind occupied, instead of worrying about menial things.” With that, Erwin walked off. As an after thought he called back behind him, “those laps need to be done before the start of training, or I’ll tack on an additional thirty.”
Isa gave a smug look at Lucy. “I told you so. You shouldn’t have been running your mouth about those sorts of things.”
Lucy glared at Isa. “I told you so. The man is a sadist.”
Sherri was dreamily watching Erwin walk off. “He has such a nice walk.”
Isa banged her head against the table. “You guys are hopeless.” She looked at Uma. “I am in desperate need of changing this subject, so I’m going to shamelessly use you for that. What happened to your friends?”
Uma giggled at Isa's desperation. “Well two of my friends ended up joining the Garrison when they didn’t make the top ten. One actually managed to make the top ten, and so she joined the Military Police.” Uma seemed proud of her friends for entering into those branches.
“What made you want to join the Scouts?”
“I want to see what’s out there. I feel like there’s more to the story than what they’re telling us, so I’d like to find out for myself.”
“Geez Uma, you sound like Isa. That’s the last thing we need is another one of her.”
“Fuck off Lucy.”
“Love you too Isa.”
Uma chuckled. “Well I did happen to overhear Isa that day in the mess hall when she was telling you guys about her reasons for joining the Scouts, and well, they really resounded with me and made sense. I want to know more.”
Isa grimaced. “Seriously, another one? I need to keep my mouth shut. Apparently these two here joined the Scouts because of what I said. If I hadn’t said anything, these two would be in the interior with the Military Police.” Isa glared at her two friends.
Lucy placed her arm around Isa’s shoulder. “Yea but you’d miss us too much. Admit it, you’re glad that we’re here.”
She shook Lucy off of her. “Right now I’d be glad if you kept your arm off my shoulder.”
“Aww but you’re the perfect height for it.” Lucy pouted.
Isa stood up from her seat. “Okay, I’ve had enough of this, I’m going to the stables to see Luna, and then going to bed.” She dropped off her dishes and walked out of the mess hall.
~ - ~
The next couple of weeks went by without any trouble. Isa woke up each morning, trained with her squad, ate food, sat in Luna's stall while writing in her journal, and slept. Some nights Isa would wake up from a nightmare and would be unable to fall asleep. Those nights were spent sipping a cup of Ethel’s chamomile tea up on the roof, watching the stars move across the sky.
She hadn’t received any other notes, so she assumed that the person was indeed nothing more than a coward, and it had simply been an empty threat meant to scare her. She couldn’t blame herself for making the top ten. She hadn’t even tried. Most likely the person behind the note was just angry and trying to find someone else to place the blame on.
Besides, she had bigger issues to deal with. Along with the nightmares, the upcoming expedition was keeping her up at night. It wasn’t her life she was worried about. She was fearful for Lucy and Sherri. Even though they made the top ten, that didn’t mean shit outside the walls. Even the Commander had acknowledged this in his speech. No one was invincible.
Her two friends were taking training seriously at least. She was impressed at the integrity of her comrades. That she could be grateful of. She remembered in the three years of training how many of her fellow cadets would blow off training, not caring since they were planning to stay as far away from titans as possible.
She desperately hoped she’d be able to somehow protect her friends. They had joined the scouts because her words had triggered the insane part inside them. If they die, it would be her fault. She’d have to live with the knowledge that she’d led her friends to their deaths.
At least Hange had already been set on joining the Scouts. She just couldn’t get these nagging thoughts out of her head. She would have thought she’d be used to them, but she wasn't, at all. These new thoughts were more consuming and more prevalent.
She hated that Sherri was in Erwin’s squad and not her own.
Speaking of squads, Isa could not stand Sairam. He had his head so far up their Squad Leader’s ass, it was ridiculous. She was grateful that she’d been paired with Sofia. No way in hell she’d survive if she had to rely on Sairam. The bastard was too pretentious and arrogant for his own good. She didn’t understand what his issue was. He seemed fine with everyone else, but for some reason, he was a dick to Isa.
Flagon paired off his squad members based on who worked best with each other. She had learned his plan for handling titans. Since squads were often on their own on expeditions, their squad leaders needed to have some form of battle plan when chaos happened. Depending on the situation, he would send off pairs to handle titans based on the skills he thought would be needed to down the titans.
As far as plans go, Isa didn’t think it was terrible. He seemed to have paid close enough attention to which squad members were compatible with each other. No one wants unnecessary deaths, and Isa appreciated that he didn’t just throw together random members in random situations in the hopes that everything worked out alright.
Isa could only hope that things don’t go awry in this first expedition.
