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Finding the Words

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I'm pretty sure I have a disease called AruAni-itis or something. For the past month, not a single day has gone by where I haven't looked up/read fanfiction or searched for pictures, and it's becoming a problem. Thus, here is my attempt to try and get some of this obsession out of my system. *crosses fingers* I hope this works; I really need to get some semblance of my life back!

Disclaimer: I do not own Shingeki no Kyojin/Attack on Titan or any affiliates.

"Why is it," Armin Arlert wondered in frustration as he dropped his wheat-colored head to the desk over yet another failed draft, "that the simple things become the most complicated?" He sighed and crumpled up the paper before tossing it in his kindling pile, which quite frankly, looked more like a kindling mountain. Turning his determined ocean-blue eyes to the fresh sheet in front of him, he picked up his pen to begin writing again when a knock sounded on his bedroom door.


His eyes widened in panic. "Oh no, oh no, oh no. I have to get rid of these papers!" he thought, frantically scrambling to make a fire. As he shoveled the wads of paper into the fireplace, he thanked his lucky stars that he'd had the foresight the other day to pick up some matches. If all went well, all the evidence would be erased in a matter of seconds. Buoyed by the thought, he stood to get the matches and accidentally smashed his toe into the metal ash pail. "Ow!" He crashed into his chair with another cry of pain, sending it clattering to the floor.

"Armin? What's going on in there?"

"N-nothing," he bit out while trying to ignore his throbbing foot.

"…I'm coming in."

"No! You can't! I-I'm getting dressed."

The person on the other side of the door sighed and answered back, "Okay, you've got five minutes."

"Right, five minutes." Gritting his teeth, he turned back to the fireplace and got to work; he'd been dressed for hours. He breathed a sigh of relief when the last of the papers curled away into a large mound of ash just in time for the door to open. Turning with a warm smile, he greeted his visitor. "Good morning, Annie."

The petite blonde woman with sky-blue eyes began to return the greeting when she stopped up short.

"What?" Armin asked nervously.

"You had a fire lit."

He squirmed a little in discomfort. While fire had been the most expedient solution, it certainly wasn't the most inconspicuous. "Well…sometimes I get cold."

"In August." She raised an eyebrow slightly.

"Sometimes I get cold," he repeated, the excuse sounding even lamer than the first time.

She rolled her eyes. "Whatever. The commander wants to see you. A meeting got cancelled or something, so he wants to move yours up."

"Oh, okay. Thanks for letting me know."

She nodded and added, "Where did you want to go riding this afternoon?"

Shoot, shoot, shoot. It was already Thursday? Where had the time gone? He wasn't ready! He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Umm…actually, would-would it be alright if we rescheduled? I have some…things…to do…."

"…Sure, that's fine." Though most people would have trouble telling, he could clearly see she was disappointed.

He felt awful. With a new surveying mission coming up, they hadn't had much time to spend together the last couple weeks, and here he was cancelling their only chance to slip away for any meaningful length of time for pretty much the rest of the month. He limped over to the coat tree and pulled on his Survey Corps jacket with its squad leader insignia and smiled at her. "Why don't I walk you to the lab on my way to see the commander?"

"That's in the completely wrong direction, and you're limping," she objected.

"I like walking with you, and it'll only tack on ten minutes, which is still a good hour before our original meeting time." He picked up some books and reports he'd drafted the night before. "As for the limp, I just stubbed my toe, so it should be fine by the time we get to the lab."

She just shrugged and said, "Do whatever," but he could tell by the almost invisible curve of her lips that she was happy.

Smiling to himself, he followed her out the door.

Armin admired his girlfriend from the corner of his eye as they walked down the hallway in comfortable silence. After she'd come out of the crystal, Annie had changed for the better. She'd never be the life of the party or be prone to expressive displays of, well, anything, but after managing to convince her to fight for humanity, she'd slowly softened toward other people and become less guarded. His chest tightened and he lamented that he couldn't hold her hand due to the number of books and posters he had to carry right then. He'd really missed just being with her like this.

