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Intro to Data Science

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Levi chased away the lingering frustration of grading another sub-par paper with a sip from his bitter Guinness. Every year he swore the quality of these papers got worse, the students paying more to be there and giving less of a shit. Just because they were writing about statistics didn’t excuse them from proper punctuation and spelling.

He’d managed to claim the coveted space in front of the red-brick fireplace with the three comfortable armchairs which he, Erwin and Hanji always tried to commandeer during their weekly meetup at the old pub near campus. While he waited for them to arrive, he thumbed through his old copy of The Amber Spyglass, trying to find where he’d left off since he never bothered with a bookmark.   

“Hey, I know you,” a voice came from behind him, jarring in the quiet of the cozy room. Levi turned to see a tall, brown-haired man standing over him, giving a lazy smile. His accent sounded American, maybe Canadian. Familiar face, but Levi couldn’t place him. He was probably a former student.

“From which of my classes?”

The smile faltered. “I’m in your Intro to Data Science class.” He gestured at himself. “Eren Jaeger.”  

“Oh...right.” Levi squinted. “You came to my office hours once, didn’t you?”

He did remember Eren. Normally, Levi wasn’t one for noticing eyes, but Eren’s were particularly beautiful, memorable. His attempt at flirting had been alright, not quite as embarrassing as other students had been in the past. Eren had tried to bait Levi into a debate about programming languages: R vs Python. He hadn’t made the obvious Python joke, and he’d teased Levi about his bias towards R, and he didn’t linger in Levi’s office for too long.

“I did. You gave me some crap about how R was more efficient.”

Levi shrugged. “It is.”

“Can I…?” Eren gestured to the empty armchair next to Levi, making a move to sit.

Levi shot him a sideways look. “I’m waiting for my friends.” He expected Hanji to be at least a half hour late, but Erwin was a punctual guy. Must be taking a long shit or something, Levi thought irritably. He didn’t want to waste time on another student trying to chat him up or kiss his ass.

“Oh. Okay.” Eren looked disappointed but shrugged and carried on speaking, “I’ve been doing the reading? On regression?”

“Fascinating.”

“It is! Really interesting,” Eren enthused. Fucking hell, must be American.

“Right, that’s great.” He checked his watch. Where the fuck was Erwin? “Look, my office hours are Wednesdays at three, so if you have questions about the reading, drop by.”

Eren grinned.

“But don’t waste my time,” he added sternly. He hadn’t meant it as an invitation to come by for more flirting.

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

Levi appreciated the bit of cheek, but he pretended not to, holding back his smile so it wouldn’t encourage Eren.

“What are you rea--” Eren started to ask, gesturing at Levi’s book, before they were interrupted by Erwin’s arrival.

“Hello there,” Erwin said, smiling politely at Eren. He dropped his messenger bag next to the chair and put his glass of red wine on the table so he could reach for Eren’s hand. “Erwin Smith.”

“Oh, uh, Eren Jaeger.” He gave Erwin a firm handshake and returned the smile. Eren had that straight-toothed, gleaming smile Americans seemed to covet so much. “I’m in one of Professor Ackerman’s classes.”

Levi sighed. “It’s just Levi.”

“Oh, yeah. I’m still not used to that over here. In the States we don't just use first names like that.”

Erwin laughed. “Always a pleasure to meet one of Levi’s students. Will you be joining us?”

Eren and Levi exchanged a quick look. Politeness kept Levi from saying anything to the contrary, but Eren seemed to be able to read the room.

“No, no, I need to get back to my friends,” Eren said quickly. “But I, uh, just wanted to say hi to Profess--to Levi.”

They watched Eren disappear around the corner to another room, and Erwin relaxed into his armchair. “Careful, Levi,” he warned cheerfully.

“Fuck off. I’m not interested.”

“He’s quite cute.”

“Seems like a soon-to-be tech-bro knob.” Eren had that corn-fed, all-American boy look about him. He’d probably wind up a product manager who fancied himself a data expert. Levi wasn’t being fair, though; he really shouldn’t jump to such a horrid conclusion based on his student’s looks and demeanor. But usually Levi was spot on with these things.

“Just be careful,” Erwin cautioned, taking a smug sip of wine.

Before Levi could answer, Hanji flew in, looking a state. “Sorry, sorry,” they said flinging a purse, a backpack, and a carrier bag down on the floor. They reached for Levi’s drink without asking, managing to take a drink before Levi reclaimed it.

“What’d I miss?” they asked, still slightly out of breath.

“Levi’s throwing his entire career away for an affair,” Erwin said.

Hanji smoothed a hand over their fringe, which was sticking out wildly. “That’s incredible. Tell me everything!”

“He’s full of shit,” Levi said, setting his drink down heavily so the dark liquid sloshed up over the side of the glass.

“I just keep warning him and warning him,” Erwin continued, ignoring Levi. “You know how rubbish he is with affairs of the heart.”

“How much have you had to drink?” Levi asked.

“Oh, I split a bottle at supper with Mike.”

“You don’t say.”

Hanji cut in, “Is there or is there not a hot affair going on?”

Erwin waved a hand, conceding the joke. “One of Levi’s students was here flirting with him when I arrived.”

“No fair. Students never hit on me,” Hanji complained. “And I’m exotic!”

“You’re American,” Levi corrected.

“That’s exotic.”

Erwin sided with Levi. “It’s really not, Hanji. Although, I believe Levi’s lover is American, so perhaps I’m wrong.”

Levi flipped Erwin off.

“We’ll have to invite him to my Thanksgiving dinner next year,” Hanji said, reaching for Levi’s drink again. This time, though, he pulled it away in time.

“Oh, come off it,” Levi said. “Believe me, he’s not really interested. That was probably the last I’ll see of him outside of the lecture hall.”  

 

 

 

“Professor Ackerman!” A cheerful voice pierced through the quiet of the morning train.

Levi looked up from his book with a glare. Other commuters glanced over in the direction of the disturbance, but most were either shielded by their headphones or politely ignoring the situation.

Fuck’s sake, he thought as Eren made his way over, squeezing between two men in suits so he was standing in front of Levi’s seat.

“It’s me, Eren. From class...and the other night at the pub.” He rubbed his free hand over the back of his neck, his other hand holding onto the rail above Levi’s head.

Levi held his glare, and he was impressed that Eren’s smile only faltered slightly.

“You know you can just call me Levi, remember?”

“Oh, yeah. It’s still hard for me to get used to, Levi.

“Are you stalking me?” It had only been a week since Eren had approached him at the pub, and he’d never seen him here.  

“What? No. Although, I have noticed you on this train before.” He added sheepishly, “I’ve just never worked up the courage to say hi.”

Levi’s cheeks reddened. Partially thanks to attracting attention in public, and partially thanks to how utterly, shamelessly forthcoming Eren seemed to be.

“Were you reading that the other night?” Eren asked, pointing at Levi’s book.

“Yeah.”

“I actually love His Dark Materials, ” Eren said. “My mom used to read them to me when I was a kid.”

“Mine too.” It's a popular series, he reminded himself as the corner of his lips quirked up. It’s not exactly a shocking revelation.  

“I don’t know how you can stand to re-read The Amber Spyglass, that shit destroyed me.”

“Yes, well. It’s been a long time, and you know Pullman’s just come out with a prequel to the series.”

“The whole point of a prequel is you don’t have to read the heartbreaking final book in the trilogy. I know you’re not an English professor, but you must know that.”

Levi snorted. “I wanted to jog my memory.”

“If I can bring myself to, maybe I’ll read all the way through starting from the prequels and see how it all holds together. I think the new ones are going to be a trilogy too.”

“That’s not a bad plan,” Levi said, realising he wasn’t minding this chat so much.

The train stopped at Bank, and the carriage emptied out, leaving the seats on either side of Levi free. Eren flung himself down immediately. “Yes! I love when everyone gets off here, and I can chill for two stops.”

How old was Eren, exactly? Levi had Master’s students of all ages, but Eren had that goofy over-eagerness of youth radiating off of him in waves. If pressed, Levi might admit he was just a little bit charmed.

“Yes, two whole stops. Brilliant.”

Eren burst out laughing, then said, “What? Between Old Street and Angel takes like a hundred years.”

“Right.”

“Where do you live?” Eren tried a different subject.

“Clapham.”

“I’m Elephant & Castle.”

Levi wrinkled his nose. “That area’s a shithole. The underpass always smells like piss.”

“Not anymore! They actually removed the underpass and now it’s a regular intersection. Really confuses the cab drivers, though.”

“I used to live on Old Kent Road,” Levi said. “But that was my nearest station so I was in the area quite often. Is The Elephant still open?”

“Kind of. It shut down and there were squatters living there, but they’re almost done renovating it. You should come check it out.”

Levi couldn’t tell if that was an invitation or not, but they arrived at the station just in time for him to avoid clarifying. It would be incredibly inappropriate to take Eren up on that offer if it was one. Setting aside the established career and the fact that Levi was Eren’s professor, Eren was probably at least a decade his junior. Power imbalances like that did nothing for him. Even the genre of professor/student porn put him off.

He considered excusing himself to pop into Pret to grab some food and sending Eren on ahead, but he found he didn’t want to do that. Talking to Eren was...nice, and his comment probably meant nothing.

So they walked the fifteen minutes to campus together. It was mid-March, and that winter chill still lingered in the air. The wind whipped Eren’s wild fringe around his face as they walked, and Levi let himself appreciate just how attractive Eren really was.  

They chatted easily as they headed down Levi’s favorite, quiet route to campus past the cafes and restaurants that wouldn’t open until noon.  

Levi surprised himself by wishing that Eren was just a guy he’d met at the pub rather than one of his students. Connecting with other people didn’t come easily to Levi; it was why he so rarely dated. The enthusiasm and interest Eren displayed in him was actually refreshing.

“You’re a great lecturer,” Eren was saying, “you’re just so calm, and we all hang on your every word.”

“Flattery will get you nowhere. You know I’m not the only one who grades your papers.”

Eren brushed his unruly hair out of his face as the wind picked up again. “I’m not saying that to get a good grade! I can do that on my own. I just wanted you to know.”

“Well, thank you,” Levi said, pulling his peacoat tighter to him.

They reached the small campus, which was buzzing with activity already. There were long lines at the coffee cart and ATM machines, and clusters of students were standing around in front of the building chatting with their hot drinks despite the morning chill.

Eren gestured to the coffee cart and said, “I’m going to go grab a coffee before class. Can I get you one?”

“I’m alright for now, but thank you.”

“Cool. See you in class, Levi.” Eren gave him a wave and headed for the coffee cart.

Levi set up for class, and as students began filing into the lecture hall, he looked up every time the door opened and only stopped when Eren had entered and taken a seat at the very front of the room. During class, Levi’s eyes drifted to Eren a few times. At least once, Levi found himself unconsciously returning Eren’s smiles.

 

 

 

Eren showed up at his office hours that week, his long, lean frame taking up most of the doorway as he knocked on Levi’s open door.

Levi had always been inclined towards taller people--he’d nursed a crush on Erwin for about a month before he’d gotten to know him and realised they’d be better off as friends. He tried to hide his admiration for Eren’s body and remain impassively professional.

“How can I help you, Eren?”

Eren stood awkwardly in the doorway as though uncertain how to enter the room.

“You can come in and have a seat.”

Levi had one of the smaller offices at the end of the corridor. What it lacked in space, it made up for in seclusion and other professors rarely dropped by unannounced. Levi hadn’t put any effort into making the space inviting except for the kettle and tea mugs he kept on the shelf and one lone succulent on the tiny windowsill.  

Eren looked skeptical as he sat down in the fold-out chair on the opposite side of the desk. He fiddled with the silver ring on his right hand, anxious about something.

“So...I’m worried about finding a job after graduation,” Eren said. He shifted uncomfortably in the chair, his long legs bumping against the front of the cheap, wooden desk that had been there when Levi inherited the office. For the past two years he kept meaning to have it replaced with something nicer, but never got around to it.

“You and everybody else.”

“I know, but it’s different for me. I want to stay over here, but I need to switch onto a work visa, and they’ve made it a lot harder these past few years.”

Levi hummed. “You’re in a good field for that, though.”

“I know, but a lot of companies are pretty up-front on their website or in their applications that you need to have the right to work already before they’ll even consider hiring you.”

“It’s a bit shit,” Levi agreed. “But not hopeless. If you want I can give you the names of some companies that have hired international students in the past.”

“Oh man, really? That’d be amazing.”

“Sure, but you ought to talk to the career centre too. That’s what they’re here for,” he pointed out.

“I’ve got an appointment with them next week. They’ve got a few companies coming in to meet students, so I’m going to go.”

Levi nodded. “Not bad.”

“How did you wind up in this field?” Eren asked, leaning forward in his chair. “I’ve been meaning to ask.”

The attention made Levi uneasy. When people urged him to talk about himself, he balked. And thinking back on the last decade and a half of his life made him feel old even though he was only thirty-four.   

“Grew up poor in London,” Levi said offhandedly. “Eventually I wanted to stop being poor, so I started teaching myself about computers. Learned a little bit of coding, learned more through work, eventually went back to school full-time, wound up getting my PhD in statistics, and here we are.”

“Wow, that’s amazing, that you were mostly self-taught at first.”

Levi shrugged, not sure if the bare-bones summary he’d told Eren qualified as ‘amazing’ as such, but sure. “It is what it is.”

“It’s similar for me too,” Eren said. “My mom was a single parent, and I just...I hope someday I can help give her a really easy life. I know money’s not always the best reason to a pursue a career, but…” he trailed off.

