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A Tenuous Third Space

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There isn’t really any point in playing Attack on Titan when Mikasa and Armin aren’t online, but Mikasa has class and Armin replies to his insistent texting only to say that he’s busy and stop spamming him, please, and Eren is bored. He initially logs on thinking maybe he can farm for gold and buy a Crystallized Shield, but now he’s staring at the absurd price on the auction house and wondering if it’s even worth it.

He could have gotten the shield last night—he was lucky enough to see it drop at the end of their dungeon run—but then that damn mage ninjaed it, which just goes to show that you should never trust pick-up groups.

 It would be nice to have a regular group to run dungeons with, Eren thinks wistfully. He, Armin, and Mikasa have three-manned a few dungeons, but it’s always slow going and results in at least two wipes. They can four-man easily enough when Jean plays with them, except he likes to fuck with Eren and usually ends up causing even more wipes.

Eren sighs, still staring at the shield, refreshing the auction house in case someone has put one up for cheaper, although he knows it’s a lost cause.

Honestly, he can go with it, but his current shield is becoming under-leveled, and he doesn’t want to make Armin work harder than he has to with his healing. Besides, the Crystallized Shield is pretty overpowered (hence the low drop rate and the ridiculously high auction house price), and should last him until the level cap. Considering how hard good shields are to come by, he should probably just get it.

But then again, that’s a lot of gold…

 

[LFG][Corporal]: LF tank for stohess, then gtg.

 

Eren’s eyes are drawn to the message in the Looking for Group channel. Stohess is the dungeon where the Crystallized Shield drops—well, has a fifteen percent chance of dropping. He, Armin, and Mikasa aren’t likely to run it again together, and this group just needs a tank, which Eren just so happens to be.

Of course, it’s going to be a pick-up group, but…

No harm in trying, right? Eren sends the player a private message; it’s not as if he has anything better to do.

 

[PM] to [Corporal]: i can tank

 

Corporal has invited you to join their party.

 

Eren accepts the request (You have joined the party.) and finds himself in a full group.

 

[Party][Corporal]: we’re summoning you to the instance.

 

Moments later, the request goes through, Eren accepts it, and his character is whisked away to the Stohess Tunnels.

When the screen loads, Eren sees that Corporal—the Corporal? (and on that note, how long ago did he start playing to snag a name like that?)—is level 68, like Eren, is an assassin, not like Eren, who plays a warrior—and is in the Scouting Legion.

Eren is, admittedly, impressed; he knows that the Scouting Legion is a small, elite guild, really well-known and really hard to get into (no, seriously, there’s an application process that is apparently brutal). He’s never so much as spoken to any member, and it seems silly, even to him, but he’s honored just to be in the same pick-up group as someone from the guild.

But any admiration disappears once the Corporal begins posting rapidly in party chat.

 

[Party][Corporal]: don’t pull more than one group at once; i’m not sure this piss-poor group could handle it.

[Party][Corporal]: watch for pats.

[Party][Corporal]: don’t use all your taunts at once; space them out, for god’s sake.

[Party][Corporal]: also, the first boss has an AoE, but it only hits targets in front of it, so make sure you turn it away from everyone.

 

Eren stares at the chat window in disbelief. It’s not like he considers himself a ‘hardcore’ gamer by any means, but can’t the guy give him some credit?

The Scouting Legion is probably full of elitist assholes. Although Eren is disappointed by the thought, he doesn’t know why he expected any different.

Still, he’s pretty pissed at this Corporal guy. It makes him almost want to drop group and force the guy to find another tank, but he’s not that immature. More importantly, he’ll regret it forever wondering if that stupid Crystallized Shield would have dropped.

But he’s also not going to just sit there and take the Corporal’s ‘friendly advice.’

 

[Party][titanjaeger]: hey i know what i’m doing so why don’t you shut up and let me do my job?

 

There’s a silence after that, their characters just standing there at the beginning of the dungeon. None of the other party members are saying anything, either.

Eren wonders if he should apologize for being rude (even though the Corporal totally started it) but, finally, there’s a response.

 

[Party][Corporal]: we’ll see if you can keep up with me, then.

 

Eren scoffs at the screen, because Mikasa’s the best assassin he’s ever seen, and if he can keep up with her, he’s pretty sure he can handle this Corporal guy, Scouting Legion or no.

Instead of replying, he pulls the first group.

Despite his confidence, Eren quickly realizes that the Corporal is good, at least as good as Mikasa, maybe even better, and Eren has to work to keep the assassin from drawing aggro. Still, after his comments, Eren’s determined not to screw up. If the Corporal died, Eren’s pride as a tank might never recover.

Surprisingly, though, the dungeon run goes mostly without a hitch. There are a couple close shaves with the mage using an AoE and accidentally pulling another group, and at one point, the cleric is standing too far from the party and catches the attention of a passing patrol, but they, miraculously, make it with no deaths.

They kill the last boss without any problems, and Eren tries to stifle his disappointment when the Crystallized Shield doesn’t drop.

The loot is distributed and the other party members leave. Eren’s about to leave the group, too, when—

 

[Party][Corporal]: wait.

[Party][Corporal]: sorry about earlier. you’re not bad.

 

He’s impressed someone in the Scouting Legion. Eren can’t help the swell of pride.

 

[Party][titanjaeger]: thanks

[Party][Corporal]: are you looking to join a guild, by chance?

 

The question startles him. Usually it’s just him, Mikasa, and Armin playing, so he’s never really thought of joining a guild. They’ve done some runs with Jean’s guild, but Jean’s a lot more competitive about the game than they are. Which is another thing.

 

[Party][titanjaeger]: um

[Party][titanjaeger]: isn’t the scouting legion for really hardcore players?

[Party][Corporal]: not really.

[Party][Corporal]: the GM just likes to pretend that it is.

[Party][titanjaeger]: but don’t you need to apply to join or whatever

[Party][Corporal]: i’m an officer, so it’s fine.

 

Corporal has invited you to join The Scouting Legion.

 

Eren is pretty tempted to click the ‘accept’ button, but…

 

[Party][titanjaeger]: if i join my friends join

 

He’s half-expecting the Corporal to reject him right there, so the reply he gets after a moment’s pause is a surprise to him.

 

[Party][Corporal]: how many? what classes are they?

[Party][titanjaeger]: two, assassin and cleric. they’re both really good

[Party][Corporal]: are they online right now?

 

Eren takes a moment to reflect on the fact that if Armin and Mikasa were online, he wouldn’t be here. Serendipity is a wonderful thing.

 

[Party][titanjaeger]: no

[Party][titanjaeger]: but they’re both really good, mikasa does almost as much dps as you

 

Again, there’s a pause before the Corporal answers.

 

[Party][Corporal]: it’s fine. they can join. tell me when they’re online.

 

Eren grins and confirms the guild invite before he can change his mind.

 

You are now a member of The Scouting Legion.

 

[Guild][scienceandmagic]: WELCOME!!!

[Guild][titanjaeger]: er, hi

[Guild][titanjaeger]: thank you

[Guild][scienceandmagic]: Our esteemed Corporal did apologize, right? You have to forgive him, he hates PuGs and any tank besides our own. But that means he must really like you!

[Guild][Corporal]: shut up.

[Guild][titanjaeger]: oh okay i thought it was weird when he apologized. it makes more sense that you told him to

[Guild][Corporal]: what the hell are you implying?

 

Eren laughs. Even though he was rude, he’s not really upset with the Corporal—well, he was at first, but—the point is, Eren understands, because he isn’t exactly fond of pick-up groups either, and given how much damage the Corporal does, he must be used to drawing aggro all the time. Eren can’t imagine that being any fun.

 

[Guild][titanjaeger]: it’s okay, i don’t like PuGs either, esp after a mage ninjaed a crystallized shield last night

[Guild][scienceandmagic]: Aw, no, that sucks!

[Guild][scienceandmagic]: Well, you won’t have to worry about behavior like that here! We usually do all our dungeon runs together, but the Corporal here was busy and fell behind.

[Guild][Corporal]: if you could have just waited three fucking days…

 

Eren checks scienceandmagic’s stats and sees that they’re a level 73 mage, only two levels away from the current cap, bumped up from 60 after the expansion pack that just came out. Chuckling, he asks if the Corporal wants to level with him and his friends, since they’re all the same level, and the Corporal agrees.

They finally portal out of the dungeon and the Corporal drops the group. After that, Eren doesn’t have anything else to do in-game, but he stays online for a while anyway, chatting in the guild.

No one else is online at the moment—it really is a small guild—but Eren learns that scienceandmagic (who insists on being called Hange) is the other officer of the guild, and that she and the Corporal both know the guildmaster (the Corporal’s preferred tank) in real life; they met in college, and now they all work together, too.

