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The first time they sleep together, Erwin tries to kiss Levi and gets a palm over his mouth instead. Levi pushes him away, skin salty with sweat, and Erwin is surprised. It doesn't happen often. They're half-dressed and panting in his office, legs tangled. Twenty men died the last expedition and a near riot broke out in the capital and somehow all that led up to them tearing at each other's clothes, silent but obvious in their need. Erwin knows it's been building between them. An unnamed tension that sparked the moment they locked eyes in the underground city. Today it's come to a head. They're breathless already, skin hot with want and eyes glazed over, but Levi won't let Erwin kiss him.

"No," he says. "Don't do that."

"No?" Erwin wants to challenge him, but there's something like fear in Levi's eyes, and that gets him curious.

"All right," he says instead. Then, "Turn around."

Levi does, and Erwin does not kiss him, but he does bite marks into the skin of his hips and drive himself so deep inside of him that he knows Levi will be sore for days after.

They don't kiss the next time, either. Or the time after that. They don't do a lot of things other people might. They don't hold each other. They don't, over the soft light of a candle, stare into each other's eyes and think of the future. Instead they have quick, desperate fucks in quiet rooms and lonely hallways, Levi telling Erwin to move there, touch him here. They have short, secret touches of reassurance. Looks of understanding. But Levi doesn't allow for anything else. If Erwin gets too close, he pulls away. He never stays after sex. He dresses, he leaves. It doesn't hurt Erwin. It fascinates him.

In a way, it's convenient and efficient. Their line of work doesn't allow for a lot of downtime, and it definitely doesn't leave room for romance, but that doesn't stop Erwin from wondering why Levi only allows certain intimacy. Why he seems incapable of opening up certain parts of himself, even to Erwin, who he trusts. He could order him, if he really wanted to, but Erwin enjoys learning Levi slowly, unraveling layers of him, even if the next seems more complicated than the last. There is a time to act and a time to observe, and Erwin knows it's not yet time to act.

--

The day of the next expedition, Levi pulls Erwin into his room, grip a bit too tight, and pushes him against the wall. The night before they'd fucked long and slow in the dark, left thumbprints on each other. It's always like this before they go outside the walls—Levi grasping for Erwin like it's the last time. Everything is frenzied and cloudy before an expedition, the anxiety sits on their tongues like a cancer. It's only after they get outside the walls that the adrenaline takes over.

"Come on," Levi says. "Hurry up."

"Last I checked, you didn't give the orders," Erwin says, but he's pulling at his belt anyway.

As soon as Levi's pants are down, Erwin wraps a hand around his cock and Levi hisses, head falling forward, bangs brushing the breast of Erwin's shirt. Erwin lets him take what he needs.

"Fuck," he says.

Erwin runs his thumb over the head of his cock, uses the pre-come to make it easier. Levi grabs hold of Erwin and pushes his hips forward, straining on his toes. Once his eyes flutter closed, Erwin knows he's close. He jerks him harder, watching for the moment Levi comes, the moment his mouth drops open and his brows draw down. He's seen it so many times.

After, Levi drops to his shaky knees and takes Erwin in his mouth, sucks him hard and fast. Erwin braces himself against the wall, careful to avoid tangling his fingers in Levi's hair and pulling. His hips jerk and Erwin feels it when his cock touches the back of Levi's throat and Levi's tongue presses against the underside like a warning. But he can take it, Erwin knows he's can. He knows Levi's limits. When it's over, Levi pulls a handkerchief from his jacket and wipes them both clean, then folds the cloth and shoves it into his bottom drawer. His cheeks are still flushed.

"Gunther's been breathing down my neck about this new formation," he says, and Erwin wants so badly to kiss him.

"Is that so?"

"He's worried it leaves the right too open."

"Tell him to worry about his left," Erwin says. "Nothing else."

"Yeah." Levi's shoulders are a fraction more relaxed now, and the flush of his cheeks is almost gone. "I've gotta get my horse ready."

He adjusts his cravat and turns for the door like nothing has happened. Erwin says his name. Levi stops and watches Erwin over his shoulder, and Erwin can see that fear in his eyes again, something unknown.

"Be careful," Erwin says.

