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At the time, he'd only shouted at Franz for maybe a few seconds, trying to get him to stop stabbing that poor dead son of a bitch. But really, it felt like so much longer, like he was shouting at a wild animal, something all-feral and more dangerous to him than one of his wolves. Isaac had...a pretty good chance of taming an animal in the wild, but you can't treat humans like that. They need to be snapped back to reality in a hurry so that they don't get comfortable with the idea of not thinking. The only danger was that the man might've turned his knife on him, but even if he had...he'd've either held it in place or blocked it with some part of his machine gun. Thanks to the army, Isaac took control of situations around him fairly well, though he did get into a brief argument with Ines over him doing it that amounted to her shouting that he didn't have to do that and him pointing out that they didn't have the time to do otherwise, right now. He wished he didn't have to at all, but there we are.

The situation outside of the inn didn't last long, because thankfully Jean and company caught up with the rest of the squad, citing a very brief head start to work on to get the hell out of there. Isaac took that and ordered people to get into a nearby building to get them out of the open, so that they could press on - room to room - and push their way to eventual safety, where only open streets would bely any true danger. He would get some better use out of the prybar now, as the doors were ordinary and unimpressive, much easier to get through than the main door at the inn. Eventually, they would escape this nightmare and the gas would finally play itself out, allowing them all to breathe easier, figuratively and literally. The next days would be no picnic, of course, but at least they had that.

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Time passed, and - after alot of trudging, fighting, sneaking around, and so on - they made it to an area with the rest of the main group. Jean had mentioned that he thought the Federation would be pouring into Amone after the gas attack - it was now being called 'the gas attack', like it was a point in history...and maybe it WAS one, at that - and Isaac agreed. This sick and twisted maneuver that had practically terrorized them at the moment of its inception... Of course they'd take advantage of it, because they had the masks! So, they had made the main battle group and, shortly after reporting in and all that, the question was asked: What the hell was that gas? Seemed a fair question, considering they'd been inundated by it, and the soldier that Isaac had asked gave him the 50-cent explanation. He told him it was a new weapon, a compound found to be deadly to human beings that could be blocked by the new masks, and that the order to implement it to gain access to Amone had been ordered by, at least in part by...

Oh, that son of a bitch...

Middleton! Oh, there'd been others in the officer line who'd signed off on it, but apparently Captain Middleton had been very vocal about it...enough that the grapevine caught wind and circulated the fact. Isaac must've swore out loud, because the soldier then looked worried and asked if he was alright, to which Isaac replied "Oh, I'm just fucking wonderful!". That made the soldier wince, getting the idea in his head that he didn't want any of this on him and decided that a peace offering was in order. He asked Isaac what his squad number was, and then handed him a bag marked '15th Atlantic Rifles' on the tag.

"What's this?"

"Your mail. There's been a bit of a backlog, and your squad has been out in the field, but you're still entitled to it."

The mail, at last! He'd only been able to send anything off from the White Hart. It'd been something they managed for him after the first night. He'd been collecting and collecting and never managing to get it out because it was hard to get anything through, and now...would he have a reply? With a funny and downright fiendish grin, he made his way back to the squad with the mail. He knew that Jean wasn't getting anyway, at least not from family...but he tried to keep his spirits up as he shouted "MAIL CALL!" to the squad and just upended the bag somewhere dry and safe they could pick it up. Isaac found his own...box. Good lord, what the hell? He opened it and it contained not only a thick amount of papers, but also...

That smell... It's gotta be...

His smile broadened, and he called out.

"I got beef jerky here and I'm sharing! Get it while it's there!"

Beef jerky, straight from home. Dad's own spicing and all. Lovely flavor, good quality beef. Isaac took a piece for himself as he saw Britta getting a letter from her parents, eyeing the box now.

"The fruits of your labor?"

"The cut of my loins."

And immediately, Britta just stared at him, her face going red.

"I-Isaac...!"

"What?"

"What you just said!"

He blinked, thought about it, then facepalmed hard.

"Not like that! It's a cut of beef!"

"Oh yeah? What part?"

Now, she was teasing him.

"It's...it's near the spine. It's good quality. I didn't mean..."

"I know, but it sounded wrong."

"Please take a piece and enjoy before I die of embarrassment..."

"Yes, sir."

She did just that, and Isaac started chewing and enjoying his own jerky as he unveiled the letter that had arrived with it.



After all that was said in that letter, the last part made Isaac laugh out loud, knowing EXACTLY what his brother was going through, and generally proud of his alpha wolf bringing new pups to the pack before he left. He had had precisely one minute of good feelings from home, from that point on, until guess who decided to ruin it all. This man was like a bad leach. No matter what they seemed to do, Captain Middleton seemed to stick to them and make things miserable, and now here he was, aiming the full force of his Grumpus...on Michael!

Wait, on Michael?! WHY?

Isaac stood up from where he'd sat and read his letter. He'd been in plain view of everyone and everything, allowing his beef jerky to be partaken by many. He was sure that Michael had gotten a letter, passed on from hand to hand or something. He hadn't seen him until now, when Middleton called him out. Why? What the hell had he done, other than be a soldier, get shot, and-

Ohhh...

