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Author Topic: All the Little Lights  (Read 534 times)

All the Little Lights
« on: May 31, 2020, 11:29:55 PM »
21st December 846

Night came early in the depths of winter.  Annie had seen it coming through the window of an unfamiliar kitchen, the distant horizon turning leaden and dull.  In answer to the growing gloom, lanterns were lit, glowing soft and warm in village windows.  Throughout the frosted streets, candles sparkled in containers of coloured glass, painting the snow with flickering patterns of colour.

It was easy, hiding amongst the crowds.  Cadets and instructors alike were social creatures, many preferring to travel in packs.  It gave the short-statured blonde a sea to lose herself in.  Fur-trimmed hood drawn up over her bowed head, she listened to the festivities, watching as an outsider, looking for one who stood tall above the rest.  Bertholdt Hoover should not be difficult to find.

There had been nine long months between her birthday and now, yet for all the time available to her, Annie felt woefully unprepared.  Since that fateful night, there had been an irrevocable shift in their relationship.  It was discreet, in many ways, seen most openly in the wordless clasp of hands as they walked the grounds, in the weight of his broad palm against the small of her back, or in the nudge of her foot against his beneath the mess hall table.  But there were breathless nights beneath stars too, Annie finding herself now counted amongst the neckers she had once thought of so disparagingly.

And now she had butchered the chance to repay Bertholdt’s kindness.  Realising she did not know his birth date, she was confronted with the understanding that had spent long years rattling around the inside of her own head, and that she had been a disappointing friend to him even before she became something else.  To ask Reiner or even Bertholdt himself would be to admit defeat, and Annie was much too prideful for that.  Unfortunately, her efforts to slip into the records office had failed.  Apparently the Training Corps was full of jobsworths, and there was always either a pencil-pusher lurking or the door was locked shut.  All she had to go on was a handful of hazy memories from their candidate years, of Bertholdt receiving birthday packages from his parents.  Annie recalled that it was cold; she had stared out of dark windows rimmed with frost. 

December, or maybe even January, was her best guess.  Tonight seemed as good a time as any.  When he was invariably underwhelmed by the mediocrity of the gifts - carried in the crisp, brown paper bag she clasped in a gloved hand - she could at least buy him a hot chocolate by way of an apology.  Annie sighed, her breath pale on the winter air, and continued her search. « Last Edit: May 31, 2020, 11:34:16 PM by Annie Leonhardt »

signature GIFs by boahancokk

Re: All the Little Lights
« Reply #1 on: June 01, 2020, 01:38:38 AM »
The Winter Festival had, thus far, been more than Bertholdt had expected. The year prior, there hadn't been much time for the Warriors to engage in any of the activities.

Bert had found himself sitting in a chair at a table, just outside a smaller structure. He too was wrapped in a coat, dark brown fur lining the edges of the black cloth. He was keeping his hands warm by cupping a mug filled with a warm, cocoa drink, sipping from it now and then, but mostly just using it to keep cozy in the nighttime air.

All around him crowds buzzed about, laughter, chatter, and a whole range of emotions on display. It brought an aching to his heart as he realized these people were all going to suffer even more some day, and he was partially to blame.

Before he could get wrapped up in those thoughts, though, Bertholdt shook his head, knocking away the negative thoughts, and instead chose to dwell on a few happy memories from recent times as he enjoyed the hot beverage.

Specifically, his and Annie's blossoming romance. It had been the highlight of his year, being able spend almost the last seven months with her, as more than just secret conspirators against humanity within the walls. While publicly the affection they displayed rarely if ever even progressed to hand holding, Bertholdt cherished those moments all the same. The true happiness he felt came from their nights in seclusion. When they could relax around one another, or at least as much as Annie could in her own way. They'd watch the stars together, talk about various things from their day, reminisce about their home in Liberio. It was a nice few months. Hopefully, with time, things would only get better. Especially since his birthday was coming up very soon. Just over a week until he was 18 years old, he would be lying if he said he wasn't excited to see what Annie was cooking up... if anything.

Bert then realized he should be spending a night like this with her, but assumed that when they had as much free time as this, one of them was usually seeking out the other if they weren't already in one another's company. Therefore, he elected to stay seated where he was, confident she'd happen upon him in a matter of moments.

Re: All the Little Lights
« Reply #2 on: June 01, 2020, 09:25:41 AM »
Through the winding streets Annie stalked, catching snippets of passing conversation, her nose tickled by the scents of the food stalls. Until she glimpsed familiar broad shoulders and raven hair.

She was almost surprised to see Bertholdt alone. He and Reiner were often in one another's company, but their blond companion was also popular with the other cadets, many of whom saw him as a dependable older brother. Quiet, kind Bertholdt was well-liked too, but he was clever enough to seem to be trying to maintain some sort of distance from the others. By comparison, she was just a bitch, as a note dropped stealthily into the hood of her sweatshirt had recently declared her. Annie was all right with that. If she couldn't be invisible, she would settle for being disliked. It would make what was to come a little easier - or so she hoped.