As they exited the building, sticky, warm air hit him in the face. "I should get a haircut," he muttered, moving his head a little to try and unstick some threads of slightly over-long hair.

Annie flicked her eyes over at him. "You could just grow it out again."

He shook his head with a blush. "No thanks." He knew Annie didn't dislike his short hair, but he thought sometimes she wished it were styled the same way as when they'd met. Usually, he'd be happy to cave to her preferences, especially for something small like this, but a few years ago, some drunkards had wolf-whistled at him and called him a girly, and that had just been the last straw.

"Well, get it cut differently this time. For a while, it felt like I was dating a shorter version of the commander."

"It wasn't that similar," he protested, though he could sort of see her point. Over the past five years, he'd grown—he was able to comfortably rest his head on top of hers when he wrapped her in his arms now—and his face had lost some of its youthful roundness. While his features were nowhere near as sharp as Erwin Smith's, they'd gained more definition.

"What's Hanji-san got planned for you today?"

"Different cognitive tests while in our titan forms, I think. I know she wants to run some tests while Eren and I spar in our titan forms sometime soon—something about muscle endurance—so if we have time, we might do that too."

"I see. Has Eren been able to beat you yet?"

Annie snorted. "As if."

Armin frowned slightly. It'd been five years and Eren had good control over his titan form by this point. Of course, time was on Annie's side, but Eren was still physically stronger than she was.

"He's always either overthinking it or flying into a blind rampage. Ironically, these days his problem seems to be overthinking."

"Eren? Overthinking?" Armin chuckled.

She laughed softly. "Yeah."

His grin broadened. He loved her laugh, even more so because it was rare. Although Annie was more expressive than she'd been in the past, she was naturally reticent and rarely showed emotion that could easily be detected even around him. It was one of the things he'd come to love about her though. He'd always get a small thrill out of deciphering the meaning behind a particular flicker of an eye or subtle shift in posture; she was the cipher he'd never tire of trying to solve. His eyes became thoughtful. Maybe he was having the same problem as Eren. Maybe he was overthinking this. Maybe he just had to go for it and improvise. Gathering up his courage, he turned to look at her. "Annie."

She looked up at him expectantly.

"Ah…" his tongue felt like it had gotten stuck to the roof of his mouth. "Annie…we've, uh…been together for…uh…" he paused awkwardly.

"A little over two years."

"Right, about two years. And…uh…isn't that just…great…?" He wanted to die. Why couldn't there just be a nice, convenient pond for him to go drown himself in? Obviously, he'd been wrong: overthinking was not his problem. He should have stuck to the plan. Although he was currently missing a couple crucial components of it, so admittedly, it wasn't as if he could put it into immediate effect, but…. He shook his head slightly to get rid of the thought. Forget that. Right now he had to try and save what little was left of his tattered dignity before she thought he'd gone crazy.

He cleared his throat. "Annie."

"Yes, that's me," she replied. She seemed slightly amused.

"What I mean to say is that, uh…well…it's…been really great being with you and getting to know you over the years, and well…uh…." He caught sight of the research building just as she was about to open her mouth. "Well, here you are. I'd better not keep the commander waiting too much longer. Catch you later. Bye," he rushed out as he turned and power walked away.

Rounding a corner, he hit his head against the brick wall. "Ugh, that did not go well." With a sigh, he started shuffling back toward Commander Smith's office.

"Why is it that the simple things become the most complicated?" he asked himself again. It should really not be this hard to ask Annie to marry him. This was supposed to be the easy part. Well, maybe not the easy part, but he'd always been good with words and had a reputation for knowing what to say and when, so figuring out the wording of his proposal really shouldn't be this difficult. But it was, if his mountain of failed proposal speeches from this morning was anything to go by.

He groaned.

"Okay, winging it was a disaster, and so far, the write out a speech and memorize it route hasn't been that great either." Reflecting for a moment on the catastrophe that had just occurred though, he concluded that the latter was still the best option. At the very least, it hadn't crashed and burned a horrible flaming death in front of his eyes yet.


