She found him behind the stables sniffling. Annie wasn't the sort of person to be oversensitive about anything, but there was something startling about seeing Armin like that. He always looked vaguely concerned and maybe even a little scared, but she had never seen him cry before. She hesitated; instinct told her to leave well enough alone, but curiosity curled in her gut. Eren was the emotional one, she thought. Not Armin. Armin always kept it together while Eren exploded with feeling.
Armin was, she had thought, a little bit like her.
Her boot scuffed too close to the side of the building; the sound brought Armin's head up, and with it, a dirty, rolled-up sleeve. He swiped at his face with his right arm, smearing his tears with the dirt and vice-versa.
"Hey, Annie," he said, as if everything were perfectly normal.
Maybe some of the others would have teased him for showing weakness: Jean certainly would have, though Annie found Jean to be no better than anyone else in the Southern 104th Training Corps; his goals were not as objectively honorable as Eren's, yet he held himself above others as if they were. When Annie was feeling particularly thoughtful, she wondered if Jean was only trying to convince himself that what he was doing was the right thing.
But Jean was not here behind the stables with her to mock Armin for his tears.
She was alone.
"Hey." Her response was simple: dull and flat like all the rest of her, really. She could have asked him if he was all right, but he was; of course he was. He was not dead like so many others. He was only sad, and sad was all right, because people who were only sad could keep going.
She wondered, for a brief moment, what it was that had made him sad, but she didn't ask. It wasn't her business. She shouldn't care, anyway, about what might make someone like Armin cry. Surely his story was no different than all the others. He had joined with Eren, after all, and Mikasa. None of them had family. Maybe he was thinking of his parents.
Annie shoved the memory of her father to the side, just behind the goals she was still so very far from accomplishing.
"Sorry," Armin said—as if he thought he had to apologize for daring to feel something, for daring to express it alone, in what he had thought was a private place.
The intrusion almost made Annie feel guilty. What a ridiculous thought: guilt over something so minute, something so silly.
"Why?" she asked.
He laughed, then. It was an awkward sort of chuckle. Annie might have smiled half a lifetime ago. "I don't know," he said.
She shrugged. "I'm only cutting through."
Armin brushed his bangs aside; they were growing too long and needed to be cut. Annie moved past him; there was just enough space between Armin and the fence for her to get by without accidentally touching him. She half-expected him to put a hand on her shoulder, half-expected him to thank her for not laughing at him, but he didn't. He didn't say or do anything. Not until she had moved safely to the other side of him.
And then all he did was smile a little—she saw the soft white of his teeth out of the corner of her eye—and say, "See you, Annie."
As if nothing at all was the matter with him and this was just another normal, friendly meeting of peers.
His tears were gone; his face was dry.
Annie turned her head, lifted her eyes to the treeline, and did not reply.