XX

March 1921

It became apparent to Armin that she'd done this before, that she'd brought someone up to her room. Or at least, that's what it seemed like from how he was being treated by everyone around him.

Armin received increasingly strange glances from the elevator operator each time he frequented the hotel room. He was made especially uncomfortable when he decided to bring flowers, his satchel, or perhaps an overnight bag to spend the week. The employees always looked as if they'd like to ask him questions, but instead they did the exact opposite. He was constantly ignored and avoided as soon as he entered the hotel. Armin thought their behavior was odd, since the hotel business was generally more social than others. He tried to figure out why they didn't seem to like him, but after several weeks of trying, he gave up. In turn and in defeat, he decided to ignore them as well.

He frowned every time he entered the elevator, and on Annie's birthday that year, and for the first time since Armin had fist come through, so did the operator.

They stood in silence, the other man tapping his toes nervously and looking extremely upset, or perhaps just in an awkward position with Armin in the elevator with him. Armin himself was uncomfortable, because the other kept glancing at him with a deep frown and furrowed brows. Before they arrived at the top floor, the operator finally turned around to face him.

"How does a guy like you catch a dame like that?" he asked, bewildered and huffing with annoyance. Armin just stared back with wide eyes. The man nodded, prompting him to answer.

"I-I-" Armin stuttered, confused and wondering if he'd heard the question correctly, "I don't know, we just met in a bar and uh," he paused and laughed to himself, watching the man's expression get more and more angry, "I don't know."

The other man looked exasperated and turned around, returning to his original position and sighing loudly.

"Damn," he said softly, "she's been here almost two years and she's never brought anyone up this much before... sometimes it's a rich guy or a dark fella but never," he stopped and turned back to Armin, "a kid like you."

Armin shrugged, slightly offended but letting it slide past him without any real harm.

"Thanks, I guess." Armin said with a soft laugh, feeling the elevator shift and stop. He watched the elevator doors open and tipped his head to the operator, seeing him roll his eyes before closing the doors again. Armin laughed to himself and reached into his pocket, glancing down at his newly purchased suit. He was more than proud of it, having saved up for quite a long time to get something like this. He knew it probably wouldn't impress Annie, as nothing really ever did, but he knew she'd appreciate the gesture. That was always enough for him.

He pulled his key from his pocket, adjusting his bow tie before sliding the key into the lock and stepping inside the door with a smile.

He closed the door behind him and turned around, seeing that she was walking out of the bathroom just as he arrived. Her eyes caught him and she stood in the center of the room with a faint smile tracing her lips.

"Hello," she said, expressionless, and stepped into the kitchen. Armin could barely breathe, seeing her pale cream dress swish as she walked. The collar rested at her collar bone, but the back dipped low towards her mid back. The rest of the dress hung down in frills with bright and shimmering lining.

"You look as stunning as ever." he said to her, pushing his key back into his pocket and sliding his top coat off.

She nodded a silent thanks, her eyes gazing downward to look at the dress on herself. It was something to be marveled at. She spun around, watching the fabric follow her lazily, and when she looked up Armin had moved. He now sat on the couch, his jacket hanging over the arm. His eyes were closed and his head rested on the back and she noted that he looked even more tired than usual.

"As do you," she tried to say, but her voice faded out as she watched him.

Her eyes moved around the room, noticing the subtle changes. His things had somehow found their way here in her home. Small things infiltrated the area first, an extra toothbrush and his jacket. Then came his schoolwork and pajamas. Annie didn't really realize that he was slowly moving in until she found herself doing laundry with his shirts and pants mixed in with her own piles of clothes.

It didn't bother her at all; it was actually kind of endearing, but she still liked to notice the small things, regardless of how it made her feel.

She closed the drawer that she had previously been fooling with and walked over to him, the click of her heals sounding off the tile.

"What's wrong?" she asked. Her brow was raised, and she shot him a concerned glance. He didn't move but to breathe. She almost called his name until he finally inhaled and spoke up.

"Have you brought many men up here?" he asked, raising his head and opening his eyes to watch her stiffen. She frowned.

"Only a few for business..." she said, "Why do you ask?"

Armin glanced away, looking slightly distressed and unsettled by this. She moved in closer, standing above him with hands on his knees.

"The man in the elevator told me you'd brought others up here before me and he was," Armin shifted, "surprised that you chose to let me continue to visit." Annie's brows rose and she reached upwards, pushing her hair behind her ear. After a moment of staring at each other Annie's face turned back to its regular expression and she slid her hands down her dress, hiking up the bottom and spreading her legs. She rested each knee on either side of him on the couch, straddling him with a tilted head and an open mouth.

"Are you jealous, Armin?" she asked, her tone of voice more cheerful than seductive. He almost scoffed, but her position was making him much too nervous to respond in that way.

"No, I just didn't know why you didn't tell me-"

She silenced him with a brush of her lips against his. He swallowed and leaned back, his hands landing on her sides as she pushed forward. Her hand crept upwards, tugging at the ends of his tie and causing it to unfurl on his chest.

"Well I'm with you now," she breathed, kissing him again and making his blood burn, "so you don't have to worry about any other men."

Armin pulled his head away from her warm lips and smirked. "Okay." he replied. Her hands settled on his shoulders, but he still frowned at her. She shifted, feeling anxious under his stare. She narrowed her eyes and tilted her head, dragging her lips along his neck and under his jaw. She pulled her hands up, taking his cheeks in her palms and looking to his eyes with a serious and tender face.

"Armin," she breathed into his ear, "the only man," she kissed his ear and then his cheek, feeling his warm skin radiate under her lips, "I care about," she kissed his forehead lightly and then the tip of his nose, lowering her head again and breathing over his lips, "is you."

"I believe you, okay?" he responded softly with a simper on his lips. His mind quickly changed as he gazed back at her and saw the fervent sincerity in her eyes. Something pawed at him to apologize for being so condemning but as he continued to stare at her he knew there was nothing to forgive. Maybe he had overreacted but he was still swimming in curiosity.

Armin swallowed when she ran her thumbs over his cheekbones, and struggled to catch his breath when she touched noses with him. He blinked when she kissed him again, her hands tightening and shifting to the back of his head, kneading his hair as she smiled against his lips. She pulled away and gazed at him with half-lidded eyes.

