Actions

Work Header

Short Fic

Chapter Text

Levi pressed the needle against the skin of Erwin’s arm.

They were all slaves to something, Levi remembered. Even him.

Erwin pulled his arm away, raised his hand high above his head, even opened his eyes a bit. Levi’s lips parted, and Erwin spoke.

“Teacher… how find out… don’t exist?” Erwin murmured.

“Erwin?!”

There was no response. Levi knew that Erwin was experiencing flash backs of final memories, and he wished he knew what Erwin was hallucinating.

Levi thought of Erwin smiling at him, thanking him for permission to give up on the dream, permission to die as an honorable man. And Levi wanted to give that to him. He didn’t want Erwin to come back to be their demon. Erwin deserved to rest. It was time for him to go to the place where he belonged, beyond the walls, beyond the world of war. He looked over at Armin’s body on the roof, torched and tiny.

Levi grabbed Erwin’s wrist, pulled Erwin’s arm back to him, held Erwin’s hand, with the ruined fingernails, against his chest. He squeezed Erwin’s bicep hard enough that the veins in the crook of his arm would show themselves. Erwin was dehydrated, and Levi knew if he missed the vein, it would be wasted.

“I’m a slave to something,” Levi whispered. He pushed the needle against Erwin’s skin, saw the minuscule tear on the surface of Erwin’s skin. “Come back for a while.” Levi pressed the needle into Erwin’s vein, waited until he saw the reluctant blood fill the bottom of the syringe. Levi’s eyes felt dry, but they started watering anyway. “And next time, I’ll go with you.” Levi pressed the plunger down, felt it bottom out, but he continued to press, just to assure himself that he had actually done it.

Levi watched Erwin’s face, borderline lifeless. And he counted. He counted until the numbers ran together, and he only heard a hum in his head.

Erwin opened his eyes, took a gasp of air, began hyperventilating, and Levi took the syringe out of his arm. He dropped Erwin’s hand, stood and threw the empty syringe off of the roof. Erwin’s breathing was harder, faster, and Levi turned away. He walked towards Armin.

When he reached Armin’s withered body, he knelt down, collected the boy in his arms, and stood up straight. Erwin screamed, and Levi didn’t turn to look at what was happening to him. He shot his anchors to the roof where Hange was sitting and propelled towards it, holding Armin close to him. The boy in his arms was warm, still breathing, and suffering.

Levi landed on the other roof, and he turned in time to watch Erwin writhing on the roof, arching his back at an impossible angle before he was smothered in muscle and tissue that grew around him. Levi watched while the Titan form slid off the edge of the roof, and the legs grew, feet touching the ground.

The mindless Titan, with simple features of Erwin’s face and his hair, moved towards the roof, towards Bertolt’s body. Bertolt woke up, screamed for help. He couldn’t hear Bertolt’s words, but screaming betrayal has a certain pitch, and Levi could hear every syllable of that. He watched while Erwin bit Bertolt in half, and ripped him open, swallowing each half whole. Eren was screaming on the other roof, and the younger soldiers were holding him down.

Erwin’s Titan body convulsed once before it began steaming, shrinking, disappearing behind the building. Levi held Armin’s body out to Hange, and she took him in her arms gently. She leaned down, turning her ear towards Armin’s mouth.

“He’s dead,” Hange whispered. She looked towards Levi, her only eye painfully devoid of emotion. Levi nodded and propelled away from the roof towards Erwin.

He passed Eren, who continued to scream and curse him, and he landed on the roof of the building that was stained with Bertolt’s blood. Levi lowered himself to the ground, where he saw Erwin unconscious in the dirt.

When his boots touched the earth, Levi looked at both of Erwin’s arms. The rag which had been wrapped around Erwin’s body was gone, but his clothes remained. Levi picked Erwin up, carefully shot his anchors towards the roof, and rose up from the ground. He laid Erwin down on the roof and sat next to him, waiting for when he would wake up. Levi held his hand over Erwin’s nose and mouth, feeling of Erwin’s breath against his skin.

Levi watched while Hange gave Armin’s body to Eren and Mikasa. He didn’t take his eyes away from the scene of the two children grieving for their friend. But he didn’t feel anything except for the gentle puffs of air against his hand.

******

Erwin opened his eyes, saw the sky above him, and blinked rapidly a few times. The sunlight was bright, and he didn’t feel any pain. If there wasn’t any pain, he was either dead or very close to it. But he felt something soft under him, a pillow under his head, and then he knew that he was dead. He had died in the field. Erwin sat up, feeling his phantom right arm, and he looked towards his stump to-

He had an arm again. Erwin’s eyebrows pulled together, and his lips parted. Erwin reached over to his right arm with his left hand. He felt of the skin, the returned muscle. The arm was real, maybe. He lifted his right hand from under the blankets and flexed it. Perfect condition.

His eyes darted beyond his arm. Erwin looked around. He was on a pallet, on top of the Wall of Shinganshina. And he had his arm again.

The realization of what happened came to him so quickly that he lost his breath. His vision was blurry, and he had to fully focus on taking in oxygen. Erwin closed his eyes, breathed, and opened them again when his head stopped swimming.

Erwin lifted his gaze, saw Levi sitting close by, his eyes focused on nothing.

“Levi,” Erwin said. Levi looked towards him, exhausted and lacking the typical fire in his gray eyes.

“So you’re up,” Levi said, standing. Erwin watched Levi drag his feet, moving closer. Levi stood over him.

“You gave me the serum,” Erwin said. Levi didn’t respond, just stared at the right arm for a moment. Then, Levi pulled his flare gun from his belt. He lifted the gun above his head and fired.

Erwin stared up at Levi, feeling lost in the moment. When Levi lowered his arm and put the gun away, Erwin opened his mouth to say something and thought of nothing. He chose to look away instead.

Erwin looked to his right, saw Sasha resting next to him with a bandage wrapped around her head. A meter away from Sasha, Eren was hogtied and gagged, writhing against his restraints, cursing against the gag, drool running down his chin. Mikasa sat next to him, with a wrapped body stretched out next to her. Erwin knew who was in burial cloth. He winced, and his eyes returned to Eren. Eren’s face was flushed, his hair slicked against his skull with sweat. Erwin had seen many desperate people in his life. He knew that Eren would be one of the most memorable ones.

Levi knelt down next to Erwin and waited. Erwin looked at him.

“Levi,” Erwin said.

“Wait,” Levi said.

Levi stood when the other soldiers joined them, including Hange. Erwin’s eyebrows pulled together with concern when he saw the bandage over Hange’s eye. She walked over to him, seemed stunned and then relieved.

“Welcome back,” Hange said.

“Are there any more survivors?” Erwin asked.

“No,” Hange said. “We’re the only ones.” Erwin looked around, counted nine if he included himself. “We haven’t been to the basement yet.” Hange took the key that Eren wore around his neck out of her pocket. She offered it to Erwin.

Erwin reached out and took the key. He looked towards Eren, who was screaming against the gag in his mouth. Mikasa ran her hand through Eren’s wet hair.

“Who did I consume?” Erwin asked. Hange swallowed.

“Bertholt,” she said. Erwin looked up at Levi, who had crossed his arms over his chest.

“The Beast Titan will have to wait,” Levi said. Erwin nodded and looked down at the key in his hand. He closed his hand around it.

“Why is Eren restrained?” Erwin asked.

“He and Mikasa assaulted Levi, and he has made threats against you,” Hange said.

“How long have I slept?”

“Four hours,” Hange said. Erwin nodded.

Erwin leaned forward to support himself while he stood. Hange helped him by holding onto his left arm, but Levi didn’t offer any assistance.

When he stood upright, Erwin tried to take a step. His stiff muscles complained. But he needed to talk to Eren.

Erwin walked around Sasha, looked at every soldier as he passed. Most of them wouldn’t look at him. Closer to Eren, Erwin could see that the boy had tears running down his face. Mikasa’s eyes were on Erwin, a shade darker than they had been earlier. She looked nervous and angry.

Erwin knelt down in front of Eren, put his finger under Eren’s gag and pulled it away from Eren’s mouth. Eren inhaled, coughed, snot running out of his nose.

“Armin is dead because of you!” Eren screamed.

“I know,” Erwin said.

“Armin should have gotten the serum! We only got this far because of him!” Eren screamed, his voice becoming hoarse towards the end. Erwin knew there was nothing he could say. There was nothing he could say or do to atone for the sins he had committed. But humanity still needed Eren. If he couldn’t convince Eren to stay in the Corps, then humanity would die.

“It’s time to make a choice,” Erwin said. Eren sneered. “Do you want to go to the basement and see what your father has left for you?” Erwin held the basement key out in front of Eren. “This is rightfully yours.” He set the key down in front of Eren’s face. “If you choose not to go, then no one will go.”

Eren stared at the key, caught his breath while he thought. Erwin hoped that Eren would choose to go. He wanted to know what was in that basement more than anything. Erwin was ashamed that the dream hadn’t died on the battlefield. But he still felt the desire, the burning mystery, the need to know the truth. Eren lowered his head to the wall.

“You want to see what’s in the basement, don’t you,” Eren said.

“Yes,” Erwin said.

“You can’t come with us,” Eren said. Erwin’s throat went dry.

“Agreed,” he said. “Levi and Hange will have to accompany you.”

“Fine,” Eren said.

Erwin stood from his position.

“What will you do?” Hange asked.

“The rest of us are going home,” Erwin said, looking to Sasha. When he looked at the other soldiers, they still avoided meeting his gaze, except for Eren.

“Are you even able ride a horse?” Hange asked.

“I’m fine,” Erwin said looking at Hange again. “I expect a report.” Hange nodded. When he looked at Levi, Levi looked away.

******

Erwin waited in his office for Levi to return from imprisoning Eren and Mikasa. While he didn’t want to punish them, especially after they had already been punished so severely, he was concerned about Eren becoming enraged again and fleeing or using his Titan form.

He lifted his right hand and flexed it in front of his face, still fascinated by the regenerated limb. The fingernails were perfect, in complete contrast to the fingernails on his left hand. Even though Levi had been helping him with caring for his nails after he lost his arm, Erwin still found a way to ruin them, chewing on them, breaking them. Erwin put his hand down and looked out the window. He had been prepared to never see another sunset. But he was lounging in his office chair, with a strange magical power at his disposal, and no understanding of how it should be used. Or why he deserved to have it.

The office door opened, and Erwin looked towards it. Levi walked into the room, closing the door behind him quietly. He crossed the room, moving in a way that looked unnatural.

“Are you injured?” Erwin asked. Levi shook his head. He stood in front of Erwin’s desk and crossed his arms.

“Are you ready to hear about the basement?” Levi asked. Erwin wanted to answer immediately, but he waited, staring at Levi.

“It can wait until tomorrow if you’re tired.”

“You were willing to sacrifice everything for it, and now you can wait to hear about it?” Levi asked. Erwin leaned forward in his chair, turned to face the desk fully, and leaned forward resting his weight on both of his arms, lacing his fingers together.

“I’m ready to hear about it now,” Erwin said.

Erwin listened carefully while Levi described the details. He felt concerned when he found out that Eren’s key didn’t open the basement door, but he wasn’t surprised to know Levi had broken it down. He could physically feel his hearing improve when Levi said that Eren’s key opened a drawer in a desk within the basement. Levi described everything that they read, and Erwin began putting pieces together. At first, he struggled with the idea that they were on an island. Somehow, that thought had never occurred to him. He knew that they were isolated, but he didn’t know that they were cut off from the entire world by an ocean. But he knew the identity of the Beast Titan. He knew the secrets of their world. And his father had been right. His father hadn’t died for a lie. The people of walls had been purposely oppressed, and all of their memories had been removed. The truth of the world was finally revealed.

“Hange has the books. You can go get them,” Levi said. “You’ll die in thirteen years.” Erwin swallowed sympathetically, because Levi sounded like he had something stuck in his throat once he said the last sentence.

“Because of the serum?”

“Yes,” Levi said. Erwin nodded. The expiration date didn’t affect him. Many things could be accomplished in thirteen years. If he was not able to meet the goals himself, then he would have plenty of time to delegate to someone else.

Strategies began playing in his mind, and the end of the war seemed closer than ever. First, they would have to rebuild the Survey Corps. That might not be so difficult when they spread the information that they had gained. With Historia on the throne, it wouldn’t be difficult to gain the approval of the government. If they could annihilate the rest of the Titans on the island, it wouldn’t be difficult to fortify the walls for war. They could save their world, their small island.

Even though so many things seemed much simpler, Levi still wouldn’t look at him directly. Erwin stared at him, torn by the feeling that he had somehow wronged Levi. Levi was looking at the wooden floor, maybe inspecting it, perhaps pretending to be concerned about cleaning.

“Levi,” Erwin said. Levi didn’t look at him. A chill ran up Erwin’s spine. Even if he replenished the Corps, it was nothing without Levi. And unless he found a way to make some sort of amends, Eren would leave too. Mikasa would go with him. Titan powers would mean nothing without Levi standing next to him. Panic began to bubble up in Erwin’s stomach, and he had to maintain it. There was no reason to panic. But he couldn’t find the words. Thanking Levi didn’t seem appropriate. He had already thanked him for the freedom to die.

“What’s the plan?” Levi asked, finally looking at him. Erwin watched Levi’s face, looking for any signs that he could use to determine how Levi was feeling, what was going on inside of his mind. There was nothing to read. There was only the striking look of age. Levi looked older than Erwin remembered, and so tired.

“I have a few ideas,” Erwin said. “But I’d like to think about it some more before I start theorizing the next step that we need to take.” Levi nodded and turned to leave.

“Good night,” Levi said. He walked towards the door.

“Levi-”

“What?” Levi turned and looked at him.

“Would-” Erwin stopped. It had been so long since he asked. After he lost his arm, he couldn’t cope with so many things. And his relationship with Levi changed. They stopped eating dinner together after expeditions. They didn’t fall asleep together in the office. He didn’t invite Levi to spend any private time with him. Erwin was so focused on trying to achieve his dream before he died that he lost focus on so many other important things. “Would you make a cup of tea for me?”

The silence blanketed the room so heavily that Erwin had trouble breathing. Obviously, the request had been stupid. It felt stupid. Levi had saved his life, and Erwin dared to ask for one more thing, after Levi had already given so much, too much.

“Not tonight. I’m tired,” Levi said before he opened the door and left the office.

Erwin leaned over the desk, lowered his head into his hands, closed his eyes to try and find the problem. But there was so many that he couldn’t choose just one.

******

After the new information was given to the public, the Survey Corps began receiving new recruits instantly. The number of deaths during the battle with the Beast Titan wasn’t taken into account. People wanted to be part of the military branch with the Commander who had Titan powers, the Commander who had cheated death. Erwin had to stop taking new recruits when they reached 400 soldiers. The current headquarters couldn’t support more than that. They would have to build satellite bases to house more soldiers directly outside of Trost.

Eren changed once he was released from prison. He was more subdued. All of the boyish fury that he once had seemed to have burned away. Mikasa clung to him at first. But over time, she didn’t follow him so closely anymore. Armin’s absence had broken them apart, and Erwin silently shouldered the guilt for all of it.

The other soldiers, who became veterans overnight, were calmer. And Erwin promoted Jean, Sasha, Connie, and Floche to Squad Leaders. Each of them had their strengths. They leaned on each other during times of weakness.

Hange began focusing completely on Titan elimination. The methods that she used were effective, and she eventually proposed the idea that Marley had stopped sending Titans to the island. Erwin agreed. If they were too busy to send more prisoners, then that meant they were preparing for an actual war.

Levi slowly began to pull away from being involved with the other soldiers or Squad Leaders. Erwin didn’t ask Levi to choose another squad, and Levi didn’t offer to collect one. He spent so much time out of sight that he became more legendary than he was originally. Erwin was never sure how Levi was spending his time, and he chose not to ask.

Five months after the Battle of Shinganshina, Levi still refused to look directly at Erwin for very long. And Erwin was losing his patience. Levi was still a Captain in all of his duties. But he seemed to avoid Erwin’s office at all costs. He kept conversations irritatingly short. They never shared meals. Levi never offered tea.

******

The night after they returned from the ocean, Erwin stared at stack of paperwork on his desk. The sooner he finished it, the sooner they could start construction for a satellite base to house more recruits. But he hadn’t even gotten halfway through the pile, and he couldn’t focus. He could only think of Levi.

At the shore, Levi stood close to him. Closer than he had since they returned from Shiganshina. Jean, Connie, Sasha, and Hange seemed to enjoy the water. Hange was especially fascinated by the fauna. Eren and Mikasa stood by themselves, unmoving, staring at the huge water. They spoke to each other, and Erwin wondered if Eren would stay, or if he would attempt to escape.

When Erwin looked at Levi, Levi was already looking up at him. One corner of Levi’s mouth tilted up before he looked away. Erwin took off his boots and socks, and he stepped into the water to feel of it on his skin. He closed his eyes and felt the water rushing over him, and the way the sand was pulled out from under his feet when the wave receded. He opened his eyes, and Levi was standing next to him in bare feet.

He thought it was progress. But Levi hadn’t spoken to him for the rest of the day.

Erwin stood from his desk, and he left his office. He paced in front of the office door three times before he made up his mind and started walking towards Levi’s quarters. When he was a meter from Levi’s door, Erwin stopped walking. He stared at the door, saw the candle light from under the door on the floor, but he felt stuck to the spot. Levi obviously didn’t want to spend any time with him. Even if the reason kept Erwin awake at night, he had no right to demand an explanation. He couldn’t imagine what it must have been like.

Over time, Erwin was able to gather all of the details of what happened on the roof in Shiganshina. Hange seemed to remember ever word of what she heard very vividly. And it horrified Erwin.

It hurt to think of Levi so torn. Levi had been ready to let him go, and then the opportunity to have him back was presented at an awful cost. Erwin thought of himself in the same position. He would have chosen Levi, for the sake of humanity, for his own selfish reasons. But the guilt would’ve crushed him. Levi was so much stronger than he was when it came to not allowing guilt or regret to affect him.

Erwin felt like he was Levi’s regret.

Erwin walked to Levi’s door and knocked. He listened closely, and he heard movement. Levi opened the door, dressed in a white undershirt and his uniform pants.

“What do you need?” Levi asked.

“I need to speak with you,” Erwin said. Levi’s face didn’t respond, and he didn’t move. “Could I please come in?” Levi stepped back, opening the door farther. Erwin stepped in, and Levi closed the door. Erwin purposely didn’t look around at the room. But he smelled the tea. Levi crossed his arms over his chest. “Hange told me about what was said on the roof, and she told me what happened.” Levi nodded. Erwin waited. Levi didn’t offer anything. He needed to know. “Do you have any regrets?”

“No.”

Erwin wouldn’t allow his face to change expression. He had to remain as neutral as possible. But he was surprised that Levi answered so quickly.

“I understand that it’s unusual for us to have these types of conversations,” Erwin said. “But why have you been avoiding me?”

Levi adjusted his footing, shifting his weight, and he looked away.

“Why won’t you look at me?” Erwin asked. Levi’s gray eyes darted to him and away again. Levi looked at him. “I can’t imagine the weight of the choice that you had to make. And I want to help you carry the burden if you’ll only tell me how to help you.”

“You can’t,” Levi said. Erwin’s breath caught in his lungs, but he forced himself to exhale. “Just focus on using that brain of yours to save us from Marley. That’s all that matters.”

“That’s not all that matters,” Erwin said. “Not to me.”

“You have what you want,” Levi said. “You know the truth. That’s what you wanted. You said you would be satisfied.”

“I’m satisfied with that,” Erwin said. “But I don’t know how to make amends with you. I’ve done horrible things to you-”

“No, you haven’t.”

“I put you in a position to make a choice between two lives.”

“I’ve done that before,” Levi said.

“Never like this,” Erwin said. Levi didn’t respond, and he didn’t look away. “I know that you’re still a Captain, Levi. I know that it’s selfish of me, but I still want more than that. I still want to talk to you as-” Erwin stopped, trying to find the right word. “I still want you close. I want to be near to you. And since we’ve returned, I’ve felt completely removed from you.” Levi looked away, and Erwin stepped closer. Levi didn’t step away, but Erwin kept a respectful distance. “Is there anyway that you would forgive me?”

“Forgive you?” Levi asked, looking back at him. His thin brows pinched together, and his face flushed with anger. “I saved your life and let Armin die only to find out that in thirteen years, it won’t fucking matter. I brought you back and signed your death certificate in the same moment.” Erwin’s lips parted in surprise. “You’re their demon now. I told you to die for us, and then I brought you back because I couldn’t-” Levi stopped, gritted his teeth together so hard that Erwin could hear the grinding. Erwin waited, hoping that Levi would find the words. “I can’t what you see!” Erwin leaned back when Levi’s volume raised so quickly. “Why are you still fighting for this shitty world, Erwin?! That’s all I want to fucking know! I never found out why you were fighting so hard! For a world that’s always been against you! For soldiers who only wanted you to be the devil! Why are you still doing this?! What do you see that I don’t?!” Erwin shook his head, and Levi stopped yelling.

“Levi-”

“If I knew the answer, then I could have let you go!”

“You stayed in the Corps because you saw it, Levi.”

“I followed you!”

“That’s why.”

“What?!”

“That’s why I’m still fighting,” Erwin said. “Because you’re still following.” The blood drained from Levi’s face, and his features relaxed. And he looked frightened. “I never knew exactly why you chose to stay. Or why you’ve dedicated so much to the Corps. Or to me. But the only thing I can do, the only right thing to do for you, is to keep fighting. So you can keeping following.” Levi looked hurt, and Erwin wanted to stop talking. But he needed to say it. “When you told me to give up my dream, to die, you were right. I couldn’t keep holding on. I couldn’t die with regret. And if I denied you in that moment, then I would have invalidated everything you’ve ever done for me. I won’t do that to you. You haven’t only been an invaluable soldier, you’ve been my closest friend. You’ve given me everything that I’ve ever needed and everything that I’ve ever asked of you. The only way that I can repay that is to keep fighting. If you are going to follow, then it’s my responsibility to lead.”

Levi broke eye contact and let out a huff of air. Erwin felt his hands shaking, the overwhelming feeling to finally give in and do it. In Shiganshina, Erwin realized that he had not lived the way he wanted to live. He regretted not finding the truth. He regretted that he had refused to touch Levi even more. So he let Levi make his decision for him. Erwin was relieved. But now he had a second chance.

Erwin reached out, grabbed Levi, and pulled him close.

It was awkward.

Erwin held his breath, and Levi’s muscles became rigid. Levi didn’t wrap his arms around Erwin, and his face was pressed against Erwin’s chest so hard that Erwin was afraid he might have hurt Levi. Erwin’s body was panicking from the lack of air, and he closed his eyes tightly, watching the spots flash over the back of the eyelids.

Then, he felt Levi’s hands on his ribs. Erwin exhaled, and Levi relaxed in his arms. Levi’s fingertips pressed in harder, his thumb running along one of Erwin’s ribs on each side. Erwin inhaled, and he felt Levi’s hands move against his rib cage, under his jacket.

He couldn’t manage his breathing with Levi touching him that way, and he felt Levi shudder in his arms. Levi said something against Erwin’s jacket. Erwin leaned back, and Levi gripped Erwin’s shirt in his fists.

When he looked down, Levi looked up at him, angry, or injured. There were so many things painted in his eyes that Erwin couldn’t choose one.

“I should’ve let you go,” Levi said. Erwin lifted his right hand to Levi’s face, and Levi leaned into it. “I should’ve let you go,” he repeated, with a voice too choked by whatever had festered inside of him. “But I chose… what I would regret the least.” Erwin nodded. Levi gritted his teeth and shut his eyes tightly, pulling harder on Erwin’s shirt.

Erwin leaned down, close to Levi’s ear.

“You’ve given me everything I’ve ever wanted,” Erwin said. “I saw the truth because of you.” Levi’s hands loosened on his shirt then. “I will give you anything.” Erwin leaned closer, pressed the side of his face against Levi’s, held him in place with his right hand.

Levi was silent, and Erwin waited patiently. He closed his eyes, and he memorized the feeling of Levi’s cheek against his thumb. If he ran his thumb higher, he could feel the brush of Levi’s eyelashes. Erwin’s spine felt hot.

“I want you to stay here tonight,” Levi said. Erwin opened his eyes. He turned, pressed a kiss against Levi’s face, held his lips against Levi’s skin, inhaled his scent.

“I’ll stay with you,” Erwin whispered. “Any time you ask.”

“I want to kill the Beast Titan,” Levi said.

“I’ll make sure it happens,” Erwin promised.

“End the war before thirteen years,” Levi said. Erwin’s lips parted. “Don’t die before it’s finished.” Erwin leaned back, away from him, and looked down. Levi looked up at him. “I don’t want to finish it without you.” Panic attempted to flood Erwin’s skull, and he refused to show it. “I don’t want to chase a dead man to my grave, like Kenny.” Erwin’s eyebrows pulled together. He imagined Levi as Kenny. He imagined Levi following orders without the dedication, without the drive. Levi without clear, sharp eyes. Levi being pointed in a direction and following it without passion. Going through endless motions. Allowing himself to be pushed and pulled, simply trying to fulfill a final promise before he has permission to die.

Erwin realized who Levi would have become if he had not lived.

“I’ll end it,” Erwin said. Levi’s eyes widened. “You’ll be with me when it ends.” The words didn’t sound like a lie. He felt like he was lying, but the words sounded so real. He believed that they would win. All of his life, he could feel the truth. He felt his promise was true, more than he had ever felt anything. They could end the war in that amount of time. He could leave the world knowing that Levi wouldn’t have to fight anymore. “I swear I’ll end it before I die.”

The world shrank. Erwin’s pinpoint focus and determination settled on Levi. He wouldn’t regret this time. There wouldn’t be any guilt this time. He didn’t care anymore if the reasons were selfish. He would sacrifice anything, everyone, to give Levi the freedom to choose.

Levi pulled him closer.

“Come here,” Levi said. Erwin leaned down, and he pressed his mouth to Levi’s.

Chapter Text

Levi knows that Erwin is going die. Surviving the Beast Titan attack was such a huge feat in itself that he knows that Erwin won’t survive for much longer. But he can’t leave the hospital. He wants to be there when Erwin goes.

While he paces in front of Hange, who sits patiently, he can’t help but remember certain things. Specifically, he keeps remembering the way that Erwin knelt in front of him that first time, in the Underground, when Isabel and Farlan were still alive. Because he realizes now that Erwin was trying to show equality by putting his knee to the ground. For all of the years that he’s followed Erwin, Levi’s never taken the time to think of it that way before.

But they were never equals.

Erwin doesn’t have an equal.

There are too many realizations at once. Levi realizes that picking Erwin up as fast, as roughly as he did might have caused more damage. He held onto Erwin too tightly while he flew through Shiganshina to get back to Wall Rose. If the impact, if the blood loss didn’t kill him, then all of the movement should have. So why were they even trying?

Would it have been more dignified to let Erwin die on the roof?

Armin received the serum. Levi threw the serum at Eren, grabbed Erwin and left. He doesn’t know what happened after that. Hange has tried to tell him multiple times, and he’s told her to wait. The basement doesn’t mean anything to Levi. It only mattered because Erwin wanted it. And he wouldn’t know what to do with the information anyway.

But Erwin does.

Levi wonders why he didn’t simply give the serum to Erwin. But he has to admit that he panicked. If he gave the serum to Erwin, then that would change a lot of things. Armin would have died. Eren would have revolted. Mikasa would have followed due to her dedication to Eren. And if Erwin was a Titan, Levi doesn’t know what that would have meant.

But the thought of giving Erwin the serum was laced with the feeling of regret. Something that he couldn’t chance.

Trying to save Erwin’s life was the only thing that made sense in that moment.

Levi has seen soldiers return from the field after extensive injuries. One girl was kicked off her horse by a Titan. She landed on a small rock so hard that it dented her skull. She lived in the physical sense. She never opened her eyes, never spoke again, and they fed her through a tube for three weeks. She breathed in a hospital for a month. That happened during the time Shadis was still Commander.

Levi remembers that he and Erwin stayed awake late one night to talk about it. Erwin thought it might have been better to let the girl go before the feeding tube. Levi wasn’t sure what he thought. Except that he would rather die on the field than in a bed. Unless the war had ended.

When he told Erwin that he wanted to die on his feet instead of lying on his back, Erwin just smiled and said: “I know.”

Levi felt his face getting hot from even remembering that smile. He frowned harder, trying to understand. He should have asked Erwin what that meant.

He should have at least said something. And if Erwin dies, he might regret that he never said it.

Levi looks up when he hears footsteps in the hallway. He paces a bit faster because the doctor is walking down the hallway. It’s time to hear the words. Erwin is gone now. Hange stands up, and Levi stops pacing. He crosses his arms and waits next to Hange. He can’t read the doctor’s face.

“I’m Dr. Gunda,” she says, offering her hand. Hange shakes the doctor’s hand, and Levi ignores it. The doctor puts her hands together. “Surgery went well. The damage was extensive, and we were able to repair some of it.” That doesn’t mean anything to Levi.

“What were the damages?” Hange asks.

“Well, his descending colon was almost completely shredded, but we salvaged what we could, and it may work. A portion of his small intestine was removed. His stomach was not affected. His left kidney was bruised, but still seems to be functional even if his urine is still bloody. His bladder wasn’t hit.”

“What about the skin damage?” Hange asks.

“We took a skin graft from the outside of his left thigh to patch the hole-”

“How deep?” Hange asks. Levi looks at her.

“We took a donor piece of skin all the way to the muscle.”

“What’s the chance of-”

“Hange, stop asking questions.” Levi looks back at the doctor. “Stop fucking babbling about how good of a sewing job you did and tell me if he’s going to live.” The doctor’s skin pales.

“We don’t know,” Dr. Gunda says.

“When will you know?” Levi asks.

“If he survives the for another twenty-four hours, we’ll have a better idea of his condition,” she says.

“Can we see him?”

“No,” Dr. Gunda says.

Levi leans forward because the doctor doesn’t seem to understand that the question was only a courtesy. But Hange grabs him by the shoulder. He looks at her hand first and then looks up to her face.

“Because of infection,” Hange said. “If the injuries don’t kill him, infection will. You haven’t even bathed yet.”

Levi doesn’t realize that he’s dirty until she says something. And if Hange is saying that he’s unclean, then he’s in bad shape. Levi shrugs her hand off his shoulder and turns away to look at something else besides the two of them.

Twenty-four hours. That’s too long. Erwin won’t last the night. And Levi has to be close to him when he goes. He can wait to bathe.

******

Erwin survives for another twenty-four hours. The doctor still won’t let Levi see him, and she suggests that Levi goes home. Levi is tempted. The grime of war is still on him, and he’s sticky from dried sweat. Titan blood evaporates, but that doesn’t get rid of the smell. The rotting smell lingers.

Erwin’s blood is still all over him.

Levi goes home. He showers, taking much longer than he ever has since he’s joined the Survey Corps. The water runs red and pink. But then it’s clear again. His hair and skin are clean after the first ten minutes, but he doesn’t want to leave the warmth. And as morbid as it is, he thinks of the times that he saw Erwin in the communal shower, before Erwin was Commander. He couldn’t look.

He should have looked.

Levi dresses and goes back to the hospital with a bag of field rations, some paperwork, and a tin of tea. He has to bother the nurses for hot water. He sets up a type of camp in the waiting area, filling out paperwork, adjusting his position, eating when he knows that he needs to eat. When he gets bored, he does push-ups. It distracts the others who are waiting, and the nurses offer to move Levi to a private waiting area.

He follows them, and the private waiting area is nicer. There are two chairs and a couch. He sits on the couch and naps while he waits.