Levi felt an odd surge of affection for Eren then. He was sweet. “Good a reason as any.”

“Maybe,” Eren said. “So how long have you been teaching here for?”

“Couple years.”

Turning his head, Eren cast a dubious look around the office. Four bare concrete walls, one small window, and rows of colorless reference books on his shelves. The only splash of color came from a blue pencil holder on Levi’s desk, and that too had been left behind from the former occupant of the office.

“Your cactus is nice,” Eren offered.

“I’ve not done much with the place, have I?”

“That’s an understatement.”

Levi never got too comfortable anywhere, but of course he didn’t say that. “I can’t be arsed with decorating,” he said instead.   

Eren gave him another toothy grin that Levi couldn’t look away from. Bloody Americans and their shiny, perfect teeth.

“Hey, there was one other thing I wanted to ask you about,” Eren said, fiddling with a loose thread on his shirt. Levi had the urge to grab a pair of scissors and snip the thread.

Levi arched an eyebrow.

“In two weeks, at the Southbank Centre, Phillip Pullman is giving a talk about The Book of Dust. Would you be interested in going?”  

Despite Levi’s apprehension, it was flattering to have a gorgeous young man pursuing him. But there were too many risks on both sides. Of course Levi valued his job, but even more than that, he’d never want to taint Eren’s experience at university or cast a shadow over his career.

Many years ago, when he was first trying to kick start his career, Levi had been in love with his boss at the startup where he was working. Though he’d loved the job, their tumultuous affair had ruined any fond memories he had of the place. The ending always seemed to affect how one viewed the whole story, at least that was true for Levi.  

“That’s not a good idea.” He kept his voice steady even though his heart had begun hammering against his chest.

“We don’t have to--it doesn’t have to be like that,” Eren said hurriedly, eyes wide and earnest.

“Even so.”

Quiet fell over them, and an odd flicker of disappointment went through Levi when Eren stood with no further protest, chair scraping against the floor.

“Alright, I’ll see you in class then,” Eren said with feigned cheer as he headed out the door.

Busying himself with paperwork, Levi tried to ignore the brief pangs of regret that sparked throughout the afternoon. After awhile, he opened his laptop and looked up the event Eren had mentioned. Eren didn’t have a monopoly on attending the talk.  

Chapter Text



Monday morning, when Levi nodded at him as he walked through the door of the lecture hall, Eren felt all the tension go out of his shoulders. He hadn’t stopped beating himself up over his failed attempt to ask Levi out. Eren didn’t crush often, but when he did, it was intense and entirely too much.

He couldn’t concentrate during class because of the fucking cadence of Levi’s beautiful, deep voice as he explained the difference between supervised and unsupervised machine learning.  He tried to copy down the notes from the slides on the screen at the front of the room, but kept drawing little doodles in the margins instead, wondering what was I thinking ? That Levi would agree to go...platonically? That they’d strike up a friendship and eventually something more? God, he was embarrassed. He’d thought he’d picked up some sort of vibe between them, and maybe he had, but Levi was too noble to act on it.

“I can’t get him out of my head,” he complained to Mikasa that night. His desk was covered in junk food and dirty shirts, so he was curled up in his uncomfortable single-bed with his laptop, whining to his sister about his hopeless crush. He had dreamed his life in London would be glamorous, but here he was.  

“You’re probably just into him for the accent.”

“It’s not that,” Eren argued. “It doesn’t hurt, but it’s so much more than that.”

Mikasa rolled her eyes. “Sure.”

He should have just called her instead of video chatting. It would be easier to ignore her derision that way. “God, he’s so fucking smart and kind of mean sometimes, but then he’ll turn around and give you helpful advice. I mean he’s only thirty-four and he’s had this amazing career already.”

“If you start talking to me about data, I’m ending this call,” Mikasa warned.

Eren ignored her. “The way he teaches is incredible. He makes such sarcastic comments about what we’re learning, but then if you ask a question, he really takes the time to understand it and give you a good answer. He once made a shit joke to explain a concept about correlation versus causation.” Eren paused to sigh dreamily. “Plus, he likes to read good books. And he shares all these funny posts about cats, like you wouldn’t expect it from him.”

“Wait...what? How do you know that?”

Realising he’d slipped up, Eren froze. “...I may have found his Facebook.”

Mikasa groaned and covered her face. “I’m so embarrassed for you, oh my god.”

“I had to find out if he was straight or not!”

She groaned again. “Eren, don’t do this. I can hear it in your voice. I know how reckless you can be, but come on.”

“It’s just a fun crush,” he defended. “A fun, silly crush.” He left out the part where he’d already tried to ask Levi out on a date.

“Yes. A fantasy.” Mikasa crossed her arms and gave him a pointed look.

“Shut up, Mikasa.”

“I was just agreeing with you!”

“Yeah, but in your I-know-better-than-you way.”

“You know I’m just looking out for you. You get your heart broken so easily.”

“I almost never like anyone!”

“Yeah, but when you do, your heart gets broken like that,” she said, snapping her fingers.

“Whatever, fine.” He rolled over on his side and stuffed a pillow under his head.

“Eren...what aren’t you telling me?”

“What?”

“You have that guilty look on your face. Like in the picture.” Mikasa took every available opportunity to reference The Picture. A photo taken when Eren was a toddler where he wore a guilty expression as he hid in their playhouse to have a private shit.

“I am not making the guilty poop-face!”

“You are!”

He flung the pillow over his face and spoke into it.

“Try again without the pillow.”

“You don’t have to worry about him breaking my heart because I already asked him out and he turned me down. Which he definitely should have. He’s being a responsible, respectable adult, which only makes me like him more.”

“Eren!”

“I know, I know.”

“Oh my god...What kind of date did you ask him on?” Mikasa leaned closer to the camera, looking exasperated but intrigued.

Eren pulled at one of the seams on his pillow. “Philip Pullman is giving a talk about his new book, and I asked him to go.”

Her face softened. “That’s actually cute. You’re still an impulsive moron, but a sweet one.”

“Gee, thanks,” he said and then tried to change the subject as quickly as possible. “So how’s mom?”

“You know her. Working hard as ever. She finally agreed to let me start covering the groceries since I’m running more sessions at the gym.”

“Wait. Mom agreed to let you help contribute?”

“Yes.”

“As in our mother? Carla Jaeger?”

“Yes.”

“And you’re sure this wasn’t an Invasion of the Body Snatchers situation?”

“Haven’t checked yet, but I’ll get back to you.”

“Shit. That’s amazing, Mikasa. Good job.”

She took a little bow, hair falling in front of the camera. “Yes, thank you. Now I just have to convince Zeke to stop leeching off of mom.”

“Yeah, good luck with that.”  

“He was only supposed to be here for a month, and it’s been three.”

“Well, Mikasa, it’s really hard to find another pyramid scheme to latch onto. These opportunities don’t just fall from the sky.”

“I swear to god if he ever tries to sell me another vitamin again, I’m disowning him. I’m trying to convince him to just get a job with Connie at the bar until he figures things out.”

“Well, if anyone can, it’s you.”

“If he talks to you, can you mention it too? Couldn’t hurt.”

“Sure,” Eren said, not really meaning it. They hadn’t talked much since Eren had left for school nearly a year ago. Zeke had sent him a few obnoxious texts recently that consisted of, Pip pip cheerio, bro. Or Have you read my blog post on Paleo yet? All of which Eren had ignored.  

“Okay, I have to run, I’m leading a yoga session in an hour, but I love you, and for what it’s worth, I think you should still go to the event.” Mikasa blew him a kiss and waved.

“Love you too, and I’ll think about it.”

They disconnected the call, and Eren got that same lonely feeling he always got after calling home to his family or friends. On top of that was the embarrassment about his crush. He had to accept he’d let himself get carried away and was projecting his feelings of loneliness onto this fantasy of Levi.   

 

 

 

 

Eren took Mikasa’s advice and went to the Southbank Centre on Friday even though he hadn’t found anyone who wanted to go with him. His roommates hadn’t been interested: Ymir had called him a nerd, and Annie had just said, “No. Sounds boring.” At least Reiner and Bert had politely cited other plans as their reason for not going.

Whatever, they were all kind of assholes anyway. They only hung out with him because they all lived together, and rarely at that. So Eren had attempted to tame his wild hair, put on his nicest pair of black jeans and a button-down, and gone on his own.

Loneliness clouded his excitement for the night as he waited in line to get his signed copy of The Book of Dust from the little booth at the front of the centre. Everyone around him seemed to be here with someone, chatting happily, flipping through the new book together.

Eren got his copy and didn’t know what to do with himself. Distracted as he wandered around, admiring the large, glossy atrium, he did a double-take when someone caught his eye. Standing by the bar was a man Levi’s height with the same undercut.  

The man turned so Eren could see him in profile. Holy fucking shit, Eren thought, maneuvering through the crowd as fast as he could, making strategic use of his broad shoulders to get people out of his way.

“Levi?”

Levi leaned against the front of the bar, looking unsurprised. “Hey.”

“What are you doing here?” He’d spent the whole week trying not to think about Levi, trying to laugh off the rejection and the hopelessness of his crush, but Levi was standing in front of him . He’d actually come.  

“I wanted to see the lecture.”

“Oh. Do...do you want to sit together?” Eren asked.

“Not really.”

Eren was knocked further off-balance, unsure if Levi was joking or not. He tried to remain collected as he said, “I thought you were supposed to be polite.”

“I’m polite,” Levi protested flatly.

“No, you’re confusing.”

A funny look crossed Levi’s face, which Eren couldn’t decipher.

The bartender came back with Levi’s drink, a plastic cup full of wine, but before Levi paid, he said, “He’ll have a...what do you drink, Eren?”   

Too flustered to think of the names to any drinks, Eren said, “What you’re having looks good.” If Levi was buying him a drink, maybe he had been joking.

“Another red wine, please,” Levi said.

Eren didn’t know what to talk about next. Levi looked so handsome in his dark blazer and jeans, and Eren’s heart wouldn’t stop doing nervous somersaults.  

If he’d known Levi was going to be here, he could have mentally prepared some dazzling stories, some intriguing ice-breakers, intelligent questions, but here he was standing in front of Levi awkwardly without a clue what to say.

Fun crush, he reminded himself. Silly, fun crush. Just a fantasy.

“You don’t want to sit with me, but you’re buying me a drink?” Eren asked, trying to keep his tone neutral, breezy.

“You’re a broke student. Like I said, I’m being polite.” Levi paid for the drinks and Eren followed him to one of the empty tables around the corner. For such a bustling place, there were a surprising number of cozy places to sit.

Eren looked around for anyone he recognised from class and was relieved when no one materialised. He wondered if Levi was doing the same. Fuck it, anyway. There wasn’t any rule that they couldn’t socialise if they ran into each other in public.  

“Have you been here before?” Levi asked once they were seated, facing one another at a low table by the window. Finally out of winter’s grasp, the sun was still hanging low in the sky, casting the Thames in an orange hue.

“I came to an art exhibit here once,” Eren said, “but never to an event like this. It’s weird they serve you the drinks in plastic cups. I thought it would be classier.” The plastic cup made Eren feel like he was back in the college dorms again. Not bad, just out of place here.

Levi crossed his ankle over his leg, and Eren tracked the graceful movement with his eyes. “You can bring them into the theatre,” Levi said.  

“True. Do you come here often, then?” As the words left his lips, Eren cringed.

“Did you really just ask me if I come here often?” Levi asked, bemused.

“That did sound really cheesy,” Eren admitted. “But it’s a genuine question.”

“I don’t come here often,” Levi said. “But I’d like to. Most of my friends have moved out of the city, though.”

I’d go with you. In his mind’s-eye, it played out like fast-forwarding a movie. Levi would wear the same black blazer that brought out the grey in his eyes; afterwards they’d have dinner overlooking the Thames, discussing whatever show they’d seen, and then Levi would take him home and--Eren shook himself out of his spiraling thoughts.   

Their knees brushed under the table, and Levi didn’t pull away.

“I’m glad you came tonight,” Eren said, voice low.

Levi frowned and ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “Eren...Just because I’m here doesn’t mean--”

“I know. I’m still glad, though.”

When Eren met Levi’s eyes, he felt it: a current of electricity running between them. He wasn’t always the best at reading other people, but he was good at identifying that spark of interest, the heat that a single look could carry. The way Levi’s heavy-lidded eyes considered him made Eren’s breath hitch. Did Levi want to be convinced? If he did, Eren feared he would only fuck it up.

Levi cleared his throat and stood. “I need the loo. And we should head in soon.”  

“Wait,” Eren said, turning around in his chair. “So we are sitting together then?”

“I never said that.”    

“I can’t tell if we’re joking anymore,” Eren said.

“Fine.” Levi waved a hand. “I suppose you can sit with me. But you better bloody well not talk during it. I can’t stand that rude shit.”

Eren nodded, amused by the severity and specificity of the request. “You have yourself a deal.”  

He watched Levi walk away, and then leaned back in his chair, smiling to himself.

 

 

 

 

They chose seats at the front of the rear stalls, so there was no one blocking their view and they had a wooden ledge to rest their arms and drinks upon. Every time their shoulders touched as Eren leaned back in his chair, he lost track of what was being said on stage.

When the interview ended, Eren didn’t want to move. He wanted to stay still and feel Levi’s arm pressed against his, to smell the smoky scent of his cologne that made Eren light-headed with desire. Even though the urge to rest his head on Levi’s shoulder or to thread their fingers together was almost too much to bear, he would have chosen to relive that hour over and over if he could.

