Eren unlocked the door to his apartment and closed it behind him. To say the apartment was small was an overstatement. His home in Liberio felt more like an oversized closet with a bathroom attached. He shuffled past the burner he used as a stove and collapsed on his cot.
Sighing, he closed his eyes and tried to get comfortable.
I need rest if I'm going make it through this, he thought, closing his eyes. He laid there for almost an hour, hoping that sleep would take him. But, much to his chagrin, sleep eluded him. In fact, he hadn't slept much at all since he arrived in Marley.
With a disgruntled sigh, he got to his feet and headed to the bathroom. He shed his clothes as soon as he stepped through the door. The bathroom was like the rest of his apartment - bare except for the essentials. He had a sink, a toilet, a cracked mirror, and a shower.
Stopping in front of the mirror, Eren hunched over and leaned against the sink to get a closer look at himself. He stared at the man he saw looking back at him. His eyes had dulled from their usual bright blue-green. Dark circles had developed beneath them from so many sleepless nights. His mouth was a hard line, and he vaguely wondered how long it had been since he'd smiled.
He hadn't been in Liberio long, and already the stress of making the plan work was taking a toll on him. He had to find a way to infiltrate the Marleyan military and find a weak spot. Everyone he loved back in Paradis was counting on him. The most frustrating part was the waiting. He had to bide his time and learn to blend in with Marleyan society, otherwise he'd arouse suspicion and the plan would be a bust.
He brushed his fingers over the stubble that had grown on his upper lip and chin.
Not sure if I like it or not, he mused, tilting his head to look at himself from a different angle. His father's face came to mind when he saw himself and what spirits he had left quickly vanished. He furrowed his brow and glared at his reflection. Not that it matters. I don't care about what I look like to other people, and I don't have time for such stupid things as vanity. My mission - my father's mission, and Eren Kruger's mission - comes first. I have to focus on saving the rest of my people from this cruel world.
The responsibilities of being the holder of the Attack Titan weighed him down more and more with each passing day. He only had a few more years left until the curse would kill him.
If I can't use my power and what I have left to live to save my family - and my people - then what good was my life? Eren thought grimly as he stared into the mirror. If I die before destroying my enemies, will my life have been in vain?
Hanging his head, he took a deep breath.
I shouldn't be thinking like this. Self-pity will get me nowhere, he reasoned. A cold shower might help. Then maybe I'll drink until I pass out again just to get some fucking rest.
He turned the knob on the wall and water poured from the shower head. Bracing himself, he stepped under the spray and fought the instinctive urge to jump back out. The freezing water chilled him but he forced himself to stay where he was.
He'd gotten used to cold showers. In fact, he was lucky to have a shower at all. In the Internment Zone, Eldians were treated like second class citizens. That meant the Marleyan government didn't care if its Eldian citizens didn't have basic amenities. If you weren't a member of a high class family, you had to scrape by to fulfill your needs because the government sure didn't give a damn about them.
Placing his hands on the cold shower wall, he hung his head between his shoulders and let the freezing water fall down his back. Wet strands of his hair clung to his skin. One lock stuck to his forehead and impaired his vision, but he didn't bother brushing it away. He hadn't cut his hair in months, and the ends brushed his shoulders.
I remember when I use to give Mikasa a hard time for keeping her hair long, he thought, the corner of his mouth turning up in a half-smile. Ironically, now I'm the one who needs a haircut.
Eren laughed under his breath as he imagined Mikasa chiding him like she always did.
"Having your hair that long is dangerous," she would say, wearing her usual poker face. "You could get caught on something in battle."
I know she wouldn't say it, he mused, his grin slowly widening. But Mikasa would think I look like a bum. The almost-smile on his lips disappeared.
His heart sank as he thought of her. An ache filled his chest as he wished she was with him right now. He never realized how much he missed her until she wasn't around. Regret clawed at him as he remembered all the times he complained about her wanting to look out for him.
Dumbass! he scolded himself. Why couldn't I see she just wanted to keep me safe? My family took her in after those bastards took her parents. Then after Mom and Dad died- He balled his fists and glared at the floor. -Armin and I were the only family she had left!
Eren took a deep breath and sighed through his nose.