Hange stops by to see if he needs anything. Of course he doesn’t. She gives him more paperwork to work on, which is good because he’s finished everything that he brought.

“Levi,” Hange says. Levi looks up from the paperwork that she’s given him. “If he lives,” she pauses, not wanting to say the words. Levi already knows what she’s going to say anyway.

“He’s retired,” Levi says, not bothered by it at all.

“But he might not be the same,” she says finally. “His mind not survive.” Levi shrugs and picks up his pen. “Eren has asked if he can stop by. Armin too.”

“No,” Levi says. “What was in the basement?”

Hange tells him, and Levi stares at her face, watching it crumble with the news. His first reaction is that she’s lying. Because it sounds insane. But he knows that she isn’t. And he knows that Erwin was right. All of this time, Erwin was right. When she finishes, Levi doesn’t know what to say. So he looks back down at the papers. The paperwork is nothing but death certificates.

“Do I need to sign your name on these or Erwin’s?” He looks up at her. In her one eye, he sees the worry. And an unidentified guilt. Levi looks back down at the paperwork and signs Hange’s name.

She leaves without saying another word.

When the door closes, Levi looks after her, and he knows that it was a low blow of some kind. But it’s the reality of the situation. Erwin shouldn’t have survived this long. Levi only brought him here because he had to do something. He felt the strongest urge to try anything to save Erwin, an urge that he didn’t completely understand himself. He sets the pen down and stares at the death certificate.

If Erwin had been killed in action, there wouldn’t have been anyone to receive the death certificate. Levi would have to keep it. Or throw it away. Or burn it.

Erwin only has the Corps.

And if he lives, he won’t even have that.

******

Erwin survives another week, and Levi is adjusting to living within the waiting room. He knows most of the names of the nurses by now, and a few of them will bring him tea unprompted. The doctor sends messages by the nurses rather than seeing Levi herself.

When Bergir comes into the waiting room, Levi doesn’t acknowledge him.

“Captain?” Bergir says.

“Uh huh.”

“The doctor says that you can see the Commander now.”

Levi drops the paperwork while he stands. Papers slide over the floor, but Bergir is already leading the way. Levi follows close, wishing that Bergir would walk faster.

And when Bergir stops in front of a patient’s room, Levi doesn’t wait. He opens the door, walks into the room, and he sees Erwin. Still alive.

Levi crosses the room, and Erwin’s eyes are closed. But he’s breathing heavily, with ragged breaths. Levi can hear the air moving in and out of Erwin’s body. He leans over the bed. Erwin’s beard has grown in again.

“Be careful near his left side,” Bergir warns. Levi looks down to Erwin’s side, and he doesn’t see anything out of the ordinary. But he knows that if he lifts the sheets, he’ll see everything. “He hasn’t woken up at all. We’re keeping him heavily sedated because of the pain. But we’ll have to wake him up later today to feed him something.” Levi swallows.

“You’re not… going to put a tube down his throat?”

“Normally we would, but because there was so much damage to his digestive tract, the doctor wants to avoid doing that,” Bergir said.

“So,” Levi’s mouth goes dry, and he frowns down at Erwin. Erwin is pale, but he’s breathing and that’s what matters. “He’s going to be awake?”

“Yes,” Bergir says. “And if he does well, you could see him with his eyes open tomorrow.”

Unable to believe it, Levi lifts his hand over Erwin’s face. He feels the air against his palm, from Erwin’s nose. He’s really alive.

******

The next day, the Bergir tells Levi that the doctor is going to allow Erwin to have visitors that afternoon. He sends a message to Hange. Levi and Hange wait just outside of Erwin’s room all morning. When the nurses are finished changing the bedpan, they’ll open the door. And Levi will see Erwin’s eyes open again.

Levi taps his foot quietly while he waits.

“Levi.”

“Hmm.”

“Remember that I said he might not be the same?” Hange asks.

“Yeah.”

“That’s because of blood loss.”

Levi looks up at her. Hange has always been the best option for the next Commander. Levi has known it for a long time. And it’s because of moments like this.

“Sometimes a person can lose so much blood that the brain is damaged,” Hange says. “He might not know who we are. He may not be able to speak. He might be unreasonably aggressive.” She swallows hard enough that Levi sees her throat move. “He might not…” she shrugs, trying to minimize it. “He might not be intelligent anymore.”

Levi has to look away from her then, and his eyes settle on the wall across from them. He can’t think about Erwin that way. If he only saved Erwin’s body, if Erwin’s mind was left behind, what will that mean?

If Erwin isn’t the same person anymore, will Levi still feel the desire to follow him?

The door to Erwin’s room opens, and Levi leans away from the wall. He needs to know what’s happened.

He walks into the room, to the side of Erwin’s bed. And Erwin’s eyes are open. Tears are steadily streaming from the corners of his eyes. Erwin doesn’t weep. Levi’s so afraid of those tears that he feels looseness in his bladder. He understands why people piss themselves on the battlefield now.

“Levi,” Erwin whispers. His lips are so dry that they’ve cracked and bled. The small muscles in Erwin’s face are trembling from the pain. But even if Erwin’s eyes are clouded with trauma and disorientation, Levi can still see him. He can still see Erwin on the inside.

“It’s about time you woke up,” Levi says.

“The basement,” Erwin says, and gasps behind the words. Levi nods.

“Everything you wanted,” he says. Erwin nods, unable to say anything else.

******

Over the next four months, Levi watches Erwin suffer. He stays at the hospital as much as possible, only going home to bathe, eat, or change clothes.

Erwin can only eat things that are easy to digest. And then those things are mushed into a paste. The doctor isn’t sure when Erwin can eat solids again.

Levi insists on feeding him. The nurses appreciate the help. Erwin doesn’t complain about the taste of the food even though it looks gross. One time, Levi gets curious enough to put a spoonful of the mush into his mouth, and Erwin raises his eyebrows. It’s disgusting. And gritty for some reason. Levi refuses to make a face.

“Not bad,” he says before he offers Erwin another spoonful. Erwin eyes him suspiciously. But he continues to eat.

Erwin’s first physical therapy task is learning to roll over onto his right side in the bed without assistance. The first time, he’s able to lay on his side for 120 seconds before he vomits. But Erwin pushes himself. After two weeks, he is able to lay on his right side for almost five minutes. And he sleeps for the rest of the day.

During the third week, he improves so much that Levi gets irritated. Erwin is rushing things. But it’s amazing to watch. He’s only afraid that Erwin will injure himself further.

After two months, it’s time for Erwin to sit up in bed. He has to have three nurses help him. They couldn’t replace the muscles in his side and back. There’s a chunk of his body missing on his left side. He faints the first time he sits up. The doctor says that it could happen for a number of reasons, not just pain. But Levi saw Erwin’s face before he lost consciousness. So much pain flooded Erwin’s eyes that Levi had to leave the room.

Thankfully, the skin graft doesn’t reject, and the donor site on Erwin’s thigh doesn’t become infected. But it’s only because the nurses clean the areas regularly. Levi doesn’t start conversations. He lets Erwin take the verbal lead. Because it reminds him that Erwin’s mind is still whole. Erwin asks about the soldiers every day. Levi always tells him that they’re fine. Erwin doesn’t ask for clarification. And he doesn’t ask about the basement again.

When Hange visits, she offers to tell him. Erwin changes the subject.

After two months, Erwin starts improving rapidly. And it’s time for him to try sitting in a chair.

Levi is sitting in the room when they bring in the wheelchair. Erwin won’t even be able to push himself around. He would need two arms for that.

But Levi watches the nurses lift Erwin out of the bed and put him in the chair. Erwin winces. Sitting up still hurts, and the hard wooden chair isn’t comfortable. The pillow that they’ve put in the seat doesn’t help much. And they lay a blanket over Erwin’s lap.

At first, Erwin is tense while his insides adjust to the new position. Thin sweat breaks out along his hairline. Levi clenches his fists. But after a few minutes, Erwin finally relaxes in the chair, and Levi stands.

“Let’s get out of the room for a while,” Levi says.

“Yes,” Erwin says.

The nurses move out of Levi’s way while he walks to the back of the chair. He pushes Erwin out of the room and to the end of the hallway where there is a window that faces West. The sun is almost setting. Levi positions Erwin in front of the window, and he stands next to the chair.

“Levi.”

“Yeah.”

“How many soldiers are left?” Erwin asks. Levi doesn’t want to answer. Because he doesn’t know how Erwin will respond. But also because he doesn’t know whether to include Erwin in the ranks anymore.

“Ten,” Levi says. He can’t leave Erwin out. There must still be a job he can do.

“Nine,” Erwin says. Levi doesn’t know how he guessed. “That’s more than I expected.” Levi looks down at him. And Erwin looks up. “This is an unusual perspective.”

“What?”

“I can’t see the top of your head from here,” Erwin says, a smile tugging at the side of his mouth.

“I will dump you out of that chair,” Levi says. Erwin looks back at the window, a grin still tilting his mouth.

Levi’s stomach flips. Erwin is making jokes. Like nothing is wrong.

“I’m the first Commander to retire from the Survey Corps in over fifty years,” Erwin says.

“Shadis?”

“That’s considered a transfer,” Erwin says. “In 788, Commander Sekle Hoekstra left the walls one morning with 253 soldiers on horseback. He returned five hours later alone, on foot, naked, and insane.” Levi clenches his teeth. “He technically retired, but the Supreme Commander at the time wrote the resignation letter for him. They never found out what happened to his soldiers” Levi can’t look away from Erwin. Can’t suppress the gratitude that he didn’t have to watch Erwin lose his mind. And in Shiganshina, insanity seemed like a real possibility for a few moments. Considering Erwin’s excitement over the information from the basement, it may still become a reality. But Levi can’t stand to think of it. Not Erwin.

Erwin looks up at him again.

“I’m tired,” Erwin says. Levi nods and steps behind the chair again. He wheels Erwin back into his room. The nurses help Erwin back into the bed. And Erwin falls asleep almost instantly.

Levi stands at the end of Erwin’s bed watching him sleep until the sun sets.

That evening, Levi goes back to headquarters to talk to Hange. She’s in her own office. She won’t move Erwin’s things. But if he really isn’t he Commander anymore, Levi doesn’t know what they’ll do. Hange lifts her head from her work when Levi opens the door. She’s writing something.

“How’s Erwin?” Hange asks.

“Good today,” Levi says. There isn’t a place to sit so he crosses his arms over his chest.

“I got a letter from Historia,” Hange says. “She’s been postponing the ceremony until Erwin can attend.”

“He’s close,” Levi says. “He sat in a wheelchair today. If he keeps improving, they’ll probably let him out soon.”

“Read this,” Hange says. She holds out a letter. Levi steps forward and takes it from her.

His eyes dart across the page. Historia sounds so much older that he wonders if someone wrote the letter for her.

“An adviser?” Levi asks.

“I don’t want him to think we’re asking him to leave,” Hange says. Levi looks at her. Hange looks different. It’s not because she only has one eye now. “He would have money. They could feed him the things that he can eat. He’ll have help-”

“Tch.”

“He would have his own set of staff, and I think he’s going to need it.”

“He won’t accept this.”

“He needs to,” Hange says. And Levi knows she’s right.

Erwin is going to need help getting out of bed and into the chair, getting out of his wheelchair to sit on a toilet, he can’t prepare his own meals, he can’t clean himself, he can’t even push himself around in a wheelchair. The muscles in his side are gone, and he isn’t going to simply grow them back. He can’t be Commander anymore, and he can’t live alone.

Levi imagines retiring. He wants to be the one to do everything. But the Beast Titan isn’t dead. He can’t fulfill his promise if he’s always home. And the war isn’t over. Levi won’t do it. Erwin wouldn’t stand for it. He knows that much.

“She’s going to offer him the job after the ceremony,” Hange said. “I can’t decide if we should talk to him about it first.”

He looks back at the letter. Historia can afford to give Erwin twenty-four hour care. The Survey Corps can’t. There is no pension plan for Survey Corps Commander. Survey Corps Commanders don’t retire; they die.

Levi gives the letter back to Hange.

“We don’t need to talk to him,” Levi says. “He doesn’t have so much pride that he’s stupid.” Hange nods, setting the letter in a pile of other papers. “What does an adviser do?”

“He’ll give her advice when she needs it,” Hange says. “And if we go to war with Marley, it will be the perfect job for him.” Levi nods. “Has he asked about the basement anymore since that first time?”

“No.”

“That worries me.”

“Why?”

“Maybe he hasn’t accepted what’s happened,” Hange says.

“Maybe he’s been preoccupied with shitting in a bowl,” Levi says. Because he doesn’t want to think about what Hange is saying.

Her one eye darkens, and she goes back to writing. Levi leaves the office. He worries for Erwin instead of sleeping.

******

Levi hears Erwin and Historia whispering when she leans down to put the medal around Erwin’s neck. But it’s not the job offer. When Historia puts the medal around Levi’s neck, he feels like it’s too heavy for no reason. He’s held Erwin’s bolo tie before, and it was much lighter.

After the ceremony, there’s an obligatory socializing time, and Levi stands next to Erwin, who is practically held captive by all of the attendees who want to speak to the “Immortal Commander”. He doesn’t see what happens to the others, but people make a snake-like single-file line in front of Erwin. The line curls all the way around the throne room. Some of the women cry when they speak to him, and Levi’s insides squirm. Erwin is painfully polite, even to the nobles who have laughed in his face before.

An hour passes, and Erwin is still speaking to people. Levi sees the sweat rolling down the back of Erwin’s neck. He opens his mouth to excuse both of them, rudely, when Historia approaches. She takes away the attention of the people who were speaking to Erwin by offering refreshments, and a young man dressed in a waiter’s uniform walks up to Levi’s right side.

“Captain, the queen has instructed me to lead you and Commander Smith away.”

Levi moves behind Erwin’s chair fast and leans over.

“We’re getting out of here,” Levi says.

“Push fast,” Erwin says.

Levi pushes the chair so fast that the waiter practically runs out of the room in front of them. They go into a service hall, and the staff put their backs to the wall while Levi and Erwin most past. The waiter leads them to a lift, and they move up two floors. Then, they’re led out of the second floor service hall and into a hallway of the castle through a door.

“This way please gentlemen,” the waiter says. Levi memorizes the surroundings. Even if he had a hand in putting Historia on the throne, he still feels suspicious of the nobility. There were too many lies for too long.

But the young waiter leads them to a door and opens it. On the other side, there’s a large sitting room. Two men are standing in the middle of the room, dressed in black and white. They bow their heads briefly after the waiter has closed the door.

“Commander Smith, we’ve been instructed to assist you in the toilet and offer you a place to rest,” one of them says. The hairs on the back of Levi’s neck stand up.

“Please point us to the direction of the toilet,” Erwin says. One of the men leads the way, and Levi wheels Erwin to the left of the room. The man opens the door, and Levi wheels Erwin into the toilet room, which is too big. There’s an attached room where Levi can see a bathtub and a shower. He frowns. “Assistance won’t be necessary,” Erwin says politely.

The man bows, excuses himself, and closes the door when he leaves. Levi wheels Erwin over to the toilet, and he positions himself under Erwin’s missing right arm, helping him stand. Erwin leans on him for support. Levi doesn’t watch, but he hears Erwin struggling with his zipper. He must be exhausted.

“Levi-”

He doesn’t wait to be asked. Levi looks down, sees Erwin’s left hand is trembling. So he reaches to Erwin’s crotch, releases his belt, then the button and pulls the zipper down. He takes his hand away fast and doesn’t know what to do with his hand after that.

Levi stares at a piece of art on the wall while he waits. It’s a painting of a cat sitting on some steps. He thinks it’s a stupid picture for a bathroom.

Erwin sighs when he begins urinating, and Levi can’t help but smile. It’s not necessarily awkward. He’s glad to help. And truthfully, he’s glad that Erwin chose his help over the help of the butlers. He cringes when he thinks of all of the times that he’s fantasized about unzipping Erwin’s pants. The first time shouldn’t have been like this.

When Erwin finishes, he zips himself up, and buttons. Levi slowly lowers him back into the wheelchair, and then Erwin sighs. He buckles his belt by himself.

“Thank you, Levi,” Erwin says. And Levi realizes how tired he really is. Levi flushes the toilet for him before wheeling him out of the toilet room. The butlers are still waiting with straight backs.

“Would you like to rest a while, Commander?” the other asks.

“Yes, please.”

“This way, sir.”

The butlers lead the way to the bedroom. The sheets and comforter have already been pulled back. There’s a pitcher of water and two glasses waiting on a table. The bedroom is the biggest bedroom Levi has ever seen, and everything in it is ridiculously expensive. There are curtains hanging from the top of the bed frame, and Levi doesn’t understand why there have to be curtains on the bed if there are already curtains on the window.

He wheels Erwin over to the bed, and the butlers stand by uselessly while Levi helps Erwin out of his jacket and nice shirt, leaving his chest and wounds covered with his undershirt. The missing piece of Erwin is more obvious now. Then, Levi helps Erwin into the bed, removing his shoes last. Erwin doesn’t make a sound the entire time, but Levi can see the tension in Erwin’s body while he’s laying down. He looks at the butlers.

“You can go,” Levi says.

“I’ll be posted outside the external door of the apartment if either of you need anything,” one says.

The butlers both leave, and Erwin releases a heavy breath, gasping for air. Levi watches him, concerned and unwilling to show it. Erwin rubs his face with his hand, his chest rising and falling heavily.

Levi moves over to one of the walls, leans against it, and crosses his arms. He has to listen to Erwin catch his breath for too long, and he squirms. Because he knows Erwin isn’t ever going to be healthy again. Erwin will live the rest of his life trying to catch his breath. From the pain. Or the exertion. He’ll never fly again. He’ll be in a chair or in a bed now. That’s all that’s left.

And Levi still doesn’t feel the regret. He knows that he should.

“Levi,” Erwin says. Levi looks at him, and he moves away from the wall. He goes and sits on the edge of the bed, next to Erwin’s thigh. Erwin wipes the sweat from his brow with his hand. “What was in the basement?”

Levi feels like the question doesn’t make sense at first, and he looks down at the toes of his boots. He doesn’t want to say it. But he tells Erwin anyway. With as much detail as Hange had given him. When he’s finished, he waits for Erwin to say something.

After a long silence, Levi looks at Erwin, and Erwin is staring up at the ceiling. He’s not smiling. Levi expected him to smile, to be glad to know the truth after so long. Erwin looks at him.

“I never suspected an island,” Erwin says. Levi opens his mouth to say something, but he’s interrupted by someone knocking on the door.

“Come in,” Levi says, loudly. He’s kind of glad that he didn’t have to say what he was thinking.

Historia walks through the door, by herself, which is unusual. She typically has two or three people in tow at all times. She smiles at both of them, and Levi nods at her in return.

“I’m so sorry, Commander,” she says. “I didn’t expect that to happen. But I should have.”

“It’s fine,” Erwin says. Historia walks to the side of the bed and sits in Erwin’s wheelchair. Levi’s eyes scan her from head to toe. She’s a queen, but she’s still a child in some ways. Levi noticed during the ceremony that she looked so much older. Historia leans forward in the chair, towards Erwin.

“Commander, I’ve been told that we’re going to war,” she says. Erwin nods.

“I have that same feeling.”

“If we do, I’m going to need help,” she says. “None of my advisers have combat experience.”

Levi looks to Erwin, and he sees that he has already caught on. Erwin smiles.

“I need someone with your experience,” she says, like she’s still too intimidated to offer a job to her former Commander.

“I would be glad to help in any way that I can,” Erwin says. Levi looks to Historia, and she bows her head to Erwin. She makes eye contact with Levi but looks away quickly.

“I’d love to hide in here longer, but if I’m away for too long, someone will notice,” she says. “May I send someone for your things?” Levi looks around the room, waiting for Erwin’s answer. And it’s not immediate. He looks to Erwin, and he sees that Erwin is already looking at him. Levi doesn’t know what to do.

“Nothing is packed,” Erwin says, looking back to Historia.

“I’ll make sure that they’re very careful with your things,” she says. Erwin nods.

“Thank you,” he says. Historia nods and stands from the wheelchair.

“I’ll have someone prepare a room for you, Captain Levi. If you want dinner sent here, please just tell your butler. Otherwise, I’ll see you both at dinner,” she says. She turns before she opens the door. “Thank you, Commander.” Erwin nods at her, and Levi stares at him while Historia closes the door. Then, he looks away.

Levi feels restless, and he wants to leave the room. But he isn’t sure where he would go.

“Did you know?” Erwin asks. Levi nods.

“She wrote Hange a letter,” Levi says. He swallows, and the back of his neck itches. He reaches behind his neck to scratch.

“Normally, you would tell me,” Erwin says. Levi’s hand stops before he reaches his neck, and he clenches his teeth. “But it’s for the best.” Levi lowers his hand to the bed and grasps the duvet in a fist where Erwin can’t see. “Levi.” Levi looks at him. “I didn’t expect for you to nurse me for the rest of my life. You’ve already done so much.”

Levi’s stomach rolls, and he stands from the bed. He walks out of the bedroom, slamming the door.

******

He can’t go back to the palace after that.

Instead, he focuses on assisting Hange. He keeps the squad that he had previous to Shiganshina, but Eren is more difficult to direct. Armin still follows orders well, but there are times that he seems torn between what Eren wants to do and what he knows he should do. Mikasa maintains her strong connection to Eren.

The Survey Corps builds back up quickly. Their membership reaches 300 so fast that they ask new recruits to clear out the barracks and old rooms. When the headquarters is full again, Hange goes to Levi’s office, and she sits down.

“Marley is going to stop sending Titans now that they’re preparing for war,” she says. Levi nods at her. She shows him a letter. It’s from Erwin. He takes the letter, and he sees that Erwin has asked about him. Other than that, Erwin and Hange have been discussing strategy. Hange is calling the shots, but she’s still leaning on Erwin a lot. It makes sense to Levi. “I thought I would have to drag you out of that palace with an army of horses,” she says. Levi gives the letter back to her. “But you haven’t gone back.” He shakes his head.

“There’s still work to do,” he says. She folds up the letter and puts it in the breast pocket of her jacket before scratching under her eyepatch.

“I don’t mind giving you leave to go up there,” she offers.

“It’s not necessary,” he says, turning back to his work.

“After we clear out Wall Maria, you’re taking some leave,” she says, standing up to go. Levi sneers and turns around. “It’s an order,” she says. “From both of us.” And she doesn’t give him time to reply before she closes the door.

******

The guillotine stops eventually. There aren’t any more Titans to walk into it. And the silence troubles Levi. Because he knows what’s coming next.

He hasn’t seen Erwin in months. Neither of them have sent letters. Levi’s been separated from him before. He knows the feeling. But he’s never felt quite as hollow. He knows the wound would be deeper if he had let Erwin die. If he hadn’t been so selfish, he would have been willing to tolerate that wound.

Levi goes to the palace. Hange has forced him on leave. Erwin has given the same order. He doesn’t want to disobey it. The Titans are dead, and he doesn’t know where else to go.

He’s led through the building to Erwin’s office, and Levi keeps his head down, even though he’s looking all around him. He hopes that Erwin will know what to say. He typically does. As he gets closer to Erwin, he feels that familiar strength piling up inside of him. If Erwin had died, he would never feel it again. But it doesn’t help to ease his anxiety. It’s only a small relief.

The butler opens the door to Erwin’s office, and Erwin looks up from his desk. He smiles, and Levi walks into the room.

“Hello, Levi,” Erwin says. Levi hasn’t seen him smile like that in a while. He approaches the desk, and it feels foreign. Erwin isn’t in his uniform. He’s wearing black slacks and a loose fitting white shirt. He’s lost more weight. His face is thinner. But he still looks good. Erwin pushes himself back from the desk with his only hand. The wheelchair that he’s sitting in is much nicer than the one he received from the hospital. “Thank you for coming.” Levi nods. “I heard the good news.”

“Yeah?”

“The guillotine stopped striking,” Erwin says with a smile. Levi hasn’t seen him smile this much since before he lost his arm.

“I guess it was the last one,” Levi says.

“That’s what Hange and I believe,” Erwin says. “I doubt they’ll be sending anymore. They need all of the bodies they can get at this point.” Erwin waves him closer. “Please come here.” Levi hesitates, but he walks closer to Erwin’s desk. “This is a plan for a satellite headquarters outside of Trost.” Levi leans over the desk and looks at the drawing. “The Survey Corps will be our front line in the war. Garrison and Military Police will follow, per usual. There are some things that I can’t change. But I expect you’ll have more soldiers to house before Marley strikes.” Levi looks at him.

“What weapons will we using?” he asks.

“That’s still being discussed,” Erwin says. “Naturally, I want the Corps to keep their blades, but I believe that we’ll be better off with long range weapons. So we’ll be creating more civilian jobs in the factories that manufacture our firearms.” Levi nods and looks back down at the plans for the base. “You and Hange are the most senior members of the Corps. And I wanted to talk to Hange about having each of you at a base.” Erwin pointed to the larger room on the floor for the officers. “This would be your room.” Levi stands up and looks down at Erwin. Erwin is looking up at him, calmly, not smiling anymore. But he still looks content. He almost looks happy.

“Hange forced me to take leave,” Levi says. Erwin’s eyebrows pull together, and Levi sees that flash of guilt that he recognizes so easily. He’s looked at it for years.

“The Titans have been exterminated,” Erwin says. “I know that it’s been a long time,” he pauses, and the guilt deepens. “After a successful expedition, we normally had dinner. Even if I wasn’t on the field, I was going to ask if-”

“Stop,” Levi says. “I’ll stay and eat with you.” Erwin smiles up at him. That same smile that Levi’s used to seeing. It’s only at a different angle. He’s still not comfortable looking down at Erwin.

“Thank you, Levi.”

******

A butler shows up to take Levi to Erwin’s quarters at dinner time. Levi cringes at the idea of a man in a suit leading him around. He hates that there’s a butler for everything. But he knows that Erwin needs them. And for that, he’s grateful.

Levi pushes past the butler to open the door for himself, and Erwin is seated in the room, at a small table for two. It’s definitely the sitting room that Levi saw so many months prior, but it’s been redecorated. To be exact, the decorations that were in the room earlier have been removed, and the expensive furniture has been replaced with more comfortable furniture, like what they had at headquarters. Levi feels more comfortable in this room than the one where he’s spending the night. His room is decorated with yellow linen and furniture, and lace is on almost every surface. His room feels loud. But Erwin’s room is sparsely decorated now, and there’s only two candles on the table. Just like at home.

“It looks better in here,” Levi says. He shuts the door behind himself, and he pulls at the top button of his shirt. No sense in being buttoned up if it’s just the two of them.

“I’ve been told that most people who work for the queen ask for things when they are first employed,” Erwin says. “Historia has told me that I’m the only person who has ever asked for less expensive things.” Levi grins while he sits down in the chair across from Erwin. Their plates are already served, and there’s a metal covering over both of them. There’s wine on the table.

“What’s for dinner?” Levi asks, and he lifts the cover from his plate. Steamed potato, bacon, thin soup, and a small loaf of bread. He looks at Erwin, and Erwin smiles. “You couldn’t feed me anything better?” Erwin laughs hard enough that he wraps his left arm around himself. It looks like he’s trying to hold himself together. It hurts Levi to realize that he probably is. But then Erwin wipes a tear from his eye from laughing so hard, and Levi smiles again.

“If you want something else, I’ll gladly have it sent up for you,” Erwin says, still laughing. “But first,” he reaches over to a small bowl that’s covered, and he lifts the lid. Levi picks up the bowl and smells of it. Butter. He picks up his spoon, dips out of a huge dollop of butter and drops it into his steamed potato.

“This is fine,” he says, setting the bowl down.

“I’m glad,” Erwin says. He lifts the cover off of his own plate. Everything is white. There’s a small portion of white meat, which Levi guesses is chicken. White rice. And something else that he doesn’t recognize. Levi eats his own food without comment. Then, he pours himself a glass of wine. He pours Erwin a glass too.

“Glad to see you’re eating solids again,” Levi says. Erwin finishes chewing and nods. “Whatever that shit was that they fed you in the hospital was disgusting.” Erwin smiles at him.

“I knew you hated it,” he says. “But I appreciate that you tried it at all.” Levi shrugs and drinks some of his wine. “I was having things pureed for the first few weeks that I was here. Whatever they made was delicious and easy.”

“At least constipation isn’t a worry for you anymore,” Levi says. Erwin chuckles quietly.

“I don’t have many worries anymore,” Erwin says. “Everyone on the advisory board is rather quiet during meetings.”

“Except for you.”

“Except for me,” Erwin agrees.

 

“Historia said she didn’t have anyone else with your experience,” Levi says.

“I’m afraid it’s true,” Erwin says. “I understand why it was so difficult for us to get funding now. I knew for a long time that the government was purposely keeping funds from us, but I didn’t know how much or how often they had denied us when the money was actually available. That was one of the first things that I did when I settled in. I looked through the records.”

“How bad was it?” Levi asks. Erwin makes eye contact with him, and in the candle light, Levi feels a pull in his chest.

“We could have saved lives,” Erwin says. Levi nods and drinks some more wine. He finishes his glass. Erwin hasn’t touched his. And Levi realizes that he probably can’t digest alcohol. So picks up Erwin’s glass. Erwin picks up his water glass and gently it taps it against the wine glass that Levi is holding. “Closer to freedom.” Levi smiles at him and drinks.

They finish their meals in silence, as they always did once business was discussed. Afterwards, Erwin wipes his mouth with his napkin, and accidentally drops it on the floor. He looks at it, but he doesn’t reach to pick it up. He can’t. He would lose his balance. And Levi feels a sting.

“Are you satisfied?” Levi asks. Erwin looks at him, obviously caught off guard, and he searches Levi’s eyes for the meaning of the question. “Now that you know about the basement?” Erwin smooths out the table cloth, but it wasn’t wrinkled in the first place.

“In a way,” Erwin says. “Finding out that there was a much larger enemy wasn’t exactly surprising. But knowing that we’re going to war isn’t what I wanted.” Erwin looks at him again. Levi knows he’s taken that from Erwin. He doesn’t know what to say. “Why didn’t you come? Or write?” Levi sits back from the table and picks up his wine glass to drain it. “I understand that I’m not your Commander anymore-”

Levi sets the wine glass down so hard that he breaks the stem off of it, and he curses under his breath. He pushes the glass in a pile together off to the side of the table.

“Levi-”

“What?”

“Do you regret saving my-”

“No,” Levi says, shaking his head. “No.”

“Then, why are you so angry about it?” Erwin asks.

“I’m not.”

“Why is it so difficult to be near me?”

“It’s not,” Levi says. But he tenses in his chair.

“I understand that our relationship is different now,” Erwin says. “But I saw the truth because of you.” Levi looks at him. “You’ve given me everything I’ve ever wanted.” Erwin’s eyes are too blue in the flame of the candles. “I know that we agreed that I would die on the battlefield and give up my dream, but I don’t regret surviving,” Erwin says. “I only have one regret left.” Levi’s eyes widen because he knows that regret. He has the same one, along with others. The heat rushes to his face, and he can’t stop it from happening. So he nods.

Levi stands from his chair, walks around the table, pulls Erwin’s wheelchair away from the table, and he stands in front of Erwin. But looking down on him isn’t right. So Levi kneels. Erwin smiles at him, and the smile looks right. It’s familiar this way.