Apparently, though the Scouting Legion is comprised of some really good players—and Hange, the Corporal, and the GM, whom Hange refers to as ‘Smith,’ have all been playing Attack on Titan since beta—they’re pretty relaxed players in general. They also don’t usually add players they don’t know in real life, except to fill needed roles so they can raid easily, hence the application process.

Also, the Corporal just doesn’t have much patience for most people. That’s according to Hange—the Corporal sends an ellipsis in response—but Eren can believe it.

It’s interesting to learn that the Scouting Legion is so different from what he thought and he wishes he could stay online longer and continue talking to his new friends, but eventually Eren has to at least pretend to be productive, so he excuses himself and logs off.

 

&&&

 

When he logs on later that night to check his auction house sales, he finds a mail from the Corporal in his inbox. The message box is empty, but attached is a Crystallized Shield.

Chapter Text

His friends take the news differently.

Eren tells them both at the same time, pulling Mikasa to sit on the couch with him when he calls Armin, putting him on speaker so he can dramatically recount the story of how he somehow landed himself in the server-famous guild.

Armin is surprised, but he’s not displeased—though he does seem relieved after Eren explains that the Scouting Legion isn’t actually a super-hardcore endgame guild. Mikasa is more doubtful, pointing out that they’ll have to get used to playing with other people, which is fair enough of her. Eren isn’t the best at holding onto friends and keeping regular contact—though if he really wanted to, he could have joined Jean’s guild, since he knows a lot of people from high school in the 104th Squad, but he thinks he and Jean would probably have killed each other. Plus, the 104th is a lot more dedicated to the game than Eren is.

Anyway, he thinks they’ll be fine. The guild is small, and they have no obligation to stay if it ends up not working out. But if it does work out, as Armin points out, they’ll now have a good, consistent group to run dungeons with.

So Mikasa and Armin join the guild that weekend, and they, along with the Corporal, power through the next few levels.

Hange’s already hit the level cap, something she teases the Corporal about, and the Corporal curses her out for playing so much when she has work to do.

They also meet the guild leader, Smith (the Corporal curses him out, too). He has a level-capped paladin named CommanderSmith, and he’s really nice until talk turns to guild dungeon runs and he subtly warns them not to fuck up, or else.

They need to hit the level cap of 75 first, though, and the Corporal can’t play much on the weekdays due to work and, of course, Eren, Armin, and Mikasa have their college work to do.

Well, technically, Eren has college work to do, but he gets bored of it fast and logs on to Attack on Titan instead.

He grins when he sees that the Corporal is online, and he sends him a private message.

 

[PM] to [Corporal]: hey

[PM] from [Corporal]: don’t you have homework?

[PM] to [Corporal]: yeah but i’m bored

[PM] from [Corporal]: do your homework.

[PM] to [Corporal]: what are you doing?

[PM] from [Corporal]: farming for ore. stop distracting me.

 

Honestly, he favors the Corporal out of everyone in the guild, despite his bad mouth and bluntness, maybe because he met him first, or maybe because the Corporal seems to favor him, too—he is, after all, the only person the Corporal will let tank for him besides Smith.

And he did send Eren that Crystallized Shield, something Eren hasn’t thanked him for yet, because he wasn’t online when Eren received it, and afterwards the Corporal seemed to want to pretend nothing ever happened.

But he doesn’t want to appear ungrateful, so thanks, even late thanks, are in order.

 

[PM] to [Corporal]: hey, thanks for sending me the shield the other day

 

There’s no reply for a while and Eren sighs. Maybe he should just sign off and actually do work. But before he can do that, a message pops up.

 

[PM] from [Corporal]: you’re welcome. now go do your homework.

 

Instead, Eren invites the Corporal to a party.

 

Corporal has joined your party.

 

[Party][Corporal]: what?

[Party][titanjaeger]: farming’s boring, homework’s boring, let’s at least have company so we can chat while being bored together

[Party][Corporal]:

 

The Corporal doesn’t say anything else, but neither does he disband the group, so Eren counts it as a win as he pulls his textbook over so he can attempt to actually get some work done.

In the end, they say nothing, with Eren’s character standing idle in the capital city and the Corporal’s off who-knows-where, the chat screen empty save for spam from the other chat channels. But when the Corporal logs off, it’s not without a word, like usual.

 

[Party][Corporal]: i’ve got to go. bye.

[Party][titanjaeger]: bye

 

Corporal has left the party. Your group has been disbanded.

 

Eren stares at the Corporal’s farewell and thinks of their two hours of shared silence and feels weirdly content.

 

&&&

 

The Corporal sees no reason to rush to hit the level cap, seeing as Hange and Smith went ahead without him—he’s still bitter about that, especially because they apparently neglected their work to do it. They take their time, then, and it’s two weeks before they reach level 75. But the moment they all hit the level cap at two in the goddamn morning, Smith insists that they go on a raid, and no, he doesn’t care if they only stayed up because they wanted to level up before going to bed.

It’s revenge on the Corporal, who made them dally for an extra week when they could have hit the cap last weekend, and Eren doesn’t see why he has to be involved in the punishment, but the Corporal PMs him that he’s tanking, so shut the fuck up and come along, and Eren decides that the best course of action is to just go along with it.

It’s a ten-man raid, and the party consists of him, Armin, Mikasa, the Corporal, Smith, Hange, and four other Scouting Legion members named Auruo, Gunter, Erd, and Petra. Eren has spoken with them a few times; they’ve been in the guild for a long time, and though no one knows them in real life, the Corporal handpicked them all.

Once the party has been formed, Smith asks them to activate voice chat.

Smith wastes no time getting down to business, but right away there’s a problem, because the first thing he says is, “Jaeger will be main tank—” and the chat dissolves into chaos.

“Aren’t you main tank?!—”

“But Smith—”

“As if he could keep up with the Corporal or, more importantly, me—”

“Shut up, Auruo, you’re not that good—”

“Um—” Eren starts, but his voice is lost in the pandemonium.

“He’s not experienced enough yet—”

 “Are you sure this is a good idea—”

“Shut up,” a low voice growls, and Eren sees the Corporal’s icon lighting up, indicating that the voice belongs to him. “You guys are so fucking noisy.”

“Consider this a trial run for Jaeger,” Smith says in the following silence. “I’m still off-tanking, so if there are any problems, we can switch roles.”

This seems to appease, or at least mollify, the others, and they set out for the raid. Mikasa sends him a private message expressing her newfound doubts about the guild; Eren reads it twice and decides not to respond.

Smith begins directing them as soon as they’re all in the instance, and the run goes relatively smoothly for their first time in the raid, although the Corporal starts cursing at the slightest slip-up.

Eren’s greatest moment of panic is when the Corporal draws aggro while they’re fighting a mob group. His health is three quarters gone by the time Eren gets the mob’s focus back on him, and the Corporal is cursing up a storm.

“WHAT THE FLYING FUCK, JAEGER, YOU PIECE OF SHIT.”

In Eren’s defense, he was busy taunting a mob that Mikasa was starting to attract the attention of. He figures the Corporal won’t appreciate the explanation, though, so he goes for the other route: apologizing.

“Sorry, sorry, sorry!”

“Shut the fuck up.”

Eren falls silent, but Mikasa speaks up.

“It wasn’t his fault. I drew aggro.”

“That shouldn’t have happened either,” the Corporal snaps.

“Sorry,” Eren says again, ignoring the private message Mikasa sends him.

“Forget it. Keep going.”

They do, with Eren paying closer attention than ever to the Corporal and Mikasa’s aggro levels, and they make it through the raid with a few deaths but no wipes.

The Corporal’s mood has calmed down after the successful run. Almost everyone has gotten some new gear, and anyone that hasn’t receives other loot to sell. Everyone is also overflowing with praise for Eren and apologies for their initial reaction, and it’s embarrassing enough that he’s relieved when the Corporal tells them to shut the hell up already.

It is way early in the morning now, and after Smith commends them all, the group disbands one by one, some of them (like Mikasa and Armin) going to bed while others hang around to continue chatting over guild chat.

Finally, it’s just Eren and the Corporal again.

“Um, sorry again—” Eren starts, but the Corporal cuts him off.

“You’re fine.”

“But—”

“I said you’re fine, didn’t I?” the Corporal says irately. “We didn’t have any wipes.”

“Y-eah, you’re right,” Eren says.

“Of course I am.”

“Thanks, Corporal.”

“Go to sleep, Jaeger.”

He probably should, but a part of him wants to just stay up and keep talking to the Corporal. It’s not like he even has anything to say, he just…doesn’t want to end the voice chat. But Mikasa is waiting for him, making sure he gets his rest because she thinks she’s his mom or something, and the Corporal is probably about to head off to bed himself, so Eren just sighs a little and brings his cursor to the log off button.

“Good night, Corporal.”

He grunts. “Night.”

