Armin had been right; the dress looked better on the floor than it ever did on her body. The fact that it had been strewn across the floor of his own apartment made it even more appealing but he would never say that out loud to anyone, especially Annie. He locked his pride in with a smile that night, and moved forward from there.
They found themselves back at his place most days, lounging and tired. She'd grown fond of wearing his clothing, and gradually took over more than half of his bed and sheets as well. He didn't mind it until she starting hogging the pillows. He began to establish boundaries after that, and she smiled all the way through his "serious" talks.
Annie rarely ever left the small living space. She'd read a third of all his books, fiction and non, by the end of April.
Her things, or her extra things, were placed in random places around his apartment. Tooth brush in the kitchen cabinet, vodka under the bed. Annie seldom drank in front of him, but he noticed the slowly emptying glass when he went to bed every night.
She also began to grow attached to other things besides the sweatshirt she'd claimed in early March. She stole an old school uniform undershirt, a sweater, a pair of sweatpants, and a hat he'd gotten from his grandfather as a child. She hoarded the things inside the apartment like treasures and wore them there as often as she could.
The blonde woman always woke up earlier than him, and he didn't care. She didn't like to smoke at his place, and he didn't know or ask why.
She liked it here for some reason, and he found that she smiled much more in his bed than she ever did in her own.
His eyes fluttered open to the sound of her voice on a Saturday morning in early summer. He lifted his throbbing head off the pillow, fanning himself with his hand as the cloudy heat in the room formed a sort of haze around his room.
He yawned, seeing that she was lying on the couch with one of his books in her hands. She seemed comfortable, wearing nothing but his sweatshirt plastered to her body. Annie was reading aloud, though her voice was more of a hum than any actual form of speech.
"Aren't you hot?" He asked, turning over onto his side. He watched her eyes scan the page, biting his lip as he noticed her closing the book gently with a finger to hold her spot between pages. He smiled.
She looked at him with a slight frown, light hair drifting lightly across the arm of the couch, "No, I've barely got anything on." she responded, eyes moving across him as she sat the book on the floor and sat up. She set her feet on the floor like a doe would tread on fresh snow and stood. She waggled her fingers as she sauntered towards him, and made her way onto the bed. She flopped beside him as his arm came upwards to wrap around her waist, tugging her closer to him as she groaned in protest.
He smirked as their bodies brushed, her eyes squeezing shut to reveal dark lines beneath her bottom lids. Her arms moved to make a space between their bodies and she finally settled after a minute. She sighed into his face and nuzzled her nose into his shoulder with another heavy exhale. He tightened his arm around her as he closed his own eyes, slightly irritated by the extra warmth but was much too lazy and greedy to make her move.
"I think we need to get away." she whispered into his ear. His eyes opened once more as he moved slightly away from her, brows quirking as he smiled.
"What do you mean?" he asked, reaching up to brush her hair back. She squirmed away from his reach and out from under his arm, sliding off the bed. She tugged the hem of the sweatshirt down for modesty but somehow the gesture only made him laugh. She turned with an angered expression and red cheeks, scampering into the small kitchen in an attempt to hide her lower half behind the small counter.
"I mean we should go to Long Island," she suggested, her voice high from embarrassment. She coughed and swallowed to adjust her tone, inhaling sharply, "I have a house that I rarely use and I think that... well, since it's already hot we might as well go to the beach. Why be hot and miserable when you can be hot and miserable with a gorgeous view?"
He shifted, lying on his stomach. He crossed his arms under his chin to prop up his head, smirking again before looking her way, "I already have a gorgeous view," she scowled and crossed her arms in protest.
"So you mean you don't want-"
"But," he interrupted with a fit of laughter, "I have a 'but'."
She scoffed and raised a brow.
"Oh, so I'm not gorgeous then?" she asked with her own look of sarcasm. He groaned in mock annoyance and shook his head.
"No, I meant... well I've never seen the ocean before."
Her brows raised suddenly, somehow surprised. "You've lived in New York your entire life and you've never seen the ocean?" She asked, body leaning over the counter with her fist under her chin. He shook his head with an odd smile, stomach churning with embarrassment.
"Never had the time, I s'pose. Never had the money- and I haven't been here my entire life," he said, slipping off the bed and making his way over to the other side of the counter.
"You told me you were too young to remember much of the northwest, so I don't think it counts." She said a-matter-of-factly, recalling one of their many midnight conversations. He smiled, happy to think she remembered the things he'd said to her. Her fingers caught in her hair as she stared at him.
"I've never really left the city except to cross states." He responded with a shrug, glancing down at her with an interested gaze. Her face didn't reflect any sort of embarrassment as she reached down and tugged at the hem again, legs tugged together so her thighs were completely closed. She frowned at him and snapped, causing him look up at her to see she was more angry than flustered. His face flushed and he nodded as if to bring himself back to reality.
"What I'm saying is-" she started.
"And what I'm saying is that anywhere you go, I'll follow you." He interrupted, sweeping around the countertop and standing close behind her. His arms came around her waist and pulled her close. "Now how about you come back to bed and we'll-"
"I actually have to meet someone today about investments," she snorted, pushing away from his gentle grip and trotting to his closet. She pulled a business-like dress from the hanging rack, smoothed it out with a hand and made her way to the bathroom entry. "I'm going to take a bath so don't run any hot water anywhere else... And Armin," she paused, a smirk crossing her lips, "you're going to need a haircut before we get there." He straightened up, easy smile gone.
She smiled and quickly closed the door, leaving him exasperated and alone. Soon after he heard the water start he jumped into his bed and sprawled out across the sheets, closing his eyes and knowing that even the heat couldn't keep him from sleeping.
