omophagia - Verannode - Shingeki no Kyojin (2024)

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Rating:
  • Explicit
Archive Warning:
  • Graphic Depictions Of Violence
Category:
  • F/M
Fandom:
  • Shingeki no Kyojin | Attack on Titan
Relationships:
  • Annie Leonhart/Eren Yeager
  • - implied
Characters:
  • Annie Leonhart
  • Reiner Braun
  • Eren Yeager
  • Hitch Dreyse
  • Boris Feulner
  • Hange Zoë
  • Armin Arlert
Additional Tags:
  • Alternate Universe - Canon Divergence
  • Vice-Chief Annie Leonhardt
  • Politics
  • Colonialism
  • Discrimination Against Eldians (Shingeki no Kyojin)
  • Cultural Differences
  • worldbuilding ahoy!
  • Annie Leonhart-centric
  • Mental Instability
  • Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
  • Implied/Referenced Torture
  • Body Horror
  • Cannibalistic Thoughts
  • annie very quietly loses her mind
Language:
English
Stats:
Published:
2024-01-05
Completed:
2024-02-25
Words:
16,844
Chapters:
7/7
Comments:
7
Kudos:
48
Bookmarks:
5
Hits:
1,110

omophagia

Verannode

Summary:

In 855, Paradis sues for peace against the Marleyan Empire. On favourable terms, a delegation is sent for a two-month diplomatic mission in order to solidify the terms of the armistice. Vice-Chief A. Leonhardt and the Armoured Titan R. Braun are sent with the delegation to advise.

Notes:

hello! this story is a little out of my comfort zone. i've very self indulgently played with aot's lore and canon. this will be fairly dark, and has heavy themes of cannibalism, colonalism, discrimination, and the consequences of marley's, well, everything. if that isn't your thing, please do click off!

i hope you enjoy!

Chapter 1

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text


“When will he arrive, do you think?”

Annie shuffles the documents in front of her. Heavy, thick, half redacted and previously sealed. All in Marleyan. She wonders absently whether the Devils had yet to start making forgeries of their words. Their codebreakers were borrowed, afterall.

Braun answers for her. “I am sure it will be soon, Commander Zoe.”

“Hmmmm. A little rude, running behind on the very first meeting. None of the rest of us are late.” Out of the corner of her eye, she spies the Commander making a sweeping gesture. “All of us are quite polite, aren’t we?”

“I suppose so,” Braun grunts. Annie scans a page. Feels golden eyes flicker to hers – a bid for support, or a shift in conversation. She ignores him.

The great grandfather clock to the west of the lavish room ticks in the silence. A hushed murmur, on the Paradisan side of the table, gently carries. More in attendance on that side, Annie notes. Eight in their forest greens, to the five Marleyans across. Soon to be seven. The General and his games lengthened this sluggishly.

His polite professional stance had evaporated after the welcoming ceremony. Not a day in, and his pieces were already moving.

Annie flicks a page over. Devil movements across the eastern frontier meet her gaze. Clashes with a supply line. Two-hundred friendlies dead, wounded or MIA. Recent. The timestamp was two weeks ago. It was a colony report, she’s read it before. Zeke had mentioned the conflict briefly in the hand-off, before she was sent to this miserable island once again.

Hange clears their throat. The flicker of annoyance, predictable and prompted, is snuffed in her chest. Silence was a commodity these days.

“You know, it’s so nice to see you two again. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you face to face. When you were just teenagers! Such a while ago. You’ve certainly grown up from a scout and a… MP, wasn’t it?”

Braun shifts uncomfortably in his seat. Lazily, Annie drags her gaze to meet Hange’s. The eyepatch is prominent on their face. The bleeding crater it had been, Bertholdt’s destruction made flesh, lodges itself in her memory.

“How have you fared back in your home? Good, I hope. That shiny line of badges on your chest says as much Annie!” They laugh, familiar.

One delicate finger traces the seam of paper. Annie can feel the callouses on her hand scrape against it. An absent thought flits as she watches them. The pad of her index presses, paper cutting in the delicate sheaf of her skin. It beads red. She can feel the heat beneath her skin, like an eruption folding in on itself. Mania, a rise and fall. She breathes through the lightning with mastery.

Annie hums, wordless. Then her gaze wanders, to her left, to the one face she’s been avoiding, the one burning into her skull. Green on blue, Annie holds Eren Yeagers eyes for just a moment.

It’s like a knife. His eyes widen, pupils dilate, and Annie takes her victory with a blank face. His hair had been cut short, an undercut perhaps. She wonders on it for just a moment, before scanning the room idly. Her point made.

Two Ackermanns in attendance; a power to match theirs, and a similar threat. The island’s foreign minister, and two familiar Generals. Just as predicted. Their Queen was not in attendance. Her symbolic duty wasn’t needed. The woman barely spoke her own words anyhow.

Braun shifts beside her again. Laces his hands together and leans forward with a thin smile. “The Vice-Chief is decorated for good reason—I’m sure you’ve heard of her victories. You’ve had a promotion of your own I’ve noticed, Commander.”

“What a trio we make, climbing up in the world.”

“You could say that.”

“And you Reiner? Any titles for you? Badges, honours? Is there a great big statue of you back home?”

Annie returns to her pre-read papers. The conversation was dull and somewhat biting. Boring as wordplay went. Predictable. Their superiors warned them, and the years tired her to the prodding and needling. The General was fifteen minutes late, now. A glance to her pocket-watch says as much.

The conversation peters, and in it Braun leans into her side. Tired Marleyan greets her, as does the expected flicker of unease at his proximity.

“How much longer, do you think?”

“Soon.” Reiner’s mouth is tight. A tick of her eyebrow follows. “They’re trying to goad you.”

“I’m aware.”

“Hm. Try to remember why we’re even on this miserable rock. And do not to speak out of turn.” Annie sighs. “Again.”

Hange is looking at them both with fascination. There’s an uncomfortable catch to it, their old familiar fanaticism. Annie suppresses the comparisons that rise and the unsettling fingers down her spine. A shutter of memories she locks tightly. Beside them, Captain Ackermann has her pretty face in a frown.

They didn’t understand their native tongue. It was obvious through the intensity of their scrutiny, as if meaning could be passed, instead, from the unmoving slab of her body. Annie gives them something, a single drum of her ring-clad finger on the table.

These games were dull. She bores of them terribly. Paradis was no more different than Serra or Hizuru. What remained was a history she’s beginning to forget; under the morphing enemy they were becoming it mattered little what she had done to them. Her childhood meant so very little.

“You remember the briefing?”

“I was in Florecia, remember?”

The local rebellion. Annie frowns. There had only been three shifters in the Capitol during the scramble for ceasefire.

“Right. The General wants them frustrated. It serves us better if they show their hand out the gate. And—” A quick glance, before Annie conjures a random cover name, “Eyepatch, they want a rise from our history. They’re uncomfortable with it, clearly. It’s given us an opening.”

“This is your wheelhouse. I’ll just follow your lead.”

Annie casts him a glance. It’s pointed, and he looks back with a dull gold she’s long learnt to hate. A bubble of tar rises in her chest that she stamps, and refuses the urge to flex her fingers.

Ridiculous in truth— a mute Vice-Chief.

A clock ticks, and boots step with it. A glance to the side, and she sees her superiors shuffling.

“Is that—”

“The General.”

With a reflexive swiftness, the two Warriors clatter out of their seats and into a tight salute. Fist curled and flattened against heads, arm folded back, spine straight, gaze forward. It’s muscle memory, beaten in and bone deep.

They’re the only two standing, the only Eldians standing, when the General sweeps in through the oaken double door.

“My apologies!” He smiles, his face pulling into the echo of handsome youth. The cadence of his words are alike theirs, short and clipped in the old tongue of Paradis. “You know how these things are. I see everyone is present. Shall we begin?”

A glance to the timekeeper, a typewriter – imported, scathingly new – beneath her fingers. She nods back. The General makes his way to the vacant seat, the Lieutenant-General beside him settling in with the man. As the wood scrapes across the floor, finally a hand is waved.

The Warriors loosen their parade and sit when prompted. When Annie next flickers a look to Eren’s face, she can’t discern what lingers in his eyes.

She picks up the papers again, shuffles them neatly, and hides the bleeding wound pricked into her hand. Yet to be healed. It’s dull ache grounds.

The General breaks out into the speech she’s heard before. Flowery fast prose that breaks with Marleyan arrogance. Tried and true empire diplomacy. The man was at his finest here, a career sergeant promoted up the ranks, never more than a concurrent week on the battlefield. Rich background, a stately townhouse and a family business that kept them in the papers.

Powerful. Annie watches his ease, the shine of his cufflinks. The urge to shuffle her red-slash armband is quashed, as is the itch inside the wall of her throat.

It’s amicable, the meeting. A first tentative push towards a peace between them. The Brass framed it as swatting a fly, the public as a betrayal and a mercy, and the military as a necessary end. To her unit, something a little different entirely, as was always their lot. The Devils had been haunting them ever since the start of the western conflict.

The Pentas Minor was still in dispute. War across the western boarders, and another conflict across the ocean. Accented by the hiss and flash of ODM fighting. Annie knows that their Warchief is stationed there now, Galliard and Finger under him. Knows from his sarcastic, scathing notes and calls in on the radio that it was bleeding them slowly.

She wonders if Bertholdt is awake yet back in Liberio, an hour’s time difference, half past nine there she knows. In that awful bed of his. His apartments that stunk of coffee, cigarette ash, and the curious perfume of titan muscle tissue.

A finger plays with her ring, the prick digs in and slides neatly into her flesh. Annie keeps her mouth shut, obedient. Nudges instead at Braun’s boot under the table. He sends her a flickering glance, understanding perhaps. The boot back is his response.

It only sours when talk shifts to the war. The nebulous thing that forced them to this table in the first place. Annie’s feigning is halted, Reiner’s brow hardens, and the smile on the General’s face turns sickly sweet.

“We will have to discuss Paradis’ violations of our international code, of course, before anything is official. The Mid-western summit in 750 still stands and, as you are a new nation, such an unusual thing, we gave you leeway. But,” He pauses at length. Annie peers from under her bangs, watches the restlessness of the islanders. “That was a year ago now. From what we know, you still refuse to adhere to these agreements.”

“That is correct.” Hange says. Their voice is evened.

“You know that violation alone is cause for war? We’ve been awfully generous, as has the Flavians, in not adding this to your… repertoire.”

“With due respect General Hadelich, we refuse to agree because frankly, they do not apply to us. Our nation will stand by our values, regardless of the international precedent. The Queen sees no reason in subordinating ourselves to agreements we had no knowledge of, nor ever signed onto.”

A fair point. Not what the General wants, and she sees the flicker of discontent across his brow. An overt insult couldn’t be given. Not in the very first sit down, and Annie trips on her obedience.

“Why not?” Annie says, the first words she’s spoken to them since the start. The accent grates, alarms of her differences; the ones once kept hidden. “Is peace that meaningless to Paradis?

Eren startles. He blinks back at her. The one eye of the commander narrows.