“I should have let you go,” Levi says. Erwin doesn’t stop smiling. But the confession is too heavy for Levi, and he leans his head forward, resting it on Erwin’s knee. “I brought you back, after I said I would let go, so you could die on your back.” He swallows. Erwin runs his fingers through Levi’s hair, and Levi clenches his teeth, shutting his eyes tightly.
“I don’t regret being here. Even if I can’t stand on my own feet,” Erwin says. Levi releases the breath that he’s been holding, and he inhales sharply because it hurts to breathe. But feeling Erwin’s fingers in his hair, the way that he imagined, makes his lungs hurt less. “When you’re near, I feel stronger. And that’s enough for me.” Erwin cards his fingers through Levi’s hair. “After you kill the Beast Titan, after the war has ended, I’ll still be here.” Levi opens his eyes and realizes that he might not come home. Going to war without Erwin was something he hadn’t taken time to think about. “I know you’ll come back.”

Reluctantly, Levi lifts his head from Erwin’s knee. He doesn’t want to stop the feeling of Erwin’s fingers in his hair, but he needs to see Erwin’s face. Erwin was still smiling down at him.

“I know you’ll come home,” Erwin says. Levi nods. If Erwin knows it, then it’s true. He’s proven that too many times.

“I want to stay,” Levi says so quietly that he thinks Erwin might not hear. But Erwin nods.

“I want that too,” he says. Levi swallows, and he stands. He walks around to the back of Erwin’s wheelchair and pushes Erwin into the bedroom. Candles are already lit. Levi closes the door to the bedroom, and he undresses to his underwear for bed, something he hasn’t done since he joined the Corps. There are two arm chairs in the room now, and they seem so familiar. The bed doesn’t have curtains around it anymore. It’s not smaller, but the bed frame doesn’t have tall posts. It looks more like a room Erwin would use. Levi folds his clothes and lays them in one of the arm chairs.

He pushes Erwin closer to the bed, and he helps Erwin from the wheelchair to the bed. Then, he helps Erwin undress, with his shirt first, his undershirt, and Erwin’s smell wafts through the air with each article removed. Erwin lays down on the bed, and Levi helps him take off his trousers, his socks. With Erwin in his underwear, Levi pulls the bed covers down, and Erwin helps himself to get under the blankets. Levi watches him struggle and doesn’t offer to help. He knows Erwin still needs to do the things that he can do for himself.

When Erwin is under the covers, he lifts his left arm. Levi feels sweat break out along his hairline before he crawls under the covers himself. He blows out the candle and lays against Erwin’s left side. He feels of the scars on Erwin’s torso, the missing piece. Erwin has lost almost all of the muscle definition that he had before, and Levi likes the soft feeling. His hand wanders lower to the scar on Erwin’s left thigh, where they took skin. Erwin’s hand feels of Levi’s bicep, farther down to his elbow, and then Erwin’s hand is on the small of Levi’s back. He presses his fingers into Levi’s muscle firmly. Levi closes his eyes and memorizes all of it. He’s going to think of it in the coming war. It’s going to be the reason he comes home.

If they were younger, less wounded, there might have been more. But Levi listens to Erwin fall asleep. He listens to Erwin’s heart beating steadily. He feels Erwin’s breath on top of his hair. And he sleeps better than he has since his mother was alive.

Chapter Text

Erwin and Levi are in Sina. They’re attending a banquet at a noble’s house. When they are seated, Erwin and Levi are directed to chairs that are far away from each other. And Erwin sees the discomfort on Levi’s face. He requests that the waiters rearrange the seating so his Captain can sit next to him. He invents a military protocol on the spot to justify why they have to be next to each other. The waiters believe him, naturally, and they quickly move guest name cards around the table. Erwin feels guilty for causing the trouble, but the tension in Levi’s shoulders eases. Erwin apologizes to the host. The host is too drunk to really understand what has happened, but he makes a comment about the military protocols being stupid. Erwin only smiles.

When the first course is served, Erwin reaches for his silverware, only to realize that he doesn’t have the appropriate utensil for the course. He intends to ask one of the waiters for a utensil, and while he waits, he makes polite conversation with someone. When the waiter passes again, Erwin asks for the correct utensil, and waiter politely tells him that he already has that utensil.
Erwin looks to the table, and he sees the utensil that he needs. So he smiles, laughing at himself, and he apologizes to the waiter for taking up his time.

When the second course is served, it happens again. The fork that he needs is missing this time. Erwin frowns, confused, and he’s too embarrassed to ask for the utensil again. He chooses not to eat that course.

The third course is served, and Erwin’s utensil for that course is missing. The utensil for the second course is back. This time, Erwin is fascinated. Rather than speaking to a guest where he has to look away from his place setting, he chooses to speak to a guest closer so he can keep his peripheral vision on his utensils. During the conversation, he sees only slight movement. He chooses that moment to look at his place setting, and the third course utensil has reappeared.

Erwin pretends that he’s remembered something suddenly, and he looks to Levi on his right. There’s movement in Levi’s lap.

“Captain,” Erwin said.

“Hmm.”

“Would you remind me that when we return to headquarters that I need to send out the request for tea for the next month?”

“Yeah,” Levi says. Erwin’s eyes glance down to Levi’s lap, and he sees that Levi is running his handkerchief over his utensil for the course. Levi is wiping off the silverware before he eats with it. And he’s been stealing Erwin’s silverware to clean it off before Erwin has a chance to use it.

Erwin wants to ask immediately, but whispering as a banquet is extremely rude. So he continues the act, and he waits patiently for Levi to return his silverware before every course.

Erwin asks in carriage while they are riding to the hotel.

“Were you wiping off my silverware?”

Levi opens his eyes. He seems tired. Long periods of time with the nobles always has an affect on his energy.

“Did someone notice?”

“Not that I know of,” Erwin says.

“I saw a spot on one of my spoons,” Levi says. “If you like eating with dirty silverware, I won’t do it next time.” Levi closes his eyes again, irritable.

Erwin is confused at first. And then he feels uncomfortable. Because a feeling that he hasn’t felt in years surfaces, and it’s directed at Levi. The moment is sentimental, and the emotions that accompany it are so potent that Erwin is concerned that they won’t go away, and that he won’t get much sleep that night.

Levi opens his eyes again.

“Thank you, Levi,” Erwin says. It’s all he can think to say. “I didn’t even notice.”

“Kissing ass takes a lot of attention,” Levi says. Erwin laughs.

Chapter Text

Erwin was losing his patience. He had spent so much money for their vacation, and it had been cloudy every single night.

Levi insisted that he had still enjoyed himself. When Erwin suggested the vacation for their anniversary, Levi seemed reluctant. He didn’t like the cold. The promise of hot saunas helped.
The saunas were amazing, even if Levi struggled with the nudity at first. He walked in front of Erwin the entire time they were naked, unashamed of his own nakedness but ruthlessly protective of Erwin being seen. At first, it embarrassed Erwin. He tried to explain that the American ideas of nudity didn’t apply in Finland. But Levi didn’t waver, and Erwin eventually found it endearing, like Levi’s many other quirks that he had discovered over the years.

The bathroom door opened, spoiling the darkness for a few seconds before Levi turned the light off, walked over to the big bed, and crawled under the covers. Erwin still clutched to the Aurora Alarm, hoping. The clouds were moving, and it was the last night of their stay.

Levi pulled at the Aurora Alarm, and Erwin held on, but after another tug, he gave up. Levi set the alarm down on his nightstand and moved closer to Erwin in the bed. Erwin lifted his arm, Levi laid his head down on Erwin’s chest, and Erwin pulled him close.

“You always fixate on the one thing,” Levi whispered. Erwin smiled, still watching the clouds. Some of the stars were coming out, and he hoped that meant the clouds were on their way out. “Even if we don’t see them, it’s still been one of the best vacations you’ve ever planned.”

“So far,” Erwin said. He took a lot of pride in planning vacations for them. They worked hard for their money, and he wanted to spend it on experiences rather than material things. Their home was modest, they drove used cars, and Erwin didn’t care about clothing as much as Levi. He wanted memories.

Levi leaned up farther, pressing kisses against Erwin’s jawline. Erwin turned his head and kissed Levi’s mouth quickly before turning his attention back to the sky.

The glass igloo hotel still fascinated Erwin. The lack of privacy had made Levi nervous at first. There were curtains to pull closed, but Levi was still wary the first night, barely sleeping. Through the week, Levi began leaving the curtains open at night. He had discovered some sort of exhibitionist side that Erwin liked. Currently, Erwin only felt distracted by Levi’s new found interest.

“Hey,” Levi whispered. Erwin looked at him. “Stop thinking about it so much.” Erwin smiled at him in the dark, and Levi leaned up farther. Erwin bent his neck, kissed Levi slower, savoring the feeling of his mouth. When Erwin felt Levi’s hand on his belly, he sighed. He turned in the bed onto his side, facing Levi, giving him more attention, relaxing against him. Levi’s hand raised, ran through Erwin’s hair, pulled slightly, and Erwin smiled with his mouth still against Levi’s. Levi pulled back, breaking the contact of their lips. “If we don’t see them this time, that means we have to come back next year.” Erwin smiled in the dark. “I want to go get some more of that pink stuff before we leave.”

“Pink stuff?”

“The sweet thing,” Levi said. Erwin’s eyebrows drew together. Levi’s face was more visible as his eyes adjusted to the dark.

“Vispipuuro?” Erwin asked.

“Yeah,” Levi said. Erwin smiled and kissed him again.

“We’ll have more then,” Erwin said. Levi pressed kisses against Erwin’s cheek, kissed down his neck.

The Aurora Alarm finally beeped, but Erwin didn’t roll back over immediately. Levi kissed his skin a few more times, and Erwin looked up. Through the glass ceiling, he saw them start slowly at first. But then, the green and purple lit the sky on fire. Levi leaned back, watching. The ribbons of green and purple shot through the air, and Erwin turned to look back at Levi, who was looking up, his pale face illuminated in the colors. Levi glanced at Erwin, a small smile pulling at the corners of his lips before he looked up again. Erwin looked to the sky.

“I didn’t know they would be that bright,” Levi whispered.

“Me either,” Erwin said. He watched the lights running through the sky, and he felt Levi’s hand on his arm, following it down until he laced their fingers together. “Finland is the only country that calls them the ‘fox fires’.” Erwin thought about them, trying to remember what he had read. “Or maybe it was 'spell fires’.” But his mind went blank after that, the light taking up all of his attention except for Levi’s hand wrapped in his. The lights began moving faster. Some red showed through the purple, and the green glowed so intensely that Erwin winced a bit while he watched them. They raced through the sky, over the glass ceiling and away.

Then, they were gone.

Erwin and Levi laid in the sudden darkness, watching the empty sky, missing the lights already but still stunned into silence. Time evaporated away while they watched the sky, how the stars seemed faint in comparison to the Northern Lights but still remained dazzling in the dark.

Levi took a breath like he might say something, and Erwin looked towards him. His eyes were still adjusting, and he couldn’t see Levi’s expression very well. But he thought he could feel what Levi was thinking.

“We can come back next year,” Erwin whispered faintly. Levi didn’t say anything, but Erwin pulled on his hand, moved closer to him in the bed, kissed his forehead.

“Thank you,” Levi breathed. Erwin smiled before his kissed Levi’s mouth.

Chapter Text

Levi took his horse to the side of the stable and tied her to the post. He had already gathered all of the supplies he needed. Normally, the newest soldiers were tasked with bathing the horses. But Levi preferred to wash the mare himself. She had saved his ass in the field so many times, and food didn’t seem like such a fair trade when she came home with blood on her.

Summer expeditions were always the worst. The days were longer, and that meant more Titan activity. Sometimes Levi really believed that the heat agitated the giants even more than usual. The heat certainly had an affect on soldiers, made them quick to anger, sticky and uncomfortable with sweat. That meant it was easier to lose their heads in the field. Watching a human being bitten in half was more vivid in the summer sun than on an overcast winter day. Blood looked brighter on green grass.

During summer expeditions, Levi felt more of a drive to stay clean, and he focused on the things he could control. He could control his polished boots, his uniform, cleaning his horse, even if he couldn’t control the death certificates.

The mare always tried to move away when he brushed her, but he was patient. He rinsed her face with water. Then came his favorite part: the soap. He liked the smell of the soap they used for the horses. He liked the suds and the water, even if it wasn’t cool. The mare seemed to like it too, standing still, making soft noises while Levi scrubbed her clean.
After he scrubbed her, he lifted one of the buckets of water to rinse off her back end. He dumped the water over her, and she shook, flicked her tail, splattering him. He wiped the water off his face with the back of his forearm.

The mare snorted, and Levi looked towards her face. She was normally quiet while he washed her, but something else had caught her attention. Someone else.
Levi looked in the direction of her attention and saw Erwin walking towards him. Erwin wasn’t wearing his uniform jacket, only his white shirt, sleeves rolled up. Levi picked up another bucket and poured it over the mare’s back, rinsing off her middle. He watched the soap drain out of her fur and pool at his feet. He dumped another bucket over her, and Erwin petted her face.

Crunching sounds reached Levi’s ears, and he looked in Erwin’s direction. The horse was chewing.

“What did you feed her?”

“Just a bit of leftover apple,” Erwin said.

“Leftover,” Levi said. He lifted another bucket and stood on his tiptoes to rinse out her mane. Erwin probably brought the apple just for the horse.

Erwin moved closer, and Levi turned to look at him. Erwin reached down, picked up another bucket, and didn’t have to stand on his tiptoes to pour the water over her. Levi frowned up at him. Erwin smiled down at him, splashed him with some of the water from the bucket.

“Ugh!” Levi wiped at his face, getting the sprinkles of water away from his eyes. Erwin laughed, and Levi picked up the next bucket full of water, aimed towards Erwin. Erwin dropped the empty bucket and held up his hands in defense, still laughing.

“That’s not fair, Levi! It was only a bit!” Erwin said. The horse nickered.

Levi glared at him, weakly, but made an effort to look irritated. He dipped his hand into the water, and Erwin stood in place while Levi splashed him back, right on the front of his white shirt, some of the water landing on Erwin’s bolo tie and dripping off.

“Are we even?” Erwin asked. Levi rolled his eyes before he handed Erwin the bucket.

“Finish the job if you’re so fucking eager,” Levi said. Erwin took the bucket with a smile and poured it over the mare’s mane and neck again. Levi watched, his eyes fixated on the wet spot of Erwin’s shirt, where he could see skin through the cotton.

Levi looked to Erwin’s face. Erwin was still smiling, and Levi tried to look away. But he wanted to remember what it was like to see Erwin like a man rather than a Commander, a man who was still childish at times. When Erwin’s blue eyes settled on Levi, Levi still had trouble turning away. He wanted to remember.

But then the horse shook some more water off of herself, impatient to be dried, and she wet both of them. Levi held up his arms to shield his face, and Erwin laughed again. Levi wiped the water from his face, and Erwin was looking at him, water dripping from some of the edges of his blond hair.

“Why did you come out here?” Levi asked, trying his best not to make it sound like an accusation. Erwin’s smile faded, and he looked like he was caught off guard for only a flashing moment before he schooled his face again.

“I wanted to ask for some help with paperwork tonight,” Erwin said, looking around for towels. Levi turned around and bent over to pick up two of the towels he brought. He tossed one at Erwin, not daring to look again in case his eyes were able to instantly find the wet spot on Erwin’s shirt. Levi started drying the horse. Erwin helped.

“I need to clean up first,” Levi said. “I’ll bring some tea.”

Chapter Text

Levi opens the door to Erwin’s office without knocking. It’s what he’s always done, but this morning it catches Erwin off guard. Erwin looks up from the paper in his hand as if he’s not sure who to expect, as if Levi hasn’t breached that area of privacy years before.

Levi doesn’t expect to see Erwin so disheveled. Erwin’s jacket is removed, tossed across the desk, his shirt is unbuttoned, leather straps of gear hanging off of him like puppet strings, hair mussed, and he’s twirling his bolo tie in the air with his right index finger like it’s a child’s toy. Erwin catches the clasp of the tie in his hand when Levi closes the door behind himself.

“Good morn-”

“You didn’t sleep?” Levi asks.

"No."

Erwin looks back down at the paper in his hand. Levi crosses the room, approaches the opposite side of the desk, takes the paper out of Erwin’s hand. Leaning back in his chair, Erwin slides a few centimeters away from the desk and turns in his chair to stare at nothing while Levi reads.

The paper is a letter from a noblewoman in Sina, and she’s promising an allowance to the Survey Corps. Levi raises his eyebrows because the sum of money isn’t small. In fact, with the allowance they could run a corps of 800 soldiers, even if they’ve never had a soldier count of over 400 before. Levi’s wheels start turning. If they fed the soldiers better, better supplies, better housing, all of that combined could make a different when recruiting.

But when Levi reads down to what she wants in exchange, he rolls his eyes. In exchange for supplying the Survey Corps she has a few “minor suggestions”: expeditions should be reduced to eight times a year, twice a year the Survey Corps will host a military parade and festival, and the Wings of Freedom insignia will be stripped from all uniforms and replaced with an insignia of her own design. It’s Erwin’s responsibility to set all of that into motion before they get the first payment.

Levi shakes his head, but the lunatic “suggestions” don’t seem so bad for the amount of money she’s offering. He loves his wings, but he would trade them to take the financial stress away from Erwin. Near the end of the letter, she mentions that it’s troubling that Erwin has never married, and his lack of commitment gives him the public image of only being “half a man”. Then, she suggests that his situation should be altered, or Erwin could be re-accommodated. Levi drops the letter like its burned him and wipes his hand off on the thigh of his trousers.

“That’s why you stayed awake all night?”

“I could resign,” Erwin says, and Levi feels like his eardrums will burst and bleed. “If I step down as Commander, I could offer up someone who has a better public image and still conduct strategy behind closed doors. I’ve thought of it before, but I never considered I might be paid to do it. We could give her what she wants and never go to another Sina begging competition.”
Levi hates even thinking about it.

“How long have you been awake?”

“What time is it?”

“5:30.”

“A little over 24 hours.”

Levi’s eyelids lower in irritation, and Erwin looks away from him before swinging the bolo tie around his index finger again. When Levi looks at the tie, flying through the air so fast that the green gem is only a spark, he tenses. Erwin’s really considering it, rocking in his desk chair, determined to figure out the angle where they can have the financial support and still focus on saving humanity rather than becoming a private military force.

“Go take a shower,” Levi says.

Erwin catches the clasp of the tie in his hand again and looks up at Levi. And Levi notices how tired Erwin looks, how defeated, and slightly hurt. All of it is because he’s exhausted, and Levi has to remind himself of that. He can’t honestly believe that Erwin is going to give in and give up. The walls will fall before that happens.

Rather than putting the tie back on, Erwin drops it on the desk and stands. Levi stares down at the tie on the paper covered desk, some of the leather strap laying across Erwin’s jacket, and he listens to Erwin walk across the office to the door. Then, the footsteps stop.

“A new shipment of tea came in,” Erwin says. Levi lifts his head and looks at the office wall.

“I’ll make some.”

“It’s not in the big crate behind the kitchen. There’s a smaller crate in the officer’s pantry that hasn’t been opened yet. It’s yours,” Erwin says. The footsteps start again, and Levi listens to the door close. When he looks back down at the desk, he only sees “half a man”, and he feels choked by the frustration. No one has the right to say that Erwin.

While he’s staring at the letter, Levi imagines ways to destroy it. But then his mind drifts into daydreams of terrorizing the noblewoman. Some of those old Underground ways surface, and the knife in his right boot feels a little heavier than it did when he dressed that morning. But he can’t do anything about it. There’s no way he can make Erwin forget the words.

Levi’s eyes dart back over to the bolo tie, and he stares at it, thinking about what’s going to happen if he ever has to call another person Commander. What would it be like to go on an expedition where Erwin was among the ranks instead of leading the front? And minutes later, while he’s still eyeing the gem, he realizes that he’s sneering at it.

He closes his eyes and squeezes his eyelids together tightly to try and erase the image. There’s no use in worrying about it if it’s not really going to happen. He rubs his face with his hand before turning away from the desk and walking over to the office door.

When he exits the office, he catches a few soldiers running in the hallway. They’re late for PT, and they freeze and blanch when they see him. A messy salute follows.

“Captain!” they both say. Levi doesn’t address them. He just wants to make a cup of tea and try to get into Erwin’s head. That’s all that really matters at the moment.

Levi walks down the hallway, hears the two soldiers marching behind him, and makes his way to the kitchen. The soldiers on mess duty are already moving quickly around the room trying to get prepared for breakfast, and Levi appreciates that they don’t stop their work to look at him. He passes all of them and goes into the pantry behind the kitchen. Then, at the door to the officer’s pantry, he digs his keys out and unlocks the door.

When he steps into the room, the sunlight coming in through the small window shows him all of the dust particles floating in the air. The pantries are always filthy after a shipment, and he feels anxious thinking about how he might not have time to clean it. Levi closes the door and his gaze falls on the small crate that Erwin described. There’s a large, lumpy black square branded into the side of the box, and Levi’s eyebrows pinch together. Normally, the crates are branded with a company name, or with the the Survey Corps insignia. He’s never seen a plain black, lumpy square on a crate before.

Either way, Levi walks over to the small crate and pushes at the top. It hasn’t even been pried yet. So he finds the crowbar hanging up on the wall and pries the crate open. For some reason, it’s been nailed shut twice, and it takes long enough to open the crate that he feels like he’s worked out some of his nervous energy. With all of the nails loose, Levi pushes the top of the crate away and looks down into the box.

It’s full of small burlap sacks.

Levi reaches into the crate and picks up one of the little sacks. He opens it, looks into first, and sees black tea leaves. There are small, colored things among the leaves, and he frowns. Bugs. They got an old shipment again. If the bugs are dead, they can demand a new shipment. If the bugs are still moving, the company will claim that the bugs weren’t in the leaves before they shipped.

Levi walks over closer to the window so he can see better. In the light, he sees that the little pieces mixed in with the leaves aren’t bugs at all. They look like a different type of leaf.
He smells of the tea, and his eyebrows raise in response. It smells floral and fruity. So he dips his hand down into the bag puts his fingers into the leaves and pulls out a sample. When he looks at it in the light, Levi sees little petals and pieces of citrus rind.

“Oh, fuck,” he whispers. The leaves are in beautiful condition. They aren’t crushed like they normally would be after being near the bottom of a barrel. The leaves in his hands are from the top of a tea barrel. Levi looks over at the crate again. He drops the leaves back into the sack and closes it tightly.

Squatting down next to the barrel, Levi looks at the black square burned into the side of the wood. The lumps at the top of the square look familiar, but he doesn’t know why. So he stares at it harder, thinking about all of the military insignia, all of the company signals, and that’s when he realizes.

The lumps on top of the square were left over from the top of Sina’s crown and the waves in her hair. Before there was a square brand, there had been the brand of Wall Sina. Someone had burned out the brand to hide that it was sold illegally.

Levi’s feet slip out from under him, and he lands on his ass. He stares at the black square and grips the sack of tea in his hand.

Erwin bought illegal tea for the officer’s pantry.

It’s yours.

Erwin bought illegal tea for him.

And Levi feels his heart thumping in his chest, burning even. His pulse is racing because he feels afraid. Not afraid that Erwin has taken a risk. Not because Erwin could be tried for buying illegal goods. Levi’s afraid because this is a gift that means more to him than appreciation or a kind gesture between friends.

Levi has broken the law for his friends before. It’s not difficult to justify especially if they need something. But Levi didn’t need tea from Sina. Erwin bought it because he wanted Levi to have it. He was thinking of Levi enjoying it. And Levi’s never taken that type of illegal risk just to see someone enjoy something. There has always been a more important reason behind the actions that could have gotten him tried and convicted.

Erwin wants him to enjoy something.

Directly after the fear and confusion, Levi remembers the dreams that he’s had of Erwin. The way that he’s imagined Erwin’s hands the skin of his back. How Erwin’s mouth might taste. Or how Erwin’s thumbs pressed into his hips. And how Erwin could look while he sleeps in a bed with sheets barely pulled up over his-

Levi shakes his head. He’s not going to think about it. He has to leave that pantry and pretend that it didn’t happen.

Standing up, Levi holds tightly to the sack of tea in his hand. He shoves it into his left thigh belts to hold it securely while he puts the top back on the crate. Then, he presses the nails back into their holes and pulls his knife out of his boot. He flips his knife open and carves his name into the crate. If anyone finds out, it’s his tea. He bought it with Survey Corps funds. But he also does it because he doesn’t want any of the other officer’s drinking his tea. If his name is on it, they’ll skip over it.

Once his name is in the crate, he closes the knife, puts it back in its place, and he wipes the wood shavings away from his name. Taking the sack out of his thigh belts, he leaves the pantry.
On his way out of the kitchen, he gets a pot of hot water, a strainer, a tea pot, and two tea cups. A few soldiers in the kitchen actually notice him this time, and one even greets him. Levi grunts in response before he leaves the kitchen and goes back up to Erwin’s office.

When he opens the door to Erwin’s office again, Erwin is sitting in his chair, properly dressed, bolo tie around his neck, damp hair in place, writing. Erwin only glances up this time before he goes back to writing, and Levi focuses on the tray in his hand, closing the door with his boot.

He walks across the office to a small side table and measures out the leaves from the sack carefully. He’s not going to waste any of it. Impatiently, he crosses his arms while he waits for the tea to steep. And he’s tempted to lift the lid of the pot and watch the leaves expand in the water. But the steam is important, and he doesn’t want to risk the first taste over curiosity.
Levi pours the tea through the strainer four minutes later, and the he grins at the wilted petals and citrus peel when they come out of the spout.

He serves Erwin a cup a first, and then he sits down with his own. First, Levi smells of the tea, and the aroma is of course stronger. But he didn’t expect the scent of earth to tickle the back of his throat. It smells bold even with tender ingredients.

When the tea is cool enough to drink, Levi sips from the cup, and he hears Erwin lift his cup from the saucer. He waited for Levi to taste it first.

After the first taste, Levi licks his lips, and Erwin sets his tea cup down hard enough that Levi wonders if he’s chipped the saucer.

“Not bad,” Levi says before he takes another sip. He feels greedy, and he wants to drink the entire cup fast to have another. But he needs to savor it. The crate won’t last as long as he wants it to. And he’s going to make sure that Erwin has just as much as he does. “What company made this?” Levi drinks some more, tries to remind himself to slow down again. His heart has started thumping in his chest again. But his gaze lifts to Erwin.

Erwin is already looking at him.

“I’m not sure,” Erwin says before taking another sip. It’s a lie, and they both know it. Erwin probably knows every detail about the company and the type of tea. He’s standing in the way of Levi knowing too much. “But it’s good.”

“Yeah,” Levi says with a grin. He tries to restrain himself from another sip, but he chooses to enjoy the rush instead. After that sip, Levi gasps almost loud enough to embarrass himself, and Erwin has to put his cup down after that.

Conversation dies while they drink their tea, but Levi catches Erwin looking at him a few times. Once, Erwin continues to look, but twice after that, Erwin turns his eyes back to the report in front of him quickly. It feels like a childish game, and Levi wonders why they’re looking instead of touching. There are many reasons that come to mind: it’s first thing in the morning, there are so many other soldiers around, they both have really important roles in the corps. But Levi closes his eyes and imagines what it could be like anyway, while he drinks his tea.
He feels bereft when the cup is empty.

Setting the cup and saucer aside, Levi crosses his arms in front of him, inhales deeply, and tries to think of how to ask the question.

“I’ve decided to turn down the offer from Mrs. De Vries,” Erwin says. Levi looks over at Erwin across the desk, and Erwin’s smiling at him softly.

“Good plan, Commander.”

“Thank you for the tea, Levi,” Erwin says. One of Levi’s eyes twitches.

“Where’s the letter?” Levi asks. Erwin looks down at his desk, moves a couple of papers, and pulls the letter out from under them. Levi stands and walks over to the desk. Erwin holds it out to him, and Levi takes it, folding it up, and shoving it into a pocket.

“What are you planning to do with it?” Erwin asks.

“Gonna wipe my ass with it later,” Levi deadpans.

Erwin laughs so suddenly that it spooks Levi, and he blushes. To hide his face, he walks back over to the tea pot and pours himself another cup.

“I knew you would hate the idea of wearing anything but wings,” Erwin says after he’s laughed.

“Yeah,” Levi says. “But that ‘half a man’ bullshit belongs in a toilet anyway.”

Levi drinks some more of the tea, and he can’t turn around to look at Erwin yet. There’s still too much heat in his face, and he doesn’t want to show it.

“Does it?” Erwin asks. Levi sets his tea cup down and turns around to look at him. And Erwin’s eyes linger on Levi’s body before his gaze raises to meet Levi’s eyes again.

There’s a knock at the office door.

“Come in,” Erwin says. Levi looks to the door when it opens.

“Excuse me, Commander,” the Squad Leader says. “May I have permission to take the green soldiers to the training forest this morning rather than this afternoon? There are dark clouds headed our way, and that might mean the afternoon is rained out.”

“Yes,” Erwin says.

“I’m going too,” Levi says. He walks over to the Squad Leader who salutes him before turning around the walk out of the office and lead the way.

“Levi.”

Levi turns around and looks at Erwin.

“If it’s going to rain this afternoon, that would be a good time to get some rest,” Levi says. Erwin smiles at him softly.

“Be careful out there.”

Levi can’t trust himself to say anything in response before he leaves the office and closes the door.

Later in the forest, he tears the letter into pieces and tells the young soldiers that he’ll buy three rounds of beer for anyone who can slice the pieces to shreds while midair. Levi gives the lucky girl the money for beer instead of going to the bar with her. The horses stomp the remaining pieces of the letter into the mud on the way home.

Chapter Text

“How much did we get?” Levi asks.

“Not nearly enough,” Erwin says.

“Tch.”

“I might be able to fix the deficiency with a few letters.”

“You think a fucking ball would be enough,” Levi says.

Erwin lifts his gaze from the paperwork and looks across the carriage at Levi, who has wrapped his arms tightly in front of his chest, resting on leg on top of the other. The carriage they’re using doesn’t ride as smoothly as others, and Erwin’s having trouble doing paperwork during the ride. He’s irritated from the lack of funds, lack of sleep, too many bumps in the road.

“I’ve tried my best, Levi.”

“It’s not your fault, Erwin.” Levi shoots him a look, and Erwin can see the anger. But it’s not directed at him. “We should start training Corps soldiers how to break into inner Sina houses.”
Erwin smiles, giving Levi a tender look which makes him squirm, before looking back down at the paperwork. Levi stares for a few moments longer, watches Erwin’s lips move while he counts silently, and he swallows before he looks back out the carriage window. It’s a pretty day.

The loud sound of wood snapping reaches Levi’s ears first before the carriage jerks impossibly far to the right. He puts his hands out to steady himself, but when he sees the papers flying, he moves across the carriage to grab Erwin. Erwin’s out of the carriage seat, and they’re unstable, but they’re holding onto each other while they’re midair. Both of them slide to the left wall of the carriage, and then they’re falling. The glass breaks next, and Levi turns his face away from the blast. Everything stops so fast, so hard when they land on their sides against the right wall of the carriage that it knocks the air out of Levi’s lungs. The right side of the carriage is dark, and there’s only light coming in from the left window now. He gasps for air. There’s dust and dirt in the air, seemingly from nowhere. Erwin grunts and coughs, but Levi can’t see or smell any blood, so it’s not bad. Erwin’s breathing is fast, but it’s not strained. The sound of screaming horses gives Levi the feeling of fire running up his spine. That sound always means something bad, but they aren’t on the battlefield. He needs to calm down. There aren’t any blades, and it wasn’t a Titan. But he’s already in a different place.

“Levi.”

Levi looks at Erwin’s eyes, which are still wide with surprise, and his hair is out of place. The light from the left window is doing strange things to the color of his eyes, and Levi notices how they have a touch of silver among the blue.

“Are you alright?” Erwin asks. Levi realizes how fast he’s breathing.

