XX

August 1921

She woke up in an unfamiliar bed with a warm arm wrapped around her shoulders. For a single instant she didn't want to move from this place- pressed against her lover behind beautiful linen in a foreign country. She wanted, for a solitary moment, to bask in the warmth, to close her eyes again and fall back asleep beside him. But she didn't.

The blonde woman slipped his arm over her and off to the side. She felt him turn over, hearing him react with a soft moan. He was dead asleep, as he always was at this time of the morning. The noises that followed from his mouth and the twitches in his limbs alerted her to the fact that he was dreaming.

She noticed that he did that a lot. He dreamt of things she'd never even begun to imagine. She almost envied him, the boy who dozed in white sheets without a worry. She reached over for just a moment, letting a gentle finger run along his cheek and brush the mess of blonde hair from his head so she could see his fluttering eyelids. She smirked, but her amusement soon vanished when the light filtering in caught her attention. Right. That.

She felt uneasy as she sat upwards, hand pulled back and taking most of her weight. The sticky English summer air, though not as hot as New York's, hit her bare upper body as the sheets slid downwards, causing her to let out her own moan of despair. Summertime was not her friend, as it caused extraneous discomfort at all hours of the day and night.

It was a Monday, she assumed, as the city below their suite was bustling and moving as fast as her American hometown. She stretched her arms above her head with a yawn, legs slipping over the side of the bed and toes brushing the soft carpet below. She wiped her eyes as she rose from the bed and made her way towards the walk-in closet that was more like an extra room to itself. There were racks on either side, only a quarter of the way filled by her and her lover's clothing, and drawers for ties and accessories, even racks for shoes. Most of these things went unnoticed or were appreciated but unused. They didn't pack very much anyways since Annie had assured him there would be somewhere to wash and dry clothing regularly. She also mentioned the fact that she'd prefer him without clothing during their moments together, but he'd only laughed and continued packing.

Drawing herself back to reality, she took a moment to push away the garments she wasn't interested in to find the ones she desired. She slipped into a clean step-in and adjusted the back so it hugged her chest tightly. Garments like these were, more often than not, used to disguise flat chests and thick waists, and although Annie would not call herself plain she took full advantage of this technology. Her looks never really bothered her, but when a woman steps into a line of business where men are at the top, one must make sacrifices to be as equally aesthetically and economically appealing. She learned this very early on in her career. Her eyes shifted back to glance over her still-sleeping partner. He never spoke about things like her flattish body type or the way she dressed or the manner of how she carried herself. A light blush painted itself across her face as she looked back to the hanging clothing.

She then reached for her dress. It was a lovely looking thing, made of black lace and soft cotton that flowed across her body like waves. After giving herself a moment to admire it, she pulled that on too, reaching behind her and tying the belt and zipping it up all the way.

She smoothed it out over her, the wrinkles falling away with ease, and picked at a loose strand where the hem sat at her shin. She stood up, swallowed and took a deep breath, stretching her arms and legs to wake her body fully once and for all. The blonde woman made her way out of the closet and into the main room, hands running over her dress and then reaching up to comb through her hair. Hands fumbled quietly at the back of her head, smoothing out the short blonde strands. She shook her head out lightly, allowing the feathery ends to fall in their natural places as she walked through the room and into the kitchenette. It was hard for her to adapt to the new hairstyle, but Armin seemed to like it, so she liked it.

The main room was much larger than it needed to be, decorated with a small couch at the center of the room, a shining black piano at the side, and several rugs and paintings to make it look refined. All of these things were situated in front of a large window that overlooked the city. Annie wasn't a fan of heights, so she didn't venture very far past the threshold of the bedroom door that sat at the far corner of the grand living room.

The kitchenette was rich too, and was only called a "kitchenette" because it lacked an icebox and the proper space to properly cook and clean things. The countertops and porcelain sink were absolutely stunning, as Armin had originally described them, but were somehow the only memorable traits of the area. She bit her bottom lip as she flipped open the cabinets, thinking that if she'd been the original owner of this hotel that she would have decorated differently. She didn't find what she wanted so she turned back to the main room, eyes narrowing to observe it. Something interrupted her thoughts though, a figure standing in the doorway of the bedroom.

She froze for a moment, but his messy hair and leaning body made her relax again. "Why are you awake?" she prompted, a soft smile gracing her lips briefly. He chuckled, eyes reaching up and wiping the sleep from his eyes. It was apparent that he would be going back to sleep as soon as she walked out the door, but that was okay with her. The image of him curled up and hiding from the sun amused her enough for her to tuck it away in her mind to think about for the rest of the day.