After his meeting, Armin headed straight into town. Considering all the new information he'd gotten, perhaps it would have been prudent to get started on revising some of the documents he'd pass out for their upcoming mission, but he had an appointment to keep.

His pace picked up in excitement as he caught sight of the shops in the distance. He really hoped she'd like the ring he'd picked out for her. An image of the low-set diamond and two flanking gemstones the color of her eyes on a band the same burnished gold as his hair fixed itself in his mind. After some tricky maneuvering, he'd finally managed a few weeks before to steal her shifter ring without her noticing and size it, and soon, his efforts would be rewarded. He could hardly believe it.

Twenty minutes later, he cheerfully walked out of a somewhat nondescript storefront carrying a small shopping bag imprinted with the jeweler's logo. His cheeks warmed in happiness as he snuck his hand into the bag again to finger the small box. It was stupid, but if he didn't touch it, it was hard to convince himself it was real. He didn't even try to suppress the ear-to-ear grin that he was sure made him look like an idiot. Yet another piece had fallen into place and he was almost to his goal.

"How about getting some flowers for the lucky girl?" a friendly voice called to him.

Armin looked over to see a brown-eyed girl around his age leaning on a counter in front of a shop covered in an array of flowers.

Seeing that she'd caught his attention, the auburn-haired shop girl continued, "As you can see, we've got flowers of all kinds and can make custom bouquets that will deliver just the message you want to convey."

"Message? Using flower language?" He walked toward her in interest. It wasn't an avenue he'd explored since he didn't know much about flower language, but the idea certainly had appeal. With the florist's help, he could probably compose a proposal that would meet the wild, romantic fantasies of any girl. Even if he didn't feature flower language in his proposal though, the mere presence of the flowers would add a flair of romance to the moment.

"That's right." The girl nodded. She motioned to a stalk of small, white, bell-like flowers that looked to him like something out of a fairytale. "For example, this lily of the valley means happiness, and those carnations over there represent pure love and devotion." She leaned in toward him as if sharing a secret, motioning him closer as well. "But if you're planning to propose, then I think you'll want eleven red roses with fern and baby's breath," she whispered conspiratorially.

Armin blushed deeply and felt a bit self-conscious. Was he really that obvious? Directing his embarrassed gaze to the plants in question, he responded, "Red roses are commonly known to represent passionate love…."

"And ferns stand for sincerity, and baby's breath, everlasting love."

His eyes lit up in understanding. No wonder those three were frequently seen together. "But why specifically eleven? Don't people usually buy a dozen?"

Her smile widened. "Because eleven roses mean, 'You are my one love in this one lifetime.'"

His breath sucked in. That was perfect. The only thing was…did he even want to get flowers?

They'd almost certainly ruin the surprise. Armin never got Annie fancy, store-bought flowers except for special occasions, and there wasn't a birthday or anniversary coming up, so he had no reason to have them. Annie was smart; she'd know something was up the instant she saw them. But the look that would come to her face when he presented that bouquet and said those words….

As he turned to the side to weigh his options, he caught sight of a familiar flash of light blonde walking through the crowd of shoppers. He paled and shot upright. "Annie?!" What was she doing here? Wasn't she scheduled to be doing tests with Hanji-san all day? That was the whole reason he'd chosen to sneak into town today! He immediately concealed the bag with the ring behind him and ducked behind a passing cart, calling out an apology to the florist before slinking away in the opposite direction of where he'd last seen Annie walking. He frowned thoughtfully as he surreptitiously moved through the town. Hopefully, she hadn't seen him, but just in case, it might be good to work on those plans for the commander somewhere she didn't have access to so he didn't have to worry about hiding the ring right away.


By Saturday afternoon, Armin felt it was safe enough for him to work in his room again. The couch in the drafting room wasn't particularly comfortable, nor was the desk in there for that matter. Thankfully, it wasn't an unusual occurrence for people to find him sleeping there, so no one had been the wiser. He smiled at the locked drawer in his desk where the ring box lay hidden under a stack of manuals, then sighed when his attention returned to the half-filled sheet of uninspired drivel that he knew would soon get tossed into the fireplace to begin yet another pyre to his severely lacking romantic prowess. Why was this so hard?

