That Little Match Girl
Cold. That’s the only word I can use to describe myself right now. Except for alone. I am alone. And abused. That too. A lot of words can describe myself. Cold. Alone. Abused. Beaten. Scared. Dying? No. I am not dying. Just cold. Cold. Cold and shivering. Shivering hard, I am. Maybe if I can sell a match or two, I can go home and father won’t hurt me? Maybe. It’s New Years Eve. Maybe father will not hurt me since it’s a special day? No. He does not care. I wish grandmother was still alive. I wish.
This is what was going through the mind of young Annie Leonhardt, fourteen years old, her short body just integrating with the changes of womanhood, probably in the worst of times. She sat on the cold, cold bench, freezing. A box of matches lay in her lap. A task her cruel father has set for her.
“Bring back some money child, or don’t come back at all.” He commanded before pushing her out and slamming the door behind her.
So here she was, dressed in a grey, dull ripped up dress that did nothing but warm small parts of her. The one thing that did anything significant was the green shawl she found in the streets a month ago. It was placed on her head and draped over her shoulders, down to her waist, warming her slightly more.
She pushed a fringe of her short light blonde hair behind her ear, her light blue eyes watching as the snow collected beneath her feet, which were wrapped in socks that exposed her toes to the biting cold.
She heard a set of footsteps crunch the snow that was falling down. Her head turned up to see an older man, maybe forty. Short, fancy looking, with a frill hanging out from his collar. Annie got off the bench and walked over, taking a match out of the box and holding it out to him, “Ex-excuse me sir. Would you have a care for a match?” She asked, innocence emanating from her like heat waves.
The man looked at her with his steel grey cold eyes, shaking his head, “I can not, for I do not have a need for a match. I have plenty.” He narrowed his eyes at her before huffing and continuing on his way.
The girl stood there, staring at the back of the man walking away before a person bumped into her, sending her to the ground, along with her box of matches, scattering them about. She grunted as she hit the floor, slightly scraping her unprotected hands against the cold stone floor. She looked at the matches and went to quickly pick the box up and get all of the matches back in.
As soon as she completed the task, she got back up, seeing another person walk by. A taller, blonde man with thick eyebrows, wearing a thick coat that warmed his whole body. She walked up, holding out the box, “P-please, s-sir. W-would you c-care for a m-m-match?” She asked, her shivering increasing.
The man looked down at the girl with pity. He slowly shook his head, “I am sorry, sweetheart, for I cannot. I have no need for a match, and I must go. My apologies.”
The girl watched the man walk off. She turned and walked the other way, soon entering the square, where people were running about, getting gifts and other things. Happiness all around this little bundle of sadness.
Annie sat down on another bench, looking down at the box of matches. She was kicked out of the house with nine matches in the box, and here she is, with nine inside the box.
Her eyes looked up to see a carriage, with a family of five getting in. The father had a boy holding his hands, while he helped his wife onto the carriage. Their two other children, a boy and girl older than the first boy, got in on their own effort. The father gave the small boy whose hand he was holding to the mother, who held him tight to her bosom, warm and safe from the violent weather. The father got in with them, and banged on the wall of the carriage, giving the driver the go-ahead to ride off.
This sight. This sight of complete and utter happiness. Your loved ones, the ones you should be spending time with on this holiday. Mine does not care for me. I wish he did. I wish...I wish grandmother was still alive. She thought to herself, the thoughts running through her mind causing tears to well up in her eyes. She choked back on her sadness, trying to keep it from coming out, but that only caused more to come, eventually causing her walls to break.
The sounds of laughter and joy emanated from a store as a young man walked out of it, holding an apple as he looked over his shoulder, “It's amazing that you were even able to get one of these, my friend! I would pay any price to enjoy this in the winter!” He said, laughing again before closing the door behind him, taking one bite from the apple before taking the three stone steps down to the square.
He straightened the black and grey blazer he borrowed from his father, looking down at himself to make sure his grey vest, black tie, white button up shirt, and grey trousers were not out of order. As he did so, he ran his free hand across the scarlet red fabric of his scarf, wrapped snug around his neck.
Satisfied with what he saw, he continued down the square, his leather derby shoes clapping against the cold stone brick floor. He reached up to take off his grey flat hat so that he could smooth his dark brown hair before placing the hat back on his head.
His green eyes scanned his environments, looking at all of the happy people. Happy for New Years, he thought to himself. He stopped as his eyes spotted something unmoving, something...sad. A girl was sitting on a bench nearby, hunched over and shivering, clutching a box. He cocked an eyebrow and made his way over.