"Why don't we just stay here tonight instead of-"

"No, Annie, I told you," he said with a change of tone. He laughed, wrapping his arms around her middle and standing, lifting her off the couch and setting her down, "I'm taking you out and that's final."

Her bottom lip poked out in disappointment, a rare treat of expressed emotion, but Armin cured it with a quick peck and a smile.

"Come on, it's your birthday," he said with a chuckle, feeling her nimble fingers at his neck, tying and adjusting his tie as she frowned. He pushed her hair back and smiled at her, feeling her pull her hands away. She crossed her arms in front of him, his hands still on the sides of her face, and raised her brows.

"I've told you before, I don't... usually celebrate." she blinked and pulled away from him, leaving him yet again at the center of the room alone. Annie adjusted her hair and walked into the bedroom, raising her voice as she searched the room. "I don't see why it's a big deal... It's just marking another day of the year full of insignificant details," she called back, and Armin felt slightly hurt, "and I don't think my birth has any real relevance, or, well, enough relevance to go out and spend money on a nice meal." her voice increased in volume as she came back into the room, her eyes on the item in her fingers. She carried a necklace in her hands, walking up beside him and turning her back to him. She motioned for him to help her.

He stepped forward with a frown, and reaching over her shoulders he took the end pieces of the golden chain and pinned them together.

"Don't you think I'm a significant detail, though?" he asked thoughtfully and she stiffened.

"That's not what I meant," she said with a heavy sigh, biting her tongue. Why couldn't she catch a break, today of all days?

"Then what do you mean?" he asked with raised brows, clamping the ends together and setting the necklace against the back of her neck. She spun around to face him with hardened eyes.

"I meant that I shouldn't get to celebrate my birthday if I haven't," she stopped, sighing again in desperation, "I mean... no, you know what, I don't know what I mean." she reached up and rubbed her temples with closed eyes. She found herself repeating what she'd said earlier, "I just don't see the point."

She heard him shift above her and opened her eyes again, watching his hand move to her chest and pick up the small golden locket at the center of her body. He took it in his fingers and ran his thumb over the shining top with a half-smile.

"Your birth is important to me," he said with a soft laugh and she rolled her eyes, "actually you're important to me in general." he let it fall back against her chest and he smiled.

"Okay." she whispered, rolling her eyes once more and taking his hand.

"Okay?" he asked with raised brows, "As in you'll go?"

She smiled softly, "Well I don't have much choice," she replied, "and any time spent with you is never wasted in my book." she admitted. His smile grew until his entire face brightened and he squeezed her hand.

"How do you like Italian food?" he asked, tugging her close and kissing her forehead.

She smirked and followed the rushing and excited Armin out the door, "I adore it."

Of course she'd adore the restaurant she'd funded at the beginning of her career, but she wouldn't tell Armin that little detail. She followed him inside, her eyes wandering around the restaurant with careful inspection. Things hadn't changed dramatically from her previous visit several years back, and she found herself satisfied with the smiling host that was waiting for them when they entered the dimly lit establishment.

"I made a reservation a few days ago," Armin said to the host who looked incredibly familiar to her, but she let it slide out of her mind without a second thought.

The host nodded with a goofy smile and reached behind his podium and grabbed two thick, folded pieces of paper, and gestured for them to follow him. Armin glanced back at Annie to check on her state and she nodded at him with a smile, easing his nerves. They continued farther back into the crowded and loud restaurant, the smell of tomatoes and freshly baked bread filling the air as they went along. The worker showed them to an isolated table near the back, a quieter setting than the rest of the place. The table was set for two with a short candle at the center, and a card set on one of the plates.

Annie shot Armin a quizzical glance and allowed the host to sit her in the nearest chair. She nodded to him in thanks and watched Armin shake hands with the man and smile as he sat down in the opposite chair.

Annie glanced towards the disappearing host and then turned her attention to Armin who was smiling smugly in front of her.

"How fancy," she said, trying to control her smile as she reached for the card that was conveniently standing on her plate. He hid his smile with his hands and nodded for her to open it, and she did. Her eyes nearly watered when she saw his messy cursive writing scribbled across the page.

"Dearest Annie, I sincerely hope that we'll be together again like this for your next birthday, and many more after that," she choked on her own voice at the last line, "with love, Your Armin Arlert."

She set the card down and struggled not to wipe her eyes, feeling foolish for becoming so emotional so quickly. Armin, on the other hand, was feeling very pleased with himself at her reaction. He wouldn't ever admit it to her but he found simple pleasure in eliciting emotional reactions from her. He knew she wasn't mindless in any sense but it made him happy to see her care for something, someone. Preferably himself.

"Order what you want," he said finally, drawing himself away from her drowning stare, "and afterwards I've got a treat for you."

She blinked and crossed her hands in her lap. "Oh really?" she asked, placing a single elbow on the table and watching him read over the front of the menu, "how could there possibly be any more than you've already given me?" she knew from the moment he looked up that he knew exactly what she'd meant. He smiled, a blush forming on his cheeks as he looked back down to the menu.

"Just pick something before I change my mind and take you home," he said with a laugh, and Annie's lips rose.

"Then I suppose I shouldn't order at all," she replied subtly, glancing down at her own menu and feeling his burning eyes on her. A few short minutes later, a different worker had come to their table, introducing themselves and taking their orders.

"Whatever the special is," Armin replied with a nod, and the waiter scribbled something on his small pad of paper.

"I'll have," she paused and pointed to the dish on the menu, "Sorry, I'm not sure how you pronounce that." she said with an amused smirk, watching the waiter grin and nod as he continued to scribble.

He nodded and turned away, and Annie watched him move through the room and disappear behind a swinging door. Her eyes moved back to Armin who sat with a hand on the table, tracing the edge of his water glass with a distant look.

"Armin," she breathed, and he looked up instantly with a smile.

"Sorry, sorry, I was..." he shook his head, pulling away and smiling wildly at her. She quirked a brow and he shivered. There was no way he was telling her what he was thinking about.

There was a moment of silence between them as they listened to the bustle of the restaurant coming from the other room. Annie tried her best not to react to the warmth on her face as she watched him scramble for words. She finally took him from his misery with a simple phrase of appreciation.

