You could hear a voice calling out, faint, background noise as you stared blankly at the wooden beam buried in your stomach. You recalled carving all kinds of silly little things on it as a child, carefree and never thinking that the world could crumble around you the way it did all those years ago.
The way Shiganshina had fallen to the titans.
The way it had now.
‘I always hated this stupid house.’
The thought flashed through your mind as you felt your legs give out. Had it not been for the rubble piled around you, you’d have collapsed on the dirty, cracked floor of your crumbling childhood home. Instead, you slumped at an awkward angle, pain shooting through you as the beam pushed through more of your body, stretching the wound, tearing it wider.
You would’ve screamed.
You always did when you were younger. At the smallest things too. Like when you’d busted your lip after running into the crooked frame of that stupid, crooked door on your way out to play.
Your friends had panicked when they’d seen the bloody wound. You had too. You remembered crying, fear gripping you as you looked around for your parents.
They’d wiped it clean and told you not to worry so much. That mouth wounds always looked worse than they really were.
‘I wonder what they’d say to me now?’
Something must’ve exploded outside. Or maybe another building fell. Either way, you could feel the ground shake, shifting the rubble around you. Fire coursed through you as the wood buried itself deeper in your abdomen.
‘I bet that’ll leave some splinters.’
You used to get those all the time. Just another of the near thousands of reasons you hated this shitty little building. You remembered mornings when you’d awaken and find tiny slivers of wood hidden in your fingertips, the agony unbearable as a child.
‘Those always hurt like a bitch.’
“Y/N! Oh shit, okay, we’re gonna get you out of here,” a soft voice came from seemingly nowhere to meet your ears, a melodious sound that almost cleared your head.
You’d always found Armin’s voice so soothing. Even during your youth, he’d been the one to unknowingly lull you to sleep on grassy hillsides as he told stories and gushed about the ocean. In more recent years, he’d been one of few people to soothe you after rough nights where you saw visions of your family, bodies bent and broken and bloody and-
A creaky groan broke your train of thoughts and you tilted your head back to watch as the roof sagged in, allowing dust to rain down from above, falling in your eyes, coating your mouth, filling your lungs.
You blinked the particles away, wiped the tears that had pooled in your eyes away. They fluttered open and-
Armin, his eyes as blue as ever, shining in the half light of the house’s inside as he leaned over you.
Damn did he look beautiful.
His hair hung around his face, that short bob it had been in for years.
In fact, you couldn’t remember a moment when it had been any different. Those damn bullies had been pulling on it since the day you two had met.
“Hey,” you croaked out, a weak smile forming on your face.
“Oh god,” you heard him whisper in that sweet, soft voice of his, “This is bad.”
“Is it really?”
Your answer was a single, fat tear rolling down his cheek, a trail being carved in the grime on his face. That damn tear you’d seen a million times, every time you, Eren and Mikasa had rescued him from his tormentors. The one you’d seen nearly everyday during training and the one you’d seen at Trost.
Seeing it, a shiver ran down your back.
You don’t know when it’d happened, but the solid feeling of the crumbled stone of your old home under your head had been replaced with the much softer feeling of Armin’s lap.
“Armin, I’m kinda tired…”
If you had been any less unfocused, you might have noticed how he stiffened at your words. But it slipped past you, an unnoticed detail amongst the chaos and agony of the moment.
“Hey, y-you can’t… you can’t fall asleep right now.”
You remembered how easy it had been to let yourself drift off any time you’d been sleepy, your childhood friends not minding how often you fell asleep with them. You remember always saying it was because you felt comfortable enough around them. They always used to simply laugh it off.
‘I miss his laugh.’
Your eyes refocused on the boy leaning over you. He didn’t look at all like he was going to laugh. Instead, his sky blue eyes brimmed with tears.
‘I guess he doesn’t feel like laughing.’
Another shift in the rubble sent pain flashing through you and a warm wet feeling, which you’d been ignoring till now, spread through the fabric of your uniform.
‘Levi’s gonna be so mad at me for getting stains on my uniform.’
You recalled how angry the Captain had gotten before from a simple wine stain… It hadn’t even been good wine.
‘I could go for some of that right about now.’
Your face felt hot and sticky. Your arms and legs were shaky and weak. Your hair was a tangled matted mess. But most of all, you were just tired.
“I know we’re kind of busy, but I really need to sleep,” you hummed, voice barely audible.
“Won’t you sing to me? You used to all the time,” your words were more of a whisper than anything else.
“I… I can’t… Please don’t…” His voice broke, you could hear it…
‘Why is he so sad?’
You took a deep breath and opened your mouth to speak again. The movement, however, shifted the beam inside of you and no sound came out for a long moment. White flashed behind your eyes and your vision faltered for a brief second. Your fingers curled wordlessly around something, squeezing as the pain washed over you.
“F… uck,” you breathed, head still resting in Armin’s lap, “guess I shouldn’t do that.”