She smiled, faint and brief, before cutting a path through the milling crowd. Seated, Bertholdt was of a height with her.

‌"You are so much harder to find when you sit down," she grumbled by way of greeting, skimming a hand over his shoulders and slipping into the seat beside him. The gift bag was placed on the table between them and - after a moment's hesitation - Annie nudged it closer. She didn't miss the steaming cup clutched in his hands, realising too late she had been robbed of her back-up plan of buying him a hot drink. A few last minute doubts darted through Annie's mind. Her gifts perhaps too closely mirrored what Bertholdt had given her, but that was the only example she had to work from. She tried to tell herself that she didn't care, that it didn't matter, but in this she failed miserably.

It had been the height of the summer when she started her project, the click of her needles slow and hesitant, her hands made to harm rather than create. The dark teal scarf was ambitious - beyond her ability, if she was honest - showcasing a cable knit design with long, thick tassels. It had seemed a perfect gift for someone born in the dead of winter, even if she had to swallow her pride and seek help from others more talented to complete it, even if she had to rip out and redo row after row. Annie was halfway through when she was struck by the realisation that Bertholdt always ran hot. Did he even need a scarf?

Hidden in a white box at the bottom of the bag, the cake wasn't even her own handiwork. Numerous attempts to bake had ended in failed results. One trial run came out so hard, Annie had almost cracked her teeth on it. In desperation, she had only this morning visited the village bakery, but they were busy preparing for the Winter Festival. Perhaps sensing Annie's disappointment - or unsettled by her dead-eyed expression - the proprietor had given her directions to his mother's house. That was where she had spent the afternoon, a cup of tea pressed into her hands, the elderly woman quietly breaking her heart, killing her with kindness and encouragement.

Annie was reminded of all the motherly comforts she had been denied, and of all she had robbed from others. The woman - Mildred - had spoken softly, incessantly, clearly glad to have some company. She had asked who the cake was for, and followed Annie's answer with a storm of questions about Bertholdt: How had they met? Was he handsome? Kind? Which regiment did he hope to join?

In the end, the cake was a humble and homely thing. All fluffy, honeyed golden sponge, with a layer of wildberry jam sandwiched in the middle. Its glaze ran on the thin side, and was the only component Annie had made unaided. Mildred had baked something similar for her late husband, she said, in the days of her youth, and swore it was the reason he had fallen in love with her. He had died when Wall Maria fell, having been visiting family in the south when the Titans came. Now he watched over his lonely wife only as a sketch on the mantle. The whole experience left Annie feeling raw, as though her ribs had been peeled back to leave her heart exposed and aching.

The blonde cadet shook off the memories of the afternoon, and dipped her chin behind the collar of her coat. ‌"Happy birthday…?" The words came out muffled and uncertain. Unless luck was stacked heavily on her side, her wild guess had missed the mark. ‌"I know I've probably got it wrong, but I just - I didn't miss it, did I?" Bertholdt was so thoroughly good-natured, he likely wouldn't have mentioned it if she had. He was the sort to weather his hurts stoically, rather than huff or lash out. In this and a hundred different ways, he was a far better person than she. ‌"You can give it away, if you don't like it," Annie added as an afterthought, offering him a way out of what could potentially be an awkward situation.

signature GIFs by boahancokk

Re: All the Little Lights
« Reply #3 on: June 01, 2020, 02:47:34 PM »
Finally, Annie appeared through the multiple crowds of people, or at least her head did.Bert took his lips away from the mug he held, and provided her a greeting in the form of an all too comfortable smile. The hand she slid along the length of his broad shoulders in return gave him an additional blush, on top of what he already had from the cold.

The bag in her hand caught his eyes instantly, and he ran through a million thoughts before she had even acknowledged it. Was it something for him? A memento she'd spotted in the shops that she had figured he would enjoy? Or maybe she had just self-indulged and purchased something for herself. A sweet perhaps? It wasn't until she was sitting beside him, and she nudged the box forward that he remembered her own birthday celebration, when he'd greeted her in much the same way. The thought of her giving him something early was surprising in and of itself, but he didn't mind one bit.

"You're... just as hard to find when you're sitting or standing." He joked in reply, making light of her much shorter stature.

He slowly reached for the bag, pulling it to him as she uttered her words in a slow, unsure voice. He'd been right a couple of months ago, when he pondered whether or not she knew when his birthday was. He felt disappointment for a moment, but ultimately a sense of glee. She may not have known the exact date, but she'd come close, which meant that she had put more effort into this than anything else, especially if the gifts were thoughtful. Though, Bertholdt didn't really care, he would cherish them whether or not they were worked for.

