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Author Topic: Actions and Consequences (Annie)  (Read 164 times)

Actions and Consequences (Annie)
« on: May 18, 2020, 10:13:22 PM »
February 846

Nightfall couldn't come soon enough for Bertholdt. When the sun was down, and all of his comrades within the Corps were sound asleep, he could finally escape to be alone, and do what it was that brought him the most comfort in times where his conscious and emotions were being stretched thin: Push-Ups.

He was able to sneak out easily enough, slinking off into the shadows, away from the main barracks and grounds. There was one particular spot that he came to whenever he needed alone time, though, that wasn't to say he was the only person who knew about such a place. It was the edge of a cliff overlooking a valley, which contained a lake. It took the young man only a few minutes before emerging from the brush, finally at the clearing that he had found solace in the past number of months. The sight was as beautiful as ever, with a full moon taking up much of the night sky, causing the light to reflect and shimmer across the surface of the navy blue lake. Letting out a sigh, Bert placed his hands on his hips and simply took in the view for a few moments. It was unlike anything else he'd seen on the island, and was a huge factor in choosing this as his place of refuge.

He removed his shirt and folded it neatly, setting it down on the smooth stone of the cliff he stood upon. Bert the squatted down, and got into position to begin, and set off, pushing himself up and down, repeating the physical exercise over, and over, and over again. Eventually he lost track of how long he was out there, but of course, that was the goal. He did this not to stay in good shape, but so that he could forget all of the problems in the world, if only for a short while. When he committed to his push-up binge-fest, Bertholdt was able to forget how he had directly caused the death of thousands, how he was a monster. He could forget everything he wanted to escape from, and think only about happy memories. Though, those were becoming more scarce the older he got.
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Re: Actions and Consequences (Annie)
« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2020, 01:33:42 PM »
Sleep was a gift, one most commonly granted to the earnest, the innocent, the hard-working, and the carefree.  She was none of those things.  All around her were the soft, breathy sounds of peaceful slumber, scores of other cadets dreaming and snoring, shrouded snugly in their bed sheets.  Annie’s resentment grew and, in lieu of counting sheep, she clenched her fists, squeezing them tight, before allowing them to relax, her pale fingers unfurling.  Over and over, the rhythm and familiarity of the movements offering her small comfort as she stared at the wooden slats of the ceiling.  Still sleep did not come.

In the darkness she dressed, quietly pulling on the white breeches of her uniform - a barbaric colour to dress cadets in, especially those girls who still possessed the round faces and narrow hips of youth - and tugging on a grey hooded sweatshirt.  She forwent the jacket, but had no choice in the boots.  Then she slipped out, little more than a passing shadow over sleeping faces.

Stalking away from the dormitories, she swept her hair back into a messy bun, then bound her knuckles and wrists with long strips of linen pulled free from her pockets.  She planned to burn off her malcontent in a flurry of strikes against unyielding tree trunks but, as the cadet moved through the undergrowth, it became clear someone had already claimed this spot overlooking the valley.

Bertholdt.

Of the three remaining Warriors, he was the gentlest of heart.  There was a shift in Annie’s expression, barely perceptible though it was.  The grim line of her mouth softened into one more bland than irritated, and she thoughtlessly swiped at the blonde hair that spilled across her brow.  Judging by the relentless push-ups Bertholdt performed, he was here for a similar reason to herself.  Still she did not immediately call out, choosing instead to linger near the tree-line, watching him, his muscles shifting and rippling with exertion, sweat shining on his skin.  For a moment, Annie felt something akin to jealousy, a vehement longing to have been born into a body like Bertholdt’s.  How fierce she would be, standing tall and broad, long limbs thick with muscle and bristling with masculine energy.

Wishful thinking was a waste of time.

