Hanji lay on the cold floor, trying in vain to finally relax. Her muscles were still on edge, not to mention, each of them hurt as soon as she tried to move. Her throat was sore and she knew that all the shouting was going to cause her to loose her voice for the next couple of days. In one corner of the room, lay her boots and 3d maneuver gear, abandoned, in another corner, lay the fresh clothes Levi had urged her to put out before they left on the expedition. "You won't be in a state to do anything when we get back, prepare every thing for your return", she could hear his voice echo through her head. When you get back? Your return? Yes, that was Levi's way of letting her know that dying was out of the question.
And she had made it, she was back within the walls, unharmed, merely tired and on edge. Unlike many others, that had left the gates together with her some two days ago. But no matter how she twisted and turned it, something, a part of her, had remained outside. Again. It happened each time. She feared that if she continued to ride out, soon all that would be left of her was an empty husk.
Hanji got up, with the last bit of energy she had left in her body, and made for the door. The corridor was eerily quiet, and dusk had left the building dark, the lamps had yet to be turned on. She walked towards Levi's room, there was one thing she needed him to help her do, one thing only he could do for her.
"It's me," she said after knocking. She didn't wait for him to answer, by the time he was saying "Come in," she had already opened the door and stepped in.
"I need your help," Hanji said. Judging by the look on his face, she was in bad shape. Of course she was. And how was it that he had already showered and groomed himself? How was she the abnormal one in this situation? Their ride back into Trost had taken place less than an hour ago.
"No, what you need is a bath and a change of clothes," Levi said with scowl.
"I'm being serious, Levi," she replied. Then she began to untie her ponytail and let her grimy hair fall to her shoulders. "It feels like I'm being strangled. I can't take it."
Levi stared back at her in confusion. It took him a moment to realized what she was talking about. "You mean the hair? I agree, with that amount of dirt, I wouldn't be surprised if it had developed a life of it's own," he said, his tongue ever so sharp.
"Cut it off," she said ignoring his comment.
"What do you mean, Cut it off ?" he asked, slightly frustrated. Hanji was shaking at this point.
"You heard what I said, please cut it off!" she shouted. This finally got Levi to drop his act.
"Why? What has your hair got to do with anything?" he shouted back at her.
"I feel like I'm dying Levi, please!" she yelled. He stared back at her, puzzled, frustrated, worried. She knew that their failure to meet their goals beyond the wall coupled with what was happening now, was getting to him as well. He had always worried that one day she'd loose it completely.
"Come here," he finally said and got up from his chair. Only then did she notice an injury on his leg. Her chest stung. "It's just a cut," he said noticing her gaze on his leg.
"Still, I'm fine, I'm still..., I haven't bathed yet," she said refusing to step over to him. She knew how much he didn't like embraces, he was doing it for her.
"You can take one here," he answered. "I still have some hot water left. And I can't cut your hair in that state."
By the time she had bathed and changed into her fresh clothes, Levi was dozing at the table. She tried to sneak past him, but deep sleep had never been his thing. Sometimes she wondered if he slept with his eyes open.
"I'm still awake," he said and lazily gestured at an assortment of combs, razors and scissors on the table.
"They look like torture instruments," she joked. He scoffed and she knew she had hit onto something in his past. Again.
"I know nothing about current fashions, so don't expect something fancy from me," he warned her, ignoring the comment about torture instruments.
"If I wanted something fancy, I would have gone somewhere else. I would have asked Nanaba," Hanji answered. "I just wanted you to do it."
"You may not know this, but your signature hair style is admired by many. I came looking for craft and expertise," she said and laughed. Hanji knew that even though she was making a joke of his hair, it still meant a lot to him when she praised him.
"I see," he said trying to hide the pride in his voice.
She felt the damp hair drop onto her lap, slide down her arms and back, while Levi combed and snipped. They sat in silence for a while, nothing in the room changing apart from Levi moving about and the candle that would flicker every now and then.
"Say something, you're creeping me out."
But Hanji could not speak. There was a lump in her throat and it wasn't going away any time soon. Levi, too deep into his handiwork to check on her immediately, put the razor to her nape. She backed away.
"Don't move," he warned her.
What are you doing? She wanted to ask, but she kept remembering the events of the day and the guilt finally overcame her.
"What is it?" Levi finally asked and stepped in front of her.
"It's nothing," Hanji said and wiped the tears that had forced themselves out. Her voice was strained.
"It's not your fault," Levi said. He wasn't good with emotions. Actual emotions. He knew what was expected of him, but most of the time, did not know how to handle people who were expressing them. Especially when they coincided with his. It's not your fault, was something he was saying to her as much as to himself. "I'll shave the back a little," he said and moved on.
"I don't want to leave this room looking like you," she threatened. "Although it would be thrilling to have matching looks."
"It wouldn't suit you," he said. "You can't pull it off."
"Oh that's right, I forgot, I am tall and I have a nicely shaped head."
"You know for someone who has a razor against their nape, you're pretty loose with the choice of your words," Levi said.
"I love you too, Levi," Hanji said and smiled.
In the end, she got a very short haircut, so short she had to wear a hat on cold days to keep from freezing. She liked her tamed bangs, that were still long enough to peep out of her woollen hat, the hassle-free, non existent combing, and how quickly it dried. And Levi was so fascinated by the cut, that he kept offering to do it again if she ever needed a touch up.