He didn't quite understand it, understand the why, but Isaac suddenly got that it must've been something to do with Lucia. It was the only thing that Michael HAD done that might offend the Captain, that this ward of his - whom they all loved as much as they hated Middleton himself - was clearly very close to Michael Daunte. Well, Michael deserved something good in his life. The look in his eyes after the attack on Hill 58 left him looking dead inside. If the Asseni girl's antics made him feel better, then shut the hell up, Middleton. Isaac wanted to interfere with this, to cite the Captain's own words that the affairs of enlisted men should be in the hands of the enlisted and not his personal attention. He'd said this, first day. He'd made it like a standing order that they were responsible for guys like Michael, so he shouldn't even be doing this. The man was such a hypocrite...

Fortunately, it didn't look like Michael needed any help. He knew that Middleton was looking for a fight, or even an excuse to shoot him, and Michael was being the obedient little soldier, emphasis on the 'little' part, but only in size. Michael was a towering mass of 'bring it', right now. He wasn't smug or goading or threatening in any way. He simply reacted as an innocent man who isn't being browbeaten by an officer about things, and so...by that token...he wasn't browbeaten. Middleton was just blowing smoke out of his ass. He almost got the Captain to lay down just what it was he was so unahppy about in regards to Lucia, but instead he said something cryptic and weird about Lucia's 'growth', and then stormed off.

None of that made any sense, of course. The man was obsessed his ward, whom he - as far as everyone else was concerned - treated very poorly and should be kept away from at all costs. It was good that she had gotten close to Michael. According to Britta, she was even partially or fully responsible for killing two Imperials who tried to take his and her masks. Isaac was frankly proud of how those two were handling themselves, even moreso at Michael's actions, just now. He headed over to the short sapper now with a smirk on his face.

"Michael, I owe you a drink. Come see me later, when you have the time. I have some leftover Scotch from the Inn."
Eren Jaeger's beating had shocked her, but not to the extent that she had harkened back to this, the beating that she'd taken at the hands of her father. That alone hadn't been enough, because she understood right off the WHY of that situation. If someone had been drunkenly beating on Eren for no other reason than because they were discontent...there'd be true rage in her heart, a whole lot of red, and then maybe a dead man as she tries with all her might and mental fortitude to keep from seeing her father's face in some vicious daymare. The trauma did things to her, as it would do things to us all. Kate was damaged by the ordeal, and she felt so, which made her feel guilty over it, as it'd taken literal years to crawl back out of her hole and reach some semblance of liveability.

She was gradually recovering herself now, perhaps at a stage where Grisha would say she was of sound enough mind to start to come to terms, and that may have been where she was. That she was hurt so was now entered in her mind without retreating, because she had the support of another friend, another who would understand. Now, she had only to overcome the shame of it, that she found her response to be disgraceful. That might still take some doing, and Kate may find that she remains prone to emotional outbursts because that is her life, but...recovery was possible. Indeed, she felt strong and stable enough, with Sara's concern and understanding alongside her. The contact with her knee was surprising, but...not unwanted. It was like an acknowledgement of her, an acceptance of her being that the brunette appreciated.

Still, the question lingered. Katherine related the facts in a distant, saddened voice. She had come to terms with this one faster, even though it hurt a great deal. At thhat time, she did not sink, but swam. Her mother explained the situation in no uncertain terms, and she followed through to the necessary reaction accordingly. She had no choice.

"Mom's gone... We were living in Shiganshina, right up to the time they hit. She was too hurt to move, sent me away. Escaped with Eren and them, stayed with 'em until I was found by Aunt Hange."

The woman's full name had been Myra Zoe-Bellows. Strange that she kept the name she married into, despite all the things that had gone wrong in her husband. The truth was that they started out so well. Her eccentricities were fun, like a breath of fresh air in an otherwise drab and terrible old world. They found time to laugh in this world and fell in love. Jonathan just wasn't able to stand out from under the shadow she unknowingly cast over him. By the time he'd felt its effect, he had found himself failing at his trading business and finding the other grunt work he'd taken on the side to be harsh and unfulfilling...next to a woman who brilliantly calibrated the cannons, the rifle designs, the ODM Gears, and so forth...and even designed domestic things like better plumbing, locking mechanisms, and more. If a man only finds contentment in self-fulfillment and cannot find pride in the world of those at his side, he cannot co-exist with them, and that is how he turned to drinking, fighting, and becoming unreasonable. He just didn't realize just how much the woman truly could stomp him flat.

"I'm doing what I can to help fight the Titans... I can't do much more than that. I have very little else."
All in all, Isaac would have to say that command wasn't easy, but for different reasons than Jean.

You see, the Darcsen Corporal was outside in the gas, and you just know that it was madness and death out there. Shouts and desperate screaming, the occasional gunshot, and very probably the sound of death gagging on yellow gas that reminds you of the stuff pushing out of volcanoes...provided you ever studied any. Isaac had not, so the thought of 'poisonous gas' didn't really occur to him, certainly not with purpose. Britta could be said to be the same, on that point. Still, none of that was the point. The point was that Jean was out in it, and Isaac was ordered to basically take command of the squad and do nothing to help his friend in particular, his friend who could've died if not for these masks. He was ordered to stand around and prepare to leave, and leave him essentially behind to catch up later. That was not an easy thing to ask Isaac to do.

