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It Takes a Lot out of You

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The last thing Annie remembers is sealing herself away in the crystal.

It was a final resort, the only thing she could possibly do when cornered and desperate not to be caught. She wasn’t proud of restorting to such a thing, didn’t want to be trapped potentially forever in a prison of her own making, but she didn’t have much of a choice. Annie was desperate, she’ll admit, and that was the last move she could think to make.

But Annie fully expected to be trapped there for a while, if not forever, expected to wake up in the middle of where the military had finally carved her out of the crystal and were ready to torture her.

(She didn’t want that. She didn’t want that. She just wanted to go home to her father and forget how many people she’s killed.)

Instead, Annie wakes up on her back, aching everywhere, with no crystal in sight.

The world is a blur of pain at first, and it takes Annie a minute to realize where she is. She has to force herself to think, calm her rapidly beating heart and breathe and force her eyes to open, but when she does, she recognizes nothing.

She’s staring up at a sky that somehow feels more blue than any she’s ever seen, white puffs of clouds floating slowly across the empty sky. Twisting her head around reveals sparse woodland, a fence in the near distance, and trees so blurry even at this short distance that Annie has to close her eyes and reorient herself. Everything feels fuzzy and blurry, and she can tell already by the pounding behind her eyes that she has some kind of head injury. How bad, she can’t say.

The next thing Annie takes in is how badly she hurts. There’s pain arching and twisting through all of her body, and everything she can still feel feels mangled and crushed. Her limbs feel far away and numb, and there’s a stabbing pain working its way through her torso.

Her head is worst of all, pounding with agony even as she breathes. Her skull is probably cracked, if not worse, some kind of damage to her brain affecting her nerves and how well she can feel.

Annie is suddenly, painfully grateful that she can heal.

There’s absolutely nothing she can do to move, and, in a moment that she surely would have been punished for if she was back home, Annie gives up on trying. Her head hurts. She doesn’t want to go back.

All Annie can think about is what she can last remember; being revealed as a traitor, being hunted down like any other titan, seeing the scorn and hatred on the faces of the people she’d spent years with. It hurts. It hurts like a physical thing eating its way through her chest, and Annie is abruptly so glad that she never got close.

She can only imagine what this would feel like if she’d allowed herself to care, how much more pain she’d be in.

Annie laid there for an amount of time that she wasn’t really sure of, thinking and floating and hurting like nothing else. Her injuries had to be healing, if slowly, and she was only afraid of what would happen when they eventually found her. Whatever had happened, however she’d gotten away from the crystal and her pursuers, it was highly unlikely that they’d left her here to die so easily.

(That would have been better. She would have rather died where she was like the filthy pathetic cowardly traitor they all knew she was.)

But just when she was about to blur out of consciousness again, slowly giving up on her own continued existence, a person inched into her awareness somewhere above her.

Annie realized with a start that someone was standing over her. Her vision was still too blurry to make out much, but this had to be, had to be it. She was going to be captured and taken back to the military and tortured and forced to tell them everything about her home and she wouldn’t even have another chance to seal herself away.

Abruptly, panic set in, and, making some horrible croaking noise, Annie tried to scoot away. She knew that she couldn’t get far, as wounded as she was, but her body wouldn’t let her stay still.

It hurt to move. It hurt to think. Tears were rolling down her face hot and sloppy before she could stop them, and the panic that was worming its way into her chest felt like something with claws.

Above her, the person suddenly moved. Falling to your knees next to her, you gently grabbed her shoulders, ignoring the frantic, shuddering moan that slid out of Annie’s mouth and helping her sit up.

Somewhere lower than she could really feel, Annie’s limbs twitched and jolted in a desperate effort to get away, her breath pulling tight in her chest as the reality that she was going to die sunk in. It was painful already, she already felt like she was dying for the lack of breath in her chest, and she could only imagine how much worse it would be once you actually started doing something that hurt.

But instead, you started talking, low, soothing words that Annie’s frantic mind only half registered.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay. I’m not going to hurt you. Please stop moving before you hurt yourself. You don’t look like you should be moving yet. . .”

