Manhattan, New York
a.d. xi Kalendas Novembres, 2766 A.U.C
He'd spent the morning drawing roses onto his wall. Mikasa had caught him, and she'd stood with her back pressed against the wall, watching with curious black eyes as he dazedly took a red sharpie to the powdery blue paint of his bedroom walls, careful strokes of a pen point bleeding into sloppy lines. He was not a good artist. The roses looked like bloody splotches upon his walls. He wondered if that was not his intention all along.
"You've been drawing roses a lot lately, Armin," Mikasa said. "Why is that?"
She didn't know, of course. The night Historia had come to him to tell him of their possible relation was the same night they agreed it would be better if they didn't tell anyone. Erwin had agreed as well, sitting between them on Armin's bedroom floor and carefully swabbing the inside of Historia's cheek. She stared vacantly ahead of her, unfazed and uninterested in the entire ordeal.
Historia didn't talk very much. She often avoided Armin altogether, or any of them for that matter. She was very broken up over Ymir. Eren was even more-so, because when he had come home to find out Ymir Langner, the girl who had killed his mother, was missing? He'd thrown an actual temper tantrum. Armin had cut Eren out of his head as he stood at his back, waiting for Mikasa to make a move to placate him. Instead of focusing his energy on Eren, he'd met Bertholdt's eye. Maybe I should tell him, Armin had thought into the tall boy's mind. Why don't you stop me? But Bertholdt had merely looked away, ashamed, and hurriedly left the room. Armin hadn't said anything about Bertholdt possessing Ymir.
"Erwin," Armin had said, "do you think that it's possible that I can't read Historia's mind because she's related to me?"
"It's plausible," Erwin said, taking Armin's chin between two fingers. Historia looked bored, examining her cuticles with a frown. Her pale hair framed her face, and the more Armin looked at her, the more it scared him that she could be his sister. It meant he had a mother. It meant his father might be… "Thought it wouldn't explain me."
"Well," Armin said, smiling brightly up at the man, "maybe you're our uncle, or something!"
Erwin had laughed at that, and Historia had glanced up at them. She hadn't found it very funny, it seemed, because her eyes had drooped and her lips had pulled into a grimace. "Don't make jokes like that," he warned. "At this point, who knows what could be true."
"I wouldn't mind," Armin said. "And it's not like we don't look alike, or anything. We could all be related, for all we know."
"Should I swab my cheek as well?" Erwin asked, tilting Armin's head to the side. "See if perhaps we're all stems on the same convoluted family tree?"
"Please don't," Armin said weakly.
"I'm only teasing," he said. "Mostly. Say "ah," now, will you?"
"Ha," Armin said instead, opening his mouth wide enough for Erwin to carefully swab the inside of his cheek, the cotton swab tickling his jaw as it poked around the sensitive, fleshy parts of his mouth. Erwin withdrew the cotton swab, sticking it in a red capped plastic tube. Historia's was purple. "What if we aren't really related?"
"Then I was wrong," Erwin said, gathering up the samples he'd taken from their cheeks. "Though I don't think it's likely. I've suspected it since I met Historia. You're far too much alike, you know."
"Really?" Historia asked, blinked up at Erwin as he rose to his feet. "How?"
"Well," he said, "for one thing, you're both very secretive about things that trouble you."
"Secretive?" Armin said innocently. Erwin shot him a sharp look as Armin smiled wanly. "I have no idea what you mean. Historia?"
"You're a terrible liar," she said in a tone just as innocent.
"Maybe compared to you."
They stared at each other, and suddenly they were both frowning. They glanced away from Erwin, unable to truly accept that the man was right about them. He seemed very content with their banter, because he laughed at them, and ruffled Armin's hair as he passed by. "Don't take it so hard," Erwin said. "It's completely natural that you're alike in some ways. But you're also two very different people, and you must remember that. Okay?"
"You don't need to reassure us," Armin said quietly.
"No," he said, "no, I imagine not." He left them with a curt nod, his eyes meeting Armin's, and there was something comforting about his gaze. Comfort was something Erwin was uncannily good at. Even when Armin felt like he was crumbling, Erwin seemed to know exactly what to say to make him feel better. And, of course, Erwin could tell that Armin wasn't doing well. He didn't need to be inside Armin's head to know how Armin was feeling. Though, it was no secret how glum his demeanor had become. He supposed his empathy was a two-way street. Everyone seemed to taste his sour mood, and he found they avoided him because of it. Or maybe they were all in equally poor states.
"How are you doing?" Armin had asked Historia gently. She glanced at him solemnly, her hands resting in her lap, and she pursed her lips.
"Funny," she said, not sounding very amused. "I was about to ask you the same thing."
"You know I'm fine," he sighed.
"I know you're lying," she said. "You threw up again this morning."
"It's just from the headaches," Armin said. "That's all. But I'm not talking about me. I'm asking you if you're okay."
"I'm not feeling very much like I'm anything right now," she said. "Ask me again when things don't look so bleak."
Armin nodded. "Fair enough," he said. "I'm just surprised you're holding up so well. If Eren did to me what Ymir did to you, I think I'd be a mess. Constantly." He tried to smile, but it felt tight on his lips. "I'm a total cry baby."
Historia sat, her eyes downcast, and Armin had wondered if he'd said something wrong. He was being insensitive, of course. He had a tendency to do that when the situation became awkward for him. He just didn't know what to say, so he simply spoke. He was never eloquent when it came to these things. It was harsh, and it was strange, and he didn't like it at all.
"Do you ever get seizures, Armin?" Historia asked suddenly.
He had sat there on his floor across from her, stunned nearly into silence. "No," he'd said, trying to crawl into the back of his foggy mind. Did he ever get seizures? Of course not! Right? "I think I'd know if I did. Why?"
"When I was little," she sighed, "I had epilepsy. It was terrible. I was always falling down, hitting my head, getting caught in sharp things, thrashing and throwing tantrums and making things worse for myself. I never realized that was what I had, though. And then I met you. And your mother." She closed her eyes, unmoving from her rigid position across from him. "You called it the falling down disease."
Armin's mouth had gone dry, a dizzying recollection of those words striking his head and his heart. "Like Julius Caesar!" he cried, falling backwards onto his hands. She opened her eyes and peered at him quizzically.
"Yes," she said. "That's exactly what you said."
He flushed, feeling foolish for the information kept filed away in the deep, cavernous fog of his mind. "You had epilepsy," Armin said. "But not anymore?"
"I don't get sick anymore," Historia admitted. "My body is always in perfect health. It's just the way my power works."
"That's so amazing," Armin gasped. "I wish my power would strengthen my mind and body instead of destroying it."
"Oh?" Historia cocked her head, blond hair curling across her rosy cheeks. "I thought you said you were fine."
He couldn't reply to that. He shrugged, and watched her as she watched him. They watched each other, plainly unable to comprehend their own situation, and he frowned suddenly at a revelation. "Historia," he said softly. "How tall are you?"
"Four-nine," she sighed, pulling her knees up to her chest and embracing them. The action was familiar, and as she tucked her chin against her knees, Armin couldn't help but smile. "Legally a midget, you know."
"I'm sure you could fetch a lovely part in one of the new Hobbit movies," he teased her.
"I'm sorry?" She quirked an eyebrow at him, raising her face only to frown. "What?"
"Oh my god," Armin groaned, flopping onto his back. "You are so missing out if you've never seen Lord of the Rings."
"I've heard of them," she said. "But we weren't exactly in a position to binge watch movies on the road, Armin."