~ - ~
The day before the expedition was a free day. Commander Shadis apparently liked to give a day of recuperation before an expedition, to give the scouts time to rest up so they’d be ready to go the day of. They were free to do what they wished, be that train, travel to another district, it didn’t really matter. So long as they were ready to go in the morning, he didn’t care.
Isa decided she wanted to give Ethel a visit, just so she could say good-bye…in case she didn’t make it tomorrow. As morbid as it sounded, it would make her feel better to have done that.
She woke up early, before all her friends, so she could make it to Trost and back and still have a little time to run through the ODM course a few times.
She made sure to leave them a note letting them know where she was going so they wouldn’t worry.
While on her way to the stables, Isa made a quick stop at the kitchen to steal a carrot for Luna. The mare deserved it for all the hard work she’d put in.
The mare greeted her as usual, sticking her head out over the stall door, excited as always.
Isa gave the mare’s nose a rub, feeding her the treat. “You want to go for a ride today?” She laughed when Luna’s head bobbed up and down. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
She made quick work of tacking up the mare, and soon, they were off.
Isa loved these moments where she got to take Luna on rides, just for fun. Out in the open fields, she let the mare stretch out her legs in a full gallop, knowing how much her horse loved to run. As the air whipped across her face, she felt at peace in the rare moment.
Luna was fast when she got up to speed, and soon, they arrived at the gates of Trost, where Isa settled Luna into one of the open stalls. Paying the fee for the stall, she made her way into Trost.
Every time she came into Trost, she was as amazed as she was the first time. There was always something new to see, something new to admire.
Citizens haggling over the price of goods with merchants.
Children running ahead of their parents, excited to reach the next destination.
Families sitting out on the grass, enjoying a small picnic together in the sun.
Laughter, love, just plain fun filling the air.
She stopped at one of the merchants to pick up a new journal. The one she had was practically full. Considering as much as she wrote in it, she was surprised it hadn’t filled up sooner. She settled on a simple one that was cheap enough for her budget, but would do the job and hold up. The merchant wrapped up the journal in some brown paper, tying it off with some twine. She thanked him, and then made her way back into the streets, now heading to Ethel’s.
The little bell above the door of Ethel’s teashop jangled as she entered. Ethel poked her head out from underneath the counter, and squealed with delight at the sight of Isa.
Running over as fast as her old legs could carry, she soon had Isa wrapped in a warm hug. “I was wondering when you were coming to see me again. It’s been too long.”
Feeling a little guilty, she returned the hug and quickly apologized. “I’ve been so busy with training, I’m so sorry I haven’t been able to visit.”
Ethel tutted. “Now there’s no need to apologize. Don’t forget that my son was a scout, so I know how it is. I just meant to say I missed you.” She pulled back now to look at Isa, hands cupping the girl’s cheeks. “How about a cup of tea, and some snacks, and then you can tell me all about your days since joining the scouts?”
Soon, Isa had a warm cup of chamomile tea as she sat on the small couch Ethel had in the back room, and enjoyed some of the treats the older woman had made earlier that day to sell.
As they sat, Isa told Ethel about the training and how it was far more gruesome than what she’d experienced as a cadet. Ethel laughed at Isa’s description of Sairam, and she told Isa that Alex, her son, had had to deal with the occasional awful comrade, but they had generally pulled through on expeditions. No one wanted to die out there…or be the cause of someone’s death.
When Isa talked about Sherri and Lucy, Ethel sensed her struggle.
“Isa, are you worried about them?”
“…A little.” Isa avoided Ethel's gaze as tears started to prick in her eyes.
Ethel gave Isa a knowing glance. “By a little, you mean a lot. You don’t have to hide it from me dear. It’s okay to share your fears and worries with someone.”
“Okay, yea a lot.” Isa sniffled, as she tried to hold back the tears. “It’s just…I feel like it’s because of me that they even decided to join the Scouts. They spent all our training, hell bent on making the top ten so they could join the Military Police, and then changed their mind because of something I said.” A few tears escaped and trickled down her cheek. She quickly wiped them away, hating that she was crying in front of someone.
“And you think that if they die, it’ll be your fault.”
Ethel sighed. “Isa dear, it sounds like they made their choice to join. Regardless of if your words changed their minds or not, it was still their choice. Besides, someone doesn’t completely change their mind if they weren’t already doubting their choice to begin with. If they die, it will be because of the titans, not because of something you said.
“No buts, dear. I think you should trust their judgment, and that they came to this decision on their own, taking into full consideration the risks.”
More tears ran down her cheeks now. “I know, I just can’t help but worry. I don’t want anything to happen to them.”