“What’s your count?” Annie asked dully, stepping out from the shadows.  Her tone was flat, as close to conversational as it ever came.  Meeting Bertholdt in the middle of the night, in the woodland that skirted the training grounds and beneath an inky canopy of stars, was the least strange thing about their current predicament.
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Re: Actions and Consequences (Annie)
« Reply #2 on: May 19, 2020, 03:11:47 PM »
Bert had taken only a momentary break, stopping for a thirty second count so he could rest his limbs and muscles, before resuming the exercise in distraction. Once more, just as planned, all his thoughts fell to the wayside, his mind only focusing on the burning within his arms and legs. At least, until he heard a familiar female voice come from just along the treeline at the entryway to the midnight clearing. The voice clicked in his brain, and he knew right away it was Annie.

Quickly turning his head to look, he immediately felt his face flush with embarrassment, knowing that his cheeks had likely turned as red as beets. "OOOOOHH!" The boy exclaimed in fright, quickly scrambling to grab his shirt and cover himself. He instantly felt stupid, as if he had anything to hide from her or Reiner. However, it wasn't as if he could help his actions that occurred in the spur of the moment, Bertholdt was never any good at making fast decisions. At least not any that turned out well. He averted his gaze from the much shorter girl, looking up at the stars, as he slipped his shirt back over his head. Thank God it wasn't a button-up, or else Bertholdt likely would've fumbled with the buttons for hours.

"I don't know what my count was. I don't keep track when I do this." He explained hastily, finally capable of making eye contact with her, now that he had a shirt covering his damp chest.

Clearly, Bert wasn't the only Warrior that was having trouble with sleeping. He'd already heard Reiner talking to himself while he slumbered, and now here Annie stood, along with him, out in the middle of the night. Since the three of them joined the cadets, he had figured their chances to speak about the mission would become few and far between, but he could tell just as capably that she hadn't followed him out here to do such a thing. It appeared more likely she was wandering at night the same as him, looking for something to occupy her mind with in lieu of sleep.

Still, Bertholdt could never be too sure in her case. He was usually able to read Reiner like a book, but Annie, not so much. She was more like an upside-down map written in a language he'd never seen or heard of before. "What are you doing up?" He finally inquired, Standing up completely off the cold, hard ground.
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Re: Actions and Consequences (Annie)
« Reply #3 on: May 19, 2020, 07:56:39 PM »
Bertholdt’s reaction was characteristic of his meek nature.  A blush painted his cheeks - she could see it even in the dim, cold moonlight - his eyes blown wide like those of a startled rabbit.  A young man with the power of the Colossal Titan, possessing the raw strength needed to puncture the lofty walls of Paradis Island, was - for a moment - frightened of her

Something in Annie almost enjoyed that, even if it didn’t show in her expression.  She watched unabashed as Bertholdt hurriedly pulled his shirt over his head, seemingly eager to cover his bare torso.  Vaguely she wondered if he was simply shy, or if he was genuinely uncomfortable in his own skin.  Knowing something about the latter, she resisted the temptation to tell him it was too late, that she had already had a long, hard look.

At last Bertholdt looked at her directly, green eyes meeting blue as he climbed to his feet, now looming over her, a towering silhouette against a backdrop of stars.  “I didn’t mean to scare you,” Annie murmured.  It wasn’t an apology, but there were those amongst their cohort who found humour in such petty pranks, and she wasn’t one of them.  It also helped her evade his question for the time being.  “You look strong.  Like you’ve got your shit together.”

Looks could be deceiving.  Did either of them have their shit together, if they were wandering around in the dead of night?

Annie stuffed her hands deep into her pockets, rounding her shoulders, gazing past the Warrior to the vista beyond him.  A lake stretched inky and pitch, the full moon reflected in its surface, the steep walls of the valley painted with dark swathes of woodland.  For all its beauty, it barely registered.  After a pause, she allowed her attention to flick back to Bertholdt’s face.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she sniffed, at last offering an answer to his question.  Broken nights were a price that had to be paid for the weight of her sins, for the blood that stained her hands, for all the crimes that she was still to commit.  “My guess is you couldn’t either.”
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Re: Actions and Consequences (Annie)
« Reply #4 on: May 19, 2020, 09:58:54 PM »
Even when she spoke, it was indescribably hard to understand how Annie was feeling, or gauge what she could be thinking of. She could've been insulting him when she stated that he seemed to have finally gotten his shit together, but it was unlikely. In the years that he'd known her, she had never been the kind of person to hurl out an insult for no reason at all. Therefore, Bertholdt didn't take any kind of offense to it. "Th-thanks, I guess." It was the only response he could really produce at this point to such a statement.