 

&&&

 

Now that they’ve hit the level cap, he, Armin, and Mikasa don’t play together quite as much anymore, besides from their dungeon runs with the guild. Armin is a completionist who likes to go back and do everything they might have skipped while leveling, and get all the achievements, and just basically do all the optional stuff. Frankly, that bores Eren, who’ll do some level-appropriate optional quests and participate in seasonal events at the most, but he leaves Armin to it.

Miksasa, meanwhile, just gets bored after hitting the level cap, seeing no point in doing the other quests since she gets all her gear upgrades from dungeon runs or the auction house—and also the Corporal, who seems to have taken a shine to Mikasa and spoils her with the high-level weapons he crafts. Eren finds this really amusing and also a little endearing, because it’s just another sign that the Corporal is a lot nicer than he lets on. Really, he’s a teddy bear underneath that gruff exterior. Like with everything else remotely relating ‘the Corporal’ and ‘nice,’ though, the man in question pretends that there isn’t anything special going on—but the guild has caught on anyways and have started calling Mikasa his assassin protégé.

Anyway, Mikasa doesn’t log on much anymore besides for dungeon runs and sometimes leveling her alts, and so Eren finds himself gaming with the Corporal a lot. They do optional quests and events together, but sometimes, they’ll just sit together in a party, the both of them doing their own things on opposite sides of the virtual world, simply enjoying each other’s company—at least, Eren enjoys the Corporal’s company; he’s not sure about how the Corporal feels.

He doesn’t even know the Corporal’s name. It’s been about a month since he’s met the Corporal and yet he still doesn’t know his name. Eren finds that weird.

There’s only one way to approach the situation, clearly.

 

[Party][titanjaeger]: hey what’s your name?

[Party][Corporal]: why?

[Party][titanjaeger]: idk it’s weird calling you corporal all the time

[Party][Corporal]: this is an online game, you realize. people tend to go by their characters’ names.

[Party][titanjaeger]: well yeah but we talk like everyday

[Party][titanjaeger]: i know everyone else’s names

[Party][Corporal]: you don’t mind everyone calling you jaeger.

[Party][titanjaeger]: well it’s not as weird for me cause it’s a variant of my last name

[Party][Corporal]: oi, don’t go telling strangers on the internet your last name.

[Party][titanjaeger]: you’re not a stranger

[Party][Corporal]: anyway, does this mean you seriously named yourself “titan hunter” because of your last name? that’s a lame-ass name, by the way.

[Party][titanjaeger]: fun fact i actually only mentioned it was my last name so i could tell you the story behind my character name

[Party][titanjaeger]: and i thought it was really clever and awesome myself but whatever

[Party][titanjaeger]: WAIT DOES THIS MEAN YOU ACTUALLY LOOKED UP WHAT MY NAME MEANS

[Party][Corporal]: shut up.

[Party][titanjaeger]: what’s your name

[Party][Corporal]: i’m a private person.

[Party][titanjaeger]: fine fine. you can call me eren if you want though

[Party][titanjaeger]: that’s my name

[Party][Corporal]: yes. i figured.

[Party][titanjaeger]: don’t sass me

[Party][Corporal]: fuck you.

[Party][Corporal]: my name is levi. don’t wear it out, dumbass.

Chapter Text

Eren waits for a week after learning Levi’s name before, for the first time, activating voice chat after they form their customary group.

“Hi, Levi!”

Levi takes a while to respond, in a silence that Eren has learned to mean, Are you stupid?

Eventually, though, he does speak.

“What.”

“Sorry, I’m eating, so I don’t want to have to pause all the time to type,” Eren explains, but, really, it’s an excuse, because he’s wanted to call Levi, but has only now come up with a reasonable excuse to go about actually doing it. “Is this okay?”

Instead of answering the question, Levi says, “Don’t eat in front of the computer.”

“I’m an adult, I can do what I want.”

“Are you sticking your tongue out at me?”

“…Yes.”

“Hmm.”

They lapse into a brief silence, then Levi asks, “Why are you even online?”

“Well… This is when I usually come online, right?”

“Don’t talk while you’re chewing. It’s disgusting.”

“Sorry.”

Again, there’s a pause, longer this time. “You’re an idiot,” Levi says finally.

“We-ell, I just thought we could voice chat,” Eren says when Levi doesn’t elaborate. “You know, talk.”

There’s a soft grunt from the other end. “What about.”

“I dunno, what we usually talk about to pass the time.” Eren shrugs, though Levi can’t see it. “School. Work.”

Levi’s sigh sounds very put-upon, but he asks, “How were your classes?” anyway, and Eren smiles and tells Levi about his day as a criminology major.

He finishes eating as Levi talks a little about his work. Work talk for Levi consists of complaining about Smith—whose first name is Erwin—and Hange, and other coworkers who legitimately get on his nerves (for Eren suspects he’s actually quite fond of Erwin and Hange).

They chat a little more, and then fall silent, until Levi asks if Eren wants to try two-manning a group quest with him.

Eren agrees, because he has nothing better to do—honestly, today he only logged on to talk to Levi, too lazy to work on getting his PvP gear like he’s been meaning to—although he’s skeptical of their chances of success without a healer.

He loads up on health potions and flies out to meet Levi anyway.

The attempt ends in three wipes and Levi insulting Eren in increasingly creative ways before they finally succeed with Eren kiting the mob, downing pots and using his meager health regeneration abilities as soon as they’re off cooldown. He dies for the fourth time, but the boss Titan has little enough health that Levi manages to finish it off on his own.

Eren lets out a whoop.

“About fucking time,” Levi grumbles, but Eren thinks he’s happy anyway.

Eren resurrects his character and waits until they turn their quest in together before he says, “I should probably go now.” He hesitates a beat. “Talk to you tomorrow?”

Levi makes a soft humming noise, low in his throat. “Sure.”

 

&&&

 

Levi doesn’t eat lunch a lot of times. Eren learns this the next time he has food with him when he voice chats with Levi.

“Oh come off it,” Eren says when Levi chides him again. “Don’t pretend you’ve never eaten in front of the computer.”

“I haven’t.”

“What!” Eren splutters. “But—you work through lunch all the time.”

“Yeah.”

“Don’t you eat?”

“Obviously not,” Levi says. “I bet your keyboard is all grimy and gross.”

“And you attack me for being unhealthy.” Eren is amazed.

“At least my workspace is clean.”

“You’re such a clean freak.”

“And you’re a slob.”

“I’m not!” Eren protests, because he isn’t. He’s actually not that messy, okay. Levi’s just crazy.

Levi doesn’t reply, and Eren frowns. Levi’s not a workaholic exactly, but he hates leaving something halfway done, and so he’ll work through his lunch break a lot. Eren knew this. What he didn’t know was that Levi was just completely skipping lunch.

“You shouldn’t skip lunch so often.”

“Don’t nag me about this.”

“If you can nag me about things, I can nag you, jerk,” Eren says.

“I’m older than you.”

“Not that much older.”

“You’re a kid—”

“Shut up and let me eat my sandwich.”

Levi huffs out a breath, amused, but complies and says nothing. But Eren can still hear the sound of him breathing into his headset, and he smiles to himself.

 

&&&

 

“You know,” Levi says one day, “you should just have my phone number.”

“Huh?”

“So you don’t have to log on just to talk to me,” Levi clarifies.

“Oh.”

It’s true that Eren has been logging on to talk to Levi more than to play lately. Eren likes to PvP, but besides working on assembling a better PvP gear set and doing 1v1 (2v2 when Levi is in the mood to join him) combat in the Arena, there’s not really much else to do; like Mikasa, he’ll join the guild on dungeon runs but that’s about it—he’s not very much interested in the other endgame content, and he even only levels his alts when Levi’s not busy and will join him on one of his.

“Are you going to have anything intelligent to say today, Eren?”

“Sorry, um, yes, sure,” Eren says, picking up his phone.

Levi rattles off his number, and Eren scrambles to input it. He doesn’t want to ask him to repeat it, so he just texts ‘hi’ and waits.

“Got it,” Levi says, and moments later Eren’s phone buzzes with a reply.

hello.

Eren stares at the text for a long time.

 

&&&

 

“What are you staring at?” Mikasa asks.

Eren startles and nearly drops his phone. “Nothing!” he says, smiling guiltily.

Mikasa gives him a disbelieving look, and Eren sticks his tongue out at her—a childish habit he can’t seem to drop.

“I wasn’t looking at anything, really. I just got lost in thought.”

Well—actually, he got distracted staring at his texts with Levi. It’s only the two texts from before, Levi never texted him after his initial response, and, half a week later, Eren hasn’t yet worked up the courage to message him himself.

It seems like Levi has been occupying his thoughts a lot lately. It’s a little worrying how much time Eren spends thinking about someone he met on an online game only about a month and a half ago, which is the main reason why he hasn’t texted him again yet.