"Thank you," she said quietly, taking a deep breath and looking around. It took a moment but her eyes finally came to rest on him. He was grinning at her so sincerely that she could feel a transmission of cheer into her own expression. It seemed that nothing made him happier than being with her, and seeing her eyes so bright and happy only made him that much more delighted.

"It was nothing," he said with a soft laugh, pushing his hair back with his fingers, "you're quite special to me," her eyes widened and her cheeks grew rosy. He scoffed and laughed, gesturing around them, "Obviously."

Annie smirked, "Oh, don't you talk all the dolls out for their birthdays?" she joked, sitting back in her chair and crossing her arms. Armin rolled his eyes and fought the butterflies in his belly. After this long with her, why did she still make him feel like this? Like a child with a stupid crush? He knew it was much more than that, though.

He swallowed and opened his mouth to speak, but he was interrupted by an odd sight in his peripherals. His eyes shifted to look behind her. He stopped the words from spilling out of his mouth, watching a tall and toned looking man shift his way through the restaurant with a distraught looking face and an apologetic smile to those he encountered. Armin would not have noticed except for the fact that he was making a beeline to their table.

Annie's eyes followed Armin's gaze and when her eyes landed on the man approaching them, her look of joy was dismissed with a deep frown. Her entire face went blank as he grew closer and when he finally reached the table she turned to Armin with an annoyed expression.

"I'm sorry, darling," she said in a cool voice, making the man that was now standing behind her shift in discomfort, "I work with him."

Armin shifted in his chair crossing his arms over the table and lean in. The taller man gave a short nod, and then turned his full attention to Annie. Armin glanced over the man with narrowed eyes, observing his suit, which appeared to be a cheap, black tuxedo paired a thin black hat. His face was long and his arms matched the rest of him, lanky but somehow fatal. Armin found himself slightly intimidated, especially when the man leaned in close to Annie, placing one arm across the back of her chair and looking into her eyes with a serious expression.

The man whispered quietly enough so that Armin could not hear his words, and he could hear his urgent tone accompanied by his frantic hand gestures.

Annie's frown only grew into a look of subtle infuriation, and she motioned for him to get closer, her lips resting only slightly above his ear as she spoke to him. She looked as if she was speaking another language, but her voice didn't carry as far as her dinner date hoped. Armin frowned and furrowed his brow. It looked like a kind of intimate exchange, and this made him furious.

Of course he told himself he'd allow her to have freedoms, after all she was phenomenal: a woman practically running the city, but something about this went too far. When the man stood up straight, he wiped his brow and looked back to Armin with a nod that seemed like more of an apology than a gesture of friendliness. As soon as he looked back to Annie and received a sweep of the hand, he began to shuffle through the restaurant again.

Annie closed her eyes and sighed heavily, regaining her calm look, and opened her eyes to look at the frowning Armin who sat before her.

"Who was that?" he asked nervously, glancing behind her to catch the image of the man speeding away. Before Annie could answer, Armin caught a glimpse of the back of the man's neck, and squinted his eyes when the black mark on his skin looked eerily familiar.

Annie settled into her chair. She bit her lip, letting it slide from her teeth as she situated the utensils on the table. She looked very uncomfortable from the encounter, but she didn't say a word. The blonde forced herself to look up and blinked once.

"His name was Bertholdt Fubar, I've worked with him for several years now." she responded, setting her elbows on the table before looking to Armin again.

"Why does he make you so flustered?" he asked, his voice tinged with jealously as he leaned back in his chair. Her brows raised but she didn't move, and Armin could have sworn he saw her smiling.

"He just had some news about an investment," she answered quickly, tilting her head with amusement, "why are you so upset?"

Armin frowned again, huffing a breath of annoyance and glaring at her. "Because I didn't..."

"Want anyone here besides us?" she finished his sentence with an amused smirk, sitting up and placing her hands in her lap. She shifted her feet under the table so their legs brushed. Armin moved to avoid her teasing.

"Have you..." he swallowed and shook his head, and when he looked back to Annie she looked appalled.

"Brought him upstairs?" she asked with a look of anger. Armin shifted back and looked to his lap, guilt spreading through his chest as they continued to sit. She clicked her teeth and scooted further up in her chair, reaching across the table and touching the tip of his nose with her finger, making him look up in response. "Don't be such a wet blanket," she whispered, making him roll his eyes with a slight grin, "I was really having a swell time until my business associate ruined it." she tilted her chin forward, leaning over the table and drawing her hand back.

Armin paused and sighed, pushing his hair back as he sat up. "So it wasn't good news, I guess?" he asked, decidedly interested in the words expressed rather than the relationship itself. He had convinced himself a long time ago that she'd tell him when she was ready, but perhaps he was giving her too much credit.

Her lips upturned in a genuine smile and she glanced away, embarrassed. "No, it wasn't good, but that's all unimportant now," she said, adjusting her chair again and drawing circles on the table with her index finger, "now I'm just wondering why our food isn't out yet..."


Of course the waiter gave his apologies when the food finally came. Annie took several bites but not enough to satisfy Armin. He willed her to eat more but she claimed the food was just too rich, and after a long and light-hearted battle she settled on stealing some of his before they left.

He took her arm as she stood, letting her move out from in front of the chair before sliding it under the table. They walked arm-in-arm to the front. Armin paid and nodded to the familiar host who continuously glanced at Annie with wide and frantic eyes. She herself went unfazed, but as they left she winked which left the man in a frightened and chaotic state that only confused Armin even more.

He didn't ask her what had occurred, not even as they hopped into a cab and shifted closer together in the backseat. The older driver pretended not to notice, but the smile on his face was brighter than the lights that lit the way down the road.

"Across the bridge," Armin said as Annie settled against his side and under his arm, "Rose Avenue," he said. The driver nodded and put the roaring engine into gear, making them push down the road with the smell of gasoline and smoke.

Armin tried not to think about how warm she was against him as they went. He wasn't uncomfortable from the heat, but her presence. The weather was increasingly warmer as time went on, and the chilly January nights were far behind him. It was cold, yes, but a person could find a sort of discomfort if they got too hot at any time of the day or night. Armin wasn't as bothered as Annie, who liked to shed clothing and lay across furniture nearly nude without warning, snapping at him if he got too close, or falling asleep against the cool surfaces without a word to him.

Tonight was different, though, than the nights from the previous week. The outside air was cool and dry, causing a shiver to run up Annie back, and then in turn up Armin's.