Your tone was soft and gentle, hands tender where they met with Annie’s clothed shoulders, and eventually, Annie quit trying to get away, slumping back into your arms with a rattling breath that felt like a death heave, all the air leaving her in one painful shudder.

“It’ll be okay,” you murmured, rubbing one hand over Annie’s shoulder in a motion that only made pain spark hot and tight in her chest. “I’m helping you, see? I’m not going to do anything bad.”

Annie didn’t believe it for a second. She knew who she was, what she was wanted for, and exactly who would be coming after her. Even if you weren’t someone who would do the hurting, you’d just turn her over to someone who would.

But there wasn’t a thing Annie could do about it. She felt tired and heavy, body sluggish and hot with pain. She knew she was healing, slowly, that these injuries wouldn’t kill her on their own, and that was the only bit of comfort she got before her consciousness started to fade, vision going blurry as she fought frantically to stay awake.

You could do anything to her while she was asleep. She could wake up in the custody of the military with no idea of how she got there and no last memories to hold onto before the pain started for good.

Annie didn’t want to sleep and wake up to that.

Injured as she was, she had little choice, and before long, Annie felt her eyelids starting to close.

With a last, miserable little whine, Annie passed out in your arms, bloody body going limp all at once as all the fight shuddered out of her. She collapsed heavy where you were holding her up, head lolling back at a bad angle as the willpower keeping her up all at once fell away.

And Annie slept.

. . .

When Annie woke up the second time, it was to pain burning bright and hot through every part of her.

Gasping, her body tried to shoot up, tried to sit up and wriggle away from the hurt, but no part of her would move. Agony was lancing through everything she could feel, which fortunately was everything this time, and Annie had only a moment to force her ragged breathing to calm, to force her spasming limbs to go still and accept the ache.

Eyes screwed shut, Annie tried to take note of what she could feel. She’d gone from being numb almost everywhere to being able to feel everything and every part of her, and that, at least, was a good sign.

As much as it hurt, it meant she was healing. Her body was starting to do what it was supposed to and fix her, and even if it felt like she was being torn apart, at least whatever had been wrong with her head had faded enough for her to feel all her extremities again.

Annie tried to count her blessings, tried to think that healing at least meant she could get away, but all she really thought of was the pain.

(It hurt it hurt it hurt it hurt it hurt it hurt it hurt it hurt it hurt why why why why why why did she have to live through this why couldn’t she have just died and been done with it all)

After a long moment of aching and trying to see what parts of her she could still wiggle, Annie was suddenly hit with the memory.

Someone had come to her. Someone had tried to move her. She was captured by someone who’s motives she didn’t know.

All at once, Annie’s blood ran cold.

Quickly taking note of her surroundings, hoping that she could figure out something that meant she would make it through this alive, Annie forced her eyes open and scanned the place where she had been left.

It was a bedroom, large and open, bigger than any personal room she’d ever been in. The furniture was strange and foreign, the designs unlike anything she’d ever seen before. It looked somehow more complex, more detailed than anything she’d seen, and while the basic concepts were still the same, the materials and styles seemed completely wrong.

Annie herself was lying on a bed padded with the softest blankets she’d ever felt. What she could feel brushing against her skin was vaguely like the expensive silk she’d once had a chance to touch on a mission, but even softer, somehow both woven and gentle against her skin. There were pillows behind her that were softer than anything had any right to be, and she was wrapped up in enough blankets that there was faint warmth all around her.

It was comfortable, shockingly so, and if it wasn’t for the sheer pain still bursting through every part of her, Annie thought this might be the most good she’d ever felt.

Warriors weren’t allowed to have soft beds and time to rest when they weren’t in use.

But that made no difference. Whatever reason she’d been placed in such a comfortable bed meant nothing. She was still a captive, still a prisoner, and she could be handed over to someplace much, much worse at any second. She wasn’t safe, she wasn’t safe at all, and with every bit of consciousness Annie got back she also gained a greater terror.