The beach was quieter than he'd anticipated. The sand under his bare feet and the unexpectedly gentle roar of the ocean only seemed to lull him further into a dreamy state. Annie was at his arm from the moment he stepped from the car to the moment his toes brushed the foamy water's edge. When he smiled, she smiled, even if it was faint, and when the breeze picked up he told her she'd never looked more beautiful.
The car ride was short, a brief two hours compared to the grueling days spent packing and preparing (and fighting) before they'd even set off. Preparations for a trip had never been so horrid. Annie's usual grace and composure had forsaken her, and her demeanor had switched into a panicked state as soon as the details of the trip were decided. The days seemed rushed to Armin, and his efforts to calm her or ease her frantic worrying and stresses were rewarded with outbursts of anger and passionate apologies. He predicted that she would be happier once they finally left, knowing that all of her stresses had something to do with her work. He was right.
The evening they arrived, Armin commented that he'd never felt so hot before in his life. Annie sat him down, wiping the sweat off the back of his neck with a cloth she'd pulled from a drawer. She quietly told him he'd be cooler if he weren't wearing so many layers of clothing, but he laughed and chose to ignore her hinting for now.
Her next suggestion made him laugh even harder, remembering the first time she'd brought it up.
"A haircut would be in order then," she'd said coolly, fanning herself with a smirk and leading him out the door.
Armin decided that he was crazy enough, and hot enough, to go along with her idea. On their way to the barber, Armin noticed a black car sitting outside the grounds of the beach house. The house itself was lovely and quaint, barely noticeable against the sand. The hulking dark-colored car stood out beside it, and when he asked her about it she became restless, explaining that it was a minor precaution. Security was a big deal during the summer when many flocked to the beaches. Armin decided that worrying about it weighed much too heavily on both their shoulders, so he took her hand and smiled. His suspicions rose, though, once the car disappeared from sight and he wondered what the true purpose for that "security" was.
When they reached the shop, Armin was first to volunteer, hair falling from his head in long strands until his hair was cropped to a medium length against his head. Annie's face sported a rosy color when he smiled at her, and she promptly asked for a haircut herself. She received a trim to the back and sides of her head, and her effort to conceal a smile was all Armin needed to know that she was satisfied.
On the ride home her eyes drifted tiredly through the loud roar of the engine. Her forehead came to rest on his shoulder for the remainder of the ride, and he couldn't help but to breathe a sigh of relief.
When they returned to the house, the black car was gone.
The walk into the house was slow- hot legs lagging at the threshold and moping through the hall. Armin sensed tenseness in Annie's movements as her clothes slid off, layer by layer, until she was barely covered by her thin under dress and step in. It was a state she assumed frequently now, not that Armin was complaining, but the way she felt comfortable in such a vulnerable state around him made him feel almost honored and certainly relieved. She let her sharp edges down to grow close to him, not that he'd ever really experienced those edges before in the first place. His day-dreaming state broke as she plopped down on a baby-blue colored couch and laid her head back on the back of the seat. Her dark eyelashes fluttered closed.
"I'm sorry for making you go to the party." She said carefully, voice collected but shaky. He placed his hands beside her head and leaned over her, head tilted to watch her expression go from calm to thoughtful.
"You acted... strangely. I don't mean to criticize but-"
"No, Armin," he swallowed when she said his name, "I was foolish to have brought you along." she sighed, hands slipping into her lap. Armin tensed.
"Did I embarrass you-?"
"God- no, Armin," her eyes opened she fixed him with a sharp gaze as she spoke,"No I'm just...worried is all. You didn't belong in a place like that."
Armin's face scrunched in offense, body shifting away. Her hand caught his before he could slip from her completely.
"That's not what I meant. I would love to take you to any event; any party the world could throw. But that was different... those people were different." The look of seriousness in her eyes made Armin falter, face relaxing as his fingers slid into hers. "Armin," he shivered at his own name again and wondered why her voice could break him so easily. She sounded sincere in her next words, "If those people had known how much you mean to me... how important you are..." Silence fell between them and her chin dropped to her chest, fingers pulling out of his reach. "I'm not embarrassed of you... Those people are not like you and I, my love, they're animals. They're vultures. They'd tear you apart limb by limb if given the chance."
Armin felt a caustic comment seeping through his throat about her "not being one of them", but his self control was mightier than his need to alert her to his knowledge of her 'position'. His hand brushed the nape of her neck and she looked panicked for a moment. He smiled, noting that her new haircut showed her tattoo better than her other had. Somehow he liked it.
He placed a kiss on her head from where he stood, and began to slip off his shirt. He then made his way into the next hall that hopefully led to the bedroom.
"I don't quite understand it all, but I'll trust you. Don't apologize to me anymore about it." and in return he got silence, right up until the moment she curled up beside him hours into the night.
His eyes were wide open, mind racing. There was a sense of discomfort as they fell into their usual position beside each other. He swallowed before turning on his side to face her, seeing that her eyes were wide and alert. "Annie." He prodded, hand finding her arm and tugging her closer. She complied with a dramatically sleepy sigh, burying herself into his chest with a frown and closed eyes.
There was a pause and Armin's heart began to race with anticipation and anxiety, eyelids heavy and mind just as weighted.
"Did you sleep with Eren?"
He heard a scoff and felt her hands shift to move around his sides.
"Is that what he's telling people?" He heard her inhale sharply and move her legs to get more comfortable. Armin frowned against her hair, suddenly feeling as if he should move away from her.
"So you didn't?"
"It depends on who you ask." Armin's frown only deepens into a scowl.
"What did you steal from him? H-he said you used him for something." Annie was very, very still.
