Armin does not talk as much as the rest during dinner. It’s to save energy, really. There’s no point with him exerting himself now, considering that the meal has only just started. See, what typically happens throughout the course of the evening is that Eren and Jean start arguing over their opinions (over any stupid little thing, really), then Sasha gets ragged on for trying to swipe more food than is rationed, and then people like Reiner and Ymir and Connie jump in because it’s fun, and finally the ruckus gets so big that he and Mikasa will have to try and calm the whole fucking room down.
For now, though, he can listen to them quietly; the babbling of a couple hundred teenagers fading into the white noise at the back of his mind. Armin is content to occupy himself with whatever he has around him right now, which would be his glass of water. He’s taken a few sips but it’s still mostly full, and he stares at the clear substance very fixedly – like it’s a crystal ball or something. He’s read in a book before that light bends – is refracted – when it passes through a medium of different optical density: that is, air and water, air and glass, water and glass. Armin moves his finger around; tracing shapes on the cool surface, watching the disembodied image of his fingertip form and scatter over and over and over again. He shifts restlessly in his seat, wide blue eyes flicking mildly from object to object. They’re kind of just dots in his peripheral vision, because for now he’s decided he’s only going to look at them through a screen of air and glass and water. The refracted shapes of the trainees are a blur, a mass of nearly-identical tunics and shirts and pants and neat hairstyles, making his eyes glaze over.
Armin holds the glass up and takes an absent bite of his stew. A flash of pale yellow in the distorting surface catches his eye, and Armin focuses his gaze immediately, fixing on the person who has managed to claim his attention. It’s Annie Leonhardt. He’s going to need to be careful not to stare openly, or risk inviting a “what are you looking at, Arlert?” He returns his gaze to the glass of water, silently appreciative of the fact that neither Eren nor Mikasa have quizzed him about this unusual attention to his drink. Annie’s impassively hostile all the time, facing the world with deadened eyes, indistinct blue-grey. Always skulking around lazily in lessons, but never hesitating when called on to deliver – he remembers the way she threw Eren like it was nothing. But that’s about all.
No, he doesn’t know much about Annie, he muses, as he disinterestedly watches the blob of yellow waver in the shimmering sea of white and brown. It’s kinda static, though, compared to the rest – the owner of that blonde head of hair eats in a methodical way, chewing in a fashion that manages to come across as both meditative and brisk. There are no animated gestures or bobbing or rearing back, things that pepper conversations. Armin sighs in her general direction. Have I ever had a proper conversation with her, anyway?
As Annie stands up and prepares to leave the mess hall, Armin tips his glass of water back and swirls once before draining it. He thinks he’d like to try.
The next morning at breakfast, they’re within each other’s range of vision. When Armin takes his seat, Annie briefly looks the blonde boy in the eye and makes a mock toast to him before raising her cup to her lips. He flushes delicately and gulps. Ah. She noticed.
Armin isn’t particularly looking forward to the squad’s next hand-to-hand combat lesson. Lying on the dirt floor with pain clouding his vision, he squints up at Annie; her image refracted beautifully for him by the sun and the tears pricking at his eyes. She takes a few steps closer to him, but everyone flocks around at that moment and starts to criticise her volubly for picking on a weakling kid who’s obviously inferior to her in hand-to-hand combat.
Annie withdraws the hand she was about to extend. Armin closes his eyes.
Their emotions are refracted, too, unable to get straight through to the other – all they have ever received on either end are muddled signals, distorted messages.