“Why not?” She echoes again. “I’ve read your charter; I was under your imprisonment afterall. Five months. You remember it well, Commander Zoe?” A glance, cold. “Clause eight, subsection fourteen, wasn’t it?”

Silence. Annie continues.

“Forgive me, I am just an enemy after all. And an Eldian shifter at that. But I distinctly remember a violation of that code during my capture. You still have it? Commander?”

The General watches. Annie counts the seconds of silence, like a deathknell. Care was needed. Required. Words measured on scales. She had always been bad at speaking. Too blunt.

She doesn’t expect a confession. The Commander would never, in right mind, admit to keeping the eyes that they ripped from her skull. The discs of her spine and the samples of her body. But Annie knows. They were invaluable specimens. When they had their other eye Hange resembled another far too intimately.

It’s a dance, this. Annie the knife, cutting pieces of herself to expose the other. One for the other, a waltz. The eyes on her cut like it’s own blade.

“No?” Annie sighs theatrically. “Nevertheless, I find it hypocritical that you would refuse one law over your own and then discard that one too when it suites you. How could my betters trust that you keep your word? How, do you think, could anyone trust a nation that doesn’t keep to law?”

“Hypocritical?” Comes a hiss, Eren Yeager’s voice trembling. “Hypocritical?” The squeal of a chair as he lurches upright. Standing, staring down at her seated form.

History knocks at her skull. Annie waits. It’s with a familiarity that she knows how to act around the now-stranger. It’s nausea that bubbles in her gut at the realisation.

“Why are rules expected now? Did you follow rules before? A neat f*cking handbook for titanisation? Your Empire dares to—”

“Eren—” Hange’s up, a hand on his wrist. The boy is no longer that, his height now a man’s with how he looks down at them.

“They can’t be serious. Hange—You can’t let them sit there and say this—this bullsh*t.”

“Why not?” Annie calls, fans on the flames with tightly clasped fingers. Blood trickles from her wound. Now, only now, do they notice the threat. Three sets of eyes widen. “This ‘bullsh*t’ is how war works in this world, Yeager. I’m not sure you fully understand. You open your island to civilisation but expect nothing to change?”

“What I expect is none of your f*cking—”

“Eren.” Hange scolds, much like a parent to a child. “Enough.”

His rant cuts short and Annie sees the realisation bloom. His defeat, theirs, a conceding to the already upper-handed opponent. Shame rears it’s head, mixed with an anger Eren pins onto her.

Annie takes it. Basks in it. Penance, the hatred of a past friend. It almost feels good how her stomach knots painfully, intestines writhing within her torso.

At once, she craves a cigarette.

“Mmh.” Annie looks to the General. His brow is smooth, eyes on their opponents. She passed.

There’s no acknowledgement of her needling. No praise for her completion of that objective. The General laces his hands together, head ever-so-slightly co*cked, and the meeting resumes. The cordiality returns. Paradis makes concessions, only two, but progress.

It was diplomacy after all. Annie picks her nails, digging into the nail beds, the wound on her hand long healed. The noise blurs. Her teeth ache. She’ll read the transcript later, take what she needs and slip into her role for tomorrow.

An hour passes. Annie counts each tick of the grandfather clock. Papers are sprawled across the meeting table, the typewriter a frantic clack-clack-clack above the voices. Her role was done.

It was stubbornly boring. All interchangeable and particularly grating. The need to smoke bubbles in her throat, the invisible relief absent.

When the clack-clack-clack ceases, Captain Ackermann and their strongest soldier gather their belongings to leave. Eren finally pulls his gaze from Annie and follows.

She takes the opportunity greedily. Her sternum aches. “Sir, if I may be excused?”

“Granted. You and Warrior Braun both.” A ringing endorsem*nt, as far as they went. Obedient, Reiner stands and offers a hand for Annie. She doesn’t take it.

They sweep from the room, longcoats billowing around their shins.

“Well done.”

“I don’t need your praise Braun.”

“I know.”

The corridor’s blur as they pass them. High windows and walls, the floor runners a rich royal red. An ache begins to claw behind her throat, grinding down on her eyes. She needs a smoke. A drink. Food, something grounding. Meat, maybe. They served meat in Paradis nowadays. Her stomach aches curiously.

“But, still.” The big man sighs, tremulous. “You got results. I’m sure the General is pleased.” She doesn’t respond. “Eren hasn’t changed. Hange…”

“Has.” She grunts.

“Right. sh*t, it’s weird being back. Have you talked to Historia yet?”

“The Queen? No. Have you?”

A shrug. “Briefly. She’s different too.”

“People change Braun.”

He goes quiet. Annie breathes silently, relief flooding her chest. Their walk takes them back to their rooms, cleared and cleaned just for the Marleyan delegation. The Warriors had quarters without windows. Next to each other, with five empty rooms prepared just in case.

Annie approaches her door quickly and slips inside, nothing but a grunt goodbye from Reiner as she goes. Inside is dark. She doesn’t care, and moves quickly to her coffee table.

A packet, Gold Stars the brand name announced, with eight remaining cigarettes inside. She breathes a sigh of relief. She’d brought an entire box, thirty packs, for the months they were going to be trapped on the island. It was day three, after all the ceremonies. A pack already lay empty beside.

Annie takes a moment to curse Zeke Ksaver before pulling one out and thumbing the arm of her lighter upwards. She hits the wheel once, twice, and watches the flame burn poultry light into her quarters. They were clean, bare, utility at its finest. She thinks briefly on green eyes before bringing it to her lips.

Two months. That’s all she had to endure.

Notes:

i'd like to thank genosispsychos for allowing me to use his character in this work! the doctor is a fascinating insert into the world, and i've used him generously in this story

thank you for reading! comments are appreciated <3

Chapter 2

Chapter Text

She breakfasted as usual in the small side room, adjacent to the actual dining hall they’d been directed to. It was better, the comfort of silence and the lack of eyes. Reiner sits across from her on the rounded table, digging through a mountain of eggs and a steaming coffee at his elbow. Annie cradles her own, food long since devoured. It had been meat. She’d been craving it ever since her boots had hit Paradis’ shores.

In her other hand lay the daily docket. The schedule was dull, though it had been for the entire two weeks. And always would be, trapped within these walls, on this island, with these people. Nothing but talking in circles and signing papers with promises. Their next was in two hours.

The rising sun lights against Reiner’s profile as she looks up at him. Gold light casts across his jaw as he chews.

“Anything interesting today?” He mumbles through a full mouth. Her nose wrinkles and he swallows loudly and with petulance. “Well?”

“The General is planning on territory talks. And,” She glances down, “The… disputes in Chimer. And the Chi gulf, he wants to sort that mess out.”

“sh*t, swinging big today. What do we have? Anything specific?”

“No.” Annie watches him shovel a fork of eggs into his mouth. A tug in her stomach, hollow. “Sit in on the meeting, then a walk around the grounds with the two foreign ambassadors at fourteen hundred hours. Evening off.”

“Was expecting a gala.”

“We’ve already had two. You’re just spoilt.”

“Not my fault Hizuru threw all those parties.” His grin is boyish, and he leans up to crack his back with a grunt. “And—not my fault you couldn’t make it then. You ever drink the sake I got you? Galliard loved it.”

It had been gone within the week. Annie sniffs and takes a drink from her coffee. The warmth burns down her throat, pooling below her ribcage. He was in a good mood today. It was rare. The last she’d seen him smile was months ago, during the zenith festival.

Annie feels something throb at her temples, and cradles the too-hot mug until it’s scalding her hands red.

“The Queen—She’s in attendance today.”

Reiner nods. More eggs disappear behind his mouth. “I’heard. The MPs talk a lot. Apparently they forget I can speak the old native.”

Annie already knows. A flicker of her long-passed months in green and white. No doubt he’d heard them on his morning run.

“Huh. Anything interesting?”

“The horses bit old Gelder’s hand. Some poor sod found his wife in bed with a truss. Uh, and they heard screaming last night.” Annie shuffles uncomfortably. The dreams had been intense last night. She was never usually so loud. “So, nothing too big.”

Saying nothing, Annie fingers into her pocket and pulls out the Gold Stars. Lights one quickly, dragging the toxic air into her lungs. The itch is sated. Her stomach is still empty, paradoxically so. Grey smoke curls out of her mouth.

She still had the transcript from yesterday to read. A long, meandering talk about the islands off the southern coast. Two hours. As she pulls herself out of the chair and wanders over to the window, an old song plays at her memory. A wonder if they had brought a radio. Below her, the city of Shiganshina boils with people.

It was rebuilt from the ground up, or so they say. After their air-raids, Paradis would have been forced to. Now the closest city to the port, leavened open from their walls as the entire outer ring had been. A long, yawning railway cut through the city, snaking about Paradis’ lands towards its end. A slice of the outside world amid the past.

Their destruction clings desperately tight to the streets. Her bloody handprints smeared onto the bricks. Some sort of irony, perhaps. Nearly a decades worth of war mixed within their stones. Annie swallows another mouthful of too hot coffee. It melts into the heat wrapped around her throat.

Two weeks they’d been here now, and she still hasn’t strayed from the district they were packed into. A lack of courage, perhaps. That in beaten cowardice, or something worse entirely. Whatever it is has her overfamiliar with the embassy’s corridors.

How Eren thought of all this must be incomprehensible. How Mikasa Ackermann did. Or even Armin, burned as he had been by them. Annie wonders on it anyway, and her temples throb to chastise her. A false-god and a soldier-slave. The boy who they’d sacrificed on the altar. Wicked devils that Marley, righteous, called for culling.

Old friends.

“Do you ever think about it?” She murmurs, unsure of her own tongue.

Reiner’s noisy chewing slows. “Hm?”

“I think Bertholdt does, a lot. He always had such a conscious back then.”

“I…”

“They rebuilt Stohess until it was untouched again. I saw it when Hitch smuggled me out.” Flashes of it on horseback, her head rolling and eyes burning, the slick of blood still clinging to her. “But I could still see it. They couldn’t hide it away.”

It leaves her uncertain. Did she wish for the streets to still be strewn with bodies, rotting and maggot filled to bloat? For the streets and homes to be strewn with their insides out, just to prove that for a moment, a single desperate moment, Annie Leonhardt existed here?

Or was that worse, to want to build a monument of her own destruction? She knows which one she wants. What she should feel is laid so thickly below she doesn’t want to touch it. So she leaves it, rotting as the hypothetical bodies do.

Annie swallows another mouthful of coffee. “Do you recognise these streets? I was unconscious when we first came here.”

“I don’t,” Reiner finally abates. “I didn’t exactly get a good look.”

Neither did she, when they all returned through Shiganshina.

“Bertholdt did.”

“Well he doesn’t exactly bring it up over breakfast Annie. sh*t—“ His fork clatters onto the table. “What do you want me to say?”

Annie shrugs. Watches his reflection shift in the pane of glass.

“They took a year and a half to rebuild Shiganshina after the Scouts recovered it. They decided to import a lot of resources—from Hizuru. The Azumabito clan got rich off of it. The Ackermann is related to them, did you know?” Reiner grunts. He’s finally turned to look at her. Annie can’t stop her mouth from moving. “The architecture, it’s a mix. Some of the buildings are—they use colonnades for the main estates. The Queen has a fresco of Ymir and the titans in the royal chamber back in the Capitol. Used mosaics. Commissioned it herself so I’m told.”