Just as he was about to crumple the paper up, his door slammed open with a force that made him fear for the integrity of the hinges. "Yo, Armin!" a tall man with messy, dark brown hair and flashing green eyes plowed into the room in a flurry of excitement.

"Hey, Eren," Armin greeted with a laugh. Even after all these years, Eren Jaeger had seemingly limitless energy.

"Guess what? Guess what?"

"I don't know, what?"

"I finally beat Annie today! Who is the man? I am the man!" he crowed.

"Really? Congratulations!" Suddenly, his face became concerned. "Is she okay? You didn't hurt her, did you?"

"Nah, no more than usual during our sparring."

"Eren…" he warned.

He rolled his eyes. "I swear she's fine. No cuts or anything to report, Mom."

Armin scrutinized him for a long moment before deciding he was telling the truth.

"What're you working on?"

"This?" Armin squeaked. He quickly cleared his throat. "Nothing in particular. Just some new plans, y'know, for our expedition in a couple weeks."

With unanticipated speed, Eren snatched the sheet from the desk, holding it high above his head when Armin tried to recover it. "You know you suck like crazy at lying if it's not a life-or-death situation, right?"

Armin forced himself to become calm. If he kept reacting, he'd make Eren even more suspicious. He might even actually try to read it. "Eren, I have a lot of work to do. Will you please give it back? I was in the middle of writing something."

"Psh, no. You're a good actor, but I'm not your best friend for nothing." He made to flip over the sheet so he could read it, and without thinking, Armin swept his foot in a move that would make Annie proud and knocked the tall boy to the floor, snatching the sheet away.

Eren swore loudly. "What is up with you, Armin?!"

Armin froze. What was he doing? Hadn't the plan been to calmly persuade Eren that there wasn't anything suspicious going on? Then again, hardly anything in his personal life had been going according to plan for the last three weeks, so why should he expect anything different? He sighed. "I'm sorry, Eren. I…I don't know what came over me." He helped his friend to his feet. The two stared at each other for a bit before Armin muttered, "I suppose you deserve an explanation."

"You got that right," Eren snorted and sat himself stubbornly on Armin's bed. "And considering how you went all Annie on me, it better be good."

Armin worried his lip as he sat cross-legged across from his friend. This was probably just asking for his surprise to be ruined, but he didn't really have a way around it. "I…I was writing a proposal."

"You expect me to believe that?" Eren's face flushed in anger. "You write proposals all the time about this idea and that strategy and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." His eyes narrowed dangerously. "Quit lying, Armin, or so help me—"

"It's not a proposal for the commander or for Hanji-san, you idiot," Armin retorted. "It's for Annie."

If Armin hadn't been so embarrassed and irritated, he would have laughed at the suddenly blank look that had taken over his best friend's face. Once the words registered though, the other boy broke into a wide grin. "You serious? That's awesome, man! When're you going to ask?"

"I was supposed to ask a couple days ago."

"Supposed to?" Eren's eyebrows shot up. "What happened?"

"I…still haven't…gotten the speech written down…."

"How long have you been at this?"

"About three weeks?"

"Three weeks?" Shocked was too a mild word to describe Eren's face. "You're kidding. You always know what to say."

"Yeah, I know. Thanks for reminding me," Armin grumbled.

"Why can't you just go up to her and say, 'Annie, will you marry me?'"

"I can't only say that!"

"Why not? It doesn't get any shorter and simpler than that, does it? Aren't you supposed to be into efficiency and junk? Axel's shaver or something like that."

"This has nothing to do with efficiency," Armin huffed. "And it's Occam's razor, not that it's really applicable in this situation."

"Whatever." Eren rolled his eyes unrepentantly.