"Armin," she prompted hoarsely, "are you afraid of me?"
He didn't answer right away. The answer is quite obvious to him, but there was a strange hesitation. Wasn't it obvious? He urged her to glance between them and notice just how close he was to her, to remember the way he touched her, breathed against her, loved her.
Her words were a memory of something before. Hadn't he asked her the same when they'd first met?
"No," he sighs, nose pressed to her hair, "never."
There was a moment of silence before she continued.
"He willingly stepped outside of a club with me. He was heavily intoxicated, and took advantage of the moment his girlfriend ran to the little girl's room. Yes, we kissed, but it didn't take long to get what I wanted."
"And what did you want?" he returned.
"Information." she fired back.
"So you didn't sleep with him?"
She turned so her back faced him, wiggling closer, backside pressing against him in the most provocative way. He swallowed.
"No." It almost came out like a laugh.
"Are you telling the truth?" she went tense for a moment and he could hear her chewing on her bottom lip.
"Is there any reason I wouldn't be?"
Armin's eyes closed, arm lifting to wrap around Annie. He felt somewhat satisfied with her answer, and he tried his best to settle down into the bed beside her. There was a long time between streams of consciousness, but when Armin's eyes opened again she was facing him with her own azures closely studying his face and eyes. Her arms were folded between their chests and his hand rested on her hip.
"Tell me about Eren and Mikasa." She said softly, beautiful eyes glued to his. He cleared his throat tiredly and glanced over her before answering.
"Why the sudden interest?" He asked with a hoarse voice, propping his head up with his fist.
"They're obviously important to you... So I want to know why." She explained. He laughed quietly, hand lifting to stroke a blonde strand away from her eyes.
"They're my best friends of course they're important to me," he said with a chuckle, brows perched as if his answer had been obvious all along. Annie didn't look amused, eyes narrowed and lips tilted downwards in the beginnings of a frown. He continued on, taking her silence as a queue to answer her question. "We met when we were children." he paused, shifting onto his back to face the ceiling. The patterns from the paint reminded him of clouds, something he wouldn't have expected from his stoic lover, but he continued. He thought to himself that perhaps she hadn't been the one to pick out the decor, and quickly moved on from that thought when Eren came to mind.
"I met Eren first. As you know, I lived with my grandfather here after my parents were gone, and Doctor Jaeger, Eren's father, visited often. He was a kind of friend to my grandfather, but their talks only got as far as the weather and the behavior of their children. I actually didn't meet Eren until we were in junior high school." Armin began to laugh, feeling Annie stiffen beside him. He didn't think too much about it. "I was being bullied by several boys much larger than me. Eren came along with his ambitious anger and tried his best to defend me. Now, as you might have noticed these past few months, and like I've said before, I am not a fighter in the least. He was left virtually alone, punching and kicking this group of boys who were twice his age and size. We both, for a lack of a better phrase, had our asses handed to us that day, but the fight never left Eren.
"He asked me to come over that day, and I did. That's when I met Mikasa. You see, Mikasa's parents were from the ghettos of New York City. Her father, Mister Ackerman, worked very hard to make ends meet. He mistakenly got involved in the gangs, and I say mistakenly because one with a wife like he had wouldn't get out of the mob without her getting bent, if you understand what I'm saying. The people he dealt with, apparently, weren't the most honorable of men. One day they were surprised to find a..." he paused, turning his head to see her in the same position as him. She noticed his silence and her eyes shifted, cerulean orbs aflame with interest and confusion.
"Yes... go on."
He swallowed and turned his head again, closing his eyes and letting the darkness melt over him. "Mister Ackerman answered the door one day to a knife and his wife met the same fate after quite a struggle. Mikasa was stolen and when they discovered her missing, Eren somehow recovered her. Doctor Jaeger did not deal with the mobs up until this point. He was a German immigrant, as well as his wife, and did not want to mess with the wrong crowd. One of his patients who supposedly worked with that particular group of men offered to help him, and he nor his family were ever bothered by any gang member afterwards. It was very lucky of them; I truly believe some awful fate would have become of Eren if that person, whoever they were, hadn't agreed to help the Jaegers."
He heard Annie move and he silenced himself, heart suddenly beating quicker and quicker.
"I would think it would have been..." her voice was calm and collected, but she stopped herself so abruptly it sounded as if she were in a panic.
"What did you say?" he returned, brows furrowed but eyes remaining closed.
"Nothing... So you went to his house?" she prompted, and he could feel her warmth moving farther and farther away. His heart sank but he did as he was told.
"Yes, and I was immediately in love." He smirked at a small, animalistic noise escaping his bed partner. She turned onto her side and wrapped her arm around his. He didn't respond but continued to smile. "Mikasa was my first crush, I suppose. I was head over heels at the sight of her. She was almost a year older, as was Eren, but I was completely enchanted with her." Annie huffed into his arm, sending a chill across his skin. "Don't be jealous, Annie-"
His joke went uncompleted; she interrupted him. "I'm not jealous at all."
He didn't dare to laugh. "In any case, she was always more interested in her adopted brother than she ever was with me. So, when we showed up to the doctor's door he was astounded, and his wife tossed us outside with a wash cloth, angry and worried and asking why her son would start fights. Mikasa, having made herself Eren's personal savior, kicked him in the shins, scolding him, but left me alone without a word. I continued to associate myself with them through the years, even after Eren's mother, Carla, died from a mysterious disease. Eren's father was different after that, reserved, anxious. I rarely saw him all throughout high school, and Mikasa was the one to raise Eren in the end. She raised both of us I suppose."