The reality of it all was slowly sinking in, now that the adrenaline was fading from her veins. She’d revealed herself. She’d failed her mission. She could never go back. She could never go back.

Breath coming short in her chest, Annie heard a faint whining noise and realised it was herself. Her fists were clenching in the blankets without her body’s permission, muscles in her jaw tightening like taut rope. She was falling into a panic, and with her head spinning like something her Warrior had swung once not too long ago, Annie was helpless to stop it.

She’d never see her father again, she realized, a miserable moan forcing its way from her throat. She’d never be able to go home again. She was doomed to die a prisoner in some horrible cell being tortured for all the information her helpless self had ever been allowed to know.

Just as Annie’s panic was reaching critical levels, just as she was starting not to be able to breathe through the terror clawing its way up her throat, the door opened.

You stepped in, and every part of Annie went tense and fearful. This was where it started. This was where the nice beds and soft blankets went away and where she was handed over to meet her fate.

“How are you, um, feeling?” you asked, sitting down on a chair placed next to the bed and offering a tentative smile. “You were hurt pretty bad from what I could see.”

Annie’s voice caught in her throat when she tried to respond, panic making everything go tight and hard to move. She didn’t want to talk. She didn’t want to tell you anything. She wanted to go back to sleep and never have to deal with any of this ever again.

“What am I here for?” was what she eventually said, voice cold.

“What do you mean?” you asked in response, looking sort of confused. Annie didn’t know why. You knew why you had her here.

“What did you move me for? And what do you intend to do with me?”

“Oh, um, I was trying to help you. There aren’t really any hospitals around here, or I would have taken you to one, really! I was going to try that next, but you woke up before I had the chance,” you said, and Annie heard only the part of that that made her panic all the more.

“When are you going to hand me over to them?” Better to bite the bullet and get it done with. She’d have to know eventually, and it might be easier if she had some time to prepare herself.

“Unless you mean the hospital staff, I’m not handing you over to anyone. Are you alright? You seem a little confused.” Your voice was filled with concern, and you leaned forward with one hand reaching out towards Annie’s face.

Immediately, Annie jerked back as much as her broken body could manage, a high, terrified sound slipping out of her as she tried to squirm away. Was this where the hurting finally started?

“Whoah, whoah, easy there.” You jerked back instantly, obligingly pulling your hand back to your side and away from Annie’s face. “It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you.”

A desperate noise tore itself out of Annie’s throat at the lie. Why would you say that? Why would you try to give her false hope when the both of you knew what was coming?

“Quit lying,” she hissed, voice sounding acidic even to her own ears.

“Wait, lying about what?” you asked, raising your hands in a gesture of surrender that just made Annie feel more wild.

“We both know what you’re going to do with me; quit pretending like you don’t know.” Practically growling now, Annie could feel every part of her tensing like a bow string. She wanted to run or hide or get away or something, but her body wouldn’t listen and her mind was trapped in panic.

“Okay, okay, easy. Can we start from the beginning, please?” Your voice had taken on a tender tone, soft and pacifying, and Annie hated it. How dare you be nice to her before what you were going to do.

(She hated even more how it made her go limp, her weak, injured body finally giving out under her at the soft words.)

“What do you think I’m going to do with you?” you continued, soft and easy as if Annie’s life wasn’t riding on what you chose to do with her.

“You’re going to hand me over to the military. You’re going to give me to the people that– that– Y-You’re going to give me over to them and I’m never going to get to go home ever again and– and– and–” Once Annie started talking, started with something blatantly obvious, the words came pouring out of her like water. She couldn’t stop, couldn’t get a hold of her traitorous tongue and avoid giving away to you just how terrified she was.

“Woah, okay. I’m not, I promise. I’m not going to give you over to anyone. You’re going to stay right here until you want to leave, okay?” you asked, as if Annie had a choice.

You could do anything to her. She was helpless and hurt and had no place to go. Her very survival depended on if you were kind enough to hand her over to the people that would at least give her an easy way to die. Annie felt absolutely sick, bile rising in her throat as her head spun.