Armin sighed and shook his head in exasperation before looking away. "Annie…she…she's special. I want to show her just how much she means to me. She gave up everything when she chose to fight for humanity, and I know it won't replace what she sacrificed, but I want to give her an unforgettable experience she can look back on for the rest of her life."

"Geez, Armin, no need to go all sappy on me. I get it." Eren frowned thoughtfully and scratched his head. "If your problem is writer's block…what if you tried writing someplace else? Look for inspiration or something?"

Armin blinked in surprise. Why hadn't he thought of that? "That's…actually a good idea."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing, nothing," Armin quickly dismissed. He smiled warmly and went to grab fresh paper and writing utensils. "Thanks for the suggestion, Eren."

"No problem." He shot him a thumbs-up. "Go get 'er!"

"Thanks. And, Eren? Not a word of this to anyone, not even Mikasa."

"Yeah, yeah," Eren grinned and waved him off as Armin laughed and began walking away with an answering wave.

Armin became pensive as he left the building. Now he had yet another problem to solve: where should he go? He absently let his feet carry him around the Survey Corps complex as he considered his options. Should he try a location that was special to them? Or maybe just someplace that was quiet and would allow him to focus? Perhaps any place with a writing surface would do? It was possible all he really needed was a change of scenery.

"Ah." His feet stopped when he saw her by the lake, sitting with her arms wrapped around her knees and staring out into the horizon. A soft smile formed on his lips as he took her in. Golden strands like the first rays of the dawn played gently in the breeze across her flawless porcelain skin, hiding and revealing the crystalline blue eyes that changed like the sky's moods. His eyes traced the curve of her aristocratic nose down to the contours of her chapped lips that were pulled into a solemn line. She took his breath away. It was only then that he realized where his feet had brought him: this was where he'd realized that he liked her.

It had really all been thanks to Eren in a sense. If he hadn't asked Armin what was up between him and Annie, Armin probably would have continued along in oblivion for who knows how long. He'd vehemently denied any romantic feelings he had, of course, and even managed to supposedly convince Eren that he didn't like her, but the question had hounded him for days afterward. And that had bothered him. There were so many other things to think about like plans for upcoming missions and how to use the new knowledge they'd been gleaning from studying Eren and Annie, but Eren's question had risen up again and again until he was ready to rip his hair out in frustration. What had been worse was that Annie had noticed how Armin had started to act strangely around her, and as a result, she'd started withdrawing into herself.

And so, it had been in this rather foul state of mind that he'd taken himself one day to brood by a lake on the far edge of the complex. It was remote and quiet, a perfect place to escape and sort out his thoughts. After tramping none-too-carefully through the forest for a good spot, he'd come across her sitting by herself under a tree. She'd simply glanced blankly at him for a moment before returning to staring out across the lake toward the hills in the distance.

He'd been saddened that she hadn't acknowledged him then. After everything they'd been through over the past six years since they'd first joined the cadets, for some reason, his recent actions had caused her to start alienating herself from others again. Considering how he'd taken to tensing up around her and how awkward their meager conversations had become since he tried to avoid looking at her, he could understand why she'd think that he didn't want to be around her anymore, even if that had been the farthest thing from the truth. It hurt him to see her so isolated. It was just…that whenever they'd been together, Eren's question would start goading him, and he'd become horribly self-conscious, which would bring up even more confusing questions that he hadn't been able to even begin to answer.

He'd slowly taken a seat next to her and tucked his knees to his chest, glancing over at her to see if she'd notice, but she'd kept her eyes firmly ahead. The silence had been heavy and uncomfortable. He didn't know how long he'd sat there watching her out of the corner of his eye until a small twig fell into her hair, and before she could lift her hand, his was plucking the stick out and brushing the loose strands back in place.

With that one touch, he'd felt his perspective lock into focus and everything had changed.