When the left door opens up, Levi lets go of Erwin and reaches up. He pulls himself out of the door, and the carriage driver’s mouth is moving. Levi can’t hear the words. He stands on top of the overturned carriage, jumps down to the ground, and the driver is backing away as fast as he can. Levi is faster. He has the driver, who is taller than him, dangling from the ground, holding him up by the front of his shirt with both hands before the driver can scramble away.

“Levi!”

Erwin’s voice registers. Levi stops, and he can actually hear what the driver is saying.

“I’m so sorry, sir! The wheel broke! I lost control! I’m so sorry!”

The driver looks close to tears, and Levi puts him back on his feet. When he lets go of the man’s shirt, the driver backs away, pulling at the front of his shirt as if its still choking him. The man’s clothes are covered in dirt, and there’s some blood on his shirt. Levi can’t tell where it’s coming from.

Levi looks down at himself. Obviously, nothing is broken considering how fast he came out of the carriage, but he feels an ache in his ribs. There’s some red on the left side of his shirt, small cuts from the glass.

“Are you alright, sir?”

“What the fuck happened?” Levi looks back at the driver.

“The wheel broke, sir.”

Levi looks up the road. Both horses are standing close together in the middle of the road, looking back at the broken carriage. Neither of them look injured, but they seem spooked. When Levi looks around more, he sees that they’re in the middle of nowhere. No homes. No villages. The river is nearby, and the afternoon sun is reflecting from the water. But there’s nothing.

The crunch of dirt under boots grabs Levi’s attention, and he turns to look at Erwin. Erwin’s rubbing his right shoulder. Disregarding everything, Levi moves over to Erwin and pushes his hand out of the way. There are a few cuts from the flying glass. The red is barely affecting the sleeve of Erwin’s shirt. No sign of shoulder dislocation. No emergencies. But Levi glares at the driver anyway.

“Are you injured?” Erwin asks.

“Just scratches, Commander,” the driver says.

“Take the horses, go back to Sina, and send another carriage please. Quickly. Get medical attention once you’ve sent another carriage,” Erwin says.

The driver doesn’t wait for other directions. He runs to the front of the carriage, crawls on top of it, fumbles with the storage compartment under the driver’s seat before he pulls out a saddle. Levi watches while the driver rushes over to one of the horses, saddles up, takes the reigns of the other horse. He winces when the driver kicks the horse too hard. But they’re gone before Levi can yell about it.

When Levi turns back to look at Erwin, he notices a thick streak of red running down the right side of Erwin’s face. He steps forward, and Erwin’s facial expression doesn’t change when Levi lifts his hand, pushing Erwin’s hair back. There’s a wide scratch against Erwin’s hairline close to the top of his ear, but it’s not dangerous. Levi gets some of the blood on his hand, and he wipes it off on Erwin’s shirt.

“How’s your shoulder?” Levi asks.

“Sore,” Erwin says. Levi rolls his eyes, and he walks over to the carriage.

The driver left the storage compartment of the carriage open, and Levi reaches in for Erwin’s bag. He grabs his own too because he keeps bandages in it. He learned so many years earlier that Erwin whines about papercuts. Sometimes Erwin won’t pout for so long if the cut is wrapped up.

Levi drops both bags at Erwin’s feet, and he squats down. He opens his own bag and finds the bandages. He uses shears to cut a bandages into the right length, and he adds tape to the sides.

Standing, Levi eyes stop at Erwin’s white cotton undershirt for a moment. He tries not to stare. He puts small bandages on the few cuts that Erwin has, checking to make sure that there aren’t any large pieces of glass in Erwin’s skin. Then, Levi motions for Erwin to lean forward so he can put a bandage on the cut near his ear. Erwin leans down, farther than necessary, and Levi grits his teeth. He presses the tape against Erwin’s hair and skin hard.

“Ow,” Erwin says quietly.

“That’s what you get.”

“Why?”

“Leaning down so far.”

Levi takes his hands away, and Erwin reaches up to rub at the spot where Levi pressed too hard. But he’s smiling.

“I wanted to make sure you could reach.”

“I’ll break your leg and say it happened in the wreck.”

“The driver will counter your story.”

“He can’t talk if he’s missing.”

Erwin shakes his head and sighs.

“There’s no reasoning with you,” Erwin says. Levi doesn’t argue the point. “Are you injured? You’re bleeding.”

“Just some cuts from the glass.”

“I could bandage those for you.”

“No, thanks.”

“Alright, Levi,” Erwin says, using that voice that Levi doesn’t understand. He’s tried to place it many times, but he can’t figure out the tone. Levi’s throat tightens up when Erwin’s gaze lingers on him. But then, Erwin breaks the eye contact, turns around, and Levi watches while Erwin crawls up and drops down back down into the tipped carriage.

The first feeling Levi notices is worry. He doesn’t want Erwin back in there. There’s nothing else that can happen, but when he can’t see Erwin, he can’t be sure he’s safe. Levi doesn’t know why a carriage ride has him more panicked than he feels when he’s outside the walls. He feels disarmed.

Erwin surfaces again, paperwork in hand, and Levi feels like pushing him back down in the carriage and slamming the door shut.

Rather than climbing down from the carriage, Erwin picks up the door and drops it so it slams shut. Then he sits on top of the wreckage, facing the sun which is low in the sky.

“Would you bring a pen from my bag please, Levi?” Erwin asks. At first, Levi is glued to the spot. His survival instinct still hasn’t fully recoiled. Erwin doesn’t seem stirred. It bothers him that he feels so nervous when Erwin has barely responded. He picks up their bags, walks over to the carriage and climbs on top of it, on the other side of the door, setting their bags on the door. Erwin opens his bag, finds a spare pen, and starts working again. Some of the paperwork is torn, almost all of it is crumpled.

Levi crosses his legs, wraps his arms around himself, lowers his head, closes his eyes, and intends to get some rest while they wait. The panic from the wreck seems small when they’re sitting on top of the wreckage. The sound of shuffling papers helps. And Erwin is fine. He’s come back from an expedition with much worse than cuts and a sore shoulder.

“I’ve rarely seen you get so angry so quickly,” Erwin says. Levi opens his eyes, looks at the wood of carriage under him. He’s not sure what to say. It was a reflex, but he doesn’t know why. Erwin doesn’t say anything else, and Levi closes his eyes again. The sun turns the back of his eyelids red, and it’s irritating.

Opening his eyes, Levi turns around on the carriage, putting his back to the sun, and adjusts again. When he’s settled again, Levi closes his eyes. He doesn’t sleep, but his mind is quiet enough that he feels like it’s a type of vacation. Erwin is still working, but they aren’t actively in command. There aren’t any soldiers that need attention. There’s only waiting. Normally, the idea of sitting still for so long would aggravate him, but after the shit in Mitras, he could use a break.

Eventually, Erwin stops shuffling papers, and Levi opens his eyes to see that Erwin has actually set the papers and pen in his bag. Erwin is looking off into the distance, thinking, always thinking. But he looks more peaceful than usual. Levi knows Erwin could use the break too. If there hadn’t been an actual threat to their lives, he would say that a scratch on the head and a sore shoulder were worth the break. A thought occurs to him, and he has to ask.

“You could have taken the other horse and been on your way back to headquarters,” Levi says. Erwin looks at him.

“And leave you here to wait for several hours to build up your rage?” Erwin asks, almost laughing. Levi doesn’t argue that point either, but he frowns.

“I was pissed, but it’s over now.”

“Why were you so angry?” Erwin asks.

Levi shrugs. That makes his side hurt, and he reminds himself to not move so fast already. Levi doesn’t have an answer. He’s pretty sure that Erwin has already decided what he thinks anyway, and there’s no telling Erwin anything after he’s made up his mind.

“Why do you think?” Levi asks. It’s a legitimate question, but Erwin’s face changes. His eyes widen, and he looks away from Levi, back to the direction of the sun. Levi ignores the way he feels when he see the sunshine in Erwin’s hair.

Erwin doesn’t make any more attempts at conversation, and Levi stares off at nothing. He’s watches the shadows shift, and he becomes more irritated. Getting a replacement carriage shouldn’t take so long.

The pain in Levi’s left side starts to intensify from sitting so long, and he squirms, grimacing when he moves.

“What’s wrong?” Erwin asks.

“Sitting for too long makes me sore,” Levi says.

“Did you bring a canteen?” Levi nods. “Is there water in it?”

“It’s empty,” Levi says.

“Let’s go to the river for some water,” Erwin says.

Erwin reaches into Levi’s bag, grabs the canteen, and climbs down from the side of the carriage first. When Levi moves, his side burns, but he ignores it. He slides towards the edge of the carriage, where Erwin is, and Erwin watches him. Levi tries his best to hide the way he’s gritting his teeth, but he has to jump down. The impact on the bottom of his boots reverberates, and the shock settles in his ribs making them throb. He can’t stop himself from gasping for air and growling through the pain.

“Levi,” Erwin says. “Move your hand. Let me see.” Levi doesn’t even realize that he’s holding his side. He moves his hand. Erwin’s pulling at his shirt. Levi leans against the carriage, lifts his arm. The air against his bare skin makes him feel exposed, but with Erwin it’s not bad. When he feels Erwin’s fingertips against his ribs, he jumps, but not from pain. He’s never imagined that Erwin’s hands that way. They’re calloused, but Erwin’s too gentle. “It’s an ugly bruise. Are you having trouble breathing?”

“No,” Levi grunts. “How big is the bruise?” Erwin puts his hand on Levi’s skin again, and he measures a space between his thumb and forefinger. Levi only asked so Erwin would put his hands on him again. He can’t tell how big the bruise is just from feeling Erwin’s fingers.

“That big,” Erwin says.

“That’s fine.”

“I don’t want you moving too much,” Erwin says, taking his hand away, pulling the shirt back down. “I don’t think anything is broken, but you shouldn’t walk to the river. I’ll help you back up onto the carriage.”

“I can get up there myself,” Levi says. He can’t ignore the look of concern on Erwin’s face.

“Let me help,” Erwin says. Levi doesn’t protest anymore while Erwin gives him a boost. “Lay down.” And Levi doesn’t have to be told twice. When he stretches out, his ribs seem relieved, and he’s a lot more comfortable. “Don’t move. I’ll be back soon.”

Levi doesn’t respond, but he listens to Erwin’s footsteps while they move away. He watches the clouds slide by in the sky. He thinks of Isabel and Farlan. It happens during the most unpredictable times. Sometimes he goes a week without thinking about them. Sometimes he can’t go an hour without them coming back. They liked the clouds. Isabel would insist she saw shapes: pastries, animals, people. Farlan would argue with her just to have something to do. Watching the sky without them was the never the same, but Levi still wants to see it every day.

There is never a day that he regrets waking up above ground. He imagines Isabel picking out shapes and Farlan arguing. Levi sees the shapes too though. Even if he can’t hear their voices anymore, he remembers their faces. Their eyes. Sometimes they’re bloody. Sometimes they’re still laughing.

By the time Levi hears Erwin’s boots pressing into the dirt again, the sky has started to change different colors, signaling sunset, and he wonders how much time he’s lost thinking about ghosts again. The carriage whines a little when Erwin crawls back up the other side.

Erwin sits next to Levi, Levi eyes drift over to him, and Erwin offers him the canteen. Levi lifts his head from the wood, and takes small sips.

“How are you feeling?” Erwin asks.

“Fine,” Levi says, handing the canteen back to him.

“I can see the new carriage headed this way,” Erwin says. “Ten kilometers.” Levi looks up at him, and Erwin’s eyes are looking towards some horizon that Levi can’t see, as always.

“It was nice while it lasted,” Levi says, but it doesn’t sound as sarcastic as he intended. Erwin looks down at him. When Erwin reaches out and runs his hand through Levi’s hair, Levi tenses hard enough that his ribs protest. Then Erwin pretends that he was pushing hair away from Levi’s brow, which has a thin layer of sweat on it. After that, Erwin doesn’t know what to do except take his hand away and pretend that he didn’t do anything at all. But Levi’s heart is hammering in his chest so hard that he’s having trouble taking a good breath through his nose.

Erwin’s never done something like that before. And the attempt to pretend that he was just being concerned makes it even more obvious. Levi can’t pretend that he doesn’t want to feel Erwin’s hands on him again, in different places, for extended periods of time, with more time to spend. He has so much energy trapped inside of him that he has to wiggle his toes in his boots just to work some of it out.

“How close is the carriage?” Levi asks.

“Not close enough,” Erwin says. “I’ll let you know when it’s time to get down.” Levi is quiet, but he can’t take his eyes off Erwin, who is refusing to look at him.

Part of Levi wishes that they could stay on top of the overturned carriage for a while longer. If the replacement carriage wasn’t within sight, he could ask Erwin to touch him again. If they weren’t soldiers, they could take time together like this again. If the extinction of humanity wasn’t something that kept them awake at night, if Erwin wasn’t his Commander, Levi wonders how things could be different. He wants to know how Erwin would touch him if they weren’t wearing military insignia. And for the first time, Levi feels trapped by his wings.

Chapter Text

Erwin was in the middle of writing a sentence on a report when his candle snuffed out. He release an irritated breath, but then that morphed into a yawn. It had been a hell of a day. The last expedition had been a disaster, and there was so much paperwork, so many death certificates, so many letters of funding pulled.

The ache in Erwin's muscles demanded rest, and he surrendered for the night, knowing that his mind would be sharper in the morning. Erwin stood from the desk, hearing the pops of his tendons in his ankles, like they were protesting carrying his weight. Erwin moved around the edge of his desk and moved to the door to exit. While he walked down the hall of offices, he noticed that Levi's office door still had the dim light of a candle flickering from under the crack of the door.

Erwin's eyebrows furrowed, and he lifted his fist, gently hitting his knuckles against the wood.

"Come in," Levi snapped. Erwin's eyes widened, and he didn't open the door at first. It was highly unusual for Levi to work so late, to work later than Erwin. But Erwin reached for the doorknob and opened the door.

"Levi?" Erwin asked. He couldn't make sense of seeing Levi on the other side of the desk. Levi hated paperwork. He would speed his way through it during the first part of the day so he could focus on things that he deemed more important. But there he was, at his desk, papers neatly stacked, dark circles threatening purple under his eyes. "Are you alright?"

"No, I'm behind," Levi said. Erwin nodded.

"I am too," Erwin said. "Let's get some rest. We'll be more-" Erwin stopped mid-sentence with a wide smile, almost a laugh. The entire situation was reversed. There had never been a time he had to convince Levi to sleep. It had always been Levi coming to his own office to insist that he rest.

"What?"

"Nothing," Erwin said. "I'm going to bed. I would suggest you do the same." Erwin turned, knowing that there wouldn't be a way to convince Levi if he didn't really want to go, but he stopped when the room was dropped into darkness. Levi had blown out the candle.

"It's weird as fuck having you come in here and tell me to go to bed," Levi said, the sound of his boots hitting the floor approaching Erwin from behind. Erwin stayed still, hoping that it would finally be the time. And lightening shot through him when he felt Levi's fingertips brush against the knuckles of his right hand. There wasn't any mention of the touch before Levi opened the door, shedding light from the dim hallway candles into the room. Erwin exited the office, Levi following, closing the door behind him before they walked down the hallway together and separated at the appropriate time to go their own quarters.

Chapter Text

Erwin typically slept heavily most nights. But occasionally, there would be times that he would wake up in the darkest part of the night, completely unsettled, unable to go back to sleep.
It was irritating. It made the next day seem unreasonably long. And it always seemed to happen on a night that he needed his rest most, before a trip to the Capital, or when they were nearing an expedition.

His sole comfort on these nights was knowing that his Captain would be awake. Levi didn't rest well even on nights that he slept. But it never seemed to affect his strength or his mind. It fascinated Erwin.

Erwin crawled from his bed, lit a candle, put on his uniform, still groggy but aware. And he left the warmth of his quarters to enter the cool hallway to go find the Captain.

Even if Levi didn't sleep, he still liked the solitude of his quarters at night. Erwin wondered what Levi did with all of that time. Erwin considered sleep as a way to increase the speed of time to the next day. If Levi didn't sleep, what did he do with his nights?

Erwin moved through the hallways until he came to the Captain's quarters. And there was the dim light of a candle slipping from under the door. So, Erwin raised his hand and gently bumped his knuckles against the wood of the door, waiting for the response.

There wasn't one.

After another, more gentle knock, Erwin twisted the door handle and pushed the door forward.

"Levi," Erwin whispered. When he leaned past the door and looked into the room, the Captain was sitting in his chair, head tilted forward with his uniform jacket covering his arms. He was sleeping. His face was relaxed, and he breathed deeply and evenly. Erwin had never seen him that way before.

At the risk of waking Levi, Erwin moved farther into the room and silently closed the door behind him. It wasn't appropriate to approach the Captain that way, while he was unconscious and vulnerable. But Erwin didn't want to look away either.

It felt wrong, but he simply wanted to memorize the image. He wanted to remember the softness of Levi's slumber on the nights that he couldn't sleep. Because it was comforting. If someone like Levi could find peace in his sleep, Erwin could feel like he was one step further towards freeing humanity.

He could lay in his own bed at night and remember that there were times that Levi rested. There were times that Levi didn't have to be strong, even if he was still beautiful. There were times that Levi didn't have to lead. He could rest.

Erwin knew that he had stayed too long, and he opened the Captain's door. But he was so involved in his own thoughts that he didn't consider opening the door slowly.
"Erwin," Levi muttered. Instantly, Erwin clenched his jaw. He had woken Levi. "Did you need something?" Quickly, Erwin formulated his response.

"Nothing that can't wait until morning," Erwin said. He didn't turn to look at the Captain, and he felt shamed that he had disturbed the beautiful rest.

"You can't sleep?" Levi asked. Erwin smiled and finally turned to look at Levi. Levi looked tired, still sleepy, and Erwin only nodded. "Stay in here and talk out whatever it is that's floating around in your head."

"I don't want to keep you awake," Erwin said.

"I'm sure whatever you're thinking about is boring enough to knock me out," Levi said. Erwin smiled, closing the door again and walking over to the unused bed. He sat down on the mattress. "Don't you dare put your boots on my bed," Levi snapped. So, Erwin reached down, pulled off his boots, laid down on the mattress, and began talking about everything on his mind.

It didn't take long for the gentle breathing of the Captain to deepen. And the candle snuffed itself out soon after, leaving Erwin in the dark, with the sounds of Levi's breath, and finally sleep pulling at the edges of his mind, until he closed his eyes and surrendered.

Chapter Text

Levi opened the door to Erwin’s quarters without knocking. Erwin looked up from his task, a bit surprised.

“Hey,” Levi said. He shut the door behind him and leaned against it. Erwin was sitting at his table, looking uncertain. That’s when Levi noticed that Erwin had a nail file on the table with his fingernails against it. “What the hell are you trying to do?” Levi leaned away from the door and walked across the room. The closer he approached Erwin, the more it seemed Erwin was leaning away from him.

“Levi,” Erwin said, still a bit confused. Levi picked Erwin’s hand up from the table and looked at his fingernails. Levi glared down at him.

“You’ve fucked them up,” Levi muttered. Erwin’s nails were crooked and pointed in various places. Levi dropped Erwin’s hand and looked around for his chair. It was pushed against a far wall. “And you moved my shit.” Levi walked casually over to his favorite armchair and picked it up. It felt heavier than he remembered, but he carefully moved it across the room until it was sitting in front of Erwin. Levi sat down, picked up the emery board from the table and took Erwin’s hand again. He began working at the ravaged nails, trying to square them out. Normally, Erwin would ask him for help with tasks like this. Maybe slamming his office door had been too much.

Levi could still feel Erwin’s blue eyes heavily staring at him, but he didn’t acknowledge it, as if nothing had happened.

When Levi had finally smoothed Erwin’s nails out, he dropped the file on the table and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms.

“Check them,” Levi said. Erwin lifted his hand and and checked his fingernails. Despite the damage he had done, Levi had found a way to smooth out the edges. Levi always found a way. Erwin resisted the urge to put his fingers in his mouth and test the nails on the inside of his bottom lip.

“They look better,” Erwin admitted, dropping his hand to his lap. Levi’s gray eyes were watching him intensely. “Thank you,” Erwin offered, unsure of what Levi wanted.

“You should’ve just asked for help,” Levi said. He noticed that Erwin’s throat bobbed when he swallowed.

“I didn’t expect that you wanted to see me,” Erwin said. Levi unfolded his arms and rested them on the chair, crossing his legs.

“I was pissed,” Levi said. “But I get it now.” Erwin tilted his head, eyeing Levi speculatively.

“You understand?” Erwin asked. Levi nodded. The shame settled heavily in Erwin’s stomach. “I’m sorry, Levi,” Erwin said. “I haven’t been completely honest with you for a while.”

“Then tell me now.” Erwin looked down at his one hand and stared at his smooth fingernails again. In a moment, he lifted his eyes and looked to Levi.

“This dream of mine,” Erwin muttered. “I’ve never wanted anything so badly. I know that it will lead us to freedom, but I want it for the most selfish reasons.”

“I disagree,” Levi said flatly. Erwin narrowed his eyes.

“It’s not negotiable, Levi.”

“Erwin, did you ever notice that people continued to have children after we lost Wall Maria?” Erwin’s brows pinched together and his head tilted in curiosity. Levi was about to make a point.

“Of course they did,” Erwin said.

“Of course they did?” Levi frowned. “Why, Erwin? Why would anyone do that? We lost a huge percentage of the population within a year, and then the government sent another percentage of them on a suicide mission. What sane person would bring another life into this world when all of that shit was happening? That’s the most selfish thing anyone could have done.” Erwin shook his head, not understanding.

“Are you saying we should have prohibited people from procreating?”

“No,” Levi said. “I’m saying that even something as serious as the possible annihilation of humanity won’t stop people from fucking.” Erwin’s confusion fully changed his face then. “Even if they were only making more Titan food, they wanted something to distract them from how shitty they felt. So, they made something they thought would bring them joy. Because people can’t stand to look at the big picture, Erwin.” Levi stopped and clenched his teeth for a moment, but then he pressed on. Erwin had to hear the words. “You’ve been looking at the big picture for years now, but you’ve finally exhausted yourself doing that. So, you’ve decided to distract yourself.”

“Levi-”

“Shut up, and listen to what I’m saying,” Levi insisted. “Humanity is still as important to you as it ever was, but it’s alright to want other things.” Erwin lifted his hand and ran it through his blond hair nervously. “It’s alright to stop looking at the bigger picture to focus on something you want for a little while.” Erwin looked at Levi then. He knew that Levi was trying to give him something, and he didn’t understand why.

“Earlier today you were going to break my legs to pull me away from it,” Erwin said.

“No,” Levi shook his head. “I was going to break your legs to give you an out.”

“What?”

“If you wanted a reason to say that you couldn’t go instead of choosing not to go, I would have given it to you,” Levi said. Erwin’s lips parted and his jaw hung slack. “But it was a trade. So, I’ve come to collect.” Erwin closed his mouth and licked his dry lips.

“What’s the price?”

“Whatever happens out there, even if it turns out to be nothing you hoped, you have to be satisfied,” Levi said. His gray eyes were heavy lidded then, and Erwin had never seen Levi look so mournful. Erwin looked down at the floor then, and he thought about the price of chasing this dream. What if they finally reached the basement and there was nothing? What if he never made it to the basement at all? “Erwin,” Levi muttered. Erwin looked up at him again. “Be satisfied,” Levi voice cracked around the words. The pain under those words hit Erwin squarely in the chest, and he didn’t realize that he was nodding until the look in Levi’s eyes softened.

Chapter Text

Mike gently rapped his knuckles against Erwin’s bedroom door.

“It’s me,” Mike said quietly. The hallway leading to the Commander’s quarters was still dark, and Mike heard shuffling in Erwin’s room. Then the door unlocked, and Mike didn’t wait to be invited inside before he opened the door.

Erwin was already heading back to bed, but it was too dark to see any details of the room. Mike closed the door behind him, sniffing rapidly to confirm that he was indeed smelling a cigarette.

“Light a match,” Mike mumbled. There was a flash of light, and Mike walked to the table to pick up the candle. He took it to Erwin’s bedside, and Erwin held the match over the wick of the candle until the flame caught. Shaking the match out and putting it in his ashtray, Erwin dragged on his cigarette and exhaled.

The silence between them was easy and familiar. Mike wasn’t naturally very talkative except with Nanaba. And he had learned many years prior to never press Erwin.

Mike sat on the bed next to Erwin and put the candle on the floor in front of them. He waited for Erwin to say something, but there was only silence. Mike turned his eyes to Erwin and looked him up and down. He was hunched over with his elbows resting on his knees, wearing his gray sleeping pants, shirtless, hair mussed and eyes bloodshot. And the smell of absolute despair flooded Mike’s nose. The heavy gaze of Mike’s eyes didn’t bother Erwin at all. That’s why he trusted Mike with this.

“What do you have this year?” Mike asked.

“That stomach illness has been going around,” Erwin muttered. Mike nodded.

“Uh,” Mike stumbled. He cleared his throat. “We’ve never had to do this with Levi around.” Erwin ran a frustrated hand through his hair and some of the strands fell in front of his forehead.

“You’re right,” Erwin said. “If you disgust him, he might,” but Erwin didn’t finish the sentence. Mike raised a hand and rested it between Erwin’s shoulder blades.

“There will a come a day that this isn’t necessary anymore,” Mike assured him.

“Well,” Erwin smirked. “Time has helped.” Erwin nodded to himself and dragged on his cigarette again. Mike didn’t know what to say to that and he took his hand from Erwin’s back.

“I don’t think I’ve had to cover for you since you were a Squad Leader,” Mike mentioned. Erwin dragged on his cigarette once more and crushed it in the ashtray.

“Recently,” Erwin muttered. “I shared some information with Levi about my father’s death.” That’s what Mike had been waiting to hear.

In past years, Erwin was debilitated by grief on the anniversary of his father’s murder. It was inconvenient when they were in training, but Erwin would feign sickness. The superiors were satisfied because Erwin didn’t leave his bed the entire day and didn’t eat. It was obvious that he wasn’t just trying to avoid responsibilities or duties that he didn’t enjoy. Erwin really did look ill on those days. But Mike sniffed right through the facade, and confronted Erwin about it in private a week later. He had pressed too hard, and Erwin broke right in front of him. It was terrifying. Mike had never been so desperate to get away from a crying man, but he had to clean up his mess first. That’s when the majority of their bond had been built. Erwin appreciated that Mike stuck around even after he felt like he had made a fool of himself. Mike appreciated that Erwin didn’t seem to bear a grudge about his insensitive behavior. True, he had no way of knowing that Erwin had such deep trauma, but he still felt guilty. Years of friendship had smothered that guilt, and it was replaced by mutual respect and trust.

When they joined the Survey Corps together, it had happened a few more times. Mike couldn’t remember how many. There were years where the day passed without Erwin even seeming to be affected. If Erwin had other, more urgent, things to occupy him, then the day could pass without him noticing. But Erwin’s capacity for thought was vast, and it seemed that the day would crush him if he didn’t have a world of other troubles to distract him. When that happened, Erwin had been confined to his bed, unwilling to move much and unable to eat. Mike believed that asking for a single day out of the year to be miserable was more than a fair trade for what Erwin had sacrificed.

“Maybe you should be more careful about what you share,” Mike advised as gently as he could. It didn’t sound gentle though. Mike didn’t enjoy seeing his Commander in this state, and it was difficult to remind himself that this was the act of a friend and not a subordinate. He reeled himself in again.

“It was careless on my part to allow that to affect me, but it was necessary to tell him, Mike.” Mike nodded and didn’t ask Erwin to explain.

“What can I do for you today?” Mike asked.

“Just your regular duties should be fine,” Erwin said. “But if you could do your best to make sure that I’m not disturbed, that would be the biggest help.”

“You got it.”

“Thank you, Mike,” Erwin muttered, and Mike stood from the bed to leave.

“Get some rest,” Mike said before he left the room.

Erwin swallowed hard and rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand. He rubbed so hard that it hurt. Then, he blew the candle out and laid back down in bed to think. Tried not to think. Failed anyway.

****

Levi opened the door to Erwin’s office and stepped inside.His steps faltered when he saw Mike sitting behind the desk instead of Erwin.

“Erwin is sick,” Mike said, staring at some paperwork. Levi shut the door with his foot and didn’t move further into the room.

“With what?”

“Stomach thing,” Mike said.

“Does he need anything?” Mike cleared his throat.

“I went to check on him earlier, but the smell was so intense that I gagged.” Levi cringed, and Mike pressed harder. “I sent Nanaba to check on him, and when she came out of the room she said that he made a mess.”

“Ugh,” Levi recoiled farther towards the door.

“Yeah,” Mike said. “I’ve never seen her turn that shade of green before. She said that he ruined the curtains-”

“Stop,” Levi insisted and held a hand up. “I get it. He’s sick. Is there anything I can do to help him while he’s off for the day?” Mike shook his head.

“Nanaba offered to bring him any paperwork that he wanted to work on, and he refused.” Mike watched Levi’s eyes grow wide with shock.

“Fuck,” Levi said. “He must be dying.” Mike snorted before he chuckled. The worry on Levi’s face faded just a little when Mike laughed.

“I was shocked too,” Mike smiled. “He’ll be alright.” Levi nodded. Mike was talking more than usual, and Levi was relieved that he was sharing so much information. There was a knock on the door and Levi turned around to open it. Hange was standing on the other side. She walked in the room and tilted her head when she saw Mike behind the desk and Levi at the door.

“Where’s Erwin?”

“Shitting his brains out,” Mike said quickly. “The room is ruined. We’ll have to burn it.”

“Shut up!” Levi snapped. “Fuck, Mike. Calm down!” Hange laughed and gave Levi a skeptical look.

“Since when are you sensitive to shit talk, Levi,” she teased.

“Since Mike is so fucking interested in describing every detail,” Levi cringed and turned to walk out the door of the office. Hange smiled at Mike and shook her head.

“Let me know if you need something,” she offered. Mike nodded at her and stood from the desk to leave as well. “You’re not doing paperwork for him?”

“Hell no,” Mike said and Hange followed him out of the room, shutting the door behind herself.

“So what were you doing in there?”

“Briefing you two, obviously,” Mike said. Hange nodded and smiled up at him.

“Are you going to do morning announcements?”

“Nope,” Mike said. “You are.” Hange beamed with excitement.

“Captive audience!” she gasped.

“Try to keep it under five minutes.”

******

That afternoon, Levi found himself in the hallway leading to the Commander’s quarters. Levi approached Erwin’s door and knocked on it gently.

“Erwin,” Levi said quietly, in case the Commander was asleep. Erwin lifted his heavy head from the bed and rolled his eyes.

“Mike,” Erwin thought. “You didn’t say enough.” He cleared his throat anyway. “Yes, Levi.”

“If you aren’t about to shit yourself again, can you talk to me through the door for a minute?” Levi asked. Erwin sighed heavily and slowly rose from the bed. He padded in his bare feet across the room and sat on the floor with his bare back against the wood of the door.

“I’m listening,” Erwin said. Levi smiled when he could hear Erwin’s voice better. He sounded tired, but at least he was conscious. Maybe he was feeling a little better already. Levi came up blank. There wasn’t anything he had in mind.

“How long has Mike been fucking disgusting?” It was all Levi could think to say, and he felt a little stupid. Erwin grinned on the other side of the door. Levi hadn’t thought his actions through completely.

“What do you mean, Levi?” he asked. Levi related to Erwin what Mike had told him that morning. Erwin was relieved to know that Mike had given it his best shot, and Levi had simply decided to chance having his senses offended anyway. “He’s always been like that,” Erwin assured Levi when he was done repeating every excruciating detail of Mike’s explanation. Levi leaned forward and rested his forehead against the door. He wanted to see Erwin. “Tell me about your day so far,” Erwin offered. “I need to know what I missed. Any incident reports?” Levi leaned away from the door, turned and sat down on the floor to rest his back against the wood. He knew that’s what Erwin was doing. He wanted to feel close, even if it was only through imitating Erwin’s position.