First, he reached in and removed the scarf, marveling at it. It was long, enough to wrap around him comfortably and not strangle him like most others. Bert knew right away she had made this, not purchased it from any store. It was even a similar color to the dark blue sweater he often wore. It would definitely match whenever he wore them in unison. It was far more thoughtful a gift than Bertholdt had expected to give her credit for, which made him feel horrible. He was still comparing her to the person she was before they'd grown so close. No longer was she as distant, and nowhere near as cold-hearted when she was around him.

"Annie.. thank you." Those were the only words he could muster, as he stared blankly at the scarf in his hands. He had disregarded he questions about missing the actual date, as well as her vocal insecurities about the gifts she'd produced. Bertholdt reached a hand over, after draping the scarf around his shoulders, and took her hand, interlocking his fingers with hers. "You are a lot sweeter than you think." He meant the words as a compliment, hoping that was how she'd interpret them.

Bertholdt leaned slightly to place a tender kiss on her cheek, before releasing her hand, and pulling the box out. As the scarf comfortably sat where it should, he pulled the lid off the pristine white container, seeing the delectable pastry inside. It looked far more mouth-watering than the measly muffin he had made her in May. It was bigger, and looked like it was crafted with love. It was the perfect meal for him and Annie to enjoy together under cover of starlight in the dead of night.

"This was so thoughtful, Annie. I can't believe you remembered when my birthday was..." He spoke so genuinely, completely flabbergasted by the gesture of both gifts. He felt that if Annie could make these for him, then he'd been lazy prior that year.

Re: All the Little Lights
« Reply #4 on: June 01, 2020, 08:25:13 PM »
You’re… just as hard to find when you’re sitting or standing.

‌“Tsk!” Annie tutted, though her disapproval was all for show.  Truthfully, it was nice to see this bolder, more confident side of Bertholdt.  As time went on, he was growing more comfortable around her - just as she was with him.  He was good for her; patient, steady, unflinching.  He bore her temper with a grace she scarcely would have believed possible, and when she cut herself on the sharp edges of unhappy memories, he held her, and he listened.  That was to say nothing of their quiet conversations that lasted late into the night, their heated kisses, their shared knowledge that in a world that was cruel and underhanded there could still be moments of peace and tenderness.  Annie wasn’t sure what she gave him in return, but she hoped it was enough.

For all their closeness, she still felt a prickle of uncertainty as his attention shifted to the bag.  With bated breath, she watched as he carefully pulled free the scarf, his long fingers smoothing over the cable knit.  From where Annie was sitting, she could see at least one flaw in the design, where she had dropped a stitch.  Bertholdt, however, seemed genuinely delighted as he draped it around his neck.  Then he took her hand, their fingers knitting neatly together.

You are a lot sweeter than you think.

Annie snorted and couldn’t help but narrow her eyes at him in reproach - a threat to strangle him with his new scarf rising in her throat - but any and all hint of a scowl faded the moment he leaned in to kiss her cheek.  Even after all the weeks and months they had spent together, having him close stirred something indescribable within her.  She missed the warmth of his hand when he let go, just as she savoured the tingle where his lips had brushed her.

Bertholdt’s amazement at her remembering his birthday was answered in kind.  ‌“I got the day right?!” Her normally dispassionate tone was tainted with disbelief and joy.  His delight was so sincere and contagious that, to her own surprise, Annie beamed.  No sooner had the smile appeared on her lips than she tried to smother it with the back of a hand.  He would think her soft, if she wasn’t careful. 

‌“I didn’t make the cake,” she hurried to confess, trying and only marginally succeeding to straighten her expression into one that was more aloof.  ‌“I tried a few times but… the results were so bad, Bertl.  So, so bad.  If we ever need to build a house, I have a great recipe for bricks.”  Beneath the table, her hand moved to rest on his thigh.  ‌“I made a new friend though, one who can bake.  Her name is Milly and she’s about 106 years old.  She thinks you’re great.”  The thought of the lonely old woman brought a tinge of sorrow, so Annie pushed on.  ‌“The bad glaze job is all mine, though.”  By her own measure, she was talking too much.  There was a pause, then she allowed herself just a few more words, their utterance accompanied by a gentle squeeze of his leg.  ‌“Happy birthday, Bertholdt.”

signature GIFs by boahancokk

Re: All the Little Lights
« Reply #5 on: June 01, 2020, 09:39:31 PM »
Bertholdt had never seen Annie as happy as when she thought she had correctly guessed his birthday. There was no reason to spoil her remarkable change in character, even if it was only a momentary one.

"... Yeah. You got it." He lied through a smile, looking up from the cake and into her icy blue eyes, which seemed much softer than normal. No way he could take that kind of joy from her.

"Annie, It doesn't make a difference to me whether you made the whole cake or not. You went through the effort to get a cake, that's more than enough for me." He added, reaching under the table and taking her hand once more, providing a soft squeeze of her palm. "Besides, my prototype muffins from your birthday were probably worse than the cakes you baked." Bertholdt playfully challenged her confession of making bad dessert predecessors.