Reiner swallows audibly. “Those are Marleyan designs.”

“Right,” Annie breathes.

“No one… well, I guess they were Marley once.”

“Not anymore.” It leaves her in a mutter. She doesn’t want him to say any more, and for once, Reiner does not. The world churns below them, unknowing.

Time passes quickly until Annie finds herself back within the meeting room. A new document packet in her hand, and now with a mug of coffee. Another, her sixth in hours. She craves a smoke again, ignores the rotten urge, and flicks through the meeting schedule.

More people on either side of the table, she notes. Armin Arlet had joined them, his fifth appearance in as many days, and the Queen, diminutive and centred. Reiss was a rare sight. Annie doubts she’ll talk at all. The grandfather clock ticks and tocks.

“Think he’ll be late again?” Reiner murmurs into her side.

Annie supresses an amused huff. “No. He made his point already.” The eyes of the Paradisans were on them again, like a morbid curiosity. “I’ve seen Hadelich work before. Stick before the carrot man. He’ll give them the vegetable in this meeting, no doubt. It's been long enough for it.”

“One of those types. Lucky you, seeing that.”

“Your breath smells like rotten eggs.”

Reiner snorts and leans away. To her surprise, Arlet clears his throat across from them. Indulgence has her glancing up, meeting his bright blue gaze. The burns had healed nicely. She’d only glimpsed him a few times, her attention lazy and drifting from the boy. Up close, now, the rough and pink creases of his face were prominent.

The work of Bertholdt. No wonder he wasn’t brought with them, with how much he’d taken from the scouts.

“Vice-Chief Leonhardt – that is how we address you, yes?” A nod given. Painful politeness always belied something. “I hope you had a good morning. It’s nice to see you again. I realise I didn’t catch you at the welcome, I’m sorry.”

Another bland opening. Obvious and needling all the same. Annie lets her silence talk. She can feel green eyes on her, burning again. Her stomach spasms.

“How are you finding Shiganshina?

Her comrade shifts awkwardly.

“It’s pleasant.” Annie gives him.

“We’ve rebuilt, as you can—ah, see. The deweeding we had to do was extensive. Isn’t nature fascinating? It’s stubborn, outlasts anything. Truly something!”

“I’m sure it was,” Annie takes a sip of coffee. “Your development plans have been commendable.”

“Have you visited the lakes yet? When we were kids, Eren and I would go down there and bathe. It’s fresh water, not well known either.”

“No. We’re quite busy.”

Strands of golden brush against his eyes. Whatever he was trying to rouse from her clearly fails, Annie notes, with the way his chin dips in submission. “Of course. Still, if you find the time I’d recommend it.”

Dismissed by her closed mouth, Armin falls silent. Annie quickly scans the last lines of her page, a useless distraction, until boots meet her ears.

The Warriors clatter from their chairs, snapping to salute. This time, Annie catches the bemused expression on the Paradis delegates. How their eyes tighten, frowns deepen. Obedience discomforted them in a way that grates across her spine.

The General sweeps into the room, another smile, another greeting. It’s longer until they’re waved from their subordination and given permission to sit. Annie wonders if that was a concession to Paradis. She hears the talk from the Brass, their superiors’ disgust at the blood of Eldia’s disrespect. The rules were different for the Devils, that she surrenders.

She doesn’t speak for the entire meeting, but to weigh in on the odd operation her unit was involved in. The Scouts Commander speaks, Arlet weaves his tales, and Annie fights a sick hunger bubbling in her stomach. It has been growing, in the long moments she did not move, in her longer stay here. Proximity maybe.

She remembers her lessons and bites down clean through her tongue to swallow it. Obsessively, though it wasn’t her own blood she craved. Over and over, until the meeting is done and the clack of the type writer ceases.

Her permission to leave is granted, and Annie shuffles from the room with a swiftness that belies her sudden desperation. A hand already driven into her pockets to fumble with a cigarette by the time Reiner catches up to her.

Relief swells, that he says nothing, and more when she breathes in rotten smoke. It’s only brief when she hears Ackermann’s voice call out behind them. She almost wants to plead her quiet mania but turns anyway.

Mikasa’s hair had been cut short. The strands tickle her eyes. Annie always thought she looked akin to a statue; hard, cold, beautiful. An imitation of a human.

“Leonhardt.” Like ice. Their interactions were so brief as to be non-existent. She starkly avoids the woman who cut her from her freedom.

Reiner shifts a hand on the low of her back. Warm. Annie hates it. The recognition of herself stings her pride. The cigarette smoke lazes out of her mouth.

“Captain Ackermann. What can I do for you?”

“A question.” Steel grey flickers between them. “Where is the Colossal Titan?”

Anger brushes her irrationally. “You do not have the authority to know.”

“Do we not? I believe there has been discussion of a pardon. He would be involved in such a thing.”

It was obvious. The terror from her, the sheer curling hate. Arlet’s appearance was beginning to grate on everyone. Their bitterness now bled freely.

“A prospect that is currently still just that. We’ve barely come to terms on the West. Peace, Ackermann, is far from us yet.”

“A concept I’m sure you’re familiar with,” The woman sneers. “But that hardly excuses his absence, nor the Warchief’s.”

A fascinating display of insularity, of arrogance, of the sheer ignorance of them, and Annie bites back the hot something in her chest. They still labelled themselves humanity, afterall. It was an expectation that could not be met, to think they would see their blood and see something familiar.

Even here, they were apart.

“Your island isn’t the only nation Marley concerns itself with. There are other things that require our attention than,” Annie waves a hand, “This. You are hardly even the most troublesome situation in recent years.”

“So that’s it? We simply do not deserve the honour of your best?”

Annie feels her eyebrow twitch. Brief and flickering, she catches the stark colour of her scarf. Red, like bloody meat. A rare steak.

“You could say that.”

A glance to her armband, to Reiners. A red slash, like the one wrapped around her delicate throat.

“Warriors—that’s what they call you, isn’t it? Why would they send their two failures back?” Something ugly crosses Mikasa’s face, foreign on her delicate beauty, “Some kind of punishment, is that it?”

Another fantasy drifts in her minds eye. Something gut wrenching and tender that she can pull through her teeth until they ache. Hot. Calling copper and rich. Fresh enough to sting the roof of her mouth.

Disgust pools in her gut. The thought is beyond her. She wishes the corridor was not so suffocating.

“I appreciate your curiosity Ackermann,” Through a tight jaw, “but are these asinine questions at all relevant?”

“I’ll decide that.”

“I’m sure you will. Excuse us, won’t you?” Annie doesn’t wait for an answer, spinning on her heel and striding away. She breathes more of the paper and tobacco than air. As smoke stings her eyes, Annie grunts.

Reiner sends her nothing but another flickering glance. A concern she baulks from, and her stomach growls audibly as they walk.

She expects her fingertips to be bloody. Driven into her throat, as if she had ever made the action. They are not. Annie’s stomach clenches accordingly, and she wonders about the nebulous something that frayed under Ackermann’s arrogant gaze.

Reiner says nothing, and she wonders if he will have to next time.

Chapter 3

Chapter Text

“He did send you the briefing? That f*cking idiot never—the fax here is abysmal, you know. I’d do better using carrier pigeons. Wartime is measured on their clocks, I’d think, what with the state of these Devils.” Annie walks swiftly, meeting the man’s long strides with ease. The chatter around them rises and falls. They stand out, her red slash, theirs beige to the others green. “A year and a half, and they’ve only just discovered the marvel of radios. Mmh, anyway. What did he say?”

“He wanted clarification on the second line, fifth page. About the movement of people?”

“Ah yes,” They take a right. The halls were busy today.

She’s already been in three meetings from when the sun broke the horizon. Breakfast had been between reams of parchment and the scuffle of argument. The assassination attempt had everyone subtly rattled. All but Marleyans. Part and parcel to their diplomacy was bloodshed. The General lounged in familiar arrogance; his life assured by the two monsters at his elbow.

Reiner was his shadow, today. Which left her to the man now by her side. Annie presses her teeth to her tongue, tasting copper, swallowing it fervently.

“Well, it’s not so difficult. We’ll need the Devi—the Paradisians, to open a registration office. Birth certificates, identification papers, the like, you know. And a border control,” He huffs, a Paradisan in glasses scurries by under his glare. The Marleyan was intimidating. Wulf had been a Major, now relegated to the circuit of peace talks. “How we’re to force these people into civilisation, I’ll never know. Issue for the Brass, eh?”

“So I’ve heard.”

“So everyone has. All those blasted newspapers talk and talk about nothing and everything. There’s a leak, I’ve heard. Some rat sniffing about our business. A traitor to the Fatherland, so they’ve been saying. Not that it concerns us what the poles are up to.”

“Thankfully.” Annie says, and it rouses a bark of laughter from Wulf. “Another thing—” Someone knocks against her.

The urge to spin, pin them by the throat, remove the threat, rises and falls in a crest. The jostle of her shoulder, and Annie turns. The corridor loomed long, the ambassador by her side pausing.

Hitch Dreyse looks back at her. Annie’s eyes roam quickly, a little fervent, as shock ripples across Hitch’s face. She’d changed. Older, face matured. Her hair was different. A local Marleyan style, she’d read the papers, seen the bleed through of exotic practices. The green of her longcoat was odd, stark against her skin.

“Oh. Miss Dreyse—”

Annie watches rapt as her pretty brow furrows. “Hitch. You haven’t forgotten my name, Annie.”

Something lodges dear in her throat. Annie swallows it to avoid choking.

“Hitch, then. My apologies, but you’ll have to excuse us.” Her eyes tear themselves from the figure of the woman, “Sorry Sir, where were we?”

They start forward, a dual rap of boots across the floor, Annie shuffling the one document in her hand.

“Wh—seriously? Wait!”

Like a physical command, Annie halts. A hand around her spine, the echo of that single memory bleeding into the others. How long had it been? Hitch’s fingers had always been so gentle through her hair.

Her superior, the Marleyan, the man above her and ambassador – important, powerful, and her obedience guaranteed – stops, too. Turns, and looks at her. The familiar fear of her masters rises up.

“Is this Devil a problem?”

“No, Sir. Not at all.” She says quick. Runs a tongue along the backs of her teeth. Looks to Hitch, her eyes shining back at Annie.

“Annie.” Hazel flickers to Wulf, narrowing slightly. “Five minutes. That’s all.”

A weakness. It had to be. She opens her mouth, “If it is no trouble Sir, I would request a moment alone?”

A pause. Her heart thuds. Then, “Granted. I need a bloody drink anyway. Find me in the tearoom once you’ve finished your diversion.”

“As you wish, Sir,” And the salute comes crisp and easy, the pressure of her fist against her head grounding. He turns away in a sweep. Annie holds it for the appropriate time, a Major’s respect even without his eyes, before turning again.

“Hitch,” She says. Tastes the words. It held a different cadence. Her tongue once again used to Marley’s harsh snap.

“Annie. Who was that?”