“Well, Hange did morning announcements,” Levi said.

“That was a terrible idea,” Erwin replied.

“Fucking right,” Levi nodded. “Can you guess how it ended?”

“Mike pulled her down from the podium, and she screamed the whole way,” Erwin said.

“You guessed it,” Levi nodded. “Funniest shit I’ve seen in a long time.” Erwin’s lips pulled up in a smile. “We had trouble calming the everyone down enough for them to get back to work.”

“The soldiers were upset?” Erwin asked.

“They were fucking terrified, Erwin. Hange was so pissed,” Levi smirked, and Erwin could hear it in his voice on the other side of the door.

“Did you have to pull Mike and Hange apart?”

“No. Thankfully, Nanaba intervened that time.”

“Good,” Erwin said.

“I heard you refused to do paperwork,” Levi said. “Mike made it sound like you’re dying.” Erwin nodded then with understanding. That’s why Levi had risked sounds and smells to check on him. Mike had been a little too dramatic with the descriptions, and it only managed to worry Levi. Erwin was surprised that Mike had tried so hard, but he wasn’t surprised that Levi was concerned. He understood the surroundings of Levi’s childhood, and any illness could cause concern, especially when it was blown so far out of proportion.

“I’m fine,” Erwin assured him. “Mostly just tired now.” Levi nodded.

“So,” Levi paused. “You’re going to clean up in there, right?” Erwin almost laughed, but he caught himself. He was supposed to sound sick, but he didn’t feel as bad as he had earlier. Levi’s sense of humor was offensive most of the time, but Erwin could hear the concern under Levi’s prodding. He glanced around at the clean room.

“Yes. I promise it will be as spotless as you left it.”

“Alright. Better rest up then.” Levi stood from the floor.

“Thank you, Levi,” Erwin said.

“Sure.” Erwin heard Levi’s boot steps walking away from the door. Part of him wished that Levi had found a reason to stay longer.

Chapter Text

Levi stood in Erwin’s office, next to the window, watching for the carriage. Erwin was only supposed to be gone for two days, and then it turned into a week. When Levi found out that he would be gone for so long, he wanted to go to Sina to help. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to help, but he hated that Erwin took most of the trips alone, to beg for money.

There were times that Erwin asked Levi to accompany him. And Levi never refused. But the last time that they went to Sina together, Levi had said something rude during a dinner, and the nobles laughed at him. They considered him to be too ignorant to really know what he had said, too poorly bred to understand all of the “intricacies” of politics. Levi didn’t care that they laughed. Erwin did. Erwin apologized to him three times on the way home, enough that Levi was annoyed by the way Erwin took on yet another layer of guilt.

“I don’t fucking care that they laughed,” Levi told him, more than once. “And I don’t care that they think I’m your dog-”

“I care. Because you’re more than that,” Erwin said. And Levi didn’t have a response ready.

“I know,” he said. The words didn’t sound convincing because he was off guard. Erwin’s body language had changed.

And that night, when they went into headquarters, Levi stopped at the door of his quarters, and Erwin stopped too. He looked up to see what other self-deprecating bullshit Erwin wanted to say.

“What?” Levi asked.

“Do you really know how important you are?” Erwin asked. Heat raced up Levi’s spine and flooded the back of his neck. In the light of hallway lamps, Erwin’s eyes looked darker somehow. Without the typical shine that they held while they were outside of the walls. Erwin’s gaze dropped to Levi’s mouth, and Levi couldn’t look at him anymore. He opened the door of his quarters, and Erwin reached out and gently grabbed Levi’s wrist. “Levi, do you know how important you are to me?”

Levi turned to look up at Erwin again. And the tension finally snapped. Levi grabbed the front of his shirt, caught the bolo tie in his fist, pulled Erwin down and kissed him. And Erwin didn’t seem surprised. Because he grabbed Levi’s hips and directed both of them into Levi’s quarters.

Blinking a few times, Levi rubbed his eyes. The memory was too strong. Maybe because it had only been a few months ago, but maybe because the night had been better than he imagined, even though he imagined it so many ways for so many years.

The carriage pulled up in front of the headquarters door and parked. Levi turned away from the window, left the office, and went to the front door to greet Erwin. There weren’t any soldiers in the hallways. It was too late at night.

Erwin closed the carriage door, carrying his dufflebag in his right hand, and he approached the front door. Levi held it open for him. Erwin stepped inside, wiping his boots off on the rug, and Levi closed the door behind him.

Without saying anything, the two men walked back up the stairs and to Erwin’s quarters. Levi had cleaned Erwin’s quarters while he was away a few times. And Erwin set his bag down on the round table in the room. Levi lit a candle. Erwin unzipped his bag, brought out a small box which was tied with ribbon and set it down on the table. A tin of tea followed it.

“Those are for you,” Erwin said before he began undressing. Levi went to the table and picked up the tea tin. He read the label. Black tea with a hint of dried orange rind. One of his favorites. He opened the tin and inhaled the aroma of the leaves.

When he looked up, Erwin was smiling down at him. Erwin removed his shirt and tossed it over the back of his arm chair. Levi set the tin of tea down and watched Erwin undress. He never tired of watching Erwin move while they were alone. There was something different about Erwin when no one else was around. He breathed easier.

“Why were you gone so long?” Levi asked. He looked back down at the table and untied the ribbon bow on the box.

“Do you remember Mr. Wyndam?” Erwin asked. Levi shook his head and looked back up at him. “The old man who has a bald head, but he has white hair down to his shoulders, and an unnecessary amount of nose and ear hair?”

Levi sneered at the memory.

“Right,” Erwin said. “That gentlemen. He insisted that I stay at his home a few nights. So I could see his collection of horses.” Levi shook his head and looked back down at the box. “That’s what took so long.”

“Did he give you any money for your time?” Levi asked.

“Yes,” Erwin said. “Expeditions are secure for the next four months.” Levi nodded, and touched the top of the box. “I want to bathe.” Levi took his hand from the gift box. “You can open it now if you like.” Erwin said, leaning down to remove his underwear.

Levi’s attention went back to the box, even though he glanced at Erwin’s nakedness from the corner of his eye. He took the top from the box.

There was a small round cake in the box, covered in a dark brown icing. He lifted the box from the table and smelled of the cake. Chocolate. Levi looked at the size of the cake. It had been expensive.

Erwin planted a kiss in Levi’s hair before he turned to go to the attached bathroom of his quarters. Levi continued to look at the cake. He sat down in Erwin’s chair and smelled of the cake again. There weren’t any utensils in the box, and he didn’t want to eat it with his hands. So Levi set the box back down on the table and replaced the top.

He stood from the chair and began undressing. Erwin’s shower wouldn’t take long. Levi folded his clothes on the table and piled them up neatly. Then, he picked up Erwin’s clothes which had been left haphazardly on the furniture and he folded them. Erwin wasn’t out of the bathroom, and Levi unpacked his bag for him while waiting.

When Erwin stepped out of the bathroom, Levi looked in his direction. He didn’t have to memorize the sight. He had seen it plenty of times. But he did take the time to commit the look of Erwin’s damp, unstyled hair to memory. Before they began spending nights together, Levi had spent hours wondering how Erwin’s hair would feel. Now he knew. But he couldn’t take that for granted. Every month, there was a possibility that Levi would watch Erwin die on the field. A small possibility. But it was very present.

Erwin went straight to bed and pulled the covers down, crawling under them, sighing when he laid his head down on his pillow. Levi crossed the room and blew the candle out. Moonlight flooded the floor, giving enough light to the room for Levi to see some of Erwin’s features. He moved in the dark over to the bed, and Erwin moved over to give Levi some space. Levi crawled under the covers.

He thought he would lay down next to Erwin to rest, but he couldn’t. When he felt Erwin’s body heat, Levi couldn’t stop himself from straddling Erwin’s lap. He leaned forward, found Erwin’s face with his hands, lowered himself and pressed his mouth to Erwin’s.

Erwin’s hands reached for Levi’s biceps and squeezed. Levi closed his eyes, feeling his cock respond, and he opened his mouth, running his tongue along the seam of Erwin’s lips. Erwin opened his mouth and lazily responded to Levi’s kiss.

Knowing that Erwin was tired didn’t stop him. Levi broke the kiss and moved down Erwin’s body. He felt of Erwin’s belly, which quivered under his fingertips, and lower. Erwin was soft, but Levi wrapped a hand around him and stroked. He only had to move his hand a few times before Erwin gasped.

Levi lowered his head and licked the slit of Erwin’s cock slowly, savoring the moment. A week wasn’t long, but it had felt longer to Levi. He didn’t know how to tell Erwin that he had been missed. But he knew that he could show him.

He wrapped his mouth around Erwin’s head and sucked, stroking what he couldn’t swallow. Erwin ran his fingers through Levi’s hair, but there wasn’t much more response. And after a few minutes, Erwin went soft again. Levi took his mouth off of Erwin’s cock, licking, and kissing.

“I’m sorry,” Erwin whispered in the dark. “I’m very tired.”

“Then sleep,” Levi said. He lifted himself off of Erwin, intending to get out of the bed so Erwin could rest. But Erwin wrapped an arm around his back and kept him close. Levi laid down next to him. And he felt Erwin’s hand on his face next. Levi leaned into it, kissed Erwin’s palm a few times. Erwin leaned towards him, and Levi found his mouth in the dark. Levi kissed him gently a few times before sleep began making Erwin’s body limp again.

Levi broke the kiss, laid his head on the pillow, and Erwin did the same. In the dim moonlight, Levi watched Erwin’s face slowly relax as sleep took him. Watching Erwin sleep slightly fascinated him. He wouldn’t admit it, ever. But he enjoyed seeing all of the worry release from Erwin’s forehead. Witnessing all of the stress and concern melt away from Erwin’s face was one of Levi’s secret pleasures.

He picked up Erwin’s right hand, which was resting on his hip, and he laced their fingers together. Levi kissed every knuckle, and Erwin snored quietly in response. He put Erwin’s hand back down, and he winced when Erwin’s eyebrows pulled together in his sleep.

There were nights that Erwin didn’t rest well. Levi had been around on nights that Erwin would talk in his sleep, giving orders in his dreams. Sometimes Erwin would sweat on freezing nights, even if the fire in the fireplace was almost dead.

Levi leaned forward and kissed the place between Erwin’s eyebrows. He saw Erwin’s face relax, and the corners of Erwin’s mouth pulled up. Levi laid his head back down and watched Erwin sleep a while longer.

Only once, Erwin’s mouth moved, but no words came out. Levi’s gaze scanned Erwin from his hair to his neck, looking for signs of stress, and he didn’t see any. Maybe it wasn’t a nightmare.

Carefully, Levi lifted the covers, and he slipped out of the bed. When he wasn’t laying on top of Erwin’s arm anymore, Erwin rolled over onto his other side. He wouldn’t stay that way. Erwin always woke up on his back.

Levi pulled on his underwear and sat down in Erwin’s armchair. He watched the muscles in Erwin’s back tense up and relax in the moonlight. Levi pulled his legs into the chair, and he looked to the box on the table. He picked up the box and pulled off the top. Obviously, he wasn’t going to be able to sleep.

Levi reached into the box and pinched off a small piece of the cake. He put the morsel into his mouth and tasted it. Chocolate cake with chocolate icing. More expensive than he had expected. He had expected white cake with chocolate icing. That would have reasonable.

When he swallowed, Levi looked back at Erwin’s sleeping form. He realized that the relationship they had formed, beyond their working relationship, was dangerous. If they continued to spend nights together, to share sentimental moments, it could have a negative affect. Levi knew that if anything ever happened to Erwin, it would hurt. If Erwin died first, Levi wasn’t sure what he would do, besides continuing to be a soldier. But he felt closer to Erwin than anyone else in his life, dead or alive. Even before they began spending nights together, Levi knew that he wanted to follow Erwin to the death.

His mind began exploring the possibility that Erwin would favor his life on the battlefield. There may come a time that Erwin sacrificed other soldiers or a mission to save Levi. But Levi felt his facial expression respond to the idea. His own eyebrows pulled together in disbelief. Erwin wasn’t that type of person. He valued the salvation of humanity above everything.

Levi reached into the box, separated another small piece of the cake and ate it. He liked that the cake was sweet but still had a slightly bitter taste. Purely sweet wasn’t good enough. And Erwin knew that too.

Chapter Text

Erwin stared at the ceiling which was bathed in dim firelight. He thought that he had actually been sleepy before he laid down. But as soon as his head hit the pillow, images that he had unknowingly collected throughout the day had come back to him. When he closed his eyes, they flashed behind his lids, fast and unrelenting, causing a tingling in the back of his skull which would not allow him to sleep.

Levi looked tired when he had come to Erwin’s office that morning for instructions. Later, when Erwin looked out of his office window onto the training field, he saw Levi standing, crossed arms, rather than down on the ground with the soldiers doing push-ups. That concerned him. But he brushed it off in favor of finishing a stack of paperwork. Later, at tea time, Levi only had a single cup of tea before he said he was retiring for the night.

Erwin opened his eyes again. He had seen Levi do all of these things before, and there hadn’t been anything wrong. But Levi’s body looked different today. His eyes didn’t have the typical fierce shine. When he had leaned over the desk to look at some reports Erwin wanted to show him, Erwin felt a uncharacteristic crackling of tension. And that wasn’t Levi. The air around Levi was smooth and quiet at headquarters. Erwin didn’t feel Levi’s lightening until they were on the battlefield.

He sat up in bed and pushed the covers back, quickly reassembling his uniform. Just a quick check-up was fine. Levi didn’t have to know that he had been laying in bed while thinking about it. There would be nothing out of sorts about checking on the Captain.

After pulling on his boots, Erwin stood from the bed and walked over to the door of his room. He realized that he was stomping, and he reminded himself to be quieter. It was late.

Closing the bedroom door behind himself, he walked to Levi’s room, making sure that his steps were more calculated, less hurried. He needed Levi to believe that he was simply stopping by because he saw the flicker of candle light. They both had trouble sleeping. It was believable.

There wasn’t any light coming from under Levi’s door. Erwin hesitated, but he could feel that he was right.

Erwin knocked on the door. He put his fist behind his back with the other one. For a moment, he considered that Levi might have fallen asleep, but his gut told him otherwise. Levi wasn’t in the room at all. Erwin twisted the doorknob and opened the door.

An empty made-up bed. An empty chair. A dark, stale room without even a hint of tea smell. Erwin shook his head, closed the door, and went back to his room.

He put on his 3DMG in the dark, staring off into space, worry flooding the creases of his brain while he secured the belts. Muscle memory guided his hands. He threw on his green cape to shield against the cold.

When he left his room that time, he didn’t care that he was stomping through the headquarters.

His feet lead him to the stable, and he found exactly what he expected. One missing horse. A pretty mare who only had one master and was quick to let everyone know that no one would handle her but him.

Erwin opened the stable door for his white stallion, and he looked a bit grumpy at being disturbed, but Erwin bribed him with half an apple and promised the rest afterwards in a whisper. The stallion responded with a slow blink.

When Erwin pressed his heels into the horse’s sides, he allowed the horse to go slowly while he was waking up, but he increased the pace the closer they came to the Titan Form Training Forest. Part of him felt guilty for only giving the horse half of the apple when he was already pushing him so hard, in the dark. Thankfully, Levi had chosen a night of full moon. Erwin mentally promised that the horse would get a carrot too, extra oats. He would buy the animal all of the strawberries it could eat with his own money, but he could only think of Levi in the dark forest. What could possibly be wrong in Levi’s mind that he was so restless to wander away from the headquarters at such a dark hour.

At the edge of the forest, Erwin’s horse slid to a stop, complained with a roaring neigh, that he wasn’t going into the dark trees if there weren’t any Titans around to force him, and Erwin didn’t blame him. Erwin dismounted, calmed his horse, who had somehow sensed Erwin’s anxiety, and Erwin rewarded him with the other half of apple, whispering to him and stroking his white face. The stallion ate the apple, begrudgingly, and Erwin stayed with him until the horse snorted, white steam billowing from his nostrils.

“I know it’s rude to ask, but please wait on me,” Erwin whispered. The horse didn’t make any promises.

Erwin turned and walked into the forest, listening while he moved for the sounds of cables being anchored, or the cutting wind while Levi’s small form forced its way through the air. There was only silence besides the sounds of Erwin’s boots pressing down grass and breaking twigs.

In fact, he walked long enough that he thought he had been wrong. There weren’t any signs of Levi or his horse. For several chilling minutes, Erwin wondered if Levi had finally decided to run. They had only spoken of it briefly months before, what it would be like to abandon their posts, flee the walls, take their chances with Titans. Wouldn’t it be better than the constant scrutiny? Wouldn’t constant threat of personal extinction be better than the funeral procession that happened every time they returned from a mission? During the conversation, Erwin knew that Levi was allowing him to have the fantasy. The population loved Levi. He brought hope. Erwin was the figurehead of their failure. The fantasy had been much more for Erwin than Levi. But while he walked, Erwin wondered if Levi had felt the pressure and had simply been too kind to say anything. The true terror came from the idea that Levi might have abandoned him.

Until he heard the stomping of hooves.

Erwin lifted his head, not even realizing that he was looking at the ground while he walked, and turned right.

The dark mare was directly in front of him, only 13 meters. She stomped her hooves, disturbed that anyone else besides her master would be out in the night. Erwin approached her, and she startled more. He stopped three meters away from her.

“It’s me,” Erwin said. The mare stilled for a moment, staring at him. The horse recognized him, but she snorted, and stomped her hooves in further challenge.

Over the sound of disgruntled horse, Erwin heard the firing of 3DMG. He froze, listening. Then, it stopped, somewhere behind him.

“It’s just me, girl,” Erwin said.

“Do you get a kick out scaring horses in general, or just mine?” Levi asked, deadpan. The horse snorted again, as if to agree. Erwin smiled, backed away from the horse until his back touched a tree, probably the tree that Levi was standing in, but it was difficult to be sure.

“I didn’t mean to scare her,” Erwin said. “She’s just very picky about her company when you aren’t around, it seems.”

“What are you doing out here, Erwin?” Levi asked. Erwin mouth filled with saliva. He hadn’t thought of a reason at all. There was no good explanation except that he wanted to be near Levi. He swallowed.

“I couldn’t sleep,” Erwin said. Levi didn’t respond. But Erwin heard the running of cables. To his left, twigs snapped, and he turned his head. Levi had landed on the ground, and he pulled his anchors from the tree.

Levi stepped over to him, and Erwin leaned away from the tree, turning his body towards Levi. When Levi looked up at him, the moon caught his gray eyes and changed them to a lighter, more silver color. Erwin felt the air in his lungs catch when he saw them. But the lightning was almost visible around Levi.

Why did he come out here just because he couldn’t sleep?

Levi’s eyes scanned him, searching his face for something. Erwin simply smiled softly.

“Did you need me for something?” Levi asked. The question tumbled in Erwin’s brain, and he knew the answer. But admitting it felt wrong. Levi shifted, adjusting his feet, waiting on the answer.

“I’ve never known you to come out here when you couldn’t sleep,” Erwin said. “I was concerned.”

“Yeah?”

Erwin only nodded.

“Still think I’m going to run out on you after all of this time?” Levi asked.

Erwin laughed, maybe a bit nervously. But Levi didn’t laugh. When the silence filled the space between them, Erwin felt badly for laughing. He had thought of it on his way out there. How Levi had guessed, he would never know.

“I’m the one who should be worried,” Levi said. Erwin raised his eyebrows.

“I wouldn’t abandon my post, Levi,” Erwin said. “That was supposed to be a harmless discussion.”

“Maybe not on your horse, but that shit you pulled during the last expedition was fucking unnecessary,” Levi snapped. Erwin leaned back, as if Levi had swiped at him. His eyebrows furrowed.

“I was doing what had to be done,” Erwin said.

“It was fucking stupid.”

“The entire unit next to me needed assistance, Levi, I couldn’t simply move forward without-”

“There were plenty of others that could have helped,” Levi said. “You knew it. You’ve only been Commander for a year and you’re tired of being in the safe spot already?”

A cloud flew over the moon and dropped darkness over them. Erwin was glad, because he didn’t want memorize the rage in Levi’s eyes.

“There is no safe spot,” Erwin said.

“If something like that happens, wait for me,” Levi said, quieter this time. “Just wait for me, and I’ll come to you, Erwin.”

“There wasn’t any time, Levi.”

“Fucking delegate like a real leader then,” Levi said. “If I ever have to pull you out of a Titan mouth again, you’ll fucking wish you were dead.”

The tone was strange. The way that Levi said it didn’t match the words. And when the cloud moved away from the moon again, Erwin saw that the rage in Levi’s eyes had melted to something else. Levi tried to change it when the light came back, he tried to cover it up with anything else, something harder to shield what was really there. But Erwin saw it. And that was enough.

Erwin grabbed both of Levi’s biceps, pulled him forward, leaned down, tilted his head, and pressed his mouth to Levi’s. At first, Levi tensed in his arms, even tried to pull away, but he stopped dead when their lips met. Erwin closed his eyes, parted his lips, tasted Levi’s bottom lip. He could feel the tension melting from Levi’s muscles. The lightning had subsided to that calm, flowing feeling, and Erwin sighed when Levi opened his mouth, showing just how warm he could be on the inside.

Chapter Text

“I don’t think this is where the clue is supposed to be leading us, Hange,” Moblit said. Erwin didn’t mind. He was just glad to be outside of his apartment for a little while.

“You said that the last time that I found a geocache,” Hange said. She stopped at a public mail box and opened the metal flap of the deposit slot, checking the inside. Erwin smiled.
“Maybe it’s in one of these shops,” he said. They had already eaten lunch, but he felt like he could have a cup of coffee or tea.

Erwin wasn’t very interested in geocaching anymore. The mystery of finding hidden objects appealed to him at first. But he lost interest shortly afterwards. Hange never slowed down though. She tried to find at least three of them a week. And Moblit agreed to go with her every time, even if she had already found the clue before.

Small businesses lined this street though, and Erwin always liked looking at them. He never considered owning a business of his own. And once he realized how quickly shops closed down, replaced by new ones, he decided that there was too much risk involved. But it was a very romantic idea to him, working for himself. Most of the shops on this street were boutiques, or specialty food shops. Many of them had their doors open, letting in the cool autumn air.

“Hange,” Moblit said, a bit under his breath. Erwin stopped walking and turned his attention back to both of them. He smiled when he saw that Hange was looking under a dumpster in an alley. “It’s not going to be under there!”

“You don’t know!”

“No decent human is going to put a geocache under a dumpster!” Moblit fumed. Hange slid out from under the dumpster, sat up, and glared at him.

“This is not a decent game,” Hange said, and Erwin had to restrain a laugh. She was too serious about the entire thing. A rustling sound came from a stack of cardboard boxes that were next to the dumpster. Erwin looked at them, and then the boxes moved.

“Hange! There’s a rat in there! Get up!” Moblit moved forward to help her stand, but Hange leaned over towards the boxes and moved one carefully.

A young white cat jumped out of the top box, over Hange, past Moblit and landed near Erwin’s feet. Before Erwin could even register what happened, the cat began running down the sidewalk at full speed. Until it slammed its face into one of the glass doors of the bakery and tea shop three doors down. Erwin winced. The cat fell over onto its side and didn’t move anything except for the end of its tail.

Erwin abandoned Hange and Moblit to go check on the cat, but carefully though, because it was obviously irritated. Before he could reach the cat, a young man walked out of the bakery and tea shop, and he picked up the cat nonchalantly. Erwin stopped walking and watched him.

The man was short, much shorter than Erwin, and he had shiny black hair, which was pulled up into a bun on top of his head. He also had an undercut, and Erwin couldn’t stop his feet from moving forward.

The man from the shop turned the cat over on its back and held it like a baby. As Erwin approached, he heard the man speaking to the cat.

“You’re still cute even if you’re a dumbass,” he said to the cat.

“Hello,” Erwin said.

“Hey,” he said, stepping back to let Erwin pass into the shop.

“Is that your cat?” Erwin asked. The man looked up at him finally, and Erwin saw that his eyes were gray. They were striking.

“No, it’s just some neighborhood stray,” he said. “But this is the third time that it’s run into our door this year.”

“Oh,” Erwin said with a smile, almost laughing.

“I would take it home, but I can’t have pets at my apartment,” he said, looking back down at the grumpy cat in his arms. It looked alright. Pissed off with its tail still twitching, but uninjured.
“You should sneak it into your apartment,” Erwin suggested. The man looked back up at him, and his dark, thin eyebrows pulled together. “Take it into your apartment. Hide it during inspections.” An extreme frown covered the man’s face, and Erwin continued to smile.

“Are you suggesting that I violate my lease for a cat?” he asked.

“A cat who needs a home where it can stay out of trouble,” Erwin said. “Obviously, running into the same glass door three times in a year is a cry for help.” Finally, the man smirked, and Erwin felt lightening shoot up his backbone.

“Are you coming in?” he asked.

“Yes,” Erwin said.

“Do you know those two?” he nodded his head towards Erwin. Erwin had forgotten about them, honestly. He turned around, and he saw Moblit and Hange standing behind him, grinning but otherwise well behaved.

“Tea?” Erwin asked them.

“Hange smells,” Moblit said. “We’re going home.”

“I found the geocache! It was on the other side of the dumpster,” she said. But Moblit was already pulling her away.

Erwin turned back around and walked into the bakery and tea shop. The man, followed him in, holding the cat.

“Will you get in trouble for having the cat at work?” Erwin asked.

“No,” he said. Erwin went to the counter to order, and he looked at the menu. The man took the cat to the “Employees Only” area, and he returned quickly, washing his hands at the sink behind the counter. There were too many options on the menu, and Erwin was too distracted by the man behind the counter to focus.

“What’s your name?” Erwin asked.

“Levi.”

Erwin nodded.

“What should I have, Levi?” Erwin asked. Levi looked at the specials menu. Everything was pumpkin flavored. Erwin didn’t want to drink anything pumpkin flavored.

“Do you want food or just tea?” Levi asked.

“Just tea,” Erwin said.

“You can’t go wrong with Earl Grey,” he said. Erwin smiled.

“That sounds good.”

Erwin paid for his tea, and he waited while Levi put tea leaves into a pot of boiled water. Levi set a timer. When the timer stopped, Levi poured the tea through a strainer over a to-go cup.

“No tea bags?” Erwin asked.

“Nope.”

“Do you have a lot of customers who ask that?”

“Yep. Some of them even ask for a tea bag, but my mom has a strict policy against them,” Levi said.

“Your mother owns this shop?”

“We both do,” Levi said.

Erwin smiled. He liked watching Levi work. Levi put a lid on the to-go cup, and he brought it to Erwin.

“Thank you.”

“No problem,” Levi said.

“What will you name the cat?” Erwin asked, lifting the to-go cup to his face. The tea was still too hot to drink, but it had a wonderful aroma. Levi leaned against the counter.

“I haven’t even thought of that yet,” he said. Levi rubbed the back of his neck, and Erwin wondered if Levi’s undercut was soft.

“You have time,” Erwin said. He took the lid off of his cup, to let the tea cool faster. “I’d like to come back tomorrow for some more tea and ask about the name you chose.” Levi shrugged.
“Or I could text it to you after I pick one.” Erwin raised his eyebrows.

“I’d like that,” he said.

They exchanged numbers by Erwin calling Levi’s phone. Erwin left the shop with a wide smile on his face.

Later that night, while Erwin was eating ice cream directly from the container and watching Myth Busters, he received a text.

Levi: What do you think of the name Bleach?

Erwin: Like the anime?”

Levi: No like the cleaning product

Erwin: That’s unusual.

Levi: It’s one of my favorite things and it’s easy to yell

Erwin: I take it that things are going well.

Levi: I haven’t been able to find her for an hour

Erwin: The cat is female?”

Levi: She has no balls

Erwin: That’s a good indication that she is, in fact, female.

Levi: Do you think she could have crawled out through the air duct?

Erwin: I doubt it. Or you would hear echoes of meowing. She’ll come out when she’s ready.

Levi: Since you convinced me to bring her home I guess you can pay the fee when the property manager discovers her

Erwin: Or I could take you out for dinner

Levi: That will work

Erwin: I could pick you up on Friday at 7:00 and say hello to Bleach

Levi didn’t text back immediately. Erwin waited, but there was no sign of Levi responding. He put his phone down, put the ice cream away, and continued watching Myth Busters. Erwin’s phone rang twenty minutes later. Another text from Levi.

Levi: Multimedia Message Contact Card
Levi also sent a picture of Bleach, who was eating some wet cat food out of a glass dish.

Levi: If she knows the sound of a can opener maybe she wasn’t always a stray

Erwin: I’m sure that she’s glad to have a home again

Levi: I’ll see you on Friday

Chapter Text

Erwin was confident in many areas of his life. But he struggled with creating romantic relationships. In the past, he had several relationships. He felt as if they were serious, but he wasn't sure how his former partners felt. Because he never asked. Which made it even more surprising when they left. Part of his problem was lack of effort. When he was in school, he focused on his studies. When he graduated with his degree, he threw himself into networking and job searching. And finally, when he was employed, he focused on work. Every ended relationship causes his career oriented tunnel-vision to become more severe.

After Mike and Nanaba's wedding, Erwin turned to online dating. At first, he was surprised by how many people made contact with him. Erwin enjoyed first dates, and the websites he used gave him a lot of opportunities for those initial encounters. But he realized quickly that second dates were going to be unusual. Third dates were rare. And even though he was making an effort to find someone, he was still going home to an empty house.

In Erwin's long list of bad dates, there were two that stuck out the most.

Lily, a beautiful and charming 30 year old woman, stunned Erwin during their first date. They discussed work first. Her perspective as a female firefighter intrigued Erwin so much that they didn't notice when their dinner was served, and it was cold by the time they began eating. Erwin tried not to bore her by talking about analyzing budgets for General Motors, but it couldn't compare to her stories. She leaned in closer and asked questions anyway.

After they finished their cold dinners, Erwin asked if she wanted to get ice cream at a local creamery. The expression of her face fell into devastation, and Erwin wondered what he had said wrong. But then she said:

“I'm sorry. I went there with my ex all of the time.”

“Oh,” Erwin said. “Do you want to talk about him?”

He expected her to say no. But she didn't. Erwin learned everything about Tommy, including the color of Tommy's pubic hair. The way Tommy laughed. How he proposed marriage. And the way Lily told her stories about Tommy intrigued him just as much as her stories of fighting fires. They sat in the restaurant so long that the waiter asked them to leave, and they went to McDonald's to get McFlurries and talk more about Tommy. By the end of the date, Lily was leaving Tommy a voicemail, and she kissed Erwin's cheeks before they went to their separate cars. Erwin didn't realize what had happened until he was at home. He swore to himself he would never tell anyone.

He broke down and told Nile the next day. Nile told everyone. Marie sent Erwin a fruit basket to his workplace because she felt so badly for him.

The other date, with Raymond, was worse. They went to dinner, and Raymond seemed to be enjoying himself. He worked for Google, and Erwin was really interested in what it meant to be the Program Manager for Logistics in Data Center Operations because it was such a long job title. Most of what Raymond said was confusing, and Erwin thought that he wasn't intelligent enough to understand what Raymond did exactly.