Digging his free hand into the cake like a savage, her scooped out a little bit of the treat, putting it in his mouth. It tasted delicious, even the glaze Annie had grumbled about. "This is... so good..." He spoke longingly for the cake. Even if she hadn't directly baked the pastry, he could practically taste time and effort she'd put into his gifts.

Suddenly, his face went flush again, and he looked down, an upturning smile trying to breach through the corners of his lips. "Thank you.." He whispered quietly. Her feelings for him had driven her to expel more effort in making his non-birthday as good as possible than she had in anything else that he'd seen her do.

This seemed like such a private, personal moment between the two of them, yet they sat at a table surrounded by scores of their cadet comrades. It inspired Bertholdt to ask her his next question. "Go on a walk with me? It feels... crowded here." He muttered, gesturing out to their surroundings.

Re: All the Little Lights
« Reply #6 on: June 01, 2020, 11:17:24 PM »
It seemed doubtful that anything Bertholdt baked had been quite as ludicrously bad as her own culinary misadventures.  If she thrust one of her rockhard cakes into a sock, Annie was quite sure she would be armed with a weapon capable of killing a grown man in a single, well-aimed strike.  Which would be interesting, she had to admit.

Right now, one of the hands capable of terrible misdeeds was captured in Bertholdt’s own.  It remained there, warm and secure, as Annie watched him taste the cake.  She certainly didn’t judge him eating off his fingers, given she had been prepared to eat her muffin out of the grass if it came to it.  His pleasure was irrefutably sincere, and Annie enjoyed the yearning that wove its way through his familiar voice.  A victorious, triumphant feeling unfurled in her chest and she had the sense she might be succeeding at doing something good, for a change.

‌“No thanks needed,” she murmured warmly, giving his hand a fleeting squeeze.

The suggestion of a walk came as an unexpected relief.  It would be nice to leave the worst of the crowds behind, to have more freedom to speak and move.  With a nod, Annie rose, refusing to relinquish her grip of his hand.  Although her fur-trimmed hood remained pulled up, and her head was tilted forwards, it seemed to her that any who recognised the glint of her blonde hair - and her notably short stature - provided a wide berth.  Luckily for them, given the thronging gathering.

Snow crunched pleasantly beneath their boots, splashes of colour spilling from the lanterns that nestled in every nook and cranny or hung glowing from strings above.  Eighteen years of age was supposed to be something special, to mark an official entry into adulthood, but Bertholdt had left behind all boyish things many years ago.  The Marleyan military was no place to spend childhood.  As that thought drifted through Annie’s mind, her hand tightened in his.  They had both been robbed of so much.

‌“Anywhere in particular you want to go, birthday boy?” Annie asked quietly, almost overwhelmed by the options open to them.  If not for Bertholdt, she likely would have stayed back in the cabins the Training Corps had rented, alone.  Instead, she was prepared to do whatever the green-eyed boy wanted to do, and go wherever he wanted to go.  Whether it was to slink away by themselves to some shadowy corner, or to do something uncharacteristically frivolous and carefree.  More than anything, she wanted to see him happy. « Last Edit: June 02, 2020, 11:17:25 PM by Annie Leonhardt »

signature GIFs by boahancokk

Re: All the Little Lights
« Reply #7 on: June 02, 2020, 05:00:05 AM »
Bertholdt closed the lid on the scrumptious cake, and rose from his seat with her, setting off away from the crowded plaza. In the back of his mind, Bertholdt could see the streets of Marley, on the outside of Liberio. For only a few months, he'd been allowed to experience life as a Marleyan citizen, and not a worthless Eldian Devil.

There had been so many shops and experiences he'd never even knew existed until then. Ice Cream, Theater, and even political discourse. Such things simply didn't exist within the Internment Zone. That is why these numerous stalls and shops were bringing such memories to the forefront of his mind. There were many more great experiences on this Island than he'd expected. And now, he had somebody he could share every single one of them with. "I know a place." His tone was secretive, but joking, like a child keeping a surprise from their parent.

Bertholdt's hand locked in with Annie's as they walked, their boots crushing the snow in unison. Of course, he did have a spot in mind, somewhere he had been spending a good deal of time at, usually when he wasn't with Annie or in training. This night seemed the perfect opportunity to introduce the location to his partner. Soon enough, the loud sounds of the crowd were dying out as they got farther away. Likewise, the population of cadets had seriously thinned out.

Luckily, Bertholdt had snagged a lantern, that way their night-time stroll wasn't unbearably dark. It swayed gently with the cold breeze, as did the tassels of his newly acquired scarf. The light illuminated their way as the pair turned off the paved pathway, and onto the main road to the cabins. In an effort to make conversation while they walked, he spoke up, but soon after he wished he hadn't. "It won't be long now until we graduate. Then... the wall." These were unpleasant thoughts, and he felt stupid for bringing them up. Even with his confident nature around her now, conversation could still pose such an issue at times.