A sigh. “Does it matter?”

Hitch huffs a wry laugh. “No. You look—you’ve changed. I saw your face in the news, well, your name I suppose. A lot. How’s your blonde, Braun?”

The acknowledgment of her deeds from Hitch’s mouth sends something aching up her spine. A wonder what myth they’d constructed around Marley’s Banshee here. She knew her unit was reviled. If it wasn’t Ksavers name stamped below their operations, it was Leonhardt. Her slew of victories mangled the name ever further.

Hitch wasn’t ever supposed to be the one to know. Everything she had been was soft, gentle, an escape into normalcy before the end. Annie hadn’t ever wanted to see her again in truth, to show the ugly face of reality to Dreyse.

But she wasn’t even given that. The truth had been laid bare regardless. The illusion of the past breaks so quickly Annie barely acknowledges it was there at all.

“He’s fine. What do you want?”

“Sina, you really haven’t changed.” A shift from one foot to another. Annie watches her warily, arms crossed. “We didn’t— well I wasn’t allowed to get close during the welcome. This whole business is hardly my business, thank God. It’s good to see you.”

“You grew your hair.” Annie blurts.

“That generally happens, you know, after six years.” The exact number makes Annie blink. She co*cks her head slightly, peering up at her. Dreyse really was tall now. Hitch clears her throat at her attentions. “You—have an undercut.”

This was ridiculous. They were talking about hair. Hair.

“Your powers of observation clearly haven’t dulled. Congratulations.”

A snort, before Hitch swallows hard, “Gee, thanks. So… uh, I know you're busy and all, but maybe get a drink with me? For old time’s sake?”

Her eyebrow arches. She can feel that tremulous something rise back in her throat.

“A drink.” She echoes. The concept seems so suddenly foreign. Like an animal, Annie feels the need to flee. “I’ll have to decline.”

“Oh, will you? Well come on, give me an excuse—I know you don’t do anything but meetings and walking around here.” She sniffs as Annie opens her mouth. “I’m a Captain now, not that you care Vice-Chief. We’ve been handling security for your bloody Marley delegation.”

“What happened to ‘none of your business?’”

Hitch breathes a laugh, though it holds no real humour. “You know me better than that.”

That was the worst of it. Annie twists her mouth. Fights against the rising restlessness in her chest, the need to shake and claw and run far, far away. Hitch was always so human. It made Annie shudder.

“Is that all?”

“What? No, just—”

A pregnant pause. The weight of something, expectation perhaps, or the past, weighs down on her chest. She reviles the sensation. The conversation. Of Hitch and her prodding questions.

“What do you want from me Dreyse?” Annie bites, “You’ve clearly read about who I am, what I am.”

“You’ve been gone for six f*cking years Annie, is it so strange that I’d want to know what you’ve been doing? The last I heard of you, you were an enemy against humanity.” The woman gestures wildly, something hysterical in her voice, “Then all I read about during the war is the Vice-Chief of Marley’s Warriors?” She rubs her face, “f*ck Annie, did you do all of that for a promotion?”

There it was, out in the open, with Hitch breathing a little deeper as she tapers off.

It had been that way too, when she’d clawed her way from the five-month hell of the crystal and the prison. The Paths had clung so tightly to her then, obscured Dreyse’s anger into something hazy and sand fine.

It hadn’t been enough to forget what she did. Dragging her limp body from the basem*nt beneath Stohess’ barracks, slung on a horse all the way past the wall. Hitch had given her a miserable life back. The home she had stutteringly explained, the world Dreyse could barely comprehend back then.

Nothing, for years. Something to forget in the red destruction that became of everything. That became of her, in the end.

“Oh.” Annie murmurs, monotone. “I see.”

What had she expected, she wonders. What was even due to her, in this? It chokes, filling up the room of her throat. Was that even what she had fought for? It was so long ago now. There was nothing left. A father she hasn’t seen in half a decade, a designation and a role. Obedience. Red slashes, red across her hands, nothing but it everywhere, sinking into her very bones to stain them.

Annie craves a cigarette. Or something worse. It muddles. It’s always muddling nowadays. She needs to leave, struck still instead by the open grief on Hitch’s face.

“No. No, wait,” A thumb and finger digs into her bridge, “f*ck, I don’t know. That’s my whole— that’s the point. Can we just talk? Not as,” She waves the finely manicured hand over Annie. Her Marleyan officers coat, the shackle of red on her arm, the clean and cut face of the Vice-Chief, “whatever this is.”

She tries to find something familiar in her eyes. No longer the girl that would poke and tease her, run her fingers through her hair, lie beside her at night when drink overwhelmed her senses. A warm body, and a dazzling smile.

Another victim, stained in her bloodied hands. Someone she had wanted to grasp, dig her nails into soft flesh and see it again.Annie wonders on her own weakness, dizzy.

“I’ll…” Something dear sits where Hitch’s face is contorted. “I’ll see.”

“Is that—”

She holds up a hand. “That’s all I can promise.”

Hitch nods. Shifts in place. They were still in the corridor, the world revolving around them. The future darkening the halls of this building. Annie breathes out stiffly.

“And Hitch?” A nod. “I… I should have left a note.”

The smile she gets back is watery, delicate, and curls a hand into her chest to tug. It was wrenching something out. Her stomach rumbles.

Annie says nothing more, and turns away. Like an animal, like the mangy dogs she sees within Liberio’s barbed wired walls. Begging for scraps and fleeing the slightest human touch. Pathetic.

She craves a smoke.

Chapter 4

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Nights drag into days, and Annie finds sleep comes less and less easily. The cold interior of her room was like her apartment but shifted enough in its differences to unsettle her. Its bed was not a cot, it’s windowless walls were not the right colour. She’d always hated change.

The moon finds her wandering through the halls, so many times she stumbles across an untouched balcony. A pack of Gold Stars becomes a nightly companion. Paradis was cooler in climate than the Marleyan mainland, so she’d been told. In a shirt and breeches, it hardly matters to her either way. Cold never bothered her, unless she was pulling herself from the womb of her monster. The pack is empty by the end of each night, her coffee cold and a nagging voice of the past craving another.

A month into the talks, and Annie can already feel herself slipping. The habits always begetted something worse, no matter how she avoids that conclusion. Stupidly, madly, a small voice whispers to go back, ask for the knife again. A filthy pit of something in her stomach wanted it, a craving for the good doctor’s sessions, the lessons he forced behind her teeth.

There was control in habit, she was so hungry these days, and her thoughts cannot help but latch onto that cold room and the eyes on her behind the glass as she gorged like an animal. It was the mindlessness, perhaps. The base fulfilment. She had felt warm when bowed over the flesh like that. They had been pleased with her, like that.

Eventually, as always, the day calls her away from the musings. She dresses in the officer’s longcoat, straightens her shirt, and finds herself, again, surrounded by threats and past friends. The hallways are long as she steps it, her boots loud and creaking.

After a few hard knocks, as was habit now, Annie rouses Reiner. He opens the door and eyes her slowly, shuffling out after a belated pause.

“Fix your hair.” She mutters.

“Like anyone would care.” He falls into step as she strides down the hallway. “f*ck me, those mattresses are like concrete. You’d think they did on purpose.” He finishes straightening himself out, “You okay?”

Annie glances to him sharply – Reiner is courageously attempting to fix his bedraggled hair. But he’s looking at her askew.

He shrugs, “You just look tired, is all.”

“How shocking.”

“Seriously Ann’. You look like sh*t. Nightmares?”

Annie presses her tongue to the roof of her mouth. It still tasted like ash. Already, she wants another cigarette. A bad sign.

“We’re in meeting hall four,” She says, and catches the tail of Reiner’s frown as she looks away, “It’s going to be a long one.”

“Great. What’s on the docket today?”

The upside of sleepless nights was simple efficiency. The typewrited words burn behind her eyelids, negating the sting of sleeplessness with something heavier. It’s easy to tell him, to fill in any gaps and feel useful in something. It suited her.

As before, the meeting hall is filled with beige and green. Annie slips into her seat stiffly, and palms at the awaiting coffee. Across from her was Jaeger.

“Leonhardt. You’re early.” He grunts.

Annie eyes him. There was the beginnings of stubble across his jaw.

“Keeping an eye on me?” She drawls back. Busying her hands with the documents below, to avoid the sweep of his green eyes.

“Someone has to.”

Not dignifying a reply, Annie simply raises a brow. Eren sets his jaw. The muscles tremor there. It’s a long moment before it’s broken by the General’s entrance and her salute. With the familiar motions done, the typewriter begins.

The skin of the Vice-Chief is worn like a shroud, Annie finds. One torn from the previous, slick with the gore that came with sheafing off skin. Easy, with practice. Annie settles in it as the clock ticks and ticks from one hour to the next.

And then the next.

The meeting drags on. It had been scheduled for two hours, and they had another appointment to keep with the delegation – a private gathering, reports given, a word from the grand secretariat and an update on the Warchief. A note on the rat-hunt within their ranks, something inconsequential to her role in truth.

The ache begins in her lungs, first. A writhing presence that presses against the delicate walls, swelling and pulsing. Then up her throat, hollowing the spaces in her stomach until she’s breathless. Hot, stinging bile crawls up. Her hands begin their tremor, and too, far too late, does Annie realise what’s happening.

The humiliation of it hurts like a physical thing. And so the meeting drags on. And on.

The clock ticks and tocks, loud enough to grate her. Every click-click-clack of the type-writer pounds into the space below her skull. Her temples begin to throb. Her mouth aches. The words in front of her blur.

Another of her fits, she begrudgingly acknowledges. This one was longer, and worse. Dragging sluggishly from her.

It was like this before. When she was younger, the voices new in her head as they whispered the titan’s past. Curling long, grabbing fingers into her mind. Those urges were raw and urgent, then. She was so young, then. The thought of it had never truly crossed her, when her appetite mutated, when her stomach began to hollow. The past had helped soothe it.

Then it had been easy. She had done it all. They had praised her. She had been good, then. Her father had been proud, she had fleetingly hoped.

Now it scraped at her nape, the back of her eyes. The hollows of her skull swallowed the swarm of sensation. Was it a simple animal desire, she hazily wonders, to want for those sessions again. Maybe the past was less of an indulgence and more of a shackle. Or, worse, all of this was simply proximity.

It’s not until his breath washes over her ear that Annie realises Reiner had leaned into her side.

“Are you okay?”

Three dreaded words. It rises in her gut. Annie grits her teeth.

“Nothing’s wrong,” She lies, “Focus on the meeting.”

“You haven’t been. Your hand,” Annie glances down. Her palm was slick with her own blood, four crescent-moon wounds pressed into her flesh. It doesn’t hurt like she wants it to. “We can adjourn if you want.”

“You know we can’t. Mind yourself, Braun.”

“I can—”

“Enough.” It beats against her teeth. A need to flee. A need to tear the Devils eyes from her– their invasions against her skin. Poking, prodding. She had been a soldier following orders. What did they matter, against her father’s wishes? What did they know? What did Mikasa? What did Hitch?

She was so hungry.