"Yeah, I know." He stared up at his ceiling, wondering if perhaps this theory he had developed about Historia was correct. Part of him hoped it wasn't. "Lots of characters in Lord of the Rings end up living absurdly long, you know. Because they've got long life spans, and don't age as quickly as normal men."
He winced, and sat up. "Hey," he said brightly, trying to smile and failing. "Why don't we watch them some time?"
"Armin," she said dully, "They're each three hours long."
Historia sighed, and she pushed herself to her feet. "Okay," she said distantly. "We'll watch them. Sometime. I'm going to go to bed."
"Sure," Armin had said, watching her leave the room and feeling as though he'd made a grave mistake somewhere in speaking to her. Why is it so hard to connect with a girl who could be my only living blood relative? It was infuriating, but also disheartening. And perhaps it was for the best.
Now he was perched on his desk, crouched so that his cramping toes were supporting his entire body, and he hummed an old tune that had caught in his head somewhere between crawling atop his desk, kicking away all his research and notes and old, dull paintings, and now, drawing swirling red roses upon the wall. His head was aching terribly, and he was a little dizzy, and a little nauseous, but his stomach was so painfully empty that it made a deep, ravenous snarling sound. He'd been doing this for… how long? It had not been so light in the room when he had started, he remembered suddenly, fog parting slowly to allow memories to seep back into his mind. No, it had been rather dark. His legs were absolutely ablaze with pain, though, cramped to the point where his eyes watered from the dull pain.
"I'm remembering," Armin sighed loftily, his voice thick in his throat. "I think I am, anyway. Oh, how did that stupid song go?"
Mikasa sighed behind him. The sound of the sharpie squeaking against his wall was frightful, and it gnawed at his foggy mind, biting at his brain like a rabid dog. "That stupid song," she said with a groan. "It's a nursery rhyme! Why dwell on it?"
"It's important," Armin whispered, staring at his pale wall as his shaky hand colored in a red, red, bleeding red rose. There were hundreds of them, Armin saw, coming slowly to his senses. Hundreds of roses on his walls. What was I trying to remember? "You must remember it, I used to sing it for you. Remember? I do." He paused, his finger tips swiping across the surface of his walls. His mind was suddenly opening up, like the sun had broken through a fissure in his skull and burst through the fog clouding his thoughts. Oh, what was he doing? His hand was cramping. "Meine Hände, meine Hände…"
"Your hand is not disappearing," Mikasa sighed. "That song only clouds your mind more."
"No," he whispered. "It helps. It helps me remember."
"Is that why you're crouched up on that desk, scrawling little pictures onto your walls and whispering on and on about things no one but you understands?" Mikasa sounded concerned, and Armin paused in his stressful attempt to turn his entire room a great, wilting red. He twisted his body around to face her, utterly aghast at her words. If she didn't get it, she could just go away! "You shouldn't want to remember things if you get like this just to get a little glimpse. You're better off not knowing."
He felt as though he was about to fall to shambles. Mikasa was not helping him, and her presence was more of a nuisance than a comfort. That was unusual, because Armin knew Mikasa was able to sense his unease from across the house, and yet here she was feeding him terrible thoughts and feelings, and he couldn't sense a single thing from her mind. He crouched, sharpie clenched in hand, and he watched this girl, this friend that tilted her head, hair curling around smiling lips, and oh, why was she smiling?
"I could never be better off not knowing," Armin said, his mind growing clearer with every word he spoke. Mikasa shook her head, clearly unfazed by him or his words or his bleeding red flowers.
"You have no regard for yourself," she whispered, staring at him with a strange gleam in her dark eyes. Armin's crouch broke, and he fell upon his knees as the door burst open, and a rush of thoughts crashed into his mind, streaming through the foggy daze and grappling at his consciousness, dragging him out and snarling at him. Armin, Mikasa thought, what the hell? Armin?
Mikasa stood in the doorway, dressed in full school uniform, her scarf pooling around her lips, which were parted as she stared at him. Armin stared right back, his own mouth parting in absolute shock. "Armin?" Mikasa said aloud, much less aggressively than in her head. "What are you doing?" Her eyes roved the room, and flashed in minute horror. "What have you done?"
The other Mikasa in the room threw her head back and laughed. Armin's heart was beating fast, thundering against his ribcage in a furious, cracking sort of rhythm that stole his breath and forced him to choke on any words that rose like vomit in his throat. Two Mikasas stood before him, one gaping at him, red scarf tossed across one shoulder, a plaid skirt wavering at her knees, and another standing, just standing, laughing, just laughing, and fluttering in and out of focus like a faulty image on an old television screen. If he had not gotten some vague grasp on his mind, he might have screamed. Because oh, he wanted to scream.
He really wanted to scream.
"Armin," Mikasa whispered, stopping only inches from his desk. Morning light pooled into the room, splashing across her slim face, worry illuminated by a gracious white sun. Clouds parted for Armin's thoughts to spill through into his eyes. He saw now what he was doing. He felt tears well inside his eyes, and the marker dropped from his fingers, clattering against the desk as he stared at both Mikasas fearfully. "Oh, Armin…"
Help, Armin thought to her weakly. He didn't know if he could move from the desk, he was so terrified. He watched her arms stretch out to him, pale in the white sunlight, and his mind broke utterly free of the madness that was the fog, the spell that had been cast upon him by a sleepless night and a vicious headache.
"No," he gasped suddenly, twisting away from her outstretched hands. He slipped from the desk, his knees wobbling as he struggled and gasped, tears streaking his cheeks, and he flinched away from Mikasa's touch when she tried to help him. "I said no!" He shot her a sharp, warning glare, and she took a step back. "I'm okay! I can stand on my own, okay?"
"Armin," she said softly, "I don't doubt that's true. But I can feel your pain. Don't you understand? You send out your pain and confusion like you're tossing crumpled paper into a garbage bin." Those words, that simile, that comparison was not Mikasa's. She was taking words from his mouth, pulling thoughts from his scrambled mind, and it was scary. "I can't ignore your pain. You can't expect me to just let you hurt, not when I know exactly what you're feeling."
"If I'm sending out my feelings," he said thickly, a sob crawling and creeping around inside his throat, "then why are you the only one responding? Your room isn't the closest to mine. Why are you the only one who feels whatever I'm feeling?"
"Because you never severed the link," Mikasa answered simply. "I'm sure Eren feels it too, but he's angry with you. Do you feel that?"
"His anger?" Armin smiled thinly through his tears. "Oh, I feel it. He thinks it's somehow my fault that Ymir got away, because I should have read her mind and figured out what she did." He laughed, and the Mikasa by the door laughed with him.
"It's true, though," the Mikasa by the door said. "You knew what Ymir did, and you said nothing. Is that right? Am I right?"
"It's true, though," Armin gasped, his eyes growing wide with terror and pain. "Oh, god, Mikasa, it's true. I knew Ymir killed someone in a fire, I saw it, but I… I said nothing." His chest felt tight, and he clapped his hands over his eyes, his legs trembling as they supported him feebly. Tears splashed against his red stained fingers. "Mikasa… Mikasa, I think… I think I'm…"
"Don't you dare," Mikasa snapped, "say you're losing your mind."