They didn't look at each other as they rode, but Armin's hand snaked around her and played with the folds of her dress at her side. Her hands rested in her lap as her head sat against his shoulder.

Armin swallowed. They'd never visited his apartment before, but Annie had been funding it for several weeks now. They had an agreement that if he quit his job she'd fill up his time and make sure his bills were paid. At first he was frustrated and hesitant, feeling more like a burden than anything else, but she persuaded him and he gave in. His boss didn't mind, him having only worked there part time, and Armin soon shifted into the idea. He studied regularly and got through his tests, and she kept her promise. The free time he did have was spent all with her, and if not with her, in her hotel room, or running errands for her.

It was never a bother to him, doing things for her. She was already doing so much for him that there wasn't a question to the lengths he would go to make her happy.

Sometimes even a smile seemed to make her happier than he'd ever seen her, but he was never sure. There was nothing definite with Annie Leonhardt.

Just like how he hadn't woken up beside her since the first time they were together. It was always something different. Most of the time she was outside with a smoking cigarette perched in her fingers, elegance and mystery all in her slanted sort of stance. She usually dropped it as soon as she noticed he was awake, and when he asked if she had smoked before she just smiled and pressed a thick kiss against his neck, telling him that once you became addicted to one thing you might as well be addicted to another.

He almost gasped when the car stopped and the driver turned around with a smile.

Annie nodded to him, looking to Armin expectantly as he reached into his pocket and tossed a few coins to the driver. The man wished them a good night and waited as they exited the vehicle. Armin took her hand as she stepped out and thanked the man, and in a moment the car was gone. They were left alone under the streetlights once again

She spun around until she faced the building and she glanced back at him.

"This is it?" she asked, and her tone was different than he'd expected. She seemed mildly interested, more than usual, and something told him she was excited. He smiled and nodded, slipping his hand into hers and tugging her towards the dark building. They trotted across the street, her heels clicking against the pavement and the smell of fog radiating from the ground. Armin breathed in as he opened the door for her and followed her in. He scooted past her in the hallway and led her up the stairs, silent from the lack of confidence and an unsettling feeling in the pit of his stomach.

They reached his door and he noticed her slightly heavier breathing. He smiled at her, a way to make sure she was okay, and when she noticed this she nodded. Armin quickly pulled his key out and unlocked the door, glancing back at her. He hard before opening the door and entering the apartment.

He switched the lights on and turned back to her, placing his hands behind is back as she stepped inside.

She closed the door behind her politely and glanced around with raised brows. There was no significant disappointment, or any emotion for that matter, on her face when she turned back to him.

She leaned back a little and kicked off her shoes, picking them up and stretching her toes against the floor. She lightly tip-toed into the living space and sat her heels under the small kitchen table. The feeling of his lover being in his living space was foreign to him, strange.

His apartment wasn't much more than a big room and a bathroom. It was nicer than most of the others in the building since his had a window, but there was nothing extraneous inside. Everything had a point, had a purpose. Well, that was until Annie walked in and smudged his refined quarters with her essence.

He watched her reach behind her back and tug at the sleeves of her dress, pulling the top half down to her waist before looking to him with a sheepish bat of an eye.

"I don't suppose you have any liquor?" she joked, slipping the dress further down to reveal the top of her corset, and Armin began to walk away before she showed anymore.

He sat on the edge of his bed that was at the other wing of the room. He pulled his shoes off and sat them quietly by the bed, trying to ignore the fact that she'd already folded her dress over one of his chairs and had moved to his small closet opposite to the bed.

He untucked his shirt and laid his jacket on his bedside table. He found the room to be colder than he left it, and stood to go light the fire. A slim hand pressed against his chest stopped him, and when he looked down he stared straight into the eyes of a newly dressed Annie. He sat back down with a smirk and glanced over her. She'd taken a light grey sweatshirt from his closet and slipped it over her body, the bottom hanging over her mid thigh. It covered a sufficient amount of her undergarments and Armin had to stop himself from swallowing when her smooth and exposed legs nudged him backwards.

He shed his dress shirt and folded it on top of his jacket as she climbed into the bed and continued to nudge him.

"Can I keep it?" she asked softly, lying with her top half on top of his chest and her arm reaching across him. Her hand ran from his ribs to his shoulder, tickling his skin as he tried to situate himself on top of the covers.

"What?" he sighed back to her, finding it difficult to breathe with her in this position. It was necessarily her mass, though, just her proximity and leisure in a space that she'd never encountered before.

"The shirt." she said, letting her eyes flutter closed. He watched her breathe, her back rise and fall, and nodded.

"Anything you want is yours." he answered, watching her sapphire eyes open again slowly, observing him for a moment.

She shifted, sitting up on her hands and knees. Her hands sat on either side of him with one of her knees between his legs. She looked down on him with curious eyes a thoughtful frown. He wanted to ask her what she was thinking, what she wanted from him, like always, but he knew he'd be left with only more questions.

He heard a clinking noise and in a swift moment there was a golden piece in front of him, dangling in front of his eyes. He reached up with one hand to take it in his fingers and he heard her gasp softly. He glanced up at her for approval and she didn't move, staring at the locket in his hand.

He moved to open it but she twitched, trying to push it out of her way as she leaned down to kiss him. He recognized this as a distraction and left her gesture unreciprocated. He waited for her to pull away with empty eyes before moving his hand onto the locket again.

Armin slid it open and held it between his index and thumb, narrowing his eyes in the dim lighting to see the two images tucked inside.

The one on the right was a small black and white picture of three children, a light haired boy with a broad smile and chubby cheeks on the left, his arm around the light haired and frowning girl in the middle with a familiar nose, and a lanky dark haired boy to the right, standing a few inches from the other two with his hand on the girl's shoulder.

"Is this you?" Armin asked quietly, running his finger over the centered little girl's face. He looked up to her and she stared back at him with distant eyes. She doesn't respond so his eyes move to the next image on the other side of the locket. It was a younger looking man with visibly graying hair and tired eyes. Armin glanced between him and the little girl, noting the resemblance and then looking back up to Annie. "Is that your father?" he asked, even softer this time. He got nothing in response, and she reached up to close the necklace. Her fingers tugged it away from his and she slipped it into the neck of the sweatshirt and shifted forward above him. He set his arm at the curve of her waist and frowned up at her.