“Hey, it’s… it’s gonna be okay, don’t speak, save your energy. We’ve got so much more we’re gonna have to do, just… just hold on.”
For a moment, you believed him. You were fine. There wasn’t anything but this moment, the two of you.
But a single shift of your position brought reality crashing down.
“I’m gonna die…”
And suddenly, you felt cold. Or maybe you’d always known you were getting colder. But Armin’s warmth was a jarring comparison to the fading heat in your body.
“But I don’t want to…”
You felt your hand relax, releasing what you discovered was Armin’s calf.
Lamely, your arms began moving, pulling at your clothes, trying to wring the blood out as if to put it back in your body. As if you could fix it if you could just get the damn blood back inside where it belongs.
But your arms couldn’t move fast enough.
The blood wouldn’t cooperate.
The pain kept getting worse.
“Armin, I’m gonna die, I don’t wanna die, I’m not ready to go, I don’t wanna leave-”
‘I don’t wanna leave you…’
‘I love you…’
The words stuck in your throat. You couldn’t bring yourself to say them.
‘You’re dying, what does it matter?’ The little voice in your head seemed to shout.
‘Because what if he leaves me? What if I die alone right now?’
The idea caused a panic to course through you, providing the fuel to refocus, and bile rose in your throat.
You met his eyes with an expression of pure fear masking your features.
“I don’t want you to leave… please stay with me,” you pleaded, though your voice didn’t carry far. An arm snaked its way up to his head and your fingers tangled themselves in his hair, pulling him down to press your foreheads together.
At your urging, trembling whisper, he conceded, a shaky breath escaping his parted lips. It was warm and you could feel your hair being gently blown by it.
“Of course,” he murmured, words sounding more broken than anything you’d ever heard before.
“Are you,” you grimaced a bit as a jolt of pain rolled over you, forcing a falter in your speech, “... are you gonna sing for me?”
A sigh of warm breath on your hair and then you felt his fingers find yours. You heard him gasp and his hand jerked back, just barely. “Your fingers… they’re so… cold…”
“And yours are really warm.” You laughed, though it was humorless. Your weak laughed turned into a sort of coughing and pain seared through you at every involuntary jerk. How had you just noticed how warm he was? He’d always been this warm and yet, it hadn’t ever crossed your mind until you acknowledged just how cold you were.
Why had it taken you so long?
His expression remained sad and grim as he reached back and intertwined his fingers with yours. His lip trembled as your eyes met.
Once again, you were struck by just how beautiful they were. “Prettiest damn things I’ve ever seen,” you whispered.
At that, tears welled up and spilled out of those beautiful eyes, dousing your cheeks as they rolled off of his. “Damn it, Y/N,” He choked out, body shaking as he held you.
“Sorry,” you murmured, his reaction causing your own emotions to flare up. Your throat burned, choked more from emotion that the dust that had created a film over it. “I just… Sing for me… Please…”
“I… I can’t,” he gasped, struggling to voice anything.
And you stayed like that for a while, your head resting in Armin’s lap as his shoulders shook from the force of his emotions.
It wasn’t until the roof sagged in and the beam surged forwards, tearing through you further and threatening to come out the other side that you moved, frantically pulling at the wood in vain attempts to get out from beneath it.
With Armin’s help, or rather, with the blonde boy doing all the heavy lifting, you managed to move, no longer pinned beneath the weight of the broken support beam. And with the one object plugging your rather excruciating wound removed, blood began pooling on the dusty, cracked floor with dizzying speed.
You watched, mesmerized and horrified, as crimson spilled out on the floor. The removal of the beam had been agonizing, but now that it was gone, along with the pressure it provided, a stinging feeling outlined the gaping hole in your abdomen and a constant ache made the wound throb.
You stared soundlessly at it.
From somewhere in front of you, Armin made a strangled sort of noise.
You felt lightheaded.
You felt weak.
You felt sick.
But most of all, you were scared. A tremble had set in and looking at your wound, you could see your hands shaking in your peripheral vision.
‘I’m not ready to die, I don’t want to die, what am I supposed to do, I have to stop it, it hurts, please, not yet-’
Another shaky hand clamped over your own.
A warmth bloomed against your side.
Another hand, just as unsteady as the other, wrapped around your shoulders, pulling you towards something.
And suddenly, you were entranced by the familiar scent of Armin.
You were pressed comfortably against his chest, head nestled in the dip between his shoulder and his collarbone. Your ear rested lightly over his heart, listening to the deep, steady beating.
‘Not exactly steady, but…’
There was an aching in your stomach, brought on by the blonde shuffling you around until you rested comfortably in his arms, but it was soon forgotten.
You could feel him move beneath you, subtly and slowly.
And then his lips were pressed ever so gently against your forehead. His breath came out, unsteady and shaky and as broken as a breath could sound. And you felt warm water hitting your skin as the pain Armin held released itself.
And as he shook, crying, you joined him.
