She has always been beautiful.
Armin has no problem admitting this, but the guys have never asked him who he thinks is the prettiest girl in the 104th. They’ll argue over Mikasa or Christa or sometimes Mina or Sasha, but they don’t ask him. It’s a terrible pity, he thinks, that they don’t see things the way he does because what he sees is wonderfully complex but beautifully simple and deceptively delicate but impossibly strong all at the same time.
He sees Annie Leonhardt, and he sees the sun in her hair and the ocean he’s only read about in her eyes. She is hypnotizing in the way she moves and in the things that she doesn’t say and in the way she hides behind a curtain of bangs like she has as many secrets as there are stars in the sky.
She is a beautiful, brilliant enigma and the very idea of her makes Armin’s heart flutter more than he cares to admit.
He wonders sometimes if he’ll ever solve her.
He wonders more if she’ll let him.
They get an afternoon off one day because their instructor for strategy has come down with some sort of bug. It’s a nice day out, and Armin finds himself wandering the training grounds until he finds Annie lying on her stomach under a tree.
Her chin is resting on her palm and there’s a butterfly perched on the fingers of her free hand. She looks bored, but even from here, Armin can see the curiosity in her eyes.
He hesitates for a whole second before he moves to join her. “I – uh – would wash my hands when I get back,” he says awkwardly.
She glances at him and waves the insect from her fingers.
“They’re poisonous,” Armin elaborates. “Well. That one was. Not enough to do any real damage, but enough to make you feel sick later if you don’t…” He trails off awkwardly and coughs to clear his throat. “Can I join you?”
Annie shrugs. “If you like,” she says shortly.
“Thanks.” Armin hesitates a second time before he picks a spot at the base of the tree. “They’re cool though, aren’t they? Those in particular – they don’t have natural predators because they’re so toxic. It’s amazing to think that something so tiny and fragile could be so…”
He cuts himself off because Annie’s watching him, eyes set on his the way he imagines the ocean meets the sky. There are secrets there – so many secrets, and his heart thumps like it wants her to notice when he realizes he’s been staring too long.
He coughs. “Sorry,” he says. “I didn’t mean to ramble – ”
“No.” Annie shakes her head. “Go on. It’s interesting.”
“Oh.” Armin fights off the blush. “Are you sure you want to listen?”
“I would have left if I wanted you to stop,” she says. She turns her eyes back to the ground and picks at the grass. “Tell me about that butterfly.”
Armin chuckles sheepishly and rubs at the back of his neck. “Well, yeah. The books say they were from an old world continent called Africa, but the climate changed and they migrated north. They’re usually a lot bigger, so I guess the one that you had was young.” He pauses. “They kind of remind me of you,” he mumbles, looking away.
“How so?” asks Annie. To anyone else, she would sound bored, but Armin has a talent for reading people, and he hears the curious lilt in her voice.
He grins dumbly. “They’re so delicate. Fragile, almost, but they’re toxic enough to take down animals three times their size.” He pauses. “They’re also… lovely… to look at. All butterflies are, actually, and um.” He flushes furiously and snaps his mouth shut.
Annie lets out a quiet huff and sits up. “We should head in.”
“Um. Yeah.” He’s still blushing, but he gets to his feet and waits dumbly as Annie does the same.
“Armin,” she says.
He pauses. “Yeah?”
It’s all she says, but Armin will swear on his life that her lips are tilted in a tiny, flattered smile, and that there’s a light in her eyes that he knows is just for him.
It’s been a few days since the raid on the Stohess district, and he’s managed to talk his way into the dungeons underground. He knows squad leader Hanji is listening at the end of the hall, and honestly, Armin thinks she’s right in thinking that nothing will come of this. There’s nothing strong enough to even scratch Annie’s prison, and he doubts very much that she can hear anything from within.
Still, he sighs. She’s more of an enigma now than ever. She looks so at peace, but there’s the tiniest hint of a frown on her face and that’s enough to tell him that her decision must not have been easy. She’s always had secrets, and he knows now that this was one of them, but he refuses to believe it was the only one. There must be something else – there has to be other reasons for why she did what she did, because the Annie he had come to know would never have killed so many people on a whim.
“They found butterflies like this, you know,” he says quietly, pressing the tips of his fingers to the cool surface of the crystal. “In the old days, they used to go on digs, and they found butterflies trapped in amber and preserved for millions and millions of years.” He pauses. “You won’t be gone that long, will you?”
He doesn’t get an answer.