Equally, he didn't like to suddenly let Britta break off to go check on what the commotion was upstairs, but he knew that she could handle it. I mean, come on. Machine gun... So, when she came back down with Michael and Lucia, no automatic fire involved, he was relieved. Of course...he also saw the blood...which was LESS appealing. It meant that he could cross off 'accidental weapons discharge' as a cause of the problem, since...they weren't exactly wounded, as far as he could tell. All of this soon came to a head as three things happened: Number one, there were gunshots aplenty outside and much closer. Number two, Luke came in - exhausted and helmetless - saying he'd gotten as many people out as he could and they had to leave NOW. And Number Three, Jean came back in through the window as a shot rang through the room, followed by machine gun fire that had Isaac shouting for everyone to take cover, and then Jean telling them that they had to leave, NOW.

So, the urgency level of this already pretty-fucking-urgent situation just ramped up a helluva lot.

"Alright, we're leaving! Everyone not helping Jean, follow me! Britta, read guard! Wait, what're you-"

The lady Gunner had crept on over to a spot not far from Jean's cover to suddenly put up her machine gun and fire a nice left-right-left sweep of suppressing fire. She lowered it again and looked over to Jean, smiling though she knew he could not see it.

"I know I can't stay, but I want 'em to at least think twice about coming in, full steam. Good luck, Jean."

And with that, she fell into position to get make sure nobody fell behind as they headed towards the back way out, front Gunner leading and rear Gunner guarding. Isaac spoke up as they went, saying "We're gonna go right through the buildings, no question. Can't see anything through this fog. Can't see if anyone wants to shoot you.". Now, they were heading outside. As Luke had seen before, the back was as fogged with the deadly yellow stuff as the front was. It was full of yellow smoke and signs of death and violence and also...

"Franz?!"

Dammit, had he miscounted?! He thought Franz had been among them already, but he was here. He was here and he was stabbing a man to death. Or rather...he was stabbing a man to mulch. He just kept bringing it down again and again, shouting something that Isaac couldn't even make out. It was just this loud rambling and a repeated question. Why...why won't he answer? He was shouting at the corpse to speak up? Why?! Britta was right... Franz was under as much a strain as Jean, only he wouldn't even talk about it when she was trying to help him. Isaac had never seen this before. Never! His hand suddenly went out and grabbed the other soldiers' wrist as his hand rose to stab again, gripping it tightly so he couldn't move it again.

"Franz! Franz, STOP! He's dead! He can't hurt anybody!"

He hoped to god the man wasn't gonna flip out on him, right then and there, but he didn't know how else to get his attention. They had to leave, get away from here as fast as they could and hope that Jean, Freya, and Marathon made it.

"Fall in with the rest. We're getting at least four blocks out of this while Jean secures our escape."
The silence had been filled with Katherine internally debating with herself on the matter, to settle whether to talk or just stop this immediately. The argument tipped slightly in the favor of talking once it became clear that Sara was wanting to hear, and that she even seemed like it mattered to her if she heard. Her eyes nearly shut as she exhaled through her nose again, summoning the courage to approach it, to mmake believe that she was not facing the fear alone then, because she wasn't facing it alone here.

"I was just..."

A little girl, cute as a button.

"...a child. I didn't really understand anything, not like I do now."

At that age, who could? But then again, she had a mind that led to this kind of intellect anf ability. It may have been something more fundamental than the mere acquisition of knowledge...and boy it was, most definitely.

"I didn't focus on things like Titans and anything other than normal kid things, along with a bit of learning. I didn't know what they were arguing about... I was just trying to read in mom's work room. Usually never an argument there, but...that time there was...and I couldn't...I didn't..."

He grip on herself tightened now, like white-knuckling at this point. Her next words were haunted, as this was something that she was having the devil's own time coming to terms with.

"My father was a monster. He wasn't like a person when he hit me. He was like one of them. I couldn't...I couldn't defend...I couldn't run...trapped.... He just kept beating, he...he wasn't human...!"

He was. Jonathan, her father, was all-too-human. He was discontent, underappreciated, belligerent while drunk, and yes...prone to violence. This may've made him seem like a Titan to a child, causing all kinds of complexes, but he was but a man, and was ended as such. Anyone with a high enough clearance really could access the file on the Bellows Murder Case. It featured a young Katherine Bellows beaten halfway out of her mind and-

"My mother stopped him, she...just killed him, like you would a bug. It was just...crunch...and over. And he just...and I...and I ran away, right into my own skull. Couldn't handle it..."