Instead of simply agreeing that sleep wouldn't come to him easily, Bertholdt expanded upon the answer, wanting to vent finally. He felt that she probably wouldn't care, but that might be even better. If he could simply let out his frustrations and thoughts to someone who wasn't actually going to listen.. well, that wasn't ideal, but it was better than nothing in his opinion.

"We've been here for too long. We aren't any closer to getting the Coordinate and getting home than when Marcel died." He began, bringing a hand up to his head, almost as though he were in pain. "I'm starting to worry about Reiner too. The longer we are here, and not home, the worse his mental state seems to be getting."

Bertholdt's eyes shut and he grimaced, "Sorry, why couldn't you sleep?" He attempted to change the subject, but conversation was not a strong suit of his, especially not when he was sleep deprived, and especially not with her.
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Re: Actions and Consequences (Annie)
« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2020, 11:27:13 AM »
The choking, crushing weight of responsibility and expectation revealed itself in Bertholdt; it was in the way he grimaced, the way he pressed a hand to his head.  She felt it too.  Given Bertholdt’s quiet nature, Annie hadn’t expected him to speak quite so much, or quite so plainly.  She was glad he did, though.  They hardly ever had the time or space to talk privately these days - even if she was never far from her fellow Warriors - so this was a perfect opportunity.

“Joining the military was a terrible idea,” Annie said simply, sinking her teeth into the conversational hooks he offered.  The caring question of her sleeplessness could be discarded for now, perhaps forever.  “I can’t even pretend I want to be here, Bertholdt.  It’s so tedious.”  Surely he felt the same, when they had already received their military training, when the lessons were all old news and their cohort was composed of fumbling, shrieking children?  All being in the Training Corps did was waste their time and expose them to the Eldians, brutally hammering home the revelation they were not, in fact, devils.

No wonder Reiner was losing his mind.

“I think about the day Marcel died more often than I’d like,” she admitted, almost irritated when an image of the reliable, kind-hearted boy was conjured in her mind’s eye.  Though she would never say it, it wounded her to know he would never get to go home to his family.  “I wonder why in hell he thought it was a good idea to push Reiner out of the way.  What the fuck was running through his mind?  He was supposed to be the leader, the smart one… but in the end, he was just another idiot.”  She clicked her tongue softly, finding herself eternally disappointed in the people around her.  Which brought her to her next point. 

“I think about how you both ran,” she continued tersely, pausing now to glare at Bertholdt from between tendrils of blonde hair.  The tall boy had just been acting according to his nature - but Reiner?  Reiner ran to save his own life, and had cost them an opportunity to recapture the Jaw.  It was the only time he had ever beaten her on foot, and that sincerely, truly - deeply - pissed her off.  Even punishing him had failed to make her feel better, and she could still recall the sinewy sound of his nose breaking, his teeth splintering, all while a distant roar of panic droned in her ears.  It had almost been a relief when he captured her in a headlock and began to squeeze, the stink of his blood filling her nose.  Violence she understood.  Bertholdt had wept though, hadn’t he?  There had been tears in her own eyes too, Annie was sure.  She hated that, and hoped he didn’t remember it.

Annie’s expression shifted back into one that was utterly detached, the bright flare of anger and betrayal she felt dying down to nothing.  That day was a lifetime ago, before they had shattered the until-then impregnable Wall Maria.  All three of them were bonded now, their hands all bathed in the same blood.  She stepped forwards, standing beside Bertholdt, close enough that her shoulder brushed his arm as she peered out over the valley.