It had been all he could do to not jolt when the unfamiliar maelstrom of emotions slammed into him. Happiness, confusion, peace, fear, and so many others had flickered and burned in his chest. Memories of hundreds of small encounters and casual exchanges had flowed past his mind's eye in a rushing torrent of sight, sound, and feeling that mysteriously felt infused with deeper meaning. He hadn't known what to make of it, but whatever this reaction was, it was strong and sure with her at the center, and now…she was different, or maybe he was the one who was different. It had been hard to tell.

As his fingers lingered on her cheek, she'd stared back at him with that same passively reserved expression she always wore, but this time, he'd picked up on the subtle cues that made all the difference in the world: the all but invisible tensing of her shoulders, the almost imperceptible quiver of her lips, and the nearly missed flash of wistful longing swirling in a quiet storm of hoping against hope that he felt mirrored in his own body. His eyes had widened when he'd realized that whatever this was within him, she'd felt it too, that she'd felt this burning long before he had, but he'd been oblivious to it. So before he could talk himself out of it, he'd slowly leaned forward with flaming cheeks, gaze fixed steadily on her to gauge her reaction until his fingers had unsteadily covered hers, and when she'd hesitantly laced their fingers together, joy unlike anything he'd ever known had surged within him.

Armin clutched his papers as the memory came to an end, his heart beating strongly within him. This feeling right here, this was what he wanted to convey. His spirits soared when for the first time since he'd started this personal project, the words began to come to him.

"Hey there, stranger. What brings you here?"

"A-Annie!" he jolted as the half-formed words began to fall out of his head. No, no, no! He was so close! The corners of his mouth turned down. He couldn't let this chance slip out of his grasp. "Annie, I'm really sorry, but I need to go. Why don't we catch up some other time?"

"Armin, I—"

"I'm really sorry, but I can't right now," he silenced her with an apologetic finger to her lips. "I promise I'll make it up to you," he called back as he ran off to find the nearest writing surface. To his great relief, as soon as he focused again, the words came back clear and true.

It was late into the night by the time he was done, but he didn't care as he glowed with pride at the document before him. It was perfect. This speech captured everything he wanted to say. He beamed brightly at the twinkling stars above him. He had some plans to make.


With all the work he'd had to do for the upcoming mission, it had taken him over a week to get everything in place, but he finally felt ready. They wouldn't have the kind of time to revel together in the newness of their engagement like they would have if he'd managed to get his act together a couple weeks before, but there was a full moon tonight and it was perfect stargazing conditions. He couldn't really ask for much more than that.

As he neared her living quarters, his stomach tied and untied itself in knots as the all-too-familiar doubts rose up again. What if she said no? What if she didn't want to get married? What if she didn't want to go outside the walls with him? What if—? "Stop that," he mentally chided himself. There was always the possibility that she'd turn him down, but she'd never given any indication that that outcome was likely, and she'd always shown support for his dream to travel and had even said that she wanted to be there when he found the ocean someday. Of course, that didn't mean that she wanted to be a nomad forever, but it had to count for something.

He reviewed his speech again to even out his breathing. "Have confidence," he encouraged himself. "Everything will be fine. You know your speech. You have the ring. The garden will be beautiful in the moonlight. The stars couldn't be brighter. The moon couldn't be fuller. You have got this. Even Eren who hardly has a romantic bone in his body almost started bawling when he heard your speech. Everything. Will. Be. Fine."

He straightened up a bit when he found Annie and the other girls from the 104th sitting on the front steps talking quietly. "Annie?"

The group looked over to him. He wasn't sure why, but he suddenly felt a strangely ominous chill run down his back. The lack of greeting from the group was a bit strange as well, but he dismissed it. He wanted Annie alone after all.

"Would you take a walk in the garden with me? It's such a nice night; it'd be a waste to spend it inside."

The girls all seemed to exchange a conversation composed completely of shifting eyes before Annie fluidly rose and nodded, walking over to him.

His nerves kicked in again as she got closer. "R-right, uh, this way then?" He unsteadily began to walk toward the garden, Annie following silently behind. As they passed under the arbor, they fell into step next to each other. Goodness, he was nervous. He wanted to hold her hand, but he felt paralyzed. He took deep breaths in and out to compose himself. It would be all right. He could do this.