I wonder if she misses me? he thought, his brow furrowing. I miss her.
Closing his eyes, he leaned his head back and ran a hand through his sopping hair. He combed it back with his fingers as he let the frigid water hit him in the face.
Has she realized how much of a jerk I was to her? he wondered, guilt twisting his insides until he felt sick. I never appreciated her concern. She's always been by my side, and I never deserved it. I let her think I found her annoying when in reality, I was just pissed at myself for feeling weak compared to her.
Determination rose in his chest and he felt some of the fire that used to drive him years ago return.
As soon as this is over, I'm going to make it up to her. I swear, however long I have left will be spent making it up to her for being such an ungrateful bastard.
Every fiber of his being froze as a sudden, torturous thought came to him.
Oh, God, what if she doesn't want me around anymore?
He hung his head and hugged himself. The water was turning his fingertips blue but he didn't care.
What if she realized she deserved better? Without me around, she has to have realized how irrational and hot-tempered I was.
Water ran into his eyes and he squeezed them shut. Self-loathing tightened around his throat until he felt like he was suffocating. His shoulders slumped as if he could physically feel the weight of his regret.
Without me, she and Armin have most likely gotten closer, he guessed, paranoia creeping into his thoughts. What if Armin's replaced me?
He buried his face in his hands and cursed himself.
"Stop being paranoid, dumbass," he said aloud. Saying the words out loud reassured him - if only a little - that he was being irrational again. "Mikasa isn't like that. She's always loved me-" Even when I didn't deserve it. "-and I've always-"
The realization hit him like a punch to the gut.
"I love her."
Everything clicked all at once. He'd always known in the back of his mind that he cared for Mikasa differently than he cared for Armin. Instead of accepting it, he was stubborn as usual and put up a front. But now he couldn't deny it to himself any longer.
"I love her," he repeated, swallowing hard.
Should I tell her? he wondered, leaning against the wall for support as his brain presented him with all the things that could go wrong if he told her. What if I tell her and then something happens? So many people I've loved have died or betrayed me. What if she dies because I couldn't protect her?
"No," he said, finding his resolve. "No, I have to tell her. After all these years, she deserves to know. She's waited so long for me." He felt a sense of calm wash over him as his resolve steeled him. "I will free my people, and when the day comes that the Eldians no longer live in fear, I will go home to her. I'll tell her I love her, and if she'll have me, I'll stay with her until the end."
The matter of his feelings having been resolved, Eren reached for the soap as he mulled over what he would say.
I can't just tell her out of nowhere, he thought as he ran the bar of soap over his body. I have to wait for the right time. His chest tightened as he thought, What if she doesn't feel the same anymore? God, did I really realize my feelings too late?!
He shook his head, sending droplets flying.
Doesn't matter, he countered. She deserves to know, even if she doesn't feel the same. As long as she remains a part of my life, I'll be okay.
Part of him knew deep down that if she didn't feel the same, he wouldn't be okay.
Even if she rejects me, it can't hurt as much as being apart from her, he reasoned. He frowned as he forced away the mental image of her rejecting him.
Instead, he tried to picture a better ending when he told her.
Will she cry? he wondered, washing his hair. Will she laugh? Knowing her, she'll probably make a sarcastic remark about me taking long enough to open my eyes.
Imagining her accepting his confession created a surge of giddiness and he was smiling before he could stop himself. He inwardly groaned as a part of him felt silly for feeling butterflies in his stomach over a fantasy.
"God, I'm like a kid with a crush," he lamented, rolling his eyes even though the thought of her accepting him lifted his spirits.
He envisioned her reaction to his confession and tried to picture her expression. Mikasa always kept a permanent poker face, but over the years, Eren had become adept at reading the subtle changes in her expressions. After hearing his confession, her lips would turn up in a faint smile as her cheeks turned pink. The corners of her eyes - her beautiful, steel gray eyes - would crinkle. She may even duck her head so her scarf would cover her grin.
She always looked adorable like that, he thought, biting his lip and feeling his heart beat faster.
He pictured himself gently nudging the scarf away from her face. He was taller than her now, and he had to stoop a little as tilted his head and pressed his lips to hers.
