Icarus & I

Chapter 29

I got time.

Much more time than I needed. Probably more than I can ever repay.

I began to try and keep track of the days, again, of how long I was waiting. We were in the middle of August, already, and I knew my orientation at Sina U began in September. But I was willing to wait.

Nevertheless, as hours turned to days, and days to a week, I questioned myself, my motives. Though I told Ymir I'd be leaving soon, I kept working- to repay Bert, Reiner, and Annie, I told myself, pretending I didn't enjoy Boris, Marlowe, and Hitch's company. Pretending I didn't enjoy watching Ymir and Historia interact when they visited.

I came home to Annie, and it felt as though every moment was suddenly more precious than it might have been before. I told myself I was waiting to tell her, that I was acting out of rationality, when really, I was acting out of fear. Not reason, or caution, but fear.

Fear of losing that something.

Fear of losing her.

So I came home to Annie, and though her question and my lie hung over our heads, we didn't speak a word of it.

Instead, I said, "Hey."

She smiled and said, "Hey."

I'd join her on the couch. She'd kiss me on the mouth and hold me, and I'd tell her about my day. About getting to know Boris, Marlowe, Hitch, Ymir, and Historia.

"Did you know Boris once took a nap in one of the dryers?" I would chuckle, or, "Today Hitch tripped Ymir and got away with it," or, "Ymir called me a trap, and I still have no idea what that means."

Annie would laugh her glorious cackle-snort laugh and say, "Yes, I did," "She's lucky she's alive," or, "You're not a trap, so don't worry about what it means."

We'd argue, too- about science, books we'd read. Celebrities and education.

"Okay, but Freud was insane," she'd say.

"So was Galileo, in his time," I'd argue.

"Galileo had factual evidence, at least."

"Freud did, too."

"And what might that be?"

I'd point at her and smirk.

"Human behavior."

"Human behavior is a fucking roulette wheel."

"A 'roulette wheel' with a proven pattern."

She would eventually roll her eyes and lean back into me. Not a victory, but a grudging concession. Still, I'd take what I could, from the most stubborn woman on Earth.

"You're stupid," she'd say, every time. Through a grin.

Throughout our conversations, our dances, we'd kiss, cuddle, make out. However, it seemed she always wanted something more, for some reason. Out of only slight desire and a heavy, likely unhealthy guilt, I occasionally would concede, though Bert and Reiner were home more often than not.

"We just have to be quiet," she'd remind me.

Annie didn't teach me things; I experienced them, blind and fumbling, but independent. And, though I knew, I knew I had to go, to tear myself away from this, I let us grow closer. I let what was left of my barrier, my virginity, wane.

I tried to keep track of the days again, but with her, I just couldn't. Annie had a way of making hours seem like weeks, and weeks like hours.

Sometime in this bubble of ours, we were in the thick of it, physically, when Annie told me she loved me.

Heated, clear, low, and raw, I felt her breath in my ear.

"I love you, Armin."

Desperate. Heavy. Bare.


"Stay with me," she begged. We stopped, though at that point I didn't quite want to stop, and she looked me in the eyes.

Skin once white now flushed and pink. Pale hair undone, loose around her face, sticking where the sweat ran. An open mouth framed with sore lips, and eyes, melted and pleading.

Desperate. Disheveled. Raw.

I found that I couldn't speak.

I said nothing.

And in that silence, I said all too much. The something shifted entirely.

She shook it off, more or less, and kept on, with, inexplicably, more desperation, more urgency, but no words- not even whispers.

We both finished- I made certain she did- but once our breathing slowed and the heat faded, she kissed my neck and, wordlessly, she put on her clothes and left.

Ymir dropped by, Historia-less, at work the next day. She placed something cold and hard in my hand.

"Special delivery," she declared, "from your freak-of-nature friend."

It took me a moment to understand that Ymir had just handed me my cellphone.

She said, "It's got a message on it. Read it."

I turned on the power; it was fully charged.

Message from Eren:

meet me and mikasa at the burger thing at 12. if ur ready.

I looked at Ymir. She shrugged.

"You've got some time off, if you want to take it."

"I will," I said. "Thanks."

At noon, I showed up at Burger Baby's. My hands trembled; my stomach shook. But I walked in, alone, to the unfamiliar restaurant, phone in hand.