"I wanted to see you off." he said back to her, "since it's your first day of work here." his voice was almost a snore as he leaned against the doorframe, bare arms hanging down at his sides. He was shirtless, only wearing a lazily-donned pair of knee-length drawers. She smirked, shifting her gaze downwards for a moment out of sheer embarrassment.

"That's kind of you." she moved out of the kitchen and treaded lightly into the bathroom that connected to both the main room and the bedroom. He didn't move from his spot, and she didn't expect him to. She went to the sink and quickly found her makeup stored in a cabinet beside the toilet. She fished through a small black bag, finding her powder and popping open the small jar to begin applying the pale mixture to her skin. After a moment she was satisfied, closing the jar and searching through her bag once again to find her lipstick. The tube opened to reveal a rosy colored hue, and she applied it to her upper and lower lips, avoiding the corners of her mouth with expert care. After that a line of black was applied to her upper eyelid and she quickly exited the room, brushing past Armin to find her heels. He watched her from the door as she slid her feet into each shoe, wiggling her ankles with a frown, trying to get comfortable.

He smirked at her when she looked up at him, which earned him a gentle slap to the shoulder as she moved past him again, finding her small black handbag and slinging the simple silver chain over her shoulder. She trotted over to him, rising up on her toes to press a gentle kiss to his lips before parting from him. This task was not so easy, though. His arms immediately enveloped her and pulled her back in, several short pecks to her cheeks showing her just how much adoration he held for the woman.

"Stop it you'll get me all goofy before I go off to a meeting," she whined quietly, pushing back on his chest with her hands, trying to escape his grip. Eventually he relented, letting her slowly slip from his arms with a concerned frown. She tilted her head, taking his hands in hers in an effort to find out what was wrong. "Are you al-?"

"It's nothing." he huffed quickly, a smile forming. It was easy for her to tell that this smile was forced, but now wasn't the time to point that out. "I'm just worried about you. That's all."

She concealed a frown for the moment and nodded slowly, lifting his knuckles to her lips and planting a slow and gently kiss to his fingers before letting them go. "I'll be fine." she smirked. "Don't worry about me." Armin hesitated before opening his mouth to answer her.

"I always do." his voice was barely above a whisper but it was enough to fluster the woman as she went on her way towards the door.

"There's a list of things for you to do while we're here," she mentioned with her back turned to him, "there's books and places you'll want to see- even errands that need to be ran. The people at the front desk will show you where the markets are and if you want I'm sure there's a cafe or a library around the corner." She stopped at the door and looked back at him with an almost disinterested gaze. He smirked at her knowingly, able to see through her serious persona like always.

"Thank you." He replied, body leaning full against the doorframe with his arms crossed over his bare chest.

She glanced down into her purse ad if she were sorting through it, but Armin knew she was just trying to stall for long enough to slip into her business-like attitude. "I know you wanted to feel useful so that's... how you can help out." With a tug of her dress she looked back up to him and nodded, allowing a moment of emotion to pass through her as she blew him a slow kiss. "I'll be back in a jiffy. Probably around dinner time." she stopped herself before going on, deciding she was content with her farewell and turned to the door, palm on the handle.

"I love you. Have a good day." his voice carried to her quietly and she swallowed, glancing back over her shoulder to nod at him once before exiting the room and finding her way downstairs. She had a hard time controlling her smile throughout the day.


Her feet started hurting at midday, but she didn't take her heels off until she opened the door in the evening. It wasn't until the door had completely opened that she heard a soft murmur of music coming from the room inside. She stopped immediately and her eyes widened at what she saw.

Armin was waltzing alone in the middle of the living room, hands and arms positioned properly in front of him as if he had a partner. Annie watched him step in, out, and over in rhythm with the music, eyes closed and lips turned down in an expression of light frustration. She stood very still, watching him and listening to the slow and steady music. Her eyes gazed over him to the source of the sound, a clunky-looking phonograph that sat at the back of the room, a record spinning hypnotically around the center of the device. The gadget, something Annie had come across only a few times in her life, was emitting a slow and crackling rhythm. A hand found itself over her open mouth as she gaped at him. He continued for several more beautiful measures before blinking open his eyes and stopping abruptly at the sight of her.

"Oh- he-hello." his face lit up immediately. "I didn't see you..." her hand quickly changed from a guise for her shock to one for a smile.

"Obviously not..." she replied, voice hushed to try to stifle a laugh. He stood idly for a moment, face rosy and hands fumbling in the air- unsure of what to do. She gave him a once over, noting his unbuttoned and wrinkled shirt, and his shoeless feet. She almost snickered as she set her shoes down and laid her bag across the table, still astonished at what she'd walked in on.