She craned her neck, pressing her lips to the corner of his mouth, trailing them softly to the peak of his lips and then opening her own to kiss him again. His hand moved to her back, his head pushing off the bed to return her gesture.

Somehow they found themselves pressed to each other, her back end lifted by her knees and her chest weighing down on his. His thumbs grazed over her jutting hip bones and his fingers danced on her sides while her own lay twisted in his hair. There was something different about the way her lips fit, there was something more urgent and pressing when she touched his face, when she moved her eyes over him, when she dragged her teeth against his bottom lip and buried her face in his shoulder.

Annie slid away from him and laid beside him on the bed, his hand tucked behind her and her arm touching his side.

He dared not look at her face, at her body, now. He could hear her panting and aching sighs, and he himself was breathless. They stared upwards at the window above them, the stars lining the edges of their vision and the lighted sky above them making it harder and harder for them to see the burning entities so far away. He felt her scoot closer and tuck herself under his arm, her hand resting on his chest. He looked down at the top of her head against his side and reached up to stroke her hair.

"We're more than a few months apart now, I suppose." she said, adjusting her head and tapping her fingers against him. He laughed quietly and nodded.

"I guess so..." he replied, closing his eyes and feeling the darkness and quiet sink into the room around them.

"Armin..." his eyes opened and he looked down at her. She was completely still, as if she hadn't spoken at all. He moved onto his side carefully, and she did the same, her back pressed to his chest and her legs curled up into her body. His arm hung over her side and held her close to him, his face buried in the crook of her neck.

"Annie... I love you." he whispered into her warm skin. She sighed as if she were sleeping, and shifted one more time before falling asleep. It was only a moment later that Armin did the same.


Armin tried not to stare when she came out of her room in only a towel. She was cursing under her breath about cold water and a lack of towels. She rushed back into her room once she'd gone into the kitchen and grabbed a bar of ivory soap out from under the sink.

He read while she dressed, unsure of why she was in such a hurry. They'd agreed to a leisure day, as she'd been, for some reason, increasingly busy with work and he'd been missing her presence all throughout the time she was gone.

He could hardly focus on the page he was on, so he took his book mark and tucked it neatly inside the fold of the book, sitting back on the couch and keeping his eyes on the doorway. She emerged from it not a moment too soon, her hair wrapped up in a towel with bright red cheeks and damp skin from the shower she'd had. Armin smiled at her as she adjusted the wrapped towel atop her head, standing in an untucked, slimming blouse and a black skirt. He stood and she looked up to him with narrowed eyes.

Before he could make his way to her there was a heavy knock at the door. Armin frowned and watched her move quickly, unwrapping her hair and ruffling her bangs. She glanced his way with a serious expression before hopping to the door on her toes. Her eye moved over the peephole and she slowly opened the door, moving to shield whoever was outside from seeing Armin.

He stood in the middle of the room, leaning to his side to try to catch a glimpse of whoever was visiting, or maybe even hear what they were talking about. He frowned when her voice went low and her words were drawn, again, as if she were speaking another language. He huffed in annoyance and plopped himself down on the couch, looking back for a moment to see that whoever was at the door was large and wore black. Perhaps it was that man they saw at dinner the other night... What was his name again? Berth-Bertholdt? Bert-

The sound of a closing door stopped his thoughts and he shot her a dagger look as she returned from the doorway and came into the room.

"What?" she asked with a frown. He huffed again, louder, and crossed his arms.

"I don't like secrets." he said, looking back to her, seeing something shift behind her eyes. She seemed unfazed for the most part, walking into her room with crossed arms and stiff legs, but something about the way she retracted made him think he'd hurt her. He shook his head, knowing there's nothing to apologize for, but he stood and followed her anyways, leaning against the doorframe with hands shoved in his pockets.

She moved a pile of dresses on her bed as he walked in and refused to look up to him as she organized.

"What was that all about?" he asked quietly, and she didn't answer until every article of clothing was in its place in her closet.

"It wasn't a secret," she snapped, "we've been invited to a party tonight." she blinked and looked up to him with an angered expression. He sighed in relief and tried to smile at her, but she remained frowning.

"It's a big event," she began, "held at a mansion on Long Island," she paused and crossed her arms, looking downwards, "the host is a friend of mine, and her... partner, is an associate." she looked up and sighed.

"Is this an annual thing?" he asked curiously, and she nodded in response. "I believe some of my friends have been to this before." Annie's eyes shifted instantly and she frowned.

"Really?" she asked, "It's quite... exclusive." she doesn't say anything else about it, and rushed to the closet, pushing things around for a moment.

"Will I be going to this?" he asked, watching her scramble to find her desired target.

She nodded and stopped, turning to him and raising her brows.

"Unless you don't want to," she said quietly, "it may not be... Well, I mean..." she sighed in frustration and turned away.

"What?"

"It doesn't matter." she bit her lip and avoided his gaze. "We'll leave around four so we can get there at dark." There was a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, but nodded nonetheless. He began to prepare himself; head clouded with doubt, he donned his black suit, the one he'd worn for her birthday only a few weeks before.


He hadn't heard her call a cab, but there it was, waiting for them when they stepped out of the hotel entrance. She took his arm, barely sparing him a glance. He felt sick, trying his best to read her, but finding that when she was in this type of mood it was nearly impossible.

She was wearing a ravishing silver dress that was much too short for Armin's tastes, and much too short for her to normally have worn. It hung well above her mid-shin, showing off her shapely and toned legs. God know where she got those... He swallowed as she adjusted her sparkling headband and diamond necklace, still not looking at him. She settled into the seat, directing the driver to the location, and batting her eyes so much it gave Armin an awful ache in his chest.

He climbed into the cab behind her, faking a smile as he wrapped his arm around her shoulder. The cab pulled into the busy, loud streets, and after an hour of silence the isolated mansion came into view. Armin was instantly amazed.

"It's real swanky," he said with an airy laugh, pulling away from Annie and gazing out the window. The beautiful white house itself was immense, but it was also accompanied a large courtyard complete with several gardens and a circle of pavement. It was made for events like this. The sky was just growing dark, and as they drew closer and closer, Armin began to notice the large crowd of women in shimmering dresses and men in colored suits and dark hats. Armin was immediately overwhelmed. He glanced back to Annie with a curious glance. He is awarded with a withdrawn look and a sigh.