Ethel scooched closer to Isa and wrapped her in a strong hug. “We never want someone we care for to get hurt, but it’s part of life. We live and we die. It’s how we live that makes us who we are. If we cherish the time we have with others, that’s all that matters.”
She relished the older woman’s hug, enjoying the simple comfort.
Maybe she has a point.
When it was time to go, Ethel swiftly placed two more tins of chamomile tea into Isa’s hands.
“Ethel, you’re spoiling me.”
“You deserve it, besides I don’t have any grandchildren to spoil, so you can be my surrogate granddaughter.”
Isa’s tears welled at the thought of being considered someone’s granddaughter. “You…you really think that?”
Ethel gave Isa a warm smile, and ran a hand down her hair. “Of course dear. Now, you should get going. I want you rested and well for tomorrow. And come back to visit soon.”
Isa pulled the older woman into another hug. “I will.” And with that, she said goodbye, and walked out of the shop.
As she made her way through Trost to get Luna, she was stopped by an older man.
He looked down on her, took note of her jacket with the wings of freedom on the arm and back. “You’re a scout, aren’t you?”
Something in his tone had Isa’s teeth setting on edge. “I am.” Her tone curt, and matter of fact.
The man glared down at her. “The nerve of you to even show your face here. You do nothing but waste our tax dollars. I don’t understand why the government even allows you idiots to even keep leaving the walls. You all just end up dying out there for nothing."
Isa’s own eyes narrowed at the man’s words. Arms crossed, she shifted her weight onto one leg. “You should be grateful we’re even going out there. We risk our lives to learn more about the titans.” Isa tilted her head further so that the man could feel the full force of her stern glare, hating that she was so much shorter than him. “So while yes, we may die out there, it’s never for no reason. It’s better than sitting on our asses just waiting for the day the titans knock down our walls, which is what you seem to be content with doing.”
With that, Isa walked away, leaving the man gaping in her wake.
~ - ~
Later that night, she was sitting on the battlements like she had been for the past few nights. She enjoyed the night more than she did the day. There was something about watching the stars that brought her a peace that she couldn’t get any other time. She loved how cool the night air felt as it kissed her skin.
It took her several moments before she registered that she was no longer alone. Turning around, she saw a shadow standing by the door. An uneasy feeling ran through her, making her skin crawl.
The shadow began making its way towards her, and she saw that it was only Derek. She didn’t know him that well. Barring that one time where she’d bit his head off when he’d insulted her, they’d only ever interacted in training drills, never during their free time. Even though they were on the same squad, she never spoke with him outside of training.
She didn’t like the way he watched her. She didn’t know what it was, but it made her want to cover up from head to toe, and claw his eyes out so he could stop looking at her, leering at her.
When he sat down next to her, he felt too close. There was maybe a hands width between them. Isa tried to slide further away, but he grabbed her wrist before she could do so, which sent her heart racing and a cold sweat settled on her skin.
“Don’t go.” His voice a warning.
She swallowed, but refrained from moving. “What do you want?” Something about the way he kept looking down and not at her, kept her voice tense, muscles on edge, ready to move as soon as possible.
“Tomorrow is our first expedition.”
Her brows furrowed at that. Isa didn’t get his point. She was well aware of what tomorrow was.
“We might die tomorrow.”
Again, that was moot. That’s what they signed up for. They knew they risked death joining this regiment.
“We need to stop dancing around each other.”
That took Isa aback. What was he getting at? Dancing around each other? She’d barely ever spoken to him, what was he on about?
She yanked her wrist from his grasp and stood, just wanting to be back in her bed, away from this situation. “I’m…going to go to sleep. It’s late and I don’t want to be tired.”
She quickly walked away, only to be stopped just before she reached the door, by a force slamming her up against the wall, knocking the breath out of her lungs.
He towered over Isa as she gasped for air, his arms caging her in. “Don’t tease me Isa darling.” The whine in his voice had fear trickling down her spine.
What the fuck?
She blinked at him, a prickling sensation moving across her skin. “I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about.”
“Of course you do. I’ve seen the looks you’ve thrown my way during training, in the mess hall, when we cross paths on the grounds.” Gone was the whine, replaced by a harsh, demanding tone
“I know you want this as much as I do, so there’s no point in resisting."
Before she could say or do anything, he’d slammed his mouth against hers, shoving his tongue through her lips.
Her stomach turned at the feel of his slimy tongue in her mouth. Pushing past the shock and fear, she used all her strength and pushed at his chest, shoving him off her.
“Derek, I’m not interested.” Isa’s tone was firm and unapologetic as she tried not to vomit.