The music continued in the background and she felt growing tension as the air as he became more and more flustered. The tune was vaguely familiar but the name of the piece escaped her for the moment.

"So you were practicing...?" she asked, walking to the table and leaning one hip against it. He glanced away, unable to look her in the eyes, lips drawn back in an embarrassed smirk.

"I suppose you could say that."

She shifted her weight and placed one hand on her hip. "What for?" he looked as if he were about to explode, his face burning red and his fists clenched at his sides. He finally looked up at her, arm reaching back to scratch the back of his neck.

"Nothing in particular." he laughed and ran his hands over his face, turning to the phonograph and reaching to turn it off.

"I actually quite like that," she interrupted and he paused, "that tune I mean." she smirked as he turned around to look at her with a questioning glance. "And that dance."

She started over towards him and she noticed him tense up immediately, but he quickly came undone as she reached for his arm and tugged him towards her. "Why don't you teach me, Bell Bottom?" He rolled his eyes, laughing as he tentatively took his position- hand on her waist and the other holding her palm.

"Don't even joke about that, Annie," he said, straightening his back and letting his eyes wander her body.

"I can joke about it if I want to, thank you very much," she hissed playfully, situating her feet on the floor, "now less talk, more dance." Armin's eyes lit up and he shook his eyes, head bobbing slightly as his ear caught hold of the beat from the music.

"If I didn't know any better I'd say you were stuck on me," he whispered, closing the space between them and nudging her leg with his knee, starting the process of the dance. They took a slow step back, and then sideways, and then in the other direction, their swinging body off beat from the music but relaxed and smooth all the same. "Do you have a crush or something, Annie?" he teased as their fingers interlaced and she rolled her eyes.

"Oh no, something far worse." her eyes shift to the side as they stare at each other for a moment, legs still lagging behind the music's gentle beat. Armin looked flustered again but he didn't say anything, head tilting so she could rest her forehead on the crook of his neck.

"How was your day?" he asked politely. The shift in tone somehow made her uncomfortable. She shifted as they danced along, and the silence between them slowed them even further, slowed them until they came to a stop and settled on swaying back and forth. She took in a deep breath before answering him, eyes closed and tongue running over her lips to prepare them to speak for her.

"Fine," she replied quietly, "my meetings were... alright. I regained a lot of what had been lost when we left the first time. The economy here is in a slump so my investment partners are... well, hesitant to take any action. My dogs barked all day if you know what I mean," after this Armin chuckled quietly, his thumb on her side running circles around her hipbone, drawing her closer and closer, "there's a lot to be done but we have... lots of time." she paused, looking at him quickly to see how he responded. Nothing significant happened to his expression and he didn't let out a word, so she went back to closing her eyes and humming to the music. "And yours?"

He didn't say anything for a while, and she assumed he was having one of his moments, savoring the feel of her body or the scent of the air around them. She knew he was writing something in his head, and she'd have to wait to hear what it was. She'd never been very patient but she found that with him she was able to make the change. It was always worth the wait, whatever 'it' was.

"Mine was... interesting." he replied, glancing at her and then letting his eyes close.

"Oh?" she prompted. He frowned and licked his bottom lip as if he were thinking hard about what he wanted to say.

"I went out this morning," he started, "not long after you left. Well, I went back to sleep for about an hour or so but I decided I was wasting away the day... so I went into town." Annie's brows lifted, interest sparking within her. "I asked the people at the front desk where the library was, and they directed me to the nearest bookstore since there apparently isn't one close to here. I didn't find anything I liked so I then went to the market and bought a couple different samples of different teas, got all the food on your list, got some wine... that's not illegal here," Annie chuckled and slipped further into his hold of her.

"You're right, it isn't." she said back to him in a low voice.

"Yes... and then I had lunch at the market. I ate some sort of fried fish-"

"Reminds me of what we were eating on the boat over here," she interrupted quietly. She could hear him snickering for a moment.

"I was actually just about to say that. You would think that your endless money could have bought us some better food-"

She tipped away from him with a scoff, laughing and leaning away, eyes still closed. "You were sick the whole time! I'm surprised you could even taste the food through those buckets of upchuck you were pouring out-" she paused to open one eye to see him, horrified and embarrassed, "Who knew someone who loves the sea so much would be seasick while crossing over it." she snickered to herself as she stepped closer to him, their feet still in sync to the music that never seem to quit. "I don't think we've ever been together in the same room for so long- and you could barely touch me without getting queasy." he looked ashamed at this, looking away and shaking his head just slightly.