"We'll enter at the front, sir." Annie directed, adjusting her clothing and preparing herself to get out of the car. Armin looks into the window for a moment, using the translucent reflection to help him assess his looks before the car stopped behind several others in line.

They waited their turn, and once they'd pulled up, Armin slid from the seat and set his feet on the ground. He held his hand out to Annie, who slid from the seat as well, climbing out of the car and into the illuminated outside. Armin had to blink several times before he could begin to actually see the majesty of the dress that she'd chosen. In the room, on the way, he hadn't actually given himself time to look at it on her. In this moment, though, he had plenty of time.

It hugged her shoulders, sleeves reaching three quarters of the way to her elbows, shimmering with lace and crystalline gems. The collar dipped beneath her neckline, showing off her poised and flawless neck and skin. It was loose until it came to her hips, there it gripped her waist like there was no tomorrow, and then fell to her legs, leading up to show a pair of grey heels that he'd never seen before.

He found himself becoming more and more envious, but of no one in particular. Had she dressed this way for someone else? Was someone's presence here the reason that she'd been acting odd earlier?

In her head there were similar thoughts to his. She wondered if he was nervous. She wondered what he might think of her now that he would see who she really was in all its glory. She brushed herself off, taking his hand, and pulled him towards the door. She tried not to think any more about the topic.

Armin felt her leading, and decided to step in, stepping quicker so that he filled his assigned role as her male date. He sighed quietly, trying not to watch her as her clothes shifted and moved around her body. He smirked as they entered, as people smiled at them and welcomed Annie with quizzical eyes towards her date. He shouldn't be jealous. Whoever it was that was here wouldn't be getting the privilege of tearing that dress off of her later, nor seeing it disheveled on the floor in the morning. He tried not to think about it, though, as they enter the mansion.

The foyer is dimly lit, several groups of people chatting loudly and clanking drinks together in toasts against some type of a type of droning jazz music. The door and outside didn't do the inside any justice, and as both blondes stepped farther inside, Annie was more confident in her steps than Armin. Together they looked up at the dazzling sculptures and decorated hallways with a look of appreciated on their faces. It was all too Romantic for Armin to handle, and his mouth slid open at the very sight of the wonders and richness of the decor and walls.

Annie's arm slid out of Armin's reach and at first he didn't notice. She stopped walking, noticing that he'd already stopped completely, looking around like a child in a candy store. Her face warmed at the simple pleasure of his smile, and she stepped towards him, taking his hand in hers and pulling him onwards.

He snapped back to reality and looked after her bashfully. He should learn to control himself if he was going to be invited to this type of party again. Her arm returned on his as more and more people filled the empty and breathtaking rooms. She shared with him a rare smile before they entered a set of double doors, and his jaw dropped more than it had so far.

There was an incredibly large ballroom, filled from front to back with people, people, and more people. There was a definitely line between those eating or talking and those who were dancing to the music provided by a band at the left side of the room. The floors were decorated with floral and earthy designs, and the walls, columns, and ceiling were white with sculpted pieces that in all of Armin's life he'd never imagine he'd see.

They stood at the door, and he looked to Annie. She looked slightly amused but it was apparent that she'd seen all this before, perhaps several times. He scoffed at the privilege that she was probably taking for granted, but perhaps she was just as amazed as he was. He never knew.

They stood above several stairs, and as they descended downwards Armin caught sight of several men in all black with matching hats and serious eyes. He watched the room shift and move, as if the guard-like men weren't there. Every few moments someone would give them a nervous glance, or scoot by them with a frown.

Armin's eyes also landed on a familiar group, nestled together with drinks and flat faces. His brows lifted in a sudden realization. The music's temp changed, and a moment later the shocked blond felt a pair of soft lips at his ear.

"Here's what you'll tell them," she breathes as they move, and he stops to look at her, "we've been seeing each other for a several months," she paused, looking out on the crowd with a frown and worried eyes, "we met through some sort of business associate but we've forgotten their name," she inhaled and blinked all in one motion, "we' aren't exclusive."

Armin's brows perk, a smile forming. He looked to her, knowing that she was joking, but felt something drop inside him when he saw how serious she looked.

"We aren't?" he tried to provoke a smile from her with his own uncomfortable one.

She doesn't look his way, and they continue walking. She doesn't speak besides a small "hmf" noise that made his heart sink.

She whisked him to higher ground, a place along a banister that overlooked everyone in the ballroom where they could stand alone. Armin was too hurt to continue conversation, but the sight of eyes on him made him remember something important.

"My friends are here," he said softly, watching her put her back to a wall and cross her arms. She raised a brow.

"Are they?"

He swallowed and nodded. "They're from the Surveys," he said, and her ears pricked. She looked at him with unsurprised but interested eyes. Armin shifts his weight, his arms behind him as he faces her. He thinks back to his education on the local gangs and mobs for a moment, knowing exactly why she was so interested in what he had to say.

"What do you know... about them?" she asked with a half smirk. He shrugged in response, looking out at the laughing people, tapping his foot to the swinging and moving music.

"I know there are multiple leaders, still anonymous to the police though, perhaps with the police," he paused and sighed, "They're officially the Survey Corps, named after a conspiracy in the late nineteenth century. Most of my friends don't hold big positions, just runners or messengers." he shrugged and looked back to her. She looked a lot more tense, crossed arms and crossed ankles showing him how uncomfortable she felt with all this background noise.

She was avoiding the inevitable, but he couldn't pinpoint exactly what that was. "Rival to the Titans," she finally said, "I'm sure you know about them." He nodded slowly.

"Yes, of course. Everyone knows about them," he responded, smirking, "The top guy is known by the police, but there's no evidence to back it up. His reign spans all over Manhattan, and there's some rumors that he's got connections over state borders and even overseas."

She smiled at him then, and there was something like pride in her eyes.

Before he could address it, though, he heard a booming voice, and turned to see a familiar face bounding his direction with slicked hair and a fancier suit than his own. The man's hand was pounding his back before he could manage a smile.

"Armin!" the man exploded, drink in hand and eyes twinkling, "I didn't know you were going to be here." he said, then turning to Annie with a sly smile and his hand held out for her. She took his hesitantly with an expressionless face, and let him shake it with a grin.

"Is this your date?" the man asked, and before he could respond, Annie replied for him.

