“You know that I can’t show you me, give you me,
I can’t show you a ruined part of myself.
Once again I put a mask and go to see you, but I still want you.”
BTS — The Truth Untold
The second time their paths crossed, she first recognized his voice, for he’d always had something to say. They were only children — he was twelve, and she was this close to thirteen — on their way to a training camp that would shape them into soldiers, and he talked to his two friends about the things they could do once they’re outside the walls.
Theoretically, Annie had two friends too, but they didn’t feel like it at all, and she stayed away from them like she’d been since they entered these odd lands inside the walls. Her hood was pulled to cover her face, and she didn’t look in his direction to see what he looked like; instead, she feigned boredom at the trip and focused on his voice, unsure why.
She was pretty sure she’d never seen him before, but his voice stroke a chord inside her that she couldn’t explain, and when they stood in camp hearing their names being called, she cast a glance at him for the first time.
His childish tone should’ve been a hint as to how he looked like, but she definitely didn’t expect him to be one of the shortest boys of their group, golden blonde hair down his chin; from the corner of her eye she could just make out the curve of his nose and the vibrant blue of his eyes. Armin Arlert. Who was he?
She didn’t want to pay attention to him, and on normal days Annie is very capable of closing off on herself, but one day, during lunch, they so happened to touch, and electricity went up her body, from the tip of her fingers, when they reached for the same bread at the basket, down her spine, and she gasped in surprise, letting slip for a fraction of a moment the shock of his proximity.
“Sorry! Are you okay?” he asked, ever so gently, and she gulped and nodded, avoiding him for the rest of the day and longer than that.
Annie could not explain what got into her, nor why she reacted so strongly to him, and it didn’t make any sense. She was a hundred percent sure that she’d never seen him before, so why…
“Wait,” she said one evening after their afternoon practice, taking Armin’s sleeve and dragging him behind a large tree that would hide them from curious eyes. He followed her wearily, scared. Annie knew she scared a lot of people, and that was she was aiming for most of the time, but now she just wanted…
He was looking at her expectantly, the last rays of sunshine on their shoulders in pink and orange and Annie was at a loss. She could not fathom the mystery of him.
“Annie, right?” he asked scratching the back of his neck awkwardly and looking down blushing. “Eren told me you are teaching him some hand in hand techniques, that sounds pretty cool. I’m Armin.”
He reached out his hand for her to shake, but she didn’t take it. Instead, she looked from his hand to his face, knowing damn well that she’d been quiet for too long and that he might be thinking that she was crazy. Part of her would agree.
“Uh…” he hummed, dropping his hand. “Is there a reason you took me here?”
Annie stepped closer, then, took a good look at him, brow furrowed in concentration. With a gentleness foreign to her, she reached out and touched his cheek with thin, cold fingers, and he shuddered. Did he…?
She tilted her head, looking into his eyes, and there were so many questions in those blue orbs that she couldn’t bring herself to do anything else. She’d been expecting the same bolt of energy that hit her when they first touched, but it didn’t happen this time around. Maybe she really was crazy, and she wouldn’t fight him if he felt the same. She dropped her hand and forced it into the pocket of her hoodie.
“Sorry, it’s nothing,” she said trying to convey a certainty that wasn’t there. “Sorry to bother.”
She left without an explanation and avoided him again for as long as she could. There was nothing to see there, and she was seeking out something that didn’t exist.
Of course, feigns of her imagination talked louder than the ghosts of her past, and Annie couldn’t stay away for too long. She was too curious, too bothered, too eager for an explanation, and months later those feelings were stronger than her and she left a note in the book Armin was reading.
He came, as expected, to the same place she brought him the first time, stepping carefully around the tree, his bangs just a tad too long now, pushed to the side because they were covering his eyes.
“I wondered if it was really you,” Armin said as a way of hello, and Annie pushed against the tree to step closer to him, handed him the bookmark she’d taken when she left that note. It looked homemade, and she supposed it was special to him. He took it, and she saw that the note was in his hand. “Hi, Annie.”
“Hi, Armin,” she said, feeling her throat close with expectation. Lately, his voice had been changing a little, but his face remained baby-ish, youthful. She cocked her head, looking at him with calculating eyes ready to see if he understood what she was going through, and the question escaped her mouth. “Do you feel it too?”
It was a strange thing to say, and she didn’t blame him for looking confused. He frowned and she looked away embarrassed. He had no idea what she was talking about, did he? And she had no idea what she was doing.
“Annie?” he asked reaching out and touching her shoulder, and she looked at him again hoping that he had some sort of answer for her. “Are you okay?”
Barely. There was a screw missing in her brain, and it was the only explanation she had to step closer, get on her tiptoes and press her lips to his.
The reaction was immediate. In a flash, everything passed behind her eyelids, an overwhelming love for that boy and the man he would become, warmth all over her like a soft blanket, and all of the sweetest memories she could ever have. Wishful thinking of the best kind, and when she stepped back and looked at him, his cheeks were pink, eyes wide.
Oh, God. Why did she do that? She screwed everything, didn’t she?
“Uh…” she tried to say, but before she could move away, Armin took her hand and pulled her closer, his other hand cupping her cheek and tilting her head upward so he could kiss her again.
Afraid of seeing it all again, Annie kept her eyes open this time and blinked away a couple of tears that streamed down her cheeks and dropped on his hand. Armin stopped kissing her and rested his forehead on hers, looking into her eyes.
“Do you…?” she tried again, and he gave her the smallest of the nods.
“I think I do, yes,” he told her and she swallowed. “It’s so weird.”
She agreed. Hell, she agreed with all her might. Weird and crazy and beyond explanation, and because they couldn’t explain it, they simply kissed again, and every day for the rest of their days.
From there on, they were a duo that challenged everything in their way. She stayed by his side, forcing her hometown colleagues to a separate path and fighting for humanity as she didn’t think she ever would. Part of her thought it was for him, but most of it knew it was for her — for the feeling in her chest whenever they fought side by side. This was where she was supposed to be, what she was supposed to do.
Alice came after they won the war, Ambar a couple of years later, around the time Mikasa had Jonas. Time ran out anyway for her, and for Eren, and she knew it was coming, the end. At least the girls had their father, and that knowledge brought peace to her heart.
It didn’t matter how much they looked for a cure to the curse, Annie knew what awaited her and she was ready for it — though she was not ready to let her girls go. She stayed with them as much as she could, writing down every single, precious memory they printed in her.
She prepared pastries and cake with the girls and the four of them had a picnic under a tall and large tree much like the one that had been Annie and Armin’s spot back in training, and that was the last time she felt well enough to leave. He stayed with her until the last breath, and in her final moments, Annie reached out to his cheek with cold fingers.
“It’s going to be okay,” she said weakly. “Trust me. I’ll see you again.”
“Annie,” Armin called, taking her hand in his, and she smiled weakly. She was going home.