Afterwards, Eren waited for Levi to excuse himself, to call it a night, but he seemed content to keep walking side by side as they left the building together. Eren thought, if I just keep thinking of interesting things to say, he won’t go.

“You up for a walk along the river?” Eren tried.

Levi considered this for a moment. So sure the answer would be no, Eren almost didn’t register the nod. “Yeah, alright. Not too cold for it.”  

They strolled along the walkway above the water, the night air crisp and cool enough that Eren had put his sweatshirt on. The London Eye’s blue glow reflected on the water below, rotating so slowly above the city that it appeared still. Lights from restaurants, shops and flats on both sides of the river lit up the night, and Eren let himself imagine that there was nothing preventing this from being a real date, that they were just two people without a care in the world.

“I don’t know how I felt about the excerpt he read,” Eren said.  

“Me neither.”

“I’m worried it’s going to be really boring,” Eren confessed. “The first ones were perfect. I don’t want anything to ruin that.”

For a moment, they were split apart, maneuvering around a group of tourists clustered together, watching a man waving a giant bubble wand. They exchanged an eye roll.

“I thought you said you hated the last book,” Levi said once they had reached a quieter part of the pathway.

“No, I said it destroyed me. I hated it, and I loved it.”

“What, because Lyra and Will don’t end up together?”

“Obviously. They were soul mates and they were trapped in separate universes.” Eren threw his arms open wide for dramatic effect.

Levi stopped walking and crossed his arms, face caught in the blue glow from the ferris wheel. “Soul mates? They were twelve.”

“What’s age got to do with it?”   

“You’re right, nothing. It’s the concept of soul mates that’s bullshit.”

The opinion didn’t come as a surprise. In fact, Eren had been hoping for it; he enjoyed the sarcastic, scathing replies. He didn’t even know if the concept was something he believed in either, at least not for himself.   

“Are you going to tell me statistically it’s improbable?” Eren gave him a sly smile.

“Yeah. I’m going to draw a fucking graph for you.”  

“Come on. Tell me the ending didn’t make you cry,” Eren teased.

Before Levi could reply, Eren came to a sudden halt. “Shit! I left my book inside!”

“It’s alright. I’m sure it’s either still at your seat or they’ve brought it to the front.”

Relieved that Levi didn’t seem annoyed by his stupidity, Eren said, “I just hope no one took it.”

“You can have mine if they did.”  

Levi said this so casually, as though he were offering a piece of gum, that it took a moment for it to register. “What? No, I couldn’t take yours.”

“I’m only here because you found the event. I can just buy another copy inside.”

“Well, let me go check for it.” He expected Levi to finally excuse himself, but he followed Eren back to the venue.

“I need a shit,” he said in answer to Eren’s questioning look as they walked through the entrance.

Eren was startled by the vulgarity of a line delivered in that lovely, clipped accent; he blinked at Levi before letting out a shocked laugh.

“Go get your book,” Levi said, heading to the bathroom.

One of the ushers who was helping close up the theatre let Eren back in, and his book was still underneath the chair where he’d left it. He felt immense relief that he hadn’t lost his momento of the night, something he’d carefully chosen while otherwise refusing to fill his transient life with clutter.

Even though Levi had given no indication he would be departing after said shit, Eren was still surprised to find him waiting, leaning against the wall outside of the theatre.  

“I’m peckish,” Levi said, and Eren felt almost giddy with hope.

“Wahaca maybe?”

“Sure,” Levi said. “Something fast.”

He let Eren buy him two fish tacos and a margarita from the Wahaca food-truck outside. “You bought me the drink earlier,” Eren had insisted. They sat at one of the picnic tables out front, the smell of grilled meat filling the air. Levi ate his taco with a knife and fork, and Eren made fun of him.

“Funny, you’re taking the piss when you’ve got sauce on your face,” Levi said, flicking his judgemental gaze to Eren as he cut off another piece of taco.    

Eren touched his chin. “Here?”

“No.”

He touched his forehead. “Here?”

Levi rolled his eyes. “Yeah. Spot on.”

Reaching for a napkin from the center of the table, Eren said, “Thanks for going back with me. That was really nice of you.” He wiped the corners of his mouth then messily tucked back into his chicken burrito.

“It’s fine.” Levi didn’t look up from his food.  

“You’re not great at accepting praise, are you?”

Levi’s fork was halfway to his mouth, and he paused to glare at Eren.

“Like when I tried to compliment your teaching or your career.”

“Maybe you’re bad at giving compliments. Thought about that?”

“You’re funny too,” Eren said, like it was a challenge.

Levi pointed at Eren with his fork. “That’s a better compliment.”

Eren finished up his food and stood. “I’m gonna get another margarita, you want one?”

“Go on then. But here,” Levi pulled his wallet out and handed over a twenty pound note.

“Thanks. I’ll keep the change.”

“Yeah. You can buy a new sweatshirt.”

“Hey! What’s wrong with my sweatshirt?” Eren looked down, dumbfounded, at his green hoodie. He’d gotten it from Abercrombie a couple years ago, but it was still in decent enough shape.  

“What’s right with it?” Levi said.

“You know what? You keep the change. Buy a new attitude,” Eren said.

Levi burst out laughing, covering his eyes with his hand as if he were surprised it was happening.

Flirting with Levi got Eren’s heart racing in ways he hadn’t experienced since his first middle-school crushes. He’d had feelings for people since then, meaningful relationships, but they’d lacked the novelty and the thrill that he felt with Levi. A dangerous, unlikely possibility unfolding between them.

The whole night had a surreal, magical edge to it. Removing Levi from the context of university had deepend Eren’s crush. It wasn’t Levi as a professor he liked...it was Levi the person. Though he seemed tenser than he did while in front of the classroom, he retained the sharp sense of humor that had caught Eren’s attention from the very first lesson.

Walking back to the food truck, laughing to himself, that’s when Eren understood. He liked that Levi was a challenge, that he didn’t readily accept compliments. He even liked that Levi insulted his sweatshirt. Underneath his barbs and impassive exterior was a sweetness, a gentleness, and that was the best part of all. Each time he’d talked to Levi he managed to chip away at Levi’s icy exterior just a bit more. Maybe soon he would uncover the sculpture underneath, a masterpiece.

All the things he’d told Mikasa had been true, except that this was a fun, silly crush. Eren could feel he was rapidly approaching the danger line where the fun and silly portion of the evening would end and he would only get hurt.

While he waited in line, he glanced back at Levi at the table a few times, half-expecting him to be gone, but Levi was still sitting there with his copy of The Book of Dust out, idly flipping through.

When he returned, Levi suggested they resume their walk.

“With our drinks?” Eren asked, equally surprised by Levi’s suggestion and the idea of walking around in public with alcohol in plain sight.

“It’s fine,” Levi said, amused.

“Sweet! I always just want to be sure. It’s illegal back home.”

“Your laws make no fucking sense.” Levi shook his head.

They cleared off the table and continued in the direction of the Eye, past the small market selling records and books and two stray street performers dressed as Yoda and a gold statue.

Eren halted. “Shit! I left my book back at the table.” He’d been so focussed on the moment that he lost track of the damn book again.

“Do we need to put that thing on a lead?”

“Yes!” Eren called over his shoulder and as he ran back to their table to retrieve his wayward text once again. Please don’t let him think I’m always like this, Eren thought.

“You sure you really want it?” Levi asked once Eren had returned. He was looking down at the river now, leaning forward on the stone wall along the edge of the walkway. Eren went to stand by his side.

“I do! I really should have gotten two actually. One for my mom,” Eren said regretfully. “I might just give her mine since I keep leaving it everywhere anyway.”  

“I’m sure you’ll be able to find another one. They usually sell signed copies like those at Forbidden Planet.”

“What’s that?” Eren asked.

“They sell comics, merchandise, those sorts of things. They’ve got a decent collection of fantasy and sci-fi books. Bit nerdy, but fun. A friend of mine always makes me stop in there with them.” Levi smiled fondly.

“What do you usually buy?”  

“Can’t say I’m too exciting. I tend to like the broadly popular work. Studio Ghibli films and the like. Walking Dead’s alright, I still keep up with the comics.”

Eren hid a smile. “I like some of that stuff. Like anything zombie sign me up, except I’ve given up on the Walking Dead .”

“Fair. I really should.”

“I’m actually kind of surprised you’re into all that.”

“Why?”

Because you seem so aloof and cool and anything that makes you seem more down-to-earth just makes me like you more. “I don’t know, I guess you come off as someone who wouldn’t have a lot of interest in that kind of stuff. Like you’re too cool for it.”

“You don’t know me very well at all,” Levi said. Was there--Eren’s heart stuttered--was there something flirty in the way Levi said that? It was something in the way he held Eren’s eye, the sly way the corner of his lip tugged up.

He was probably just imagining it. Eren rested his arms on the railing above the wall, trying to choose his next words carefully as he stared down at the patch of rocky-beach that was visible now, not yet swallowed up by the tide.  

“I wouldn’t mind knowing you,” Eren said quietly, as though he were tossing the words to the river like a skipping stone.

Neither looked at the other. Eren’s grip on the rail tightened. Mikasa’s warning ran through his head again as he waited for Levi to speak. To say something, anything.

“Even if I wanted that too, you’re my student. It’s a bad idea.”

Eren’s heart went into overdrive, pounding against his rib cage like it was trying to escape. Their fingers were inches apart, resting on the guardrail and Eren let the wine and margaritas give him courage as he moved his hand towards Levi’s and placed it on top of his. The hard line of Levi’s profile was impassive, but he didn’t pull away.

Self-conscious, nervous thoughts slithered into Eren’s mind: why would Levi want him? He was just a dumb kid with nothing to offer.

But Eren was also reckless. He let moments overwhelm his better sense of judgement, his rationale, and would always choose to leap. Below, a river cruise ship trailed past, and a few people on the deck waved up at them. Eren tentatively lifted his hand to wave back, but instead of putting it back down on the rail, he took hold of Levi’s arm. Face still angled away from Eren, Levi’s jaw was tight.

Eren could feel the hard muscles of Levi’s bicep through the blazer, and he squeezed. Partially so Levi would look over at him and partially because he had no restraint.

Without a word, Levi gripped Eren’s waist, sending shivers through him at the touch as they locked eyes. Eren hesitantly bent forward to kiss him, expecting to be stopped, but was shocked when Levi’s hand twisted the front of his hoodie to pull Eren the rest of the way across.   

They both tasted like tequila, but Eren wouldn’t have changed a thing. Running his fingers along the soft hairs of Levi’s undercut and woozy again from the smell of his cologne, Eren could have kissed him like this all night. Levi’s lips were soft and a little chapped, and he kissed Eren with such tenderness, hand pressed against the small of his back, that Eren thought he must be dreaming.

But Levi pulled away, taking a step back. The breeze blew his bangs in front of his face, obscuring his eyes. “I should go,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

Eren was still reeling from the kiss, words not registering until Levi stepped back.

“Oh, okay,” Eren said, but Levi was already hurrying away. “Goodnight, then.” 

Chapter Text

Levi should have never allowed the kiss to happen. His plan--if you could call it that--had spectacularly backfired.

“I thought if I spent more time with him, he’d turn out to be a twat, and I’d lose interest,” he tried to explain to Isabel.

Spring had come out in full force that weekend, the sweet smell of the first crocuses blooming in the air. They jogged through Clapham Common side by side, dodging cyclists and couples strolling hand in hand.

“Maaate.” Isabel let out a low whistle. “That makes no sense.”  

She wasn’t wrong. He’d not stopped thinking of Eren’s smile or the kiss for two days straight.

“I’m hardly ever interested in someone once I properly chat to them,” Levi said, wiping some sweat from his brow.

“Fair point. Can’t argue with that.”

Isabel and Farlan knew his track record better than anyone, even Hanji and Erwin. Childhood friends always saw how the sausage got made.

They ran for another kilometer, the kiss still playing through Levi’s mind on repeat. He hadn’t even kissed Eren properly. A fucking wasted opportunity.  

A student had never caught his interest before, and even if they had, he never would have pursued anything. Eren’s pushiness should have been a turn-off, but he didn’t push quite hard enough to be off-putting.

“Right, I’ve had enough,” Isabel said, slowing to a walk. She flung herself onto the grass, red hair fanning out around her. Levi frowned, but gingerly took a seat next to her after he made sure the area was clear of bird or dog shit. Dogs were running everywhere without their leads, and some owners were irresponsible fucks.

Isabel picked up the former thread of their conversation. “He must be quite fit if you’re still interested.”

This line of questioning could only go to stupid places, but Levi thought of how tall Eren was, his lithe muscles, his beautiful green eyes. “Yeah. He’s alright.”

She nudged his arm. “He hench, then?”

“What the fuck is 'hench'?”

“You know, like...jacked and shit.”

“Ug.” Levi rolled his eyes. Isabel taught at a secondary school, and she picked up all the awful slang her students used.

“What are you going to do about it?”

“Fuck’s sake. I don’t know yet.”

“You can’t tell Farlan about this,” she warned. “Exactly the sort of thing he’d freak out about, innit?”

Levi never would have breathed a word about Eren today if Farlan hadn’t been ill. “Of course I’m not telling Farlan. What kind of dick-head do you take me for? I thought you would probably tell him.”

“Alright, alright. Respect.” She held up her hands in surrender. “Just making sure. And no, I won’t unless you tell me I can.”

“Stop saying ‘respect’ like that,” Levi said irritably. “You sound ridiculous.”

She laughed. “Whatever.”