As he got closer, the girl turned her head up to show the tears streaming down her face. She reached up with an arm to wipe the tears away, but the teen boy stopped her by gently grabbing her wrist, pushing it away so that he could reach over with his thumb and wipe them away, “Do not cry, my lady. What ails you so?”
The girl breathed heavily, trying to regain herself before she held out the box, sniffling, “I...I am trying to sell some matches. I need the money. Do...d-do you need one?”
The boy looked at the matches and smiled, “What’s your name?”
She blinked, “Annie...L-Leonhardt…”
The boy nodded, “My name is Eren...Eren Jaeger...it’s nice to meet you Miss Leonhardt.”
He looked at the box before shaking his head slowly. He placed the apple he took one bite out of in the box, “Alas, Miss Leonhardt, I spent all of my money on the apple. I don’t want to be a waste of your time, so please, take it. It only served as a comfort to me. And it looks like you need it more than I.”
Annie looked down at the apple, then up at Eren, before giving a faint smile and nodding, “Th-thank you, Mister Jaeger. Thank you.”
Eren smiled and stood up, “You should get some shelter, some place warm. Sadly, I can not offer you that shelter. Just keep yourself safe, Miss Leonhardt. I must go. Stay safe.” He said before turning and walking away, leaving the poor lonely girl to herself.
She placed the box on the bench and picked up the apple. It was a decent sized red apple. Sure, it wasn’t a full meal. But it is good enough. Bless that kind man, she thought to herself, looking down the path that Eren walked down, seeing no sign of the young man. She turned his head back to the apple, giving a smirk before biting into it, the crunch like music to her ears, the taste so sweet. She then took another bite, enjoying it just as much as the first bite. Her mind kept on thinking of the young man that gave the apple to her, making her blush slightly, but not visibly, as the cold kept that from happening.
Once Annie finished the apple, she put it down on the ground, sighing as she gulped down the last bits. She turned back to the box of matches, her eyes growing sullen again. She reached over and picked it up, getting up from the bench. She looked up at the sky, seeing that it was getting dark. Can’t go back to father, she thought to herself, he would beat me senseless.
She walked down the street she saw the boy go down, looking at all of the lit up homes. The ones who had a family inside. A caring family. One that wouldn’t hurt their children. One that wouldn’t kick them out of the house and onto the streets. One who wouldn’t use violence to punish their children for not bringing any money home. One that wouldn’t send their children out to get money.
The wind was picking up, as was her shivering and the snow was falling harder. Luckily, Annie was able to find an alley between two houses, perfect for a small girl like herself to rest in. It was still cold, and the wind was still blowing, but she could bear it. She sat down and made herself as comfortable as she can, placing the box of matches down in front of her.
As the full blanket of night fell upon the town, Annie felt the wind picking up. She was suffering. From cold. From loneliness. And worse, from mild hypothermia.
It’s getting colder. Colder? Or hotter? No...colder, definitely. Maybe if I use...where did the matches go-oh wait, they are right there, silly me. Maybe I can use one? No, father will be very mad, and I don’t like it when he is happ-mad, or was it angry? I just want to be in front of a fire. Warm my body. But I can’t. These matches are the closest things to a fireplace.
She looked down at them, the matches laying around in the box, being unused. Might as well use them. I will use one. Father won’t notice.
She picked one up and looked at the match, the thin stick with white heads. She looked at the nearest wall, glancing back at the match before bringing it close to the wall. She ran the head across the stone wall, a flame erupting from the head instantly. The light shined in her bright blue eyes, her lips curling into a smile as the slight heat hit her body. It was like a stove. A warm, hot stove that protected her from the biting cold by embracing her. She lifted her feet to warm them, only for the stove to disappear.
She looked disheartened as she lifted the burnt out match in her hand. She frowned, throwing it away. It was still cold. Another one will do, she thought to herself, grabbing another match and striking it against the wall, illuminating a scene of a table in front of her. A table filled with food. A goose was cooked in front of her. Licking her lips, she grabbed a leg and brought it close to her mouth, about to eat it when she realized it had gone cold in her hands. She looked at the leg of the goose to see that it was the burnt out match instead.
She quickly dropped it and picked up another, rubbing it against the wall. A new scene. A huge, tall Christmas tree, one larger than any she has seen through the windows of the homes she passed. From head to toe, it was decorated beautifully. Presents lined the floor below it. She reached out to grab one when the match went out, the presents disappearing into a wisp of smoke.
She frowned again, placing the match down and grabbing another, striking it quickly against the wall, illuminating to show a person she thought was dead.
“Grandmother?” She asked, seeing the kind-looking elderly lady standing in front of her.