“Reiner sure likes playing soldier.  He acts like him, don’t you think?  Like Marcel…” Annie trailed off, looking up at Bertholdt - he was so tall that, at this close range, she needed to tilt her head back to see him - curious to see what emotions revealed themselves in his open, expressive face.  “Be honest, Bertholdt, how bad is he?” « Last Edit: May 20, 2020, 12:17:18 PM by Annie Leonhardt »
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Re: Actions and Consequences (Annie)
« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2020, 03:52:23 PM »
Bertholdt didn't like to remember that day, for many different reasons. He had just been packing up their supplies, having enjoyed a comforting cup of coffee, when he heard Reiner and Marcel scream. By the time he had done a full turn around, Marcel was already half in the mouth of the titan, which had seemingly appeared from nowhere. Running wasn't even a question for Bert, he was out of range of the monster almost instantaneously. Still, Reiner passed him up very quickly. They had lost the Jaws so soon after their mission began, as well as the leadership skills of Marcel. "I shouldn't have run, but.... what could I have done? Transforming would've killed all of you."

Later that day when they finally reached the wall, Annie was basically worn to the bone, having been in her titan form for hours to carry the remaining Warriors to the gate. His memories of that moment were fuzzier, but he'd never forget when he kicked in the gate of Shiganshina. It was right after that key moment that terrified him, when a titan had almost consumed him as he exited the Colossal Titans form. "That day was horrible. I still wonder sometimes, what has become of the Jaws? It might have been passed on multiple times already... I don't think we'll find it again."

Then, Annie asked the question Bert had been asking himself a lot recently.

How bad really was Reiner? He was definitely more emotionally compromised than either of the Warriors overlooking the valley, but did it run deep enough to affect the mission? "I don't think he's as reliable as he was, but I can't really say. Taking back the Founder might have to fall to the two of us if he's worse than I think he is.." That thought scared Bert more than anything else. So much so, that he felt his eyes sting, but quickly blinked out the encroaching tears.

When the operation started, Bert was confident he'd only be needed to occasionally kick down one of the walls. But if push came to shove, and they had really lost both the Armor and Jaws, then he just couldn't see how Annie and himself could accomplish their task. Neither of them were leaders, and communication was not a strong suit for either. Not even to mention Bertholdt being awkward around her most of the time.

"I'm scared of staying here, but I'm even more terrified of going home without the Founder. They'll feed us to the next warriors, and I won't even get-" Bert stopped himself from blurting out. "Never mind." « Last Edit: May 20, 2020, 03:53:23 PM by Bertholdt Hoover »
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Re: Actions and Consequences (Annie)
« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2020, 08:55:13 PM »
Transforming would’ve killed all of you.

Bertholdt had a point.  Still the image of her two companions retreating, frightened faces peeking over their shoulders as they stumbled and sprinted away - leaving her behind - was seared into Annie’s memory.  And in the end, she had felt the loss of their leader keenly.  In the absence of Marcel, she alone had to transport the Warriors to the outer wall.  That sprint to the gate had been long and hard, Titans nipping at her heels, and by its closure her muscles had been aching and seizing.  Her last memories were of Bertholdt’s transformation, the Colossal Titan looming over them, while Reiner shielded them from the Titans she herself had summoned.  Then there was the mercy of darkness as she slipped into unconsciousness, until she had awoken in the refugee camp, surrounded by the destruction of their making.  Distantly, Annie wondered who had carried her there, and laid her on that bedroll, then promptly asked herself if that detail even mattered. 

“I’d say you’re right,” she agreed quietly.  “The Jaw Titan is lost.”  Within the deep, warm folds of her pocket, she twisted her silver ring in agitation.  As far as achieving their objective went, they were failing miserably.  Reiner was a concern, but Bertholdt’s words did not strike her as entirely hopeless.  Given that Annie watched the tall cadet closely, she witnessed the tears that clouded his eyes for an instant.  She had the decency to avert her own gaze, staring out at the moonlit lake. 