“Thanks. There’s no reason to tell him, really. He’ll get up in arms over fuck all.”

Levi had always appreciated that even though Farlan and Isabel had gotten together when they were teenagers, he’d never been made to feel like a third wheel. If Isabel said she’d respect his desire to keep this between them, he knew she meant it.   

“For the record,” she said, picking at a blade of grass by her leg. “I don’t think it’s that big a deal. You’re both adults, and you’re a good bloke. You’d treat him right.” She winked at him. “Not like if one of the teachers at my school were dating a student.”

“Well, yes,” Levi said, “your students are fourteen. I’d say that’s quite different.”  

“Right. Exactly.” She pointed at him. “So once your classes are over, have yourself a nice shag, if you like.”

“Still feels wrong,” Levi said. Even if you removed them from the university setting, Levi had an established career, money, experience.

“Look, if you wanted to be talked out of it, you’d have gone to Farlan. But you came to me.”

She had a point. Levi shifted uncomfortably, the spot between his socks and his trousers tickled by the grass. Isabel might talk like a bloody idiot sometimes, but she was smart.

“Clever girl,” he said dryly.

She punched his arm lightly. “Yeah, I do alright sometimes, don’t I?”

“Mm. You ready for another lap, then?”

She spread her arms out. “Ten more minutes. I’m cloud watching now.”

Levi sighed, but he joined her in gazing up at the blue sky, full of fluffy clouds intermittently covering the sun. He felt oddly at peace. Perhaps the simple act of confiding his ‘sins’ in Isabel had freed him from their hypnotic spell. Perhaps if he ran hard enough, he could enter into spring’s embrace and leave Eren and their kiss behind him.   

 

 

 

Of course, he was wrong about that. The next night, he checked his emails only to find one from Eren waiting for him at the top of his inbox.

Hi Levi,

I was just wondering if I could swing by during your office hours to pick your brain about graph databases? We only briefly covered them in class, but I was curious if you had any further reading. My thesis is focussed on them, and Professor Zacharias recommended I come talk to you.

Thank you,

Eren Jaeger

Levi blinked at the computer screen. He hit ‘reply’ and tried to formulate a response.

Eren,

The cursor blinked back at Levi. His hands hovered uselessly over the keyboard.  

I don’t think I’m the best person to advise you.  

I wish you all the best with your thesis. You’re an excellent student, and your hard work will pay off.

No. That sounded shitty and weird. “Your hard work will pay off”? It could be misconstrued as a pervy come on. And “you’re an excellent student”? He’d barely noticed Eren was in his class until they’d spoken at the pub.

He tried again:

Eren,

I’m not the best person to advise you. Mike overestimates my knowledge on the subject.

I wish you all the best with your thesis.

Best,

Levi Ackerman

He hesitated before he hit send. Because if he were Eren, he’d read it as the rejection it was meant to be, and he’d leave well enough alone. The thought made his stomach drop.

Fuck. He stood up and paced around his small bedroom, lit only by the faint glow of the screen. He disappointed himself. Relief, not disappointment, should be his foremost emotion.

Farlan had once pulled some armchair-psychologist bullshit that Levi found flaws in appropriate potential partners in favor of doomed ones because deep down he thought he deserved to be alone.

Levi sat back down and hit send on the email.

 

 

 

The last lecture of the semester had been earlier that week, and Eren had sat at the back of the room, expression unreadable when Levi had braved a look.

Exam schedules were now set, and panicked students sent him emails asking for clarification about all sorts of topics. Most preferred to communicate digitally rather than dropping by his office hours, which suited Levi just fine.  

He was cleaning his desk when Eren showed up. Levi wasn’t exactly surprised.

“Hey,” Eren said from the doorway, looking nervous. “Can I come in?”

“Sure,” Levi replied. “You alright?”

Eren's eyes narrowed. He marched into the room and shut the door behind him, not quite a slam but with more force than necessary. “Why wouldn’t I be alright? Because you kissed me and then just left? And then sent me that blow-off email? I’m great.”

Levi couldn’t help it; he laughed despite his irritation with Eren, with himself. He’d gone through this misunderstanding with Hanji before. “It just means ‘how are you’. But fair point.” He put the cleaning spray and rag down on the desk, unsure of what to do with his hands now that they were empty.

The laughter startled Eren and seemed to have a placating effect. He shoved his hands in his jean pockets and looked away. “Oh, yeah. I’m still not used to that phrase.”

Silence hung between them, an awkward companion in the room.

Levi took it upon himself to break that silence. “Look. The kiss shouldn’t have happened.” There was no point pussyfooting around it.   

“I don’t care,” Eren retorted, prepared. “I’m glad it did.”

“I’m not here to live out some teacher, student fantasy with you,” Levi said flatly. It wasn’t that he was opposed to one-night stands or flings, but the thought of being used like that, playing some part, pissed him off. He didn’t want to take advantage of Eren, but he didn’t want to be taken advantage of either.

Eren shook his head. “That isn’t what this is.”

“No?”

“No. I like you. ” Eren took a seat in front of Levi, the small room shrinking further. His body said, I’m not going anywhere. I dare you to move away. “I think you like me too.”

This was terrible in its own way. Because Levi wanted Eren, and if he really wasn’t just some way for Eren to live out a cliche fantasy, and if Eren kept pushing--which it was clear from the way he was looking at Levi that he would--then Levi wouldn’t be able to say no.

They probably just needed to get this attraction out of their systems. This couldn’t possibly go beyond that. Whatever was between them, it had no legs.

Levi didn’t answer but he didn’t look away either, arms folded across his chest as he leaned back against the front of the desk. They were so close, and when their eyes met, he felt the heat, the spark between them.

Eren stood slowly, giving Levi time to break the eye contact or retreat behind his desk. He stayed still as Eren moved closer until his hands were resting on either side of the desk, caging Levi in.

Levi knew he shouldn’t let this happen in his office--and he’d just cleaned the bloody desk--but he had fantasised about fucking someone here. He’d just assumed it would be another professor. Or at least a student in an entirely different department. Music Theory, perhaps.  

Well. If this was going to happen, he’d do it right this time.

He reached a hand up behind Eren’s neck to pull him in, crushing their lips together in a bruising kiss. Sucking and biting Eren’s lower lip the way he’d stopped himself from doing last time, brushing a thumb against Eren’s nipple through his thin t-shirt. Levi was rewarded with a pleased moan, Eren clutching Levi closer.

Once, he told himself, just once so fucking enjoy it. He licked his way into Eren’s mouth, teasing their tongues together.  

After a few minutes, Eren broke the heated kiss, breathing hard. He rested his forehead against Levi’s. “God, you’re sexy.”

“Go lock the door,” Levi brushed past the compliment, shallow breath breaking the illusion of a calm exterior.

Eren stumbled over himself rushing to the door, and Levi rolled his eyes.  

When he was finished, Levi pulled him forward again for another kiss, running his hands along Eren’s back and then slipping them underneath his shirt, fingers cool against Eren’s hot skin. It was only a matter of time before Eren set him ablaze.

“Why are your hands so cold?” Eren took Levi’s hands between his own, warming them.

“They’re always cold,” Levi dismissed, looking down at their intertwined hands. Eren kissed each knuckle, and somehow this felt more intimate than Eren’s tongue in his mouth.

“I want to make you feel good,” Eren said.

Levi glanced at the desk. He had pens, windex, a rag, and a box of tissues. “I don’t have any lube.”

Eren laughed. “Me neither. This is going way better than I imagined.”

“Yeah. You sure won the lucky draw.”

“I know you’re being sarcastic, but I like it,” Eren said. “Clothes on or off?”

Levi glanced at the door. “On.” He knew he would regret not seeing Eren naked, but if someone turned up, they wouldn’t have very long to get decent. His cock swelled at the thought, surprising him. Even the idea of ravaging Eren in his stupid, ratty Abercrombie t-shirt wasn’t enough to turn him off.

“Do you shop anywhere else?” Levi asked, fisting the front of Eren’s shirt.

Eren blinked at him. “Your flirting is so weird. Don’t change.”

“I was sincerely asking.”

Eren ignored him and instead bent forward to kiss Levi’s neck, nibbling and sucking up and down, hitting all those sweet spots that made Levi’s eyes flutter shut. Rendered him speechless.  

“Okay,” Eren said, straightening up. “I know what I want to do.”

“Go on then,” Levi said, nearly breathless.   

Eren dropped to his knees to mouth at Levi’s cock through his soft slacks, the hard outline pressed against his lips as he left wet marks on the material. Eren cupped Levi’s length while slipping two of Levi’s fingers into his mouth. A low groan slipped past Levi’s lips as he imagined that tight, wet heat around his dick.

“Can I?” Eren asked, looking up at him in a way that had Levi straining against his trousers.

“Yeah.” Jesus fuck, yes. Do anything you want to me.

In seconds, his cock was freed from the confines of his trousers. Briefly, he wondered if it would bother Eren that he was uncut; the only other American man Levi had slept with had been taken aback by it.

But Eren licked him from root to tip without hesitation, moaning softly.

“I love your dick,” he said before sucking the head into his mouth and giving his tongue a swirl. He gripped Levi’s ass, moans muffled now as he took Levi deeper and deeper.

“Oh my god, ” Levi choked out. He’d never had someone sound quite like that--downright filthy--when they sucked him off, the vibrations around his length and the way Eren was playing with his balls had Levi’s legs shaking as he clutched the edge of the desk behind him for support.

Eren looked up at him, eyes clouded with lust, and smirked around his cock. Tangling a hand in Eren’s silky, wild hair, Levi tipped his head back, letting go.

Torturously, Eren paused his ministrations, and said, “Keep watching me.”   

Levi obeyed, and Eren tilted his head to the side and began to slide his wet lips up and down Levi’s shaft. It wasn’t a bad sensation, but Levi was confused.

“What are you doing?”

“The harmonica technique.”

Levi had no idea what this technique was, but Eren’s enthusiasm was delightful. “That doesn’t seem right.”

“What do you mean? I’ve been doing it this way for years, and no one’s complained.”

“Well, it’s not awful,” Levi offered. “Wrap your lips around it more when you move.”  

Eren gave a look of intense concentration, and Levi was surprised at how sexy he found it.

This time, Eren got his lips halfway round Levi’s cock as he slid up and down. “Fuuuuck,” Levi groaned, snapping his hips forward.

Eren pulled back and grinned up at Levi. “Like that, then?”

“You’re a fast learner.” Levi's knuckles went white as he tightened his grip on the desk.

At the praise, Eren let out a soft, pleased sigh, and switched to the other side. Levi was so hard, and all he wanted was to fuck Eren’s sweet mouth, to completely let go.

“Eren--”

An acknowledging hum, and Eren began sucking him off in earnest again. Taking Levi as deep as he could, and Christ almighty, Levi wished he could just bend Eren over the desk and fuck him into oblivion.

It took all his willpower not to come as Eren deepthroated him and held him still, throat constricting around him.

Eren,” he panted. “I’m so fucking close.”

Slowly, Eren pulled back. Levi watched reverently as his glistening cock inched out of Eren’s mouth. “Fuck--I’m gonna--”

Eren opened his mouth and closed his eyes, and Levi’s cum painted that gorgeous face and lips and tongue, a filthy masterpiece.

A strange look passed over his face as Eren wiped some cum off of his chin. And suddenly, Eren stood up and slid a cum-streaked finger down Levi’s cheek.

“What the fuck?” Levi spluttered, still in a post-orgasm haze.

“That’s for your email,” Eren said, eyes full of amusement. “And for making fun of my shirt,” he added as reached around Levi to snatch some of the tissues from his desk--for once hayfever season had proven useful--to wipe down the rest of his face.

“I--you absolute shit. That’s disgusting.” His words lacked any bite, despite his best effort. Why the fuck was he horrified and amused?

Levi grabbed one of the unused tissues from Eren’s hand and wiped the cum off furiously.

He yanked Eren, who was obviously trying to hold back laughter, towards him, and kissed that stupid fucking smile off his face. He pulled on that messy, ridiculous hair and when he tugged a little harder Eren moaned into his mouth. It was a shame this couldn’t happen again or he’d want to explore that.

Levi unzipped Eren’s jeans and palmed his erection. “You want me to take care of that?” he asked, voice low.

“God, yes.” Eren rubbed himself against Levi’s hand, letting out a desperate whimper.

“Shame you’ll have to beg for it now after what you did.”

Pleased by the sharp inhale above him, he started another messy kiss. As Eren tried to grind against his hand, he shifted back ever so slightly.

Eren pulled away with a groan. “Stop moving your hand away, I can’t take it.”

“Beg for it,” he said. “I told you.”

Cock jerking against Levi’s hand, Eren gasped, “Please, Levi.”

Levi stroked a finger down Eren’s rigid length, chasing a bead of pre-cum.     

“Please, damn it. I need you to really fucking touch me, I’ll do anything. Please,” he begged, pupils blown wide, as his lustful gaze met Levi’s.

“Alright, then,” Levi sighed, slicked his hand with spit, and gave Eren what he wanted.

Eren’s cock was perfect: long and smooth and not too thick. Levi loved the way it slid between his hands as Eren thrust helplessly, and he imagined what it would feel like inside of him. His cock twitched with renewed interest, but he shook off the fantasy. This wouldn’t happen again.

Levi nipped at the space where Eren’s collarbone met his neck, and whispered, “You going to come for me?”

“Not yet.” Eren shut his eyes. “Too good.”

“Come on,” he said softly. “I want you to. Come for me, Eren.”  