I'm a disaster, Armin thought, watching Mikasa's eyebrows rise. He leaned against his desk for support, and his breath caught in his throat as he spoke. "Mikasa, I'm seeing things," he whispered, wiping at his eyes weakly. She stared at him, dark eyes frozen upon his damp face. "I know you love me. I feel that. But listen to me speak. Listen to my thoughts. I'm seeing terrible things." His eyes drifted to the Mikasa by the doorway, who was standing with her arms folded, and her eyes raised to the ceiling. She looked bored with this conversation. "It's scaring me."
"I feel that," she whispered, taking a step toward him. "I feel how terrified you are, and I need you to let me help you." He let her pull his chin, and she dashed his tears away with nimble fingers. Her touch was warm, and the taste of peppermint tea was mingling with the bleeding taste of warm milk spiked with crushed coffee beans. Mikasa's feelings of love were muddling her own personal presence, and the two tastes conflicted and meshed, bouncing away from one another and somehow connecting seamlessly in a warm trickling contradiction.
"You're ignoring what I'm saying," Armin mumbled into her hand. "I can't sleep. I can't eat. I feel like there's something inside me that wants to get out, but it's trapped inside my skull. It's pounding its little fists against the walls of my brain. It's alive, and it hurts." He blinked as she pulled him to her, and he inhaled the scent of her scarf. He had to get ready for school, he realized with a sudden wave of dread. It was their first day back, and they would have to deal with the fact that both Annie and Ymir had amber alerts out for them. Hange was getting a lot of unneeded attention for that, but their logic had been sound. By making it clear that they were missing, it shed a good deal of blame from them if anyone were to find out at a later time, and it also put both girls in a peculiar position. They'd find it difficult to get by on their own with an entire country aware of their presence.
I'll stay home with you, Mikasa thought to him, resting her chin against his hair. You can sleep, and I'll keep watch. Nothing will hurt you, not while I'm here.
"I want to go to school, though," he moaned into her shoulder, her scarf tickling his nostrils. "This is the first morning in forever that I haven't thrown up."
"All the more reason to take care of yourself, and go to sleep." Mikasa pulled back from him, and she glowered up at the wall. Roses bled against the white morning light, stained a pure color, like pink swirls whirling across the face of the paint. "Don't tell me you were at that all night."
"I don't remember starting," he mumbled. "Or falling asleep. Isn't that terrible?"
"You're keeping something from me."
Armin looked at her, her words plain and simple, unbiased and easy. She didn't sound offended, and she didn't feel offended, and she was merely stating a fact that she had observed, plucked from his muddled brain, or deduced from his lack of communication.
"That's true," he said wanly, unable to lie to her any longer. "But I need some things to be my own, Mikasa, you understand that, right?"
"You don't seem to have any care for anyone else's privacy," she said, again unbiased and uncaring. She didn't feel particularly hurt that he was hiding something from her, which stunned and excited him. If Eren knew… well, Eren would probably hate him even more. He doesn't hate me, Armin had to remind himself. He's just angry. "Is it what you see? The terrible things? I'm sure I can handle seeing them if they're not really there. You should let me see them."
Armin had to guard his relief that she didn't suspect Historia's involvement with his distance. He sighed, and rubbed his sweaty forehead. "They're not scary images, usually…" He checked his clock, and winced. "I mean, it's just the fact that I'm having… hallucinations. Do you think I could get medication for that? I'd feel a lot better if they'd go away."
"You can talk to Erwin about that," she said, rubbing his hair affectionately. "Are you sure you want to go to school today? You should give your head a rest."
"For the sake of my head," Armin said, leaning into her touch, "I'm going to go to school. And hope for the best."
You're so brave, she thought. Armin looked up at her sharply, shocked by her sweet thought, and he watched her lips curl gently. She turned from him, leaving the warmth of her presence and the taste of peppermint tea and coffee spiked milk, and the love that she had made so clear was soothing to his aching brain. He was so glad to have her. He was so glad that someone loved him the way that she loved him, because otherwise he was certain he would consider himself a cursed boy, cursed with loss and cursed with longing. He was so loved. And felt that now, with this new spiking development in his powers. He felt that he was loved, and he felt himself bleed love too.
He was fortunate in that, at least.
He got dressed hastily, dizzy and a little nauseous, but feeling better than one might expect after hours of crouching on a desk and doodling on a wall. He tossed his sweater on, throwing one last glance at the crawling roses that scarred his memory and burned his eyes, and he scowled. He didn't remember a thing from this. It was terrifying, and it was pointless. His mind was still a great mass of fog reaching from his ten year old self and spilling backwards.
Mikasa, Armin called through their mindlink. Can you help me paint over the roses later?
Levi glared at him as he stumbled into the car, squeezing beside Historia. She stared straight ahead, but he felt her go rigid at his close proximity. It was times like these that he wished he could reach her mind, just to tell her that it was okay, that he was weirded out too. But he couldn't. He was stuck with his shoulder squished against hers, and a blinding headache, and exhaustion creeping around his weathered mind. This was going to be a long day.
Levi pulled Eren aside on their way into school, and Armin kept walking, because he sensed Levi watching his back. Armin was curious, though, so he tuned into his link with Eren, He wondered if he could do it without alerting Eren, and it wasn't as difficult as he had thought it would be. He'd assumed that the distance would hinder the connection, but it didn't. Armin slipped easily into Eren's head, dark chocolate breaking against his teeth as he moved around inside Eren's furious brain, adjusting to this strange way of connecting and settling as he listened to Levi speak, the words a distant thrum of cigarette smoke bursting against Armin's face. Through Eren's eyes, the world seemed so much brighter, and Armin stumbled momentarily in his own steps, because that was not a clarity he was used to. There was no fog in Eren's mind.
"I'm not stupid," Eren sighed, and his worry hit Armin very hard, tasting sour and sad, bitter chocolate growing hard to swallow. "I know something's wrong, okay?"
"Yeah, well," Levi said, his blue eyes flickering toward Armin's back, "you're being a real brat about it, kid. Even Erwin's noticed. And Erwin doesn't exactly give much of a shit for your petty teenage feelings. I know that you're angry, and you have a right to be, yeah, okay. But you're not angry at Armin. You know it. You're just taking it out on him 'cause you're an asshole." Levi sniffed, and he turned his attention elsewhere. "Also, Mikasa told me she's thinking about dangling you from one of the upper floor windows if you don't quit it. Just a fair warning. You won't be able to stop her if she really wants to."
"Mikasa can do whatever she wants to me," Eren declared. "It doesn't erase the fact that my best friend is hiding things from me. Right, Armin?"
Oh, fuck, Armin thought numbly, pulling out of Eren's mind. Eren held onto him, mentally latching onto Armin and dragging him back into his head. It was jostling, like having a bit of his heart torn away an stuck inside a container, just to be rattled and throttled, for the beat of it made a musical sound. Drums sang inside Eren's head. A bit of Armin's heart was stuck there. Shit. I'm sorry, Eren. I'm so sorry.
"What?" Levi blinked vacantly. "Is that little shit listening?"
"Yeah," Eren said. "He's like, in my head, I guess? He thought I didn't notice. Like I can't taste him, or anything."
"You can taste him?" Levi's nose scrunched up in absolute disgust, and he whirled around. "Gross. Tell Mikasa that she should stick that little shit out a window instead."
Eren actually laughed, and the sweetness of that, the secondhand warmth of it burned Armin's head and made his chest ache. "That," Eren said brightly, "is definitely not something that'll happen while either of us are alive."
"You're disgustingly loyal to a kid who steals into your mind," Levi said.
"Yeah," Eren admitted sheepishly. "To a fault."