Reiner sighs. Leans back, resting against his chair. Annie wipes the blood discreetly onto a tissue. Takes a long drag of coffee.

“Vice-Chief,” Hange’s voice. Annie looks over her mug, flickering gaze across the men and women she’s become reluctantly familiar with. “I’m told you led the operation at Cirllian?”

“I did.”

“Excellent. Your insight will be invaluable. How long did you operate there?”

She tucks it all away neatly. Whilst the tremor in her hand remained, it was hidden. Pain was a constant, a familiarity. She soaks in it as she opens her mouth to speak.

“Three months. We were posted on their borders for an additional fortnight, and I personally had a hand in overseeing the S&R teams.” A hand curls into her khakis and clenches tight. “What do you want to know?”

“The character of their people, anything notable about their behaviours, customs— etcetera. A profile of them really, is that not right Hadelich?”

“Correct.” The General slips into Marleyan. “The Paradisan wants to explore agreements with them. They seem to want to speak on behalf of those nations, those allies of theirs. A wholesale surrender.”

Then they were fools, the man doesn’t say. Annie slips into her role. She was obedient, so very good at it, the knife to their blasted stick and vegetable.

“The people were resistant. Stubborn,” Annie drums her fingers, then in a weakness pulls out a Gold Star, “Our presence there wasn’t welcomed. A few caused a mess at one point, a petty rebellion against our stronghold. Only lasted a few days. Their irrational fear of titanisation, from what I was told.”

The click-click of her lighter.

“I see. Did you work alongside any of the Chimer people directly? Any foresight will be invaluable.”

Three, all men. One had a kind face, translated their words willingly. He was someone Annie considered good, as useless as her denomination made that. The man had shown them hospitality and grace as the unit trampled across his countrymen.

She thinks of him, sometimes, in the dark. Blurry through drink, she toasts to him. A Marleyan firing squad had shot him in the head.

“A few.” Bile crawls up her throat. She takes a drag of her cigarette to burn it. “Unremarkable men. They worked with us willingly, but they feared our presence over genuine co-operation. They were all like that, across the borders too. Nothing is given out of love in the gulf, Commander. I’d ere you to remember that.”

“Thank you, Vice-Chief, I’m sure we will.”

Eren’s voice cuts through their discussion. “What were their names?”

Off guard, Annie blinks rapidly back at the man. “Pardon?”

“You remember their names, Annie?” The name off his tongue like this, she almost doesn’t recognise it. An intimacy flagrantly thrown at her. Something like a shudder pulls up her spine.

She tongues her teeth. Then, “I do.”

Stremann clears his throat, a Marleyan and her direct superior, “This isn’t exactly relevant—”

“I’m not addressing you.” Eren snaps. He doesn’t look away from her. Dizziness grows, Annie can feel it pulse in her throat. “I’m talking to the Vice-Chief. What were their names?”

“Sar Eliopoulos, Dion Sarakis, Isedor.” Eren’s intent and intense on her. Pain blooms in her stomach. “Those were their names.”

Whatever he sees in her, whatever he thinks he sees, it causes his eyes to soften. Something shifting, clicking into place. Fervently new. Annie takes a desperate drag of her cigarette. Feels the burn in her lungs, the thick air.

She refuses his green, green eyes for the remainder of the meeting. When adjournment is called, Annie stumbles from the room. Braun doesn’t catch her in time. She walks, and walks, and keeps walking. Breathing through the rotten smoke, nearly panting with it.

Something was wrenching open. Something she’s not sure is even herself. The corridors, the endless stuffy meetings, the eyes of her victims boring into her, all reaching into her throat and yanking it out. The questions, over and over and over. As she had anything to carve from her chest. Nothing but rot.

It was a slip, she desperately hopes, a bad day and nothing more.

A door clatters open and she stumbles out into fresh air. It hits her, a slightly frigid autumn breeze, and she throws the butt of her smoke onto the floor. Tilts her head upwards. Blue greets her.Clouds drift intermittent in the sky. Her palm stings and steams. Slowly, slowly, the vice looses from her chest.

Absently, she brings a palm up and licks off her steaming blood. It was never enough.

She thinks of Hitch. Of Marlowe – his death recorded. She’d been once to the graveyard, an exercise in self-derision. Mina Carolina, Franz Kefka, Hannah Diament, Thomas Wagner, Ruth D. Kline, Sasha Braus, Connie Springer, Nack Tierce, and the one without a body, Ymir. Annie wonders when she started lying to herself like this.

There was only another month remaining until she’s sent back out to the borders. To when Zeke will clap her on the back, laugh, shove a smoke into her hand and throw them all back to the wolves. It’s strange to realise when she started to crave her own mindlessness. There was comfort in nothingness.

Annie fumbles into her pocket for another smoke. Reiner would find her soon. She wonders if he’ll finally say something.

Notes:

she seems fine dw guys

Chapter 5

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Within the open city streets, not at all like the huddled sprawl of Marley’s half-planned Eldian ghetto, the sky was a startling blue, yawning above her. It was naked without its walls, the hue of Paradis’ air not complementing well to the freedom it now has. It was not oppressive, a discordance with Annie’s hazy memories of the place.

She walks the streets back to the grand building complex of Shiganshina’s diplomatic quarter. Beneath her arm was a local newspaper. The cashier had been terrified. She’s gotten a discount. Small victories won, she supposes, on the back of her shame as an Eldian. It meant nothing to her either way.

Another meeting was due, a little different than the rest. It was to be held in the field, a shooting day. One of the old noblemen’s pastimes. Paradis had been wining and dining the General recently. The man was of two minds, his carrot and stick was becoming more carrot, and more of herself within that mix. It accelerated the talks, regardless of her preference.

The crowds part for them and their red slash, and Annie takes comfort from their separation. Reiner pokes at her shoulder as they walk. He was more comfortable now, their alliance to each other a temporary, tremulous thing. He’d been watching her since the fit. It was something. Annie tries not to dwell on it.

“I got you a pastry.”

“Poisoned?”

Reiner snorts. “It’s got sugar dusting. Thought you would be hungry.” She was. “When’s it start?”

“Half hour. It’s outside.”

“Oooh, outside. Are they doing a demonstration? I really don’t want to see that new ODM gear in action again. Takes all the fun out of this.” He drawls.

Annie snatches her gift from him. Takes an overlarge bite and eyes him.

“Well?” He sighs, though his face is victorious as Annie swallows her mouthful and quickly takes another chunk off her pastry.

“We’re shooting. Clay pigeons, they call them.” A byproduct of Paradis’ past scarcity. She tongues her teeth, looking out at the bustling market. It was heaving with sweaty Paradisans. She’ll need a bath after this. “I doubt we’ll be given any genuine bullets.”

He huffs back like a petulant child. “We should have brought Bert.”

The idea is a terrible one. Annie resists saying so, if to avoid the sorrow on Reiner’s face whenever their actions are revealed in the light of day.

“At least—” Annie swallows another bite, “At least you won’t have thunder spears up your ass.”

“Ha ha ha.”

They wander for another hour, tentatively skirting the edges of the market and the district itself. Annie busies herself with ignoring Reiner and the way his face darkens, instead counting the stray cats in alleyways and the rotations of MPs weaving the streets. Above it all a delicate clocktower chimes out their half-hours, a strike of brick and mortar in the clear blue skies of Paradis.

Annie ignores it each time, reaching to read the time from her pocketwatch instead. On the second call they make their way back to the ambassador’s district. It’s a short walk, and soon they’re passing through the wrought iron gates that guard the sprawling compound. Two MPs read their identification with far too much scrutiny, scowling at them and their red armbands before they’re through.

“Which bit is outside?” Reiner murmurs.

Annie straightens her tie as the walk the gravel packed paths. “We’re being driven to a private estate. Some lord’s field, or something.”

“Oh great.” He mutters under his breath, “You got a smoke?”

She silently hands him one, then offers him a lighter. With his done, she lights her own. The main entrance into the buildings is buzzing with noise, four blacked out cars waiting and a gaggle of beige longcoats. Annie quickly shoves her newspaper into an inner pocket and hastens her step.

Reiner lags behind, breathing in his Gold Star as if he needed it to survive. Annie can’t fault him. She eyes the crowds, finding the General and his men before searching for any familiar faces. They weave through them, and Annie only recognises Dreyse’s face right as they walk directly into her.

Dread swells in her throat, and she quickly swallows it in favour of numbness.

“Miss—Hitch.” Annie casts her eyes to the man at Dreyse’s side. “Boris. A pleasure to see you again.”

The man blinks down at her, then Reiner, then back again. “Pleasantries? From you? God forbid, Hitch was right.”

She says nothing, measuring them both. Boris had barely changed, not even his hairstyle had shifted. Nothing but the green coat and the badge of rank marked the time passed. Hitch’s gaze is something heavy on her skin.

This was too much.

Reiner tilts his head, leans into Annie, “You’ve worked with these two?”

“Briefly. In the military police.” She says back in similar Marleyan. The surprise of the duo in front of them is stubbornly ignored. Ignorance doesn’t quell the queasy drop of her stomach, but Annie pretends it does.

“I don’t remember you mentioning a Boris.”

“Apologies for not writing down my every waking moment with you,” Annie sneers. “It would have been a waste of parchment.”

Reiner just sighs. “Want me to leave?”

“No. We don’t have the time.”

It’s not entirely untrue, though she feels like a coward anyway. Hitch’s manner had always striven to make her nauseous. Now that quality of life that Dreyse carried made Annie feel rotted, like a corpse pretending to be alive.

Annie coughs up imaginary mould from her lungs. “What are you doing here?”

The woman blinks back. “I’m working, obviously.” A note of distain for, seemingly, the entire concept carries, “We’re helping escort you to the shooting grounds – y’know, make sure there’s no riots at your mere presence, make sure no one stabs you, so on.”

“You must have dealt with the assassination attempt too,” Annie murmurs. When she gets an airy handwave in response, she coughs again. “Well. Don’t let us keep you.”

They turn away, Annie has a finger on her ring, spinning the band around her index.

Hitch wears her emotions like she wears an expensive coat – loudly, obviously, and with a certain odd pride. The expression that flashes across her face as they move is nothing short of panic.

“What—” Her voice is an octave too shrill, “what language did you guys speak in? You spoke it before to that Marleyan. It’s—uh, interesting. We’ve never really met multi-ling— linguals.”

“Naturally.” Annie sighs. She feels like the animals the old doctor Ksaver kept in his cages.

“Could you speak it before?” Boris asks. “Y’know, back when we were MPs.”

Annie just stares at them, counts the seconds of silence. They couldn’t be more estranged than in this moment, discussing the language Annie was born to as if it were an odd tidbit.

Maybe it was like this back in Stohess, she can’t remember. It was a long time ago now, that once life. The memories had blurred, purposeful or not, to sensations and briefly flickering things.

To Eren’s face, gleaming with tears and the agonised twist of denial. To Hitch’s hands against her skin, the blood slick of it, the too-hot shudder of it. Boris was a face she assumed to take from the world, not one to help smuggle her from Stohess bloodied dungeon.

The pair grimace at the silence. Annie can't bring herself to say anything. Reiner coughs awkwardly before sticking out a hand. Behind him, two Marleyans bark laughter at a sh*tty joke.