"I made up for it when we got here, didn't I?" he asked innocently, but the slight made her lurch and scoff. She pushed him slightly, causing him to get off balance. He laughed and swayed back into their rhythm, eyes locked on hers. There was a moment of silence between them and the music, and somehow their surroundings seemed to fade. Their movements were slow and heavy, and his arms encircled her, her own arms bending and sitting on his chest. Her palms sat across his collar and she gently smiled up at him. The expression soon disappeared when he prompted her with a question.

"Where were you?" he murmured quietly. She stopped for a moment, sucking on her bottom lip and avoiding his gaze. She continued with him again after registering his words. "Where were you, then?" steps fell into place, slow and quiet against the soft floor. His hand on her hip was warm and his other squeezed her palm just gently, eyes fixed on hers as they swayed together.

"I don't know what you mean," she answered, eyes averting and feet lagging behind her just for a moment. His head tilted down just slightly, pace slowing further and further as the music droned on.

"I mean... you were vacant on the ship. You weren't with me." he didn't try to get his point across because he could tell by the way she came to a complete stop that she was angry with him. She tried to escape his hands, eyes yet to have touched his for the moment.

"I was right beside you the whole time, Armin-"

"Standing beside me, yes, but your thoughts were... missing," his voice rose just below a plea, "I just wish you'd tell me what was going on in that mind of yours." The music clicked off behind them and she shouldered past him, moving to the phonograph and turning it off completely. She crossed her arms over her chest and closed her eyes, back turned to him.

Hands landed on her upper back, fingers kneading the tension from her shoulders. She threw them back to try to shake him off her of and she moved away from him, turning to look into his eyes from a few feet away. Although his question had seemed innocent, she could tell it was more of an accusation than an inquiry.

"You're not exactly open about everything either Armin," she snapped back at him, turning her head to look away, "I don't always know what's going on in your head, either..." It took a moment for him to respond, the view of her tattoo a reminder of just how much he didn't know about her. It angered him, so he attacked.

"Don't talk to me about dishonesty, Annie," he growled, arms out at his sides, "I know you but I don't- I don't-" he grunted in frustration and ran his fingers through his hair. She felt the urge to tell him how long it was getting, but the affection in her heart was frosty with anger and hurt as he continued, "that's the thing! I don't!" he ran his hands over her face and turned so his side faced her. She willed him to turn back around to face her again, but of course she stayed silent. Annie bit her lip, fingers shaking at her sides as she faced him.

"What do you-?"

"You know what I mean!" he turned to her again, but this was not a relief like she'd hoped it would be, "Where were you, Annie? You weren't with me. You weren't thinking about us, you weren't speaking to me how you usually did, you were quieter than you usually are- you were just..." he stopped and bared his teeth, something she'd never seen him do. She noted she did not like that facial expression and involuntarily shook her head, "Where were you today, Annie? Today. Where do you go? What do you do- I know you work but you- what are you doing? Who are you talking to, what games are you playing?"

He was breathing heavy and she felt lungs quivering inside her, hungry for breath. She swallowed and opened her mouth to answer but nothing came out, nothing until, "I didn't know this was what you were thinking. I- I didn't know you felt this way..." she paused, lips trembling, "Why don't you just trust me, Armin?"

He shouted back to her, "I'm trying to trust you but I can't... I don't know how! What do you do? I know you're a part of the Titans but what does that even mean?" Annie's nostrils flared out and her chest swelled, but he didn't let her get in an answer. "Annie... I love you more than I've loved anything on this entire Earth but I don't... know why. I know you... but you won't let me know you." He paused, eyes watering. His sudden outburst began to sink in for both of them. "I love you but you were like... this stranger. You are like a stranger."

She was stricken, uncertain of what to do. She asked herself if he'd been holding onto these thoughts for a long time, but the answer was obvious. She could tell by the looks he gave her that there was always something on the tip of his tongue, that there was something he wanted to know but couldn't bring himself to ask. Had she been imagining that? Didn't she want to give him answers to his questions? Annie could never explain those things to him, not in a thousand lifetimes. She was doing the right thing, keeping him in the dark, or at least that's what she wanted to believe.

There was no way to win this fight, so she did the next best thing. She turned away from him and went for the door, hearing him gasp as she slipped on her shoes and grabbed her bag.