"Actually, Mr. Arlert is my date for the night." she corrected, stepping closer and placing her hand on his shoulder. Armin swallowed. "Who might you be, sir?" she asked, trying her best to not be threatening but failing in massive proportions. The man swallowed, straightening his back and stretching his neck before replying.

"Jean," he replied, "Jean Kirschstein." he paused, "Nice to meet you," he paused and slapped Armin on the back with a wide by weary grin, "You've got a real bluenose here, don't try to take him home or he'll turn ya into a good girl real fast." he joked, reaching up to scratch his head. "I think I'll be going to see Eren and Mikasa now," he said, directed at Armin with a weary glance. Annie nodded to him with a small smile, and they watched him leave.

"Jean." Armin said, "I've known him for a couple years. Survey. I met him because he's... friends with my best friend, Eren." Armin paused and his eyes shifted downward. There was no point in hiding anything from her at this point; she probably knew everything he would say anyways. "He only joined because his friend, um, Marco was in. Marco's family was intricately involved with the surveys somehow, so he was raised to believe that it was his only option. He met Jean, who had also been raised under gang rule, and they joined together as runners." Armin stopped to see Annie's eyes raised in a sympathetic way, and she nodded in an effort for him to go on. He continued, "In any case... There was this incident with a warehouse, and Marco... got shot. Died in Jean's arms." He swallowed and Annie looked ill.

"I'm sorry... Did you know him?" she asked with a frown. Armin shook his head.

"No, no. But Jean never recovered. You can't really get out, once you're in. So his plan is to rise to the top, eventually. But Eren, my friend, gives him a little bit of competition every now and then." Armin smirked, raising his head to see Annie's eyes drop and a smirk appear on her lips.

She raised her head quickly, and she stepped forward, taking his hand. "Armin, let's dance."

The tempo of the music changed again, slower, more like the music Armin played through her hotel room in the morning and afternoons. He smiled at her, faintly, and followed as she led him to the dance floor. He heard a loud cackling laugh from beside him and instantly turned around, seeing a tall, tanned woman with long brown hair guzzling down a glass of some sort of beverage. Her hand perched on a much shorter and much angrier looking man's shoulder. The man had an undercut, something Armin hadn't seen for years, and stared with dark eyes at Annie, who didn't seem to notice or care what was going on around her.

She glanced back at Armin, then to the duo, and back to the floor.

"Who are they?" Armin asked with a chuckle, feeling himself being pulled into her arms. They both glanced at the two bickering humans as their hands fell together for the dance.

"Zoe Hange and Levi. Sometimes you'll hear people on the street calling him Corporal, but it's a joke amongst the Surveys." she chuckles softly, pressing her body closer to his as they swing gently back and forth, barely lifting their feet. Armin feels his heart soaring.

"They seem quite…attached." Armin glanced over again, seeing Levi snatch the drink away from Zoe and drink the rest himself despite her rolling eyes and loud protests. He noticed a shining wedding band on Levi's hand, and turned back to Annie. "Is Miss Hange a moll?" he asked and Annie's brows rose so high in shock that they could have flown away.

"God, no." Annie said with a scoff, leaning forward to place her cheek on his shoulder, "she's much too smart for that."

He heard her laugh as they moved, the song's crescendos and decrescendos lulling Armin into an uncomfortable mood . He heard her whisper something and pulled back, "Hmm?" he asked, and she shook her head, blonde hair looking wispy against the jewel band around her head and the blank walls around them.

"I was just saying that Levi's fiancé died several weeks ago... which is why he looks more haggard than usual," she looked his direction, sighing and placing her other cheek on his shoulder, now, "and why Zoe is getting so unspeakably plastered." Annie's voice quieted, "No one will ever really get over the poor angel."

Armin swallowed, his hand on Annie's palm and the other on her hip as they continued to move. There was a long silence between them as the song played, and the duo quickly moved out of sight, giving Armin a rather disappointed feeling.

Armin's eyes wandered as they danced, hand remaining on her hip until his sights rested on a quickly approaching man. Armin stopped his dance, and Annie was instantly surprised, turning to see what had caught his attention. The man was older with dark blonde hair and narrow blue eyes that were set on Annie. He stepped through the crowd with a half-grin, looking to Armin and opening his mouth to speak.

"Hello there," he begins, his voice deep and unexpectedly proper. He wore a slick black suit that decorated his broad shoulders and thick arms and waist. Armin nodded, slightly intimidated, and turned to Annie. He noticed her extreme discomfort instantly, but she seemed to be keeping her cool as she scanned the other man with a raised brow.

"Lovely to see you again, Mr. Smith." Annie said with a bored voice, removing her hand from Armin's side and holding it out for the other man to take. He smirked at Armin before turning completely to Annie, taking her hand and kissing her knuckles with a deep chuckle.

"Is this your date, Miss Leonhardt?" he asked, nodding to Armin after releasing Annie's almost delicate-looking hand. She blinked slowly and lifted her lips into a taunting smirk.

"Just for tonight, dear," she replied, eyes telling Armin a different story. He shifted, and reached his hand out for 'Smith' to take it.

"Armin Arlert." Armin said with a nod, ignoring Annie's worried eyes. The other man's smile disappeared as he gave Armin's hand a firm shake.

"Erwin Smith," he replied, "business partner of your lovely date." he smiled at Annie viciously, "Would you mind if I had her for a dance or two?" Erwin's brow arched at Armin for a moment.

Armin looked to Annie who nodded slowly, glancing away in a gesture for Armin to leave them. He nodded and forced a smile.

"No problem at all," he dipped his head and smirked, "meet me at the drink table when you're done, Miss Leonhardt." he said, directed at Annie. She smiled uncomfortably and nodded, arms and face tense as Erwin placed his hand on her hip to pull her into a dance.

Armin's stomach flipped as he walked away, hearing the words, "Too bad that lovely restaurant burned down. Did you hear about that..." as he left. He forced himself to move and soon found himself exactly where he said he'd be.

A hand appeared on his shoulder, and when he turned around he meets the familiar green eyes of none other than his best friend, Eren Jaeger.

The brunet reached out to shake his hand with a smile, and Armin returned it with his own little grin. A black-haired woman steps forward, her black dress even shorter and more sparkly than Annie's. She smiled softly and kissed Armin's cheek as he took her hand.