"I'm sorry... I shouldn't have brought that up. I just started thinking about it when you mentioned the old woman. I don't know why..." He apologized quickly, shaking his head slowly.

Just as he finished speaking, they arrived at his secluded spot. They were stood in front of the cabin he and Reiner slept in, but Bertholdt didn't simply lead her into the structure. Instead, he brought her around the side, and then the back, which faced the woods. There was a crevice one could pull them self up into if they'd noticed such a feature on the building. Bertholdt did just that, and then reached down to hoist Annie up with him. Here, on the backside of the cabin, there was a slight indentation, enough space for a few people to sit, even lay down in, and gaze upon the stars.

Re: All the Little Lights
« Reply #8 on: June 02, 2020, 03:13:03 PM »
I know a place.

Well now, wasn’t that intriguing?  Annie mused on where it could possibly be as Bertholdt led them away from the bustling streets, the walkways growing steadily quieter as they left behind the shrieks of laughter and thrum of conversation, the spiced and smoky scents of stalls fading away to the crisp, clean air of winter.  He was clever enough to lift a lantern as they went, the flame glowing and flickering behind frosted glass, illuminating them and their path in a soft light.

In the face of such beauty and peace, the mention of graduation - and their plan - caught Annie off-guard.  A shiver rolled through her, one that had nothing to do with the cold, though she managed to keep her expression impassive, as if he had done nothing more than mention a particularly tiresome group project.  Which it was, in a way.

I’m sorry… I shouldn’t have brought that up.  I just started thinking about it when you mentioned the old woman.  I don’t know why…

Annie knew why.  It was because Bertholdt was astute, sensitive to the moods and feelings of others, reading situations and people more clearly than anyone else the blonde had met.  Unlike the mention of the Wall, these words squeezed like a fist around her heart, conjuring an image of Mildred, standing stooped and smiling in her homely kitchen.

‌“We’ve done it before, we’ll do it again,” Annie murmured, speaking so softly Bertholdt might not even have heard her.  She didn’t want him to doubt her, as she suspected Reiner did.  She would do whatever was necessary to bring them home, however abhorrent and irrevocable, even if those actions burned away every last meagre scrap of humanity she possessed.

Thankfully she was distracted by the cabin that loomed out of the darkness, the one Bertholdt and Reiner were rooming in.  For the briefest instance, Annie supposed he was about to invite her inside, and scrambled to figure out what her answer would be.  For all their closeness, for all the quiet conversations and breathless kisses they had shared, intimacy still eluded them beyond the tentative skim and brush of hands over the layers of their clothes.  While Annie would insist the prospect of anything more didn’t frighten her, she couldn’t deny she was a little daunted.

A tug on her hand pulled her from her thoughts, telling her that she was mistaken, that they weren’t where they needed to be just yet.  Snow crunched beneath their boots as Bertholdt led them towards the back of the cabin, Annie hooking loose hair behind her ear as she grappled inwardly with her presumptions.  She would not have readily noticed the indentation, if Bertholdt had not climbed up onto it, heaving her up with him as though she weighed nothing.  Now they were safely tucked away, she surveyed their surroundings, thinking of how tranquil and private this place was.  She wanted to tell Bertholdt that, to say that she was sure they would see stars they had never noticed before on a night so clear and dark and glacial.  What actually passed her lips instead took her by surprise, and demonstrated how his earlier words had resonated with her.

‌“I hope she -” Annie choked, her next sentence arriving in a whispered rush.  ‌“I hope she dies quickly.”  It was a horrendous thing to say about a woman who had treated her with nothing but warmth, but Annie meant it as kindly as possible.  There was no need to say her name, Bertholdt surely knew who she was referring to.  ‌“Her husband was killed when Wall Maria fell.  There was a picture of him on the mantle.  Just a sketch.  Who knows if it even looks like him?  Artists lie all the time.  So stupid.”  Her voice was taking on that staccato rhythm she despised to hear.

Determined to regain control, Annie clenched her teeth tight and turned to stare off into the dark, hiding her face from Bertholdt and the revealing light of the lantern.  Mildred hadn’t even charged her for the cake, or for her time and efforts - only for the ingredients themselves.  Imagine being so lonely that the company of sullen Annie Leonhardt came as a gift.  Imagine loving and missing someone so much as to talk to a scrap of paper bearing a scribble of their likeness.

‌“Never mind…” she muttered to void and to herself, beating her emotions into line with the reminder that the old woman was a stranger, known only for a handful of hours.  By the time Annie turned back to Bertholdt, her expression was bland but brittle, and she stepped closer to the tall, green-eyed boy, as though seeking solace in his proximity.  It was his birthday, after all, like hell was she going to spoil it.  ‌“It’s beautiful here, Bertl.”

signature GIFs by boahancokk

Re: All the Little Lights
« Reply #9 on: June 02, 2020, 08:32:33 PM »
“Right…” He mumbled, responding to her claiming they’d done it before. He never liked to think about that day, and he’d told her as such in some of their moonlit conversations. It was the only part of their mission thus far that had caused any serious mental distress for him. Nightmares plagued his sleep every other night, but this was a fact he’d hidden from her.