"You're wrong, Armin, you don't love me." she spat, hands shaking violently and throat dry. She bit down on her lip so hard she tasted blood, but that was fine with her. It wasn't as if she hadn't had a thirst for it her entire life. "You don't know me." her legs carried her to the door and she reached for the handle, turning back to face him before opening it. "I don't know why I ever let you upstairs in the first place. You'll never be fit for someone like me." she paused and snarled, "You have twenty four hours to get the hell out of here. Find some way to pay for the ride back to America yourself."

She slammed the door behind her and shuddered out sobs on her way to the elevator. Was that what she'd believed all along? Had she regretted letting him inside her home, inside her heart? Icy walls built up around her, tears drying on her cheeks as she stepped inside the elevator chamber and the rickety metal door closed with a crash before her eyes. When she got to the lobby it was dark outside, but it didn't stop her from leaving the building without another word to anyone, and disappearing down the busy street.


Four in the morning rolled around before Armin knew it and she still hadn't returned. He asked himself what he really expected after her speech. He left the door unlocked, but didn't expect anything of it. Not until he heard it creaking open, at least. He heard muffled cursing as some sort of limb struck the side of the piano on its way into the bedroom. He didn't move as she entered, and he heard her slipping her dress over her head without a word.

She noticed he was awake, but didn't say anything. Her eyes scanned the room as she tossed her dress to the floor, noticing he hadn't packed a thing. This fact gave her the impression that he knew he wasn't going anywhere, and she was comforted in this for the moment. Annie slid into bed and under the covers, crawling up behind him and wrapping her arms around him. Her face buried itself between his shoulder blades and she inhaled deeply, shivering when all of her emotions came at her all at once.

"I'm sorry." she mumbled into his shirt. He shifted his legs to let her know he was listening. There wasn't anything to be said on his side, though, so he kept silent. She tightened her arms around him and sighed against his back. "I..." in her mind she waded through the pool of words she needed to say, but none of the waves were strong enough to escape her mouth.

"Why did you come back?" he asked voice hoarse from crying while she was gone. He'd never tell her that, but that was to be expected from someone who'd been so hurt by her words.

"I-" she paused and sighed again, thinking deeply, "I tried my best to walk around the city, to go to a bar and pretend like I wasn't thinking about you. I tried to leave you here as a separate entity, to be without you for just a second to regain my sense, to regain my pride. But I realized that I couldn't fall asleep without you by my side. I lay down in a shitty hotel room and my eyes couldn't close because you weren't there. My body ached and itched and it took me an entire thirty seconds to realize what was missing." she paused, eyes clenched shut and lips drawn in a straight line, "I realized I couldn't make it without you."

He moved away from her arms and for a moment she was alarmed, scared he was going to get out of bed and leave her like she'd left him. He didn't though, and all he did was turn onto his other side so he could face her. She drew her arms into her chest and felt his hand on her cheek, his index finger finding her hair and pushing it back so he could see her eyes. His hand lingered there for a while, playing with the blonde strands, dancing along her hairline.

"I lied to you. You know me better than anyone ever has. You... I think inviting you upstairs was one of the best things I have ever done- perhaps the best thing." He responded to this with a smile and his hand stopped moving, lying limply at her ear. He still doesn't speak though, so she continued, thinking that this is probably the most she's ever spoken at once in her life, save for the visit to the beach, "I'll tell you anything you want to know- just not anything that could hurt you, okay?" This time it was her turn to reach up and brush his hair back, "I want to keep you safe... there's so much to me that's... dangerous. There's things that could hurt you and that's one thing I never want to happen."

"Annie, the only thing that would ever hurt me is being apart from you."

She was slightly stunned at his words, but when he drew her in for a kiss she melted against him, arms reaching up and hands running through the hair at the back of his neck. She reached down to pull the covers over them but he stopped her.

"One day... I'll know everything. Just promise me that?" he smiled against her lips before she drew back, "Something to look forward too..." he breathed, eyes running over her face for a moment before she nodded slowly and pulled them into total darkness. Their lips met again under the sheets and they fell asleep together just as the sun began to rise.


The next several weeks passed by in a quiet bliss. It started to rain the morning after Annie returned, and didn't stop for the next two weeks. When the sun came out again Annie cancelled her negotiations for the day and forced Armin to go to the park where they, again, ate fried fish and Armin tried to choke it down to make her happy since she seemed to love the food. Every morning after Annie left him with a kiss and returned home at night, often times to dance to different jazz or classical records. The music in England wasn't so different from America, but Annie decided that wasn't important and told Armin she loved every song no matter what it was.

They didn't speak of many serious things unless they were kept awake at night by questions or uncertainties. Annie was not forced to confess anything to him those times, but the thoughts of spilling out her heart was heavy on her mind in those moments.