Eren cried out, face twisting in ecstacy. He came all over Levi’s hand in hot, sticky bursts, fingers digging into Levi’s arms as he shook.

“Asshole,” Eren murmured, slumping forward.

For a minute, Eren remained boneless in his arms, Levi half sat on the desk with Eren draped over him. As much as he felt the surprising, unwelcome urge to stay like this, Levi disentangled himself.

Pulling a few tissues from the box to clean them both up, Levi said, “Unlike you, I’ve got a little class.”

“Thanks.” Eren tucked himself back into his jeans. He flicked his eyes up to Levi's. “Sorry I wiped cum on your face.”

Levi arched a disbelieving eyebrow. “You’re not sorry.”

“It was pretty funny,” Eren admitted.

“It was vile.”

“My punishment wasn’t fair, though. Making me beg like that.”

“Seemed like you enjoyed it.”

Eren flushed but otherwise didn’t acknowledge Levi’s observation. “You shouldn’t have blown me off in your email.”

“Well, you didn’t really come here to talk about graph databases, did you?” Levi said, walking over to the bin to throw the crumpled tissues away.

“No.” Eren gave a shaky laugh, looking a little dazed. “I really am doing my dissertation on them, though.”

Levi stayed behind his desk. Now that they’d gotten their attraction out of their system, he felt he should keep his distance. The hazy fog of arousal no longer clouding his judgement, Levi cleared his throat. “I can email you some recommendations, if you like. I haven’t worked with them much, but I have some resources.”

“Thank you,” Eren said. He looked sad, though. “So was this...is this really it?”

“Afraid so.” Even Levi realised how callous that sounded. “It’s nothing to do with you, Eren. It’s this--” he gestured around them, “we’ve acted on the attraction, and now we can move on.”

“You’re not even my professor anymore.”

“Technically I am. You haven’t sat your exams yet, and I could be involved in grading your dissertation,” Levi pointed out.

He didn’t even know what the policies were on being involved with a student in your department. Probably, “don’t do it”. There was no point in pursuing something else anyway. For what? A few more shags?

“Okay.” Eren made a move towards the door. “I’m glad we…acted on the attraction. It’s been real.”

Eren froze with his hand on the doorknob and turned to face Levi again. The look he gave was dangerous, determined. He marched back towards Levi, around the desk, and kissed him forcefully, pure fire. Again, despite his earlier words to the contrary, Levi found himself melting into Eren. Their teeth clashed as they tried to find the right angle, to get closer, Eren’s fingers buried in Levi’s hair.

Eren eased them out of the kiss, planting a few final, softer ones on Levi’s lips.

“Okay. Goodbye for real now,” Eren said, nodding to himself before walking out the door.

In stunned silence, Levi stared at the space Eren had occupied, a small part of him wishing that Eren would come back, that this wasn’t goodbye.

“You know what, no,” Eren said walking back in the room. “I want to see you again.”

Both of Levi’s awful plans had failed. Talking to Eren more and messing around with him had done nothing to lessen his interest. He’d just crossed a big line, might as fucking well cross another.

“Come round for tea this weekend, if you like.”

Eren blinked at him.

“I don’t...I don’t see where this can possibly go,” Levi said. “But we might as well talk.”

“Okay.” Eren ducked his head as he hid a smile. “Yeah.”

Levi grabbed some paper from his desk and jotted down his number. “I would tell you not to abuse this, but I have a feeling you will.”

Eren took the paper and tapped it lightly against the palm of his hand. “Nah. I’m gonna play it so cool now. You’ll be dying for me to message you.”

Rolling his eyes, Levi said, “Play it too cool, and you won’t get an address.”

Moments after Eren left his office, Levi had a text that said, I’m the uncoolest of cool. Please send me your address and a time.

Chapter Text

What the hell were you supposed to bring to someone’s place if they’d invited you over for tea? The thought had plagued Eren all week.

Historia, the girlfriend of one of his roommates--Ymir, the mean one from Wales--and, somewhat embarrassingly, Eren’s only friend, had suggested he have some fun and buy an assortment of tea for Levi.

“It’ll be cute,” she'd assured him. “Ymir secretly loves that sort of thing. I think she finds it disarming.”

They’d even gone to Tesco together, and he’d come away with far more than he’d planned. Or at least far more than felt appropriate to bring as a thanks for inviting me to tea, can we please fuck again, and can you say filthy things to me in that accent, thank you again for the hospitality.

Now, outside Levi’s flat, Eren stared down at the bag full of tea and realised what a dumb gift this truly was. He ran a nervous hand through his hair and worked up the nerve to buzz Levi’s apartment.

Laughter and music from the high street bars and restaurants were drowned out by Eren’s thoughts, playing on loop as he waited for Levi to let him in: Holy shit I have Levi’s address. Holy shit I am at Levi’s apartment. Holy shit I’m going to see Levi. Holy shit I’m going to fuck Levi again.  

That is, if Levi wanted to fuck him after he saw his stupid bag of tea.

The door swung open. “Hi,” Levi said, cheeks flushed. “It’s a bit hot in here. I’ve got the oven on.” He patted his hands on his apron, which read Keep Calm and Set a Bloody Timer.

He’s got the oven on, Eren thought, dazed. He fucking cooked for me. “Hi,” Eren said. “Cool apron. Very British.”

Levi rolled his eyes. “A gift from a friend. Come in.”  

“I, um. Here--” Eren thrust the bag at Levi, embarrassed that for some reason Levi seemed to be cooking him dinner and he’d brought...a bag of tea. He was going to have to have a talk with Historia about this.

Levi gave the bag a puzzled frown as he took it from Eren. After having a quick look through, Levi’s eyes softened and he said, “Eren, these are all awful.”

Eren burst out laughing, feeling the tension ease. It was so much better that Levi didn’t pretend to make a fuss. “Oh. Really? I thought Twinings was nice.”

Levi chuckled and shook his head. “Why did you even bring these?”

“You invited me for tea? My friend thought it would be a nice idea. In place of wine.” He rubbed the back of his neck, still embarrassed. 

Levi bit his lip, trying not to laugh.

“What?”

“Tea’s not...I’ve invited you round for dinner.”

“No. No. You distinctly said tea.” He pulled out his phone and scrolled up. “Here, look. I said ‘what time should I come over for tea’, and you didn’t correct me.”

To Eren’s dismay, Levi didn’t bother to look at the textual evidence. Instead, he said, “It’s another word for dinner.”

“Fuck. Really?” Eren laughed, hoping Levi didn’t think he was a complete idiot.  

“I did ask if you had any allergies or dietary restrictions. Don’t you have any British friends?” At least Levi sounded amused and was courteously trying to hold back his laughter.

“I thought you were just being kind of weird. And not really. My best friend here is also American.” And gives really bad gift advice. “I mean my flatmates are from here, but we don’t talk much. We’ve definitely never had dinner together.” Reiner drank a lot of protein shakes, and Eren had never seen Bert eat anything but pasta and peas. Annie and Ymir remained mysteries that Eren was fine not solving.

“Well, that explains it then.” Levi was still holding the bag, giving it an odd little smile.

“Do you want to keep them?” Eren asked.

“No. Please take them far away from here. Donate them to charity or give them to your flatmates.” He placed the bag down in the hallway, but he did it gently, and Eren felt that somehow the gift had still been well received. Even if it was not being kept.

Eren took off his shoes and left them on the rack next to a few pairs of Levi’s. On the other side of the hall was a closed door, and he realised it must be Levi’s bedroom. He got one of those full body heat waves that he thought he’d left behind during his teen years. Why did he have no chill over Levi’s fucking bedroom and the fact that he might end up in there later?

Levi ushered him into the main part of the apartment.

“Your place looks like one of the Ikea magazines my mom keeps in her bathroom.”

“Thank you?” Levi said, raising an eyebrow.

“It’s really nice!” Eren clarified.

“Ah, right.” Levi looked pleased. “Make yourself comfortable,” he said, gesturing towards the living room.

Eren had meant what he’d said, but underneath the compliment lurked a sadder observation. The apartment was gorgeous; the kitchen and living room were connected, and above the leather sofa, a wide skylight opened up to grey clouds and the fading light straining through them.

Gorgeous, but bare, missing the feeling of being home. Two book shelves flanked the television--Eren spotted Levi’s copy of The Book of Dust and felt a flush of warmth in his chest--but otherwise the place seemed cold and unlived in, like it really was just a model home made for photographs in magazines.  

But of course he wasn’t going to mention that now. He didn’t want to exacerbate the awkward, tentative tension between them.

“So if tea is dinner, what are we having?” Eren asked.

“Wine,” Levi deadpanned. “Lots of wine.”

Eren laughed at Levi’s response, but a shyness crept up on him, the intimate feel of the night had thrown him off-balance. Like standing on an unsteady boat at sea.

“Can I help with anything?” he asked as he watched Levi bustling around the kitchen. It didn’t look like he was doing anything in particular, but he certainly appeared busy.

“No no. Thanks. Have a seat.”

Maybe Eren should just go kiss him or something. But hadn’t Levi invited him here to talk? Apparently tea wasn’t even really tea, so he had no fucking clue what was going to happen.

Eren took a seat at the table so he would still be close enough to hear Levi or offer help again.

“So really what’s for dinner?”

Levi, who still appeared to be doing nothing in the kitchen while looking intently focussed, smiled at the question.

“Salmon and roasted veg.”

“That sounds great!”

Silence again and more of Levi’s fussing around in the kitchen. Was Levi as nervous as Eren?

Unable to bear the tension anymore, Eren stood and walked over to Levi. He blurted out the question that had been on his mind since he left Levi’s office: “Are we going to talk about...whatever is going on here?”

“Yes.”

They stared at one another, and Levi didn’t offer any further explanation.

“I want to keep seeing you,” Eren said, exasperated.

Levi sighed. “I’d like that too.”

Eren startled. “Really? But you said you didn’t see this going anywhere.”

“Still asked you here, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, but what if I want to see where this goes? I want to, you know, date you or whatever.” Eren tried to keep his tone casual. He didn’t know where this could go either, really. He didn’t know if Levi would like him once he really got to know him, didn’t even know if he’d be staying in the country once he’d turned his thesis in. But still. He couldn't help that he wanted to find out where it could go.

Levi crossed his arms and leaned back against the counter. “I’d like to keep seeing you. May as well see what happens.”

Eren took a moment to let that sink in. It suddenly felt as though he was having a lucid dream, nothing around him real and anything was possible. 

“I read the university’s policy. On students and teachers,” Eren said. 

Levi sighed. “I did too. Eren look I--I need to talk to my department head.”

Eren blinked at him. “Oh.”

“You’re not okay with that?”

“No, no. It’s that I’m surprised you want to bring it up now. It feels so serious and official,” he explained.

“Even if this doesn’t go beyond tonight, I shouldn’t be on any panels to grade your work. If I am, it should be approved by the department.”

The thought of other professors knowing there was something going on between them made Eren uneasy. He didn't want Levi to be judged.  

“If it makes you too uncomfortable, I won’t, but I don’t think--I don’t think anything more should happen between us if that’s the case.”

He was stunned by Levi's willingness to put himself in such an awkward position. “Okay,” Eren agreed. “What are you going to tell them?”

“That you blew me in my office, and I jerked you off.”

Eren kept his face serious, not wanting Levi to get the best of him. “That’s great. I just wanted to make sure you’d provide an accurate account of what happened. Spare no detail.”

Levi snorted. “Yes, I’ll be sure to mention the cum you wiped on my face.”

“They don’t need to hear about that.”

“Spare no detail,” Levi reminded him.

Eren swallowed, ready to seize the opportunity he saw. “You should also make sure to tell them that I don’t think I’ve ever come so hard in my life. Your voice does things to me.”

Without any more jokes to hide behind, Eren leaned awkwardly against the counter next to Levi.

Levi turned away, tips of his ears red. “Yes, well. I’ll be sure to include that in my report.” He cleared his throat. “There’s a corkscrew in the drawer to your left if you want to get started,” he mumbled, putting on his oven mitts and pulling out the tray, full of a colourful assortment of fish, tomatoes, asparagus and carrots.  

“That looks amazing,” Eren said as he searched around for the wine opener. All of Levi’s utensils and kitchen gadgets in the drawer were neatly arranged, the wine opener right on top.

“Cheers. I prepare a decent tea.”  

Eren caught the smirk playing on Levi’s lips. “Hey, there’s no need to pour salt in the wound. Low blow.”

Levi rested the hot pan of food on top of the stove, slipped off the mitts, and pulled two plates from his cabinet. He walked over towards Eren.

“I like your voice too,” Levi said in an undertone, grey eyes dark as they met Eren’s. “Not as annoying as other American accents I’ve heard.”   

Come and kiss me, Eren thought a little desperately, but Levi set the plates down on the table instead. His brain felt a little broken. Unhelpful thoughts like Are we dating now? and When are we going to make out? made it difficult to focus.

As they ate, the sky opened up without warning. Rain pounded down on the skylight, leaving violent slashes of water against the glass. The nearby shops and pubs still sent in some light through the darkening sky. Eren periodically looked up to watch the rain, smiling each time.

“Do you watch the rain in here a lot?” Eren asked.

“Yes,” Levi said. “It’s quite nice to listen to the rain and read a book. I fall asleep on that armchair more often than I should.”

When they were finished eating they moved to the couch, and as the wine flowed, the conversation loosened their tongues. Soon Eren was telling Levi:  “I saved up to buy these stupid Abercrombie clothes in high school. It’s silly, but I’m still proud of myself that I got them all on my own. It’s what all the cool kids were wearing.” Eren rolled his eyes, but his words were sincere.