“Uh, I’m Reiner Braun, by-the-by. We’ve never met.” His hand is taken, shaken, before he settles back. “Thirteenth Armoured Titan holder.”

“Yeah. Everyone knows who you are.” Boris says. “Both of you actually.”

“Oh, yeah, of course.” His face twists, “Did Annie ever mention me?”

Hitch hasn’t looked from Annie, and she still doesn’t as she responds, “No. Though those letters of hers did.”

Perhaps she was looking for an explanation. Or an excuse. Annie gives her neither, keeping her gaze stubborn on the woman.

“Of course.” Annie knows the interaction is over. “It’s been a pleasure, but you’ll have to excuse us?”

She still says nothing, even as they go.

And yet despite it, “Annie—“ Hitch yells, “our drink. You promised, remember?”

Regrettably, she does. The woman is lost between the gatherings of people. At that, a shaky breath leaves her.

Reiner sighs, palming his face wearily. “Old friends, huh.”

“No.”

“Right. Drinks with Hitch? When did that happen?”

“I don’t know. While ago.” She catches his bemused look. “You really think I said yes?”

“Maybe. You’ve been… well, I mean, did you say yes?”

It was a weakness. She was stupid to agree. When had she ever been honest with Hitch? When had she ever brought herself to? Everyone agreed, Annie was a sh*tty liar. She barely even tried to lie. Dodging the truth was easier, the half-measure simpler.

Hitch made a liar of her. The realisation makes her feel so hungry. “No.”

Reiner must see something on her face. Whatever it is makes him drops the question.

Their Commander waves them over, and they slip into the circle of talks silent and unremarked at. As was their lot, that Warriors were silent and obedient until called on. Annie settles in a loose stance and lets her role drown thoughts of Hitch.

It’s another twenty minutes until they’re at the site. Slipping from the obscenely new cars, shaking hands with people she doesn’t bother to remember. Champagne – imported – flows freely between the representatives. Braun greedily takes one, and Annie sticks herself to his side as the necessary introductions, re-introductions, and flowery, obnoxious small talking is exchanged. The General spins his words and mingles as if he was born to it.

Annie was not. Despite her predecessor and her overspill of a thousand memories, Annie refuses to engage. A small rebellion, for a mute Vice-Chief. After an hour she deems it appropriate, leaving Braun’s side with nothing but a grunt. A handful of minutes wandering the grounds – the perfectly cut grass, beds of flowers, high pale walls of the estate and the grand pillars that loom over the cobbled entrances – finds Annie tucked herself into a corner to observe.

Regrettably, the Paradis delegation brought their own titan with them. Eren Jaeger stands out as much as any of them; tall, broad, and with eyes that don’t quite belong anywhere. Short hair swept back today, and his jacket off to expose his rolled up shirt sleeves. A shooting rifle doesn’t once pass his hands, as it hadn’t passed Braun’s or her own, and he talks rarely between the various representatives. Annie contents herself with monitoring him.

He’d changed. It was a subtle thing, certainly, but she’s sure he has. What specifically was a mystery, but it’s there. They’d trained together long enough for Annie to recognise his tells.

Eventually, the man catches sight of her. Annie steadies her gaze on him, blue on green. After a retracted pause he slips from the circle of green-coats and makes his way over. The grass depressing between his boots, until he’s before her.

The length of his body blocks some of the mid-afternoon sun.

“Leonhardt.”

“Jaeger.” She sniffs. “I see they’ve dragged you into this too.”

To her surprise, he almost snorts. Closer now, the closest they’ve ever been, his new height was stark. Annie counts the seconds in which is half-smile fades until something else. Taking an ungiven cue, he leans up beside her. She ignores the urge to snap, to fulfil her role, fumbling into her pocket for another smoke.

“Yeah, guess so.”

The click-click of her lighter fills the silence between them. Another shot rings out, one of the Paradisians laughing as fragments of clay rain from the sky. Her means of escaping Jaeger was currently chatting to one of their ambassadors, fiddling with the dead butt of a Gold Star between his thick fingers. Annie eyes Braun’s dead cigarette and breathes her own.

Curiosity digs it’s nails into her. She waits.

Jaeger clears his throat. “So… how are you finding Paradis?” The question doesn’t dignify a response. “You go to the lakes yet, like Armin said?”

“You can’t small talk for sh*t.” Annie deadpans.

He shrugs. “’Course not.”

“Why try, then?”

“What, you aren’t bored right now?”

Her temper spikes. The man was acting like they were friends. Like they hadn’t burnt Arlet to a crisp on orders from their Warchief, or destroyed the very city they now stood in, or attempted to rip him from the land he calls home. There was none of that righteous rage. Annie hates liars, especially ones like these.

“What do you want?” She says.

“Not sure yet. Though,” Annie can feel his gaze on her skin, “Thanks, for answering my question the other day.”

Annie swallows. Her mouth was full of salvia. “It was a sh*tty question.”

“Probably. Still, I think… well, nothing. But thanks, Leonhardt.”

Annie pretends she doesn’t hear.

They watch the shootings together, in silence as each clay pigeon is shot from the sky. It was a sport of indulgence. Gunpowder and silt carry in the swaying breeze. The fields around them, the neatly controlled forests, sway along with it.

If she closes her eyes, Annie can almost see the trenches. Can almost smell the sting of gas instead of clay, the choking miasma of smoke instead of tree-scent. The non-movement of the now makes her want to prick her finger and let the titan consume her in the womb. Just to prove it, that here in this place it could still be the same. That they couldn’t just escape it with clay and champagne.

It’s a corrosive thought. Annie swallows the blood in her mouth and counts down from ten.

“Annie,” Eren begins, voice quiet and tremulous in a way Eren Jaeger never is, “Can I ask you something? Not as a—y’know. Just as me. Person to person.”

Panic rises in her chest. Annie’s hand clenches quick around her smoke. Her legs refuse to move.

“What?” She breathes.

“What… what am I?”

The question carries far more than she wants to recognise. Why he asks it to her, she can guess. No one else would understand, not on this island anyway. And Reiner was too much of a threat.

He’s been the sole titan on the island of the Devils for years now. Alone, an almost-king of these hated people. No one else could understand, Annie supposes. They were different now, but similar enough. Annie wonders on her own pathetic weakness.

A clear of her throat, and Annie opens her mouth. For once, she doesn’t think before she speaks.

“The existence of titans goes back thousands of years. Other countries don’t have writings on it per say, but titan-like figures have been found in most civilisations across the globe. In the oldest written texts on Titanisation, they call it a blessing. The ‘blessings’ of power.” Beyond them, more shots ring out from Marleyan rifles. She can almost see the texts behind her eyes, the old writing and Zeke’s hesitant explanations. “What could possibly be good about this, I thought. I realised it later.”

There’s nothing in her chest but emptiness, and the hollow of her stomach. It used to bring feeling to her back then. Now there’s nothing.

She continues, unbidden, “My people have called titans a curse for generations. The Fatherland eventually adopted the word. They weren’t wrong in it. Our blood is cursed,” Annie slides her red arm band through the loop it’s fastened to, seeing the lighter tan of her coat beneath it, unbleached by the sun. “We don’t really know anything about the curse or its origins. No one knows, really, apart from a name and the old stories.”

Annie’s quiet for a long moment. Old memories play in her mind: the gleam of the Doctor’s glasses, the endless vials of blood drawn from her arm, the spinal tap, the syringes. Older memories, of the same cyclical torment, cutting across her predacessors the same. Cruelty was a part of the world. The essence of human nature, in the end, was what ran through their veins. Sorted into bottles and labelled by date, ID, and type. The essence of the soul itself was neatly organised in rows within the office of a madman.

She’s never believed in Gods. She’s never believed in men. Annie can’t find it within herself to believe in anything at all. In the end, none of it mattered. Belief was nothing, not in the reality of the body. Not in the reality of an open jaw, the hollow of a ribcage, the emptiness of a stomach.

Still, for Eren, for his desperate question, she answers.

“All Gods are evil.” She says quietly. If Gods were understood by humans and if humans could become Gods, then there was no question to it. “Ymir is no different.”

“I… see Her, I think. In dreams.”

“In the Paths,” Annie echoes. “She’s our Mother, that’s what Ksaver claims. She’s the one that gives us this.” Flexing her hand, Annie watches the delicate movement of skin, the tendons that bulge and push beneath reams of muscle. She turns to see Eren’s gaze fixed on her. It’s unsettling. “Whether we want it or not.”

He’s unreadable. For once, he is silent.

“What are you, Eren?” An echo.

“I—I…” Something seems to shatter within him. “I’m a titan.”

Something like a laugh leaves her, delicate and lost in the gentle breeze. It’s all the confirmation she wanted. A toxic, twisted victory swells beneath her breast. Self-satisfied and slicked in the grief of something unnamed. All of a sudden, she wants to howl like an animal. Laugh and laugh and laugh – that she was right. That the past was nothing but a shackle, that it had all rotted by their poisonous touch.

His hurt pieces, from her touch and her words, are now painted delicately across Jaeger’s face. It presses dear against her throat, burns her eyes. She takes a frantic breath of smoke.

“Like you.” He finishes. That she’d never deny. Not now. Too much of herself painted Jaeger, too much of her blood slashed across him. Annie feels bile crawl up her oesophagus.

It’s the only civil conversation they’ve had since the fall. The only true conversation they’ve ever had. Annie doesn’t understand her own indulgence. For the first time in years, she feels honest.

“The inheritor of the Rebel and the Founder, mhm,” She draws her eyes away, back to Braun and his broad figure. “A king’s titan, they call it. The cult of Walls used to worship it as a God.”

Eren’s voice sounds distant. “I suppose they did.”

“Whatever happened to them?”

“Changed their focus.” Another unspoken. “It’s not…” He sighs. “Well, what do I know?”

Nothing but silence remains. Annie’s glad. Her stomach hurts with a peculiar hunger, and she swallows the piece of her tongue that had been bitten through quietly.

Notes:

this was my absolute fav chap to write. i hope you can forgive the philosophising!

Chapter 6

Summary:

annie finally breaks

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

They were in the final stretch, or so the General proclaims in a tertiary sit in, Annie at his elbow as he spoke to his Marleyan officers. The meetings they sit in become more populated, and Annie’s knowledge means less and less as they talk on trade agreements, material movements, the opening of trans-national ship routes.

She finds herself endlessly bored of watching the mouths of the other delegates and not hearing a single word that leaves it. They become bodies, ones she watches with the fascination one would give a bug.

It didn’t matter whether she listened or not anymore, not at this stage. The presence of her was nothing more than a reminder of a threat. Nothing more than the Empire’s posturing, still, in the finale of talks. Annie bores of it. It’s a waste of time. The General would do better to finally release their service to the delegation and send them back out to the Eastern front. The only thing that stopped them from doing just that was the presence of Jaeger and their Ackermann attack dogs.

Annie crosses her legs and peers at the Ackermann herself. She had been to every sit down without fail, had not changed at all from the marble statue of memory. Even now, she was hard and unreadable, and Annie's attention wanders from her quickly. Briefly listening to her General reveals their talks on economic self-regulation, and Annie ignores that, too.