The woman smiled, “Look at you. You’ve grown so much, Annie. You look more beautiful than ever. You have turned into such the young woman. Your mother would be so proud, you look just like her. Come here, dearie.”
Annie smiled as she reached up to hug her grandmother, only to have her vanish into thin air, the match going out again.
The young lady gritted her teeth, throwing the match away, she grabbed the rest of the matches, “No! You will not take her from me!” She shouted as she struck the last five matches against the wall, the light revealing her grandmother. She smiled again, reaching up to hug her grandmother, who wrapped her arms around her. Tears fell from Annie’s eyes, “I missed you so much!” She exclaimed, the warmth of her grandmother comforting her. Little did she know, she was actually wrapping her arms around a cold light pole.
The snow fell down harder, the wind blew faster. Annie’s condition was rapidly worsening. Her subconscious shivering became more violent, her teeth chattering, her skin becoming as pale as the snow itself. Her blue lips opened up to let out a puff of hot air. The surface blood vessels in her, contracted further into the body, as to try and keep the vital organs alive and going. She didn’t know, as she felt like she was with her dead grandmother, happy as ever. She was becoming drowsy. Her eyes were beginning to slowly close.
“I love you.” She whispered, the sound of the blowing wind carrying it away.
That young girl was the only thing running through young Eren’s mind as he sat there, still in his clothes from today excluding the blazer, hat, and scarf, his emerald eyes staring into the flames roaring in front of him as he sat in his home, his body warming to the core. His mother was off in the kitchen, preparing their great New Years Eve feast. His father was off in his study, looking at documents. And Eren was thinking of that girl. Annie Leonhardt.
When he saw her before, he could’ve sworn he saw an angel sitting in front of him. He looked down at his hands, sighing in sadness for the young girl. I feel like I should do something, he thought to himself.
He heard the wind outside roar louder than ever. He looked at the window, seeing the snow blowing outside. It has never blown this bad before, he thought, his eyes glancing back at the fire as he realized that the girl would never make it through the night. I have to get her, I have to save her.
He sat there, thinking this over and over again, before he shook his head and got up, turning around and looking at his mother, “Mother, I am going out.”
Karla looked at her son, frowning, “But you will freeze to death out there.”
“I will keep myself warm. I just...someone needs my help. Now.”
Karla blinked, turning her head down before nodding, “Al...alright, son. I know I can’t persuade you. Go. Now. Get this girl.”
Eren smiled when she said he could go. As he was getting his blazer, hat, and scarf on, he looked at his mother with curiosity, “How did you know it was a girl?”
Karla smiled, “I noticed you staring into the fire. Your face gave away it all. Go. Get her, I will tell your father.”
Eren nodded and put his hand on the doorknob, “I might be bringing back a patient.” He said before opening the door and shutting it behind himself.
Eren was hit with a wall of air, freezing him. He shivered but breathed heavily, holding an arm up as he ran through the snow, looking side to side for the small young girl. Just keep yourself alive until I get to you, he thought to her, the wind pushing violently, but him pushing with all his strength against it. Eren was winning. He shouted out, “Annie!” But the wind was too strong, snuffing his voice out instantly. He looked, he scanned, he searched, hoping to find the girl alive.
He looked ahead to see a mass hanging on to a light pole. Eren’s eyes widened as he ran over, seeing that it was that little match girl, Annie. He crouched down, seeing that her eyes were closed. He placed his hands on her shoulders, shaking her, “Annie!” Her head hung off to the side. Eren thought she was dead when he saw that her lips were moving slowly, like she was saying something. There is still a chance, he thought to himself before wrapping an arm around her neck and another arm under her legs to lift her up. Carrying the small bridal style, he quickly ran back home.
As he got closer to the house, he saw the door open, his father leaning out of the door, “Eren, bring her in!” He shouted.
Eren ascended the steps and dashed past his father, looking down at the young girl as she escaped from the cold and into the warm. Eren looked at his father, “Got a warm bath ready?”
Grisha shook his head, slamming the door shut, “No. We must warm her slowly. Warming her too fast will cause her to go into shock. I got a bed ready for her. Quickly, get her upstairs. Karla, begin to warm some tea, anything sweet.”
Eren nodded and began to ascend the stairs with the girl in his arms until he was on the second story. Grisha came up behind him, running past him to open a door into a bedroom. Eren rushed through the door, quickly placing the girl on the bed. He took this time to look down at her.
Eren couldn’t believe how pale she was. She was almost like a ghost. Her lips were blue as the water, slowly moving as she spoke to some unknown person. Her limbs hung loosely, and there were no visible blood vessels.