Even though he thinks about it all. The. Time.

It’s embarrassing. And Mikasa has noticed that he’s been spending an undue amount of time on Attack on Titan, which is why they’re out from the apartment for lunch. Technically they’re supposed to be shopping, but neither of them is big on shopping, so lunch it is.

“Stop staring,” he says, shifting uncomfortably under Mikasa’s gaze.

Mikasa shifts her gaze away, idly looking at the other people in the restaurant. “You’re playing Attack on Titan too much. I worry about your grades.”

“Shut up, Mom,” Eren says. He wishes Mikasa wouldn’t treat him like a kid, but she’s always been like this. He loves her, but, damn, she can be so overbearing sometimes. “I don’t even really play. I just log on and then do homework and study.”

“So what do you do online?”

“I just talk, okay. Geez. To the guild?”

“You mean to the Corporal. Levi,” Mikasa says.

“So?” He shrugs, and Mikasa mirrors the movement.

“Never mind,” she says softly, and returns to her lunch.

The shift in demeanor throws Eren off, but then he gets it.

“What, are you jealous?” Just like that, Mikasa is glaring at him again, and Eren offers her a fond smile. “You know we can always hang out.”

Mikasa fiddles with her scarf, which she only does when she’s sad or embarrassed. Eren laughs lightly under his breath.

“You’re such a kid sometimes, Mikasa.”

“So are you,” she shoots back, and Eren, glancing at the phone in his hand, can’t find he disagrees.

He clicks his phone on, stares at the message screen, and, before he can change his mind, quickly texts Levi hi and puts his phone away again.

His phone buzzes a few minutes later, but Eren feels stupidly nervous and doesn’t check it until after lunch, and when he does, he sees that Levi has simply replied, hello.

Now the message screen just looks like—

hi

hello.

hi

hello.

—which is lame and also kind of embarrassing, so he sends a reply asking how Levi is, to which Levi promptly texts back that he’s fine, and then Eren doesn’t know what to say again, so he just leaves it at that.

 

&&&

 

Despite the complete failure of his first attempt to communicate with Levi, Eren feels a strange happiness knowing that he can text Levi, that Levi will text him back, and it’s like a floodgate has been opened.

He starts texting Levi throughout the day about—anything. Like when he’s bored in the middle of a lecture and suddenly wonders what it would be like if pets could talk, or if Titans were real (Levi bluntly replies that they’d all die, and Eren doesn’t ask about that again). He’ll also transcribe to him funny conversations he has, or send him a picture of a cute cat he sees while walking across campus, or pass on jokes Armin texts him, because Armin loves puns and Eren doesn’t care what Mikasa says, they’re hilarious. He talks about the movies that are out right now and asks if he’s seen Neon Genesis Evangelion, or if he plays any other video games.

Levi’s replies are, for the most part, very short, and he gets away with one-word texts as often as he can, but Eren doesn’t mind, because at least he always texts back, until one day he doesn’t, and Levi curses him out when he logs on to Attack on Titan later that night because apparently Levi put his phone on silent because Eren was texting him so damn much and he missed an important call from Erwin as a result.

Eren tries to tone down his texting after that, but it only lasts about two days before he’s messaging him freely again. When Levi tells him to shut up, he responds that he should be honored Eren is using him as his medium for thought, and Eren can read the eye roll in his ‘you’re stupid.’

They’ve settled into a rhythm, and it’s really nice—but if Eren is completely honest, he’s been thinking about Levi’s voice a lot. It’s low, and smooth, and really nice to listen to, and Eren hasn’t heard it enough lately, not in casual conversation anyway, because he hasn’t been logging on to Attack on Titan as much since Levi gave him his number, excepting scheduled guild runs.

He feels too awkward to call Levi, though, because even though they talk over voice chat all the time, at least they have the game as an excuse. He’s not sure how Levi will react if Eren just calls him. Hell, he’s not sure how Levi feels about Eren in general. To him, is he just some dumb college kid he met online who likes to pester him a lot?

But Levi tells him things about his life even though he’s supposedly a private person, and he always (usually) replies to Eren’s texts, and he humors Eren, and listens to him when he needs to rant, gives him stilted words of comfort when he’s upset, tells him not to stress so much about college and to sleep in sometimes. Levi buys him dumb trinkets in-game because he knows they’ll make him laugh, and he’ll do 2v2 matches with him even though he usually doesn’t care for PvP. They’ve even made new characters to level together.

Is it weird to be thinking about him so much? It probably is.

He texts Armin about it, because no way in hell is he talking to Mikasa about his obsession with Levi—though he does make his texts as vague as he can and avoids mentioning Levi by name. Never mind the fact that Mikasa would probably be able to guess who he’s talking about anyway, it’s also just easier to talk to Armin because it’s not face-to-face.

And a good thing it isn’t, because Armin’s first suggestion is that Eren has a crush, and when Eren reads that, he can feel his face heating up, and he somehow makes about eight hundred typos simply trying to send NO in response.

He doesn’t have a crush on Levi. That’d be weird, wouldn’t it? Except it makes sense, doesn’t it? Eren doesn’t even want to think about all the ways that it makes sense.

i hate that you’re always right, he texts Armin, and the smug bastard replies, I know.

Armin’s next text demands he tell him about his crush; Eren makes the executive decision to pretend he didn’t see it.

That night, he finds himself lying on his bed and staring at Levi’s name in his contacts list.

Fuck. Okay, he’s going to do this. He’s going to call him.

This shouldn’t be making him so nervous. (But there’s no excuse for calling him like this.)

He hits the call button.

The phone rings.

He should hang up, he should just hang up and pretend it never happened, or if Levi asks, he can say he called by accident, he should just hang up now—

“Eren?”

“Hi, Levi,” he chokes out. Fuck, he answered. Fuck.

“What’s wrong?”

Wait, what? “Um,” he says. “Nothing’s wrong?” Why would something be wrong?

Levi must hear the unspoken question, because he explains, “You never call. And you sound like you’re dying.”

“Oh, well.” Eren clears his throat. There’s no excuse. “I just thought we could. Talk.”

Levi hums quietly. “Alright.”

His voice sounds slightly different over phone, but it’s still familiar, and still hot—no, wait, he never thought of Levi’s voice as hot before tonight, damn it, Armin, this is all his fault.

He’s very much aware of the silence stretching out between them, and he scrambles for something to say.

“Um, I saw a really cute dog on the way to the coffee shop today—”

“I know. You sent me a picture.”

“Oh, right.” Eren’s glad Levi can’t see his blush; he feels foolish. Crap, he’s been texting Levi all day—what hasn’t he told him?

“So, I was thinking that I should do a movie marathon sometime, because I haven’t done one of those in a long time—” Why the hell is his voice wavering? “—and I think Mikasa’s been feeling a bit neglected lately.” He laughs a little, awkward. “She loves Disney classics, it’d be fun and nostalgic to have a Disney marathon, don’t you think? But we can’t watch The Fox and the Hound, because I always cry. Fuck, don’t tell Mikasa I said that. Well, she probably knows already—”

Bambi always makes me cry,” Levi remarks, casual as hell, and Eren stops.

“Wait, what? Are you being serious?”

“No, you idiot.”

“Hey, you never know. What if you have a secret soft side I don’t know about?”

“I’m stone cold, and if you look deeper, you’ll just find more stone,” Levi says, and Eren has no idea how he can say something like that so flatly.

“Wow,” he says. “I didn’t realize you were quite so heartless.”

“How long have you known me?”

Two and a half months.

“Not long enough, apparently,” Eren snorts. “You have to admit that Fox and the Hound is really fucking depressing, though.”

“I haven’t seen it in years; am I supposed to remember this?”

“What the hell, it’s something you never forget. I still have it on VHS, we need to watch it sometime—” He breaks off, realizing what he just said.  Shit. “Um, so, yeah, Disney marathon, that’s a thing that’s going to happen, maybe next weekend or something. I wish Armin could join us, it feels like I haven’t seen him in forever. He might visit during winter break, that’d be cool.”

He hesitates, casting his mind about for something else to talk about. “Even Jean’s been talking about meeting up. I haven’t seen him since high school, that’s weird, isn’t it? I still talk to him on AoT, though—he still doesn’t know how I got into the Scouting Legion, it’s really funny—”

“Eren.”

“—yes?”

“Shut up.”

Eren waits, but Levi doesn’t say anything else. “Um, Levi—?”

“Shut. Up.”

Eren shuts up. Levi continues to not say anything.

He’s really confused, but then he hears Levi breathing, barely audible, on the other end, and oh. The silence isn’t awkward like he thought it was. It’s no different from the comfortable hours of silence they share while gaming.

Eren shifts his position on the bed, nestling the phone to his ear so he can take in the sound of Levi’s breath, and closes his eyes, content to let the silence spread over them like a familiar blanket, soft and comfortable and warm.