She was panicking, she knew, but couldn’t stop, and before she knew it, she was arching forward, as far as her battered body would let her, keening a low, broken sound of absolute terror, limbs curling in as far as she could make them even through the pain that wracked her with every little move she made.

Before she knew it, there was a soft hand on her back, warmth spreading through her bruised flesh and gentle circles traced over the bloodied cloth covering her. The tenderness hurt almost more than the movement, and Annie howled into her hands. She was so scared. She wanted to go home.

She wanted to go back to a place that would want nothing to do with her ever again, nothing to do with a broken warrior who couldn’t even accomplish one simple mission.

She had nothing left. She had nowhere to go. Her entire life was now riding on what you chose to do with her, and there was nothing she could do to stop it. For as strong as she’d been trained to be, she was helpless, and Annie was so scared she could feel the terror clawing its way up her throat.

Heaving, Annie’s body finally tried to reject whatever it was that was keeping her from breathing, but all that came up was a thin line of bile. Her throat felt raw from the noises she’d been making, and the line of it burned as acid climbed up the inside. Limbs spasming, Annie clawed at her own throat, dry heaves wracking her as all the fear tried to find some place to go.

Eventually, it slowed, body easing back from trying to force everything inside of her out, and Annie slumped forward, suddenly too tired to even hold herself up.

You were still rubbing her back, thankfully far away from her neck, and Annie just barely registered the soft, even circles with a shudder. She hadn’t been touched outside of sparring in so long, it didn’t feel right.

“Easy, easy, it’s okay. No one’s going to hurt you. You’re going to be okay.” You were murmuring soft things, gentle reassurances and empty words of comfort that made Annie want to scream.

You kept rubbing, kept talking until Annie was able to slowly lean back to the pillows behind her, whole body weak and limp from sustaining the fear that was the only thing keeping her upright. She slumped back against the softness, eyes closing for a moment as exhaustion ate at her bones.

“Alright, can you explain something to me, please?” you asked, softly, as if Annie had any choice.

She nodded anyway, too afraid to refuse.

“Who are you? And where are you from? I’d sort of thought the clothes were just a strange fashion choice, but I’m starting to realize that something is really wrong here. I don’t think we’re on the same page at all.”

“I’m a traitor,” Annie whispered, too tired to lie. “I’m at fault for the fall of Wall Maria and the death of thousands. I’m from. . . I c-can’t– I can’t say that. . .”

“Okay, we are definitely not thinking the same things. I don’t know what Wall Maria is, if that tells you anything.”

Annie went cold everywhere, heart almost stopping at your words. It didn’t make any sense. Where was she? Where was this? What kind of place was she in that they didn’t even know about the walls? If she was back home, someone else would have come for her, and even then, that didn’t explain how she’d possibly gotten away.

The only explanation Annie could think of was that she’d been abandoned, thrown away like the trash she was after– after– And that was where Annie quit having any guesses.

Her head hurt, aching, pounding with an awful pain that Annie couldn’t do anything to think through. She was so tired. She just wanted to go back to sleep and pretend like none of this was happening, like she could wake up and be back with her father with none of this being real.

“I don’t– Where am I?” Annie asked, half frantic, praying the answer would be something better than she was imagining.

“A country called America, about dead center in the middle of it.”

Confusion lanced cold through her, not the slightest bit of recognition sounding at the name. She wasn’t home, but she wasn’t where she’d last known herself to be, either. Annie hoped that that might mean she was a little bit safe. If you didn’t know what the walls were, there would be no reason to hunt her down, would there?

Fragile, glass like hope began to bloom in Annie’s chest.

“Do you, d-do you know what Marley is? The walls? The titans?” Words spilling out of her before she could stop them, Annie turned towards you.

“Nope. Not a bit of that.” And Annie couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Were you lying to her? Were you going to turn around and reveal that you’d known all along just when she started to let her guard down?

Annie didn’t know what to do. She was tired. She hurt everywhere. She felt so close to giving up. Nothing that had happened to her yet made any sense, and now you were saying that you didn’t know anything about the whole world that she’d came from?

