“Come on, get up,” Karl insisted, kicking his foot on the leg of her bed.
Hilde opened groggy eyes to see that the sun had yet to come up. Anais sat in the nearby desk chair, arms crossed over her chest and a smug expression on her face. “Time to start pulling your weight,” she said simply.
“The doctor says that you’re ready,” Karl said, beginning to turn away. “Let’s go.”
“He’s going to train me?” Hilde asked, sitting up.
“The Left Hand of the Devil himself. Consider yourself fortunate.” Anais was grinning, finding absolute amusement in the turn of events.
“You’re enjoying this too much,” Hilde growled.
“Downstairs in five minutes!” Karl snapped from the doorway.
“For the record, I blame you,” Hilde told Anais.
The other woman only laughed.
“I feel like I’m back in the cadet corps,” Hilde puffed at the noon meal.
“Yeah, for being off the street, Karl is a real stickler,” Anais agreed. “But he’ll have you whipped back into shape in no time.”
“I can believe that,” Hilde muttered.
There was not a part of her body that did not hurt. Even though Karl had started her off simply enough, he still had her doing repetitions. Lots of them.
Lunges, side-straddle hops, pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups. All of it she had to do at least fifty times, and to Karl’s precise standards. One mistake and she was made to start over.
She was made to start again many times those first few weeks.
As she got better, the exercises became more intense with weight training and running added into the mix.
Sprints especially antagonized her still healing ribs.
“Come on, Newbie!” came the calls as the morning joggers ran past her.
“I’m trying…” she panted, though there was now no one to hear her.
When Karl called a break, she dropped to her knees and rolled onto her back. She then watched the clouds roll by as she caught her breath.
“Get some water,” Karl said, kicking her foot. “Walk it off.”
Hilde labored to her feet, coughing once as she trudged over to the well. The bucket was empty, meaning that she would have draw up fresh water herself.
“You’re wasting time, step it up!” Karl yelled.
Hilde scowled but did as she was told. However, no sooner had she pulled the bucket back up and taken a few sips, then he was yelling at her again.
“Yes, sir!” she answered, dropping the ladle and breaking into a trot.
As time progressed, Hilde was participating more in the group exercise drills. She was still slower than many of the Black Cloaks, but she could see that she was making progress.
Karl drilled her less on certain activities, but still made her run.
“You have to build your endurance back up,” he growled one day when she had taken a premature break. “A squad is only as strong as its weakest member.”
Winded and sore, she got back up and started running again.
The next morning when she reported for training, Karl tossed her a practice knife. “You’re the bad guy,” he said simply.
Holding the knife parallel to her forearm, Hilde lunged forward. Karl only stood there until the last possible moment, then sidestepped. Hilde stumbled right on by.
“Again,” Karl commanded.
Over and over Karl made her attack him. Over and over she failed.
“Are you even trying?” he asked, offering her a hand up after having sent her face first into the dirt.
Frustrated with having been made to look foolish, Hilde took his hand and pulled.
Karl fell towards her, but tucked into a roll at the last moment. He barreled into Hilde before using the momentum to send her up and over.
The entire time, he still gripped her hand, and now had his legs wrapped around her shoulder and neck. Her arm, he held extended and twisted out behind her.
“That’s more like it,” he said as he let her go. “I was beginning to wonder if this was going to be a waste of my time.”
Scowling, Hilde got to her feet, rolling her shoulder back and forth.
“You defend now,” he said, picking up the knife.
He came at her with sweeping strikes that forced Hilde to duck and sidestep. His countenance was calm and measured as he continuously circled about her.
His confidence only pissed her off.
When he next swiped at her, she grabbed his arm as she stepped into his attack. Pivoting her hip toward him in the same motion, she then made to flip him to the ground.
However, he caught her between the legs with the crook of his arm and threw her down to the ground with him.
Hilde lay on her back where she landed, the wind knocked out of her. “There is no way that you can be human,” she coughed, pulling her legs up in response to the pain in her ribs.
Karl crouched on his heels, assessing her. “It’s not very useful against titans, but it will settle an unruly trainee.”
“I am no trainee,” she sputtered.
“No, you’re not,” Karl agreed, offering her a hand up. “But you do need to keep your temper in check.”
Back on her feet, Hilde started to dust herself off. Karl was still looking at her pointedly.
“You’ve been out there, you know how important it is to not let emotions get the better of you.” He then bent down and retrieved the practice knife. “That will be all for today.”
Hilde sank into the hot water of the bath with a sigh of relief.
“So how’s the training coming?” the older woman, Faye Dunn, asked. She was lounging at the far end of the tub, cloth draped over her eyes.
And she was in Karl’s squad under Ellis.
“I spent the day getting my ass handed to me,” Hilde groaned.
“Ouch,” Faye said. “Normally, Karl doesn’t concern himself too much with new recruits…”
“Our Hilde has been quite popular lately,” Anais said, joining them in the tub.
“Well, if they could keep to themselves and leave me be, I would be happy,” Hilde grumbled, resting her head back against the rim of the tub.
“Pay them no mind,” Faye said gently. “They always sniff around the new girls. They seem to think that they’re the last men alive.”
“Yeah, but some of them can be fun,” Anais giggled.
“And that is my point,” Faye said, stepping out of the tub. “Only little boys and girls chase each other around on the playground and trade favors.”
“Cow!” Anais sputtered.
Faye flashed Anais a rude gesture as she wrapped a towel around herself and walked toward the door. “You girls have a good night.”
“What cheek,” Anais muttered.
“She is right,” Hilde said softly. “You have always had questionable tastes in men.”
“Yeah, well at least I didn’t start a new life because I was scared that someone loved me!” Anais blurted out.
Hilde jerked as if she had been slapped. “Excuse me,” she said, making to get out of the tub.
“I’m sorry, Hilde!” Anais cried, reaching for her. “I didn’t mean it.”
“No, it’s alright. I just remembered that I had something I needed to do.”
Hilde retreated back to her room and barred the door. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes as she fell back onto the bed.
“What am I doing here?” she whispered.
But the walls had no answer.
They sat back to back, leaning against the trunk of the tree. It was the only form of close physical contact which they allowed each other while beyond the wall.
Hilde had been dozing when Mike spoke. “I love you, Hilde,” he said softly, lacing his fingers with hers. “I just wanted you to know that.”
“I know,” she murmured.
“So how would you feel if I were to ask you to transfer out of the Survey Corps?”
He had been kneading and massaging her hand, but she pulled away.
“And what would you have me do?” she asked. “Join the Military Police? Or the Training Corps?”
“You would do a lot of good at the Training grounds…” he trailed off.
“No,” Hilde said. “If I wanted to be ‘safe’, I would have married whatever boy my father had chosen for me.”
“I want to look after you, to protect you,” Mike argued.
“Yes, but I didn’t ask you to,” she said.
“Shut up!” came a hiss from a nearby branch.
“We’ll finish this later,” Mike said, settling against the trunk of the tree.
“Fine,” Hilde answered, moving to another limb.