Four people were seated: an old couple, and a young one. With a jolt of recognition, I approached the table of the latter.

Mikasa saw me and tried for a smile. Eren, following her gaze, simply stared. His eyes burned. I gave in to reflex and took a seat.

Though I couldn't bring myself to look, I knew that Eren was still staring at me- likely because he, like me, didn't know what else to do.

Mikasa, on the other hand, seemed to fill the role she always had- that of authority and leadership. The Team Mom, in other words, though I'm sure you've figured as much, at this point.

She took the both of our hands in her dry, unexpectedly cold ones and squeezed. That, I found, was all she had to do to get things moving.

I finally met Eren's gaze. Somehow, his condition seemed to have worsened since I had last seen him. I felt as though every second I had spent "waiting" on Annie, Eren had spent soaking in self-hatred. Guilt overwhelmed me.

The words, "I'm sorry," spilled from my lips.

"Sorry?" Eren's face scrunched. "What do you have to be sorry for?"

I was too tired to give him my honest answer, so I shrugged and repeated, "I'm sorry."

He sighed and, finally, averted his eyes. He took my hand. The three of us sat in a circle, connected.

"I just need to know if things have gotten better. With us. At all."

The last part was more of a question than an elaboration, but he still didn't look up.

It hit me, then, that right here, right now, Eren and Mikasa both were exposed. They were baring themselves to me in a way that was, somehow, significantly different than before. Maybe it was because we'd never had a fight so terrible as our last, or maybe it was because it was a confrontation thirteen years in the making, but in any case, we were melded together. I'd known it, since Eren had first grabbed my shoulder in this exact spot. They held parts of me I couldn't sacrifice, and I held parts of theirs they couldn't afford to lose, either. To prolong this- this waiting, if that's what I insisted on calling it- was unfair to them, unfair to Annie, unfair, even, to myself, though the opposite felt true.

They were vulnerable, and there was so much at stake.

I squeezed Eren's hand and said, "They've been better, Eren, since you found me. Since Mikasa came to see me." He found the courage to face me, again. I glanced at Mikasa, caught her smile, and shared it with him. "I just need to get my things ready. Before I go."

"How long do you think that'll take?" Mikasa asked.

"Give me four days," I answered. "There are….people. People I have to say good-bye to, and thank."

"We understand," Eren said with a nod. An idea struck him- I saw it in the way he blinked upward, as though noticing something flying overhead. "Hey, actually-" He stopped, shook his head. "No, nevermind."

I studied him, trying to surmise what it is he wanted. "What is it?" I pried.

Mikasa said, "He wants to know if we can visit the people who took you in. So we can thank them."

"Yeah," he said in relief. "That was it. Thanks, Miks."

"It's what I'm here for."

I considered it, very seriously. Tried to calculate the compatibility of my best friends and my new ones. Pondered whether I wanted them to meet Annie or not, or if she, Bert, or Reiner would feel comfortable with even more strangers in their house. In the end, I decided they would appreciate the show of gratitude. Reiner would, at least.

"I think that's a good idea," I said. My best friends brightened. "You guys can meet when you pick me up, before we leave."

Eren perked up, placing his hands flat on the table, his eyes shimmering.

"Sounds great!"

Hearing the enthusiasm in his voice felt like coming home.

On my bike, after checking back in at work and confirming that I had the rest of the day off, I relished the breeze brushing through my curls and on my face, as well as the sun, high in the sky, pressing through my skin. Trees flurried past, green leaves brushing the top of my head where they swayed over the road. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful, tiny town. My shirt slowly untucked itself as I pedaled, and my sleeves unrolled, and I wondered, briefly, if my hair had gotten noticeably longer since I'd cut it.

AN: Things are going to move quite quickly, now. We're very close to the end of the story.

Thank you, as always, for your wonderful feedback and support!

I will likely not finish this before my classes start (literally tomorrow lmfao), but the next few chapters are prewritten, so no worries about me leaving this completely unfinished. And anyway, my first week of classes should be simple enough. In any case, I'll find time.

(Fun fact: I've been updating from my dorm's laundromat….if this ain't fate, idk what is. Hehe.)

Love you guys. Until next chapter!