She was actually starting to shed tears and she was about to tear the skin of her legs with her fingernails, because now that Kate had about as much as she needed to confront the image of her dad beating her half to death...she was mad at herself for retreating. She didn't excuse herself for it. It was too much for her, and she didn't take any solace at all that her reaction was normal to...the beating or the sight of Myra Bellows shoving a degraded pipe through a man's neck, snapping it instantly and sending blood all over the place.
There were two things that stuck out in Isaac's mind at this time. The first was that he had never felt so scared of something so common and mundane as a mist, a smog, a smoke... He had never come across anything like it in his life. Hell, nobody had, if this was a new kind of weapon. The second thing he noticed was that, until that moment, he had never heard Britta panicked before. In retrospect, it made sense, though. The things she was afraid of most were losing those close to her, not her own life. Isaac had to admit a feeling like that, as well, especially since this was not the way he wanted the Charpentiers to end. After all he'd been through, Jean deserved something more akin to 'And he lived to a ripe old age, where he eventually died, surrounded by loved ones'.

Really, Isaac was just senimental, that way. His own father said that's how he wanted to die.

Right now, dying was something that people were very much wanting to get out and away from. He and Britta, calling out to get people to evacuate the building before they died and those of their squad to have their masks on. He noticed that Victoria, their new recruit, passing that information along, and that was proper...though she seemed a bit forceful, rough around the edges. She was gonna have to get use to working with the tune of the 15th, and soon. Somewhat more hopeful was the fact that Luke announced that he was going to check on other areas and make sure everyone was pulling out of here. Guess even an asshole knows when to draw the line and do something right. Isaac soon, however, got direct attention from Jean. Because he felt he was getting muffled severely by his mask, Isaac shouted "You got it!", regardless of whether he needed to or not when he heard the orders given.

"Alright, 15th Squad! All personnel, fall in and prepare to evacuate out the back!"

He started calling names, enunciating as much as he could to be understood. He only called first names, not rank or last names. It was just what he'd gotten use to. Even Baines and Marathon were called by Freya and Thomas. He called off everybody's names, and saved Luke for last, since he knew what it was that he was up to, at the moment.

"Luke, you'd better be getting people out or heading back this way, right now!"

He went through the whole list, making sure he could actually recognize those that were here with their mask on. Isaac felt antsy, though. He wanted to be moving around, getting people moving on. This way felt weird to him, but he was basically getting the pack coordinated and preparing to lead. He didn't like this. Jean went out into the smoke, maybe to find other people who were struggling out there. He couldn't see much of anything out there. The yellow stuff kept pouring out and out, like it had a neverending supply. He hoped that everyone would make it here, safe and so-

BANG!

Isaac and perhaps everyone here turned their heads to the shot. That was upstairs! Britta turned to him, just calling his name. He could just about picture her worried face behind the mask, as she was thinking what he was: Someone was attacking their people to get the masks. It was obvious what they were for, now that this sickly yellow stuff was around. Isaac shouted "Go!", and Britta took off. Jean had ordered him here, to make sure everyone was prepared to leave, and he wouldn't like that he let her go, but dammit she was a Gunner they both knew that one of them had to go see what that shot was. The lady Gunner headed upstairs rather quickly, for someone hauling a heavier weapon and the bullets to feed it. Nevertheless, she headed for where she thought the shot was from, looking into room after room for some terrible sign of distress, blood, a body...

Oh, there were bodies, alright...but they were not what Britta had expected.

You can't see her face right now, but as soon as she saw the scene, her stern and worried look turned up a few notches as she realized they'd completely overlooked the few Imperial soldiers who'd still been here, the whole time. With the peace of the inn destroyed, they had practically no other options than to do what they came to do, but they had ultimately died trying. Given what state they might've been when this happened, they may as well have been happier dead this way, given how Catherine had died. Isaac hadn't seen, but she'd seen and she didn't want to see more of that, of any of their squad going that way, or Jean, or him.

Her sudden shock, still catching her breath from making her quick check of the rooms, finally poured into relief as she saw Michael and Lucia, both alive and well here. For the moment, she didn't care which one of them had done it or if it was both at once. She didn't care, because they were alive, and they would keep on living. The death of these two men in a place of neutrality was terrible, but it was at least cleaner than what awaited them, coming in from outside. Her machine gun thankfully didn't have to report any danger here to Isaac and the squad. Not yet. He'd be relieved at that.

"Alright, you two. Make sure your masks are on tight and get on ahead of me. We're heading out. I'll cover us in case there's any more Imperials looking to take our masks. We may have to...walk through that stuff."

Jean was out there, doing just that. She hoped he was alright...and that these things actually worked.
ISAAC BLACK

Britta Hagen


It was a damn good thing she was here, because in the midst of all this trauma that Jean was going through, they had almost missed the outright tragedy that was Diana's life, even before her inclusion into to the war. The most that Isaac had noticed was that 'Something's wrong with her', and that could be said for alot of them. Isaac's attention to Jean or Lucia had been largely due to the amount of active suffering that he could clearly see. He didn't know what could be distressing someone like Diana because he didn't know her that well. Truthfully, neither had Britta, but she did this thing that Isaac wasn't as good at: Asking people. When Britta DID, she got so much unpacked, right then and there, that she could scarcely believe how much of an asshole Richard Donster could be, and how blindingly-stupid Diana's sister, Astra, could be. It was even more-so when Diana told her that Astra wished that her own flesh and blood would die in the war. There really was no limit with some people, was there?