They went to a movie after dinner, and Erwin left the movie for ten minutes to use the restroom. When he came back, Raymond was gone. Erwin decided that Raymond had to pee too, so he took his seat and anxiously waited for Raymond to come back. Raymond didn't come back for thirty minutes. Erwin was too worried to wait, so he checked all of the men's restrooms. Raymond wasn't in any of them. He walked outside, and Raymond's car was gone. Erwin called Moblit for a ride. He told Moblit he didn't want to talk about it once he was in the car. Moblit was too embarrassed to press for information. Hange pulled the entire story out of Erwin the next time she saw him. She suggested that Raymond was in the witness protection program, and the wrong person saw him. Erwin told her that was ridiculous. He researched the practices of the witness protection program for a week.

That's how Erwin became a 35 year old bachelor with very little to lose in the area of romance.

And it's why he agreed to let Nanaba set him up with someone that she met through her cousin's best friend's fiancé's personal trainer.

The personal trainer part interested Erwin, but he knew enough about blind dates to know not to expect much. Blind dates weren't known for their success. But Nanaba claimed that Levi Ackerman's crossfit class almost broke her in half. And Levi felt so bad for her by the time they were done, he hosted a yoga class for her, her cousin, her cousin's best friend, and the best friend's fiancé. That type of kindness gave Erwin some hope that Levi wouldn't be another Raymond or Lily.

The Uber driver, Darren, parked the car.

“You look good.”

“Thank you, Darren,” Erwin said. Erwin had blurted out all of the details about his blind date to Darren about half a mile from his home.

“Enjoy your date, Erwin,” Darren said. Erwin leaned over in the back seat and checked his hair in the rearview mirror once before he exited the vehicle.

Nanaba had chosen the place. A nice, reasonably priced Italian restaurant. She told both Erwin and Levi that they would pay for their own meals, their own drinks. It wasn't negotiable. She made the reservation under her name. Both of them were supposed to use Uber.

Nanaba asserting so much control made Erwin nervous. It seemed like she expected things to go badly.

Erwin entered the restaurant, removed his coat in the lobby, nervously smoothed his hair back before stepping into the restaurant. A young woman with platinum blond hair greeted him, and he told her the name of the reservation.

“This way,” she said, grabbing two menus. She led Erwin to a small, round table in the corner of the building that was separated from the main dining area, and Erwin sat with his back against the wall. He picked up the menu, smiled at the hostess when she said the server would be by soon for his drink order.

Erwin pushed his hair down again and checked his phone for the time.

Levi wasn't late. Erwin was ten minutes early.

He couldn't help it.

Erwin wondered if he would look sloppy if he ordered some straight whiskey, and he decided to wait. Maybe start with some water. Drink some wine with his meal. Work his way up to the whiskey when he decided whether he liked his date or not.

“Right here, sir.”

Erwin looked up from his menu. The hostess was showing another guest to the table where Erwin was sitting, and Erwin stood.

Levi was short. So short that he had to tilt his head up when he looked Erwin in the eye. And he had lovely, dark hair. He was also wearing jeans and a hoodie, which made Erwin question whether he was overdressed in his slacks and button down or if Levi was under-dressed.

“Are you Levi Ackerman?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

Erwin offered his hand, and Levi took it.

“I'm Erwin Smith,” Erwin smiled at him. “It's nice to meet you.” Levi looked at Erwin's hand, shook it, and returned his hand to his hoodie pocket when they were finished.

“You too,” Levi said. Erwin sat back down, and he was staring. He knew he was staring, but Levi wasn't looking directly at him at the moment.

Levi was short, yes. And Erwin liked that. He had light blue eyes. His hair was short with an undercut. He looked tired.

Levi sat down, unzipped his hoodie, pulled it off and let it drape against the back of the chair. Erwin's eyes traced Levi's forearms. His t-shirt had the letters MMA across his chest in gold.

“What do you like to eat here?” Levi asked. Erwin looked at Levi's eyes.

“I've never been here before,” Erwin said, sitting up farther in his chair and picking up his menu again, pretending to read it. He wanted this date to go well. But neither of them said a word while they looked at the menu. And Erwin wondered if that was a good sign. Thankfully, the server didn't make them wait too long.

“Hello, gentlemen. My name is Natalie, and I'll be your server. What can I get you to drink?”

“Water,” Erwin said.

“Water with lemon.”

“Any appetizers for you tonight?” Natalie asked.

“The bruschetta please,” Erwin said.

“Absolutely,” she said.

“I'm ready to order the entree,” Levi said, putting down his menu. “Are you?” Erwin glanced at the menu again.

“Yes. Um,” Erwin said. He wasn't prepared at all. But he took a chance. “I'll have the grilled chicken Cesar salad please.” That seemed like a safe choice. Pretty healthy.

“And for you, sir?” she asked Levi.

“Alright,” Levi said, sitting up farther in his chair and looking at Natalie. “Are you ready?” Erwin looked up from the menu at Levi, then to Natalie, who lifted her eyebrows.

“Yes, sir.”

“I want two whole flank steaks with mozzarella between Italian bread with grilled onions and peppers.” Levi closed his menu and held it out for Natalie to take. Erwin closed his menu a bit hard, and held his out as well. As soon as Natalie had finished writing on her ticket, she took the menus.

“That's not on the menu, sir, but I'll ask if the manager how much it will cost if you like,” she said. Levi shook his head.

“I've had it here before,” he said.

“I'll be right back with your bruschetta,” Natalie said with a smile. Erwin watched her walk away.

Levi, the personal trainer, ordered some sort of meat monstrosity, and Erwin had only ordered a salad. When he looked back at Levi, he expected some kind of prodding about it. So he had to say something first.

“You've eaten here before?” Erwin asked. Levi nodded.

“Yeah,” Levi said. “I told Nanaba that I would go on this date if we could eat here.” Erwin raised his eyebrows.

“You must have gotten to her first,” Erwin said. “I tried to get her to set us up at McGuire's.” Levi nodded.

“That's a nice place,” he said. “Too expensive though.” Erwin wondered if Levi didn't make as much money as he had guessed. He had never thought about a personal trainer's salary. “I'm so fucking hungry,” Levi said. He relaxed in his chair. Erwin felt the corners of his mouth tilt up. “I've been eating almonds all day to try and stay full.” Erwin smiled, smiled so wide that he lifted his hand to cover it. “What?” Levi asked, sounding a bit annoyed.

“I just,” Erwin shook his head. “You starved all day so you could eat the sandwich you ordered?”

“Yeah,” Levi said. “I have one trash meal every other Saturday.” Erwin chuckled, and dropped his hand to brush at the table cloth. When he looked at Levi, he saw that Levi was inspecting the table cloth too, brushing at it.

Natalie came back with their waters and a bowl of sliced lemons. Erwin drank some of his water and avoided eye contact with Levi for a reason he didn't understand. Levi squeezed some of the lemon into his water, and then slid the bowl of lemons to Erwin.

“I don't like lemon very much,” Erwin said.

“It helps you hydrate,” Levi said. Erwin looked at the sliced lemons and considered trying it.

“Do you enjoy being a personal trainer?” Erwin asked. Levi nodded.

“It's alright,” he said. “This gym I'm working with now pays better than the ones that I've been in before. But I'm planning on going independent in a few years.” Erwin raised his eyebrows. That was his cue.

“Why?”

“Personal trainers don't get paid as much in a corporate gym,” Levi said. “If you go independent and set your own prices, you can get paid what your training is worth.” Erwin nodded.

“Why would you work for a gym first then?”

“To build clientele,” Levi said. “Get a reputation.” Erwin tilted his head, thinking about what Levi said. And Levi didn't offer to lead the conversation. But silence fell over the table. He had prepared for this. He had some topics chosen to make sure that conversation kept moving, hopefully naturally. “Nanaba said you handle someone else's money for a living.” Erwin realized that he had zoned out for a moment.

“I do,” he said. “I'm a budget analyst for GM.”

“General Motors?” Levi asked. Erwin nodded. “Can you afford to live alone?” Erwin's eyebrows pulled together. He hadn't thought of that. Levi couldn't afford to live alone.

“Yes.”

“Lucky,” Levi said, drinking some of his water. “I have four roommates.” Erwin cringed. “Yeah. It took me two weeks to teach them how to clean.”

“Were they very messy before?”

“Not really, but they used the dishwasher for pots and pans. I don't think they ever washed an oven mitt before I moved in.” Erwin felt his hairline itch. He never washed his oven mitts.

Natalie brought the bruschetta, and Erwin immediately began eating while Levi watched.

“Please have some,” Erwin said, pushing the plate towards Levi. “I won't tell Nanaba that I didn't let you pay for it, if you don't tell her.” Levi smirked at him, and Erwin felt warmth on the back of his neck. Then, Levi ate one piece of bruschetta. “What did Nanaba tell you about me?” Levi shrugged.

“Your her husband's best friend,” Levi said, drinking some more of his water. Erwin watched Levi's throat move when he drank. And when Levi licked his lips, Erwin felt drool collect in his mouth.

To distract himself, Erwin reached over to the bowl of lemons and dropped one into his water.

“You need to squeeze it.” Erwin looked at Levi. He stared for so long that he realized Levi's eyes were gray, not blue. Levi adjusted in his seat, reached in his pocket and pulled out a bottle of hand sanitizer. Erwin watched while Levi sanitized his hands. Then, Levi reached over to the bowl of lemons, picked one up, wrapped his other hand around it so the juice wouldn't squirt everywhere, and he squeeze lemon juice into Erwin's water before dropping it in the cup. “Like that.” Erwin watched Levi's hands. And when Levi dried his hands off with his napkin, Erwin pushed the lemon down a bit with his straw He drank some of his water and nodded. “Not bad, right?” Erwin shook his head.

He liked watching Levi move. He liked hearing Levi speak.

“What did Nanaba tell you about me?” Levi asked. Erwin looked at him again, feeling blush threatening to rise into his cheeks. Because he could only think of what Nanaba hadn't told him. She didn't mention that Levi's voice was so sexy. Or that he had beautiful eyes.

“You're a personal trainer who almost ruined her in a crossfit class,” Erwin said. Levi laughed, and Erwin felt his face turn hot. Levi had a gorgeous smile. And then, Levi ran his hand through his hair, which almost knocked Erwin out of his chair.

“Well,” Levi said, shrugging. “She got free yoga out of it. So she can't complain.”

“I thought that was very kind of you,” Erwin blurted. Levi looked at him, and Erwin couldn't think of anything to smooth out the compliment. And Levi crossed his arms, sinking into his chair a bit further. Erwin couldn't imagine what that meant, other than Levi was shutting him out somehow. “What are you roommates like? What are their names?” Erwin liked Levi, but Levi's body language was confusing.

“Petra's a nurse,” Levi said. “Her husband Oluo is a used car salesman. Gunter works at Publix. And Eld works at a pool supply store.”

“Which one?” Erwin asked.

“Leslie's.”

“Oh,” Erwin said. “I buy my chlorine from there.”

“You have a pool?” Levi asked. Erwin nodded.

“A hot tub too,” he said. The image of Levi in the hot tub intruded Erwin's thoughts.

“Which Leslie's? The one on Grady Street?”

“Oh, no,” Erwin said, shaking his head, trying to clear the image. “I buy from the one on the Parkway. It's closer to my house.” Levi nodded. “They're always very helpful.”

Natalie brought their food then, and they both sat up to eat. Erwin watched while Natalie set Levi's plate down. The sandwich was so big that the chef had put the flank steaks on half of a loaf of Italian bread that was sliced down the middle rather than two bread slices. There were also fries on the plate. It looked delicious. Then, Erwin looked at his salad, which looked appetizing, but not as much.

A idea came to Erwin.

“Levi?” he asked. Levi looked at him. “May I use some of your hand sanitizer?” Levi reached into his pocket and held out the bottle. When Erwin reached out to grab it, he touched one of Levi's fingers and hoped that Levi didn't mind. Erwin sanitized his hands and gave the bottle back to Levi. Levi brushed his thumb over Erwin's forefinger that time. Erwin had to drink some water before he could eat. His throat felt tight. Levi began cutting his sandwich.

Erwin munched on his salad a bit while he watched Levi cut the sandwich into smaller portions so they would be easier to hold. It was so much food.

“Can you really eat all of that?” Erwin asked with a smile before he ate another bite. Levi gave him a look, which was almost a glare.

“I eat 3000 calories a day,” Levi said. “Yes. I'm going to eat all of it, salad man.” Erwin had to cover his mouth while he almost laughed with his mouth full. Levi took a bite of his sandwich and looked at Erwin, grinning.

“Salad man?” Erwin asked, after he swallowed.

“You weren't ready to order when I asked,” Levi said. “We could have waited.”

“I didn't want to slow you down,” Erwin said. Levi stopped chewing and looked away. “If I had known you had eaten here before, I would have asked for a recommendation.” Levi's gray eyes went back to Erwin.

“Is your salad good?” Levi asked.

“Yes,” Erwin said. “Would you like a bite?” Levi hesitated before he nodded, and Erwin slid the bowl closer. Levi picked up one part of his sandwich and put it on the side of Erwin's bowl before he took a bite of Erwin's salad.

Erwin tried the sandwich and verbally responded with a satisfied sigh.

“Levi,” Erwin said, shaking his head, looking at the bread, cheese and meat, the perfectly cooked onions and peppers. When he looked to Levi to say how good the food was, he noticed that Levi was blushing. That's when he realized how he had sighed, almost moaned. He felt like the back of his neck was sweating. Erwin scanned Levi's face, savoring the sight. He liked the way Levi looked when he was red. Erwin swallowed. “Umm..”

“Do you want to get out of here?” Levi asked.

“I'll get the Uber,” Erwin said, pulling out his phone, working fast. “We can go to my place-”

“Let's pack up the food and eat after we-”

“Natalie!” Erwin stood from his chair. He pulled his wallet out of his pocket and counted out five twenties. Natalie walked into the room where they were dining. Levi was pulling his hoodie back on.

“Is something wrong?”

“Not at all,” Erwin said. “We have an emergency.” He took Natalie's hand and shoved the money into her palm. “Keep the change, but please bring us some to-go boxes quickly.”

Natalie ran out of the room, came back with to go boxes, a plastic bag, and to-go cups of water with lemon which were in a cardboard drink carrier.

“Thank you so much,” she said. “I hope everything is okay.”

“Everything is fine,” Levi said, dumping his plate into the to-go box.

“It's a good emergency,” Erwin said, flipping the bowl of salad over into his styrofoam box and throwing the bruschetta on top of it, scattering the tomatoes. Levi put the boxes in a bag. Erwin practically chased Levi out of the restaurant. Darren was waiting for them in the parking lot.

Chapter Text

In the basement of the MP headquarters, Erwin lost track of time easily. He didn't know how long he had been chained to the wall. His legs trembled so much that he couldn't stand anymore. The pain was intolerable, and he didn't have a firm grasp on reality anymore.

And he thought of Levi anyway.

In his mind, he knew that Levi was still fighting. Levi was still pulling strings, directing people, demanding that the war continue, because he wouldn't know what else to do. Erwin knew he would feel the same. If Levi had been taken, Erwin knew he wouldn't be able to rest until Levi was free. Maybe he wouldn't dedicate his entire day to demand Levi's freedom. The uprising couldn't be reduced to a secondary goal. But he would call on connections that he normally refused to use to see Levi free again.

Without Levi at his side, he was weaker. Levi gave him such strength that he could feel the difference when Levi was near. At the Survey Corps headquarters, he knew when Levi was in the building and when he was away.

If Levi was gone, Erwin didn't have as much stamina. He couldn't think as clearly. He drank more tea to try and power through paperwork. When Levi was near, Erwin had a cup of tea a day, the one Levi made for him at night. That was all he needed.

Erwin wanted Levi to be with him. It was selfish. He hated himself for wanting it, for wanting Levi to take part in the interrogation only to have him near. But it was true. He imagined Levi chained next time him, cursing quietly, suffering the same way.

That's what he had done to Levi anyway. He had allowed Levi to suffer at his side since he took him from the Underground.

Erwin tried to swallow, but his mouth was too dry. He lifted his head, and he felt the sensation of stones rolling around in his skull. One eye was swollen shut, but he saw the water cup on his right side. He was unable to reach it with his left arm. It had been placed on the side with his stump purposely. Legally, they weren't supposed to deny water unless the prisoner was being actively interrogated. But they put the water cup on his armless side.

Soon, they might come back and dump a bucket of water over him. It would sting some of his fresh wounds, but he would be able to drink what dropped from his hair.

They said they would hang him the next day. The gallows were being built. Erwin didn't doubt it. In his bones, he knew that Levi wouldn't stand for it. Levi would get himself killed trying to free Erwin. And Erwin wished that he had a way to stop Levi.

But he wasn't ready to die. He still had not seen the basement in Shiganshina. Of course, he wanted to live. He wanted to win the war. Eliminate the Titans. But he wanted the truth too. He wanted to see the world beyond the wall.

Erwin looked around the room, and he saw Levi sitting on the floor, leaning against one of the wooden pillars that supported the ceiling, knees pulled up. Levi was dressed in the clothes that he wore while he was on light duty. His white shirt, dark pants. And he had Erwin's black jacket draped over his knees.

“Can you still hear?” Levi asked. Erwin swallowed. He wanted to say something, but he couldn't.

Yes.

“Good,” Levi said. “You're not going to lose your eye. It's just swollen.” Erwin closed his eyes and rested his head against the wall behind him. “If they try to hang you, I'll stop it.”

Don't.

“You expect me to stand back and watch?”

You don't have to watch. But you shouldn't stop it.

“It doesn't count if you can't say it,” Levi said. “Try for the water again. Use your feet.” Erwin opened his eye. He looked around, the room swirling, Levi's image breaking. And he found the water cup on his right side. “Both feet.” Erwin pressed his whipped back against the hard wall and twisted in place. He had to almost lay down on the floor to be parallel with the wall. When he was positioned to reach for the cup, Erwin leaned over on his left hand as much as he could. The cuff around his wrist pressed into his skin hard. He reached over to the cup with his feet. “Slower, old man.” Erwin wanted to swallow so badly. He moved his feet slower, reached the cup. He grasped it between his two feet, gently bent his knees, dragging the cup closer. “Dumbasses didn't consider your weird, hairy feet.”

Erwin pulled the cup as close between his legs as he could. Then, he took his feet from the cup, gripped the cup between his thighs and adjusted himself to the more comfortable position of sitting with his back against the wall. Some of the water spilled onto his pants, but the majority of it was still in the cup.

Once he was comfortable again, Erwin reached between his legs with his left hand and lifted the cup to his swollen, split lips.

“Slow,” Levi said. Erwin sipped at the water, letting it soothe his mouth. Then, he took a full swallow. And another. “Slow down.” Erwin took another swallow and coughed some of the water back into the cup. He cleared his throat and swallowed the saliva that had collected in response to the water.

Erwin set the cup down next to his left hip. He cleared his throat and swallowed again. When he swallowed, he tasted blood.

“I'm with my new squad right now,” Levi said. Erwin nodded, closing his eye again, resting against the wall. “I don't know how to get you out of here.” Erwin reached up and rubbed his nose. It was still bleeding a bit. The blood tickled. “But you can't die on the gallows.”

I might have to.

Erwin rubbed the blood on his shirt and rested his left hand in his lap.

“You're supposed to die by a Titan. On the battlefield,” Levi said. “Like all of the Commanders you insisted that I learn about.”

Do you think they tortured my father here too?

“I don't fucking know. Can you keep your head straight for one second?” Levi's voice was closer. Erwin opened his eye, and Levi was kneeling in front of him.

Levi was wearing his uniform, including his cape. But he didn't have his 3DMG. His hair was wet, and Erwin watched water drip from the tips that were stuck together. His entire uniform was wet.

“I won't let you die up there like a criminal,” Levi said. “Like a shitty criminal. I don't care if you die while you're doing something illegal, but you can't die in custody.”

One side of Erwin's mouth tilted up. It hurt his lips. Levi reached forward and ran his thumb over Erwin's cheek. Erwin realized that his swollen eye was watering. Levi looked at his thumb, and Erwin saw that he had blood on his thumb. He wondered if his eye was actively bleeding.

You seem so real.

Levi looked at him.

If you save me tomorrow, they'll kill you too.

“I know,” Levi said. He took out a handkerchief, which was dry despite all of his clothes being soaked. He wiped off his thumb before he put the handkerchief away again.

Erwin stared at Levi's cravat. He wanted to keep his eye open, but it slipped closed again.

“Hey.”

Erwin opened his eye again, and Levi was wearing the clothes that he slept in. Dark pants and a white shirt. He was dry again. And it looked like he had just washed his hair. That's when his hair was the softest. And Erwin wanted to touch him. His cravat was gone. There were marks on his neck. Erwin had put those marks on Levi with his mouth. Erwin swallowed, tasted blood again. Levi was sitting in front of him this time, with legs crossed.

“You can't ask me to not stop them from hanging you,” Levi said. Erwin felt both of his eyes burning, stinging. “You're a piece of shit sometimes, but we still need you right now.”

I don't want to be needed.

“Erwin.”

Levi shook his head. He moved over to Erwin's right side. Levi laid down, rested his head in Erwin's lap, and Erwin felt the weight. He knew that Levi wasn't really there, but he felt the weight and heat.

“They've beat you stupid,” Levi said. “And if I could get in here, I would burn the whole building down.”

I do feel rather stupid right now, considering that you seem so real.

“Don't worry about it,” Levi said. “Drink some more water.”

I'm too tired, Levi.

His eye closed again, and he felt his head hang. His head ached, but not much more than the rest of him.

“Erwin.”

Erwin opened both of his eyes that time. He had slept so long that the swelling in his eye had reduced. But his vision was still blurry.

Levi was hanging from the ceiling by 3DMG, his arms crossed, perfectly balancing with barely any effort.

“They're going to come again soon,” Levi said. Levi dropped to the floor, pulled his anchors and walked over to Erwin. He stood next to the water cup. Erwin reached over to the cup and drank some more water. “When you get done, throw the cup across the room.” Erwin looked up at Levi.

Why?

“Just to be a dick,” Levi said. Erwin grinned, and his lips didn't hurt so much anymore. He drank the rest of his water. He tossed the cup, but he couldn't throw it very hard. “Your father is here.” Erwin looked up at Levi. Levi moved out of the way, and Erwin saw his father standing on the other side of the room, dressed in the clothes that he wore the day he died.

“Hello, son,” he said. Levi sat on Erwin's right side, crossing his legs. Erwin stared at his father. “This young man says that you're going to the gallows tomorrow.”

Erwin blinked hard enough that his swollen eye hurt.

Hello, Papa.

“I think you should let him stop them from hanging you,” he said. Erwin looked at Levi, who shrugged, looked disinterested. “You still haven't found out the truth.” Erwin looked back at his Papa. “You still don't know if I died for something real.” Erwin's father walked across the room, closer, but he stopped out of reach. “It's hard to rest without answers,” he said. “You don't want to die that way, Erwin.” Erwin felt something drip onto his shirt. It felt like more blood, but he realized that both of his eyes were wet. “Don't cry, son.”

Levi leaned against his right side, and Erwin leaned over, pressing his face into Levi's hair. He could smell him. He smelled Levi's scent. Erwin wept into Levi's hair.

“Levi's dedication to you is powerful, Erwin,” his father said. “There's nothing you can say to stop him. And you know that. You trust him to do the right thing.”

The right thing to do is let me die.

He felt Levi tense up.

“I don't think so,” his father said. “Not yet, anyway. I would have loved to see you grow up into the man you are today.”

Erwin frowned. That didn't sound like it was from his own mind. He nuzzled into Levi's hair.

“Erwin?” his father said. Erwin sniffed, and lifted his face from Levi's hair. Levi pushed into him closer. When he looked at his father again, his father was dressed in the clothing they buried him in. “They'll be back soon.” His father smiled at him. “And I've stayed too long.” Erwin sniffled, reached up with his left hand to clear his vision from tears as much as he could. “I love you, son.” More tears filled Erwin's vision. “I'm very proud of you.” A sob was threatening to push out of Erwin's chest. When he had cleared his eyes, he looked back at his Papa. He was gone.

“When they come back, it will be time to hang you,” Levi said. Erwin stared at the empty part of the room for a while. He wanted to see him again. But Levi wouldn't be able to stay long either. Erwin turned back to Levi, leaned down, pressed kisses into his damp hair. Levi pressed against him harder. “Don't order me to stop.” Erwin inhaled deeply. “When you see me, don't make me stop.”

Erwin nodded and closed his eyes. He imagined the scene. When he was up at the gallows, Levi would sabotage the whole thing somehow. He would watch Levi fall out of sky. Cut the rope. Break the gallows. Burn them down, maybe. And then, Erwin would have to hide. Levi would have to hide. The entire Survey Corps would be under suspicion of conspiracy. Hange could handle it though. After they took the king from the throne, Erwin and Levi could come back.

Erwin felt something fuzzy against his fingertips. He opened his eyes. Levi was gone. His neck was sore from leaning down so far on nothing. He looked to his left hand. A rat was sitting next to his fingertips. He swatted at the rat gently, and rat ran away squeaking.

Levi and his father were gone. Erwin looked around the room, hoping that Levi had stayed behind. He even checked the ceiling. They were both gone.

The lock on the door began moving, and some of the Military Police opened the door. One of them saw the empty water cup first, but the other two were focused on Erwin.

“The king is ready to see you, Commander.”

Chapter Text

When Levi texted Erwin asking to go to the club after dinner, Erwin didn't quite feel in the mood. He wanted to stay home, curled up under blankets, pressing against Levi, smelling scent of the lavender soap on Levi's skin. Not to mention, he knew they were outgrowing that club for a long time. He didn't want to go back. But when Erwin went home, dinner was ready, Levi was dressed in leather, and his long hair was french braided.

“Hungry?” Levi asked. It was a simple dinner. Grilled salmon and garlic butter broccoli. Erwin set down his briefcase, moved across the kitchen to Levi, and ran his thumb down the tight braid.

“I like your hair that way.”

“You've told me before,” Levi said.

“Levi.”

“Hmm.”

“Is this the way you're trying to convince me to take you to the club?”

“Yes.”

“Are you trying to manipulate me?”

“Yep,” Levi said, looking up at Erwin. Erwin smiled down at him, and if Erwin hadn't paid such close attention, he wouldn't have noticed the tension that crept into Levi's expression. So Erwin wrapped his arms around Levi's waist, pulling him close, trapping him in a way.

“That's not something we've negotiated,” Erwin said, still smiling, pleased as usual. Levi shrugged. “I'm supposed to be the manipulative one.”

“If braiding my hair is all I have to do to get you to take me to the club, then you're making it too easy,” Levi said, not allowing himself to grin. But Erwin saw the tiny pull at the corners of Levi's mouth. Levi was always so good at hiding everything that he thought or felt, and Erwin loved prying him apart. So he leaned down next to Levi's ear, inhaled the lavender scent that he had been looking forward to that day, and whispered to him.

“That's not all you'll have to do.”

******

Erwin smiled when he saw Levi squirming in the passenger seat next to him. He didn't directly look at Levi, but he saw enough from the corner of his eye. If he hadn't worn that anal plug himself, he would be worried that Levi was physically uncomfortable. But Erwin had worn that particular plug for about six hours once, and he had been fine. Levi was just a sore loser sometimes. Erwin liked it that way.

Every time they visited the club, Erwin always thought back to the first night they met. Levi wasn't wearing any leather that first night. His hair was short. And he didn't look like he wanted to dance. Erwin only briefly looked at Levi, decided he was vanilla, and passed by him to go into the private part of the club through the door behind the DJs station. There was a whipping demonstration that night. A well known senior of the tri-state community was teaching the class, and Erwin wanted to learn some more about pain play before he started participating in it.

While Erwin was standing towards the back of the class, watching the demonstration, he saw movement in the room and looked towards it. Everyone else was seated or standing still, gathering the information they wanted. But Levi had left his spot towards the back of the class, where he couldn't see very well because of his height, and had moved to a different area, trying to see better. By the way he moved and dressed, Erwin pinned Levi for a Dominant. He watched Levi change positions in the crowd several times. His habit of helpfulness forced him to check the room for a place where Levi would be able to sit or stand and see. He saw an open chair.

Erwin leaned away from the wall to go to Levi and suggest the seat, but Levi looked at him immediately. Rather than closing the gap between them, Erwin simply crooked a finger and pointed his thumb in the direction of the empty chair. And Levi moved in that direction without looking at Erwin again. Something about that small interaction stuck with Erwin. An insecure Dominant might have been offended by the hand signals, which almost looked like an order. A secure Dominant might have at least nodded or smiled. Levi didn't do either. He simply moved, and Erwin felt his own eyebrows raise when Levi passed by him to go and sit in the chair. Erwin reminded himself that one action didn't entail a person's entire identity, and he brushed off the feeling. But it lingered.

After the class, Erwin socialized with some of the members of the club that he had known for a long time: Mike, Nanaba, Hange. During those conversations, he caught himself looking for Levi. Erwin found him two hours later, watching a scene in the play area. Studying it actually. Erwin interrupted Levi to introduce himself.

Three months later, Levi moved in with him. It was a fast arrangement, and their sixth year anniversary was coming up soon.

Erwin parked the car, and he turned off the ignition. He took his time to unbuckle his seatbelt, get out of the vehicle, attach the clip of his keys to his right belt loop. Then, he closed the car door and walked around to the passenger side to let Levi out. Teaching Levi this kind of patience had taken months. Sometimes Erwin purposely dragged his feet to test if Levi was willing to let himself out of the car. But Levi sat still this time.

He opened the car door for Levi, and he watched Levi move, the braid swaying against his back. Erwin closed the car door, laced his fingers with Levi's, and they walked to the front door of the club. Before they got there, Erwin noticed Levi rub his lips with the fingers of his right hand, a tic he had acquired after he stopped smoking cigarettes.

“I didn't look to see if there was a class tonight,” Levi said.

“I looked,” Erwin said. He smiled down at Levi. “There isn't one. Only social hour.”

Erwin opened the club door for Levi and glanced at Levi's ass on the way through. He could practically feel the loud music pumping through his muscles while he paid the cover charge. Then Levi positioned himself under Erwin's right arm. It took Erwin almost a year to figure out that Levi was uncomfortable in crowds. His first impression led him to believe that Levi was confident in most situations. But he slowly noticed that the larger the crowd was, the closer Levi clung to him. Erwin pressed a kiss into Levi's hair.

He pressed through the crowd for them both, and most of the time, when party goers saw the leather vests, they made room. Most of the dancers and drinkers were dressed in flashy material which reflected the lights. But Erwin and Levi were both wearing black jeans, leather combat boots, Levi even wore a black cotton shirt. Erwin preferred a bit of color under his vest. He wore a blue button down with white pinstripes, sleeves rolled up.

Erwin pulled Levi along with him to the door behind the DJ station, and he opened the door, letting Levi pass through. Once the door was closed, Erwin spoke to the young woman at the reception desk, paid the second cover fee, and they moved to the second, sound proof club door. The lights were bright on the black walls, some of the lights were red, and the music was slower, focusing more on harsh bass tones than high pitched notes.

Levi scanned the crowd, and Erwin knew that he was looking for specific people. Over the years, Levi had made only a handful of friends in this club. Levi walked faster when he saw Mike, Nanaba, and Hange. Erwin waved when they waved, but Levi kept his hands in his pockets. Nanaba and Hange left the booth, grabbed Levi and started pulling him towards an ongoing medical scene. When Levi glanced back at Erwin, Erwin smiled at him.

Erwin went to the booth and sat down with Mike, giving him a firm handshake. And Mike gave him a bottle of water. The music wasn't too loud for talking, but Mike still raised his voice a bit when he spoke.

“Nanaba couldn't watch that scene until Levi got here, apparently,” Mike said. Erwin nodded.