“I shouldn’t have teased you,” Levi said apologetically. “I thought you were a bit of a lad at first.”

“A what?"

"A 'bro'" Levi said. 

"Oh. Nah. Just a poor kid who will wear the same shirt until it has holes everywhere and someone in his family just throws it out for him.” Usually that someone was Mikasa. 

“It’s nice you’re close to your family,” Levi said.

“Are you not?”

“I don’t have any family to be close to.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” Eren asked.

“Not much to say. Never met my dad, and my mum died when I was young. My uncle raised me, but he died a few years back too. Only good thing he left me was his house.” Levi’s eyes went somewhere far away, and Eren touched his hand carefully as though he were reaching for a broken bit of glass. Levi looked up at Eren in surprise, but didn’t pull away.

“I’m sorry,” Eren said. “My dad died when I was about thirteen, and it was really hard on the family. Thus the, uh, money shit I mentioned. But at least I had the rest of my family, I’m sorry you were alone.”  

“Wasn’t completely alone. I grew up with two of my friends, and they’ve always been like family.”

Eren’s heart warmed at the fondness in Levi’s voice when he mentioned his friends. He liked learning these details of Levi’s life.

“What’s the rest of your family like then?” Levi asked.   

“I’ve been told I have an interesting family.” Eren always felt self-conscious explaining the tedious intricacies of his family, but he might as well get it over with. “My sister Mikasa’s adopted, and my brother--half-brother--Zeke was adopted by my mom when she and our dad got married. His mom died when he was a baby.” Eren sighed. “My mom and Mikasa are the best, but Zeke is a fucking mess.”

Levi furrowed his brow. “How’s that?”

It seemed impolite to get into the fact that Zeke owed him close to a thousand dollars. Eren swallowed down the resentment and said instead, “I used to really look up to Zeke. He was my hero. I was a freshman when he was a senior in high school, and he just seemed like he had it all together. So popular, like really charismatic, head of the debate team, which sounds dorky but he made it look cool.”

Eren paused, worried that he was being a boring buzzkill, but Levi nodded for him to continue.

“Something happened after he graduated. He’s different now. It’s like he just got stuck, I don’t know.”

“Death in the family can do that to a person,” Levi said in his calm, neutral way.

“Maybe,” Eren said. The anger coming back up again. Over the years he’d heard these same explanations from his mother--“Zeke lost his mother and now his father, Eren. Cut him some slack.”--But he was tired of breaks and excuses.

He changed the subject before he began a rant that was difficult to disengage from, always a car with broken brakes. “My mom and my sister might be coming to visit me in a couple months.”

“That’s nice,” Levi said.

“Yeah, they’ve never been here before. Mikasa hasn’t even left the country, so I think it would be really cool if it works out. I’d love to show them the city.”

Levi nodded and refilled their wine glasses. Eren was at that beautiful point where he felt relaxed, funnier. He didn’t want to get sloppy tonight, not when he wanted to impress Levi. Wanted to make him feel good.

“So you like living in London then?” Levi asked. 

“More than anything.” Even though the loneliness could be overwhelming sometimes, he’d lived with that feeling for most of his life. It was better here than it had ever been back home. The sense of freedom trumped all.

Levi gave him a small smile, taking a sip of wine.

“I’m glad I’m here,” Eren said, catching Levi’s eye from across the couch.

Levi knew what he meant. “Me too.”

You like me, Eren thought, the realisation knocking the air out of him all over again. The first time he’d ever hiked to the top of a mountain and stared out at the vast green forest below, the mountains in the distance, he’d had this same feeling.   

Without breaking eye contact, Levi set his wine glass down with a gentle clink against the wooden table, and they moved together; Eren climbed into Levi’s lap to lick into his mouth, and Levi’s fingers slid up his shirt in reply. The only sounds in the room were the rain hitting the glass above them, the soft sounds of their lips moving together.

“What do you like, Eren?” Levi asked in an undertone that made heat coil in Eren’s belly.

“Umm a lot things,” Eren said, and then internally chastised himself for being so unsexy. Buzzed from the wine, he bit his lip and then said, “I like to be spanked sometimes. Nothing too crazy, but yeah.”

“Huh.” Levi nodded. “I wondered.”

“What? How?”

“Dunno. You seemed to really like begging for me. And there was a moment when I--” he reached over carefully and tugged Eren’s hair not too forcefully but enough that the promise of more made Eren’s cock take interest.

Amazed, Eren said, “Oh. Wow, you noticed that.”

Levi gave him a small smile. “Do you want me to take care of you, Eren?”

Wide-eyed and turned on as fuck, Eren nodded.

“Let me take you to bed?”

Eren surged forward and kissed him again, the words making him burn all over. That loop began to play through his head again. Holy fuck Levi is taking me to bed. Who even says that? Take me anywhere, fuck.

In a tangle, they made it to the bedroom, Eren unable to resist pulling Levi in for kiss after kiss.

Eren stepped back to strip off his shirt, and a thrill shot through him at Levi’s appreciative look. He reached forward and pulled Levi’s shirt off too, sighing with pleasure, running his fingers down the thick, corded muscles of Levi’s abs and arms.

“God damn,” Eren said with awe.

Levi smirked, and Eren watched eagerly as he removed the rest of his clothes, heavy cock curving up towards his belly. Hot desire flared within Eren, and he stepped forward to touch Levi again, to get his hands anywhere he could.

Eren’s cock strained against his jeans, and mercifully Levi unzipped them, tugging them down along with his boxers. The room was warm, but a shivery thrill shot through Eren as his dick sprang free.

“You make me so fucking hard,” Eren said, arousal pulsing through his whole body as he pushed Levi onto the bed and straddled him. They made out on top of Levi’s crisp, freshly washed sheets. They still smelled like detergent, and damn Eren even liked Levi’s detergent.

“Let me suck your dick this time,” Levi said lowly, gripping Eren’s ass and urging him forward until his cock bobbed in front of Levi’s lips.

Head tilted up, Levi began teasing the underside of Eren’s cock with his tongue, lapping gently as he kneaded Eren’s ass. Without warning, he began to suck, hands guiding Eren into a steady rhythm. A string of nonsensical obscenities was all Eren could manage as Levi worked his magic, taking Eren deeper and deeper.

Levi opened his eyes to meet Eren’s, holding his gaze as he angled his head and began to run his lips up and down the side.

“You ever tried that one before, Eren? The harmonica technique, apparently.”

“Fuck you.” Eren gave a shaky laugh, a little relieved to have the edge taken off. He’d thought he was already about to blow his load on Levi’s face, and just the thought of it made his dick throb.

Levi began to lick the head of Eren’s cock again, but Eren stopped him. “I want to touch you too.” And if Levi kept going, he wouldn't be able to keep it together. 

He moved so they were laying side by side. He dragged a hand down the soft hair of Levi’s happy trail and through the coarser pubic hair, playing with Levi’s cock which was so hard in his hands.

“Lube’s in the bedside table to your left.” Levi sounded breathless.

Eren grabbed the lube and slicked both of their hands with it so they could fist each other’s cocks while they made out, their moans swallowed up by each searing kiss. Levi did double duty, fingering Eren open while he jerked him off until Eren couldn’t take anymore and got on all fours. “Fuck me,” he pleaded.

Levi got on his knees and pulled a condom from the bedside drawer. He ran his hands over Eren’s ass, and Eren pushed his hips back. “Come on, Levi.”

He moaned in relief when Levi pushed all the way inside, caressing Eren’s back all the while.

Buried balls deep in him, Levi stayed still. “You sure you’re ready?” he asked quietly.

“Y-yes,” Eren said.

“Tell me if it’s too much.”

“I will,” he promised.  

The first slap came then, and a jolt of electricity shot to Eren’s dick. Head thrown back, he groaned. “God yeah, that’s good. More.”

Levi began to move with slow, even thrusts as he let another slap land on Eren’s other cheek.

“Fuckkk,” Eren cried, letting his hips sink down so he could grind himself against the bed. He needed that sweet friction to ease some of the throbbing in his cock. His arms were already quivering in anticipation, and he didn’t think he could support himself one-handed if he tried to touch himself.

Another smack, the sweet bite of pain and pleasure was almost too much as Levi continued to fuck him slowly. “Hips up,” Levi said. “I’ll touch you when I’m ready.”

“You’re evil,” Eren moaned as he raised himself back up, shocked by how fucked out he sounded already. They’d barely even been at it, but it was like he’d been waiting his whole life for someone to do this to him. One or two people over the years had tried, but never like this. They hadn’t taken it seriously, not like Levi was.

Levi hummed in acknowledgement. “You’re doing so well, Eren,” he said as he quickened his pace. Eren never knew when the next spark of pleasure-pain was going to land. The anticipation, the inability to relieve the ache in his cock made his head dizzy with pleasure, cock leaking pearly fluid onto Levi’s sheets. Eren struggled to hold himself up, but wanted to please Levi.

He lost time like that, lost himself in the feeling of Levi inside him and the sweet, steady sting.

Levi hit that sweet, perfect spot as he thrust deep inside of him. He slapped Eren’s ass again, harder this time, and Eren nearly sobbed with torturous pleasure. He had never felt so exposed during sex before, so open about what he wanted. Never had someone give him exactly what he needed.

“Levi, I don’t know if I can--god, please, touch me.”

Levi pulled out of him and Eren whimpered.

“Turn over,” Levi commanded, voice husky as he ran his fingers down Eren’s spine, making him shiver. “On your back.”

Eren complied, body bonelessly falling back against the bed.

When he looked up, the expression on Levi’s face stole his breath away. Levi’s hair had fallen in front of his eyes, sticking to his forehead. Chest and cheeks tinted red. Lips parted as he gazed at Eren with raw desire.

“You want me.” Eren gazed up at Levi, dumbstruck by the hunger in Levi’s eyes.  

Levi crawled forward, placing his hands on either side of Eren’s head. “What gave me away?” he asked dryly. Christ, that voice would be the death of him.

“Fuck me,” Eren said, somewhere between a plea and an order. “Now. I need you.”

Levi reached down and slid himself back inside of Eren.

Levi bent forward to nibble at Eren’s lips and finally wrapped a hand around his aching cock.

“You were so good for me,” Levi whispered against Eren's lips, his hand working Eren’s dick in tandem with his deep thrusts.

Eren whimpered at the praise, throwing his head back against the pillow in ecstacy. “Levi--I can’t--I’m gonna--” Eren’s orgasm crashed over him, and he cried out, fingers digging into Levi’s biceps as he came so hard he thought he might pass out.

A few more thrusts and Levi followed suit, Eren still light-headed. Their sweat-slicked chests heaved against one another as they caught their breath. Levi pulled out carefully; he brushed Eren’s hair out of his eyes before going to retrieve a towel to clean them both up.

As they lay together after, facing one another in the bed, Eren asked, “You really liked that, didn’t you?”

Levi paused, considering the question. “I liked how much you liked it.”

“Oh. I hope I didn’t make you do anything you didn’t want to?” The idea of anyone sacrificing their own pleasure for him was troubling.

Levi shifted closer and reached out a hand to cup Eren’s cheek. “Course not,” he said, and Eren relaxed.

“Hey, do you think we could go into the living room while it’s raining?” Eren asked. “I really like your skylight.”

“Sure.” Levi gave him a skeptical look. “You need me to carry you?”

“No, no. I’m fine,” Eren said, but he was shakier on his feet than he anticipated as he tugged on his boxers. He leaned into Levi as they walked through to the living room.

They fell asleep together on the couch as they watched the rain. Eren’s head rested on Levi’s chest as he felt gentle fingers carding through his hair, soothing him along with the pitter-patter against the roof.

Before Eren gave himself up to sleep, hints of fear crept in. Years ago there had been a small earthquake in Eren’s hometown. His dog had paced nervously around the living room, growling and whimpering in anticipation before any of them knew what was coming. It felt a bit like that.  The knowing you were probably going to fall in love, that you were probably going to be heartbroken. A tsunami on the horizon.


 

 

They woke to the first rays of sunlight overhead, and Levi fucked him again. He pinned Eren’s hands above his head and moved so, so slowly. Eren writhed underneath him, trying to gain leverage to speed up the agonizing pace.

“Beg me,” Levi whispered, and Eren shivered.

“Do you like it when I beg you?” he asked.

Levi didn’t answer, but he stroked his thumb over Eren’s cheekbone, and Eren begged and begged and begged.

Please don’t make me go, Eren begged silently, later, when they were showered and dressed.

“I’ll make you breakfast,” Levi offered. “What would you like?”

“Pancakes, maybe?”

Levi nodded and retrieved a pan off of the rack, but paused at the stove. “What kind of pancakes do you mean?”

“Oh. Well chocolate chip if you have them. Or fruit.”

“No. I mean, your American ‘pancakes’ or real pancakes.”

Eren furrowed his brow.

“You’d call them crepes.” Levi sighed, as though it pained him greatly to say this.

“I definitely didn’t mean crepes. Do you need a recipe? My mom emailed me her favorite one.”

“You’re head chef, then,” Levi said, stepping aside. He pulled his apron off its hook, and hung it over Eren. There it was, that full body heat again as Levi reached around to tie off the apron. “I’ve only got one, so head chef wears it.”

Eren nodded mutely. If you had asked him yesterday if one of the things he valued in a man was owning an apron, he would have thought it was a joke. Now it was a must-have, a deal-maker.  