“I’m sorry.  I know he’s your… friend.”  Reiner was her friend too, Annie supposed, by virtue of the mission and history they shared, and the knowledge that - although he frustrated her endlessly - he meant well.  That begged the question, did Bertholdt consider her a friend too?  If he did, she must be a pretty terrible one.  Maybe that was what inspired her to dig deep, to offer her fellow Warrior some small measure of hope.  “We’re going home, Bertholdt.  Whatever it takes.”  Annie exhaled deep and slow, her breath a pale and ghostly plume on the midnight air.  She both hated and embraced the implication of those words.  “You have something you need to do?”
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Re: Actions and Consequences (Annie)
« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2020, 03:42:32 AM »
He punched at himself mentally for slipping up with his words. He often had a hard time keeping his thoughts from manifesting into actual sentences whenever he was around her, but it usually didn't end up with him almost blurting out something embarrassing. Unlike now. A bead of sweat trickled down his forehead, his eyebrows knit in a worrying expression, and his teeth clenched together, as if he were set to implode. "N-nothing!" The teen blurted out once more, clearly telling his fellow Warrior an obvious fib.

Bertholdt's eyes darted away from her and to the lake, before he jumped to a different conversation point they could stick with. "I hope I can be as confident as you are the next time we have to act." He meekly admitted, bowing his head down, but still towering over her.

"So far I've been... less than useless on this mission. Reiner could've busted down both gates on his own.. and there's no way i could've carried you both to the walls to begin with.." He trailed off, once more admitting a train of thought he'd been holding on to since Marcel was eaten.

"I was the worst Warrior to send here." Bert shamefully recognized his own inadequacies as a Warrior for the Marleyan army. Unforutnately, this was something he did very often. He would let his negative thoughts manifest and intrude on his mind, leading him to believe that he was nothing but a burden to his co-conspirators.
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Re: Actions and Consequences (Annie)
« Reply #9 on: May 21, 2020, 09:58:49 AM »
Bertholdt was lying.  Badly.  A pale hand emerged from the warmth of its pocket to sweep away her blonde fringe, allowing Annie to regard her fellow Warrior solemnly, pinpricks of starlight reflecting in her wide, blue eyes.  He was sweating, this sheen nothing to do with the push-ups he had been vigorously performing, and everything to do with being fraught with nervousness.  Maybe he thought she would judge him, for whatever it was he was reluctant to share.  Maybe he was right.  After a long pause, she let the hair slide back into place, the conversation taking an urgent new direction.

His remark on her confidence felt like a compliment, catching Annie off-guard.  She bowed her head, eyes trained on the jagged cliff edge as she shrouded herself in silence.  It was a relief when Bertholdt spoke on, his own insecurities coming to the fore.

“Bertholdt… stop,” Annie muttered, grappling for words.  She struggled with conversations such as these, with anything that required any degree of open-heartedness.  A quick glance over her shoulder reassured her that they were still alone.  This clearing was a beauty spot, one other cadets surely knew about it, and on a night like this - with the full moon riding round and high in a clear sky - it wasn’t impossible they would be interrupted.  Most likely by some young sweethearts, looking for somewhere to make-out rather than to scheme.

“Let’s be clear.  You are the most singularly destructive of us all.  That’s why they entrusted the Colossal to you.  You know that, right?  Because they needed someone clever, someone reserved.  Your transformation alone could wipe out a district, and spook the Coordinate.”  Annie huffed, turning her whole body to face Bertholdt.  “Don’t get me wrong, you’re awkward as hell, and you’re gentle - too gentle and too meek for your own good, sometimes - but you’re likeable.  Reiner too.”  Unlike her.  Not that she wanted to possess any of the charm held by her associates.  Mostly, she just wanted to be left alone, and even spending time like this with Bertholdt wasn’t wise.  She turned back to the view, and without looking at her companion, nudged him lightly with her elbow.  “Next time you talk shit about yourself, I’m going to kick you in the shin.  And I’ll make sure it hurts.”
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Re: Actions and Consequences (Annie)
« Reply #10 on: May 21, 2020, 03:45:53 PM »
Bertholdt wasn't sure how exactly he should interpret her statement. Sure, it made him feel less useless, and reminded him of the fact that he was uniquely chosen to take the Colossal Titan specifically, but at the same time, it reinforced his guilty conscious. He was, at best, indirectly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands. At worst, everyone one of those that had died could be directly linked back to him. Not even to mention those he'd killed in his titan form before they were sent to Paradis. Being known as the God of Destruction wasn't actually as fun as it sounded.