Armin's insides ached very suddenly, wishing to go back to when he could call the two his best friends. His life seemed upside down now. Eren and Mikasa were involved in the mafia, probably romantically involved with some man or woman from within those confines. Maybe even with each other. He couldn't remember the last time they'd sat down and had a conversation, 'had a drink' with each other. (The other two having a drink while Armin watched.) Annie's voice came a moment later to break apart his thoughts.
"Do you miss them?" she asked, her voice somehow soothing and caring. Armin's lips twitched.
"They made their own decisions. I've said before, Eren got himself into something bigger than he ever thought, and of course Mikasa followed after him. The funny thing was, they never really asked me what I wanted, and Mikasa made sure that I was well off and directed in the opposite direction of the gangs. I didn't want a part of it anyways, but for a time I thought that... well I thought I should follow them. They were still my friends for a long time, but I let them drift."
"Was it because of me?" she asked suddenly, voice dripping with remorse and intense curiosity. His eyes opened and he turned his head to her, noticing how close their noses were from each other. He stared for a long time, watching himself in her eyes. There was a storm brewing behind her irises, and he wanted to ask what she was thinking. He concealed a smile; he knew this feeling very well.
"No, I don't think so, my love."
There was a subtle reaction from his affectionate phrase. She blinked and her fingers twitched against his skin. She was harboring something sinful. He sensed turmoil inside her and somehow he knew exactly what it was all about.
"I want..." she spoke, then bit her tongue, face expressionless and hair fanned across the pillows. He raised his brows, tiredly realizing the extent of his exhaustion.
"If you want to go back to them... I'm not... I'm not stopping you."
There was a long pause, and Armin's heart was the only thing he heard for a long time. He continued to stare into her eyes, tired, wondering. He ached.
"I love you, Annie."
It isn't an answer in itself, but to him it made sense to say. He thought back to their moments together. Had he ever spoken it out loud before? He must have.
He must have breathed it down her heated back, into her collar under the stars, at the sole of her foot with half-lidded eyes and a chuff of laughter. She must know the extent of his words from how his fingers traced patterns on her bare skin, on her cheek, against her inner thighs and knees, in her hair. He swallowed. He came to terms in that moment that his love was irrevocable, and looking at her now, thinking about what she was hiding... He wanted to love her but somehow this didn't feel right.
She didn't respond and he could see a raging war in her eyes. He was left to ponder what she was thinking, but her fluttering eyes were enough closure for him to sleep. For now.
He woke again to the smell of cigarette smoke. He was alone in bed, hands empty, body waking slowly like an orchestra warming up before a concert. His symphony paused as he sat up, and the starting note was the sound of the ocean seeping through the open door and the creak of the floor beneath his toes.
Armin's legs ached. When he reached up to tussle his hair his fingers found short ends and he let out a chuckle. The open door revealed a figure standing outside on the balcony. She was barely dressed, thin knickers covering the top of her lower half and his unbuttoned shirt draped across her shoulders.
He moved, stumbling across the floor and into the bathroom, taking a moment to take in the beauty of the porcelain and aqua tiles before stripping and stepping into the shower. He stood in the cool water for a moment, washed his face and ran his fingers through his hair. After giving himself a minute to wake up, he turned off the water and stepped back into the bathroom. He took a towel and dried off before clothing himself in what he wore the night before, and stepped lightly onto the balcony.
He watched her, leaning across the bar with a cigarette in hand and her other elbow hanging across the white railing.
Armin smiled, but it disappeared once he saw her face. She frowned against the wind, hair tossed in the salty breeze. He turned to glance at the ocean, taking in a sudden breath of awe, and turning back to her. One arm extended around her, and he leaned in to kiss her, but he was stopped abruptly.
"They call me the Female Titan." she said to him, looking away towards the coastline with a drawn smirk and a tap of her fingers against the cigarette.
"Hm?" he asked, adjusting his weight against the railing with his hand against her back.
"I know what you and Eren were talking about at the party," she flicked away the cigarette and turned to him, shifting so his hand now rested on her side, thumb gently brushing over her hipbone as he avoided looking directly at her eyes. "I wonder why you're still here with me," she said with a condescending tone in her voice, her jaw clenched tightly in irritation.
His smile took a long time to come to him. He gave an airy laugh and looked down briefly, then back at her. He moved his hand down to the small of her back and pulled her so close he could feel her breath against his neck. He straightened his back and she frowned with narrowed eyes as he tilted her head, touching her jaw with his free hand, and pressing his lips against hers gently, and then again with more force. She at first was stiff and angry, but when his grip tightened on her, she melted. Her hands drew upwards to tickle his neck with her graceful and light touch until they parted with panting breath and quickened heartbeats.
"Because I love you, that's why."
There was an initial shock in her eyes, like she was trying to register what he'd just said although she'd heard it before. It obviously wasn't the answer she was expecting. Her expression dissipated and she swallowed, her hands slowly trailing down and resting on his sides. She hung her head, eyes narrowed in thought as she stared at the ground.
Armin felt heavy when she did that, when she thought so hard. He smiled and kissed the top of her head, wrapping his arms around her neck and hugging her tightly.
"I knew, anyways," he sighed into her hair, feeling her arms scramble to push him away.
"You what?" she growled, shifting away from him and crossing her arms. He started to laugh as she backed farther away.
"I mean... what other kind of work would you be in?" he asked, raising his arms and shrugging his shoulders. "Men in black, parties with Krista and the Surveys? Annie, you've got more money that I ever will in my life multiplied by thousands." she narrowed her eyes, leaning against the railing as the ocean's sounds presented themselves to fill the silence.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she breathed, looking up at him with hurt in her eyes.