As much as I want to help Diana pull together so she can pull her own family together, some of these people could really use a punch to the face. It was like the Donsters and the Vastergoths lived in a whole 'nother world, away from common sense or the war altogether. That was the real tragedy. Something tore those people apart, and Britta had the thought in their head that it was each other. She'd never seen an actual feud between families before, so for something like that to be long-lived and generational was both foolish and unnatural. It couldn't be sustained for so long without people on both sides practically forcing it along. Kind of like this war. Well, at least they were all safe in...Castleton? That's in Isaac's territory, Edinburgh... Didn't he mention that that's where the crazy girl came from? They actually met, apparently.

I wonder if we could all meet after the war... Not Middleton. He'd only ruin such a gathering. But the rest of us, maybe...

She continued to listen about the Vastergoth family with Diana until attentions were turn to...to... Well, will you look at that? Jean was dancing. There was hope for him yet. Where was Isaac? He'd want to see this. Ah, there... Against the wall on the other side. She'd swing over after telling Diana, "I'm gonna check on a few things now.", and heading the long way around. ISaac was smiling as he watched this sudden and unexpected spectacle.

"So, is everything alright on your end of things?"

"Yeah, things are okay. I think they may even be able to stand Luke, eventually."

"For his sake, let's hope so."

"Everything alright with Diana?"

"Maybe not now, but in future, perhaps. The Vastergoths are very supportive of the Darcsens, and people don't like that. So, Luke-"

"-naturally stuck his foot in it and reminded her of all her problems at home."

"More of that than you know. Her family isn't like yours. They're a very important and troubled people."

"Anything I can do?"

"You promised to teach her cards, didn't you?"

"That's true."

And once Jean was put in a bright-eyed mood by his dance with Reyna and he made his announcement, Isaac resolved to do just that. At the very least, he would teach and play games between the three of them. It'd make at least Diana herself feel better. So, over he went with a deck of cards in hand and the silver-gray Gunner close at hand. They'd play into the night, and then finally the company of the 15th Atlantic Rifles would turn in and get some sleep.

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Now, admittedly, we have to give Jean credit here. Waking up into ANY situation in the morning without a hangover is a blessing, to be sure. As much as it was just slightly bothersome to not be able to have even a couple drinks before bed, getting up with your head intact was definitely a plus...especially when somebody is trying to kill you.

The night had been spent in their uniforms. They didn't like it, not when there was a bed that demanded their enjoyment properly, but to set a good example, the NCO and the lady Gunner had to set a good example. Well, some good examples... They were still sharing a bed, after all, and by morning, the two of them were holding each other for extra comfort, smiling at thoughts of the previous night. They woke up and gave each other a mock salute, snickering as they distangled from each other and got up to stretch. All their stuff was here, as per preparations, even ammo. It was a real pain to unload their machine guns, because THIS is where the real jamming started. Trying to pull it out would snag the belt, and then worse, some of the bullets would pop out and have to be re-belted. Isaac and Britta had to do this last night outside, in accordance with the Inn's rules, before turning in.

"Everything check out?"

"Mmm-hmmm. Gun, knife, evil-looking serrated blade - all here."

"That thing's not chewing through the holster, is it?"

"Only the bottom part. It's fine."

Some of their spare weapons were more dangerous, than others. The weird hatchet-like prybar in Isaac's belt wasn't nearly as problematic for storage. So anyway, they headed on down into the Inn common area where Jean was, already. He looked good. Well, better, at least. The Corporal was talking pleasantly with Catherine on the matter of the Inn, post-war, and neither of the Gunners wanted to interrupt. That said...something else did. They all heard a sound...one that was quite unforgetable.

The last time Isaac heard something like that, there was a boom and a shock and he couldn't hear for a while, after.



This time, it was different, though. For, as Jean and then he and Britta observed, it was a curious thing... It looked like they were launching smoking mortars, but...there was no explosion. You would definitely hear it, even from far away. Everyone who'd been in this war knew that. With all those shots, it was seeming like there was a whole lot of nothin' going on. Wait...

"Smoke? Is it smoke to get in undetected?"

"That's alot of smoke, then."

"Could be a new way to sneak in an army."

He'd been hearing some idle chatter about them testing out no ways of waging war. His Drill Sergeant said as much in training, but he also heard it on the train. Nobody he'd listened to that much had any details, just that it was something they were doing to keep in pace with the Imperials. Good thing... Those damn machine gun cars were murder. It wasn't long before one of those shells started whistling overhead, though. Isaac's newfound fear of being bombed to pieces came out, suddenly.

"Aw shit... TAKE COVER!!"

There was, of course, no boom. It hit the pavement, there was alot of glass from the impact, but if anybody had been taking Isaac's advice, you wouldn't get any glass in your eyes, face, or anything else. And it's not like the lack of previous booms didn't mean that ALL of these launches were - he assumed - smoke bombs. They could've had surprise artillery...maybe. Now, Jean and Catherine had been outside when this nearby thing came down, which Isaac felt he'd have to have a word with Jean later about, but he wasn't gonna get a chance to, not for a while. Something happened, all of a sudden... The top popped off of that canister in the road and a...a kind of yellow smoke began to hiss out of there. It was thick and spreading, almost like it was alive... Isaac stared at it, his mind not quite able to articulate that sinking feeling, that dread of what the smoke could be. It wasn't normal smoke. Stuff you confuse people with isn't yellow. It's just smoke. This, though... This wasn't smoke.