“He has that affect on people,” Erwin said. “There aren't very many people here tonight.”

“Attendance has been slowing down. It happens in summer,” Mike said. “We would be home with the kids too if we didn't have Petra.” Erwin drank some of his water and noticed Dante, a member of club leadership, was walking towards the booth.

“Evening,” Dante said before he took a seat in the booth.

“Hey,” Mike said. “Slow night.”

“It's getting close to the 4th of July,” Dante said. Erwin nodded, and turned to look at the medical scene Levi had gone towards. He was standing between Nanaba and Hange, arms crossed, leaning to his left side, with his head tilted.

“Where are your girls and boy?” Mike asked. Erwin looked back at the two of them.

“At home,” Dante said. “Alyssa didn't clean the bathroom right yesterday. So none of them got to come out.” Erwin nodded. It wasn't a practiced that he liked, but everyone practices differently. He just wished someone could teach Dante that.

Erwin turned when he caught motion from the corner of his eye. Levi was standing next to the booth.

“I'm taking it out,” Levi said. He held out his hand.

“Already?” Erwin asked with a smile, reaching into the right side of his vest. He gave Levi the plastic bag, and Levi took it, turning to go to the restroom. When Erwin turned back to the table, Mike was grinning, and Dante looked confused. Erwin hoped he wouldn't ask.

“What was that about?”

Too bad.

“Levi is wearing a plug. He's ready to take it out,” Erwin said. Dante raised his eyebrows and drank some of his Coke.

“I don't let mine tell me what they're going to do.”

“We're all aware,” Erwin said.

“I just don't know how you can stand it.”

“Different dynamic,” Mike said.

“Right, but your calling your dynamic by the same words that I use,” Dante said, looking at Erwin. “It's not the same.”

“Sure it is,” Mike said, trying so hard to make a gentle interference. “Looks like Nanaba's going with him. Her curiosity just doesn't end. And there goes Hange too.” Erwin covered his mouth with one hand, trying not to laugh. But Dante didn't know when to quit.

“One time Tara told me that she was going out for a cigarette. She didn't ask. She told me. So I gave her corner time and took her cigarettes away for the rest of the night.”

Mike didn't say anything this time. Erwin tried to ignore it, drank some more of his water to occupy his mouth. The silence stretched out. Erwin watched the scenes happening on the floor, and the question finally bubbled up.

“What is your problem with what we do, exactly?” Erwin asked. It had been coming. For a long time. That's why they hadn't been to the club in seven months. Dante and some other elitist members just couldn't stop themselves from judging Erwin's relationship with Levi.

“It's not normal,” Dante said, leaning forward.

“Nothing that we do could be considered typical,” Erwin said. “There is no such thing as an atypical power exchange relationship. Unless it's abuse.” He wondered if Dante would notice the cut, but he doubted it. Dante was known for being unnecessarily harsh.

“You've got a lot of potential, and he's just-” Dante shook his head, shrugging. “Not a submissive. Not a slave. He does whatever he wants. I've seen him walk all over you in public, and you just laugh. Like it's funny. And it's not.”

“Because it makes you look bad?” Erwin asked. There was suddenly heat in the back of his neck and spine.

“No, it doesn't make me fucking look bad. I'm strict with my girls and my boy because that's what they want. Because they deserve that type of leadership. That's what we all signed up for, and he-” Dante gestured. “Makes them look bad.”

“Fuck you,” Levi said.

Erwin looked in the direction of Dante's gesture. Levi was standing next to the booth again, watching the interaction.

“See? He's got no fucking respect? What type of submissive or slave would ever say that to a Dominant?” Dante asked. Levi stared at Erwin, looked nonplussed at best. But Erwin knew that look. And they were going to have the same conversation again because of the people at this club.

Erwin moved out of the booth, and Levi moved back to make room for him. When he stood, Erwin looked back at Dante.

“Whatever you do with your girls and your boy is your business,” he said. Erwin leaned over the table, putting both palms down on it. And he felt Levi grab his back belt loop. “My boy is allowed to disrespect trash, and I agree with him.” Levi pulled on Erwin's belt loop. “Fuck you.”

“Erwin,” Levi said. Erwin knocked over his open water bottle towards Dante. Dante scrambled to get away from the water, and Mike was having trouble not laughing.

Erwin straightened his back, still feeling Levi tugging. And when he turned around, Levi was already facing the door, ready to go. But he grabbed Levi's arm, pulled him back around, grabbed Levi by the neck, and held Levi in place while he licked Levi's face from chin to forehead. Levi squirmed, even pushed, but he didn't fight. Erwin looked at Dante, who still looked pissed and confused.

Erwin pulled his tongue back in his mouth, wrapped his arm around Levi, and they walked out of the private club together, with Levi's fingers still wrapped in Erwin's back belt loop. In the dance club, Erwin was a bit more aggressive with the dancers and drinkers, verbally, loudly telling them to move rather than being patient like he was earlier.

Outside of the club, Erwin moved them faster towards the car, and Levi squirmed his way out of reach. Levi wiped his face off with his hand, grimacing at the spit before wiping it off on his jeans.

“Levi.”

“What?” Levi said, expanding the distance between them while they walked. Erwin stopped in front of their car.

“Come here,” Erwin said. Levi stopped walking, kicked at the ground twice with one of his boots, and he went to Erwin with such reluctance that it looked like an invisible force pulled him. Erwin put a finger under Levi's chin and tilted his head up. “That's the main reason we haven't been coming here.” Levi avoided eye contact. “Look at me.” Levi looked back at him. “He's wrong.”

“Yeah.”

“I mean it.”

“It wasn't always like that though,” Levi said.

“What do you mean?”

“Six years ago, no one was like that. Not here anyway.”

“I know.”

“This is where we met,” Levi said. Erwin's chest tightened. Levi was sentimental, but it was typically very private and never discussed.

“But we've outgrown this place, darling,” Erwin said. Levi's eyes darted away again. He looked around, and then looked back up. “I want to come here too. But not while people like Dante are leading. We'll find another place. There are other clubs-”

“In the next state,” Levi said.

“Right. So it will be like a mini-vacation when we go,” Erwin said. He wrapped his arm around Levi's waist and pulled him closer. “We'll get a hotel. Bring our own sheets. Some snacks. Go to the club. Go back to the hotel.” Erwin leaned down pressing a kiss beside Levi's ear. “Listen to an audiobook until we fall asleep.” Levi finally leaned into him.

“We're not going to do anything but that?” Levi asked. Erwin smiled.

“What do you want to do?” Erwin asked, trying not to laugh. Levi squirmed against him.

“Asshole.”

“Oh, well then,” Erwin said. “Maybe I'll eat you out too.” And Levi became still under his hands. But Erwin still needed to address the actual problem. “You honor me every day.” Levi almost pulled away from him, but Erwin reached around with his other hand, grabbed Levi's braid and held him him place. Erwin looked him in the eye. “Every day.” Levi looked away.

“Not every day.”

“You aren't allowed to argue,” Erwin said. And Levi winced. “I said, you honor me every day, and I mean it.” Levi looked at him then.

“Even tonight?” Levi asked. Levi still looked like he didn't trust Erwin sometimes. In reality, Levi wasn't used to praise, on any level. Not when he was a child, not in school, not at work, hardly ever in his adult life. It took two years for Erwin to get that information from him.

“Even tonight,” Erwin said. “You're a good boy.” Levi swallowed, and he leaned up, asking for it. And Erwin kissed him, gladly. He kissed Levi, holding onto his braid, holding his waist so tight that Levi whined, and that's when Erwin had to stop. He whispered against Levi's lips instead. “And you're mine.”

Chapter Text

When Erwin came home, Levi was waiting for him at the garage door. Erwin walked into the house, and Levi leaped. Erwin dropped everything and caught him.

"A healthy boy," Levi whispered against Erwin's neck.

"Our healthy boy," Erwin said. Levi smiled against Erwin's skin, pressing kisses to his neck. "When can we see him?"

"Tomorrow," Levi said, pulling back. Erwin lowered him to the floor, and Levi took Erwin's hand. Erwin had been away for six months, and they needed to catch up. They needed all of the time they could steal before the baby was home and before Erwin had to go back to Germany.

*****

The next morning, Levi and Erwin went to the adoption agency. It was standard for them to see the agent first, sign the final papers, and then go to the hospital to see the baby. Levi had dressed casually, but he had to stop Erwin from wearing a three piece suit. Erwin claimed he wanted to make a good impression, and Levi had to remind him that the baby wouldn't be able to even see the suit very well. They compromised with Erwin wearing his suit pants and vest with a handsome shirt.

While they were walking through the hall of the adoption agency, Erwin took Levi's hand and squeezed it. Levi looked up at him and saw that Erwin's cheeks were red. He was so excited, and Levi felt like his own hands were trembling.

Erwin knocked on the door to Mrs. Tina Galger's office, and both of them heard her cheerful voice behind the door. Levi couldn't hear exactly what she had said, but Erwin opened the door anyway, leading Levi into the room.

Levi let go of Erwin's hand and slouched down in one of the chairs in front of the desk. Erwin would do most of the talking, and Levi was too excited. When he felt butterflies in his stomach, he always tried to repress that feeling, even if showing some excitement was more appropriate.

"It's so good to see you both," Tina said. She shook Erwin's hand before he sat down.

"It's good to finally be here," Erwin said. "After the first two-" Levi felt the sting again. Erwin shook his head. "I didn't think this day would come." Tina's smile faltered and she nodded. "What?" Erwin asked. Tina shook her head. Levi sat up in his chair. Her expression was so familiar now.

"The parents have changed their minds," Tina said. Levi stared at Tina until his eyes lost focus. He stood from his chair, walking towards the office door.

"Wait, Levi," Erwin said. Levi stopped moving but stared at the doorknob. This happened every time. Erwin always tried again, every time. Relentless. "Are you sure they won't change their minds again?"

"It's always possible," Tina said. "We've talked about how frequently this happens with newborns. Mothers have a chemical reaction, and they forget all of the reasons that they wanted to adopt out in the first place. It's normal."

"But this has happened three times," Erwin said, his voice stronger than before. Levi looked at Erwin, saw the way that Erwin's shoulders were tensing in his shirt.

"I know-"

"This makes three times that you've connected us with parents who have changed their minds," Erwin said. "And I know that we've signed paperwork every time, to say that we'll pay for doctor's visits, for vitamins, for medication, without any repercussions if the parents change their minds. But this is the third time that you've almost given us a child, Tina."

"Erwin," Tina said. "Levi, I'm so sorry. When I chose this family, I really thought that they would be the ones-" Erwin stood from the chair, and Levi opened the office door. He slammed it behind the both of them, had to walk a bit faster to keep up with Erwin.

Once they were outside of the building, Jason opened the back door for both of them, and they slid into the vehicle. Erwin moved to the other side of the van, ran his hands through his hair, and Levi squirmed in his seat. Jason didn't ask any questions, and Levi was grateful.

At home, Erwin went to his office, and Levi went down to the basement. He put his headphones in his ears, chose the grimiest dubstep mix on his phone, and ran until his FitBit told him that his heartrate was too high.

They ate dinner separately. When Levi was ready to go to bed, he considered going to Erwin's office. To check on him. To talk. To ask to be held. He went to bed instead.

Later in the night, he felt Erwin sink into the bed next to him. And Erwin pressed a kiss on the back of Levi's neck.

******

When Levi woke up, Erwin was already out of bed. He checked his phone. This time, he hadn't mentioned possibly adopting on any of his private social media accounts. He knew it wouldn't happen. It wasn't meant to be.

Levi crawled out of bed, pulled on his underwear and a shirt, and went downstairs. Erwin was in the kitchen, sitting at the island, drinking his coffee. There was a mug full of black tea on the island next to him, waiting for Levi.

He sat in his typical spot, next to Erwin, tried his tea. It was still warm. Erwin always knew when Levi woke up somehow.

"Do you want me to stay here with you a while?" Erwin asked. Levi shook his head. "I'm going back to Germany," Erwin said. Levi nodded, drinking some more of his tea. "I can't think of any way to process this besides continuing to work. Pretending that everything is fine."

"That's probably for the best," Levi said. Erwin pressed a kiss in Levi's hair.

"I'm so sorry, darling."

******

Three weeks later, Levi still felt empty. There was always an emptiness in his chest. Most of the time, when Erwin was away, Levi was sending him pictures, texts, links to cute baby things. And Levi couldn't stand to look at baby things anymore. He considered nailing the door of the nursery shut. Then, he considered burning all of the baby supplies in the back yard, next to the pool. That would help, he thought.

It wouldn't though. And he didn't want to waste perfectly good things just because he was pissed.

Tina had tried to call him several times, and Levi ignored the call every time. He deleted her voicemails without listening to them. Erwin had made it clear that he didn't want to work with her anymore.

One night, Erwin called, and Levi was sitting in the den, naked, watching reality television and eating cake.

"Hello," Levi said.

"Hello, darling," Erwin said. "How are you?"

"Tired."

"Me too," Erwin said. "Are you too tired to talk?"

"No."

"What are you doing?"

"Eating cake and watching Shark Tank."

"Any good ideas tonight?"

"Nope," Levi said. Erwin was quiet on the phone after that, and Levi continued to eat, watched the show, held the phone up to his ear out of ceremony.

"Levi."

"Hmm."

"I want to try again," Erwin said. Levi swallowed, put his fork down, muted the TV.

"Did you find another agent we can work with?"

"Yes," Erwin said. Levi nodded. "She specializes in handling the adoptions of children who are four years old and older." Levi's head began to ache. "We've attempted to adopt an infant three times now, and that's not working for us. With our schedules, I'm not sure that an infant is right for us anyway, Levi. An older child may be better for our careers, our lifestyles, and our chances of making a family together." Levi clenched his jaw.

"I thought we both wanted a baby," Levi said. Erwin almost said something, and Levi interuptted him. "I thought you wanted to raise a baby with me."

"I do, but that option has done nothing but make us miserable so far."

"Because Tina doesn't know what the fuck she's doing."

"It's not her fault, Levi."

"It is her fucking fault! She set us up with three sets of parents who didn't know what the fuck they wanted!"

"Levi-"

"Erwin, I want a baby," Levi said. "And you told me that you wanted that too!"

"I do!"

"You obviously fucking don't or you would be here, at home, with me! You're back at work like nothing fucking happened!"

"I asked you if you were alright with me going back to work, Levi."

"Well that makes us both liars!"

Erwin ended the call.

Levi held the phone in his hand, looking at his home screen photo. It was a selfie that he and Erwin had taken in New Zeland. They were planning to go back for a vacation next year. And Levi wanted to take their child with them.

His phone lit up when Erwin called back.

One Missed Call from Erwin

Erwin: I'm sorry that I hung up, Levi.

Two Missed Calls from Erwin

Erwin: It's just too hard to hear that.

Three Missed Calls from Erwin

Erwin: But I'll do it. You can yell at me all you want. Answer my phone calls, darling.

Four Missed Calls from Erwin

Levi: I don't want to talk right now. Call tomorrow.

Erwin: I love you

Levi: I love you too

Levi dropped his phone on the couch, turned off the TV, and stared at the ceiling. He wanted to blame someone for his feelings. He wanted to blame Tina. But he couldn't. That's the way adoption worked sometimes. Yelling at Erwin wasn't the way to fix any of it.

They had talked about making it an open adoption. Telling the parents up front who would be raising their kid. But Erwin didn't want to do that. He felt like it was manipulative, somehow. Give us your baby. We're rich. We can pay for silk diapers. Levi cringed. The parents may find out who adopted the baby anyway, if they read magazines. But Erwin was right.

Levi rubbed his eyes. He didn't want to think about the magazines right now. Not only were they trying to adopt a baby, but People Magazine printed a magazine last week that claimed Erwin was having an affair again. They always printed that when he filmed in Germany. The first time it happened, Levi worried about Erwin's image, and Erwin worried that Levi believed the magazine. Which was stupid, and Levi told Erwin it was stupid. But Erwin canceled filming for a month to spend time with Levi anyway.

Of course Erwin wasn't cheating on him. Erwin was amazing on camera, but in person, he spoke so directly, with such command, that he appeared rude sometimes. Levi liked that about Erwin. The direct tone and vocabulary meant that Erwin wasn't hiding anything. It's one of the things Levi found extremely attractive about Erwin, the brutal truth, sometimes followed by gentle encouragement.

The first time People Magazine claimed Erwin was having an affair, they printed "NO" on the front of the magazine in giant red letters. That was Erwin's response to all of the questions about his infidelity. Big, loud "NO"s. The photographer captured an amazing shot of Erwin's eyebrows squished together in a frown. Levi wanted to frame it. Erwin used the magazine to "light" their gas fireplace instead.

Now, Erwin was brutally honest about their adoption options. They needed to adopt an older child. And Levi knew it was true. He wanted an infant. With tiny fingers and little toes. And a crib with a moblie. Those weird smiles that babies make when they fart. And despite his deep, boundless desire to watch Erwin change a diaper for the first time, he knew they needed to adopt an older child. To increase their chances. To be the best parents.

There were thousands of children who were old enough to know that they didn't have anyone left. Levi knew that feeling, briefly. Uncle Kenny did his best with what he had. But he was no match for Kuchel, who would chase Levi through the house for hours, laughing the whole time.

Levi knew what it was like to lose a parent. He couldn't imagine what it was like to lose everyone. To be in the foster system. Jumping from house to house.

Erwin was coming back home in two weeks.

Levi picked up his phone and dialed.

"Hey!" Erwin said.

"Hey-"

"I'm sorry, Levi-"

"Stop," Levi said. "If you screamed into the phone, I would hang up too." Levi swallowed, and Erwin was quiet.

"This is really important to me," Erwin said. "I know how important it is to you. I know that for you, it feels urgent. And I want you to have everything." Levi closed his eyes, closed them tighter. "Do you know that?"

"Yeah," Levi said.

"I want to have a child with you," Erwin said. "And I don't want you to give up your dreams of pascifiers and bottles at three in the morning."

"But you're right," Levi said. "I've thought about it for a while, but I just-" Levi swallowed. "I don't know how to talk about this shit." Levi scratched his scalp. "Sometimes the older kids need therapy for whatever fucked up shit they went through with or without their birth parents, and I don't want to watch my baby grow up and suffer because their childhood was fucked. Or because I couldn't help them heal. Because I didn't do enough."

"That's not all adopted children though," Erwin said. "Some of them have trouble. But children are so plastic, Levi. A lot of them adapt shockingly well. And if our child needs therapy, we can do that. We have the resources to give our child everything they need. Everything they want."

"We're not giving them everything they want," Levi said, grinning when he heard Erwin chuckling.

"Well," Erwin said, sighing. "How about almost everything."

"I'll think about it," Levi said.

"Think about this, darling," Erwin said. "Think about the first day of kindergarten." Levi opened his eyes. Super hero backpacks. Erasers in cool shapes. School supplies. All of the notebooks. And text books. Talking to the principal. Taking a tour of the school. "Helping with homework," Erwin said. "Teaching someone to write letters and draw shapes." Levi smiled. "I know you want diapers and bottles, darling, but that's just where the fun starts." Levi laughed a bit. "I'll call the agent for you."

"I can do it," Levi said. "Send me the number, and I'll call her tomorrow. You focus on finishing up so you can come back home."

"Alright, darling," Erwin said. "I miss you. I want to come home."

"I miss you."

"What will you do for tonight then?" Erwin asked. "More Shark Tank?" Levi shrugged.

"Maybe I'll look at schools," he said.

******

Alyssa sent them the link to the database so they could learn a little more about the children before they went to the agency. Levi didn't add any filters to the search engine. He looked at the information available for every child. Truthfully, he found himself wanting to adopt all sixty-three kids, no matter their ages. He imagined that Erwin was having the same problem. Some of the pictures of the children showed them in hospital beds, and that gave Levi a pulling sensation in his chest.

Then, Erwin texted him a link. Levi tapped it, and the profile for a five year old boy named Ace came up. Ace half white and half Chinese. He was flexing his muscles for the camera. He was cute. Levi grinned and read his profile information.

Ace likes running, jumping, playing outside, coloring pictures, and vanilla ice cream. He enjoys attention, spending time with his caregivers, and watching Little Einsteins. Ace is still learning how to ask for things that he needs rather than throwing a tantrum, and he needs a family who is willing to dedicate time and care to his emotional recovery.

Levi nodded. He definitely wanted to meet Ace.

******

They didn't even get to properly greet Ace before he was challenging them to a race. Levi took him up on the challenge. Erwin claimed he was too old to run that far. Levi let Ace win the race. And then they played tag for thirty minutes. Erwin was pretty much forced to play after Ace tagged him.

During snack time, Levi and Erwin went to the play area with Ace. They sat down at the child-sized table, watched Ace eat his fruit cup while he drew a rocket ship. Other children played around them, and one of the little girls sat in Erwin's lap without asking. Erwin didn't seem to mind.

"I'm going to be an astronaut," Ace said, adding some red color to the rocket ship.

"That takes a lot of school," Erwin said. "But I think you could do it."

"I haven't been to school yet," Ace said. "I'm supposed to start this year." Levi nodded.

"School is fun sometimes," Levi said. Ace looked at him.

"Like lunch and recess?" Ace asked. Levi grinned.

"Yeah, like that," Levi said.

After snack time, the kids had nap time, which meant that Ace would lay down on his mat and pretend to sleep. And Levi and Erwin left the play room to talk with Alyssa. She took them to her office, and Levi didn't even sit down.

"That's our kid," Levi told Erwin.

Chapter Text

Erwin stared at the half painted canvas. He sat down on the guest bed, drank some of his whiskey, and tried to think of the way to get that specific curve in the woman's spine. He stared at the canvas until his eyes began losing focus. Because he was thinking of Levi again. The paint on the canvas didn't matter so much anymore.

He hadn't seen Levi for months. And there was no way to contact him. Levi appeared when he wanted. So Erwin stood from the bed, took the canvas from the easel, and put it away in his closet. He couldn't look at it anymore. Couldn't look at it and wonder if Levi would even like it.

Then, he went downstairs, had a quick dinner, and he watched television to try and numb his brain. He couldn't stop thinking about the painting. He wanted to finish it. But his brush wouldn't move.

When he felt art block, Erwin regretted taking the sabbatical. His book was going well, but it was restrictive in comparison to painting. At first, painting had been a struggle for him. He scrapped all of his paintings eventually. Then, Levi came. And Erwin got out of bed in the morning only to paint. Reaching his word count for the day was easy in comparison. On this night, Erwin wanted to pack all of his things, leave Ireland, and go back home.

Eventually, after eating too many carbs and having some more whiskey, Erwin felt heavy in the recliner. The nature documentary was interesting enough to look at without requiring much interest.

Erwin startled in his chair when he heard a dog bark. He squinted and sat up in his chair. There were times that Erwin believed he heard things that weren't real. Many times, he believed that Levi was a hallucination.

The dog barked again, louder this time. And there was scratching on his front door.

Erwin let down the foot of the recliner and stood, walking out of the living room and towards the front door. He turned the corner in the kitchen, looked to the front door, and Levi was leaning against it, his arms crossed.

When Levi first came to him, he always wore a suit, or part of a suit. Over time, Levi stopped wearing clothes when he appeared. Erwin swallowed, resisted the urge to run to him, and he waited. Levi's eyes glowed silver in the dim light, making him look so much more vicious than he really was. Erwin couldn't stop his eyes from wandering from Levi's shoulders, to his abdomen, the unsettling lack of a navel, and lower.

“Sounds like you have company,” Levi said.

Erwin stepped forward, taking his time. And when he reached Levi, he lifted his hand, pushed his fingers through Levi's black hair. Levi leaned into Erwin's hand, closed his eyes, inhaled Erwin's scent. Erwin leaned forward, pressing a kiss into Levi's hair, which always smelled of earth and fresh air. The dog barked again, and Levi cursed quietly into Erwin's hand.

“What's outside?” Erwin asked, as Levi began pulling away. He stepped back when Levi turned to open the door.

When Levi opened the door, he stepped back, and Erwin saw the dog at his front door. It looked much like a German Shepard, with much darker, thicker hair, and golden eyes that glimmered like Levi's. The dog was also the biggest German Shepard Erwin had ever seen in his life. At the shoulders, the dog was as tall as Erwin's waist.

“You'll have to invite him in if you want him,” Levi said. Erwin's eyes darted to Levi.

“Where did you get a dog?”

The dog exhaled a heavy breath and sat down.

“He's a púca,” Levi said. Erwin felt his heart thump in his chest. He didn't want to believe it. He wouldn't have believed it, except Levi, his leanan sídhe, had never lied to him.

“Close the door, Levi.”

“If I do, he'll leave.”

“Why would you think I would want a púca here?”

“Do you miss me when I'm gone?” Levi asked. Erwin winced. “Aren't there times that you still believe you've created me in your mind? To soothe your loneliness?” Erwin reached up and scratched the back of his neck. “He could go anywhere with you. But I can only be in so many places.”

Erwin looked at Levi again, but Levi was gone. Then, he felt Levi's hands on the skin of his back. He might never get used to Levi doing that. But he loved it too. Levi's thumbs pressed into the tense muscles of Erwin's back.

“I've told you so many times,” Levi whispered. “That you are my favorite.” Erwin looked at the dog before he closed his eyes. “Not only in this century.” Levi's wrapped his arms around Erwin, resting his hands on Erwin's chest, leaning his forehead against his back. “In every century.”

Erwin felt his knees begin to shake. Levi's skin was hot, every time. He opened his eyes, saw the dog was standing at attention again.

“How did you find it?” Erwin asked.

“He belonged to a man who owned a farm near the place where I rest,” Levi said. “The farmer died.” The púca flattened his ears. Erwin thought of everything that he had read about the púca, and he knew that some of them were benevolent enough. They were known as tricksters, but if this one had belonged to a farmer, he was more than likely a type of guardian. And he didn't take the shape of a horse, which was a good sign. Levi wouldn't bring a malevolent creature to Erwin's home. Erwin knew Levi cared too much. He was telling the truth. Erwin was Levi's favorite.

Erwin nodded. Levi pulled his hands away, and Erwin stepped forward, towards the dog. The dog's ears picked up again. Erwin stopped before his toes touched the threshold and knelt in front of the dog. He felt Levi's hands in his hair, and the púca's golden eyes glanced up at Levi before they met Erwin's again.

“I'm Erwin,” he said. “I'm only here for a limited amount of time before I have to return home.” Levi tugged Erwin's hair. Erwin's eyelids lowered. He loved that, and Levi knew it. The dog's eyes scanned him. “But I would trade you food and shelter for protection.” The dog glanced up at Levi again, and Erwin wondered why. Levi may have already made a deal with the púca.

The dog's golden eyes returned to Erwin, and he woofed quietly.

Erwin stood, and he felt Levi move back, away from him.

“Please come in,” Erwin said, stepping back.

The dog stepped over the threshold and began sniffing around the house. Erwin closed the door, and Levi grabbed his forearm, gently. Erwin turned to look at him, and Levi was pushing his back up against the wall. Erwin leaned down, and their lips met. Levi's tongue slid along his bottom lip, and Erwin had to stifle a moan. But he couldn't help himself from gasping. The image of a woman's neck came to his mind. Levi leaned against him harder, and Erwin felt Levi's hard cock grind against his thigh. The woman was becoming more apparent. She was flushed, wrapped in white sheets. Erwin broke the kiss and leaned his head back. Levi looked up at him.

“I can't finish the painting,” Erwin said. Levi's hands ran over Erwin's chest, lowered, played with the buttons on Erwin's sleeping pants. Erwin was half hard already.

“I know,” Levi said. Erwin rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “I'm not here often enough.” Erwin took his hands away from his eyes, running the fingers of one hand into Levi's hair, resting the other hand on Levi's neck. “That's part of why Mike is here.”

“It won't be the same,” Erwin said.

“You haven't seen all of him yet,” Levi said. “I know it won't be the same, but he'll help while I'm away.” Erwin opened his mouth, and Levi put his fingers over Erwin's lips. Automatically, Erwin's tongue reached out, tasting Levi's skin. “He won't have the same affect, creatively. But he can give you a lot.” Erwin kissed Levi's hand. Levi took his hand from Erwin's mouth, and he laced their fingers together. “I'm hungry,” Levi said. Erwin followed Levi from the entryway to the bedroom, and where he made an abrupt stop in the doorway.

A large, naked man was laying in Erwin's bed. Erwin felt Levi look at him, but he couldn't take his eyes away. The man still had a dark bushy tail, which was swishing happily, dark ears standing up from his blond hair. And his face was buried in one of Erwin's pillows.

“He likes you,” Levi whispered. Levi licked at Erwin's neck, and Erwin's eyelids fluttered. Images of the three of them together flashed in Erwin's mind.

Mike lifted his face from Erwin's pillow and looked at them both. Levi pressed his tongue flat against Erwin's neck, and gave him a long lick, and Erwin's cock throbbed at the images. In his mind's eyes, he saw Levi under him, and he felt Mike behind him. Other images came with it. A naked man standing in a field of flowers. A woman bathing in a waterfall. These small flashes of scenery stayed with Erwin after Levi left. And he tried to paint whatever Levi would give him. They were sections of Levi's memories, through his many centuries of life.

“If you don't want him tonight,” Levi whispered. Erwin looked down at him. “He'll stay here.” Levi lifted up on his tip toes and spoke against Erwin's lips. “He'll be here whenever you want it.” Erwin opened his mouth and had no words. His eyes darted to Mike, who was still laying on the bed, watching them. “Do you want to watch me with him?” Erwin swallowed. His mouth was watering. Five months earlier, the things that he had done with Levi had felt taboo After a while, Erwin felt completely debauched. Levi had desensitized him to many things.

Levi walked away from Erwin and over to the bed. Erwin stared at Levi's ass while he walked. When Levi reached the bed, Mike lifted his head from the pillow and rolled over. Erwin felt his eyes widen when he saw Mike's hard cock. Levi crawled onto the bed, straddled Mike's legs, and lowered his head.

Levi licked Mike's cock, and Mike's ears flattened out. He took a deep breath and sighed so loudly that Erwin had to lean against the doorway to stop his knees from giving out. He knew about Levi's mouth. Mike closed his eyes, his lips parted, breathing heavily while Levi sucked on him.

Erwin didn't think before he moved away from the wall and walked over to the bed. Levi didn't look up, but Mike opened his golden eyes and looked up at Erwin. But then he closed his eyes tightly and grunted through clenched teeth. Erwin's eyes went to Levi, and he saw that Levi's cheeks were hollowed. He felt Mike's hand on his cock, which was pressing hard against his underwear and cotton sleeping pants. Erwin sighed, pressed into Mike's hand.

Erwin pushed his thumbs under the elastic of his sleeping pants and underwear, slipping out of them quickly. He climbed onto the bed, and Levi lifted his head, smiling up at Erwin. Erwin laid down on the bed next to Mike and wrapped his hand around his cock. But Mike reached over, pushed Erwin's hand away. Erwin closed his eyes when Mike wrapped a hand around his cock and started stroking. He felt Levi's hand on his thigh, and Erwin shuddered.

“That's it, Erwin,” Levi whispered. Erwin felt Mike let go, and he opened his eyes, seeing that Levi and Mike were changing positions on the bed. Mike reached over, grabbed Erwin under his arms and moved him as if he weighed nothing. Levi knelt next to Erwin's face, and Erwin opened his mouth. He closed his eyes, licking at Levi's slit when he felt Levi's head against his tongue. Erwin gasped before he felt Levi slide into his mouth. Then, he felt Mike's hands on his ass, and Mike lifted Erwin an inch from the bed. Erwin spread his legs and rested his feet on Mike's back. When he felt Mike's tongue against his hole, he moaned around Levi's cock, and he felt Levi twitch in his mouth.