The clock ticks and ticks as the typewriter taps away. A mute Vice-Chief. It was such a joke.

At her elbow, Reiner sighs.

“Where do you want to go for dinner tonight?”

Her stomach clenches uncomfortably at the mention, and she uncrosses her legs to dig a hand into her thigh. “There’s a good place on King’s street apparently. Seafood.”

“An import? Huh. Sounds alright I guess,” Reiner taps a silvercapped pen against the desk. The General laughs a joke Annie doesn’t bother to understand, “You think they know how to cook it properly?”

“The Volunteers probably taught them.”

“Traitorous bastards,” Reiner huffs, though it lacks any bite, any conviction, beyond petty annoyance. “Guess we can go.”

“You wanted steak.”

“Caught. It tastes different here. And, m’not gonna be able to eat it again after this.” He shrugs. Annie briefly marvels at the idiot simplicity of this conversation. “Gotta brag to Bertholdt about something, right?”

Sat in the halls of power in the final talks of the biggest peace treaty ever negotiated by her Fatherland, discussing meat. It was such a joke. She wants to laugh, to shriek at the stupidity of it all. Annie presses the cold of her ring to her lips, biting down on the hard steel to stop the hysterical urge.

She responds by scuffing her boot against his own. “You’re a—" The words choke in her throat.

Annie smells it before she recognises what’s happened. The heady scent of it. Her head snaps to Eren Jaeger so fast her neck twinges.

“sh*t—No Mikasa, it’s fine.”

It’s nothing, really. A slice of paper across the pad of his fingers. The sting so inconsequential that Eren doesn’t even wince. Annie doesn’t notice. She notices nothing but the wound itself.

Blood.

From his hand, already steaming, but she can see it now, the heat of it, the taste. Copper floods her senses, too much and too quick. It was intoxicating. Hot, steaming before her eyes. Her stomach aches. She can taste his copper on her tongue.

His blood.

What would it take, she thinks hazily, for just a bite, she was so hungry afterall, and the titan was clawing against her insistently, down her spine and settling into her nape to tear and rip. Just one bite, that’s all she needed and maybe the hollowness would finally flee, the long nights, the stares, their eyes on her until she ached and hurt.

Just a single drop. She needed it. It twists in her, writhes behind the eyes like worms in a spasm and—

“Annie.”

Reiner’s hand was clutching her arm. When had she stood up? It was cold, suddenly. Was this another fit? She isn’t sure. Her sight is blurry.

“Annie, just—sit down.”

They were all staring. Her chest aches hard. She couldn’t just sit. She can still smell him. The copper in the air, that raw scent of humanity. Of whatever intoxication lay beneath Eren Jaeger’s skin.

She needs to leave. She needs permission.

“Sir,” She chokes back against the overwhelming wetness of her mouth. Her voice trembling, “May I be excused?”

She can't meet her superior's eyes. This was a disobedience. They’d punish her. She needs to leave.

This was pathetic. Hadn’t her father taught her better?

"Granted. Go. And learn how to control yourself in future, Female Titan.”

Annie rips from Reiner’s grip. Stumbles from her chair, sending it screeching to the floor, and stumbles further from the room.

Her stomach clenched, ached, tore holes within her flesh. It was hunger. Ymir, she was so hungry. Her head feels like a thick buzz.

The corridors blur as she staggers mindlessly. Control slips from her fingers with their eyes on her. When was the slick beneath her teeth and firm, spilling its plasma into her? When was that? Months? Years? They asked for the control that she couldn’t give to them. She was a monster. Monsters had no control. Or, too much control. She could never tell, not then, never now, as if she ever could have.

Annie pushes blindly into an empty room. Her lungs hurt through hyperventilation. Slamming the door behind her, she presses her back to a wall and lets her legs give out. The pain of falling barely registers.

Fisting her hands into her hair, she pulls until her scalp hurts and the fine strands come out in clumps between her fingers. The ache isn’t enough.

The need is there, to reach down her throat through warm, wet insides and tear out the feeling. To make it all stop. She needed it to stop. This wasn’t what was expected from her. She was misbehaving. The Doctor wouldn’t be happy, no, he would put her in the isolation chamber again until she was numb and unmoving. Or the ice tank, like her father was fond of. Or peel her bare and muscle-tissue raw again.

She deserved that pain, for her idiocy. She craves it. Fingers dig into her temple until warmth spills down her face. Her heart throbs in her ears, hard and fast.

In the dark room, Annie curls into a ball.

Time blurs. She’s unsure how long she spends alone in that room. It’s only when the door cracks open that she’s aware of herself. Light cuts through the darkness from the entryway.

“Leonhardt?”

The voice was familiar. Annie uncurls herself, squinting up and towards the slice of light. A figure mars it.

“sh*t, there you are.” The voice is too familiar. “I’ve been looking all over for you.”

He steps into the room. Eren Jaeger.

Annie scrambles to standing, clutching the wall behind her for support. Breathlessness cramps her lungs once again. She can feel the steam still hissing from the blood drenched into her face.

“Leave,” She says. It’s trembling and raw. Annie hates it, clears her throat. “Leave, Jaeger.”

“I’m not doing that.”

“You’ve always been so f*cking obnoxious.” She hisses back. In the dark, she can see the loom of his body. Annie jerks backwards as he takes a step forward. She feels like a child.

Involuntary, her eyes lock to where the wound lay. It had healed. His hand was pristine once more. Her stomach clenches until her entire torso hurts.

He ignores her words. “What happened?”

“Why the f*ck would I tell you that?”

Eren sounds tired as he talks. “Why not? Your superiors are gonna punish you either way, right?”

“Don’t pretend—” Like you care, “Like you know what you’re talking about.”

Eren pauses. Green, green eyes are illuminated in the gloom. They leer at her now, like a mockery. She knows hers look as odd, as inhuman as his. Two predators of man, staring at each other.

“I don’t, I guess. But you were reacting to me weren’t you.” It isn’t a question. Annie swallows, something like a lump in her throat. “So I wanna know. I mean, Annie Leonhardt being scared of blood?”

“You don’t know me,” She blurts. It’s like instinct. After all this time, she cringes from the observation. It simply wasn’t true. Annie doesn’t know what she’d do if it was.

“I do.” He parrots back. It’s with a lick of familiar anger. Annie doesn’t know what to do with that, either.

Before it had been simple. She’d almost liked it, to see that passion erupt from the boy and know she caused it. Anger was honest. From Eren, it felt like truth.

“I do.” He says again. Another step is taken toward her. Annie backs up, and feels the wall on her back. Instincts scream at her, and she quickly cuts her finger against her ring in preparation.

It’s so easy to fall into her role. It’s all she has been for years now. Even if it feels like bile against her tongue sometimes — she thinks she’s developed a taste for it. “Step away, Devil-scum.”

Eren lets out a humourless chuckle. The ensuing silence says more than Annie wants it to. But she’s stubborn. She kept secrets from the boy for three years. Kept the world and the end and herself from him without trouble.

There’s probably a clock in the darkened room. It ticks and ticks. Annie breathes faster than she should. Oddly, she can still smell Eren.

She hates them, she realises. She hates him. She hates everything about this situation, about Paradis, about it all. Why is it always her who must confront it? Her comrades never did, delegating it down to her miserable obedience. Her father never did. Her Warchief never did. The people of Marley never did.

The world isn’t fair. It’s cruel. It hates. She knows it, the day she was born she knew it, the day she died that first time, she knew it. Annie hates that most of all. What was a Paradisians cruel world compared to an Eldians? To think she’s been both and soaked in that dual bitterness.

All Annie Leonhardt does is hate.

“Annie—” He begins. She can’t stand it.

“I should have just killed you back then.” Finally, the confession falls from her. It sits heavy in the air.

The thoughts that haunt her – that brief moment in which she had ripped the boy from the womb of the nape and fought a deep, more-than-herself instinct to swallow him whole. Wouldn’t it have been so much better? Had he died in the cradle of her jaw, forever a part of the monster she became, wouldn’t that have stopped her hunger?

“What?” Eren croaks. Even from her distance, she can see his green eyes widen.

“I should have just f*cking eaten you. f*ck—” A semi-hysterical laugh leaves her. Annie drags a shaking hand across her face. The steaming blood on it had gone. “Everything would have been so much easier. I wouldn’t have to deal with this f*cking—” She’s breathing too quickly, “circus.”

The sudden deadly calm that crosses Eren is disturbing. “If I were dead Paradis would have been destroyed. You would have had to destroy it with my power.”

His power. Annie blinks, fighting another incredulous, hysterical giggle. The righteous arrogance of him made her sick. His stolen corpse, he means. Who did he truly think she was? Someone with virtue, someone with empathy for her victims? Did he think she sat in a dark room, mourning those she crushed under her feet?

Eren lied to himself about her, back then. Clearly he still was, even now. He had to be.

“What—” She gasps, “What do you think I was sent here for in the first place? Have you deluded yourself, Jaeger? Have you found some pathetic justification for me to swallow? Is that why you came to find me?” Annie shakes her head, leans from the wall and closer to the furnace of heat that Eren produced, “I would have done it. I would have happily done it. If that’s what I was ordered to do, I would have.”

“You believe that do you? That you could have killed us? Because I don’t think you do. I think you’re just a coward Annie.” It digs into something in her chest. Maybe the space where her heart should be. “All you do is lie to yourself.”

She hates him. God, she hates him.

“Do you want to know something?” She blurts. “I wish I had.” His breath stutters. Annie bares her teeth in a facsimile of a smile. She can hear his heart, those four chambers rattling in his chest. Her stomach hurts. “I dream about getting those orders. I wish this miserable f*cking island was gone. I wish everyone here was dead. I wish I had killed you.”

“No you don’t,” He says, but it’s delicate. Like whisper. Almost like a promise, or maybe a dream. It makes her burn with undiluted rage.

The boy before her, wanting so badly to think that she cared. That he knew her, even a little bit.

But Annie Leonhardt, the scout and the friend, was dead. They’d all made sure of it. The world had opened its jaws and eaten her whole and Annie had watched gladly as she died, knowing it was deserved.

It wasn’t worth it. It can’t be when nothing ever was. Eren mourned a dead girl with the fervency of something he knows he can’t have. It makes vomit crawl up the back of her throat – to think she would have wanted to be a puppet to that empathy, that care he wanted for her.

People like her didn’t get happy things. She had 2,000 years in her head to remind her of that. Vice-Chief Leonhardt had a cavern in the space of her chest, and blood staining her teeth.

The urge is thrumming behind her eyes, writhing in the space of her skull like a frenzy of worms. Annie doesn’t care anymore. She lurches forward, eyes trained on the slither of skin opened from his collar. The blood thrumming there. Her mouth is open, teeth bare.

The only thing that stops her is Eren’s eyes. How they widen, shining in their inhuman leer.

They were so green.

Annie stumbles out the door and runs.