However, her last statement finally brought a smile back to his face, even as faint as it was. It was one of the closest things to being compassionate he'd ever heard come from her mouth. "Thank you Annie.." The boy mumbled in response, gazing down at her once again. Who knew she even had it in her to say something like that. He again, couldn't fight the blush that came onto his face, but seeing as it was night, Bert assumed it would be harder for her to see without sunlight.

His hands found their way into his own pockets by now, and he stood in silence, maintaining his soft smirk, as the sounds and echoes of nature played all around the pair of them. Maybe in another life this moment wouldn't feel so bittersweet, but this was an experience that was fleeting. In a few hours they'd have to resume playing soldier, spend years without any real progress in their mission, and maybe, if they were lucky, not get killed or discovered somewhere along the way. "We need to talk with Reiner. This plan to join the MPs and find the founder from within isn't optimal. We will need to act again, force the target out of hiding."

A long sigh escaped his lips, light wind causing a ruffling in his hair. His secret would have to wait for the day they retrieved the founder, should it ever come. "We will go home." His voice was low. Low enough that Annie might not even hear it, though, he wasn't speaking to her anyhow. He was instead reassuring himself. If he could keep his eyes on the prize for long enough, getting home would be a breeze.

His eyes flickered to her again, and he mentally noted to himself, 'All of us will.'
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Re: Actions and Consequences (Annie)
« Reply #11 on: May 21, 2020, 08:22:28 PM »
Thank you Annie…

Those words pulled her attention, drawing her gaze away from the dark waters to the familiar planes and angles of Bertholdt’s kindly face.  A smile danced faintly around the corners of his mouth.  Annie blinked, scrambling for an appropriate response to his gratitude, settling on a small nod.  Although she didn’t smile in return, her expression softened, her characteristic severity muted for the time being.  She was glad that she had managed to say something right, that Bertholdt seemed reassured.  Content, almost.  As if either of them remembered - or had ever really known - what that felt like.

The silence stretched, companionable and comfortable.  It was peaceful, the world quiet and still save for the burble of a stream nearby, the scraggly branches of the bare canopy above creaking in the breeze.  As the moon raced across the sky, the shadows had shifted and lengthened, and Annie found herself standing in the shade cast by Bertholdt’s towering form.  It was reassuring, a reminder of his presence.

He was right, of course, about the need to do something.  For all the discord that might thrum between her and Reiner at times - for all his apparent suffering and instability - he remained their best hope of formulating a plan.

Then I’ll… be Marcel…

Annie clenched her jaw, recalling those faltering words spoken in Reiner’s rumbling tones, bubbling past bloodied lips, his face shattered by her assault.  Anger and fear and guilt bloomed low in her gut, though she was swift to smother the unwelcome feelings.  If only to cling to this moment a little longer.  It was one to remember, the pitch sky above smattered with stars, the valley before them wild and remote in its beauty, Bertholdt standing tall and strong, with that faint smirk playing on his lips.  She might have missed his quietly uttered words, but she had a sense of camaraderie.

“Let’s do that.  As soon as we get the opportunity,” Annie agreed softly.  She realised she felt better, somehow, more in control and less alone.  And not a single tree nor her knuckles had had to suffer.  “I think I’ll turn in, try to get some sleep before the morning roll call.”  The blonde rubbed at her face, her weariness apparent for an instant, then peered blandly up at Bertholdt.  “You coming?” « Last Edit: May 21, 2020, 08:34:11 PM by Annie Leonhardt »
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Re: Actions and Consequences (Annie)
« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2020, 03:21:39 AM »
Sleep had escaped the young teen for long enough. Annie was right, it was a good time to turn in, besides, he had already accomplished what he left the barracks for. "Right.. yeah i'm coming." He agreed, taking one last look at the beautiful lake behind them, before following after her.