One particular day in the second month that they were there, she came to the hotel room ready to cry. Her pent up frustration caused her to slam the door behind her on her way in, and as usual, there was music coming from the room. This time, though, it was different. There was a surreal element to the sound, crisp and new. She froze at the door, a hand slapped over her mouth, yet again, because there he was: sitting at the piano, fingers working, dancing across the keys and body swaying to the music that eliminated off of the instrument.

He stopped abruptly at the sound of her gasp, turning quickly and brows rose. "Annie." he said, slightly shocked at her presence. It was true that she was home early that day, but he shouldn't be so shocked.

"You can play piano." she deadpanned, hands dropping to her side and shoulders dropping. He gave a nod but did not move. "When... were you going to tell me this little piece of information?" she asked, but quickly wished she could retract it. He looked unfazed, though, and shrugged, turning back to the instrument and setting his fingers to the keys. The piano itself looked as if it hadn't been used in a century, but there it was, allowing the most beautiful of notes to slip through its cracks.

"I found some old sheet music at the market today- someone was evicted and they were crinkling it up and putting it into a metal bin to start a fire. I caught it before it went in and gave them a bit of money so they could get what they needed." he adjusted the wrinkled papers on the music stand and licked his lips in some sort of preparation. "The music was absolutely gorgeous- even just to read on the page." he paused, "I haven't played since I was... probably seventeen or younger, but when I saw this music I knew that, well, I knew that I had to try it out."

Annie stepped lightly over to his side, looking over the music, unable to make any sort of judgment of it just by looking. She frowned and turned her body to lean against the side of the piano and catch his eyes.

"Will you play it for me?" she asked quietly, reaching up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear, all thoughts of her frustration gone and replaced with anticipation for his performance. He smiled just slightly and nodded.

"I'll have to slow it down... there's a lot of notes I can't reach with just two hands," he chuckled and placed his hands on the keys, fingertips like feathers against the ivory. She swallowed and watched his eyes narrow to read the music before him, and she shivered as the first chords came, softly and smooth from his gently hands. She watched him play, lost in the gentle sway of the music. She watched his body move and flow with the chords, sharps, flats, and minors. Of course she couldn't tell the difference between any of these things, but she knew he felt it in his heart as his fingers pounded and caressed the keys of the piano.

At some points in the music his eyes fluttered as if he were ascending into some greater reality and at these times she wanted to reach out and touch him, make sure he was real. Her breath was lost in the hum and glow of the song and before she knew it she was panting as hard as he was at the end of the song, as if she'd been playing along with him the entire time.

He looked at her, eyes widened just slightly and lip between his teeth. She decided he didn't need her words of approval. It was perfect.

"That was..." she couldn't describe it with one word, so she leaned over the keys and beckoned him forward with her eyes. He got the message and leaned into her, his lips brushing her as if they were his hands and she was the keys. Her hand slipped behind his neck, pushing against his nape to bring him forward. He sighed into her lips as his hand found her shoulder, a finger tracing her bicep and then his palm lying flat on her forearm, holding her to him.

She pressed into him momentarily, and drew away, hand sliding off of his neck and down to the top of his chest. Blue eyes met and stared for a long time before any more words came into being.

"You should have told me." she said quietly, lashes fluttering and heart thumping in a similar manner. An overwhelming sense of calm seemed to overcome him as they sat together, watching each other with goofy smiles and tender hearts.

"With a reward like that? Yeah. I should have." she reached out to playfully smack his cheek and stood up, wiping the front of her dress as she returned to her original position.

"Where did you learn to play?" she asked with a smile. He scooted over on the piano bench and it screeched underneath him. He waved her over and she mockingly groaned, plopping down beside him and wincing when the bench creaked under their combined weight. He sat his hand between their bodies and hers slipped into his as they sat.

"My parents made me take lessons when I was a child. I didn't really like my teacher because he made me practice daily... but as I got older I started to enjoy it." he stopped, head hanging and back slouched just slightly.

"And you stopped liking it?" she asked softly.

"No. Well, yes. But no. I didn't have much time for it. I decided some things were more important than others... we couldn't afford lessons anymore. You know. War brings many things... including poverty." he didn't go on, and she didn't ask him to.

"But you remembered how." she stated, thumb running over his knuckles as she leaned into him, their shoulders bumping and then resting against each other. He nodded silently, drawing his hand away gently and reaching to the piano again. His hand met the wrinkled papers and he turned the pages until a new song appeared. His hands sat on the keys and he inhaled deeply.