Levi looks down. "You too."

--

There's a certain beauty to the outside world, even with the danger of Titans. Erwin remembers the first time he stepped outside the walls, the endless green land in front of him. It made anything seem possible, like maybe this war could end. Maybe they could live out here again, in the fresh air and freedom. He sees it on the faces of anyone who goes outside with him. He remembers seeing the same look on Levi's face. Levi, who hadn't shown much emotion besides contempt and anger, looked at the open grass, and something flickered in his eyes. Something like hope.

--

The Deviant knocks away the entire right flank going for Erwin. This close, Erwin can smell the sour odor emanating from its skin, the stench of its breath. It's intelligent, this one, and it appears to have a target. Him. It must know his position somehow, know he's the commander. Levi's squad is already dealing with two 15-meter class Titans, and Hanji is yelling notes at someone. Two soldiers fall under the Deviant's crushing jaw, and Erwin pulls his blade. But the force of the Deviant's footsteps causes the ground to shake and Erwin's horse to stumble. She tries to right herself, jerks to a quick stop, and Erwin gets thrown over her head. He lands on his back. Blue sky is overhead, and Erwin feels strangely light. He inhales the fresh air. The Deviant appears overhead and Erwin draws another blade. Once it reaches for him, he'll slice at the palm, use his gear to move overhead and hopefully get a clean cut of the neck. If not, he'll die.

Instead, he hears the sound of gas and a shadow passes just out of view. Erwin can hear Petra's voice calling Levi's name, and then he sees Levi land on the Deviant's back. There's murder in his eyes as his blade cuts the nape of the neck. He isn't sure how he got there so fast, but it doesn't surprise him. The Deviant staggers, mouth open, and Erwin rolls out of the way and jumps to his feet. The whole ground vibrates once the Deviant falls, dust rolling out from its fallen corpse. Levi lands next to it, breathing heavily. There's blood dripping from his blade and splattered on his hands but he doesn't seem to care at all. He's looking at Erwin with a hard expression.

"You all right?" he says.

Erwin nods.

"Commander!"

Hanji comes over with his horse in tow and Erwin mounts again. Staying on the ground for any extended period of time out here isn't wise. His back stings, but it's nothing serious. Another day he managed to escape death.

"Let's reform."

Erwin looks over at Levi again, but his back is turned to him.

--

He goes looking for Levi later. The whole trip back, Erwin could feel his eyes on him, like he thought Erwin would vanish if he didn't keep watch, but the moment Erwin would catch his gaze, Levi would look away. He was silent, brooding, and Erwin didn't have a chance to approach him before he slipped away back at headquarters. After that it was all reporting to the higher ups and paperwork. He waits until the sun has set before looking for him, because he knows that Levi needs time to decompress, and secretly, Erwin thinks he might find him first. But night blankets the city, and Levi still hasn't come, so Erwin goes to his room.

He gets permission to enter after the first knock. Levi is sitting on the edge of his bed with his jacket off, shining one of his boots. He smells clean, like he just bathed, and Erwin can see that his hair is still damp at the ends. He shuts the door. Levi looks angry with him, and Erwin thinks he understands. He doesn't have a lot of experience with this kind of thing, is usually better at reading people from a military standpoint, but Erwin isn't dense. That Titan almost killed him today, and he knows Levi well enough to know that he's selfish even when he doesn't want to be.

"Are you all right?" he says.

Levi's eyes flicker to him. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Usually you find me after an expedition."

"What," Levi says, "you can't get yourself off?"

He keeps shining his boot in quick, fierce motions, even though Erwin can see it's already been cleaned, perhaps twice.

"Levi," he says, voice firm. "Come here."

Levi doesn't move.

"That's an order."

Levi's jaw twiches, but he drops the boot and stands, walks over to Erwin. There's anger stitched into every inch of his skin as he moves. He's probably expecting words, so the moment he gets close enough, Erwin kisses him. It takes Levi by surprise and gives Erwin enough time to sweep his tongue over Levi's lips before Levi jerks away from him.

"What the hell are you doing?" he says. "I told you—no kissing."

"Do you think that will make it easier when I die?" Erwin says.