Chapter Text

Eren wakes up freezing because he’s for some reason not under his blankets. Which is weird, because he usually ends up in a blanket burrito. It’s not until he peers over the side of his bed to see if he kicked his covers to the floor that he realizes he fell asleep on top of them.

For a long moment, he can’t fathom why on earth he would do such a thing, especially with winter nearly upon them, but then he spots his phone lying by his pillow and it all comes back to him.

Shit.”

He dives for his phone and clicks it on, but there are no notifications of any sort.

After a minute of staring at his phone, Eren ends up just texting Levi a simple ‘good morning.’ That should be okay, right?

He’s not in the mood to get up just yet, but neither does he expect a reply, so he messes around on his phone, looking for a new game to download or something.

He may or may not let out a startled yelp when his phone buzzes—in his defense, he’s not fully awake yet, okay.

good morning. you fell asleep on me, idiot.

Eren winces. sorry, he replies.

When Levi doesn’t respond, Eren adds, i’ll call earlier tonight

hmm, is Levi’s only response, but it isn’t a denial.

 

&&&

 

When Eren doesn’t log on to Attack on Titan—which is often, now, as he’s actually studying because finals are coming up—daily calls become a thing. They’re not all that different from their voice chats, really; they’ll talk for a bit about anything and then fall into their customary silence. Except now, with no virtual world serving as a barrier between them, the silence feels more intimate.

Or maybe that’s just Eren imagining things. Wishful thinking.

He doesn’t know if there’s a non-creepy way to tell Levi he has a crush on him. His regard for him is probably blatantly obvious anyway, Eren thinks, mortified, as he remembers how easily Armin figured it out.

But if Levi knows, he doesn’t acknowledge it. He’s been acting exactly the same, which either means he doesn’t know, or he knows but he doesn’t mind.

He is thinking way too hard about this, and he tells himself that it doesn’t matter, anyway, because there’s no way anything will ever come out of a crush on someone he met online, someone whose face he doesn’t even know. That’s probably why Levi’s not worried.

Of course, that’s before he finds out where Levi lives.

“We live like two cities apart,” he blurts when he realizes, then bites his lip.

“Oh?” Levi asks.

Eren reflects on how far they’ve come in the three months they’ve known each other that Levi, self-professed private person, will casually mention where he lives to provide context for a personal story and he feels…really, really happy. Levi trusts him. He likes him. Maybe not in the way Eren wishes, but he’s still glad, because, yeah, Eren is friends with all of his guildmates, but Levi…

Levi is different. Levi is his friend even outside of the game. They’ve been talking nearly every day for three months now. Eren has a massive crush on him.

He tells Levi what city he lives in and mentions his college, too, because what the hell. Levi would probably be able to figure it out anyway. In the back of his mind, he’s wondering if this means it’s possible that they could meet up in real life sometime, but he feels far too awkward to ask. Just—exchanging numbers with someone you met online isn’t too questionable after you’ve known them for a while, but meeting them in real life? Eren flashes back to the ‘Strangers on the Internet’ talk from his parents.

But Levi’s not some creepy stalker. Probably.

He waits to see if Levi will say anything about maybe meeting up sometime, but he doesn’t.

The call settles into silence, but Eren finds he can’t concentrate on his textbook.

 

&&&

 

Naturally, when Eren gets a text from Levi the afternoon after his last final, the last thing he expects when he opens the message is, ‘hey, i’m in the city for today. do you want to meet up for coffee?

Eren has had far, far too much coffee recently, but he’s not about to deny Levi, so, after getting over his initial shock, he quickly replies, yes, and suggests his usual haunt.

It’s only after Levi confirms and Eren is halfway to the door when he realizes that neither of them knows what the other looks like. He asks how they’re going to find each other, and Levi says, i’ll assume you’re the sleep-deprived college kid who just finished his semester finals; Eren just snorts and replies, that’s everyone

While waiting for a reply, Eren moves to stare at his clothes. He dresses simply, usually just jeans and a t-shirt, and he doesn’t have anything particularly distinguishing… Wait.

OH I KNOW I’LL WEAR MY AOT SHIRT THE ONE THAT SAYS “TANKS. YOU’RE WELCOME”

that’s fucking embarrassing, Levi replies. no.

too late

Eren swiftly changes his shirt and grabs a jacket, and then he’s out the door, barely pausing to say bye to Mikasa, who asks where he’s going.

“I’ve, uh, got an errand!” he says, and makes his escape before she can question him further.

He starts half-jogging down the sidewalk on the way to the coffee shop, a mix of nervous and excited, not knowing what to expect in the next few minutes.

He realizes when he enters the coffee shop that Levi has failed to provide an identifier for himself, and so he’s left awkwardly standing and looking around, and he’s thinking that he should have suggested somewhere else, because it’s crowded in here, and the knot of apprehension in his stomach has grown to a considerable size when his eyes lock gazes with a man sitting at a table in the corner by himself.

Eren’s first thought is, Shit, he’s hot, followed by an immediate self-consciousness regarding his own appearance. Levi looks trim and tidy in his close-fitting coat, scarf tucked neatly inside, and Eren’s just standing there with his hair (is his hair okay? he didn’t even check) and his old jeans and worn jacket and fucking Attack on Titan shirt with a stupid pun on it.

He forces his legs to move, praying that he won’t trip over his own feet as he approaches the table.

“…Levi?” he asks.

The man hums in acknowledgement.

Eren is a little bit obsessed with Levi’s breath. He hears his quiet breathing more than he hears his talking, and he’s learned to decode all his soft sighs and grunts, the low hums in his throat, which he’ll often use instead of a verbal reply.

Eren wonders what kind of noise he’d make against his mouth.

When he catches himself thinking this, he starts and takes many, many, many mental steps back.

Don’t get ahead of yourself, idiot.

“S-so,” he says, taking the seat opposite of Levi. What is he supposed to say in this situation? Eren doesn’t fucking know. “It’s good to see you?”

Levi snorts and leans back in his seat. “If I’d known you’d be this awkward I wouldn’t have messaged you.”

“I—”

“Just relax. We’ve known each other for, what, three months now, right?”

More than that now, not that Eren’s counting.

“Yeah,” he says.

“So, don’t make it awkward.”

Easier said than done, but Eren nods anyway. “So, what are you doing here, anyway? In the city, I mean.”

Before Levi can answer, Eren’s stomach lets out a loud and untimely rumble, and Eren goes red.

“Have you eaten lunch yet?” Levi asks, and Eren shakes his head, too embarrassed to talk.

Levi sighs and pushes himself up from the table. “Let’s go.”

Eren stares. “Huh?”

“I’m taking you to lunch. What do you want?”

“Really?” Eren jumps up. “Pizza!”

Levi looks scandalized. “Of all things—”

“You’re not saying you don’t like pizza,” Eren says in disbelief. “You’re not.”

“Pizza is all greasy and,” Levi waggles his fingers at him, “disgusting.”

Eren shakes his head. “Unbelievable.”

“But I’ll take you, since I’m feeling charitable today.”

He starts walking, and Eren follows him. “You? Charitable?”

“Hmm, you’re right. It’s more like, I pity your poor soul because you’re still in college and have finals.”

“Now, that sounds more like you.”

“Mmhm.”

They go to Levi’s car, and the ride is mostly quiet aside from Eren giving directions, and he tries his hardest not to think of it as awkward, because it’s not. He should be used to silences between them. Hell, he likes them.

But he glances nervously at Levi out of the corner of his eye and shifts uncomfortably in his seat anyway, until Levi snaps at him to calm down and stop fidgeting.

It’s easier when they have food in front of them as a buffer, although Levi doesn’t order anything at first.

“Have you already eaten lunch today?” Eren asks.

“No.”

“Levi!” he scolds, and starts to feel guilty about demanding pizza when Levi doesn’t like it, but then Levi scowls and orders something, and all guilt is washed away when he totally gets a knife and fork to eat his pizza with, because, oh my god, why is that cute, Eren thinks as he says, “You’re so ridiculous.”

“Next time, I’ll choose where we eat,” is all Levi says in response, and Eren feels his heart beat faster at the words next time.

Not much conversation is made while they eat, mostly because Levi glares at him whenever he talks with his mouth full. Eren does ask again why Levi is in the city, because he never got an answer, but Levi just says, “Business,” and changes the topic, and after they finish eating, he asks if there’s anything else Eren wants to do.

“But don’t you have work?” Eren asks.

“That’s taken care of.”

“Oh.” When Eren tried pressing Levi for more details earlier, he was frustratingly vague about the nature of his business, and he knows better than to ask again. “Is there anything you want to do?”

“I asked you first.”

“Don’t be a kid.”

“You’re the kid, brat. Do you want to do something, or should I just leave?”