"I think you'll know this one..." he said, but she didn't know the name of the song, even when she read it aloud.

"Die Widerwilligen Helden?" she whispered, brows furrowing as he set his hands up to play. "The Unwilling Soldiers?" she asked, confused. "It's a German piece-"

"Reluctant." he said, and she only tilted her head against his shoulder. "The Reluctant Soldiers." Her brows shot up. He smiled at her, the air still around them. "So you do recognize it?"

She looked away from him, suddenly uncomfortable, "I do... it reminds me of a... time that is very different from now." she stopped and shook her head just slightly, one arm coming to lie limply in her lap, hand on his side. "Play it for me." she breathed, and he did.

They sat together, her listening to him play and him doing his best to keep her interested. The song was messy, chopped in some parts because of his lack of ability. Not every note was played, but she filled them in inside her mind. When the song finally came to a close, they sat, reveling in the warmth they provided for each other. Annie's eyes were closed and Armin's heart was pounding in his chest, asking questions that shouldn't be answered.

"Annie?" he asked to see if she was still awake. She grunted in return, sitting up and off of his arm. His hand extended to poke at the piano, several miserable notes coming out of the large instrument.

"Have you ever... been in love with anyone?" Then she did something he never would have expected. She laughed. Her arms snaked around his, pulling him closer to her as he continued to fiddle with the nearest keys, counting them and naming them in his head as he asked himself why she would do such a thing.

"Have you?" she asked, digits drawing circles on the inside of his arm. He took a moment to think about a proper answer, and then spoke softly.

"I fall in love with books and words," he sniffed, "and places and smells and sounds." he paused for a breath, eyes on her. She was quiet, leaning against him and eyes staring off into space, only snapping to attention when he'd been quiet for too long. He looked away smiling and continued, "I don't fall in love with people. I only have silly crushes on girls who won't even look at me, give me a chance," he sighed, "until I met you." she tensed beside him, but he ignored it and kept rambling on and on, "You're... You make up all the things I've fallen in love with. From the way you smell after showering to the way you hiss through your teeth when I touch you in all the right places," he doesn't stop even when she held his arm tighter, "Most of all I love you without all the background noise. I love you pure and beautiful and quiet. I love every inch of skin and smirk and frown and groan and God knows I'll never get enough of your messy morning hair." she buried her face into his arm, trying her best to hide her blush.

"I hate you sometimes..." she grumbled, thoroughly embarrassed by his words.

"I know you do." he answered with a chuckle, arm slipping around her waist to pull her closer to him. Her head lifted so their noses brushed but they don't close the distance. Not yet. "Have you ever..." he doesn't complete his question, but she understood him.

"The only man I ever loved went to war. I was... nineteen I suppose. He was twenty five, a real gentleman. He left before my twentieth birthday, promising to marry me when he came home. I waited for him, but after several months and no letter, I knew he wasn't coming back. I'd never hurt so much in my life." she stopped and blinked several times, fiddling with the bottom hem of her dress for a moment.

"Even Reiner and Bertholdt told me over and over that he wasn't... well... It turns out he deserted and fled to France, got a seventeen year old girl pregnant and married her two months later. Her father was in the French mafia, so entering the family was like signing a form asking God to strike you down at the altar. He was killed under mysterious circumstances, and you shouldn't ask me how I know this," Armin swallowed and listened as she kept on, "and I promised... I'd never love again."

She turned to him, inhaling deeply as if she'd set her mind to something right then and there. He smiled weakly at her, wanting to ask if she'd broken her promise, but even if he did he knew she wouldn't answer.

"Never?" His hand reached upwards a single digit tracing the x's on the back of her neck gently. She let out a noise, half-moan half-sigh, and he pulled her towards him, lips brushing softly at first and then moving faster and harder against each other until they were breathless and their clothes were tussled against their skin. She didn't answer him then, but he knew she would someday. They both did.

Annie pulled him up with her, effectively knocking over the music on the piano and pushing the bench to the side. He followed her lead as they stumbled through the room, lips never leaving each other as they made their way into the bedroom and closed the door.

They'd done this plenty of times before: found a rhythm and built up from it. Found a place in each other's arms with broken breaths and rigid heartbeats. Sticky palms graced cheeks and then shoulders and then bare, beautiful flesh. Heated breath shook them to the bone and in a passing moment they were on fire. White sheets burned beneath their bodies, ripped beneath gentle fingers; skin tore open and nothing but scorching, blazing love poured out. His name on her tongue had never tasted sweeter and in the quiet hours that followed their rise and fall she placed a finger to his chest and drew him towards her, begging to whisper the three little words she'd never wanted to say.