Grisha walked in and pointed at the girl, “Take her clothes off.”
Eren cocked an eyebrow, “What?”
Grisha growled, “Take her clothes off! They are wet and making the condition worse.
Her own body could warm her better. Do it!”
Eren nodded and pulled her shawl off, her light blonde hair spilling everywhere as he threw the damp piece of clothing away. He then pulled her dress off, revealing her naked body to the young man. He blushed, looking away as he reached at her feet, pulling off the socks and throwing them away along with the dress. He then pulled the blanket up and over her body, covering her up and keeping her warm.
Eren took this time to pull off his scarf, hat, and jacket as his father ran downstairs. He crouched down next to the girl, reaching over with his hand and pulling a fringe of her hair out of her face, her beauty shining out to him. He smiled at seeing the girl look so peaceful.
He heard loud footsteps as his father came back up, running in with a piece of cloth, handing it to Eren, “Place this on her head.”
Eren held the cloth, feeling that it was warm and damp. He nodded and laid it out across her forehead. He could feel her tremble, but she eventually calmed down. Her breathing did the same. But her blood vessels could still not be seen, and her lips were still blue, as well as her skin still being pale.
Grisha shook her head, “I...I don’t think this is enough. There is only one thing we can do left...Eren, take off your clothes.”
The young man snapped his head from the girl to his father, his eyes wide as ever, “Excuse me?”
Grisha repeated, taking the cloth off of her head and placing it on a nearby table, “Take your clothes off. The only thing we can do left when she is unconscious is to warm her up with another body. And we can only do that when you are bare.”
Eren looked back at the girl, breathing heavily and blushing madly. He is right...but it would feel so creepy, he thought to himself. He looked down and closed his eyes before looking up and nodding, opening his eyes to glance at his father, “Alright, father. Can you just...leave me for a bit? While I take my clothes off?”
Grisha nodded and walked out of the room, “I will check back soon.”
As soon as his father was gone, Eren sighed before standing up. He undid the buttons on his vest, pulling it off. He then untucked his shirt and unbuttoned that, pulling that off as well, revealing his bare well toned chest. He then pulled off his belt, pulling his shoes off before pulling his pants down. He walked over to the empty side of the bed. He hesitated, then got under the covers, shifting around a bit before discarding his underwear next to the bed.
He looked at the unconscious nude girl laying next to him, her mouth saying things he could not hear. I have to do it...to keep her warm...and alive.
He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her small naked body close to his bigger one. Instantly, he could feel her cold skin, but his warm skin began to affect hers. Eventually, her pale skin began to bring back her color. He could see her blue lips begin to turn back to pink. He then held her head close to his chest, keeping her close to him, and warm. Her ragged breathing evened out, and her very slow heartbeat beating against his chest began to pick up speed. She was coming back to life.
Grisha walked in, “Let me get a look at her.”
Eren nodded and let go of her, allowing his father to inspect the girl he just met today. He checked her pulse, looked at her skin, felt her movements. Eventually he nodded, “Her condition is improving. Keep it up, son. When she is awake, tell us. We will bring you two some food and warm tea.”
Eren looked up at his father, wrapping his arms around the girl again to pull her close, “Alright father. And...thanks…”
Grisha gave a faint smile, “I wouldn’t let a young girl suffer. Especially one like this. She looked like she has been abused. Did you notice some of her bruises?”
Eren pulled up the blanket slightly to see big bruises around her body. His eyes widened, “She has been hit.”
Grisha nodded, “What was she doing when you saw her first?”
Eren shrugged, “Uh...selling matches.”
Grisha sighed, “Her mother wouldn’t make her do this. So it must’ve been her father.”
Eren looked at his father, “We aren’t going to bring her back to him, are we?”
Grisha gave a small humorless laugh, “No...we will not...but I do think we should have a talk with the bastard in the morning.”
Eren smirked, glancing down at the young girl in his arms, “Yeah...let’s do that.”
Grisha nodded and began to walk towards the door, “Just keep her close to you. Keep her warm. Call out for us when she is awake.”
Eren nodded, “Yes, father, I will.”
And with that, Grisha closed the door behind him. Eren looked down at Annie, who was sleeping in his arms. He lowered his head, closing his eyes, falling asleep with the girl. Annie’s lips slowly curled up into a smile, her arms unconsciously wrapping around Eren.
The Next Morning
Eren slowly opened his eyes to see sunlight pouring through the window, his eyes adjusting to the sudden brightness. His pupils went from the window down to the blonde girl hanging on to him. His eyes widened as he realized all that happened last night.
