XX

February 1924

He remembered in the papers back then that she wasn't the only one who'd died. Ymir, listed as an unnamed female immigrant, was named deceased at the scene, and a young, nameless blonde had apparently been forced away from her body. Hange Zoe was one of the only victims in the papers that Armin recognized, but there were several people named that Armin had not known. A young man whose picture looked vaguely familiar to him had been said to have left his pregnant fiancé behind after dying in the alley, and there were at least a dozen other sad stories in the columns of the front page. He never knew if any of them were made up, but he told himself he'd honor them one day.

He did well on that promise. A year after the young woman's death, he published a fiction book, telling of two lovers and their adventures across the world until the man's tragic death after the reveal of his lover's secret identity. He thought she'd have laughed at it if she read it. He thought perhaps someone could relate to his pain, the pain of the characters in his novel.

Someone did. She visited his home every Saturday afternoon, bringing him meals and little snippets of poetry she wanted him to write into his 'next great American novel'. Krista had read the book at least half a dozen times, and she said she'd cried every time. The poems were sweet, but Armin always knew they were things that Ymir had said to her. The young woman was just recalling them and feverishly writing them down as if they were the last traces of the woman.

Armin had gone through this as well, jotting down everything that reminded him of her, of the woman who was now long gone. He'd stayed in his apartment, eating and drinking nothing but the memories of their togetherness. Of their bond.

It broke his heart every day to wake up alone, to glance beside him and to notice she wasn't there, smoking or standing in one of his sweatshirts, calling his name with a cat purr voice or grumbling about how his coffee tasted bad.

It took months to even begin to recover. It had only taken days for him to turn to the drink. It didn't take much to get it, as monthly payments were always at his doorstep when he seemed to need them for rent. The money was sufficient to live, sufficient for him to go back and get his degree, which he did eventually get around to, but it would never compensate for the pain he'd gone through, for the precious thing he'd lost.

"It was always a mystery to me," Krista had told him once as she poured them tea. He was sitting on his couch, dressed in yesterday's clothes and half-drunk from the night before. He'd wanted to forget, but here was Krista, digging up what he'd tried to bury. He didn't need her to remember, though, the thoughts returned without prompting no matter what.

"And that is?" he asked, a little rude, but she didn't seem to mind.

"The tattoos... Ymir had one." she smiled, handing him the mug and sitting down carefully, trying not to shatter her delicate body, "They were special to Annie. XX was the roman numeral twenty- it symbolized so much for her." her smile did not fade, but her eyes were clouded. "She was only twenty when she became the leader of the Titans... she'd been responsible for twenty deaths before she rose to the top, and... the knock at the door..." Armin looked away, "Her father created the rhythm when she was a child, or at least that's what Ymir told me," the name is choked out, and Armin can hardly imagine trying to form 'Annie' on his lips today, or any day, "There were twenty knocks. Twenty... there were..." her voice trailed off and she began to shake.

She'd come to help him, but he'd end up helping her. He joined her on the couch, rubbing her back. She was just as broken as she was.

He wondered what Levi and Erwin were doing now, what all of them were doing. Were they struggling to cope, as he was now?

Back then he was tired, and the weariness remained, but it was different now. There was life ahead of him. There was light. He wrote about her most of the time, wrote about the kindness of the barbarians. Things in the city were off balance, the order was broken, but it remained this way and everything seemed normal.

As normal as things can get after you've lost your entire world.

Dearest Annie,

I made you a promise I intend to keep. Wait for me, and perhaps then we can fulfill your wish.

XX, Armin Arlert
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