Chapped and thin met rosy and full in a soft reunion under the cover of darkness. He didn't think much of it because he knew, he knew she loved him. Her mind was different, though, and his anchor in her chest and his throbbing heart in her ears made her walls crumble and her fingers tremble in fear. How could someone like her even use that wretched word? How could someone like her with so many wrongs find someone who made her want to set them right? She wondered if it was really love she felt, but deep inside her aching chest she knew she'd loved him all along.

She didn't cry but she wanted to. She wanted to.


The last thing he remembered thinking was that he wouldn't take his arm off of her no matter what. He remembered thinking that he couldn't help staying awake because someone had to guard her dreams, had to make sure she didn't slip through his fingers. She tried to push him off of her, but he didn't want to let go.

At least, that was what he thought he remembered. But Annie was shoving him off of her and scrambling to the closet and reaching up to the top shelf before he could ask her why she was awake. With a grunt he reminded her she was void of clothing and with a squeak she snatched a robe and slipped it over her before hiding something dark behind her thigh as she ran to the door.

"Stay here." she commanded, disappearing into the next room. Like the obedient person he always was, he jumped out of bed, now registering that someone was pounding violently on the door and that it was the middle of the night. He stepped into a pair of pants and jumped into the next room in time to see the door swinging open and Annie pointing a revolver between the eyes of the intruder.

"Annie!" he nearly screamed, but she didn't flinch. The man at the door was babbling something Armin couldn't quite make into proper sentences in his mind. He gestured wildly and then stopped, eyes widening when they came into contact with Armin.

Annie's hands lowered as she unloaded the gun in her hand, growling something in what Armin was sure was another language. Armin's hands were shaking as he watched the scene continue to play out before him.

"I'm sorry to wake you but this was urgent-"

"I understand, stück scheisse, you scared me half to death-" Annie's voice changed rapidly between a thick accent and her American English articulation. It was almost dizzying for Armin who was still waking up. She sounded infuriated and the man at the door was obviously terrified, sweating and trembling all over at the sight of her counting bullets in her hand.

"There was no way to be sure that-"

"I know, stumme kind, leave us be, we'll... we'll be fine until the morning just... order a cab for tomorrow morning and make sure security is doing their job." she slammed the door in his face without another word and turned back to Armin. As soon as her eyes landed on him her face paled, almost as if all the blood had been drained out of her.

"What was that all about?" he asked, voice strained, eyes glancing between her and the weapon in her hand.

"Reiner... is in jail." he was taken aback for a moment, but quickly regained composure for long enough to utter her name.

"Annie," he said, voice shaky, "why do you have a gun stored in the top shelf of the closet?" he shouted, throwing his arm behind him to gesture to their room. She audibly swallowed and rushed past him and into the room. Armin whipped around to watch her toss the empty gun back onto the shelf and tuck the bullets into the pocket of one of her bags that sat just inside the door.

"Protection."

"From what?" he yelled, fear and anger bubbling inside him.

"You know when we fought and I left?" she said back, equally as loud. He was shaken by this, surprised her voice could even raise to that volume. He nodded sharply. "I saw Levi, the man from the Surveys. He was here, Armin. And if he's here, then his goons have to be here as well." her voice softened, eyes telling him that there was much more to this that he'd thought. "Armin, this is serious business. I have to assume they've gotten some information from someone, that they're always working against me. Why would he be here? They don't have trading partners here. They aren't... They..."

He stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her when her breathing started to grow ragged. He breathed softly around her hear, shushing her and rocking her back and forth, similar to the day that they'd danced together.

"Annie... everything will be okay..." he said quietly. "I'll protect you..."

He felt her allow a riveting sob escaped and at first it surprised him, but when he saw she wasn't crying he was slightly relieved. She pulled away from him and held her face in her hands. "No, Armin, it's me who should be protecting you." she allowed her hands to fall at her sides and she reached forward, taking one of his hands into her own. "I promise, I won't let them hurt you..." He placed one hand on her cheek, thumb running under her eye as he smiled gently at her.

"Like I've said before, the only thing that could ever hurt me is being away from you." she nodded, letting him lead her to the bed and wrap his arms around her underneath the covers.

"We leave to go home tomorrow morning." she whispered, fingers laced with his around her stomach. He hummed against her skin, trying to sooth her into sleep, but she didn't close her eyes for longer than a second that night.

As they were escorted to the taxi and into the boat the next day, they said nothing, because Annie realized that there'd never been a promise she'd been able to keep.
Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.