Eren splutters. He absolutely does not want Levi to leave, but… What can they do?

Shit, is this a date? Are they going on a date?

What do people do on dates? Eren is totally blanking. Movies come to mind first, but there are no movies out that Eren is particularly interested in seeing right now, and he’d invite Levi to the apartment, but he doesn’t really want Mikasa to know just why he ran out of there earlier.

Uhhh.

What does he want to do with Levi (besides maybe kiss him)?

He just wants to be with him. Talking, or not. Like their nights on the phone with each other. Just Levi’s presence is familiar and soothing.

Eren’s never been in love before, but he’s pretty sure this must be what it feels like, or close to it. He’s not sure how he fell so hard, so fast—but it wasn’t a hard fall, was it? It felt like an easy slide, gently sloping, carrying him down to Levi’s side.

Levi, who is still waiting patiently for an answer, because Eren was supposed to be thinking of a place to go or something to do, not realizing that he’s maybe in love with the man standing in front of him.

“Can we just, like, take a walk?” Eren asks quickly.

“It’s winter.”

“Technically, not for a few more days,” Eren says, and Levi glares at him. “It’s not snowing or anything. It’s nice out. We can go to the park?”

“Is this your idea of fun?” Levi asks.

“Um. Well, I—”

Levi rolls his eyes. “Get in the car and show me this shitty park of yours,” he says, and Eren smiles, relieved.

They walk a couple laps around the park, talking about everything and nothing.

“Do you think I’m too big to go on the slide?” Eren asks abruptly, thinking about falling and slides and love.

“Yes,” Levi says, but Eren is already running to the kiddy playground.

He climbs up the ladder and stands at the top of the slide.

“I’m as tall as a Titan from up here!” he calls down to Levi.

“Titans are taller, dumbass.”

“Sorry,” Eren says, trying to keep a straight face and failing miserably, “I guess I made a mistake. Maybe it’s because you’re exceptionally short?”

Levi scowls, and Eren is really screwed because he thinks he looks cute as hell. “Get down here and say that to my face.”

Eren goes down the slide, throwing his arms into the air and ignoring the lurch in his stomach that has nothing to do with the physical slide. He hops to his feet and swivels around to face Levi.

“I might have to bend down to say it to your face, though,” he says, cheekily, and Levi looks downright murderous.

“Do you ever stop thinking about that stupid game?” he asks.

Well—yes. He thinks about Levi a whole lot more than he thinks about Attack on Titan, but Eren isn’t about to tell him that. Instead, he just shrugs and says, “If something happens to catch my interest in passing.”

He’s regretting bringing them to the park, because even though this isn’t the playground he grew up in, it’s similar enough to give him a nostalgic rush, and he finds himself wishing that he knew Levi as a kid. He wishes that he could have learned everything about Levi as they grew up together.

It makes him a little breathless to realize he’s missed so many years of Levi’s life.

“Thanks for coming to see me today,” he says, smiling, then turns away and pretends that he didn’t just say that. “Want to go on the swings?”

“Eren,” Levi starts.

But Eren, too scared to hear whatever it is Levi has to say, takes off for the swing set.

The swings are old and a little creaky, but they feel sturdy enough, and Eren swings lightly back and forth while Levi sits stationary on the swing beside him. Neither of them talks.

The early evening sky is starting to darken when Levi says, “I should be heading back.”

“Oh, yeah,” Eren says. “Right.”

He stands up, and Levi rises beside him.

“Do you want a ride back to your apartment?”

Eren shakes his head. “It’s not far from here. I can walk.”

He walks with Levi back to his car anyway, fighting an internal struggle as he wonders if he should say something, or ask what Levi was going to say, or something. But in the end he figures that he was pretty obvious about his affections and Levi wasn’t saying anything about it for a reason, so he just plasters a smile on his face and says, “Bye. Drive safe, Levi.”

Levi hums in acknowledgement and gives him the smallest of smiles.

“Good night, Eren.”

Eren watches him drive off, waits until his car turns a corner and disappears from sight, before he sighs, stuffs his hands into his jacket pockets, and trudges home.

 

&&&

 

He lies awake in bed, thinking about their few hours together, and Levi’s vague answers about why he was in the city, and wonders if it’s even within the realm of possibility that Levi came just to see him.

But he’s probably just being presumptuous.

Chapter Text

The thing is, Levi always acts so frustratingly normal about everything. Whatever happens, he just rolls with it—he’s never thrown off-guard or anything like that (which makes Eren wonder if it’s possible that he’s actually omniscient). So when he says nothing about his visit the next several times they speak, Eren can almost believe that it never happened.

It’s annoying. And confusing. Like, are they on the same page here? He’s pretty sure he couldn’t have been any more obvious, short of saying, ‘Hey, I like you.’ He doesn’t know, but he isn’t actually going to say, ‘So if you haven’t (somehow) noticed, I really like you. How do you feel about that?’ and Levi definitely isn’t going to say anything, so they’re stuck.

So they carry on as normal, except now Eren’s got a face to put to the name and the voice of the person he’s been slowing falling in love with and—well, that does not make things easier at all.

 

&&&

 

Confusing Levi-related feelings aside, the next two weeks are wonderfully uneventful: Armin comes to visit and the biggest conflict is about whether he should sleep in Eren’s room or take the couch (Eren, of course, forces him to take his room in the end).

They laze around and spend their days marathoning TV shows and movies on Netflix—Eren surreptitiously texting Levi—and playing a lot of Attack on Titan to make up for their absence during finals.

Christmas comes and goes—ugly sweaters are bought and worn, and gifts are exchanged. The guild decided to do a Secret Santa event in-game, but in addition to getting his Secret Santa gift for Hange, Eren also secretly bought a gift for Levi, and he is thrilled to find that Levi has done the same for him.

They have a grand Christmas feast, give themselves stomachaches eating too much, and groan as they have nothing but leftovers for the next few days, and then Armin leaves so he can spend New Year’s with his grandpa, and it’s just Eren and Mikasa again.

 

&&&

 

Watching the fireworks together is a tradition Eren and Mikasa have had since they’ve known each other, and Eren kind of hates himself because this year, all he can think about is that he wishes he could see them with Levi, too.

Still, this isn’t bad, he thinks as they settle on their blankets. There’s a nice, large hill that a lot of students from their college (the ones not out partying) go to to view the fireworks, and he and Mikasa have managed to find a nice spot that isn’t too crowded.

Mikasa leans against him, pressing their shoulders together as they snuggle under a blanket. It’s nice and comfortable, and Eren focuses on the familiarity of watching the fireworks with his sister and tries to shove Levi from his mind.

It works for a few minutes; Eren’s not above oohing and ahhing at all the pretty shapes and colors, and for a while, they’re a good distraction from other thoughts, but as he watches them streak across the sky, he can’t help but wonder if Levi is watching the fireworks in his city.

He’s halfway to reaching for his phone when he realizes what he’s doing and stops.

He knows he thinks about Levi way too much, but he can’t help it. He is in Serious Like with Levi. (Okay, more like love, but that’s a minor detail.)

At least he manages to keep him out of most conversations. It’s certainly a challenge, but Eren is determined not to be that person who talks nonstop about their crush. Even if he hasn’t managed to overcome the thinking nonstop about his crush part.

His fingers are twitching, but he resolutely does not reach for his phone again, staring at the fireworks with great concentration until the people around them start counting down from ten.

He joins in—

Nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one—

Midnight.

“HAPPY NEW YEAR!” everyone yells, some of them cheering.

There’s that New Year’s tradition, the one where you kiss someone at midnight or else be doomed to loneliness for the rest of the year. Eren looks at all the couples around them happily filling the kissing requirement, and he feels his heart twinge.

“What if I did something really stupid tonight?” Eren asks.

“You’d start off the new year being yourself,” Mikasa says wryly.

“Wow, Mikasa.”

“Sorry,” she says, in the kind of voice that has an unspoken, not sorry, attached to the end. “Is this stupid thing going to put you in any sort of danger?”

“Only the danger of a broken heart,” Eren sighs, and Mikasa bumps her shoulder against his arm none too gently.

“I can’t even believe you right now. Your life is not a romantic drama.”

“I’m more the rom-com type, myself,” Eren agrees, rubbing his arm and pouting at her.

“Your life is not a movie, period,” Mikasa says. Then, “But do you want to talk about it?”

“Um. Do I have to?” Eren asks, voice pitched embarrassingly high.

“Not if you don’t want to.”

“Then I would rather, um. Not,” Eren says.

Mikasa looks disappointed, but she leaves it at that, and Eren is too busy feeling grateful to wonder why she’s not prying for once in her life.

 

&&&

 

Back at their apartment, in the dubious hours past midnight but before dawn, Eren lies in bed and wonders if he should call Levi. He’s never called this late, but it’s New Year’s, and he’s probably still up, so it’ll be okay, right?

