Timeline: year 838, early spring
Hanji was scared. Really scared. And not the kind of scared you get when you’re facing Titans. No, this scared was much worse. It had been around midday; she had been out on patrol with the other members of her squad when she found out what happened.
“Hanji, I’m sorry but…your parent’s home was attacked by bandits. Both your mother and father were killed and…your sister is nowhere in sight.”
The moment she heard that, her body froze, as if she had been plunged into icy water. She had then promptly turned her horse in the opposite direction her squad was patrolling, and bolted in the direction of her home, Jinae City. “Come on!” Hanji urged her horse, “Run faster!”
Hanji finally reached the city a few hours later. She blew through the streets, nearly knocking people off their feet, like a woman-and-horse hurricane. She didn’t stop her horse until she was right in front of her home, which was surrounded by members of the Military Police. Quickly dismounting, the 20-year-old pushed past the MPs in her way, and ran in. As she stepped through the front door, Hanji stopped and took in the sight before her. The chairs around the table had been overturned, and blood covered the floor. Two bloodstained canvas tarps were on the floor, covering what Hanji knew to be the bodies of her mother and father. Not wanting to linger, Hanji collected herself before she lost it, and hurried up the stairs to look for her baby sister, calling out her name as she went.
“Hana! HANA! Where are you?”
Hanji was walking down the upstairs hallway when she heard it. Turning around, she walked back down the hall, and entered her old bedroom. Pausing in the doorway, she listened for the sound again. “Hana? Are you in here?” Then she heard it again: the tiniest of muffled whimpers, coming from under the bed. Walking over to the bed, Hanji carefully pushed the heavy piece of furniture out of the way, revealing the trap door to the crawl space under the top floor of the house. Opening it, she called out her sister’s name again, “Hana? Sweetie, please be in here, it’s Hanji, your sister, remember?”
Out of the corner of her eye, Hanji saw movement, and when she looked over she saw the tiny form of her five-year-old sister, tear-stained blue eyes shining in the shadowed space. Sighing with relief, Hanji reached her hand out toward her.
“It’s okay, Hana. The bad men are long gone,” Hanji’s voice wavered slightly, “You can come out now, you’re safe.”
Hana hesitated slightly, vaguely recognizing the lady that looked like her mommy. When she said her name, Hana then realized who she was and clambered out of the crawl space, and into her waiting sister’s arms. Hanji caught her, and wrapped her Recon Corps cloak around her sister’s tiny form, the hem of the cloak dragging on the floor. Picking Hana up, Hanji sat on the bed, and held her as she started crying again.
“Shh, it’s okay, Hana, you’re safe with me. Don’t worry, sweetie, I won’t let anyone hurt you. You’re going to be okay, all right?” Tears slid silently down Hanji’s face as her body shuddered with grief. “Oh, Hana, I’m so glad you’re safe.”
“Mommy and Daddy aren’t coming back, are they?” came the small, hiccupping voice of Hana. Hanji held her sister tighter as she whispered, “No, they’re not. But they’re still with us, in spirit and in our hearts. Always remember that, ‘kay?”
As they sat there, holding one another, a sudden thought came to Hanji.
“Hey, Hana? How would you like to live with me?”
At this, Hana’s head jerked up, looking her sister in the eye, happy surprise shining all over her tear-stained face, her grief momentarily forgotten, “Really? I’ll get to live with you?”
“Yup,” said Hanji, smiling.
Hana’s eyes got even wider, “Will I get to learn how to be a cool soldier like you, too?”
Hanji chuckled, “Maybe when you’re a bit bigger, little duckling,” she replied, as she ruffled her sister’s curly brown hair.
“Hanjiiiii!! I’m not a duckling!” Hana exclaimed, pushing her sister’s hand off her head.
“Alright, you’re not a duckling, ‘kay?” Hanji said, placing a kiss on Hana’s forehead. “Now, we should get going if we want to get back by sunset. Is there anything you’ll want?”
Hana turned her head away from her sister to look contemplatively around her room. “Yes!” she cried, and, hopping off Hanji’s lap, scurried across the room to scoop up a toy bear that Hanji recognized as the one she had had made specially for Hana’s birthday the previous year.