Levi goes rigid, and Erwin knows he's hit the nail on the head. He touches Levi's wrist gently, to show him that he won't make any more movements with his permission, to ground him.

"You know I will die," he says. "We both will, by this war's hand or not."

Levi's lip curls.

"Don't talk to me like I don't know that shit."

He starts to pull away so Erwin tightens his grip. Levi looks cornered, which Erwin doesn't want, but he also doesn't want him getting away. Not now.

"Then talk to me," Erwin says. "Tell me what's going on."

Levi tries his grip once again, but Erwin doesn't budge, not even when he feels Levi's skin twist painfully under his hand. He's got Levi trapped, and this must be terrifying to him, Erwin knows it, because they don't talk about this, not ever. It's always been unsaid. But now Erwin wants it said. He has to know. He's selfish at times as well.

"You've got to be more careful, you idiot," Levi says.

He stops struggling but Erwin still doesn't let go, and Levi understands that he wants him to elaborate.

"No one else can do what you do, Erwin. The Legion needs you."

"Is that why you want me to live?"

Levi's mouth opens and then shuts like he's thought better of it. He tests Erwin's grip again, this time with more force, so Erwin's drags him closer. He pulls until they're pressed together, until Levi is practically suffocating on him and has nowhere else to go, nothing else to look out.

"Levi—"

"I told you I would follow you, that I'd figure you out," he says, all in one rushed breath. "I told you I would and I haven't yet so you can't die until I do, you got that?"

Levi is staring at his chest, eyes bright with confession, and Erwin can't stop the smile that spreads on his lips. Levi sneers, and Erwin imagines that his face is probably hot with embarrassment.

"Is that what you wanted to hear, you bastard?" He grabs Erwin's arm with his free hand and twists to try and break the grip. "I said it. Let go of me already."

Erwin doesn't. He leans down again, intentions clear. It is what he wanted to hear, and he thought that would be enough, but Erwin knows now that it isn't. He wants so much more. Levi's bare heel connects with his ankle.

"I told you we're not—"

"Even if we don't, it won't make this any less real, you know."

Levi inhales like Erwin's just hit him. He goes rigid, lips thin, and for a moment Erwin thinks that perhaps he's gone just a bit too far, pushed a bit too much. But second pass and Levi doesn't move, doesn't struggle. He stands still, and finally looks up at Erwin, looking as close to vulnerable as someone like Levi can get. This time, when Erwin kisses him, Levi doesn't pull away. At first he just stands there, pliant, observing. But once Erwin pushes his tongue between his lips, Levi's mouth falls open, and it gets messy from there. They kiss wet and open-mouthed, all tongue at one point, bodies shoved together. Levi's mouth tastes clean and Erwin still has a grip on his wrist but now he uses it to anchor himself. Levi shakes under him, and Erwin wants so much from him all at once.

He pulls away to breathe, mouth tingling, and finally lets go of Levi's wrist. There's an angry red mark on the skin there that will probably bruise.

"I'm sorry," Erwin says.

Levi tugs him down by his shirt and kisses him again.

"Don't apologize to me."

He pulls at Erwin's belt, fingers hot where they touch the skin.

"Come on," he says. "Get this shit off."

Erwin grabs Levi's hands only to still him, feels them shake.

"Not like that," he says. "Not this time."

Levi swallows. "How?"

--

He takes him apart slowly. It's always been rushed, half-angry, rough in its confusion, but this time Erwin pulls Levi against him. He puts his nose to the nape of Levi's neck and inhales his scent, spooning him from behind, and slips his fingers in one by one. Levi anchors himself with a hand on Erwin's arm, nails pricking the skin. Erwin doesn't have to see his face to know that Levi's mouth is red and open. He can hear his harsh breathing, feel the twitch of his muscles each time Erwin's fingers curl inside of him. But Levi is impatient, always has been, and it isn't long before he's pushing back against Erwin's cock.

"Hurry up."

"Relax," Erwin says, but he slips his fingers out anyway.

He lifts Levi's leg up when he enters him, uses it for leverage to drive himself deeper. Levi moans at the pressure, pushes further back into it and grips the sheets at the same time like he wants to crawl away.

"I can't see you," he says, voice cracking, like somehow that will get Erwin to change position.