Oh, fuck it. He presses the call button.

“Eren.”

“Hey, Levi. Happy New Year. How are you?”

“Bored,” Levi says. “Hange dragged me to a stupid party and now she’s drunk. Erwin is here too and he’s drunk. Everybody at this fucking party is drunk.”

“Everyone but you,” Eren says, laughing as he eases into the conversation. Screw confessing. Things are perfectly fine the way they are.

“I can’t get drunk; I’m designated driver,” Levi says. “Although I wouldn’t mind going home and getting drunk.” He sighs loudly, exasperated. “Drunk people are obnoxious when you’re sober.”

“It’s okay, I can keep you company,” Eren says. “Seeing as I am completely sober.”

“Yeah, but you’re generally obnoxious.”

“Hey!”

“It’s true.”

“Do you want me to hang up and leave you by yourself at that crap party where everyone is drunk but you?”

“You do whatever the hell you want.”

“It’s okay, I know you secretly want me to keep you company,” Eren says cheerfully.

Levi grumbles something, but Eren knows he’s totally right.

“I hope your New Years was better than mine,” Levi says. “Or did you even celebrate? I wouldn’t put it past you to just sit at home and do nothing. Watch the fireworks on Attack on Titan like some sort of loser.”

“I wouldn’t put that past you,” Eren retorts. “Don’t pretend that’s not what you wish you were doing right now. And for your information, I love fireworks—real ones. Mikasa and I went out to see them earlier.”

“Fireworks are noisy.”

“How did I know you were going to say that?”

“I wonder.”

Eren smiles to himself but says nothing. Levi falls silent, too, and over the background noise on Levi’s end, Eren can still hear him breathing softly into the phone.

Something in Eren’s chest constricts painfully, and he can’t stop himself from saying, voice quiet, “I want to be with you.”

Levi doesn’t reply for a long time. Their customary silence has become painful, and Eren’s mind is an endless loop of fuck, shouldn’t have said that, I fucked up. Between that, he thinks that maybe he should say something, but the words get stuck in his throat.

After what feels like years, Levi just says, “Go to sleep, Eren.”

Eren doesn’t get any rest that night.

Chapter Text

He’s restless the next day, too. Levi doesn’t reply to Eren’s texts, and when Eren logs on to Attack on Titan, he’s not online, either.

He screwed up. He screwed up big time.

Just—he couldn’t help but say it, and he’s not sure he would take it back and not say it if he had the chance to do it over. He likes Levi, a lot. And he misses him a lot, which doesn’t even make sense, because they talk every day and he’s only seen him in person once.

And he needs Levi to acknowledge…something before Eren goes crazy. Hell, he’ll even take being rejected (though he doesn’t want that, not at all), he just wants Levi to say something about it.

But then again, isn’t his current radio silence a clear enough message?

 

&&&

 

Eren stays home for the rest of the day. It’s still winter break, after all. Staying home all day was always the plan. He just hadn’t expected to be wallowing in embarrassment and self-pity while he did it.

He’s in his room, trying to distract himself by reading, but Levi was the one who had recommended the damn book in the first place, so of course the plan doesn’t work out at all and just leaves his mind buzzing.

What will he say the next time he speaks to Levi? Should he apologize? Will Levi even want to talk to him again?—

He’s being stupid. Levi wouldn’t abandon him over an awkward embarrassing ill-timed confession.

But he stares at his unanswered texts to Levi (good morning, hope the rest of the party wasn’t so shitty, did you go home and get drunk, and, if it helps you can pretend i was drunk last night) and he’s not sure what to think.

The muffled sound of someone knocking on the front door stops Eren from rereading his texts for the umpteenth time; he looks up, then groans and buries his head into the pillow. He is not particularly in the mood to see anyone. Mikasa can get it.

After a few seconds, there’s another round of knocking.

“Mikasa!” Eren yells.

“You get it!” she calls back, probably from her room.

“No, you!”

“I’m in a dungeon!” she yells, and Eren sits up. Mikasa didn’t say anything about playing Attack on Titan today.

Well, it isn’t like he’s her keeper or anything. Anyway, Eren understands all too well the pain of not being able to pause in an MMO, especially in a dungeon when you don’t want to make the other people wait, and so he rolls out of bed.

Knock-knock-knock.

“Eren!”

“I’m going, I’m going!”

Grumbling vaguely under his breath about how he just wanted to be miserable in peace, he stumbles down the hall and to the front door, wondering who the hell is even here.

He’s expecting Armin, who probably forgot something and decided to come back without warning to get it; or someone about the heater, which Eren doesn’t even think is broken, but then again, heaters always are; or even Jean, who’s been saying he might drop by, always preferring to be the one to visit so he can mooch off their food, dammit Jean.

He’s not expecting Levi, but when he opens the door, who else is standing on the other side but Levi, with flecks of snow in his silky black hair, face flushed the faintest pink from the cold, holding a bouquet of flowers in his hands.

“Uh,” Eren stutters, because Levi is standing in front of him, fucking holding flowers, dressed just as nicely as last time, while Eren is even worse off; again, it’s winter break, so of course he’s going to be in his pajamas, and this time there’s no question of whether or not his hair is a mess.

Levi’s eyes flick across his body, and his face darkens a shade, and no one moves or says anything for a few moments until Eren realizes that they’re both just standing there, blushing like idiots, and forces his mouth to move.

“What are—”

“Go out with me,” Levi blurts, and Eren has never heard him so…well, not composed.

“Yes,” he says automatically, then blushes even harder. “I mean, um, you mean today or…in general?”

“Both.”

“Oh, okay. I’m, uh.” Eren makes a decision. “I’m gonna go change!” And he bolts.

Eren makes it safely to his room, where he leans against the door and proceeds to freak out.

“Levi is here,” he whispers. “Levi is here. Oh, god, this is really happening. …I just abandoned him at the door. Shit.”

He stares at his wardrobe. What is he supposed to wear? What are they doing? Where are they going?

Cursing, he grabs a button-down, because that seems safe, and then spends about five minutes trying to tame his hair before giving up. He probably shouldn’t keep Levi waiting any longer.

When he walks back out, his stomach drops to see Mikasa. Sitting on the couch. With Levi.

She stands when she sees him. “You shouldn’t leave people at the door.”

“Sorry,” Eren says dumbly, not sure what else to say. “Weren’t you running a dungeon?”

Mikasa smiles at him, and Eren has a horrible feeling that he’s been had, although he’s not sure exactly how.

“Have fun. I’ll see you later tonight.”

“Wait, you’re okay with—with things?” Eren asks, feeling incredibly awkward.

“We’ll have plenty of time to talk later,” she says, still smiling.

Eren is screwed.

He makes eye contact with Levi, who just raises his eyebrows at him, although Eren thinks he can see a hint of nervousness in his eyes. Of course, Mikasa can make anyone nervous, but Eren had never considered Levi to be part of that ‘anyone’—he’s too collected for that. But apparently not?

That does not make Eren feel better at all.

“O-okay,” he says, hesitant. “See you tonight.”

“Yeah.” She looks at Levi and says in an overly sweet voice (that is honestly sort of frightening), “Thanks for the flowers, Levi. Take care of Eren, he can be stupid sometimes.”

And then Levi smiles, a falsely cheerful smile that’s as frightening as Mikasa’s saccharine voice.

“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.”

“Okay, let’s go!” Eren says loudly. Being ganged up on like this is just wrong, because it’s Mikasa, his beloved adoptive sister, and Levi, his crush who apparently likes him back. This is not happening to him.

He takes Levi by the arm and drags him out of the apartment, calling a final goodbye to Mikasa as he slams the door.

Once the door is shut, Levi pulls his arm out of Eren’s grasp and starts walking swiftly. Eren hurries after him.

“Were the flowers really for Mikasa?”

“No, but I figured you didn’t want to carry them around.”

“How did you even get my address? I never told you…”

“I asked Mikasa. By the way,” Levi says, and Eren doesn’t have to look at him to know he’s smirking, “she likes me better than you right now because I was honest with her about us.”

“‘Us’?” Eren echoes, and Levi doesn’t respond, so he asks, “Why did you come here today?”

They’ve reached Levi’s car now, and Levi stops beside it, turning so he can face him.

“Because of what you said last night,” he says simply.

“But I thought—I thought you didn’t like me—I mean—wasn’t I being really obvious before?” Eren stammers, not quite able to believe it.

“I couldn’t be sure,” Levi says, scowling. “You could have just been being friendly. I wasn’t sure, and I didn’t want to say anything or push myself onto you. I mean, you’re still so young—”

“What the fuck,” Eren says, and kisses him.

Levi exhales sharply in surprise, and Eren catches it in his mouth, sliding his tongue in and pressing him up against the side of the car.