Eren, Armin thought, entering the school. He was astonished at the distance between them. This link was still absurdly strong, and Armin could still see out of Eren's eyes. I never meant to hurt you like this, you know that, right? I'm so sorry, I didn't know. I was trying to figure things out. I didn't know it was your mother. We all are keeping things from each other, and I guess we just… need to communicate more. I'm so sorry.
There was an expansive sort of silence that rung inside Armin's head sadly. Eren's grip on Armin loosened, and suddenly Armin could not see through Eren's eyes anymore. It hurt that Eren had let him go. Eren's emotions were conflicted, ranging from furious to guilty, and the tastes were sour and sweet, sweat and songs bleeding together. Eren's thoughts were closed to Armin. His feelings became tightly covered by a layer of dust. Eren was giving Armin a message to stop.
Empathy was far more distracting than telepathy. At least with telepathy, thoughts were like frequencies that could be tuned in and out. Feelings were so different. They were everywhere, and they were in constant flux. Armin was having trouble breathing with all the tastes that clogged his mouth, with all the feelings that filled his battered heart, with all the emotions throttling in his head.
"You didn't throw up this morning," Historia noted, passing by him in the hall. Armin paused, watching her tiny face watch his, and it was so surreal to look at her and speak to her like this. How terrible it was that not throwing up was now considered a good morning. Even though he'd lost himself sometime during the night and woken up drawing on the walls.
"Nope," Armin said, turning his face away. The hallway was swarming with students bustling away, knocking into each other as they filed their way into their classrooms. "But the day's still young."
"Don't jinx it," she warned, her eyes narrowing at him. He looked at the tiny girl, his maybe older sister, and he smiled at her dimly.
"It's fine," he whispered, nodding to her once. "I'm fine right now."
Armin would have to tell Eren, of course, that Bertholdt had been involved with his mother's death just as much as Ymir. That would strike the inevitable question of Reiner and Bertholdt's trustworthiness. Armin was so tired, and he still did not see the entire picture. They all had information gathered in different ways, and now they were stuck with the uncertainty of who knew what. They hadn't had an actual meeting since they had planned the three missions. That felt like a lifetime ago.
He sat in History, rolling his pen between his fingers, and trying to recall the things he'd forgotten. He was at a disadvantage, of course, being amnesiac and at a mental state of unrest. He needed to sort out what exactly was wrong with him. He had suspicions, of course, but the list was too broad. It could be anything, or something that didn't even have a name. He was an anomaly because he had telepathy and empathy. He didn't have the privilege of being able to go see a doctor about this. He was too afraid to be touched, and too afraid of a diagnosis that would reveal too much about his mental abilities.
It seemed that Armin was just in a constant state of fear.
He jumped, straightening up in his seat as he turned his attention to his teacher. The man was watching Armin with narrowed eyes, and he smiled tightly as he gestured to the board. "Can you tell me how many people died during the Salem Witch Trials?"
"Um…" Armin's heart fluttered in shock for a moment, his mind drawing a blank. The Salem Witch Trials? No, he knew this. Why wasn't it coming to him? He sat under the scrutiny of his teacher, inadequacy creeping up on him. His thoughts and feelings were muddled with the frequencies and tastes of everyone around him, and he felt like they were pressing up against him, their skin ever so close, and it made him feel sick.
"Twenty six," Marco Bodt whispered into Armin's ear. His breath tickled Armin's neck, which was flushed from embarrassment and anxiety.
"Twenty six," Armin blurted, not knowing what else to say. His teacher stared at Armin bizarrely, his brow knitting as he tilted his head.
"No," he said cautiously. "Close! But no. Want to take another guess?"
"Oh," Marco sighed, "was that wrong? I'm sorry, Armin."
Go away, Armin thought, not able to look up at the dead boy beside him. Please go away.
The knowledge that it was a hallucination did not comfort him, nor did it help distinguish the mad vision from reality. Marco felt real. His warm breath was hitting Armin's ear, crawling down his neck, and Armin could almost smell him, like something absurdly natural. Grass, maybe? Armin could almost taste the chocolate cookie dough, the melting of Marco Bodt's saccharine mind as it molded just right, always, without fail, and it was so confusing. He was so confused.
"You know," Marco murmured, too close to Armin, far too close, "you're pretty rude. Why should I have to go away? I like hanging around you."
"Armin?" His teacher was growing impatient, and Armin could sense his thoughts growing somewhat concerned, because Armin was a perfect student. If not a little distant. The man felt of concern, and irritation. Armin should be able to get this. Armin was a smart boy. "Okay, I'll make it simpler. How many people were hanged during the Salem Witch Trials?"
"Twenty one," Marco said evenly.
"Twenty—" Armin said in the same tone. He cut himself off with widening eyes, his mind shaking him, throttling him. Fog was clogging his thoughts. And his thoughts knew that wasn't right. "No. Nineteen. Nineteen people were hanged. One was pressed to death. Um… Giles Corey!" Armin resisted the impulse to hold his aching head. His thoughts were words floating up to the surface of his brain. Bobbing on the turbulent waters. There was a crashing flood drowning all senses inside him. It was like Annie's power had finally thawed inside his brain, and now his mind was waterlogged.
"Yes," his teacher said nodding. "Nineteen people were hanged. Now, can anyone tell me why that is?"
"That's a silly question," Marco sighed. Armin noticed Marco was kneeling so he was closer to Armin, and he edged carefully away, his eyes darting from Marco's face to his teacher's. "Don't you think?"
Armin wanted to bang his head against the desk until his skull shattered and bits of bone and brain matter spilled across it. He glared at Marco, and then turned his attention fully away from the dead boy. Instead he focused on his hands. His gloves were on, of course, but that was nothing new. Dark blue, warm, and safe. Gloves were a good way to cope. If no one touched him, no one could hurt him!
Which, of course, was a terrible lie. Annie hurt him without touching him. Her mind was poisonous, and so achingly interesting, Armin wished he had seen more of it. He was a masochist, yes, but he could still taste her springtime frost, and he wondered why she had tasted so sad when he had left her to her own escape the night she had murdered Marco.
"You don't mind the bad in her," Marco whispered. "That's kind of you. You should convince Jean to hate her less."
Yes, that was true enough. Jean despised Annie, with good reason, but there was also a soft affection for the girl he had not really known. A soft hurt from her betrayal. Jean was a terribly idealistic realist. It was actually almost funny. They were just the opposite, in truth. Armin held onto some sense of idealism while being riddled with a straining concept of realism. He held onto ideals because he wanted to believe that things could get better, but he was certain of how much worse things could get. It was exhausting.
His palms were sweating. It was an itchy sort of sweat, the kind that made him keenly aware of the skin itchy against the worn fabric of his gloves. He fidgeted, his palms flattening against the desk and itching more, skin prickling at the bizarre sensation, as if someone with chilly, spindly fingers had drawn their craggy, elongated nails across the flesh of his hands. He was feeling anxious, his heels bouncing against the linoleum, his eyes darting from his hands to the desk to his hands to the board to his hands to Marco to his hands, to his hands, to his itching, scratching hands.
His heart was beating hard against his ribs. His toes curled, his hands shook, his mouth went dry. He was having trouble focusing, and it was clouding his already too muddled brain. He wanted this itching, this anxiety and confusion, to just go away. He wanted to be free of whatever this was. This condition.
