It was evening and the room was dark. No lamps were lit to give them light; only the dusky hues of the setting sun to illuminate the bare shoulders of the one crouched before Levi. It was quiet, silent at times, but that wasn't to say that they were alone. Within walls where humans were packed like sardines, it was impossible to hope for true solitude, so they did the best they could, finding an hour of the day when there would be fewer people around to hear them partake in this anguishing ritual.
Something was noticeably different this time.
It was such a visceral difference that Levi was unable to take his eyes away from it from the first moment he'd seen it, yet Erwin kept his head turned away. Whether he averted his eyes because he couldn't stand to look at it or because he couldn't bear to watch Levi as he looked at it, Levi couldn't be certain. All he knew was that it annoyed him, especially if it were for the latter.
There was a purpose to this meeting. For a few moments to a few hours, weakness was prohibited. That disgusting, pitiful human quality that they tried to mask in front of those who mattered was allowed to be free. Such rare evenings were meant to be a safe time, a time of relief, but Levi couldn't help but hate them. Seeing Erwin looking anything but resolved felt wrong.
With a slap loud enough to make his ears ring in the deafening quiet, he left a stinging imprint on Erwin's left cheek. The force of it turned his head, but he was back to looking the other way less than a second later with much wider eyes.
“Look at it,” Levi said, straightening his back. It felt sickening to stand so tall above him.
The silence resumed with Erwin yet to speak a word, staring at the cuff that chained his left wrist to the floor with an indecipherable expression.
“What's even the point of this if you're not going to do what I say?” Levi asked, his frustration permeating his voice. The longer these meetings went on, the more they felt like a pain and a serious detriment to his stability. “I'm looking at it, you know.”
Erwin's expression tightened, and he closed his eyes.
It wasn't about looking at it. It was about seeing his missing limb for what it was. When he looked at it, Levi saw what was really missing. A chip of humanity had been torn away. Something irreplaceably, importantly human had been taken away from him. Looking at it, watching Erwin turn his eyes away, his frustration only grew.
He wanted him to take responsibility for the way that it made him feel. For now, he could keep his back straight as long as it meant that he would get Erwin to see it for what it was in the end.
The wooden floor creaked beneath the weight of Levi's boots as he stepped closer to him. As the silence grew longer, Levi began to accept the possibility that Erwin simply had too many things to say. He was the type to select his words carefully before they made it past his lips, but even knowing that did not help abate Levi's unease.
He wanted to hear him. Anything would do as long as it would prove that the Erwin before him hadn't been replaced by some lifeless mannequin.
Lifting his right foot, he crushed the heel between his legs, feeling a fraction of satisfaction when a wince splintered Erwin's features. Despite himself, Levi smiled. The simple tilt of his lips made the uneasiness in him feel like it was about to overflow, but he tamped it down and tried to let himself indulge in his small victory.
A little wince was simply not enough, so he lifted his boot back by barely more than an inch and let it return to him in a short, swift kick. With his sharp heel digging into his most sensitive skin, Levi pressed the flat of his sole against the length of him and rubbed it in a rough caress. At the sound of a strained breath escaping Erwin's parted lips, a smile he could feel more confident in began to blossom on Levi's face.
His frustration had yet to subside, and probably never would, but he felt pleased to hear something familiar. At his core, Erwin was a man like any other, capable of pain, misery, and mistakes, but Levi didn't want to believe that. He knew that, and had no choice but to believe it, but he preferred to surround his thoughts with memories of this Erwin; the one whose will would only begin to weaken as Levi crushed his manhood beneath his boot.
“Does it make you feel like less to know that you can't even control your own body?” he asked, stroking his rough sole against him. “You look like you feel miserable, but it's responding as it would under normal circumstances. Adrenaline?” He pondered that with a hum, then shook his head to dismiss the thought. Whatever the cause, there was no escaping its human nature.
Even when he brought his shoe back to the floor, Erwin remained shamefully hard, but his expression looked more conflicted than ever.
“This isn't supposed to be a pity party, you know. Are you going to look at it yet or not?”
Brows pulled together tightly, Erwin directed his sour stare at the floor. Levi, releasing an exasperated sigh, bent at the waist and grabbed him firmly by the jaw, forcing him to turn his face toward him. Scraping what must've been the bottom of his strength, Erwin met his eyes and held them. Something still wasn't quite right, though. The twist in his brows didn't suit his face.
He slapped him across the cheek again, and Erwin's right shoulder jerked. He tried to turn his face away again, but Levi's hold on his jaw was strong.
“You wanted to stop my hand, didn't you?” he asked. Just for good measure, he slapped his face again to see how he would react, but nothing came. He stayed a still as a doll.
Levi let go and stood back up. “This feels worthless. I can't punish you like this. It's not like I'm feeling any pity for you or anything, but I can tell that you feel bad enough, so what's the point? If you feel bad for leading men to their deaths, then there's only one thing you can do, and you know what it is – to lead them to victory. But if you feel bad for yourself...”
No. He didn't mean to say that part out loud.
Nevertheless, he couldn't take it back once it was out of his mouth, and Erwin was finally looking at him with a certain look of expectation.
“Just live,” he concluded. “You think and think, but I think you think too much. There aren't any correct answers to ethical questions.”
As Erwin thought about what he said, Levi gave himself a minute to reflect on his own words and decided that he was pleased with his own dime store sense of wisdom.
Sighing, he got down on the floor, folding his legs underneath himself to sit in front of Erwin, feeling suddenly more at ease when they were at a level height. He reached out and gently touched Erwin's right shoulder. He flinched, but he made no movement to stop him, raised no objections as Levi brought his fingers down his arm, as he delicately touched his fingertips over the place where his skin was sealed taut over bone.
Levi ignored the feeling of something stinging the backs of his eyes.
“A right arm sure is important,” he said, unable to lift his voice. The second he noticed himself looking away, he brought his eyes back and noticed that Erwin was finally looking, watching his fingers as he touched his skin. “It must feel like you've lost everything, but you aren't nothing. To them, you're definitely something – and what you are will be determined by everything you have left.”
Levi lowered his hands and fumbled with the cuff securing Erwin's left wrist to the floor until he had it released. He grasped Erwin's hand in his and lifted it up for him to see.
“This is the hand you'll use to struggle. It's what you'll use to pull yourself up after you've fallen. I'm sure you know that much, but I want to make sure that you never forget. You have to use everything you have.”
When Erwin's gaze began to stray, Levi brought up his other hand to join the first, clasping Erwin's tightly between them.
Erwin looked at them, then slowly lifted his eyes to meet Levi's.
“And?” he asked quietly, clearing his throat. “What if I lose this one, too?”
So that's what it was.
He wasn't concerned about the titans at all. He wasn't even worried about himself.
It figured. He was Erwin, after all.
Levi let out a short and quiet laugh. He let go of Erwin's hand and inched closer on his knees, leaning forward to press their foreheads together.
“Erwin, you don't need arms to support someone.”