That had likely been the most personal conversation Bertholdt had experienced with Annie, and possibly also since they reached the island. Usually he reserved his personal thoughts for his private discussions with Reiner, but it was nice to know that Annie really was there for him to confide in, even if she did seem utterly disinterested. It was better than nothing.

"Well.. goodnight Annie." He awkwardly mumbled, still blushing slightly. He turned off on the path to his own cabin, walking only a few feet before he came to a halt. Spinning around, he decided he had to say one last thing.

Even though she had been the one reassuring him just moments earlier when he'd partially broken down and bullied himself, Bertholdt felt a fitting goodnight would be to make her a promise. "When the time comes, I won't let my confidence fail. We'll take back the Coordinate, and i'll make sure that yo- we get home." He tripped on his words again, but brushed it off as nothing, already feeling the confidence she'd inspired within him at work. Now it was just a test to see if that same confidence would translate into his actions when the next crucial step in their operation came.

All Bertholdt really wanted was to get home too. Reiner may have once had the ambitious goal of being a hero to Marleyans and Eldians alike, but the best they could all hope for now was escaping these walls with their lives.
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Re: Actions and Consequences (Annie)
« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2020, 01:04:46 PM »
With Bertholdt following behind, Annie led them quietly through the undergrowth, beneath the shadows of trees.  Although they left the valley and lake behind, she could still see it in her mind’s eye, and imagined she would for a long time to come.  Soon a recognisable path formed beneath their feet and, up ahead, the barracks loomed.  It was at a fork she paused, knowing they would each go their separate ways.  Bertholdt bid her good night and it was now, in the moonlight, she noticed that he was blushing.  Perhaps the cold night air put the colour in his cheeks?  No, not when the gift of the Colossal Titan caused him to run so hot. 

Shy, then.

Ever impassive, Annie intended to watch him leave, to stand silently rooted in place until the familiar silhouette of Bertholdt had disappeared.  He hadn’t walked more than a couple of paces before he paused, however, turning back to face her.  The promise came unexpectedly, Annie’s lips parting in surprise, though she did not immediately speak.  She knew the weight of a promise all too well, her own oath ruling over each and every decision she had to make.  If someone as hideously self-serving as her could honour a promise, then surely sweet-natured Bertholdt meant his words.  He had it in him to do whatever was necessary to get them home.  Next time, he would not run.

You, he had been going to say, though surely he meant Reiner and her both.  There was something painfully gallant in that, the words carrying a threat of self-sacrifice.  Annie was simultaneously soothed and unsettled.  To her own surprise, she smiled.  Close-mouthed, furtive and so faint that Bertholdt might not notice it.  She dipped her head, blonde hair sliding across her face, letting her hide from his green gaze.  She felt she knew him a little better now.  Whether that was a good thing, or not, was impossible to say.

“I’d like that.  For all us all to go home, together.”  Annie responded from behind her fringe, meaning every word.  But would she give up her life for Bertholdt, or for Reiner?  No, was the short answer.  Moreover, she was quietly and sadly confident there wasn’t a soul she wouldn’t sacrifice.  Not gentle, timid Bertholdt, and not poor, broken Reiner.  Not the dozens of cadets she lived among, nor the countless hordes of people who called Paradis - or Marley - their home.  Whatever the price that had to be paid, no matter how steep or bloody or painful, she would pay it, to make good on her own promise.  Suddenly, a profound sadness burgeoned within her, and she was stung by the reminder that she was an inherently selfish person, unlike the boy standing just a few paces away.  The small smile perished in a wave of sorrow.

“Thanks Bertl,” Annie whispered, grateful for his bond, for his show of confidence, for his company.  Lifting her head, she didn’t look at his face, in case he was smiling at her - few people did that - so instead she addressed his boots.  How he managed to look at her so kindly, when she gave him nothing but blank stares or narrowed eyes in return, whenever he knew precisely what sort of monster she was, Annie could not say.  It was best not to think about it.  Casting one last cursory glance his way, she had only a brief impression of his long, soulful face before she turned on her heel and began treading the path back to the girls’ dormitories.  “Night,” she called over her shoulder, shoving her linen-wrapped hands deeper into her pockets.
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