But Annie was so tired. She been fighting for years, and she was reaching her limit. Her mind felt like it had been run through a meat grinder, her body battered and weak, and she didn’t have much more energy to keep going as she had. She’d been raised to be a warrior, but everything was going wrong. She’d already failed at one mission, already ruined everything she’d been meant to do, and by now, there was nothing left.

With a sigh that felt more like a death rattle, Annie gave up.

“Okay. . .” she breathed, feeling the willpower to keep fighting leeching out of her with every breath. “I’ll believe you. You don’t know what anything I’ve done means, and you’re– y-you’re–” At that part, she had to pause, breathing deep, shaking breaths and trying to force herself to believe what didn’t seem real. “You’re not going to turn me in.”

Her hands were shaking, she realized, looking down at her callused, trembling fingers, bitten short nails spattered with dried blood and bruised purple-red. They looked so small, like this, so helpless.

“What are you going to do with me?” Annie asked, doing anything to distract herself from how weak she felt.

“Well, considering that the wounds you had when I picked you up look halfway healed already, I’m starting to doubt that you need to go to a hospital. Is that right?” you asked, as if it wasn’t some horrible, terrible thing that she could regenerate like a monster.

“Yes. Th-That’s right. I’ll heal on my own soon enough.”

“Okay. Then I’ll give you a place to stay. I don’t. . . I don’t know where you’re from, or why you’re hurt, or why you’re so scared, but I promise I won’t turn you over to anyone that will hurt you. It’s your choice if you want to stay or go, but I’ll give you somewhere safe to stay if you want it.” You said those words so easily, as if you weren’t offering safety to one of humanity’s greatest betrayers. You didn’t know anything.

Annie felt absolutely sick.

“I’ll. . . I’ll stay. I don’t have anywhere else to go.” Admitting it hurt somewhere deep inside Annie’s chest, like bone and flesh being torn apart, but it was true. She didn’t have a home anymore.

“Okay, good. I’ll do my best to help you get better,” you said, smiling gently as Annie tried to swallow her guilt.

If this was all true, you were a good person, the kind that never should have had to bother with her. She was a killer, a monster, a warrior, and you weren’t anyone who should have been burdened with anything like her. Annie had a feeling you were telling the truth, and that only made her feel sicker. She was going to force you to play nursemaid to a killer of thousands, you who had no knowledge of everything she’d done wrong.

“So,” you continued, “what do you need? I know it’ll be a good idea to get you cleaned up and get all that blood off you soon, but is there anything else I can do? You said you’d heal on your own, but can I do anything to help with that?”

Annie swallowed heavily, as if she could choke down the guilt. “You don’t have to do anything. I’ll be okay. I can heal. . . I can heal from almost anything.” As if admitting that wouldn’t have gotten her killed while she’d still been with the “friends” she’d had before.

“Okay, but can I help? Whether you can heal or not, I bet it hurts to be all messed up like that. What can I do to make it hurt less for you?”

Oh. Oh, this wasn’t fair. No one had shown this much concern over whether or not Annie was hurting in– in– in possibly forever, and it felt so strange.

Back home, she was supposed to be a warrior, known to be able to recover from any wounds they gave her. In the military, she’d been expected to be a soldier, expected to take whatever battle wounds she got and still be happy to serve. This kind of care, this concern, wasn’t fair at all.

Annie looked down, eyes scrunching up as she tried not to think about what she was doing, how she was giving up. Her heart was beating double-time in her chest, pounding like the footsteps of a titan.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to move for a while,” she said, hesitantly, forcing herself to admit how weak she felt. “I think my limbs are damaged, or maybe something to do with my spine. It’ll all heal eventually but, well, I’m going to be pretty helpless for a while.”

Ducking her head even further, Annie tried not to think about what you could do to her. Half consciously, her hand, pulling at all sorts of painful things as it moved, fluttered up to cover the back of her neck. It was a small comfort, something that shouldn’t make her feel any safer, but it did. Just protecting that weak spot made her feel a little less like she could be killed at any moment you got sick of this.