Cooking in Levi’s kitchen was so much better than in Eren’s shitty apartment. For one, there was so much room. Having the kitchen in the same area as the living room here meant he wasn’t constantly bashing into things like he was at home. There, if you tried to squeeze in more than one person, it became a huge pain in the ass to cook. Especially if it was Reiner whose shoulders took up half the room.

Levi stood by his side and measured out all the ingredients as Eren instructed, diligently converting the measurements without looking them up.

“It’s amazing you can do that so easily,” Eren said, impressed.

“I have a PhD in statistics, and I cook with my friend Hanji,” Levi said, and Eren didn’t miss the side-stepping of the compliment. “American too. They’ve lived here for a decade now and still learned next to nothing.”

“Oh, wow,” Eren said, “that’s a long time.”

Levi hummed in acknowledgement.

“I think it used to be a lot easier to stay over here,” Eren added a little sadly. He thought of all the companies he couldn’t even apply to without having a permanent visa.

“It certainly did.” Levi finished leveling out the second cup of flour, his tone neutral, unconcerned.

Eren felt a flicker of disappointment; Levi didn’t seem bothered that Eren might be leaving after the summer, but of course that was ridiculous. So they’d fucked a couple times, said they wanted to see where things went, and now they were cooking breakfast together. He thought of his dog pacing, reminded himself to slow down.

Love had always burned so bright and quick for him. Flamed in and out in the blink of an eye. A supernova. Maybe he wasn’t even capable of long-term love, so worrying about the end of the summer was a waste of time.

Eren finished mixing the batter and heated some butter in the pan. He was watching the butter slowly dissolve, so he didn’t see Levi moving closer to reach his arm around Eren’s waist and rest a hand on his hip.

“Hi,” Eren said dumbly.

“Hi,” Levi replied.

They stood like that for a moment, watching each other without a word. Levi had such beautiful, angular features. The way his grey eyes weighed on Eren, the hint of affection in them, was enough to render Eren speechless. It was only the sound of the butter sizzling that broke the spell.

The conversation between them was subdued as they ate the fluffy pancakes, Eren lost in thought over when he would see Levi again.

“Not bad.” Levi hummed with approval as he ate. “Not as good as ours, though.”

“Shut up. They’re better.” Eren smiled around his fork.

After, they cleared the plates together, and then it felt like time for Eren to head off. The oddest feeling passed through him, like a ghost. He already missed Levi.

“I should probably get going. Get out of your hair,” Eren said, rubbing the back of his neck. He wanted Levi to put his hands on him again, but they stayed apart.

Levi nodded. “Yeah. I’ve got papers to grade.”

He followed Eren into the entryway, quiet as Eren put his shoes on.

“What next?” Eren asked, looking up at Levi.

“I don’t know,” Levi replied. He leaned back against the wall, watching Eren, expression unreadable.  

Eren stood and kissed Levi. He still felt like Levi could change his mind at any moment, and he didn’t want to waste a precious second. Pulling back, he said, “Want to--I don’t know--catch a movie later this week?”

“Yeah, alright.”

Eren smiled. “I’ll text you.”

“Right. I better get to work. Papers aren’t going to grade themselves.”  

Eren was halfway home when he realised that Levi hadn’t sent him back with the crappy tea after all. The bag hadn’t been by the door when he’d left; Eren would have noticed.

He felt a stirring of hope, of possibility, in his chest. It was the same feeling he’d felt when he’d decided he needed a change in his life, when he submitted his application for his Master’s, when he’d first stepped off the plane to a new beginning.   

Chapter Text

Stinging sweat dripped into Levi’s eyes as he ran across the grassy pitch and intercepted Erwin’s pass to Gunther. Erwin didn’t react, smoothly changing course, but Gunther made a show of it, cursing and shouting at his teammates to play harder.  

“Oi! Get stuck in, Levi!” Isabel called from behind him.

As Levi played, the nervous energy that had accumulated from the moment he’d scheduled an appointment with Pixis began to dissipate. It would hit him again as soon as the game ended, as soon as he was no longer in motion, but for now he felt good.

It would feel even better to lose himself in Eren again, though. It had only been a few dates, but when Eren was with him, Levi’s mind and body tended to be fully occupied. He smiled a little to himself at the thought.

The game was still scoreless with five minutes left. Levi tackled Moblit, who was far too polite and easy to steal the ball from, and lobbed it over to Hanji.

Moblit sighed wearily. “Every time.”

“Nice work, hun! You tried!” Hanji called to Moblit. They avoided Petra’s outstretched leg and kicked the ball to Mike, known for his last minute goals.  

“Show Farlan who’s boss, Mike!” Isabel let out a whoop as Mike managed to get around Erwin and approached the net.  

“Fuck off, Is,” Farlan called as he launched himself to the right and caught the ball.

Isabel blew him a kiss. “Love you too!”

“Shit,” Mike said without any real anger behind it. “End of my streak.”

Hanji clapped him on the back. “You’ll get ‘em next time, Mike.”

A whistle sounded. “Right, that’s time,” Oluo shouted.

“Oz, you take this way too seriously,” Petra whined. “Is the whistle really necessary?”

“It’s not,” Levi put in. Oluo had designated himself the referee a few months back and progressively become more insufferable. The whistle was the latest addition to his descent into madness.

They gathered up their things and headed for the pub where they had two reserved tables waiting for them in the beer garden. A full week of sunshine had replaced the chilly, rainy days of March. The air was even beginning to smell like spring.

Hanji and Moblit carried over two pitchers of Pimms for everyone to share, and even Levi had some along with his beer. Erwin pretended he also preferred beer, but everyone knew he was secretly drinking a shandi.  

“So I was sat there,” Farlan said, commanding the table, “and the barber was looking at me funny in the mirror. Just holding the scissors there round my head.” He made a scissoring motion with his index and middle finger to demonstrate. “And then he just goes, ‘oh yeah, I know where I know you from. You look like my friend Andy.’”

“Who’s Andy?” Hanji asked, reaching for the Pimms to give everyone a refill.  

“Exactly,” Farlan said. “It’s all well and good if someone tells you that you look like a celebrity, but who the fuck is Andy?”

“Your doppelganger, apparently,” Petra put in cheerfully, stealing some chips from Oluo’s plate.

Levi shifted uncomfortably in his seat. His mind kept drifting to the upcoming meeting, and his gut churned. Normally, he didn’t mind hearing Farlan’s stories a few times. You got used to that sort of thing when you’d grown up with someone, but he was starting to feel agitated by the meandering tale.

From across the table, Gunther said, “I don’t see how this got you a free haircut. Is it because you look like Andy?”

“Nope, I just want to set the stage for how bizarre this haircut was,” Farlan explained and paused dramatically.

Levi groaned. “Farlan, land the fucking plane. I’m sick of hearing about this bloody haircut.”

Farlan’s eyes flashed with annoyance, but he otherwise ignored Levi’s--admittedly rude--comment. “So after that, this cut is still taking absolute ages . At one point, I notice the barber’s just standing there. I was like, ‘Mate, do you need a minute?’. And then he was nearly sick on me. He had to leave in the middle of my haircut! Another barber stepped in to finish the job.”

Isabel inclined her head towards the pub when she caught Levi’s eye--she had likely been subjected to this story more often than he had--and he could tell it was only a matter of time before she was drunk and managed to get him alone to accost him with questions.

“And that’s how I got my last haircut free,” Farlan finished, raising his glass of Pimms.

“Well done,” Gunther said, lifting his glass in salute. “But have I told you about the time that I got a free dinner at GBK?”

“Shit, mate, no.” Farlan grinned. “Out with it then.”  

That antsy, restless feeling, and prickles of anxiety had crept back in now they were no longer in motion and he was just sat uncomfortably in the dirty clothes he’d played in. Levi stood to get another drink just for something to do, just to move again. Smoke and the smell of charred meat permeated the air around him, drifting over from the grill.

Isabel wasn’t far behind, cornering him at the outdoor bar. The sunlight caught her hair, making the bright red more vibrant and fiery than ever as she grinned at him, almost a leer. “Soooo? How’s your lad?”

Levi cast a look around them, and pulled Isabel inside the pub. All the patrons had flocked to the beer garden, and Levi sat them down in the back corner of the empty room.

Isabel leaned in eagerly, elbows on the table. “Dodgy, aren’t we? Something happened?”

“Yeah.”

“You shagged him?”

“Yeah.”

Isabel grinned and slapped him on the back. “Levi,” she crowed, “get you! I thought I’d seen the last of your rebellious days after sixth form.”

Levi stilled, and something about his reaction--or lack thereof--must have given something away.

Tilting her head at him, she asked, “What are you hiding?”

“I didn’t just shag him.” Levi sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m seeing him now, and it means I need to talk to my boss about it.”

The meeting was in three days. He’d made sure to get an hour of Pixis’ time booked in before exams started. Anxiety and dread twisted in his stomach at the thought.

“Fucking hell! You’re talking to your boss?” Her eyes went wide. “Does that mean you think this could get serious?”

Maybe. No. Love didn’t stick for him. Someone as beautiful and full of potential as Eren was gold waiting to be mined. Levi, though, had already been mined and shaped. Set in his damn ways.  

But fuck if he couldn’t make Eren feel good in the meantime. He could enjoy their time together for what it was.  

Before he could answer or explain, Farlan appeared in the entrance to the room holding a full pint of beer. “There you are,” he said, walking towards them. “I wondered where you two had gotten off to.”

“Oh, hey, hun.” Isabel’s uncharacteristically muted reaction and anxious glance at Levi gave up the game.

“What?” Farlan said, looking between them. “What are you guys talking about?”

“It’s nothing.” Levi waved a hand.

Putting his free hand on his hip, Farlan said, “You’ve been especially dickish today. Doesn’t seem like nothing.” He frowned at the empty table. “You don’t even have drinks.”  

Isabel gave Levi a look which he knew meant, come on, just tell him. He didn’t want Isabel and Farlan to fall out over this, so he said without preamble, “I’m dating one of my students.” Ripping off the bandaid and all that.

Farlan blinked at him then winced. “Fuck, man. Seriously? You?”

“Anything you’re going to say, I’ve thought it myself already,” Levi told him.  

That didn’t stop Farlan from launching into a rant about power imbalances, ethical behavior, appropriate behavior. Isabel tried to interject on Levi’s behalf a few times but finally gave in with an exasperated sigh.

“You done?” Levi snapped when Farlan paused for a breath.

“Wasn’t, no.”

“You’re done.”

“Piss off, I’ll tell you when I’m done.”

“Farlan, love, if you just listen for a minute, Levi’s got it sorted,” Isabel said. “He’s talking to his department head in--when was it Levi?”

“A few days,” Levi said, holding Farlan’s glare with his own. When they fought, they meant it. Poor Isabel seemed to get caught playing peacemaker more often than not.

“I just think if you didn’t have anything to be ashamed of, you wouldn’t have been back here gossiping like school children,” Farlan huffed.

“I knew you’d react like this,” Levi said.

“At least tell me he’s our age. You get loads of older master’s students.”

“He’s twenty four.”

“Bloody hell. Have you gone mad?”   

“I don’t have to justify myself to you.” For fuck’s sake, Farlan was acting as though Eren were still in sixth form. Though he’d had the same reservation about Eren’s age before, now he dug his heels in. Eren was a fucking adult, and they’d fuck each other shitless whenever they damn well pleased.  

“Suppose not,” Farlan said, wearing that judgemental look that made Levi’s skin crawl. The one that made him look like he was smelling a particularly bad shit. “But I thought better of you, mate. You’ve made stupid choices about men in the past, but not like this.”

Seething, Levi quietly stood and walked out of the pub, flicking a V sign at Farlan as he headed out the door, ignoring Isabel as she called after him.

 

 

 

“No, here look,” Levi said, sliding his laptop over towards Eren. “You have to step back and think about the design of the database first.” He added the outline of a square to the document. “Is an email an action with different pieces of metadata? Or is the email a node itself with labels. Or both?”

Eren gave a frustrated sigh and flopped his head back on the top of the couch. “I don’t know, and I’m starting to think this was the wrong dissertation topic,” he said to the ceiling.  

“Sorry,” Levi said. He was preoccupied by his own research that he’d be focussed on for most of the summer. And he felt uneasy being too involved with Eren’s dissertation, though he wanted to help him. He wanted to talk shop with Eren. It just felt strange and possibly inappropriate after speaking with Pixis. “I probably shouldn’t be working on this with you,” Levi added lamely.

“Yeah,” Eren said. “That was my bad. I couldn’t get it out of my head when I got here, and you’re so good at explaining this stuff.”

Levi nodded. This was what? Their fourth date--not counting Southbank--and he was already making things awkward.  

“Are you okay?” Eren asked, frowning. “I could be wrong, but you’ve seemed a bit off since your meeting. I thought you said it went alright?”

Levi sighed. “It did.”

“I ruined our date asking you dissertation questions, didn’t I?”

“You didn’t.”

“So what’s up?” Eren closed the laptop, looking at Levi with wide, earnest eyes.

And Levi couldn’t tell him. Physical he could do with no problem. He had brains and he had brawn; it was everything in between he seemed to lack, the inter and intrapersonal skills that came easily to most of his friends. Even Hanji for all their eccentricities and self-doubts had found a loving, dedicated partner in Moblit.

“Nothing. It’s fine.”

Pixis had been polite, but the whole ordeal had been awkward as fuck. And one of his best friends thought the same of him now too. He hadn’t responded to any of Isabel’s texts yet, or the one vaguely apologetic message from Farlan that he suspected was coerced. Now he felt like a creep, a dirty old lecher.