The idea of kissing her made his face burn. The shiver he felt when he imagined her kissing him back had nothing to do with the freezing temperature of the shower.
On instinct, one hand reached down. Eren gasped softly when his fingers brushed his cock. A vague sense of guilt rose up in him as he imagined Mikasa's touch instead, but he couldn't bring himself to stop. As his hand slid up and down his shaft, he felt heat spark in his groin at the idea of her touching him.
Picturing her with him right now - one of her hands stroking him with nimble fingers as water ran down her naked body - sent a jolt of pleasure straight to his cock. He moaned before he could stop himself and slapped a hand over his mouth. The walls of his apartment complex were thin and the last thing he wanted was to be interrupted.
His mind conjured an idea of what she looked like beneath the military uniform she wore. He knew she was muscular; she had torn her shirt once to create a makeshift bandage for him. He was almost jealous that her abs were better than his.
Without warning, the day Mikasa confessed her feelings to him entered his mind's eye. His pulse started racing just like it did back then as she leaned in. Despite death bearing down all around them, she cried happy tears as she thanked him for all he'd done for her.
I didn't deserve her thanks, he grumbled in his head, gasping as the guilt he felt only turned him on more. She must have forgotten all the times I yelled at her for worrying about my safety? God, I don't deserve her! His cock twitched in his hand and a quiet moan slipped from his lips. What the hell?! I actually like this?! This self-loathing shit?!
The memory of the way she had smiled at him surfaced. Her lips were pulled into a wider beam than he'd seen her wear in years.
God, her smile is beautiful. What I'd give to see her smile like that all the time.
The corners of her eyes had crinkled as she had looked at him with such love in her eyes that the breath had been stolen from his lungs.
She's so beautiful, why the hell didn't I ever tell her? he scolded himself as he worked his hand a little faster. His knees started to feel weak as pressure started building in his groin. He bit back another moan and braced a hand against the wall for support.
I should have kissed her that day, he told himself, re-imagining the moment. Instead of turning away from her, he'd cup her face in his hands and kiss her with all the passion he could muster. Thinking about how it would've felt - their lips moving together - elicited a shudder as he felt a spike in the pressure in his groin.
"Fuck," he cursed under his breath. The cold water burned against his skin as the flush across his cheeks spread to his chest and shoulders. He imagined her in the shower with him. He sank his teeth into his lip as he pictured her lips turning up into a mischievous grin.
Resting his forehead against his shoulder, Eren pictured her getting down on her knees and bringing his cock to her lips. His fingers dragged across the head of his cock, but in his head, Mikasa was dragging her tongue instead.
The mental image of her tongue teasing him sent another jolt down his spine and he bucked his hips against his hand.
"Fuck!" he swore, louder than he intended. The brief flash of worry that his neighbors would hear him was drowned out by pleasure as he ground the heel of his hand harder against his cock. Grazing his fingernails up his shaft, he imagined her teeth scraping him as she bobbed her head. Panting, his mouth fell open as the image made his cock twitch again.
Precum leaked from the head of his cock and Mikasa pulled back to lick it away with the tip of her tongue. His legs were losing stability as he felt the pressure in his groin climb higher until he almost couldn't stand it. Another flash of pink over the head and his breath hitched.
His knees nearly buckled as he climaxed. He bit his lip to keep quiet and tasted blood. Heart banging against his rib cage, he panted hard and leaned heavily against the shower wall.
"Oh, God," he panted as he languidly stroked himself, causing pulses of pleasure from his overstimulated nerves.
Once the euphoria had faded, he sank down to the ground with his back against the wall. Sitting on the shower floor, he tried to catch his breath. He pulled his hair away from his face and felt a small smile on his lips as a pleasant tiredness crept into him.
Getting to his feet, he turned off the water and grabbed a towel. After drying off, he abandoned his clothes in their pile in the bathroom and laid down on his cot.
Spent, he felt his eyelids grow heavy. He considered reaching for the bottle of liquor by his bed, but he drifted off to sleep before he could so much as lift his hand. Instead of the usual nightmarish dreams that kept him awake at night, he slept soundly. He dreamed of the day when this time in Marley was nothing more than a memory. He had no burdens anymore. Just him and Mikasa, and their future together.