“I think. . . this is the most I can move without help,” Annie admitted, voice weak and shaky as she spoke.

“Okay, that’s okay. I’ll help you if you need to move, then,” you said, as if it meant nothing to see her at her weakest. “I think we should try to get you cleaned up soon. All that blood looks like it would be pretty uncomfortable to have on you.”

Annie nodded, faintly, hand still pressed tight over her weak point. You didn’t even know what a titan was, would have no idea what it meant, but it made her feel safer just to hide. As if it would protect her at all, as weak as she still felt, as torn up and battered as her small body was.

“Yes, that would be, w-would be nice.” Annie still felt too panicked to care too much about the gore covering her. She knew it would hurt to move, didn’t want to force herself up and away from what she’d started, shamefully, to think of as the safety of the bed. She could pretend like nothing was wrong as long as she stayed down, wouldn’t have to face just how weak she’d be in her injured state.

(If she moved she could be taken away, you could hand her over to them, she could be hurt and tortured and put through pain like nothing she’d ever experienced and oh the fear burned hot behind her eyelids searing through her brain.)

Breath coming short once again, Annie’s vision began to quit tracking again. She couldn’t see, she couldn’t think, her chest felt heavy and thick with fear. Everything hurt, everything ached, inside and out she was in so much pain why wouldn’t it stop.

Annie wanted to hide, anything to stop you from seeing this again, anything to get away.

Ragged, sharp breaths tearing through her torn up chest, Annie’s mind started to blur. She was trapped here. She could never go home. Her safety depended on if you wanted to take care of her.

And oh, oh she was so afraid.

“Easy, easy,” you were whispering, soft as ever, but this time not daring to get close. Annie had a brief thought on how this wasn’t fair, how she didn’t deserve to be near someone who thought she was worth taking care of, and then everything went fuzzy all over again.

“Okay,” Annie faintly heard you say, “I’m going to leave now. I feel like I’m just making you panic more. I’ll be right in the next room, and I’ll come back to check on you soon. You’re safe here, I promise.”

With that, you were gone, Annie’s mind too blurry to quite track the moment you left. She was alone, then, hunched over in a bed softer than anything she’d ever felt, one hand pressed over the only place that could kill her in a desperate, terrified move of trying to comfort herself. She felt small and weak, terrified beyond belief and hurting through every part of her, and she didn’t know what to do.

She couldn’t go home. The mission was gone. Home was gone. She was somewhere where the people didn’t even know what titans were, didn’t know what she’d done, and for all she knew, she could never go back.

Before she could stop herself, Annie was crying, hot tears dripping down her face and blurring her vision any further. Heavy, howling sobs were tearing their way out of her throat, horrible noises that sounded more like a dying animal than a girl, and Annie hated herself more with every one.

This wasn’t fair. She’d only ever done as she was told, only ever been too weak to stand up for herself, and now she was paying the price. She wasn’t tortured but in a soft bed, left to deal with every bit of guilt for anything she’d ever done, left with a battered body and blood coating her skin that was, for once, her own. She hurt everywhere, her thoughts more painful that anything, and for all the air in the room she couldn’t breathe.

Sobbing, Annie fell over onto her side, hand falling away from her neck and curling in tight to her chest. She forced herself to move, limbs curling up and in into a tight little ball that was the safest she could make herself.

The blankets were soft and warm around her, and that only made everything hurt all the worse. She didn’t deserve this. She should have been in a cell somewhere awaiting her death, not protected and safe in a warm little bed where her past was far away.

She just wanted to go home.

Eventually, Annie slipped into an uneasy sleep, exhaustion weighing her down until there was no fight left in her.

She was too tired to do anything else, too worn out from the battle and her injuries and the war going on inside her head to do anything but sleep, and the only fortunate thing was that she didn’t dream.

What Annie couldn’t see was how small she looked, curled up in soft blue sheets with her blood-matted blonde hair falling around her face like a shield. She couldn’t see the tear tracks running lines down her bloody, bruised face, the strained, unguarded look her features slid into as she slept.

If she had, she would have hated herself all the more.