He shrugged, placing a hand on the rail and looking out. "I think it was always meant for you to tell me."
She looked away and held still. After a long pause, Armin's staggering heart came to a slow and steady beat. She moved closer and lightly placed her arms around him, hugging him softly. Her grip grew tighter once he returned her embrace.
"You were just going to let me keep you in the dark? You were going to let me continue to be the bad guy?" she whispered into his chest, closing her eyes. He inhaled, running his hand down her back as he pulled her closer.
"I trust you," he responded, stretching to rest his chin on her forehead, "You were never the bad guy anyways. I... guess I was hoping you'd tell me yourself... at some point."
They stood quietly for a moment and she huffed against him again. "Why do you have so much trust in me?" she asked. He shifted, releasing her from his grip and leaning against the rail again.
"You speak of yourself like you're some sort of criminal," he joked, but the look in her eyes made him want to retract his comment. The thought that maybe she was crossed his mind. He shook his head, "I honestly don't know Annie. No matter what you think of yourself I'm positive that there's at least shred of goodness in you- more than that. I..." he paused, hand on her hip again. "believe in you, I guess."
She moved forward, quick steps moving her closer and closer until she was nestled against him, head tilted back and eyes locked on his. "You're not afraid of me. Even now that you know."
He knew it was meant to be a question but her tone answered it for her. She stared for a long moment, fingers moving closer to brush his bare side. Her index finger made its way under the waistband of his sweatpants and tugged the elastic towards her playfully. She smirked, rising onto her tip-toes and planting a kiss to his lips before rolling back down onto her feet.
"I'm not a good person, Armin." she said, blinking.
"Then neither am I." he said back with a laugh, reaching down to touch his hand to her wrist, but her pull was stronger.
"You're going to regret saying you love me." she said flatly, kissing him again.
"I don't think so." he returned, leaning down closer, feeling her hot breath against his dampened lips.
"Let's go to bed, Armin," she breathed, rosy lips parted for a moment to compliment half lidded eyes.
His only answer, as it always was, came in the form of, "Okay, Annie."
More than a week passed by and Armin could hardly remember what day it was. They used up most of their afternoons in the house. They were mostly quiet, exchanging words and touches, and Annie remained as nonchalant as ever, but Armin began to realize that for Annie these encounters meant so much more.
She lounged around a lot on the soft auburn couch, reading or observing. Sometimes he'd catch her arms or legs twitch as if they were begging for some sort of work to do. Relaxation and familiar company in an unfamiliar place was obviously something she needed to get used to. He was gentle, didn't ask many questions although he was plagued with them. Be patient with Annie, he told himself, and so he was.
Sometimes he leaned down to kiss her, sometimes she pulled him down onto her, and sometimes she didn't. He wasn't disappointed either way. His favorite moments were when they sat together and she looked at him like she couldn't want him any more than she already did. He smiled at her a lot. She always blushed back at him.
They frequented the beach in the morning and the evenings. She watched him swimming, floating in the waters many times. He'd never felt so much elation as he had in those moments. He invited her out, and, unable to refuse a challenge, she swam out to meet him, flustered and distraught.
He laughed, holding her up when the waves came crashing as she sputtered slurs and curses at him. They swam to a shallower spot and he put her up on his shoulders. She screamed and her fingers kneaded into his hair, something that wasn't so foreign to him, and after a moment of exhilaration she lifted her arms into the air and called out to the world, challenging the skies and the birds. When he let her down she kissed him unlike she ever had before, and behind her kiss was the most beautiful smile he'd ever seen.
They lay in the sand that night and laughed at the stars and the way the waves crashed against their toes. Somehow she found sleep, and he carried her home. Later on she woke and they shared a bath and a pot of coffee. She never stopped smiling.
Later in the night, it was quite a different story though. He kissed her deeply, and she touched him with hands as powerful as the waves they'd battled. She let him see parts of her he'd never seen before through her words and pants and growls, parts of her heart and soul. She whispered beautiful words into his ears as he fell asleep and he wondered if it was possible that he'd fallen for a poem instead of a human.
They returned to the beach after lunch time the next day and he sat back, leaning against his elbows as he watched her move along the shoreline. It was low tide, if he was guessing right. In his time here he'd studied book after book about the ocean and the creatures and secrets it held. He joked that Annie was a mermaid in another life but she didn't find it as funny as he did.
He kicked the sand with his feet as he watched her walk across the small white lines of foam as if they were a tightrope, arms extended, face focused and steady. She wore her bathing suit, and over that, a translucent dress that fell at her knees. It whipped around her shapely legs, and at times rose up to dance along her hips. Her other accessories included a crown of flowers and dune-plants that he'd crafted for her several days earlier. It was the only thing keeping her hair from dancing with her dress, and her large sunglasses covered her eyes.
She stopped, turning to him and letting her feet sink into the wet sand.
"You know, Annie, I think the ocean is my favorite thing besides you." he smiled when he saw her cheeks go red, but otherwise there is no reaction. She rose to her tip toes and plopped back down onto her heels, the water splashing along her legs.
"What do you think about the future, Armin?" she called over the waves, pulling her glasses off and stuffing them into a pocket in her dress. The new weight in the fabric pocket made the dress sag, but he paid it no mind.
"It's scary." he concluded with a laugh, feeling unusually chipper, the opposite of the woman before him.
"I mean... what do you think you'll be doing in five, ten years time?"
He didn't want to answer. His bit his lip and nibbled for a moment before letting his head fall back.
"Doing future things. In the future." he responded playfully, and the scoff emitted from Annie warned him that he shouldn't be so silly.
"I'm serious Armin. I want to know what you want, where you want to be."