Your abdomen ached as you sobbed, but you carried on in spite of it, throat too constricted to make intelligible noises and head too clouded to form any semblance of words.
His grip on your shoulders tightened, knuckles turning white.
Normally, you’d complain about his hands leaving bruises, but you didn’t care. If anything, you wanted to be around to see the bruises form… to feel them…
“Y/N… I… I’m sorry, I couldn’t… and I still can’t… I’m so… useless,” his voice kept faltering, cracking, breaking…
“No... no you aren’t,” You instinctively pressed further against him, desperate for more warmth, for more comfort.
‘Just a little bit more…’
“Please… can you sing for me?”
He had always complied without much hesitance after you had befriended him. He was always more than happy to contribute in some way. He’d always said it wasn’t much, but those moments where he’d let his voice ring out, soft and sweet, were precious. Priceless even.
And he did this time.
His voice was just as soft and bright and kind as you remembered. Each note of that simple little lullaby he’d always been so fond of rang out, clear and true. You could feel his voice vibrating through his body and his chest expanding as he sucked in breaths between notes
“Always have had such a beautiful voice…”
He always used to get so flustered whenever you would compliment him, stopping every time with a squeak.
Now, rather than embarrassment breaking his steady singing, a strangled cry did.
You tensed when he did and you felt your hands grip his arms tightly as that peaceful moment shattered, breaking down and turning the both of you into wailing, teary eyed messes.
You stayed there, clutching at each other, weeping into one another, trying to deny that this was even happening, until the light began to fade.
The sunset saw the both of you still huddled together, the blood on your hands and faces dried and crusted and the tears nearly emptied from within you.
Your own breaths had shallowed significantly, your chest hardly moving with each small inhale.
Your eyes had fallen into a strange pattern of falling out of focus, the world blurring and running together and fading out before sharpening suddenly.
Your wound continued to throb, though you’d long since gone numb to the feeling.
Your fingers and toes had gone cold.
You felt dizzy.
And once again, you felt very, very tired.
“Hey…” Your voice was a quiet, croaking whisper.
The effort of speaking was exhausting and yet...
“... Can I tell you a secret?”
You were both still for a long time and you worried Armin hadn’t heard you.
Then, between sniffles and quiet, shaky exhales, he nodded.
Satisfied, you tilted your head up, eyes meeting his.
‘Those... damn... eyes…’
Your hand moved up, slowly and with obvious twitches and shakes, to grasp noncommittally at his clothes and pull him down to you weakly.
He complied with the unspoken command and dipped his head down slowly until his ear was pressed loosely to your mouth.
You took a slow, trembling breath in, relishing the smell of him once again. Then, quietly and somewhat contentedly, sighed out your sentence.
Already, you felt him tense at the strange feeling of your breath on his ear and the unfamiliar rasp in your voice.
And when he tensed further, it was from knowing. And tears built in his eyes, growing and swelling as you turned to meet your eyes, a silent plea for you to stop, to not say what he knew you were. To keep him from knowing that you had really been his for years. To keep you from confirming that he was losing the chance-
And his well was full again.
Tears spilled out of his eyes and traced over his cheeks, carving new tracks through the dust and dirt on his face. He erupted in messy and ugly and violent sobs that wracked his body. He shook with the force of them and clenched you tightly, gasping for air as he wailed, the sound infinitely louder in the small space of your collapsed home. It was broken and it was pained. His cries echoed with loss and grief made his stomach clench. Years of pining and longing and uncertainty came to an abrupt, painful ending and he hated himself for letting it fester until he couldn’t act upon it, until he couldn’t do anything about it.
“Damn it, I love you too, Y/N. It’s you and it has been for years and I’m sorry I never told you sooner. I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you and I’m so so sorry I wasn’t brave enough,” His words came out in a rush, his feelings and emotions blurring his confession into an unintelligible string of apologies.
And then, he kissed you.
It, like everything you’d been through, was messy and hard. Fragile and delicate, but strong. His crying eyes wet your cheeks and it was a strange sensation, his warm, salty tears on your cold cheeks. And the kiss was warm. And he was warm, the hands holding your face and neck, the arms encompassing your frail frame, the chest against your side.
You could hear his heartbeat, loud and frantic.
For a moment.
And then it quieted, replaced with a tinny ringing.
Even that began quickly fading out.
Reflexively, you peeled opened your eyes, a flash of anxiety passing through you.
But your eyes were slow to open, eyelids sticky and far heavier than they had been.
‘S… to… p’
Your vision was blurred. Everything was hazy, unclear and slowly getting darker and fuzzier.
Your mind was unfocused and grew foggier with each shallow breath.
‘J.. ust… a li… little longer… pl… ease…’
You were too weak to speak, all your energy draining out of you as freely as your blood.
And you were cold.
‘S… o damn... cold’
But he was warm.
‘Ar… min ‘s w… arm.’
‘S… o wa… rm’