Mike's tongue left Erwin dripping, and he one of Mike's fingers against his opening. Erwin opened his mouth, and Levi backed up a bit. Erwin grabbed the bedsheets when Mike's finger slid inside of him. Then, Erwin felt Levi straddle his hips, and his cock was guided to Levi's slick hole. Levi slid down onto him easily, and Erwin's breath caught in his chest. He tensed around Mike's finger and cried out loudly. Mike's finger moved inside of him while Levi rode his cock, and it was so intense that Erwin felt all of the heat rush to his face. Moans were caught so tightly in his chest that the sounds coming from him were strangled, pitiful sighs.

When Erwin came, he felt Levi tighten around him and then move so much faster that the bed shook. Erwin couldn't even breathe during the orgasm, holding his breath so long that when the hardest wave passed, he exhaled, gasping for air. He felt him orgasm spilling out of Levi onto his cock, and Mike removed his finger, gently dragging against his prostate. Erwin felt Levi spill onto his stomach, but when he tried to open his eyes, the room swam.

Levi lifted up, away from Erwin. He felt Levi's head on his chest then, and he opened his eyes to test his vision. The room was clearer than it had been earlier, and Erwin raised his head. Levi was laying on top of Erwin with his hips raised up, and Mike was licking Levi's hole. Levi dug his fingernails into Erwin's skin, and Erwin ran his fingers through Levi's hair.

Erwin adjusted the pillows under his head so he wouldn't have to strain his neck to watch. Mike licked Levi for so long that Levi began trembling. And when Erwin thought Levi would collapse on top of him, Mike stopped, lifted his head, licking his lips. Then he lined his hips up with Levi's, pressing his fingertips into Levi's skin hard, and pushed his hard cock into Levi's soaked hole. Levi practically growled, scratching Erwin's skin. Erwin felt Mike's tail against his leg.

Erwin tugged at Levi's hair, lifting his head so he could watch Levi's face. Mike wasn't gentle. With every thrust, Erwin felt Levi's hard cock drag against his stomach. Levi's silver eyes were darker, and Mike was grunting with every move.

After only a few thrusts, Mike leaned forward over the both of them, putting his hands on the bed to support himself. Erwin lowered Levi's head and wrapped an arm around Levi's ribs and held him tightly while Mike pounded them both hard down into the bed. Erwin reached between his body and Levi's, found Levi's cock and squeezed. With every thrust from Mike, Levi's cock was thrust into Erwin's tight fist. Levi mewled in a way Erwin had never heard before, and he pressed a kiss into Levi's hair. Levi moaned into Erwin's skin before his teeth sank in, and Erwin's eyelids fluttered. The pain was suppressed by the lingering high. Levi came into Erwin's hand, soaking them both.

He saw Mike's golden eyes flash at him when Mike briefly opened them. Mike's ears were up, twitching. Then, Mike closed his eyes tightly and moved faster for a few more moments before he shuddered and stopped, sighing heavily. Mike pulled back and rolled over, landing hard on the foot of the bed. Erwin took his hand away from Levi's cock, rubbed the liquid into the sheets under them, and Levi sighed.

Erwin tried to keep his eyes open. When he closed them after these nights, he fell asleep almost instantly. And then he dreamed, of whatever Levi had given him to paint. Erwin's eyelids felt heavy. He forced his eyes to stay open, and then Mike licked his ankle. One side of Erwin's mouth lifted. Mike hadn't said a word to him, but Erwin already loved him, wanted him around.

Tightening his hold around Levi, Erwin pressed more kisses into Levi's hair. Levi wasn't moving, wasn't really breathing, which was normal. Between the gentle kisses on his ankles and the weight of Levi on top of him, Erwin couldn't help but fall asleep.

 

*****

The next morning, when Erwin woke up he knew how to finish the painting in his closet. The curve of the woman's back had been too drastic. That's why it looked wrong. Levi was gone, and Mike was laying next to him, still in his human form, his ears turning to pick up noises. Mike's tail began beating against the bed when Erwin turned to look at him.

“Good morning,” Mike said. Erwin smiled at him.

“Good morning,” Erwin said, his voice thick with sleep. Mike leaned over and licked Erwin's neck tenderly. Erwin reached up and petted Mike's ear, scratching it. “Are you hungry?”

“Yes,” Mike said, licking harder.

“What do you eat besides overly ripe blackberries?” Erwin asked.

“Anything you eat,” Mike said. Mike stopped licking and sat up in the bed, ready to go. Erwin rubbed his eyes.

“I'll feed you,” Erwin said. “And then I'm going to paint.”

Chapter Text

When Levi opened the door to his apartment, he turned on the light in the entry way and stepped inside. He closed the door behind himself and kicked off his shoes. Again, he checked the watch that Erwin had given him, the one with two faces, tracking two time zones. He wasn't running late, and he wanted to shower first.

Levi started pulling his clothes off while he walked through the small apartment. He glanced at his laptop, which was asleep. It was a habit to look at it now. Because that's where Erwin was. Levi undressed, setting his watch on the counter of the bathroom. He showered, savoring the hot water, thinking of Erwin.

Of course, he always wanted to talk to Erwin. He always wanted to see him. The few pictures that Erwin sent every day helped, but Levi always wanted more.

In the morning, Erwin would send him a shower picture. Sometimes it was purposely provacative. Most of the time, Erwin was wearing a towel with his hair still wet. Those were Levi's favorites. And Levi would send Erwin a picture of his bed head every morning. Later, they swapped lunch pictures. After work, Erwin would send Levi a gym picture. Levi would send Erwin gym pictures while he was on the rig. But when he was at home, he didn't go to a gym. He worked out at home.

Once he was finished bathing, Levi stepped out of the shower and toweled off. He dressed in sleeping pants, neglecting underwear. Then, he put his watch back on. He always wore it. Even when he slept. And he went directly to his laptop.

Levi turned on the screen and changed his Discord status from invisible to online. Erwin wasn't online yet. Isabel and Farlan were though.

Isabel messaged him in the group chat that they had with Farlan.

Isabel: Really, what are you going to tell him?

Isabel: You didn't actually tell us what you were going to tell him before you left.

Levi rolled his eyes, and he wanted to ignore the message.

Farlan: If you break up with him, come stay with us for the night.

Isabel: Farlan! He's not breaking up with him.

Farlan: But if he does...

Levi: Don't worry about it.

Erwin came online, and Levi felt his heart pump harder in his chest.

Levi: gtg

Isabel: Message us no matter what!

Erwin's name and a request for video chat showed up on the screen, and Levi turned on his desk lamp. He ran his fingers through his hair before he messed it up again. Then, he answered the call.

After a few moments of a dark screen, Erwin appeared, and Levi felt his insides turn warm, feel a bit melty. He wanted to sigh, but he carefully exhaled instead. Erwin smiled at him. Erwin was still wearing his school clothes.

"Hello, darling," Erwin said.

"Hey."

"Did you just shower?"

"Yeah," Levi said, grinning. Erwin's eyes were all over him.

"I haven't gotten that far yet," Erwin said.

"I noticed," Levi said. "You're still in your school clothes." Erwin smiled, and Levi thought he saw a hint of blush.

"I'm not as organized when you're away," Erwin said. Levi nodded.

"Well," he said, shrugging. "I'll come back up and clean for you in a couple of months, maybe." Erwin smiled again, and Levi felt the back of his neck warm up.

"How was the movie?" Erwin asked.

"It was alright," Levi said. "Oluo and Gunter were really excited about the action scenes. Petra and Isabel squealed a lot. Farlan kept asking when Thor was going to take off his shirt."

"So you sat next to Eld?" Erwin asked with a grin. Levi swallowed, and he saw Erwin's face change to concern.

"I sat between Isabel and Farlan," Levi said.

"Oh," Erwin said, smiling again.

"Tonight, Eld told us that he's going to ask Chloe to marry him, so Petra and Oluo were making wedding plans for him after that. Even during the movie," Levi said. Erwin raised his eyebrows. "Next weekend is their two year anniversary. He's going to ask her then."

"Two years," Erwin said. Levi nodded, his eyes dropping from the screen. "That's really fast." Levi continued to nod. He wanted to drink some water. His throat felt dry.

"It's different for everyone," Levi said. He looked at Erwin again. Erwin ran his hand through his hair. Levi watched the way that Erwin's hair fell back into place after his hand passed through it. When he looked at Erwin's eyes again, he saw the same discomfort he felt.

"I've been meaning to talk to you," Erwin said. Levi sat up straigher in his computer chair, and he saw Erwin do the same thing. "And I guess this is the-" Erwin looked away for a moment before he looked back at Levi. "I just needed a reminder. It's so easy to get caught up in the every day things, Levi." Levi nodded. "I get distracted when I finally have time to spend with you."

"I get distracted too," Levi said. "While I'm home, I just think about all the things that I need to do until I go offshore again." Erwin nodded.

"I've been looking at Universities in the south," Erwin said. Levi's eyes widened. "There are a few positions that I might be interested in. They won't be in your local area. I'll still be an hour or so away." Levi nodded, shocked. "But I won't be in a different time zone anymore." Levi opened his mouth, lost the words, and closed his mouth again. "I've been doing this for a while, but I wasn't sure how you would feel about it."

Levi remembered his talk with Isabel and Farlan. He believed what he told them, and knew that he had to do the right thing for both of them.

"I know that you like it up there," Levi said. "And I've thought about moving up there before. But I don't want to stop welding." Erwin nodded.

"I wouldn't ask you to," Erwin said. "And obviously, Indiana doesn't have a need for underwater welders."

"I'm not going to ask you to move down here," Levi said. "You've been working in the same University for four years, and if you stay there, you'll get tenure a lot faster than if you move." Erwin nodded, and nodded faster as Levi continued to talk. "It's better for you to stay there."

"I know," Erwin said. "I know that. And I do like it here." Levi almost rolled his eyes, but caught himself. He looked away instead.

"I don't want to move, and I know that you don't want to move," Levi said. "It's stupid to keep trying to make this work when we're not going anywhere." Levi winced. Saying it out loud, to Erwin, was more painful than he expected. But he had been thinking about it for a while. And heairng that Eld was getting married made it more real.

"Levi." Levi looked back at Erwin. "I know this is childish." One side of Erwin's mouth tilted up. Levi's eyebrows pulled together. "Most of the time, I tell people that we met on a dating website. Because it's too complicated to explain any other way." Levi nodded. He became frustrated very easily any time he tried to explain how he and Erwin found each other. Neither of them played World of Warcraft very often anymore, and that made the explanation even more complicated somehow. "And I know that we're both stable which makes this even wilder." Levi's eyes wandered to the buttons on Erwin's shirt. "But I want to be near you."

Levi lost focus, thinking about what Erwin was saying. They had been in an exlcusive relationship for a little over a year, and Levi had done the majority of the traveling. Erwin helped him with the expense, even if it wasn't necessary. Levi made excellent money, especially for a bachelor. And he lived like he was poor. There weren't many things that he wanted to buy. He bought things for Erwin often. And Erwin returned the favor regularly. Whenever Levi came home from being offshore, he always returned to several packages waiting for him in the mailbox. Soap, cleaning products, his favorite snacks. When Erwin missed him more than usual, Levi would come home to a package with a porn DVD inside of it.

"Levi."

Levi looked back at the screen. Erwin's face had changed. He looked stoic, firm.

"If this isn't what you want," Erwin said. "If you don't want me to move down there-" Levi opened his mouth to say something, but he leaned back farther in his chair and rubbed his eyes instead. "Just say so, and we can move on or... discuss other options."

"I want it," Levi blurted. He took his hands away from his eyes, let them drop to his thighs. "I want you to move down here, but I don't want to be the reason that you don't get tenured. And-" He shrugged and shook his head, still not able to look at Erwin. "You might move down here, and we might not work so well."

"Well, we'll still be separated for a while," Erwin said. Levi looked at him finally. Erwin's eyes gazed every part of Levi that he could see. "I won't be living with you. And you'll be going offshore regularly."

"Yeah."

"I think it would be a good transition," Erwin said. Levi nodded. The question that had been burning in the back of his mind finally forced itself out of his mouth.

"Yeah, but would you consider moving in together?" Levi asked. He watched Erwin's face, and he saw that he caught Erwin off-guard. "It makes more sense." Levi's mouth dried out. He had already made the decision, and he had promised himself he wouldn't regret it. Erwin had helped him learn that lesson. "It makes more sense for us to combine our incomes. Even if we got an apartment with two bedrooms and we-" Levi licked his lips, still wishing that he had gotten some water for himself. "Would eventually sleep in one together probably."

Erwin didn't look confused. Or even shocked. Levi couldn't read him. As long as he had spent looking at Erwin, learning every part of Erwin's body, he still couldn't read some of Erwin's expressions.

"I want that," Erwin said. Levi felt his heart thump in his chest, harder than he expected. When he exhaled, he had to control his breathing. All of the air in his lungs felt hot. "How long have you been trying to find a way to ask me that?"

"Eight months," Levi said, almost gasping. Erwin smiled at him.

"So, not a year and three months?" Erwin said.

"No, not until I saw your dick in real life for the first time," Levi said. Erwin laughed, and Levi felt his breathing even out, becoming easier. He smiled at Erwin. He loved seeing Erwin laugh. Finally, his mouth didn't feel so dry anymore, and he swallowed.

"I'm glad you're realisitic," Erwin said, still smiling. Levi nodded. "I've been thinking about this for a long time too, but it's... difficult, trying to find the right moment. And now that we know that we both want the same thing, I'll double my efforts to try and find work down there."

"You could move down any time you want, really," Levi said. "I make enough to support us both while you're looking."

"I know," Erwin said. "But it will help me adjust easier if I already have a job lined up when I move down there. Especially considering your schedule."

"What do you mean?" Levi asked.

"If I move down there without a job, and without friends in the area, I'll be rather bored while you're gone," Erwin said. "And boredom can make stress worse." Levi nodded. "But once we know when Eld is getting married, I could make it a goal to move down before the wedding."

"That would be good," Levi said. "What do you think everyone will say when you tell them?" Erwin cringed.

"I think I'll move down there and call them after I'm settled in," Erwin said. Levi laughed.

"So move down here and then call to tell them goodbye?" Levi asked, still chuckling.

"That's probably the best option for everyone," Erwin said.

"Mike and Hange would probably come down here to drag you back," Levi said.

"Probably," Erwin said. Levi's eyes roamed over Erwin's face, the buttons of his shirt again, Erwin's forearms.

"And when I'm too old to weld anymore," Levi said. "Maybe we'll move back."

"Maybe," Erwin said, shrugging. Then, Erwin yawned. Levi stood from the computer chair, and picked up his laptop. "Where are we going?"

"I need water, and then I'm going to lay down. It's your bedtime," Levi said. He took the computer to the kitchen with him, and he set it on the counter while he poured himself a glass of water. When he looked at the screen, he saw that Erwin was headed to his own bedroom. Levi quickly finished his water, picked up the computer again, and he headed to bed, turning out lights as he went.

Levi pulled the sheets down on his bed. When he laid down under the covers, he positioned the laptop in its usual place and fluffed his pillow. Erwin had put his laptop on the bed and was undressing. There was only one lamp in the room, and Levi watched all of the familiar shadows move over Erwin's skin. After Erwin removed his underwear, Levi had to take a breath and adjust in the bed.

Erwin crawled under his bedsheets and relaxed against his pillow. He rolled over on his side and looked at Levi.

"Talking about that was easier than I thought it would be," Erwin said. "I expected that I would be more nervous." Levi scoffed. "Were you nervous?"

"I thought I would die from dehydration, my mouth was so dry," Levi said. Erwin chuckled at him, and Levi smiled.

"I wouldn't let that happen," Erwin said. Levi ran his fingers through his hair, pushing it away from his face. "And I'm so ready for the day when I'm laying next to you in bed, rather than a computer." Levi relaxed farther into the bed.

"Me too," Levi said. He reached down and pulled off his sleeping pants, tossing them out of bed and adjusting the blankets again. He turned to look at Erwin again, who looked very tired. Levi stared at Erwin's hair, the way that it rested against his pillow. Erwin's smell came to him, and he wished that he could touch him. Kiss him goodnight. Erwin's eyes slowly closed, and Levi watched his chest rise and fall.

"You didn't turn off the light," Levi said. Erwin jolted in bed a bit, opened his eyes and looked around. He sat up in bed and turned off the lamp. Then he laid back down. Rather than closing his eyes, Erwin stared at the screen for a while. Levi adjusted the pillow under his head and looked at Erwin's chest. He knew what it was like to rest his head there. He knew how Erwin felt under him. Levi's eyes went to Erwin's face, and he saw that Erwin eyes were all over him again.

Erwin adjusted in bed, and Levi's eyes darted down automatically, to where Erwin's lap would be. But he couldn't see that far on the screen. He just knew, from the way Erwin moved, when Erwin was thinking about sex. And Levi was thinking about it too.

"Are we going to celebrate our decision to move in together?" Erwin asked, and Levi smiled at him.

Levi pushed the sheets off of himself, turned on his lamp, and adjusted the laptop so Erwin would have a wider angle.

Chapter Text

Levi felt bereft when he found out that his conductor was retiring only three months after he reached the position of concertmaster. The symphony they had performed a month earlier had been the best performance Levi had ever given in his life, and he wanted to continue to do that. He didn't want to learn someone else.

When Erwin Smith introduced himself to the orchestra at the following practice, Levi felt his skin crawl. Erwin was too young. That was hypocritical, considering that Levi was concertmaster before his thirtieth birthday. But concertmaster and conductor were very different positions. And Erwin was much too young. Levi shook Erwin's hand anyway. He tried to keep his thoughts to himself. He watched Erwin move with the crowd, taking time to speak to everyone, learning the musicians as if he cared about them.

"How old are you?" Levi blurted. He felt one of his violinists elbow him, but he couldn't look at her. Erwin stopped his introductions to everyone and looked at Levi. And then he smiled, which made Levi's spine burn.

"I'm thirty-seven," Erwin said. "And I agree, that in comparison to Gustav, I'm much too young for this. In the same way that you're too young to be concertmaster." Levi narrowed his eyes, feeling the embarrassment and anger burn in the back of his throat. "But I think we'll work well together." Levi opened his mouth to argue. "I think we'll have to work well together," Erwin said, emphasizing that neither of them could do much about their situations.

Levi didn't want to like Erwin. He wanted to resist direction. And Erwin sensed it.

"Levi, I need you to loosen up," Erwin said, multiple times during their first practice. And that only made Levi less agreeable. More tense. Erwin didn't mention anything else about it, and Levi guessed that Erwin wasn't able to hear it anymore or had given up trying to correct it. Erwin began focusing on the brass section instead.

Once practice ended, Levi wanted to talk to Aliya and Gatlin. He could hear both of them distinctly from the others, and they needed to blend more. Even if Erwin was supposed to be the one to keep control over all of them, Levi was going to make sure that the violins were functioning together as a single unit. When he stood to get their attention, he startled when he heard Erwin directly behind him.

"When you're finished speaking with Aliya and Gatlin, please stay behind and speak with me as well," Erwin said. His voice was so deep in Levi's ear, that Levi felt it in his bones. And his cheeks flushed hot. Kept behind after practice, like a bad student.

Levi talked to Aliya and Gatlin, showing them the exact moment in the symphony where he heard them break away from the group and play louder than necessary. Neither of them caught it during practice for some reason. But they seemed to understand once Levi explained it to them. And Levi had both of them play that part of the piece with him, just to make sure they would understand how loudly they were playing in comparison to the rest of the strings.

They practiced the section three times, and Levi felt himself getting excited, smiling more when he heard them begin to meld with him.

"Just like that," Levi said. “That's perfect.”

“Thanks,” Aliya said.

“It does sound a lot better,” Gatlin said, mostly to himself.

"See you next week," Levi said. Aliya and Gatlin packed up, and Levi began packing up himself, despite Erwin obviously waiting to speak to him. With his things packed away, ready to go, he finally stood straight and looked at Erwin, his arms crossed. Erwin was standing on his podium, and when he saw that he and Levi were alone, he sat down on his podium, lowering himself considerably.

"Please," Erwin said, holding his hand out towards Levi's chair. Levi sat down in his chair, the one closest to Erwin. Erwin leaned forward. "Gustav said that you're the best concertmaster he's ever worked with." Levi leaned back in his chair a bit. "But I'm having trouble believing that, considering how difficult it was to direct you tonight. I could feel the tension from here. And the strings depend on you." Levi scanned Erwin, head to toe. He knew what Erwin was saying was true. He had been tense, and he had trouble relaxing. "It takes a while for a conductor and concertmaster to learn each other. But we haven't been given an exorbitant amount of time to spend together before the symphony." Levi nodded. "What can I do to make you more comfortable?"

Levi studied Erwin's posture, his facial expression. Levi had been attached to Gustav for a reason. Not all conductor's were calm or even polite. Before he had been concertmaster for this orchestra, he had worked with other orchestras. Some of the conductors had screamed until their faces were purple, desperate to try and achieve a certain sound and unsure or how to get the concertmaster or any other part of the orchestra to follow. Now, Erwin was sitting much lower than him, really seeing Levi, and asking for help rather than demanding compliance.

"You'll have to let me hear what you're talking about," Levi said. "What do you play?"

"I play the piano, violin, trumpet, and drums," Erwin said. "My preference is for the piano. Will you be able to translate it in your mind?"

"Yes," Levi said, almost scoffing. He stood, unpacked his violin, and when he turned around, he saw that Erwin was already seated at the grand piano. He carried his violin with him, walking to Erwin. And Erwin waited until Levi stood next to the piano before he began.

Erwin didn't begin directly where Levi had tensed up. He began a few bars ahead of that, giving Levi time to warm up to the music. Once Erwin was closer, Levi positioned his violin under his chin and readied his bow. Erwin played the part of the music much smoother than Levi had anticipated, and he joined Erwin in playing, harmonizing with him. Levi closed his eyes and felt of the music, which is something that he normally only allowed himself to do at home.

When the piece was finished, Levi opened his eyes and looked at Erwin. Erwin smiled up at him, and Levi felt heat rush up his backbone.

"That's exactly it," Erwin said. Levi took his violin from his shoulder, lowering his bow. "I can see why you were chosen as concertmaster." Levi felt like the heat from his back might rise up his neck, and he knew he needed to go home. “Why were you so tense tonight?” Levi shrugged.

"We'll do better next week," Levi said. "Are you satisfied with all of the other sections besides the strings for now?"

"For now," Erwin said. "Next week, I'll have a better idea. I was so concerned about your tension tonight that I had trouble focusing on much else." Levi nodded a single time.

"Sorry," he said.

"Don't be," Erwin replied, standing and smiling down at him. "I expected that the transition would be difficult." Levi watched while Erwin brushed his thumb against some of the piano keys. He liked the shape of Erwin's fingernails. "We have time."

Erwin made Levi feel as if they had all of the time they needed before the symphony, even if it was only a couple of months away. He never demanded anything verbally. All of his commands came from the baton, and Levi was willing to bend to those. Erwin's vision of the music made sense to Levi, and he wanted to share that vision.

After every practice, Levi chose to stay behind. He was the last to leave, along with Erwin. He didn't know why he felt comfortable spending more time with Erwin than necessary, unless it was for the praise.

“You did well with your solo tonight,” Erwin said. “I felt it down to my toes.”

“Thanks,” Levi said.

“It's rare for me to have a full body experience from music anymore,” Erwin said. “I'm so focused on picking it apart now.” Levi internally squirmed, but he couldn't deny that he enjoyed hearing Erwin's compliments.

“Even when you play?” Levi asked. Erwin smiled down at him and shrugged, even seemed a bit embarrassed.

“Music typically is a full body experience for me when I play,” Erwin said.

“Play something then,” Levi said. When Erwin looked at him, Levi thought about taking the request back. “You get to hear me all the time.” He saw the ways Erwin's eyes scanned him.

“Alright,” Erwin said. Levi felt the surge of excitement, but rather than show it, he grabbed his chair and sat next to the piano. He crossed his arms and legs, trying to get comfortable. And when Erwin began playing, Levi felt his muscles relax. As Erwin played, Levi saw the way Erwin unraveled in the music. The outer shell of control melted away while Erwin bent forward during harsher moments of the piece and bobbed his head during the springy parts of the piece. By the end of the piece, Levi had uncrossed his arms, separated his legs, slouched in his chair, and felt exhausted. But Erwin looked riveted. Levi knew he was blushing when Erwin looked at him, but he didn't care. Erwin didn't mention it. “How was it?”

“Not bad,” Levi said.

“You look tired,” Erwin said. “Was it boring?” Levi sat up in his chair and shook his head.

“G major does that to me,” Levi said. Erwin smiled, and Levi had to swallow.

“Me too,” Erwin said.

During their first symphony together, Levi was anxious while he led the strings to warm-up. He wanted to shake Erwin's hand. Normally, he looked forward to the end of a symphony, but for a week, he had only thought of the feeling of Erwin's hand in his own. In a short amount of time, Levi felt like he and Erwin had done so much work together to make their first performance excellent. He wanted the symphony to be a success for himself and for Erwin.

When Erwin walked onto the stage, and he offered his hand to Levi as he passed by. Rather than simply shaking, letting go, and moving forward the way Gustav had, Erwin pulled Levi in for a handshake-hug. Levi leaned into it without thinking. They patted each other's backs roughly before parting.

Levi followed Erwin's baton, checked Erwin's facial expressions, memorized Erwin's smile, the pleasure he obviously felt from watching the orchestra work together. Then, during the more intense parts of the symphony, Erwin's smile would fall away to pure determination. And Levi's hands were moving with instinct and muscle memory while he was captured by Erwin's emotion. Until Erwin turned to look at him, and Levi glanced down to the music, checking his place, knowing the moment was coming that he and Erwin had worked so hard for. His solo.

The solo came and went so quickly that Levi wondered if he had managed it as well as he had in practice. Based on Erwin's grin, he knew that he had done well. He had done his best, and that's all Erwin ever wanted from him. Then, the piece ended, and they all readjusted for the next.

The symphony ended too soon. Levi had trouble taking his eyes from Erwin. But he bowed, accepted the applause with gratitude, and he wondered if Erwin would hug him again.

Afterwards, the entire orchestra had drinks and light dinner together, and Erwin shook his hand again. Levi wanted to move closer, and he saw the way Erwin looked him in the eye. He wondered if Erwin felt the same thing he did, some deep admiration mixed with heat. The way the sounds of the room moved from D major into F major when they touched or looked at each other for a beat too long.

Two years later, Levi realized that he had a deep craving to listen to music in B minor after spending a long period of time with Erwin. They spent a lot of time together, more than necessary for their positions. Levi had learned Erwin's favorite cake, coffee, and cigars. He knew that Erwin sagged in winter, feeling heavy with the lack of sunlight. He was surprised when he found out that Erwin wasn't married. Erwin had no children. And he wondered what key of music Erwin listened to most. He wondered if he could find a way to ask him without giving away too much information about him.

Erwin invited Levi over for dinner and drinks often. They always spoke about work first, but then they would gradually move towards the couch, talking about their love of music. Erwin always had the best wine. And one night, while they were standing on the balcony of Erwin's apartment, Levi found the time to ask Erwin what he wanted to know.

“Do you match your music to your moods or your mood to your music?” Levi asked, dragging from his cigarette.

“Probably both,” Erwin said, ashing his cigar carefully. “Lately, I've been listening to a lot of music played in Locrian mode.” Levi raised his eyebrows.

“Doesn't that make you nervous?” Levi asked before tossing his cigarette butt in the can.

“I'm already nervous,” Erwin said, smiling at him gently.

“Why?”

“I don't know where I go from here,” Erwin said. “I reached my lifetime goal so quickly that I don't know what to do after this.” Levi's gaze drifted over Erwin, reading his body language. And the urge to reach out and touch him reached its peak. Levi pushed his hands into his own hair instead and ran his fingers through it.

“You could go anywhere you want to go,” Levi said, crossing his arms once he had to take his hands from his hair. “I've never had a better conductor.” Erwin exhaled, and Levi watched the smoke float over Erwin's face and away. Then, Erwin grinned at him.

“Better than Gustav?” Erwin asked. “Even though I'm so young?” Levi rolled his eyes.

“Don't tell anyone.”

“I wouldn't,” Erwin said. A light from a nearby building flashed in Erwin's eyes, and Levi felt too hot, even though it was cold outside.

“I need to go home,” Levi said.

“Why?”

“To practice,” he said. Erwin nodded.

“Thank you for having dinner with me.”

“It was good,” Levi said, leaving the balcony, the apartment, ignoring the adrenaline.

Levi realized, around Erwin's fortieth birthday, he was still listening to music in Lydian mode, and he hadn't found a way to say anything. He laid in his bed, in the dark, smoking an unreasonable amount of cigarettes and listening to Bjork's “Possibly Maybe”, high on just the fantasy of saying something to Erwin, his conductor, the leader of his career and life.

Until he was offered the position of concertmaster with another orchestra.

Instantly, he wanted to decline. But over the years, he had moved so close to Erwin that he felt compelled to ask about what he thought. Levi wanted to hear Erwin's shock. And he asked Erwin over for drinks. Levi purposely chose music in C minor.

Erwin noticed as soon as he walked in the door.

“That's a bit heavy for a Wednesday night isn't it?”

“It depends,” Levi said, hanging up Erwin's coat for him. “Hungry? I made pasta.”

“Yes, please.”

Erwin followed him to the kitchen, and Levi served two plates. They always ate at the island. Eating at the dining table felt too formal. He couldn't smell Erwin's cologne when they were at the table.

“Delicious as usual,” Erwin said. Levi motioned next to his own mouth, and Erwin caught the hint, wiping his mouth with his napkin. The music changed to A flat minor, and Levi guessed he couldn't choose a better moment.

“I've been offered the position of concertmaster in New York City,” Levi said. Erwin practically dropped his fork back into his plate and sat up straighter when he looked at Levi.

“Have you accepted?”

“I wanted to talk to you first,” Levi said. He watched Erwin's eyebrows pull together, the relief in his eyes, and he hoped that this was the time. Erwin broke eye contact, looked down at his meal, looked to his wine before taking a sip. “Do you have someone in mind that you would want for your own concertmaster?” Erwin drank more of his wine before he finally set the glass back down.

“I have a few in mind, but I would prefer your suggestions,” Erwin said, finally looking back at Levi. Levi nodded.

“Hannah would be a good choice,” Levi said. “Or Jameson.” Erwin nodded.

“I was thinking of those two.”

“Should I take the position?” Levi asked. Erwin looked away and brushed his thumb against one of his eyebrows. Levi stared at Erwin's hand that was still on the island. He had watched Erwin play the piano so many hours, and he still liked looking at Erwin's hands.

“You should,” Erwin said. He nodded, looking back at Levi. “You deserve the pay. And you won't ever get the opportunity for a better career path.” Levi looked away from Erwin's eyes and over to the kettle on the stove. He drank the rest of the wine in his glass, and by the time he was setting it down again, Erwin was lifting the bottle to pour some more. He poured Levi half a glass and poured the rest of the wine into his own glass. “I don't want you to.” Levi looked at Erwin then. “But I suppose if it's only two hours away, we could still see each other.” Levi's eyes widened.

The music changed to Lied Ohne Worte in E flat major, and Levi felt himself leaning forward before he had the mind to stop himself. But before he closed his eyes, he saw Erwin lean towards him.

He felt Erwin's mouth again his own and couldn't stop the rush of air from his lungs, which morphed into a sigh. He felt Erwin trembling when he wrapped his arms around him. And Erwin moved forward, the bar stool under him clattering to the floor. Levi felt Erwin's arms wrap around him, and he stood, allowing himself to be directed, as always.