Bert sat down on the floor of the crevice, patting the ground beside him to be joined by the blonde cadet. “I hope they all do. Our… friends. All of them, they deserve a quick death. I hope they get caught up in my transformation.” His words sounded unusually harsh, as if it was Annie speaking through him. There was, however, a truth to his words. Most, if not all, of their cohorts in the 104th would succumb to the Titan hordes brought on by Annie’s scream. Their deaths would be painful, slow, getting ground up in the maws of monsters. Dying in the explosion of Bert’s transformation would be instantaneous, painless.

The raven-haired teen tilted his head back, his gaze wandering among the countless stars and constellations. Somewhere, he knew his family was probably looking up at these same stars, likely preparing for a celebration of what would be his actual birthday on the 30th. Still, no need to ruin her happier than normal mood.

"I figured you'd like this spot. It's secluded. Just for us." He said, placing the lantern off to the side. "Thank you. You've made this the best birthday I can remember." He longingly reached to lace his long, slender fingers with hers, clasping their palms together as one. "Actually, you've made the last 6 months the best they could've been for me. I hope I've at least treated you half as well as you've been towards me." Bertholdt admitted.

"I feel like I've met a whole new person. And like you've changed who I was a lot too. Thank you for that." Bert's words were heartfelt, he meant them as sincerely as he could make them sound. "You make me so happy." « Last Edit: June 02, 2020, 08:32:53 PM by Bertholdt Hoover »

Re: All the Little Lights
« Reply #10 on: June 02, 2020, 11:16:44 PM »
How lucky she was that Bertholdt took her emotional stumble in his stride.  She seized on his invitation, taking a seat on the ground beside him, anchoring herself to his steady presence. 

‌“If they get caught up in that, they won’t feel a thing,” Annie agreed flatly, her tone level and unemotive.  As far as deaths went, the scorching heat thrown off by Bertholdt’s transformation - one that would burn bones to ash, and reduce entire lives to sooty smudges on the ground - was surely a good one.  Better than any she and Bertholdt could hope for themselves, at least.

Annie followed his gaze to the stars, their distant light catching in her wide, icy eyes.  This far from the smoky braziers of the village, and on a night with crystal clear skies, they sparkled and twinkled vividly.  The seclusion of this place was what she yearned for, to be away from the weight of all eyes that weren’t green, warm and bright.  For all the grimness of their conversation - idly discussing the deaths of those they had come to know - Annie sighed in contentment as Bertholdt took her hand, their fingers threading together, her breath shimmering pale on the frigid air.

The best birthday?  Surely he was just being kind?  But he spoke on with characteristic earnestness and Annie’s gaze drawn to his face, her own features haloed by her fur-trim hood.  Her expression didn’t give much away, save a slight widening of her eyes as she processed all the emotion Bertholdt shared, glimpsing the soul he so freely bared.  There was a beat of silence, then she answered first with a gesture.  Reaching out with her free hand, she traced the line of his jaw, then adjusted the dark hair that spilled across his brow, for no reason other than she liked the way it felt between her cool fingers.

‌“That scarf looks good on you,” she murmured, her muted tone carrying with it a note of fondness.  ‌“You’re coming into yourself, Bertholdt.”  Whether that had anything to do with her or was down simply to time and experience, Annie wasn’t sure, but there was an undeniable shift in her partner.  He grew more bolder, more confident - and rightly so.  Intelligent, fierce and capable, he had in every way earned his place as a Warrior, as the God of Destruction.

‌“I don’t know how I make you happy, but… I hope I always do.”  Even if always wouldn’t be all that long for them, not in the grand scheme of things.  Annie leaned close, close enough to nudge her nose against his - not a clumsy bump this time, but deliberate and affectionate - before kissing him light and lingering.  Bertholdt knew her in ways that nobody else did, he saw the darkness in her but did not look away, he understood that she could feel nothing or everything all at once.

And with Bertholdt, she did feel, her shroud of apathy falling away.  At times, it was a great tangle of emotion she couldn’t hope to pick through or comprehend.  There was desire, burning and fierce, glimpsed on the occasions she kissed him so hard their teeth clashed.  Protectiveness too, of a vicious sort that would see her raze Paradis to the ground to keep him safe - the objective be damned.  If she could suffer to save him pain, she would do it.  Yet beneath that there were softer, gentler feelings she could not define, and a contentment that she supposed must be happiness.  She did not smile often, she never gushed enthusiastically, but she adored him in her own way.