Armin peeled back his gloves, exposing his hands to the strange rush of air that went running to meet them. He rubbed them together, staring vacantly ahead, letting his mind wander away from the Salem Witch Trials and the warm breath of a dead boy creeping down his neck. He rubbed his hands because they itched, because he was scared of something that wasn't real and that couldn't hurt him. Perhaps he was scared of his own skin, of the scratch of his skin and the throttling feeling of something crawling beneath it. Something was itching not on his hands, but beneath his hands, dancing on his nerves and tickling his muscle and twirling upon his bones.
Sensations were hard to follow. They were real, or they were not, and trying to determine that would only confuse him. He was living with something under his skin that he couldn't shake. He was, in all honesty, losing his mind, and it hurt. He was supposed to be the one who had everything together, but he was deteriorating so fast that he couldn't even see where all the pieces had gone. He was left to be half a boy, with half a mind, and half a heart to strain to feel anything on its own. He was empty, and he was terrified.
The feeling of a hand slipping into his was almost too much to bear.
Hallucinations shouldn't be so soft.
Marco's thumb drew across Armin's bare knuckles, and that sensation made him feel sick. Circles rubbed against itching skin, and Armin stared forward, stared straight ahead, closing his mind to Mikasa's prying view. She couldn't know. She couldn't know how scared he was.
"You should rest," Marco whispered. "It won't help you any if you drop dead of exhaustion."
This is all your fault, Armin almost said. His mouth opened and snapped closed. He didn't glance at Marco no matter how tempted he was.
"I'm only giving you advice," the dead boy sighed, still running his fingers across Armin's hand. Armin pulled back, his shaky hands dropping into his lap. Marco's fingers hovered in midair before him, long and dark. "Honestly. You'd be better off not ending up like me."
"Dead," Armin whispered before he could stop himself. He didn't bother looking around. No one had heard him. But the idea that it had slipped made his stomach twist into knots.
Marco laughed, and he drew away from Armin too, stretching backwards. "Yeah, yeah," Marco giggled, "dead. And, also, regretful. You are going to regret so much, you know. Sooner or later, you'll look back on what you're doing now and think you were the biggest fool."
Armin couldn't help but think that he already was. It was plain stupidity to neglect one's health as Armin was currently doing. However, he wasn't doing it because he was convinced that it couldn't be true. He was doing it because he knew deep down there was something gravely wrong, and if he did not put a name to it, it could not hurt him.
He also knew this logic to be completely false, but just because he knew something didn't mean he had to believe it. He was comfortable just pushing away his problems until he had no choice but to address them. Like he had with Mikasa that morning. Yes, he was losing his mind. No. She did not believe him.
There was something crawling on his hands.
Armin felt it, strangely, and it crawled and itched across the surface of his skin like little legs dancing across his open palms. He flattened them against the desk and stared, his lips trembling in shock. Why? Why couldn't the words just leave him alone? He was haunted by ghosts of friends and ghosts of words, things that had died while pressing to his foggy mind.
His hands were open, and ink was sprawling.
Not real, Armin told himself. Not real. Not real.
It hurt to stare at the ink as it made strange looping patterns across the grooves of his shaky fingers, spilling across his skin in a great blot of black that thinned out and swirled delicately to form a word, or another, something that Armin couldn't focus upon because his throat was constricting and his head was throbbing. It wasn't fair.
"Armin," Marco said. Armin blocked his mind to any and all. Armin blocked his mind to himself. He was trapped in a maze of memories, and he was tripping over fog. And ice. And something bubbling up in the darkness, a great mass. A growth, a terrible bulbous mountain of hate and confusion. And lies. So many lies.
The words were squigglies, sweet little child's hand scrawled across little bony fingers. Historia would recognize the hand as his own. Eren would. But Armin did not remember his childhood. He remembered only pain. And he wanted to forget that like he forgot the rest. His eyes were widening, and his shoulders were shaking, and he was finding it harder to breathe as the ink on his hands twisted and twirled, a dance of lettering across white palms.
No, no, no, this isn't right, this shouldn't be happening!
A resigned part of Armin watched the panicked part go wild. He sat with his eyes glued to the forming words, the lettering and the ink and the lies that were becoming truths, and he was bitter. It wasn't fair.
But it is.
Armin choked on the bitter realization that the words were morphing to suit his mind, and his mind was suddenly erratic, and Armin was frightened because these were not words from anything he had ever read, and these were not words that he had ever said, and this was his voice echoing inside his head, words buried beneath a white satin lie, a funeral shroud for boy waiting to die in a white room, with fearful, tearful white eyes and a sunken white face, and there was pressure on his knuckles as a tiny hand closed around them, a tiny white, sunken face surfacing in the bitter sea of words that was his scrambled memory, and that face was familiar, and so were the words that had etched themselves into his skin with the wobbly script of his own hand, tattooed with ethereal ink and quaking with the rhythm of his trembling bones.
memento mori memento mori memento mori
He raised his shaky fingers to his face, turning his hand about to get a look at it all around. Black ink was scrawled plainly against his chapped white skin. Red stained his fingertips, a mark of his morning mishap, and he watched little letters neatly pour over the crimson smudges. He was choking on this world of words, and he felt eyes on him as he shook and shook and flipped his hands to and fro— front and back, front and back, knuckles and palms, pale nails and red finger pads. Words! His world was nothing but a gruesome wave of bloody words lashing out at him! The tastes were words! The lies, they were words! The memories he could not reach, the feelings he could not grasp, they were all stupid, startling, stinging words! He wasn't strong enough to stand against such striking songs— his own songs, his own thoughts spun into sweet, somber songs.
memento mori memento mori memento mori
"No," he whispered. He didn't want to remember. Marco was right! He was better off forgetting.
It was painful to remember.
There was a little boy sitting before him with brown skin and salient green eyes, like sea foam crystallized around a hollow center. The boy blinked in the memory, limp brown hair fluttering across his brow. He was settled in a limp heap of immobile limbs and fallen crutches. Tears were glistening against the tightly knit crystalline structure of his bold green eyes, and he glared ahead in defiance. His dark face was so numbingly transparent, Armin could sense exactly what the boy had been thinking without tasting or hearing or feeling it.
The boy had dared Armin to question his tears.
Armin recalled bending down and plucking up the crutches. "Stand up, Eren," he had said, tucking both crutches under his arm.
And Eren, awed and pained, did just that. His endurance, Armin recalled, had been the most amazing thing. He could stand even on his worst days. He said it didn't matter, and that he'd rather use his legs whenever he could, so long as he still had legs to move. So he willed himself to stand. And the boy stood before Armin, his braces holding him upright as he glowered. Tear tracks traced his flushed cheeks.
"Here," Armin had said, offering back the boy's crutches. Eren had shifted his disdain from Armin's face to the crutches. "Well, go on. You need them, don't you?"
Eren gave a sharp, bitter laugh. "Oh, yeah!" He grinned, and it was a snarl. "Not for much longer, apparently!"
"Oh!" Armin remembered now the feeling of relief. Eren was going to heal. That was good. That was so good to hear. "Are you getting the braces off soon, then?"
"Nope!" Eren's eyes were alight with his rage. "I'm gonna lose all the use of my legs, Armin. Innit that just great? My mama, she's talkin' to my dad right now, 'cause he's gotta tell her. He dumped me in here 'cause he thought it'd do me some good to be with other kids. He's such a jackass!" Eren's fists balled at his side, and he let out a wordless cry of frustration. He tried to kick at the air, but Armin had shoved the crutched into the boy's chest to stop him. Eren had merely took them, and continued on with his furious words, acid spilling from his lips in vicious syllables. "This place isn't even a hospital! Why am I even here? Why is my dad here? Why are you and Mikasa the only ever kids I get to play with?"