“Okay. We’ll also need to pack your clothes,” Hanji said and, picking up a bag from the side of he room, proceeded to pack all of Hana’s clothing in it. When it was full, she slung it over her shoulder, and scooped up Hana, who had been telling her bear that they were going to live somewhere new with her big sister. Hanji pulled the hood of her cloak over Hana’s head and said in a serious voice, “Hana, I want you to keep the hood up until we’re out of Jinae, alright? Keep your face buried in my shoulder until I tell you so, okay?” Noticing her serious tone, Hana nodded and proceeded to do so as they walked out of the bedroom and down the hallway.
When Hanji reached the downstairs, the MPs looked at her in shock when they saw the green clad figure in her arms. When one of them made to approach her, she shot him a look that made him freeze where he stood, allowing Hanji to walk out of the house and approach her horse without any further interruptions. She hoisted Hana up onto the saddle, and then carefully mounted the horse. After some slight adjustment of herself and her sister, Hanji ushered her horse forward, and they took off southeast, in the direction of the Recon Corps HQ.
“Enter,” came a booming voice from inside the office. Hanji opened the door with one hand, Hana’s hand held in the other, and entered the office.
“Commander Keith. I want you to let my sister live here,” Hanji said, point blank.
“Well, aren’t we blunt today. Why don’t you sit down, get comfortable, and we can talk about this first, before you go flying off the handle at me,” he said, without even looking up from his paperwork. This threw Hanji off slightly. She had expected an ‘I-said-no-and-that’s-final’ no-nonsense type of response. Next to her, Hana giggled softly, “He’s funny,” she said, pointing at the Commander. Keith looked up when he heard her voice.
“Ah, you must be Hana Zoe, then,” he said as he stood up from his desk, and walked around it to where the two were standing. Crouching down so that he was at eye level with Hana, he continued, “I am Keith Shadis, Commander of the Recon Corps,” he held out his hand for her to shake, which she did happily with both her own. “It’s very nice to meet you, Sir! I can’t wait to be a soldier like you an’ Hanji!”
“I like your enthusiasm,” he replied, and although his mouth didn’t move, it was easy to tell that Shadis had smiled by the way his features had softened. The Commander then stood to his full height and addressed Hanji, “Considering the circumstances, I will allow her to stay here at HQ. But,” he added, before Hanji could ‘whoop’ for joy, “Anything she may need – clothes, entertainment, and such – those expenses will come out of your salary. Am I clear?”
“Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!” Hanji saluted. Turning to leave, she said, “Come on, Hana. Let’s go get some dinner, ‘cause I’m starved! How about you?”
“Yup! I’m hungry too!” Skipping ahead of Hanji, Hana suddenly skidded to a halt right at the door, almost tripping on the cloak she was still wearing, and turned to look back behind her and say, “Thank you, Mr. Commander, Sir!” before leaving to catch up with Hanji.
When they entered the mess hall, it was already moderately crowded, the air filled with several conversations. Hanji led her sister to one of the tables closer to the wall, which weren’t as crowded. Dumping her backpack onto the bench and seating Hana next to it, Hanji then turned to prepare two plates. As she turned to walk back to the table, she almost crashed into her friends, Erwin Smith, and Levi Ackerman. Despite the fact that they had been in the trainee class above her, the three of them became fast friends when she entered the Corps.
“Hey, Hanji,” Said Erwin. “We were slightly worried when your squad returned from patrol without you this afternoon. What kept you?”
In response, Hanji pointed a single finger towards the table Hana sat at, patiently waiting for her return. When Erwin and Levi looked in the direction she was pointing, Hana looked over at them and waved in the enthusiastic manner of any five-year-old. “That,” she said, making eye contact with both men, “Is my sister, Hana. She’ll be living here now. So be nice,” Hanji directed the last part at Levi, with a look in her face that screamed ‘DON’T ASK WHY’. Walking back to her sister, she turned to look back at them, “Come introduce yourselves! Don’t be shy!” They followed her back to the table, where Hana was swinging her legs back and forth, looking even smaller and cuter with the overlarge Recon Corps cloak draped around her. When Hanji set a plate of food in front of her, Hana’s face broke into an enormous grin that warmed Levi and Erwin’s hearts.