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Re: All the Little Lights
« Reply #11 on: June 03, 2020, 05:53:13 AM »

This was the key word Bertholdt took away from her response. They weren't going to live long. One way or another, they would die young. Hopefully, if they played their cards right, those precious years could be spent together, back in their hometown.

"You do." It was the simplest response he could conjure, but it was true.

Deep down, Bert knew he didn't deserve the happiness that he'd achieved with Annie. Of all the people on the entire planet, the trio of Warriors perhaps ranked as some of the worst alive. They were directly responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, the mental scarring of thousands more. Reiner was already experiencing the effects, the poor soul. He was easily the most eager of the original quartet to engage Paradis, but now... It was a sad transformation to say the least.

"I wonder sometimes how things have gone back home. If one of Marley's enemies may have declared war, and forced Zeke and Pieck to fight them off alone." He mused these thoughts aloud to her, wrapping both arms around the girl and leaning back on the wall. "Sometimes I think we might not have a home to return to."

Something was obviously troubling Bertholdt. This was the second time he'd mentioned the unpleasant thoughts that'd been plaguing his every thought. He may not have been projecting his issues as outwardly as Reiner was, or as discreetly as Annie, but building up the troubles and stress from their job was catching up to him fast. He believed that having Annie by his side could anchor him to the present.

Shifting the conversation in a more pleasant direction, he then said, "I can't believe I haven't asked you in all these months, but how're you enjoying the leather guards I made for you?" She hadn't made any mention of the gifts in all the months since her own birthday celebration, which worried Bert partially, but she didn't give any indication of disliking the leather gear. "I can probably stitch them up if you ever need any repairs." He offered in congruence, tilting his head ever so slightly, allowing her to lean into his embrace a little bit more.

Re: All the Little Lights
« Reply #12 on: June 03, 2020, 12:44:56 PM »
You do.

Such simple, softly spoken words, and so sincere.  They earned Bertholdt a gentle squeeze of his hand, Annie silently wishing she could express what their recent months had meant to her.  For a long time, she had expected a catch or a snag.  Like how she was her father’s daughter only when she was obedient and subservient, only when she performed well and committed herself wholly to her training.  On days where she ached or lagged or cried, she was no child of his, and he disowned her time and again.  If being family required sacrifice, then what did being someone’s partner involve?  But Bertholdt hadn’t placed any expectations on her.  He was just himself, open and willing to meet her deadpan expressions with warm smiles.  Of all people, he deserved to be happy.  Quiet and stoic, he suffered beneath the weight of their shared sins with such grace.

Annie went with him as he wrapped his arms around her and leaned back, her head resting heavy against his chest.  There had been nights like this where she dozed off, lulled to brief stints of sleep by Bertholdt’s warmth, by the steady beat of his heart and rhythm of his breathing.  That, as much as anything else, spoke of how comfortable she was with the tall, green-eyed boy.  But tonight was his birthday and he had Marley on his mind.

‌“I… don’t know that I’d care if Marley was gone,” Annie muttered.  She had screamed as much into Reiner’s bloodied face, all that time ago.  Was it any wonder he doubted her?  ‌“As long as my father - and your family - were safe.”  What she did not say was that there was a certain homeliness to Bertholdt and that, as long as they were together, she was sure they could face anything.  A terrifying notion.  Since when was she stupid enough to give someone so much power over her unbehest?

The mention of the gloves and foot guards almost made the tiny blonde smile.  It was a testament to their craftsmanship that the items hadn’t begun to wear, and that the stitching had yet to come loose, given the hard use they were put to.  Supple leather had softened, moulding to her fingers, the arches of her feet.  Comfortable, enduring and protective.

‌“I love them,” Annie whispered, her voice dipping even lower than its usual quiet cadence.  As with anything important to her, she was secretive, as though she feared anything she cherished would be stripped away from her.  ‌“So much better than linen wraps…”  She ate shamelessly into the space Bertholdt offered, leaning into him as she held up her free hand, slender fingers splayed.  To think that, in her titan form, she crushed soldiers within her grasp, their bones scratching and tickling, blood and gore seeping thickly from her clenched fists.  ‌“Can’t you tell?  Look how soft my hands are getting.”  It was an attempt at humour, her palms still showing as much callus as the rest of the cadets.  What did not show so easily were the aching joints and bruises Bertholdt’s gift had saved her from.

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Re: All the Little Lights
« Reply #13 on: June 03, 2020, 02:50:31 PM »
Annie's hands appeared to be in no different condition than normal. She still worked and trained like the rest of them. Yet, he understood her point. They had provided a respite in her stress-burning activities, and Bert was glad he could play a part in such a thing.

Bertholdt let out a meaningless sigh, his breath floating in the air before him in the form of a small tuft of mist. Despite the icy looks and attitude she provided towards everyone else, the warmth Annie gave him, both literally and figuratively, was invaluable. Annie, herself, didn't seem to understand that she made Bert happy, treating every time he said so in a manner slightly less befuddled than if he'd spoken a foreign language.