"What do you mean?" Armin had asked, anxiety clutching at him. Even then he had been lying to Eren.
"I mean," Eren cried, waving his crutches and wobbling a little, "I've seen that girl who always follows you around! The one with the scarf."
"No!" Eren rolled his eyes, and snorted. "No way, I gave Mikasa that scarf, and I kinda already know her! I mean, the girl with the scarf around her head. I didn't get to see her face, but she was talking to you last week when I came, and she was with you the week before too, when my dad came to get you for your like, therapy, or whatever. And I know there are more kids here!"
"Oh," Armin had exhaled, his heart clenching. "Annie. You mean Annie."
It was strange to think about Annie now as she was back then. Fog clung to the very whisper of her name. She was not a safe topic to breech, and yet she was too interesting to let lay. Armin wanted to know.
"Annie doesn't like people," Armin had sighed. "If she played with you she'd probably try to strangle you."
"Sounds like fun."
"Eren," he reprimanded, feeling guilty for lying. Annie wouldn't strangle him. In fact, Annie wanted to play with them too. She wasn't allowed, though. Dr. Jaeger's orders.
"I'm going to be in a wheelchair before I'm twelve," Eren said suddenly, raising his dry eyes to Armin. He assessed him with a fury that Armin could not possibly placate on his own. "That's what they told."
In his heart, he felt like crying. Both his child self, and his present self. Both had already known this fact. "That's awful," Armin had said mechanically. "I'm so—" Enough lies, a voice inside Armin's head had hissed. Tell him the truth. Just tell him about it. He'll get it. He understands! He's just like you! "I…" Tears stung his eyes suddenly. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair!
"You…?" Eren held Armin by the hand, and he shook him a little. "Are you okay? Your skin's all clammy and warm."
"Headache," Armin mumbled, pulling his hand back and rubbing his splitting head. He smiled dimly. "Eren… Eren, I hate it here…" Armin was crying freely now, shaking miserably as he stepped back. "I think I'm going to die in here… I'm scared I'm going to die in this place…"
A future Armin felt compelled to pat his past self on the head and cry, "You didn't! You're free now! Please, please, please don't cry anymore, please…"
Eren was suddenly very acutely aware of what Armin was saying. "Are they holding you prisoner?" Eren whispered urgently. "Do you need to break out? Me and Mikasa can—"
"Eren," Armin gasped, teary eyed and laughing. "Eren! You don't get it! It's amazing how you haven't gotten it, really, it's staring you right in the face!" Armin stumbled away from Eren and washed his face in his hands. "We're dying! Me, and Annie, and the others. And you. You're dying too, Eren. Just at a slower rate."
Eren had merely stood, legs stuck in braces and crutches holding him upright. "What?" he had whispered. "You…? No. That's not possible. You can't—!"
"I've been trying not to tell you," Armin sobbed, "I didn't wanna ups-s-set you, y'know? You're nice to me, and y-y-you don't treat me like I'm something fragile, you… you think I'm strong!" He laughed, a mangled shriek amongst his strangled sobs. "I can't even walk in a straight line! I'm not s-s-strong, I'm… I'm—!"
"Armin…" Eren had said quietly, awed and confused by the abrupt change in Armin's attitude. "You won't die in here."
"Yes I will," Armin whispered miserably. "I haven't got anywhere else. They took my mom away, Eren, and I can't remember… when… or why… or even her face…" He recalled the feeling of absolute desolation. He was desperate for feeling, and for some semblance of kinship. "I'm so tired… and I'm so sick of this. I'm sorry I didn't tell you, I… I'm sorry. I'm sorry."
"You don't have to apologize for that," Eren said weakly, his eyes darting across Armin's face. "I'm not mad at you, or anything."
Armin had sniffled, and wiped cautiously at his tears. "Y-you aren't?"
"Dude," Eren said, blinking confusedly. "Armin, for someone so smart, you can be really stupid."
Eren had hugged him then, taking pained steps to reach Armin and throw his arms around his shoulders. "You're not gonna die," Eren assured him. "Me and you, we're gonna beat it. We're not gonna let stuff like, like muscular dystoppy, or whatever you've got get us."
"Muscular dystrophy," Armin corrected weakly.
"Whatever," Eren had groaned. "These dumb things have too many long words! Why don't they just call it the leg eating disease?"
"Because that's not what it is?"
"Armin," Eren had said, shifting his grip so only one arm was slung around Armin's shoulders. "You're gonna live."
I'm gonna live.
I'm gonna live.
memento mori memento mori memento mori
Later, as Armin recalled, Annie had sat beside him, her gaunt face searching his. They were beginning to look alike. They had the same hollowed look in their eyes now. Then. Now? Armin was presently mulling over the thought of Annie's face as it had been when she had fled her crime scene. She'd been so scared, and it was jarring because Annie was too stoic to be scared. Even back then.
"Today Eren told me," Armin had said, "that I'm gonna live."
Annie had nodded, her vacant eyes drawing away from his face. Her scarf was folded in hands, and Armin saw, delighted but disheartened, that her hair was growing back.
"Do you believe that?" she asked. Annie sought Armin out only when she was scared, he knew, because she wasn't scared of Armin or how Armin thought of her. With Reiner and Bertholdt she feared their worry, to the point where they had no worry left for themselves. She'd often complained about that.
"No," Armin said. "But it's a nice thought, isn't it?"
"It's nice to think about living," Armin had mused aloud. "But it's scary too."
"Annie," Armin had said, unable to look at her. His head and heart were beating in a struggling rhythm. "Do you believe what they say? That they'll make us stronger?"
"Yes," she said dimly. Her tiny knuckles were white as she clutched her scarf. "But I don't think it'll be in the ways that we want."
"Oh," Armin said. "Do you think we have any choice?"
"No." Annie had sighed, and that sigh echoed in the recesses of Armin's poor aching mind. "But even if we did, it wouldn't matter. I don't want to die."
Armin had sat beside her, feeling lost in this sad ache that hummed inside his chest and pounded inside his brain. "Neither do I," he had said numbly, brain splitting, heart racing, body shaking. "I want to live."
memento mori memento mori memento mori
His shaky hands wrote memories and spilled them into his pounding head. He was sickened by it all, sickened and exhausted, and he knew now without a doubt. He understood his memory problems, and understood why Marco had warned him. It hurt to remember such painful things.
"I remember," he gasped, his eyes darting across the repetition of dark words.
"What are you doing?" Marco asked slowly. Tentatively. "Armin?"
Armin felt like he could laugh. He felt like it, but of course he didn't. He was too shocked, too pained, too angry. How had it not occurred to him before? He was stupid, he was so stupid!
If Armin were as smart as everyone told him he was, he would have been ruthless. Armin should never have let his power go to waste. He should have torn up the minds around him from the roots to understand what the hell had happened to him and everyone else. He shouldn't have let Ymir get away, and he should have realized! He should have known!
His conscience was a nuisance.
Why, then, couldn't he just let it go?
"Armin, stop. Armin, look at me." Marco's voice was a distant clap of thunder in the raging downpour that clogged Armin's head. "Armin!"
"Shut up!" Armin cried, chalk screeching between his fingers as he drove a line down the face of the blackboard. He stood and stared at his words, his heart pounding in his mouth. He felt dizzy, and his limbs felt heavy and loose, like they were about to crumble away from his body. "Stop talking. Stop—!"