He sat up, crossing his legs and wiping sand of his elbows. "Well I don't really know. Honest." he responded, looking back up at her as his fingers mindlessly played in the sand. Her bottom lip poked out for a moment, hands behind her back. She stayed quiet for a moment and then looked down, starting to follow the water's edge again.
"I want to tell you about Reiner and Bertholdt." she said quickly, and he almost didn't catch it over the sound of the waves.
"Brilliant." he said with a smile, "Go ahead. I'd love to hear about them."
She remained quiet for a moment and sighed, stopping again to face him. "I was born in Germany. Konigstadt. Small town. I told you before that I was Dutch, but that's just my name. My father's father was from the Netherlands and he married a German girl when he moved to Berlin. I lived with my parents in Konigstadt until I was eight years old. By then I was fluent in several languages. My father was strict and had high expectations for me. I was supposed to be born a man, he used to say, but all he got was a silly blonde girl. I was constantly told that I would make his country proud, but we moved to America regardless of his pride for Germany."
Annie stepped over the water, and back across, choosing her words very carefully. "He wanted me to be the best I could be despite my unfortunate... well... gender. He thought little of me until I showed interest in the things he wanted, the things he liked. We moved because of financial hardship, before the war of course. If he'd known a war was coming he would have insisted on staying."
She laughed to herself and Armin was surprised. "He wasn't very bright, not as bright as me or my mother I will say. But... my mother, yes. On the boat over, she fell ill. We were ignorant and thought it to be something associated with the sea. Sea-sickness they called it. But when we got here it was too late, and she was lost amongst the other sickened immigrants. They at first did not let us into the country, and my father nearly fought everyone there- nearly had me fight everyone there for him. But we were released and our broken little family moved to the roughest parts of New York City."
"I'm sorry. About your mother, I mean." Armin quickly interjected. She looked suddenly very solemn, but she continued anyway with a nod to acknowledge his condolences.
"She was from Denmark. She was beautiful. I..." she paused, collected her composure and cleared her throat, "My father raised me. It was hell, but I learned a lot. He made many investments as soon as he came over, some unwise, some risky. After learning English and making deals with all the right people, he found himself considerably rich. He was a hoarder though. We lived in the slums until he died." she paused again, touching her hand to her lips as if to prevent something from spilling out.
She sighed, a partly content noise, and continued, "I met Reiner first on one of my many little expeditions. He tried to flirt with me, and not completely understanding his thick Russian accent, I ended up punching him and breaking his nose. His mother, a burly and angry woman, came to our house and threatened my father with Russian slurs. Reiner somehow ended up following me everywhere I went, and soon after I was introduced to his nervous and hopelessly ugly partner in crime. Bertholdt. The first time I saw him I nearly kicked him just for trying to say hello." she laughed quietly to herself before continuing, "We were the inseparable trio soon after, we all learned to speak German, you see."
Armin sat, watching her expressions. When she looked like she was done, he asked her, "What happened after that?" She didn't respond right away.
"Many things. I was shipped off to boarding school because that's what my father wanted for me. Reiner and Bertholdt did what little immigrant boys did in America; they joined the gangs. My father died. I returned to New York, and things were terrible for a while. An opportunity arose. Several opportunities. I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I got a degree, against all odds. I broke myself several times, picked myself back up, put the pieces together. I got into business, made an empire." she turned to him unabashed. "I met you."
"And then things went downhill, huh?" he joked, letting a laugh roll off his tongue. She kicked the water, splashing him.
"You have no idea, Armin."
"Is there any more to tell?" he asked quietly. She frowned.
"Don't you trust me?"
There was a crack of lightening above them and Armin felt raindrops against his skin. He jumped up and took her hand, tugging her behind him as they made their way, laughing, up to the house before it really started to rain. The rest of the night she sat on his lap on the sofa, dozing and smelling of sand and sweet beach air. He held her closely, left to wonder what other secrets she hadn't told him. He fell asleep, dreaming he was a child again and that he had been the one she met instead of Reiner.
They decided to leave the day after. It stormed on and off throughout the day before their departure. Annie returned to her cat-like state for the day, not that she'd really left it in the first place, but Armin noticed her silent and light-footed steps as she packed her things.
He didn't mind it, and the day they left the sun decided to return. Annie found him on the balcony after she'd placed the last of her bags in the cab waiting outside for them just as the sun reached its peak in the sky She walked over to him, placed a hand on his back and traced a circle with her finger.
He turned to her tiredly, wrapping his arms around her neck and tugging her against him for a loose embrace. She was silent as they parted, and she left him with a kiss on the cheek.
She closed the door to the building, locking it with a key, and letting her hand linger on the handle. Armin took note, seeing that she looked at the house like she'd never see it again. She climbed into the taxi with a weak smile, and they closed their eyes until they pulled up to the hotel.
Someone carried their bags up for them, and when they got to the top there was no time to thank him. He rushed away after being tipped and disappeared into the elevator before they could speak. Annie huffed and stumbled into the room, shedding most of her clothing and disappearing into the bedroom without a word. Armin laughed and strolled into the kitchen to pour himself some water.
The rest of the day is filled with quiet snores and the turning of pages. He didn't touch or speak to her again until he tucked himself in beside her and she informed him she'd be going to work the next day.
He woke up alone that day, as expected, and realized he had slept until noon. He sat down to write after a cup of coffee, noting that his hair was growing out faster than he had expected it to.
When she returned to the hotel room that night, she slammed the door on her way in. Armin sat his pages down and stood up, hands in his pockets casually. He watched her kick off her shoes and toss her hat and shawl on top of them with a huff of frustration. He waited for a moment for her to cool down before asking her.