"What the hell is that?"

"I don't know... It looks sick."

It DID look sick. Isaac felt an insecure sensation inside, like watching a swarm of bees come upon you, angry about their wrecked nest. Britta was thinking of Yellow Fever, as strange as that sounded. They were both brought out of it as they heard Jean struggling with the door. Dammit, he was trapped out there! It was jammed somehow! When did THAT happen?! Isaac went for the door with his prybar and started trying to leverage it. He couldn't kick it open because it was a damn solid oak door stuck in the frame.

"Dammit...can't...move it!"

This is why a prybar should really be a long piece of steel and not a little hatchet-wedge! You'd get out of doors like this in no time! Isaac didn't see what happened next, but Britta did as Jean did. He was still trying to do more than crack the frame and/or the door when he heard the purpose of the yellow gas...

"Isaac, hurry! The smoke'll kill him! It already got Catherine!"

"Nothing doing! It needs a battering ram! Jean, just get out of there!"

"What about everyone else?!"

"Has to be a back way out! We have to-"

Just then, the windows were busted all the way by...what the hell?! No wait, that was Jean, shouting at them and pointing to his mask. Sounded like he wanted them to put them on. The masks? Isaac's eyes shot open for a moment, remembering those creepy miner masks they said would protect them in tunnels in sewers. Good god... That's not what they were for! They knew this would happen! Isaac took the weird thing out from under his webbing, as did Britta. They put the things on, pretty much as Jean did. You could just about hear the muffled cursing from Isaac before he started shouting as loud as he could.

"Everybody out! The back way, ANY way! Just get away from the smoke!"

He didn't even know if he could be understood in this thing. He couldn't think straight, right now. It was stuffy in this thing, he was freaking out just about everyone he came across who hadn't seen or heard of these masks, and it looked like the army was surrounding him and the squad in a cloud bank of poison... He and Britta were both practically forcing people to find a safe way out, making sure everyone who had a mask was wearing one.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

RIKES


He was en route to delivery point, as he was told. Another delivery to the others, and then back to the building, once his morning exercise was done. Had to stay strong, move around often. Needed to, so that when the loud whiny shots came and the enemy appeared, he was ready for them. Almost never that hard in the mornings, though. People are so sleepy and lazy, they don't have the energy of his own kind. Hadn't heard from one of them in a long time.

Wait...

There was a sound from far off, ringing in the air.

He tried to answer it... Nothing.

It didn't sound like another wolf, but it might've been. What if it were injured? There were...actually a number of them around. Were there a number of packs roaming through? He had to see. It could be important. He trailed the source of those sounds, along with strange heavy thuds in the ground he'd never heard or felt before. This could be dangerous. He-

New sound...

He'd never heard whatever that hissing was, because snakes do not...

What was that?

No, no no no no! Wrong! This is wrong! That fog is wrong! No no no! Get away from it! Away, away, away!

And he bolted as fast as he could, sensing there was something unnatural and terrifying in the air. There was only death, that way. Of that, he was certain. He men in the building could shout if they wanted, but he was not going into that!
Isaac was off checking stuff elsewhere, so let's focus on Britta, for now.

As stated before, there had always been something about the look in Diana's eyes that concerned the silver-gray Gunner, from a furrowed brow to a deep feeling of worry, dependent on the time of day or how she acting was at the time. The thing of it was that Diana seemed a rather sensitive sort for battle. Okay, who among them was really ready for this? The few that seemed that they were naturally-born for combat were equally scared by its dangers in some way or another. Isaac himself had said he was damn good at this, but he hated it thoroughly, and of course Britta had made her decision to go into battle willingly. Diana seemed like someone put-upon and cracking around the edges, sort of like with the pressures that Jean had to absorb, or like Lucia, but without specifically command or Middleton to reinforce that feeling. It just seemed like a genuine 'I wasn't meant for this sort of life'...at least until now, when Diana was breaking down over something that was definitely more than Luke shouting at her or the war in general This was why she asked Diana, point-blank, what was wrong.

What she found out answered a number of questions regarding Diana, in general, as well as the personal.

To begin with, her family were all sympathizers of the Darcsens, and therefore would pick up any sort of verbal abuse from others for having done such. People would likely drag the Vastergoth name through the mud for doing that if they hated Darcsens enough. This explained both the pride in her family name and even why - on top of the Corporal just having that effect on ladies as he did - Diana seemed fairly attracted to Jean, or even possibly obsessed. He had charm and her family was especially friendly towards them. Even still, her actual distress was in beign reminded of that Richard Donster. He joined while Diana was forced by conscription, and given his hatred of Darcsens in a sharper way than Luke, it sounded like they were big family rivals...but he seemed different when she saw him later.

Strange... Perhaps the harshness of the war got to him or he actually felt bad that someone of a big family name was being put through this. That first battle was a make-or-break for us all. Hell, I feel like Michael was probably alot more cheerful before it all started. At least, I hope so.