"Relax," Erwin says again. "Relax for me, Levi. You're taking it so good."

Levi's grip loosens a fraction, so Erwin wraps an arm over his chest and bottoms out, starts to move in earnest. The angle must be good, because Levi groans in his throat, enough for Erwin to feel it. He feels perfect around him, small but large in his own way, and Erwin has him. He will die, maybe tomorrow, maybe in ten years, but he will have at least had this. Erwin flattens his hand against Levi's chest and feels the beat of his heart and knows that Levi is his. Levi starts making desperate sounds in his throat.

"Harder," he says. "Just—shit, come on, Erwin."

Erwin rolls them so Levi is on his stomach, so that he's completely enveloping him. Levi's body bows into it. Erwin mouths wetly at his neck, moving closer and closer until Levi finally tilts his head back and they're kissing again. He holds him there with a hand in his hair, hips canting. Their skin moves together so easily and Erwin can feel Levi's teeth in his lip.

"It's okay," he says. "It's okay to be afraid."

Levi jerks against him, gasping.

"Shut up, shut up."

But Erwin can't seem to stop. "I'm not going anywhere, Levi."

Levi lets out a sound like a sob, hand gripping Erwin's like he means to break it. Erwin would let him. He fucks into him harder, the weight and force of his body pushing Levi flat against the mattress. He moves until the friction sends Levi over the edge and into orgasm, and even after that, he keeps moving. Levi's mouth is limp against his, a litany of broken curses and over sensitized moans and Erwin fucks him until he's coming, until he's gone soft and boneless and feels like he can't move at all.

He kisses the back of Levi's neck when he pulls out and Levi stays face down in the mattress for a long while before finally rolling over. His cheeks and neck are red and his hair is matted to his forehead. He mutters something about feeling dirty. Erwin adjusts the sheets, and then grabs Levi and pulls him to his chest, one arm slung over his back.

"Erwin—"

"Stay," Erwin says, and Levi scoffs.

"It's my bed, asshole."

"Then it's even more convenient."

Levi shifts against him, tired, Erwin knows, but stubborn still.

"I want to wash up, seriously."

"Just stay with me," Erwin says. "Just for a little bit."

Levi stills after another minute, hands in fists against Erwin's chest. Erwin watches night sky from the window until Levi's breathing deepens and evens out and his fists uncurl. Then he closes his eyes.

--

He gets in deep shit with the politicians, and a threat to cut the budget for an expedition cut short, but otherwise the Legion comes out relatively unscathed, politically speaking. Erwin drops the news to Hanji, Mike and Levi in his office that afternoon. It's the same old threat—they need to start producing results, or there won't be another expedition. But he trusts them, and he trusts Hanji's new plan to capture a live Titan. They're the ones who have stayed alive. They're the ones he can count on. He dismisses them after the briefing, but Levi lingers behind. Erwin watches him over his paperwork, his arms crossed and his chin out.

"Yes, Captain?"

"How's your back?" Levi says.

Erwin smiles. "Sore, but in working condition."

Levi rounds his desk until he's standing next to him. Even sitting, Erwin is only a few inches shorter than Levi standing. He sets his quill pen down, aware that Levi has something to say.

"Is there something you aren't telling me?" Levi's scowl deepens. "Did those pigs threaten you with something else?"

"I told you everything you need to know."

"Erwin," Levi says.

"Trust me," says Erwin. He folds his hands in his lap. "Everything will work out as it needs to."

Levi scowls but uncrosses his arms and lets them fall to his sides.

"I trust you," he says.

And Erwin knows. Levi wouldn't be here if he didn't. He stares at Levi's arm and wonders if there's a bruise hidden underneath the shirt.

"Thank you, Levi."

He moves to pick his pen up again, but Levi grabs him by the jaw and kisses him. His mouth tastes clean like it did last night, like inhaling fresh air. Levi pulls away and wipes at his mouth with the back of his hand. Erwin wants to pull him into his lap. This is real.

"Don't get used to it," Levi says, before turning on his heel and leaving.

Erwin says nothing. He watches the shut door and runs his tongue over his lips and tastes Levi on them for the rest of the day.