He abruptly stopped and turned toward her. "Annie."

She turned to look at him as well, her eyes coolly regarding him.

His mouth opened and shut uselessly for a couple moments before he looked down at his feet. He took another breath and lifted his head, eyes locking firmly with hers. "Annie, we've been together a little over two years now, and I can safely say that even with all the horrors we've had to go through, they've been the most wonderful years of my life. That being said, I…." His mouth started feeling dry. "I want to…." His knees started shaking. "I want to talk to you about…." His tongue felt like it had tied itself into a thousand knots. "About the…about the f-f-future," he stammered out as the speech he'd meticulously crafted crumbled around him.

No! This was not supposed to be happening! He knew this speech backward and forward in his sleep! Why couldn't he remember any of it? What was the next part? Wait, wait, wasn't it something about going outside the walls to explore together? Not that he remembered what about going outside the walls he was planning to say, but at least it was something. His speech was somewhere in his brain; he just had to get to a point where he could relax enough to find it again.

"Annie…do you ever feel…I don't know, tied down or stuck in one spot here? Do you ever wish you could be free—"

"Stop it, Armin."

He blinked in confusion at the dark look on her face. "Annie…?"

"If you want to break up with me, then just do it. I don't need a speech."

"Wh-wha—? I d-d-don't understand. What are you—?"

Her lips set in a hard line. "Okay, if you can't do it, then I will." Her voice shook under her dead tone. "I'm breaking up with you." She turned and began to walk stiffly away. "Good-bye, Armin."

It took him a full five seconds before he realized what had happened, and by that point, she was out the garden and heading down the path. Shaking off his shock, he took off after her. He didn't know what was going on, but there was obviously some kind of huge misunderstanding.

"Annie." His face creased in concern as he ran in front of her, catching her shoulders. "What's going on?"

"Let go of me."

"Not until you tell me what's wrong."

"I said for you to let go of me."

"And I told you that—whoa!" he exclaimed as she kicked his feet out from under him, landing him flat on his back.

"Since you haven't had the guts to break up with me, I'm doing it for you," she stated as she stalked off.

"What?" he wheezed as he struggled to his feet. "Annie, I don't know what you're talking abou—"

"Leave me alone," she ordered as she broke into a run.

Confusion swirled around him as he marshaled his aching body to chase after her. "How in the world did this happen?" Over and over he asked himself this as they ran for who knows how long. Desperation began to gnaw at his gut. He'd never seen her like this. She didn't really mean what she'd said, did she? What had he said? What had he done? He had to make her stop. He had to make her listen.

"Annie…! Come back…! You're…wrong…! Please…come…back…!" he gasped out, willing his words to reach her slowly shrinking figure. Even though Armin was far more in shape than he'd ever been in his life, Annie had always been faster than him. But he had to try.

As he poured on a desperate spurt of speed, he tripped over nothing with an undignified yelp. By the time he'd struggled to his knees, she was almost to the woods. He grit his teeth and narrowed his eyes as he calculated his options. At this point, his chances of catching up with her were virtually nonexistent. Once she made it to the trees, he could search in there for years and never find her. He clenched his fists as he came to a decision. This wasn't the way he wanted this to happen. If anything, it was probably the exact opposite of what he wanted, but he didn't care anymore. All he cared about now was stopping her from leaving.

Drawing in as large of a breath as his exhausted lungs could muster, he threw back his head and bellowed, "Annie, marry me!"

The silence hung heavily in the wake of his plea as he slowly opened his eyes, air raggedly flowing in and out of his body. His heart sank. She was gone. He slumped over, tears stinging in his eyes. He'd lost her. He'd lost her. He hit the ground in frustration. He was supposed to be the one who always knew what to say, so why hadn't he been able to find the words when they'd mattered most?

"What did you say?"

His head snapped up with a crack. "Annie…." His shoulders sagged in relief. She had her arms folded across her chest, personal walls up higher than he'd ever seen and fortified to the teeth, but she was here.