From there, she began to start talking of personal family business, indicating that things at home could be pleasant...right up until one of her siblings spoiled it for everyone else, up to and including an apparent intention to marry Richard. Definitely a family feud there, and perhaps a third reason as to why Richard would have to somewhat 'make polite' with Diana...being forced to think of her as a relative, no matter how much he probably didn't like it. Big family business wasn't something that Britta really had experience with. Isaac had a bigger family, and he was only somewhat different from her in lifestyle. 'Just a simple farmer, me', was his tag-line. Diana didn't belong here anymore than he did, and it was tearing at her almost as much as her family problems.

And then, there was the question of greed... That seemed to be a strong motivator in the family issue, as well. Michael worked on answering that one. Honestly, Britta just felt that greed was largely a dark temptation of the world held onto by those who just want too much, to the point where they deny it of others in an unhealthy and obsessive way, but Michael had a take on it that was surprisingly deep. She let him champion this end of things, and then the Gunner would do as Gunners did: Give plenty of support. As he said, sometimes it was all about finding something that is treasured dearly, and just wanting it more to oneself. That wasn't wrong, per se, but it could seem overtly selfish in the eyes of others. The only thing Britta objected to was that hope and prayer alone was all you needed. That was nice, but...let's be honest...it was what you did when you couldn't think of anything else, when all other ideas failed and you needed a miracle. Maybe Diana was at the end of a long chain, unable to grab a link higher, maybe not. What she wanted, at this point, was to make Diana feel like all hope was not lost because she might accomplish something if she set her mind to it.

"It sounds like what you want most is for your family to feel more like family and less of a competition, where your own family members would do anything to get some sort of an edge on you. If you really disapprove of Astra's actions, more than a mere sibling rivalry would incur, you should talk her out of it before she makes the mistake of forever associating your family with one that is so-greatly opposed to your personal values. And I mean that in more than just saving the family name, but because Richard sounds so hateful that he might end up harming your sister somehow just to get at the rest of you. He sounds petty enough."

She came closer to Diana, to make sure she had proper eye contact for this, because this was what was most important.

"If it hurts this much, then protect your family, Diana, and get them to see you as the caring person you are so that they won't be so spiteful."

She didn't know if that would really work, but it was a start, and from there...that's where you apply the hope.
Of course, the main reason Isaac started running at the mouth and shouting was COFFEE COFFEE COFFEE! He just wasn't prepared for the sudden surge of activity in his brain, overloading his impulses and deadening the headache in his brain. With that said, let's go over to our scorecard now to see how everyone was reacting to the super-caffienated card game invitation.

Diana was interested, but didn't know how to play and was basically pleading for Isaac and everybody else not to be so loud.

Jean was not interested, and as far as Isaac could tell, he was also miffed about something...which was not unusual. Poor guy.

Luke was also not interested and grumbling about wanting to get back on duty, but that may've been more about having made Diana cry.

Michael...hadn't been in the room, but he'd heard Isaac and walked into the room to register his lack of interest.

Victoria wasn't even paying attention, and seemed way more intent on having words - and possibly fists - with Luke.

Boy, morale here is shit, isn't it? He couldn't even teach Diana right now, since she was in a really bad mood. Isaac did, however, say to her "Alright, I won't shout anymore. Sorry about that. It just sort of came out.", and that ended the idea of them all having a friendly card game together, trying to bind them together in some cohesive manner. They just didn't have the emotional glue to keep that all together. Well, you couldn't blame him for trying, anyway. He wondered, though... Where was Lucia in all this? She would've been all over this idea, and probably hook in at least Michael. So, that much was a bust, but...there was one other thing, a loose end, if you will.

"So... No more drinking, then?"

"Looks like."

"What do we do about that bottle of Scotch in our room?"

There was still roughly half a bottle of that stuff in their possession.

"I guess we'd better save if for a rainy day."

"Will Jean be alright with that?"

"He won't ask me to toss it out when I'm just holding onto it. He knows I wouldn't abuse the stuff."

He was just getting into the spirit of it, after all. Jean's main problem with the drinking problem was entirely to do with the drinking contest - or contests - that occurred yesterday. That kind of thing made him and Britta seem almost responsible. Well, almost... Drunken behavior had led to the two of them becoming involved, suddenly, when the closest thing they had was him making a promise not to leave her behind if there was trouble. It just sort of happened, and while Isaac had no regrets and Britta felt it was even worth doing, he still had to wonder if those were true feelings or just the habitual practices of someone under the influence. They'd bonded, but they were going to have to bond further than that to make it seem like it was completely of their own volition.

Still, Isaac was heading off to store the bottle of scotch in with their things so Jean couldn't, say, confiscate it. And he was gonna make sure the other Oceanics and anyone else who hadn't heard Jean's proviso of not imbibing anymore was aware of the fact. It was their commander's order, after all, and he was going to make sure it was followed. Because...Jean was right. Getting plastered on the first day was one thing, but keeping it up to the point where it'd interfere with their mission was a bad idea. So, with Isaac off doing that, Britta decided to hang around and make sure that Diana was going to be okay. Victoria was already after Luke, so she just decided to take a seat near Diana and Michael.