Notes:

happy valentines day! here's annie wanting to eat eren alive, very romantic

Chapter 7

Notes:

(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Reiner finds her in her rooms after the meeting presumably ends. What he sees must be a miserable sight, and if Annie had any shame left she’d be embarrassed. As is, she cares little for her untucked shirt, the hair falling limp onto her shoulders, and the unwashed state of her. It stinks of cigarettes and cheap, awful whiskey.

When the man pushes into the room he pauses. Annie doesn’t even acknowledge him. She wishes there was at least a window in this miserable, four-walled prison of a room. Or maybe Paradis didn’t think she deserved that. What a laugh. She snorts at herself.

“Annie.” Reiner says. The lights flicker on. She hadn’t noticed she’d been sitting in darkness. “Annie, what the f*ck.”

A curious noise leaves her, the between of a hum and a grunt. Annie lolls her head of heavy drink and peers at the big man. The unabashed concern, the horror painted there, makes her wonder if this was when he would finally say something.

“They’re asking me to explain your behaviour – what the f*ck am I meant to say, huh? God above,” Reiner takes to pacing, heavy boots thudding against hardwood. “In front of the f*cking delegation too, f*ck, you really picked your Goddamn timing there.”

Her head rolls. Annie eyes him. “Sorry—” Her voice was raw and slurring, “Was I supposed to pick a better time?”

“You could have at least warned me.”

“Next time I’ll give you a quick poke before I lose it. That’nough, father?”

“Don’t.” Reiner bites. A hand rakes through his hair. “Seriously, f*cking don’t.”

“Aww, sensitive. Don’t wanna patronise me tonight? That’s a first.” Annie sneers, more at herself, “I’m sure Pieck is awake, maybe you could humiliate me on the phone instead.”

“Now you wanna be funny? f*ck off Annie- seriously,” He hisses.

The anger that pulls at him feels crystal pure, almost a relief. Annie wants to dip into that molten hate and let it melt her to bones. She can’t help herself. Maybe that was her nature afterall.

“What, wanted me to have a pistol in my mouth when you burst in here?” Reiner’s face contorts painfully, “Would that make you feel better?” A hollow laugh leaves her, “At least one of us would have had the guts to pull the trigger.”

His heavy breathing fills in the silence. Annie can’t bring herself to regret her words, nor the rift they may have carved between them. They were stuck together regardless of herself, melded like melted iron and suffocating each other. She can carve as many bloody lines into him as she pleases, in the end they’ll both die together. On the same day, in the same room, by the same means.

They might even put them in the same grave, for efficiency’s sake. It makes her hollow and full all at once.

Eventually Reiner finds himself and his anger once again. “Do you have any idea what position you’ve put us in? Do you have any idea what they want to do to you. They’re pissed, Annie. Not just because of your—fit. Jaeger called off the meeting, Ackermann was f*cking there, Annie, she saw all of it. They’re asking for Bertholdt now. This is exactly what I didn't-” His jaw flexes.

It’s that desperate child-like fear. Of the masters above them, of the men patrolling the ghetto streets and their dogs they keep on thin leashes. It’s the fear of being an Eldian that paints him now, that fear he forgot on this miserable island.

Her Eldian blood is the furthest thing Annie Leonhardt cares for anymore. She’s aware of it. Aware of the devil-blood that marks her wrong, how it moulds the world’s cruelty close to her skin. But there’s no one the Empire could ever use to her hurt her. The one man she sacrificed it all for isn’t even in the Fatherland anymore, long gone once the purpose he made her for was fufilled.

“May Ymir save him from that inhuman bitch,” Annie snorts, thudding her head against the table. Every bone in her body ached, a weary haze that mixes unkindly with the whiskey in her system. What did she care anymore? It was all already done.

“May Ymir save us all,” She rasps, the afterthought of a prayer.

She doesn’t expect Reiner to grab the shoulders of her shirt and pull her out of the seat. She doesn’t expect one big fist to rear back and slam into her cheek. The bone in her jaw crunches, broken, as Annie’s head snaps back from the blow. Blood splatters out of her mouth and onto the floor, mouth beginning to steam, and she collides against the table with a clatter.

Beaten habit takes over immediately. Like a mindless pull of a trigger. Annie twists his wrist to escape the hold, tucks low and wheels around to slam her heel into his abdomen. Reiner takes the hit with a grunt, grabbing her leg through the momentum and driving his elbow into the knee.

Alcohol dulls her, and she’s too late before the jab drives through the joint, dislocating it cleanly. A spasm of pain rocks her. Spiteful, Annie wraps her hands around the back of his neck and shoves his face into her broken knee once, twice, feeling the pain lance up the length of her body.

As she releases him, gravity catches up. Annie slams into the table, pushes it back, and topples to the floor, sprawling out just as Reiner cups a broken, bleeding nose.

“f*ck you," She hisses.

“What, my blood not do it for you?” Reiner sneers back.

“As if it ever did, pig. I’ll never have that bile of yours again.”

All of a sudden Reiner looks ten years older and far wearier than even that. She can feel the heat leave her too. Nothing but fatigue remains.

Annie hauls herself to stand, ignoring the way her leg screams in pain and shuffling back to the chair. Slumping down onto it, she grasps the bottom of her thigh and her knee and quickly twists the joint back into place. After a flash of white-hot pain, it fades into the familiar needles of titan healing.

Reiner drops into the seat opposite her, propping his elbows and pillowing his face in his hands. Though his face his blurry – rapidly becoming legible now the titan was healing the poison from her body– Annie can see the worry.

She isn’t sure what to do with that. It wasn’t ever something for her.

Reiner eventually breaks the silence. “What do you want to do?”

“Nothing.” Annie sets her jaw. “I’ll take the punishment, and Bertholdt’s too when it comes. It was just a momentary lapse. I can—I’ll figure it out.”

She had to. It had to be. She’d only ever been undone like that when they first sliced her hand and ordered her to shift. When she had first died, trapped in the maw of her mentor.

Tired eyes take her in. She knows Reiner doesn’t believe her. It’s been years since he has. They've always seen past each other. “I thought you said you had it under control.”

“I did. I do.”

“Really,” he breathes. The tone grates her. “Because that f*cking circus was not control.”

Was that all she ever was, Annie wonders, hollow. Was that all Vice-Chief Leonhardt was? Why she starved herself, needlessly. Why it all did nothing but hurt. All for an end that was rapidly approaching, a year and so until her life was truly meaningless.

“What do you want me to do?” It’s like a plea. Annie’s always been so good at obedience. So good at following orders. For her father, for Marley. That’s all she’s ever really learnt in the end.

A sigh. Reiner taps his forehead against the table, face hidden. Annie can’t bring herself to feel anything at all.

They’re quiet.

“I don’t know what to do,” Annie whispers. “I never wanted this.”

His voice is so soft. Gentle enough that Annie wants to sob with it. “I know.”


The official treaty of peace between the Marleyan Empire and the nation of Paradis is agreed on 11 Juniius, 855. The peace of Shiganshina is celebrated loudly. Street parties line every avenue, fireworks and food all in abundance. Children run the streets, laughing loud and free, parents and partners dance in the streets, and teenagers steal kisses between alleys.

Free from their imposed shackles, and the looming threat of the world beyond their own. Their lives seems to live loudly, for those brief days, in the districts of Shiganshina.

In the broadsheets it’s heralded as a new era of the Empire. Black and white images of the Queen and General shaking hands, the official treaty a single sheet of paper between them, are bold on every broadsheet. Annie had read through three separate reels and found herself bored.

Reiner loudly digs through his pile of eggs, across from her on the balcony table. It was a bitter morning, the sky a startling, broad blue above them. Neither of them can feel the cold. Annie sips her coffee, now watching the stream of cars below them. The shout of their staff echoes across the yard. Mounds of suitcases are piled below, ready to be moved into cars and taken to the train.

“Did’ya pick up any souvenirs?” Reiner says through a mouthful.

Annie wrinkles her nose, doesn't draw her eyes from the courtyard. “No.”

“Seriously? Not even for Pieck?” At her sidelong glare, he shrugs. “We’ve still got a few hours here, you have time.”

They both know she won’t. She never did. Annie sips at her coffee, feeling the liquid heat pool in her stomach. She was hungry again. Maybe they could pick up something from the bakery before they left.

“I’m sure you’ve bought too many. What did you get for Ksaver this time?” Grinning through his eggs, Reiner shoves a hand into the bag by his feet. What he pulls out makes Annie co*ck her head. “Oh, lovely.”

The stuffed monkey was hideous to look at. Clearly its uncaring creator had never actually seen the animal before. She spies a loose thread, careless craftsman ship, and represses her amusem*nt. Reiner drops it back into the bag and shoves another forkful into his mouth.

“Good, right? I hope Sir names it." A thoughtful chew as Annie's gaze slides back to the courtyard, "Say, did’ya ever get that drink with Hitch?”

Annie snorts. It’s self-deprecating, and makes her lungs ache, “No.”

“Huh.” He says nothing else. They both know. “Heard she was busy enough anyway. Whatever happened to that rat?”

“You don’t know? They found him. Some petty corporal that was getting chummy with MPs down on the east bank. Had him court marshalled in the square,” Annie takes a drink, “The General was pleased. Paradisian’s weren’t happy though – the blood got stained on their precious new bricks.”

Reiner laughs. Egg spews from his mouth onto the table. “Hah! I’ll look for the mark when we leave.”

“Stop talking with your mouth full,” Annie sniffs, ignoring how he rolls his eyes.

“Sure. When’s our train?”

“Sixteen hundred hours. Then we’re on the Northern Star until Liberio. Dock should be oh-three hundred, then a transfer. Ksaver has already submitted a request for us to join him on the Eastern front - we've got the paperwork to fill out on the way.”

“Right then. I guess I gotta get ready.”

Annie nods absently. The letter from their Warchief sat atop the newspapers she’d read this morning. It was a brief thing, but gave her as much information about their current state as she needed. Everything had been tied up neatly with a bow, Ksaver's smart comment left for her as post-script saying as much. The leaving ceremony was already done, the formal Marleyan fifteen-gun salute rung out that morning. She’d seen Jaeger in the crowds just briefly, had shaken his Queen’s hand before fleeing from his shadow.

It was the last time she’ll ever see him, until the Paths. There’s only thirteen months left of her term. Annie refuses to linger on the thought.

Her ring clinks against the table, and Annie glances back over Ksaver’s letter. They’d need to gather their flight uniforms from the runners, reregister themselves as AC at border control. A run over the current orders for the Front too, and a clinic check in for her titan before they leave. She hopes the uniform order has been put through.

Below the balcony, the people still celebrated their peace. Annie shuffles her red arm-band as Reiner's fork clinks against an empty plate. It was hardly any of her business, their reverlies, and Annie ignores them all.

Another war was waiting for her.

Notes:

i hope you can forgive the bitter ending! i really couldnt write a different ending, annie just cannot allow herself any happiness. regardless, thank you very much for reading this fic! its been a great process, and i adore VC annie more than i should. writing annie's unreliable narraration, nastiness and breakdown was very fun. i honestly think it's satisfied my creative ends for this fandom. my final love letter to annie, horror, politics, and aot's world maybe? we'll see
comments are greatly appricated, and have a wonderful day <3

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