He sucked in another breath to try and steady his voice. "W-will you m-marry me?"

Her eyes darkened. "That's not funny."

He couldn't quite hide the hurt. "I'm-I'm serious."

"Oh, really?" There was a brittle edge to her voice beneath the steel. "That's why you were talking about being free versus being tied down? That's why when I reminded you that we'd been together for a little over two years, your response was, 'Isn't that just…great…?'" she mimicked, capturing perfectly the uncertainty of that moment. Tears glittered in her eyes, barely held in check. "That's why you hid when I saw you cozying up to that cute, new florist? That's why you brushed me off at the lake? That's why these last couple of weeks you've been avoiding me and run away whenever I approach you?"

Like a bolt of lightning, he realized how she had seen it, and it shamed him to admit that taken all together, her interpretation was far more logical than the reality.

"I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry, Annie. I never meant—I never thought—never dreamed that—I've just been so caught up in trying to…." Again, words failed him. He sighed and looked at her firmly. It seemed best to start over. "I don't want to break up with you, Annie. I want to marry you." He willed her to hear the sincerity in his words. "I love you."

Her eyes were ice.

"Annie, I…I want to go with you to see the flaming waters and the great ice fields. I want to hold you close as we camp in the sandy snow plains to ward off the cold. I want to sit with you under the light curtain and watch it change colors as it flutters in the night. I want to journey to the ocean and see if it's the same blue as your eyes or mine." He knew he was rambling, but he couldn't stop himself. "The world is so much larger than anything we can imagine, and I want to spend the rest of my life exploring it with you by my side. It's always been my dream to see the world beyond the walls, but if you're not there with me, it…I just know it wouldn't be right." He paused for a second and continued, "And, if you don't want to live on the road all the time, that's fine too. Maybe we can build a home somewhere and take expeditions every so often. I want to build a life we both want."

Her face was still hard, but he'd come too far to stop now. Heck, he was already on his knees. Fishing out the ring box from his jacket, he opened it and offered it to her with trembling hands. He felt like he was fifteen again under threat of being cannon-blasted to pieces along with Eren and Mikasa, hanging onto one frail, lingering hope that would be the difference between life and death. His eyes locked with hers, a swirl of complicated emotions. "You are my one love in this one lifetime we're given, Annie, and if you'll give me the chance, I'll gladly spend the rest of my life proving that to you. I swear you'll never have cause to feel like you have these last couple of weeks again. So, please, please, say you'll marry me, Annie Leonhart. I don't want to wait anymore for forever with you."

They stared at each other for ages before she finally spoke. "Idiot."

He blinked before breaking into the largest smile he'd ever worn and rising to his feet. "Annie…" he breathed.

She bowed her head to hide the water trailing down her cheeks. "Idiot," her voice trembled.

He tipped up her chin and gently cupped her face in his hands, tenderly brushing away the tears and gazing at her in adoration. "But you love me and you'll marry me anyway?"

She frowned hard for a moment before softening her face into the most beautiful smile he'd ever seen, mischief and joy dancing in her sparkling blue eyes. "What do you think, genius?"

He kissed her.

And so ends my first contribution to this fandom. I'm not sure if I got the characters right, but hopefully it wasn't completely horrible. I think I did okay with Annie. I see her emotionally as a reservoir that holds in all but what's required to trickle out to prevent overflowing, but will overflow when the rain beats down hard enough. Armin though, I'm slightly afraid I made him too oblivious, but I sort of operated on the premise that during planning, he'd have a tendency to absorb himself in a problem and block out the background noise (which unfortunately in this case was Annie's uncertainty about the status of their relationship). Well, a genius who isn't an idiot some of the time is insufferable, so I guess I can claim that it was my attempt to keep him from being insufferable, or something.

I'm quite new to this fandom (I started being interested about a month ago), and I've only seen the anime, so if people have pointers about how to make the characters more in-character, I'd be very grateful if you'd share them with me!

Thank you for reading this incredibly long one-shot. I'm not sure exactly how it became so massive.