...when Diana began to seriously break up, suddenly, she could tell that something big was wrong. Luke was offensive, but you had to remember that there were things up with that girl long before he showed up. Like with Franz, Britta could tell that something deeper and darker lay with in.

"Diana? What is it? What's really wrong?"
Armin?

Her eyes lit up at the mention of the blonde cadet's name. He was always trying to be the voice of reason among the trio she ran with. It...didn't always work, even when Kate herself pitched in, but she could appreciate him using his brain when his body could do comparatively little. Kate usually helped Eren and Mikasa get him out of any jam involving bullies. He hated his weakness, but she respected his mind, so it made him feel a little better, in the long run. It was a surprise to hear that Sara was related to him and possibly Commander Levi. If that were true, the combined abilities would make a truly-impressive person. You could even apply such thoughts to Kate herself. She had certainly gained from her...both of her parents.

Kate's train of thought worked against her, for a moment, as she kept being brought back to the same pointed issue, the problem that followed her and that she could not escape: If Sara was so good at what she did from two bloodlines that might encompass physical ability and considerable thought-process, then it would be fair to say that she easily inherited similarly...and that her stamina, her speed, and her aggression were something she did not take after her mother. She had been hit, but only one act in her life showed true attention to these categories over her brains. One moment where she was cool and calculating in her action, whereas Kate experienced deep anger. She hated it, but it was another aspect that came tumbling out when Grisha Jaeger became her doctor.

Right now, the Brunette took a seat, as well, eyes cast down. She muttered something like "We're all a sum of our parts...", not looking altogether pleased by that thought. It both disturbed her and made sense, at the same time. Kate tucked in her knees and gripped them now, exhaling deeply through her nose.

"Those three...Eren, Armin, Mikasa... They've been my world, ever since Mr. Jaeger tried to pull me out of a...well, he called it a fugue state. It didn't fully work, but I responded, so he asked them to help me out, to bring me out in full. I don't know if they succeeded, or if...I rebuilt myself from what I saw in them. Some things came out that I didn't want...but I had to live with them...especially since it's what I use to kill the Titans. I'm a little worried now that I am exactly what I was meant to be now...and that I won't like it if I let myself think about it."

There was...a thing that she was protecting herself from thinking too hard about, by throwing her mind into every other thing, but with her being as inquisitive as all that, it seemed inevitable that she would be brought back to the same thoughts, the same things she wanted to distance herself from. The wet crunch, the splash, the red...the lack of regret... It was too much for a child's eyes, and even an adult mind didn't want to be a part of that. Her friends, though? Her fellow survivors of Shigenshina? They knew everything, and they did her the favor of not bringing it up. Kate was now letting somebody else be in the know, as much as she could force it out at a time, for the first time in her life. Other times, she'd just lock up, but now...half of her wanted to shut up and the other half wanted to get it out.
As soon as she'd asked it, Katherine wondered if that was really the best question to ask. If her basis for asking at all had been because of her look, then it'd be reasonable to say that plenty of people had before, and that perhaps she might get tired of it. Nevertheless, that was what had come out of her mouth and she would have to live with the results. It was, therefore, very fortunate to find Sara willing to speak on that matter, but the answer confused her. Her mother had mentioned underground areas before. She helped with the piping for heat and ventilation, making sure that it was livable or that you could at least work down there. Doing what? She hadn't said. No, she never really cared much beyond the utility purpose of it all.

Maybe I was always like her, and that I'm not even suffering from personal issues anymore. Maybe I'm already cured, and this is just what it's like for me.

Well, if it was, it could've done better. The only things that her mother seemed to love was her work, her daughter, and- No, two things. Just two things. She could never have... Kate shook her head, quietly. You could mistake it for not liking what she might've heard about the underground aaround Wall Sina, but the truth is that she never knew anything about it. She heard more about the terrible treatment of refugees from Maria. Kate was a part of that for a while, 'till she was allowed to train and was discovered by her Aunt. Still, the shaking of the head was in reference to the other thing. The unmentionable thing. The unwanted thing.

"I can understand wanting to blot that out. There is alot that..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"...you and your perfect job and your your easy life! Well, what about ME?!"

"Jonathan, stop that IMMEDIATELY!!"

"Or what, you frail little-"


There was naught but a choking sound and ALOT of red...

"I warned you..."


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Kate winced, visibly, pulling her thoughts as far away from that as possible.

"But I understand, I do. There's so much that's happened. Still, it's good that you got out. I didn't know that conditions were so bad down there."

She shook her head.

"I wondered because you seemed unique and special, so I thought perhaps your family might've been rare like Mikasa's had been."

That was her explanation for it, that Sara had been like her longtime friend who was originally of an eastern-type family that married into the Ackermans. This...was actually a curious thought. Mikasa and Levi were potentially blood relatives on the Ackerman side. Had to wonder, then... Did that girl get all her skills from the Ackermans, or because she was herself? How much did that really matter? Both were impressive fighters. Perhaps it was something, perhaps it was nothing. Either case, it was clear that whatever Sara's own background, she had come into her own place in life rather well.
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