It’s wet and messy and a little bit desperate. Eren’s body is flush against Levi’s, and Levi’s hands are scrabbling for purchase on Eren’s back. Eren pushes his leg between Levi’s; Levi moans, and Eren sort of loses it a little.

Of course, that’s the moment Levi pushes him away, looking flustered.

“I’m supposed to be taking you out to dinner.”

“Yeah, we could do that. Or,” Eren says, “we could fuck in your car.”

He’s mostly kidding.

Levi stares at him. “That’s disgusting. You’re disgusting.”

“It’d be hot.”

“It’d be dirty and uncomfortable. And I’m not here to live out your teenage fantasies.” He pauses like he’s reconsidering it, but then he just says, “Besides, this is only the first date. There’s an order to these things, you hormonal idiot.”

“Does the first time you visited count as a date?”

“Stop thinking with your dick and get in the car.”

“I was just kidding,” Eren says, in case Levi wasn’t sure, and Levi scowls, but then he stretches up on his tiptoes (cute) to peck him on the lips, and moves away.

“Where are we going?” Eren asks once they’re in the car and on the move.

“Not pizza,” Levi says. “I told you that I would pick next time, didn’t I?”

“Are you going to take me to some high-class fancy restaurant?” Eren asks, not sure what he wants the answer to be.

“Fuck no,” Levi says, and Eren decides that he’s relieved.

They go for pasta, in the end, and Eren annoys Levi by eating garlic bread with his hands (but, seriously, how else are you supposed to eat it?).

“I was hoping to avoid a repeat performance of last time.”

“Finger food is finger food,” Eren retorts, snagging the breadstick from Levi’s plate, since he’s probably not going to eat it anyway.

“Oi, that’s mine.”

“Were you going to eat it?”

“Maybe.”

“You wouldn’t have touched it.”

Levi is quiet, and Eren smiles in smug triumph, but then the smile morphs into something mischievous, and he holds the breadstick out across the table, right up to Levi’s face.

“Here you go.”

Levi regards him silently for a moment, then leans forward and takes a bite from the breadstick, and, wait, no, he wasn’t supposed to actually do that.

“Um—”

“Not the way I would normally go about eating it, but I suppose it works,” Levi muses.

“I would hope you don’t usually let people hand-feed you,” Eren replies nervously.

“Don’t worry, only you.”

“Oh, good,” Eren says as Levi takes another bite. This isn’t awkward at all, nope. This is a thing couples do.

Oh, god, they’re a couple now. That happened.

“So, how is this going to work, exactly?” he asks.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean…long-distance relationships don’t tend to work out, do they?”

Levi leans back in his seat, folding his arms across his chest.

“If you think that, then why did you say yes?”

“Because…” Eren hesitates, bringing his arm back because it’s starting to ache from being held up for so long. He nibbles on the half-eaten breadstick, ignoring the way Levi’s eyebrow twitches in response. “I really like you.”

Levi doesn’t even reprimand him for talking with food in his mouth. He just says, “Well, as long as we both want to try, then it’s okay, right? Who the hell cares what ‘tends’ to happen?”

Still uncertain, Eren makes a noncommittal noise, and Levi sighs.

“You’re right, maybe this won’t work out. Maybe you’ll get tired of having a boyfriend who lives two cities away, who you can’t see whenever you want, and maybe you’ll find someone closer, and gradually start to spend more time with them, and then—”

“I wouldn’t cheat—”

“Or maybe I’ll become dissatisfied and grow distant,” Levi says with a shrug, and Eren glares, wondering why Levi is trying to deliberately piss him off on their first proper date. “Maybe our calls will peter out until they eventually stop altogether, and then we’ll never talk to each other again, and the relationship will end with no real conclusion.”

“Why are you—”

“Or maybe it’ll be a good break-up and we’ll still keep in touch.”

“Levi, seriously—”

“Or maybe we’ll move in together and get married and adopt three kids. Hell if I know how this is going to end, but I decided that I still want to try this anyway, because I think we could be good together. What about you?”

“I…specifically three kids?” Eren asks, because he’s still trying to process what Levi just said.

“It was an arbitrary number, answer the question. What do you want?”

“I want…” Eren makes up his mind, and sits up straighter in his chair. “I want to be with you. I meant what I said last night. And—you’re right, we can’t possibly know how this will turn out, but I want to find out rather than not try at all.”

For a moment, Levi says nothing. And then he smiles.

“I want to be with you, too,” he says, and something warm unfurls in Eren’s stomach.

 

&&&

 

They don’t go anywhere else that night, but after Levi drives Eren back to his apartment building, they stay in the car for a while, just sitting there with the radio on, volume on low. They talk a little about their future and their relationship, until talk fades away to quiet kisses and soft sighs and intertwined fingers.

Levi rests his forehead against Eren’s. “I should go.”

“I wish you could stay,” Eren murmurs.

“I know. But I have work tomorrow, and—this is what our relationship is going to be like, you know.”

“Oh, I know, I know,” Eren rushes to reassure him. “But we decided we’re going to try this, aren’t we?”

“Yeah,” Levi says, and he seems relieved, so, even though he’s sad that he has to leave, Eren smiles, and frets about Levi having to drive late at night, and Levi rolls his eyes, fondly exasperated, tells him he’s done it loads of times, but Eren frets anyway.

He gets out of the car and Levi rolls down the window so they can say goodbye, only they end up kissing again, Levi leaning his head out the window and Eren bending down and cupping his face in his hands.

Finally, though, Eren steps back and lets Levi go, content with the knowledge that this won’t be the last time he sees him.

When he goes up to his apartment, he finds Mikasa curled up on the couch, reading. She looks up when he walks in.

“Welcome back.”

“Hey.” Eren sits down next to her. “So, uh, how mad are you at me?”

“I’m not mad,” she scoffs, setting her book down. “I’m just a little upset that you couldn’t be upfront with me.”

“In my defense, I was very confused.”

“Yeah, you always are,” she says, which is so unfair and not true, but Eren knows she’s teasing. “It wasn’t hard to guess that you liked Levi, anyway,” and Eren sighs because he may as well die of embarrassment. “By the way, I already gave him the ‘you break his heart, I break your face’ talk, so you don’t have to worry about that. Although he still needs to properly meet Armin.”

“Oh, god. Can you not be a Mom about this relationship?” Eren begs.

She taps him lightly on the head. “I’m being your sister and your friend.”

“I think you honestly scared him.”

“That’s part of the test: If he still wants to be with you after I’m through with him, he must be serious.”

“Mikasa!”

“I’m just kidding. It’s not like I threatened him.”

“You just said you gave him the ‘you break his heart, I break your’— ”

“Never mind that,” she dismisses. “I just want to make sure you know what you’re doing.”

“I know, I know, Levi is older, online relationships, and all that stuff?”

Eren is a little bit annoyed; he doesn’t want to deal with overprotective Mikasa the night of his first date with Levi. But she surprises him.

“I’m not worried about that. I’m Levi’s friend, too, you know, even if I don’t know him nearly as well as you do.”

Eren is too surprised to respond, and she continues, “But long-distance relationships aren’t easy. Are you really sure about this?”

And Eren can’t get mad at her about that, not when he was stressing about the same thing earlier.

“I know,” he says. “We’ve already talked about that, and we both still want to try. I really do like him, Mikasa. A lot.”

“Well,” Mikasa says, smiling fondly at him. “As long as you’re happy, Eren.”

“I am,” Eren confirms. “I’m really, really happy.”

“That’s good.” She pauses. “But he still needs to meet Armin.”

Eren tries to imagine Armin delivering the ‘you break his heart…’ spiel.

“Well—he can’t be worse than you.” Probably. Hopefully.

Mikasa hits him. “Go text your boyfriend.”

“I can’t, he’s driving right now.” He pokes her shoulder. “Don’t text and drive. I think I am going to bed, though,” he adds, standing up and stretching.

“Okay,” Mikasa says. “Good night.”

“G’night.”

 

&&&

 

He doesn’t sleep, of course. He stays up, counting minutes, estimating how long it’ll take for Levi to get back home, and he can’t stop the grin spreading over his face when his phone lights up with a text.

got home safe. figured i should text you since you’re such a worrywart.

thanks dear xoxo

Eren snickers to himself, then wonders if he should call Levi. Would he seem too needy?

Before he can make a decision, his phone starts ringing.

Levi, the screen says, and for a moment Eren just stares at the name in surprise as he realizes that this is the first time Levi has called him, and not the other way around.

He answers the call, bringing the phone to his ear.

“Hey, Eren.”

“Hi, Levi,” Eren breathes, feeling foolish and happy. “I missed you.”

Levi snorts. “We just saw each other a few hours ago.”

“I know. But, still.”

“I know,” Levi says.

Eren chuckles a little, embarrassed, and on the other end of the line he hears a familiar, amused huff of breath.