He glared at her. “I see. Alright then, my apologies.” He walked out the roof’s door, leaving Isa pressed up against the wall, a concerned look in her eyes.
Something in his tone, and that look in his eyes told Isa that he wasn’t the least bit sorry.
~ - ~
Early the next morning the recruits were tacking up their horses and making final gear check before leaving within the hour. The sun had barely broken the horizon, and most of the scouts were still trying to rub the sleep out of their eyes and focus on final preparations.
Isa, who had been awake for a couple of hours now, and had Luna’s lead tied off to the fence outside the stables. She had put some hay in the trough in front of her so Luna would have something to nibble on while she brushed her down. She’d woken early one, from trouble sleeping after her encounter with Derek, and two, Isa wanted to make sure she had ample time to check her gear and tack up Luna. Isa took great pride in Luna, and wanted to make sure she gave her mare the best care she could possibly give.
She ran the brush along Luna’s gray coat, wanting to make sure there were no traces of sweat or dirt. She didn’t want to risk Luna developing a saddle sore when they were outside the walls and vulnerable. If thoughts of the night before made their way into her mind while she brushed, she quickly shoved them away, in a vain attempt to maintain control by ignoring what happened.
I can’t be distracted, now more than ever. The last thing I want is to die just because I couldn’t stop thinking about how creepy Derek was last night.
Once she was satisfied with Luna’s coat, she moved onto her hooves. Slowly she ran her hands along the mare’s side, flank, and down each leg, before gently lifting her hoof to rest in between her knees. She did this for each hoof, making sure to clear out the dirt and muck. At one point, after picking one of Luna’s front hooves, she felt something wet run across the side of her face, only to realize that Luna had licked her.
Wiping her face, laughing, she said, “Luna what was that for?”
Luna tossed her head back and whinnied as if to say, what, I have to make sure you’re clean too.
Isa rubbed the mare’s muzzle. “You silly girl.”
Finally, it was time to tack up.
Tightened the girth?
Walked Luna a few paces and retightened the girth?
Time for the bit and bridle, which was always Luna’s least favorite part. Sometimes Isa would have trouble getting the mare to open her mouth so she could slide the bit in. After removing the halter and sliding the reins over Luna’s head, Isa soon found that this would be one of those times.
Sighing, Isa pulled out a small bottle of peppermint oil from her pocket. “I know you’re doing this just so I’ll put some of this on the bit. Don’t think I’m not on to you.” Isa wagged her finger at Luna.
Luna nickered and gave Isa an almost sheepish look, as if to say, well gosh Isa, I would never.
Laughing, she placed a bit of the oil on the bit, and like a miracle, Luna had no problems taking it.
Shaking her head, Isa rubbed Isa’s muzzle again. “What am I going to do with you?”
The final step was for Isa to make sure the bridle was properly secured, and then Luna was ready to go.
She stroked Luna’s muzzle, resting her forehead against the mare’s. “You’re the best, you know that don’t you?”
Luna huffed into Isa’s face, bringing a soft smile to her face. Looking into Luna’s warm brown eyes, Isa knew her mare trusted her as much as Isa trusted her.
“What do you say? Are you ready?”
Luna gave a soft nicker. Always.
“Alright then, let’s go.”
Isa led her mare over to where all the scouts were gathering as they finished their final preparations. She quickly found Hange, Lucy, and Sherri. The week before, the commanding officers had decided to move Sherri to Erwin's squad, and Lucy to Flagon's squad. They had wanted to test to see how they worked with these new squads, and were now waiting for the expedition to determine if the change would be permanent.
Underneath Isa’s excitement at finally being able to go outside the walls, the nagging thoughts threatened to consume her, pushing through the comforting words Ethel had given her the day prior.
If they die, it’s your fault. Your fault. You’ll be to blame. You’ll have to explain to their families that you’re the reason they suddenly chose to join the Scouts instead of the Military Police like they’d worked for. That you’re the reason they’re dead.
She shot Lucy and Sherri a worried look. “You guys…just…be careful out there.”
Lucy sighed. “Isa we’ve been through this.”
“Just promise me you’ll listen to your Squad Leaders no matter what, and that you won’t do anything stupid.” The look on her face was borderline begging for them to comply.
The two girls rolled their eyes, but nodded in agreement.
“Now can you stop being a downer and let’s enjoy this?” Lucy’s excited tone helped Isa push her fear down.
She gave her friends a smile, and mounted Luna.
In that moment, Commander Shadis made his way to the front where he took his place. “Scouts. Move out.”
And so, the Scouts made their way to the gates of Wall Maria, in Shiganshina. And in that moment, with her friends by her side, despite her worries.
Isa had never felt happier.
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