"I don't think I've ever heard you say the word Love before." Bert laughed, eyelids fluttering shut. "Not once."

Personally, Bertholdt wanted to exclaim on many occasions the feelings he held for Annie were love. Yet, as with many couples, those 3 magical words eluded their relationship thus far. He was afraid using them would scare her away, make her uncomfortable to be around him anymore. Placing too much stock in the relationship on his end would be a costly mistake, or, so he believed.

"Do you think, if we weren't warriors, and we just got to be normal people in Liberio, this would be going on between us?" The question struck as fast as the yellow lighting that transformed them. Bold a question as it may have been, Bertholdt wasn't done yet, "I don't think we'd be together. I don't even think you'd know my name." He wasn't clearly implying anything, whether that she'd simply ignore him, throw a cold shoulder in his direction, or be too infatuated with someone more confident, charismatic, and kind.

Before their numerous years training together, Bertholdt couldn't remember anything about Annie, if he even knew her at all. Those years perfecting their skills to kill their enemies, learning how to master the powers they'd inherit, had been a blessing more so than a curse. After all, they were enjoying the company of one another now, weren't they? The price for their relationship was high, almost too high for some to pay, but not Bertholdt. If he had a chance to relive his life, he'd still follow the path he was on now, if only it ensured he could be with Annie to the end of their days.

Re: All the Little Lights
« Reply #14 on: June 03, 2020, 09:32:36 PM »
Annie herself couldn’t think of the last time - if ever - that she had used love in a sentence.  Normal people loved a lot, even everyday mundane things.  They loved certain books, colours, seasons, scents.  They loved their pets, their family, their friends.  Love was a word thrown around like confetti, but not by her.  She couldn’t even say she loved her father.  Annie was glad of her hood, giving a small shrug of her shoulders in answer to Bertholdt’s question then sinking deeper into her coat.  Speaking of normalcy, Bertholdt asked about a path they were never given the opportunity to take - one where they were nothing special, and nothing was expected of them.  Annie wasn’t one for what-ifs and could-have-beens and likely would have shrugged off the enquiry, except he added his own supposition:

I don’t think we’d be together.  I don’t even think you’d know my name.

His tone was gentle, unaccusing, but still it registered like a slap.

‌“Don’t say that,” Annie growled, peeling back enough to try and catch his eye.  She wasn’t entirely sure what rankled her.  Perhaps it was the hint of self-deprecation - Bertholdt was nothing if not humble - or the insinuation their relationship was born out of circumstance alone.  ‌“I’d have clocked you from a hundred paces away,” she insisted in a low hiss.  Tall, noble-featured, with goodness radiating out of him.  Although she wasn’t a creative type, she tried to dig deep and fabricate a rebuff.  Why not indulge in a fantasy, if only for a little while?

‌“I bet I’d have been a laundress or something equally dull,” Annie muttered.  Her father had often threatened to return her to the foundling hospital, telling her nothing good would come of a blue-eyed, half-breed girl raised there.  Chances were she would have ended up something much less seemly than a laundress.  ‌“We’d have our first date by the river.  Stinking and litter-strewn though it is.  We’d be too busy looking at each other to notice.  You’d walk me home, right to my door, because I’d be a helpless little thing and you’re a gentleman.  Maybe we’d get married, after a time.  Your parents would probably be disappointed in your choice, but they’d want to see you happy.”  From what she knew of Mr. and Mrs. Hoover, they cared deeply for their only son, and were intensely proud of him.

‌“We wouldn’t be as strong or as fit as we are now, and I’d be an even paler shade of white.  You’re clever and you’ve… you’ve got good hands, Bertl.  Maybe you’d have had a job in the industrial zone.  You’d work hard, because that’s the kind of person you are.  At night you’d lie exhausted between the sheets and I’d listen to your heartbeat in the dark.  Maybe we’d have children, eventually.  Maybe not.  But if we did, everyone would know a Hoover kid by their nose.”  Annie hesitated, indulging in a ghost of a smile.  She was quick to continue, the image she painted coming more easily than she expected.  ‌“Sometimes we’d go hungry, but we’d have each other.  Maybe I’d have smiled more.  I… think we’d have been happy.  As happy as two oppressed people can be.”

This time she truly had said too much.  Annie sucked in a breath, held it, then released slowly, her exhalation hanging silver in the air.  It did nothing to help the tightness in her chest.  She felt raw and exposed, even more so than she had after her afternoon with Mildred.  An apology rose in her throat and died on her tongue.  All she could do was gaze furiously at the stars above them, as though their actual fate had been written by the constellations.  This was precisely why what-ifs and could-have-beens were a waste of time, an entire life that could never be lived now left to play through her mind. « Last Edit: June 03, 2020, 09:54:20 PM by Annie Leonhardt »

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