The girl looked much different, as her skin color was fully restored, as well as her lips. She looked absolutely magnificent and beautiful. He exhaled, his warm breath brushing across her forehead.
He felt a jolt in his arms as he saw the girl’s eyes open slowly. She glanced up at Eren. Her eyes were wide with confusion.
Eren blushed and let go of her, “Uh...I found you last night, you were dying from hypothermia. I carried you back here, and my father made me take your clothes off to keep you warm, then made me get naked and stay close to you to keep you warmer. I am sorry. I hope you didn’t mind.”
The girl laid there, clutching the blanket to her naked body, her eyes darting around the room. Suddenly, she smiled slightly and blushed a lot, “No...no...I am sorry...I didn’t mean to be a burden on you.”
Eren shook his head, “No...you were never a burden. My father is a doctor, so it’s his job to help. And I am technically his assistant.”
Annie nodded, “O-okay...uhm...I am still kind of cold. Can...can you hold me?”
Eren’s eyes widened in surprise, before relaxing and nodded, pulling her in close, “Of course. My father said you can stay with us. We know about the bruises.”
Annie’s eyes lowered, and she felt ashamed, “I...I…”
Eren shook his head, placing a finger on her lips, “Don’t say anything. My father and I have planned something for your father…”
“No...please...I don’t want to trouble you. I can just go back home and you don’t need to take care of me.”
Eren’s eyes widened, “Why would you want to go back to that bastard?”
Annie rested her head on Eren’s chest, “Because...he is my father…”
“No...not anymore...he is just a criminal...stay with us...we will take care of you…”
Annie pulled back and glanced at Eren’s eyes, tears starting to fall out of her eyes as she nodded and rested her head back on his chest, “Then I would love to be with you. Just please...don’t kill him…”
Eren held her close to him, nodding, “Yeah...don’t worry.” He muttered, before kissing her on the forehead.
Annie’s father sat at the table in their dirty broken house, a bottle of whiskey in hand. He took a swig of it, looking out the window, “It’s been a day...where is that wretch of a daughter?”
A knock at the door made him snap his head towards it. He sighed as he got up, “Better be her.” He muttered as he placed the bottle on the table and walked over to the door, placing his hand on the knob and turning it to open it wide.
A young man stood in front of him, wearing the regular attire of a middle class man with a blazer and flat cap, a red scarf wrapped around his neck. Behind him stood a young woman, beautiful, groomed, and dressed in light blue bodice that shined the sun in just the right way. A bonnet was place on her head, same color of the dress. She had red lipstick that complimented her features. Her blue eyes looked at the man who opened the door, “Hello father.”
Annie’s father frowned, “Annie...what is with this attire? Did you spend the money on clothing?”
The young man spoke up, “No sir, my mother gave it to her. My mother doesn’t need it anymore.”
The father looked at the boy, “And who are you boy?”
“My name is Eren Jaeger, and my family will be taking care of Miss Leonhardt.”
The father frowned, “Like hell you will. Annie, come here.”
“No, father. I have had enough of you and your abuse. Ever since grandma died, all you did was drink that alcohol and beat me. Today, it ends.”
Eren spoke up, “And there is nothing you can do about it.”
The father growled, throwing his fist at the boy, “You little pri-”
Eren grabbed the fist and elbow of the older man and threw him out onto the streets, hitting the melting snow with a thud and a grunt. He landed just inches from Annie.
Eren walked over and stood above the man, “Annie taught me that little trick before we came here. Pretty effective.” He said before his face grew serious, and his tone darkened, “Now listen. If you ever come near Annie again, I will beat the life out of you.” He said before kicking the man in the ribs, causing him to roll onto his side and cough slightly.
Eren placed his foot on the man to roll him onto his back again, “Understand?”
The father wrinkled his nose and spat at Eren, “Screw you, you little fu-”
He was cut off by a smaller foot hit the side of his face, knocking a tooth out, along with some accompanying blood. Eren looked over to see the foot belong to Annie, her foot out of the high heeled shoe.
“Eren, I think we should leave my father to himself. Though...give him a kick again...but this time...take it to his stones.”
Eren smirked as he raised his foot and kicked the father in his genitals, making the man scream in pain.
With that, Annie turned her back towards her father, holding her arm out.
Eren turned around and hooked his arm in hers, “Lets go back home, where a feast awaits us.”
Annie smiled, nodding, “Lets.”
And with that, Eren led the girl away from her abusive father. No longer is she his daughter. No longer is she that small defenseless girl. No longer is she that little match girl.
She is a woman. A warrior.