"In my absence or today specifically?" she shouted back at him, voice slipping to give away her anger.
He paused, considering taking a step back. "Eh... Either."
She slammed her hands down onto the kitchen counter, "Many, many things." she answered vaguely, exactly what he'd expected from her. Before he could prod her further she sighed loudly, and began to explain, "A trade partner was compromised, a warehouse was robbed, a series of trade offs were interrupted or cancelled."
Armin took note of these things and stepped to the other side of the counter, actively putting together the pieces of her occupation inside his head. He watched her for a moment, a storm brewing behind her eyelids, fingers tapping against the top of the counter without rhythm.
"How do you feel about Britain?" she asked suddenly, looking up at him with quirked brows and still eyes. Armin shifted his weight, furrowing his brows.
"It's an island nation that-"
"I meant... would you go with me?" she turned with a half frown, on hand posed on her hip. Armin stood, arms by his sides, eyes wide with shock.
"I don't..." he began, shaking his head, noticing his jaw had been slack for the past few moments.
"You don't...?" she prompted, eyes glistening with anxiety, unsure of whether or not he would go with her.
"Annie I already told you," he finally said, "Wherever you go, I'll follow." She gave him a look of relief and leaned down to rest her forehead on the counter, arms crossed around her head.
"We'll be there for a long time, Armin. Months maybe."
He frowned at her muffled comment.
"I can tell Eren and Mikasa." it sounded more like a question when it came out of his mouth.
She lifted her head, giving a curt shake of the head. Suspicion and discomfort began to grow inside his stomach.
"Perhaps... Okay. Alright... I'll go. I just... I need something to do. I don't like feeling useless." Again, Annie looked relieved.
"Anything you want, you can have." she responded. He smiled.
"I wonder where I've heard that before," he said, making his way over to her and wrapping his arm around her waist. She didn't smile, but buried herself into his chest, arms reaching around his middle and pulling him close. She went tense for a moment, arms tight around him. His hands traced a circle on her back, and they stood for a long moment before she drew away and took his hand. She worried her bottom lip between her teeth, knitting her fingers between his and looking up at him with half-lidded eyes.
"I think it's time for a bath..." she whispered, tugging him forward lazily and into the next room where Armin soon became aware of exactly how hot the city could be in the summer.
It turned out that international travel was exactly as one would expect it to be: difficult. They were to take a taxi to the train station, a train to the dock, and then a large ship to the dock in England, and after that another taxi to London. Armin spent the week prior to the trip reading about the country and its significance to the Great War. He made small notes in his books, as well as writing down places or things he'd like to do when he arrived. Annie on the other hand, was stressed from the moment she stepped out of their bath until their tickets were purchased and the times were finalized.
Armin felt a nagging feeling in the pit of his stomach as the time to depart drew near, but as Annie packed their final bags he made a silent promise to write his friends letters, even if he didn't send them.
They walked out of the apartment, and again, Annie's fingers lingered on the door handle.
Armin swallowed the rising bile in his throat and breathed, "Are you alright?"
She flinched, and hurriedly reached down to fix her skirts and then back up to adjust her hat. She sniffed, brushing her hair behind her ears and looked up at him with an expressionless face.
She took a step, and stopped.
Her gaze was still, trained on him for an extended moment. The man in the elevator grew uncomfortable, even checking his watch as he held the door open.
"You can stay... if you want to." she said softly. Armin swallowed, brows knit and head shaking.
"I don't know what you mean."
"Things are going to be hard from here on out," she deadpanned, something resembling concern in her eyes, "and... I don't want you to get caught in any crossfire that may occur."
Armin's eyes glanced between her and the attendant that was sweating behind them.
"Annie..." he said softly, trying to laugh and break the tenseness, "you know I'm... you know how I feel. Things will be alright." he nodded to the waiting elevator, "Come on, love." he said, smiling weakly. She stared for another moment, and hesitantly took his hand.
He squeezed her hand on their way to the lobby, but she was incredibly cold.
The ride to the station was silent, but he held her then too.
The station itself was exploding in sound, but Annie was not. Armin's fingers slipped from her grasp when a man came to load their bags. He thanked him and readied himself to board the incredible machine, but not before walking up and down the gates to view it.
His smile of excitement would not be drowned out, even after an icy look from his lover.
Before he could get back to the doorway where Annie stood, a bump to the leg stopped him. He turned, watching several young boys running around with wild laughter. He continued to watch them run up to their mother who shouted and screamed, scolding them and gesturing all around.
Armin stifled a laugh and trotted to Annie, whose eyes were glued to the group of boys beside them.
"Ready?" Armin prompted, nudging her with his arm to get her to board. She gave a weak smile and followed him up the stairs and into their part of the train.
The room was small, possibly three or four feet across and six feet long. The space was cramped and the paint inside was an abnormal yellow-orange color. Itt seemed to please Annie just fine so he followed her inside and closed the squeaky brass door behind them.
They sat on the same seat, Armin closest to the small window along the outer wall of the train. He looked all around the inside, seeing large cubbies above them made of wood, and observing that the seats were worn out leather. It was comfortable, and he'd never been on a train this fancy before. He usually got a seat with the masses, but it was a rare for him to even climb aboard; he never went very far from home.
Annie sat closer to the door, and stared directly at it as the train took off and began to move along the track. The sound of the roaring engine and screaming wheels made Armin cringe for a moment until the anticipated rhythmic chugging of the train soothed his ears. He looked to her, seeing her fingers tap her arm as she sat, distinctively ignoring him.
"Annie." he addressed her softly. She crossed her legs and lifted her brows.