"Armin," Marco said gently. "Look. Look at what you're doing."
"I don't…" Armin looked. He saw. Chalk clattered to the floor.
Armin didn't know what to do or what to say and his head was cracking open, and he felt like all the things that had been buried in his life were just building up, waiting to pour over his overheating brain like magma. He laughed weakly, bitterly, and stumbled back in shock. Memento mori. Memento mori.
The entire chalkboard was covered in his careful handwriting, a swirling mass of one Latin phrase converging on the center of the blackboard, a pit of empty space. A pupil. An eye. He'd written his words into the shape of an eye. They were still staining his hands an inky black. And he was shaking so terribly, feeling the stares around him and feeding off their feelings of confusion and apprehension, tasting their glazed worry and sour fear.
"Oh," he said.
His teacher's thoughts were very clipped. Very neat. They tasted incredulous, vaguely chilly and vaguely tart. What the fuck is wrong with this kid?
If only he knew.
"You know," Marco sighed, "if you think you're crazy, you'll probably make yourself crazy."
"I'm not crazy," Armin whispered.
"Tell that to them."
Armin turned his face uncertainly to his class. He was standing at the very front, his body all but pressed to the chalkboard. They were all gaping at him, some kids half out of their desks as though to run at him, or run out the door. Shame crept upon him, and his chest constricted as he ran through possible excuses for this blunder. He had none. He was either crazy, or he was a freak.
Neither was far from the truth.
"I'm not crazy," Armin said, louder this time. His voice broke as it sailed across their heads. They merely stared at him, empty eyed, thoughts reeling in disbelief. Of course you're crazy, their minds whispered in unison. Acrid words dug into his tongue.
"Well," Marco laughed, "you are talking to yourself!"
Armin inhaled sharply, and it hurt. He realized, startled, he was crying. He wiped at his cheeks, which had gone bright red as a result of his tears and humiliation. What was he supposed to do? His head hurt so much, and he'd remembered. He remembered something so crucial about the institution. He was going to scream.
He wanted to scream.
Why wasn't he screaming yet?
"Oh," he said, his eyes widening. He'd gone numb. His head was nothing but a drum beat vibrating in the distance. "Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no—"
"What?" Marco asked.
"I told you to shut up!" Armin snapped, whirling around to look back at his monstrous, ominous eye.
"You're being rude," Marco said coolly. "Why can't you just be a good boy for once, and stop meddling about in things you shouldn't?"
"Because," Armin whispered, "because you're not real."
"Isn't that a matter of perspective?" Marco laughed.
"No!" Armin rounded on the boy, his eyes flashing dangerous. "No! You're dead! You died! You're not real, you're just— just my imagination!"
"Oh, is that what I am?" Marco blinked, his warm eyes glittering with a sense of wonder and curiosity. "You should stop yelling. It's not very nice, and you're distracting all your peers from the lesson."
Armin was aware that everyone was staring at him. He knew it, and he didn't care. He was beyond the point of caring. He took one last look at his reminder, and he turned toward the door.
"What are you doing now?" Marco sighed. "Are you going to leave? That's rather dramatic."
"Dramatic?" Armin could hear thoughts being thrown at him, words of worry and fear and judgment. He's crazy, their minds whispered. He's lost his mind! "I can't think anymore. I can't do it. I can't think with all these things in my head, and especially not with a dead boy breathing down my neck all the time. Just leave me alone!"
"But why?" Marco gasped. "You're so fun to be around!"
Armin was shaking very badly. His knees were wobbling, and his fingers were jerking, and every step sent his body into a jolt. His heart leapt into his throat, and he wished he could understand just a little bit more. The variables were beginning to fall into place, but there was still something missing.
"You're dead," Armin repeated quietly. "You are dead. And I'm…" Armin glanced back at the blackboard. "I'm remembering."
"It's interesting to me," said Marco, "how you're talking to me without any care of how you're perceived by your peers. If you want them to believe you're not crazy, shouldn't you stop?"
"I don't need to prove my sanity," Armin said levelly. He was standing, shaky and close to sobs under the watchful eyes of his entire History class. He felt nauseous.
"You don't sound so sure," Marco whispered. He was standing at the door now. Somehow.
"I'm not sure of anything anymore." Armin forced himself forward, ignoring the audible sound of his teacher calling out to him. He had to ignore him. There was nothing Armin could do for the man but leave the class while he could still stand.
He tried the door, but he found it wouldn't budge. He blinked to the side, and saw that Marco was gone again. When he looked up he saw a flicker of freckles as a boy's face poked up into the rectangular window of the door. Marco's eyes were dark with concern, and Armin shook the doorknob furiously. He needed to get out of here. His heart was pounding, and his mouth had gone dry, and he was flushed with embarrassment and shaking so badly that his teeth were chattering.
"Let me out." Armin jostled the doorknob, feeling foolish and fearful. He stared at Marco, whose freckles stretched as a smile forced dimples to cave into his cheeks. He seemed too real, and yet Armin knew. He'd known for a very long time. He had put the pieces together, and lost the glue. "Let me out!"
"Calm down," Marco cooed. "You're only making this worse for yourself. Just take a deep breath, and—"
"I'm done listening to you," Armin spat. His ears were ringing. He took a step back, and his wobbly knees reminded him that he had no strength to kick down the door. He had no strength anywhere. He was a weak, sickly boy, and his mind was playing tricks on him. The door wasn't really locked. Marco wasn't really holding it. Marco was dead.
But Armin was still alive.
He needed to remember that.
And Armin, though weak and feeble in body, knew something very particular about himself.
His mind was strong.
The mental nudge was more like a mental avalanche, and he jerked his chin, watching in minute horror as the door was blown backwards, snapping at its hinges and cracking against a wall. Armin was close enough to the door that only the teacher would have seen that Armin had not been touching it. Armin knotted his mental grip into his teacher's frantic mind, and he yanked the most recent memory of watching Armin's mental power nearly blow the door off right out of the man's head. Armin felt that memory disintegrate, crumbling against his tongue in a flurry of ashes, and he felt the man's vague pain as he held his head and moaned.
Armin stood for a moment, disgusted and terrified.
He was invading minds and stealing thoughts and crushing them.
He was a monster underneath it all. It had never been a secret, but even so, Armin had tried to be as human as possible. He wanted to be a hero. Not this monstrous little thief that plucked away at minds and tore apart doorways and shouted at dead boys who weren't really there.
Armin whirled around and face his class, their vague faces all shocked and scared and startlingly aware of him. Their thoughts were mingled with confusion and awe and terror, all balled up into a mass of convoluted sparks that blew back into Armin's face and stung him. He exhaled, tears welling up in his eyes as he jerked his chin at them and tasted their minds, all of them, ribbons unraveling across his brain.
"Forget!" he shouted, blowing the single thought into each head and shattering their perception of him. Perhaps he would walk into class tomorrow, and none of them would know his name. They all stared at him, and they all screamed as one. Their minds were clawing at Armin's, and then they could not fight him anymore. They were strangled by ribbons and by one word.
Armin fled the room, tears streaking his cheeks, as he bolted down the hallway, his chest constricting and his head viciously chiseling away at his skull. He had difficulty seeing even a few feet in front of him, the world was such a hazy mist of ribbons and memories, and words stuck to his bare fingertips and churning outwards into a great wide world of empty space and empty people. He was going to die in here.