“Here you go, duckling.” Hanji said, ignoring the glare Hana shot at her, “Oh, and this is Erwin and Levi,” she added, pointing toward the two men that had seated themselves across from the sisters, “Why don’t you say hi to th- Hana?”
When Hanji turned beside her to look at Hana, she noticed that Hana wasn’t sitting there. Looking around in a mild panic, she calmed down when she saw that her sister had moved to the other side of the table and was seated next to Levi, staring at him intently.
“What?” Levi asked, slight irritation showing in his voice. She just kept staring at him until finally she said:
“You’re really short.”
Erwin choked on his drink. Hanji however, was frozen half in fear for her sister’s well being and half from trying not to laugh. Levi, however, took a sip of his tea before setting down his cup, “I guess I am, but you know what?” He asked Hana, looking her right in the eye and then saying, “I’m still taller than you.”
“Yea, but not for long! Just you wait!” Hana exclaimed her face scrunched up in frustrated determination. Erwin was chuckling into his drink at her antics, so he didn’t notice Hana scamper over to his other side, and stare at his face. When he did notice, he gave her a questioning look, but she just kept looking at his face. Mentally, he braced himself for whatever she was about to say and sure enough:
“Why are there yellow caterpillars on your face?”
This time, Hanji spat out her drink, and Levi had to duck to avoid the spray of juice headed his way. When he sat back up and glared and Hanji, she had fallen off her bench and was now rolling on the floor, laughing so hard tears were welling up in the corner of her eyes. Erwin didn’t really know how to respond so he ruffled Hana’s hair and said, chuckling, “Those are my eyebrows, silly.” Gasping, Hana clapped her hands over her mouth in shock, staring at Erwin’s eyebrows with now wide eyes.
At this point, Hanji surfaced from the floor and sat back on the bench, still gasping for breath. She picked up her drink and took a long swig then set it down as she recollected herself. Hana, who hadn’t been paying attention to her sister in the slightest, just now noticed her gasping for air. Looking up at Erwin, she gestured toward him and when he leaned towards her, she whispered in his ear, “She’s really weird,” He merely chuckled, wisely deciding not to take sides.
“Oi, shitty glasses, you done over there?” Levi deadpanned at Hanji. The only response he got was a slap to the back of the head from Erwin and uncontrollable giggles from Hana, “What’s so funny?” he asked the giggly five-year-old.
“You said a bad word! Daddy says that’s a-”
Hana stopped suddenly and realized what she just said, as memories of the rest of the day came crashing down on her. Hanji, who had sobered up immediately, jumped up, backpack in hand, and hurried around the table to scoop up her sister, who was on the verge of tears. “I think-” she said as she tried to stem the tears that threatened to spill out of her own eyes, “I think we should be going to bed. Goodnight, Erwin. Levi.” And with that, Hanji turned and hurried out of the mess hall, the sorrow filled eyes of the two men following her until she was out of sight.
When Hanji entered her bedroom, she shut the door and let the backpack fall off her shoulder as she slid down to lean against the door, holding Hana close to her and stroking the girl’s curly hair in comfort, as her own tears spilled over and landed on Hana’s head, her body heaving with her sobs. They sat there for what seemed like an eternity, holding each other as they mourned for their parents. After several minutes, Hanji noticed that Hana had stilled, and when she looked at her, she realized her sister had fallen asleep crying. Wiping her eyes, Hanji stood up and walked over to the bed and set Hana carefully down on it. Pulling a child-sized nightdress out of the backpack, she then carefully removed Hana’s shirt and pants and pulled the pajamas over her head. Tucking her in, Hanji pulled the bear out of the backpack and placed it under the blanket, which was immediately engulfed within Hana’s arms, the sight putting a small, sad smile on Hanji’s face. She them began the long process of removing her military uniform, doing so without letting Hana out of her sight. After she pulled on a pair of lounge pants and an old t-shirt, Hanji walked around to the other side of the bed and placed her glasses on the small table next to it. She then pulled back the blanket and hunkered down under it. When she was comfortable, she pulled Hana’s small form closer to her and held her as she joined her sister in dreamland with tear tracks still glistening on both their faces.