"Yes?" she answered, turning to face him with an irritated expression. He shifted, feeling uncomfortable under her stare. Before he spoke he slipped his hand towards her, fingers tapping the seat, calling for her to touch hands with him. She acknowledged this motion and looked as if she was going to reach forward and indulge him, but she didn't. He inhaled, pulling his hand away and crossing one leg over the other.
"So I understand how Reiner and Bertholdt came into the picture, but what about Ymir?" he asked. Annie's attention turned to him immediately. "I mean, of course Reiner could have picked her up along the way, but her being with Krista-"
"Armin," she said quietly, and he looked up at her, "too many questions at once." He smiled back at her, seeing a hint of amusement in her eyes. She shifted in the seat, moving closer to him.
"Once Reiner took his place as... well..." she hesitated again, face growing serious. "Reiner became the leader of the Titans, but it was me who found Ymir. I watched her pick pocket at least a dozen people in one of my- Reiner's bars. It was funny, and she got caught. Apparently she'd been doing that for a while, but no one had been able to catch her up until she was thrown out of the bar. I followed her out, watched her clean a bloody nose in the alley. She nursed her bruises, cracking jokes until I asked her why she stole. She admitted she had someone to impress, and I told her that stealing wasn't the honorable way to impress someone, especially a suitor. She just laughed at me, and when I offered her a position in our... group... she laughed even louder." Armin smirked, opening his mouth to joke, but the words were stolen out of his mouth as she continued.
"I know what you're thinking- isn't stealing a part of... this?" she stopped to laugh softly. "That's exactly what she said to me, but I told her that things with us were more practical than that, more honorable. I gave her my card, told her that I'd find her and I'd love to meet whoever it was she cared about so much. She nodded and scurried off. She was a rat back then, and now she's..." she stopped, shaking her head. "Better."
"I assume you met her again?" Armin asked, glancing out the window to see a blur or green and grey.
"Oh yes. I found her again on Long Island, at Krista's actually. She pulled me aside and told me she wanted in, but Krista was against it." Annie sighed, "You see, Krista's experience with the gangs has never been civil. Her parents... well. I shouldn't say. But she made something of herself, built a home, built a business, made friends all over the state. Both gangs seem to want a piece of her, and if Ymir decided to be a part of Reiner's empire, that would be making Krista choose a side."
Armin nodded, trying to understand. "And Krista cares about Ymir's decision... because they're friends?" he asked, tilting his head. She looked at him as if he were a child.
"Their relationship is complicated, I assure you. They've been together for quite a while, best friends since they met. More than that, I'll admit, for some time now," Annie paused to let the initial shock roll over him. She reached up to push her hair behind her ear. "If it were to get out that Krista had a lover that was a part of the Titans... The Surveys would tear her limb from limb. The girl can handle herself quite well, I'll say. I've seen her fighting moves and she's more than her outer appearance, but she won't be able to help anyone if it gets out. Friendships are nothing in this world." she concluded with another heavy sigh.
She smiled weakly. "Armin."
"Why do you deal with those people? Those... vultures?" She didn't look at him directly for a long time. The train hummed in his ears as he watched her, muffling his thoughts for the moment.
"Grief, and greed, and youth were never friends of mine." she finally said, eyes trained on the ground. He blinked slowly several times before it fully registered. He sat away from her, staring out the window for what seemed like hours before he turned to her and saw her watching him.
"What?" he asked playfully, voice quiet. Blonde strands shifted and shook with her head as she smiled back at him.
"I'm not sure why you're here," she whispered, "but thank you." he nodded and extended his arm, willing her to come close.
She moved towards him, practically sitting on his lap by the time she rested her side against his. Her hand took his and she held it in her lap, sighing and closing her eyes.
He ran his fingers over her palm for a moment. She shifted and opened her eyes, glancing over his lips and trailing her gaze upwards to his eyes.
"Do you want kids?" she asked tentatively, feeling a shiver when he pulled her closer. His hand pressed against the small of her back, holding her so close their bodies touched. He smirked, kissing her forehead and touching his cheek with his hand.
"I always imagined myself with one or two," he confessed, licking his bottom lip and raising a brow at her. "And you?"
She shifted as if her body was dodging the question itself. Her eyes shot downwards and she shrugged her shoulders, a mischievous smile suddenly across her lips.
"I was thinking five or six." she said blatantly, shifting to her entire body faced him. His eyes widened and he began to laugh, letting his head fall back against the head of the seat.
She scooted away from him, turning and pulling her legs up onto the seat, pressing the tops of her thighs to her chest. Her arms wrapped around her knees and held them to her.
"Yes actually, it's been a dream of mine since I was a child." she admitted, shrugging and averting her gaze to the small window and the passing scenery. Armin, still in shock from her answer, continued to stare at her with a wild smile.
"And who do you expect to have this small litter with?"
"You act as if I'm a cat, Armin," she said defensively, but in a joking manner. She shifted her weight again, closing her eyes with a smile, "and to be quite honest I'm hoping for a lovely stranger to barge into my life and make a proper woman of me."
"Oh, so you aren't a proper woman now?" he asked, laughing to himself as he watched her.
"No, it seems you've ruined me, Armin Arlert." she whispered, opening her eyes and sliding her legs off the seat. His smile shrank to a weak grin on his lips, hands folding around her as she settled at his side again.
"I think you were ruined well before I knew you." he said, half to himself. She bit her lip as her eyes fell closed again.
"Right you are." she replied a moment later, arm around his waist pulling him closer to act as a pillow for her. "Wake me when we arrive, please, dear."Armin smiled at her, and then at the window that was now sprinkled with rain. "I will."