He threw himself at he first door he saw to be marked a bathroom, and he lurched toward the nearest sink and spilled his guts out. He puked as he did everyday, urgently emptying the lack of content inside his stomach into a porcelain dish, and feeling dizzy and broken afterwards, gasping and heaving and tear stained. He vomited again, buckled against the sink and falling to his knees, a sob perched upon his bile-slick tongue, and he spat into the sink, reaching blindly for the faucet. Five flicked on at once, spitting water into the air and into his face. His mind shuddered from the thrill of it, and his stomach stuttered and churned, sending a great flood of bile ripping up his throat. He gagged and spat and crumpled, resting his sweaty forehead against the cool glass basin of the sink, and his limbs began to jerk as his mind froze up, a smattering of emotions swelling inside him.
His fingers slipped from the glass sink, too sweaty to keep a good grip, and he wanted to scream but he found that he had no voice. His mind was fading away, and his body was quaking s badly that he was suddenly against the floor, and all sensations were driven by a force that Armin could not see. He couldn't speak or think or move, he just stared vacantly and let his power break free of the confinements of his poor, broken mind.
It lashed out.
Armin wasn't sure how long he ended up lying there, but he was still shaking by the time a pair of hands grasped him and rested his head somewhere soft. His mind had gone away, drifted someplace where it didn't hurt anymore, and his power had gone somewhere completely different. They separated, and then sprung back together, too attached to truly disjoint, but even so. He was growing so tired of this, and the sound of rushing water filled his ears, and his shaking turned to nothing, just limp limbs twisted against grimy tile, and Armin blinked.
He realized he was crying, but he couldn't manage to raise a hand to wipe his tears.
He almost mistook the familiar voice for Marco. He was relieved when his foggy eyesight adjusted, and it was Eren's face staring down at him. Dark and painfully worried. Eren moved his hand uncertainly to Armin's forehead. His touch sent a shiver down Armin's spine, and his taste was like welcomed flood after a year of drought.
"Armin," Eren whispered, "hey, look at me. Don't look away. You see me, right? Nod if you do."
Armin could barely manage it, but he did. He nodded. Eren smiled, and he nodded, and then his expression turned sour. "Stay with me," Eren said fiercely, pulling Armin around the chest and yanking him upright. "It's over now. You… you're going to be okay."
"No…" Armin mumbled, his head lolling back. This was so strange. Not so long ago Armin had been pulling Eren out of a steaming mass of nerves, and he'd been in a similar state of bewilderment.
"Shut up," Eren hissed. "'Course you'll be okay. Dummy. Oh my god, your mind is a fucking mess, can you turn that off?"
"Mm…?" Armin blinked dazedly up at the ceiling. "Off…?"
He nodded, and his head throttled in response to that. Eren exhaled sharply in relieve, and he nodded against Armin's hair. "Good," he mumbled. "Mikasa's probably on her way here by now. You were screaming inside everyone's heads, I think."
"Nah." Eren pulled him closer. "Don't talk. Kay? I'm gonna call for help."
"No?" Eren held Armin carefully, but he looked as though he wanted to throttle him. His brown knitted in such a way that Armin could count the wrinkles distorting Eren's forehead. "Oh, get the fuck over yourself. You need to see a doctor."
"I can't," Armin murmured, tears stinging his eyes. "I can't."
A new mind blasted through Armin's range as the door to the bathroom swung open, and a girl froze in the doorway. Her thoughts were muddled, confused, and Armin realized he must have thrown himself into the girl's bathroom by mistake. Whatever.
"What the hell?" the girl blurted. It must've been a strange sight, all the faucets running and overflowing the sinks, and two boys sprawled on the floor, one cradling the other.
"Yo!" Eren twisted to face the girl, and Armin closed his eyes. He wanted to go home and go to sleep, but he didn't think he'd be able to. "Get the principal, or— or like, someone, I don't care! He just had a seizure."
"What?" the girl uttered weakly.
Mikasa burst in behind her, her mind filling up Armin's with anger and unparalleled concern. Peppermint was stinging his tongue, mixing with the taste of bile and tears. She dropped down beside Eren, her hands pressing to his neck, then his forehead, checking his pulse and temperature quickly. Vitals, vitals. It was almost funny. Armin almost laughed. He buried his face in Eren's shoulder and began to cry instead.
"What happened?" Mikasa demanded.
"I don't know," Eren gasped, "I literally just walked in and he was having a fit on the floor. That's bad, ain't it? Seizures are bad!"
"Seizures can mean anything," Mikasa said calmly. "Armin, can you speak?"
"Yeah," he mumbled, unable to turn his face to her. "My… my everything hurts…"
"You're not still seeing things, are you?"
"Seein' things?" Eren asked sharply. "What the sweet hoppin' hell does that mean?"
It occurred to Armin just how out of the loop Eren was. I've been having hallucinations, Armin thought to Eren, reaching out and brushing their link gingerly. He didn't want to pry. He'd done enough prying for today. They've gotten really bad. I can't ignore them. I interact. It's stupid, I know, but I can't help it. It's got me, Eren. It's in my head and under my skin, and I can't get it out.
"What the fuck?" Eren's eyes flashed, and Armin listened to his teeth crack against each other in fury. "When did this start?"
"A few days ago," Armin said quietly, pushing himself upright. He wanted to be able to support himself, but he was dizzy and shaky and sick.
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"Eren." Mikasa's voice was fierce and reprimanding. They were thankfully alone in the bathroom now. "Armin's feelings about this haven't been hidden from you. Have you really not been paying attention to his pain?"
Eren scoffed. "Well, it's not like I haven't felt it!" He sounded vaguely irritated by Mikasa's tone. "Armin's always in pain, okay? I didn't even think about— shit. I'm sorry, Armin. I've been a real ass."
"Yeah," Armin sighed. "So have I, though. So it's okay." Eren grinned suddenly, and Armin smiled back, his skin stretching tightly. He was reminded of something. "Eren…"
The sound of rushing water made Armin's head spin, but he couldn't help but thing about how clogged his head had been earlier. It felt clearer now. It always felt clearer when Mikasa and Eren were around to share the burden. The link that tethered their minds was a strong one, made of steel and stone and standing stark on the murky fog that clung to Armin's brain.
"You had muscular dystrophy," Armin said, "when you were little. Right?"
"What?" Mikasa asked flatly. When Eren did not respond, tasting of confusion and awe, Mikasa rounded on him. "What does he mean, Eren?"
"Did you get that out of my head?" Eren said, sounding a little angry.
"No!" Armin shook his head, and shook it, and shook it, feeling it rattle. "No. I remembered. I remembered, Eren. Memento mori."
"Is that, like, Japanese?"
Mikasa swatted Eren over the head, and he groaned, bowing it in shame. "It's Latin," she said.
"I forgot so much," Armin whispered, staring down at his shaky white hands. The vague lettering had disappeared. He was glad. "But I remember this. These words, they're a reminder."
"Remember you will die," Mikasa said. Her eyes grew suddenly very wide. Eren's mouth fell open. They stared at each other, the three of them, each sitting on their knees on the bathroom floor, sinks overflowing around them.
"Remember who will die?" Eren's voice heightened in distress. Armin could only shake his head.
He had no answer.
Uh, so like, I messed up for a few chapters and put the year as 2677 instead of 2766, which is a huge difference bc that is a century. That is an entire century. I don't even know what year that is in ad, hold on, let me check.
jesus fuck, that's actually the year that's on all the ilse pictures lmao HAPPY ACCIDENTS OH MY GOD
oh, yeah, and armin's hallucinations got a whole lot worse.
so there's that!