"I assumed you two would be here." Armin said, looking them over. "Nice to see you Eren, Mikasa." he spoke their names out loud for himself, enjoying their names on his tongue. It was nice to see them for the first time in a long time. They must have thought that he'd abandoned them... he felt a guilty feeling wrapping around his stomach.

"How did you get here?" Eren said with his excited voice, looking around wildly.

"That woman dancing with... Erwin? Yeah, Erwin Smith." Eren's eyes moved that way, and Armin felt slightly threatened by the way his eyes graze her over.

"She's got nice gams." he said with a chuckle, and when Armin saw Annie's face turn, Eren's smiled dropped. Armin looked at him quizzically, and Eren turned to him with a deep frown.

"What's wrong?" he asked innocently, knowing the familiar angry look on Mikasa's face.

"You're messing around with Annie Leonhardt?" Eren asked, his tone serious and his body tense. Armin nodded.

Eren looked angry and he huffed, turning around and then back to Armin. He placed a hand on Armin's shoulder. "Alright, Armin. You're a big kid now, I understand." Armin's shoulder drifted back, his brows furrowed and something boiling inside him. "And she's a real Sheba, I'll give you that," Eren frown turned dark, "but I've been there, done that," his eyes shifted to Annie and then back to Armin who felt a chill and a burning anger inside him, "and she's trouble."

Armin shifted away, seeing Mikasa's troubled expression become immediately pointed at Eren.

Armin began to laugh. "Don't you think I know that?" he responded, and the other two looking at him with surprised expressions. Armin huffed and straightened his jacket, brushing Eren's hand away. "I'm not an idiot." he scoffed and looked back to where Annie once was, finding that she'd disappeared, along with her partner. Eren lifted his hand, turning Armin's face back to see him with a rough poke to the cheek.

"She works with Reiner Braun and the Titans," Eren said in disbelief, "she's a dirty spy! She used me to get to the-" Mikasa's hand on Eren's shoulder stopped him. They turned to their right to see Annie striding their way, slowly, at the arm of a tall blond. Armin narrowed his eyes, seeing the man's slicked back hair and intense, sad-looking eyes. Annie was smiling, and Armin became instantly envious.

Armin touched Eren's arm, excusing himself, "I'll be careful," he called back, and Mikasa looked worried as he walked towards Annie, "but not for your sake." Armin said to himself, guilty that he was going against his friends' wishes. He felt the need to rekindle their friendship, but the way that Eren looked at him was making him feel as though he should run away as fast as he could. He'd made a promise a long time ago, though, to his friends, and although he loved Annie, he felt like he'd do anything for them.

He made his way over to said blonde, stopping in front of her and the person at her arm. The man, Reiner, frowned at him and glanced to Annie, who unattached herself from him with an airy laugh and reattached herself to Armin's arm.

"Armin, this is Reiner Braun. You'd recognize him as-"

"The mastermind behind the Titans," he said, "yes." Armin felt his outsides tense as he reached forward and shook the hand of the taller man. Reiner nodded with a forced and awkward smile, stony like his eyes.

"Pleasure to meet my Annie's new romantic interest." Armin's eyes glided over to Annie whose face was bright red and irritated.

"Pleasure to meet you, although I'm not sure what you are to her." Reiner looked surprised, and he let out a single chuff of laughter, nodding to Annie and then to Armin, and making his way through the crowd and disappearing beyond their line of sight. Armin bristled against Annie's arm, and he heard her laughing.

"Jealous, love?" Annie whispered, leading him towards the stairs, and he hesitated against her grip. He looked around once more, noticing Jean with Eren and Mikasa in a small group. They stood only a little ways away from Levi and Zoe who seemed to be speaking seriously with Erwin.

He almost spoke up until Annie pulled him up the stairs and turned him around to face a lovely looking blonde and a rugged looking brunette. His brows rose, the short blonde smiling wildly with crystal eyes only set on the woman beside her. The other woman, though, was dark and frowning. Her freckles making another frown across her cheeks, complimenting her brown and tan men's suit and flatcap, something that caught Armin off guard.

Annie nodded towards the short blonde who sported a pale pink flapper dress that shimmered and hung with long tassels at the end seam. "This is Krista Lenz, the host of the party." Armin reached out, trying to calm his nerves, and took her hand with a slight bow. The woman beside Krista's brows shot downwards and she stepped closer to the host.

"I'm Ymir. Partner of Annie's, friend of Krista's." Armin shook her hand as well with a nervous nod. Annie yawned, glancing back over the party below that now shook with loud music and screaming laughter.

"Krista works very hard to include all of her friends and family," Annie began, and the blonde beamed proudly, "and she worked very hard to create a neutral ground between the gangs." Armin's ears pricked and he nodded, noticing Ymir's hand drifting to Krista's back.

"That sounds like quite a feat," Armin said, and Annie interrupted.

"I think it's best we get going, Armin," she said, "thank you, Krista, it was absolutely lovely."

Armin shot his date a surprised glance, but thanked Krista and the scowling Ymir anyways. He started to walk away, and noticed Ymir's lips against Annie's ear, drawing her back. She was frantic in what she was saying, but Annie's expression was as stone cold as before and the blonde soon followed Armin out of the ballroom.

His mind was filled with questions, but as they put more distance away from themselves and the others, Annie's face became increasingly worried.

They found their car at the front, miraculous in Armin's eyes, and a moment later they were on their way back home.

Annie's eyes grazed the outside, her elbow on the car door and her fist under her chin. The lights went by, but not quick enough. "Ymir and I have been close friends from the start of my career," she said quietly, bringing Armin's dazed attention back to her. He was feeling some sort of regret for not experiencing the grand house like he wanted to. "Reiner and Bertholdt, the man we met at my birthday, are practically brothers," she continued, sighing and shaking her wrist as she sat up in her seat. Her hands settled in her lap and her eyes were wide and sad. He leaned in closer, their shoulder brushing along the way. "They're practically my brothers."

Armin smiled softly, pressing a kiss to her forehead, and let her stay quiet and still for the rest of the ride. Somehow the cab found its way in front of his apartment, and Armin lifted the dozing and beautiful Annie from the seat, shuffling inside with her beginning to stir, and kissing her across the threshold as he felt her trying her best to undo the front of his shirt as quickly as possible in her newly awakened state.
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