“Okay,” Eren said doubtfully. The space between them on the couch felt very wide, and Levi’s brain refused to offer him any words. He curled into himself under Eren’s scrutiny.

But then a look of determination crossed Eren’s face. He stood and took Levi’s hand, coaxing him into his own bed. This. This Levi could do.

Spread out underneath Eren, soothing hands roaming across his body and stroking his cock as Eren fucked him, it was easy to let everything else fall away. To let the newness of this, of Eren, wash over him.

The lights were low in the room, intimate and warm. When it was just the two of them like this, Levi closed his eyes, took in Eren’s smell, the feeling of Eren inside him, and let himself go.

His brain short-circuited as Eren slowed his thrusts and bent forward to lick and suck at Levi’s nipples. “Eren,” he moaned, balls tight, “Don’t stop. Fuck--yes--just like that.”

“Anything you want,” Eren promised breathlessly. Levi opened his eyes and met Eren’s gaze, dark with lust. “Just keep clenching around me like that. Oh, fuck. I don’t think I’m going to last much longer. Too fucking good.”   

“You talk a lot,” Levi said. “When you should be fucking me harder.”

Eren groaned and that was it, Levi felt his body tense, and Eren’s face as he came was enough to push Levi over the edge too. He shouted Eren’s name, and pretended he didn’t see Eren’s dopey smile after he came down from the high, his body light and empty. Weightless.   

After, they curled up together on the couch, scrolling through Netflix until they landed on a mindless action film. Levi had never been a big fan of cuddling, but he found he didn’t mind when Eren moved closer, slinging an arm across Levi’s waist and snuggling into him.

“You’re too hot,” Levi complained.

Eren started to shift away. “Do you want me to move?”

“I guess not.”

“Okay,” Eren said, settling back down. Levi caught him trying not to smirk before he turned back towards the television.  

Towards the end of the film, Eren looked up at Levi, head still resting on his shoulder. “Can I ask you something?”

“Should I pause?”

“No. I mean, if you want. But I can just stop talking when the boring part is done.”

Levi snorted. “It’s the big car chase, Eren.”

“Yeah, I know. Kind of same-y.”

Levi couldn’t argue with that. “Yeah, alright. Go on then.”

“Did you have a cat?”

Levi gave him a funny look. “What?”

“I just thought you had a cat was all.”

Levi paused the film. This would take longer than the car chase. Curious and confused, he said, “I did, but what made you think that?”

Eren sighed. “Okay so...when I was trying to figure out what your deal was, I looked you up online, and you shared an awful lot of goofy cat posts for someone who doesn’t have a cat.”

“Oh. Well, yes I did have a cat. She passed just under a year ago.”

“God, I’m sorry,” Eren said, sitting up straighter and giving Levi’s arm a squeeze. “And wait, you’re not creeped out right now?”

“No. That’s pretty par for the course these days. I probably should have made my profile private.”

“Yeah. It’s pretty embarrassing what you were sharing about cats.”  

Levi laughed. “You only understand if you have one.”

“I always had a dog growing up. Mine actually passed away last year too.” Eren gave him a sad smile.

“I’m sorry,” Levi said.

“Thanks. It’s weird going back home. I think she’s going to be there waiting to greet me, and she’s not. Still not used to it.”

Levi nodded; he understood all too well. Hoping it might help eradicate those feelings, he’d gotten rid of all of Luna’s things. It didn’t work as well as he’d hoped.

“She was family, you know?” Eren continued. “There for me through some really hard times.”

“Yeah,” Levi said. “Exactly.”

They fell into silence, and Levi didn’t know how long it would stretch on for or if he was meant to unpause the film now.

“I do like a good dog meme, I guess,” Eren offered, trying to lighten the mood again.

Levi latched onto this, relieved to have an out. “See?”

“I guess a cat would be nice too, though.” Eren smiled shyly. “I don’t know the first thing about owning one, though.”

“I learned a lot from Jackson Galaxy.”

“The cartoon character?”

“What? No. He’s a cat behaviorist. He does My Cat From Hell .”

Eren looked like he was trying very hard not to smile. He nodded seriously. “Uh huh.”

“I learned everything there was to know about cats from him,” Levi continued, still very proud of how happy Luna had been. “You’ve got to work with them rather than against them.”

“Makes sense,” Eren said. “How long did you have yours for?”

“Ten years. Luna was five when I adopted her. Honestly, most people would benefit from just doing a bit of bloody research.” Levi shook his head. “I never had any issues with her. No scratching or chaos.”

He pulled out his phone to show Eren photos of Luna and the very cat-friendly setup his apartment used to have. God he fucking missed her. Luna had been there through a bad breakup, Kenny’s death, personal and professional failures, and all the nights he’d thought the loneliness would swallow him whole. But still he’d not been ready to start over again with another cat. It felt like replacing her.

“She was adorable.” Eren grinned down at Levi’s phone, head still resting on his arm. “Didn’t peg you for such a fluffy cat, though.”   

“The heart wants what the heart wants.” He looked down at Eren and had the oddest feeling of wishing he’d met Luna.   

When Eren caught him staring, Levi became self-conscious and turned away. “Do you like cats? Or just snooping on their owners?”

“Oh please.” Eren scoffed and handed Levi back his phone. “I didn’t snoop because I knew you had a cat. It was information I discovered along the way because of all your dorky posts.”

Affronted, Levi protested, “They’re not dorky.”

“You’re right. ‘Drummer cat drops sick beats’ is probably the coolest thing I’ll ever hope to see in this lifetime.”

Levi snorted. “Shall I unpause the film now or do you want to carry on?”

“Nah. I’m good. We can watch.” Eren sat up. “But you come to me, I want to sit up.”

Levi rolled his eyes but went along with the readjustment so in the end his head was resting on Eren’s chest and he was wrapped in Eren’s strong arms. Within ten minutes, he’d fallen asleep.  

 

 

 

Eren and Levi were both technically on holiday from mid-April to mid-May, but of course Eren spent most of his afternoons that month preparing for exams and conducting research for his dissertation.

They politely avoided in-depth discussions of Eren’s exams--specifically the one for Levi’s course--but when they did have a chat about data or coding, Levi loved it. He’d never dated someone who not only understood but enjoyed talking shop.   

Slowly but surely, Eren began spending some of those afternoons working from Levi’s flat, taking up the entire couch, while Levi worked at the kitchen table. Not used to having company, Levi would look up occasionally from his notes and be startled to find Eren working so quietly, completely lost in his work. He didn’t hate it.

“You could come to mine,” Eren had halfheartedly offered once. Levi had declined with a firm, “What gave you the impression I’d want to spend the night at your shitty apartment with your roommates?” Nothing Eren had ever said made his apartment sound remotely appealing.

“I just feel bad we’re always at yours,” Eren had explained.

“Don’t.”

He preferred having Eren here where Levi’s life was neatly laid out around him. Here everything had its place, and there were no awkward conversations with roommates. Best of all, he could elicit louder and louder moans from Eren without concern.

And Eren, oh god, Eren was quickly learning what made Levi tick. If Levi had a glass of wine or two beforehand, he sometimes cried out Eren’s name so loud he was grateful he lived alone.

“I want to make you feel good too,” Eren had whispered in his ear one day.

And he did. He learned that as much as Levi enjoyed sex on clean sheets, he also enjoyed being fucked over pieces of furniture around the flat--the sofa, on top of his low dresser, even on the kitchen table which they both cleaned rigorously after. He liked when Eren sucked him off while he was trying to grade papers-- you all get firsts, Levi thought, blissed out from Eren’s devilish mouth.

He liked when Eren climbed into his lap after going down on him, pushing the papers away, sinking down on Levi’s cock.

“You got yourself ready for me?”

“Yeah, I couldn’t wait.”

What really sent him over the edge was the way Eren blew him in the shower. He’d followed Levi there last night, ran his wicked tongue up and down Levi’s member, and without warning swallowed him whole.  

“You’re fucking incredible at that,” Levi panted, tongue loose as his orgasm neared. Eren’s blowjobs made his knees weak, turning them into jelly. He rested his head back against the shower wall, wet fingers sliding as he tried to steady himself, too far gone to feel embarrassed at the sounds he was making.

And afterwards when Eren asked him stupid questions in bed, Levi was too blissed out to be snappish or annoyed, mumbling his answers as he drifted off to sleep. He’d been sleeping better lately.

He smiled more often too. Erwin called it ‘a bit of a shock’. He still didn’t know about Eren. Besides Farlan and Isabel, no one did really, except for Pixis and a few other members of the department. He worried that Mike might casually mention it to Erwin, and knew he’d have to get ahead of it eventually.

It was just...this might not last. Eren would realise he was wasting that endless energy, his warmth, on a cranky sod who was set in his ways. Who wanted to fall asleep at ten and wake up at seven to have his tea on the Common and go for a run. Who preferred pubs over clubs or bars when he did go out. Who wanted to do puzzles or fix a leaky faucet on more Saturday nights than he cared to admit.

Surely if Eren got to see who Levi truly was inside, if they strayed too far from the bedroom, this would all burst like the giant bubbles along Southbank.

Chapter Text

“Alright fine, next Sunday should work. I’m going to a gig the night before, so I can’t do Saturday,” Levi finally conceded, as though he were resigned to a tragic fate and not agreeing to be treated to dinner.

Eren tried not to be deflated or deterred by this reaction. He wished he could see Levi’s face--not that it would have given anything away--but Levi was on the other side of the room, pulling on shorts for his morning run.

Sunday. Not exactly the most romantic of the date nights, but it would probably make reservations easier. “Great,” Eren agreed, propping himself up in bed so he had a better view of a still-shirtless Levi. “Sunday it is.”

When Levi left for his run, Eren buried his face in his pillow and let out a muffled groan.

For the past few weeks, Levi had been dodging Eren’s attempts to take him out for a romantic dinner, planned and paid for by Eren himself. It had taken multiple tries--which Eren had tried to evenly space so as not to seem too desperate--to finally lock Levi into a date. Excuses about research, conflicting plans, and work abounded, and Eren kept telling himself it wasn’t personal.

With exams out of the way, Eren began dragging himself to the library to work on his dissertation. His bibliography was due soon, and he still needed to schedule a meeting with his advisor, Mike, to get some early feedback.

Spending less time with Levi sucked, though; he missed studying at his apartment and taking breaks together to eat and fuck.

Dinner became a beacon of light for Eren, motivating him to get as much work done as possible before Sunday.

“I booked us a table at this nice sushi place,” Eren told Historia on Saturday night, Love Island playing in the background.

“Well aren’t we romantic?” Ymir drawled, her arm hung casually around Historia’s shoulder. They were cuddled up on the other couch and she clearly felt her date was being crashed. Nevermind that they were in a communal space and Historia had invited Eren to hang out.  

Historia laughed. “He is! Be nice, Ymir. Eren, is that why you’ve only been eating those super gross noodle packs all week?”

“The cheesy broccoli noodles aren’t gross,” Eren argued weakly. They were pretty gross, especially compared to Levi’s cooking. That was one of the many downsides of being at the library more often. It was also another reason he felt very strongly he needed to take Levi out somewhere nice. Eren had become concerned that he was just mooching off Levi’s groceries and cooking, though Levi declined any offers of Eren contributing financially, telling him he could earn his way as “sous chef” or by loading the dishwasher. 

“You’re right,” Ymir said. “They’re not gross. They’re downright disgusting.”

“I like them,” Eren said. “And yeah. I’m living cheap this week so I can go all out.”

“Very nice!” Historia clapped her hands together.

Ymir was not so enthusiastic. “Waste of money. Just give him a nice blowie.”  

Eren ignored her. He had no concerns in that department--except that he wanted Levi to spank him again, but Levi hadn’t offered, and Eren didn’t know how to ask or what exactly he was asking for.  

The girls turned their attention to a shouting match unfolding on screen, and Eren pulled out his phone. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, he texted Levi.

He didn’t get a reply, and his stomach sank. He’s probably hanging out with his friends before the gig, Eren reminded himself, stop freaking out .

By the time Bert and Reiner came clomping in and Reiner’s bulk made Eren sink into the raggedy, misshapen couch, Eren decided it was time to excuse himself. The living room was way too small for five people, and it was only a matter of time until Annie showed up to make surly commentary about whatever was on the TV while refusing to leave.

“Take my spot,” he said charitably to Bert who was squished next to Historia and Ymir as they canoodled on the couch, oblivious as Eren made his departure and headed up to his tiny room.

 

 

 

Eren had unceremoniously shoved aside all the accumulated crap on his desk in preparation for a video chat with Armin. All Armin could see was the foot of the bed, which Eren had also ensured was free of dirty clothes, notebooks, and empty bags of chips.

He was glad Armin had been free, otherwise Eren would just be stewing in his anxiety all night.

“Please move to California,” Armin begged. He picked his laptop up, carrying it over to his window so he could show Eren the sunny view. “I assure you, Eren, it’s in your best interest.”

“But I want to stay here,” Eren protested. The weather had actually been really nice in London lately. It was pitch black outside so he had no proof right now.

“Well, if that doesn’t work out and you come back to the States. I can get you a job here easily.”

A feeling of dread swept over Eren every time he thought of the bigger picture, time running out, his options. Regardless of what happened between himself and Levi, he had always wanted to stay.

But it would be a lie if he said Levi hadn’t enhanced that desire, to see where things could go. He hadn’t had the courage to ask Levi anything more about what was happening between them--were they exclusive? In a relationship? Just casually dating?--and he’d certainly not put the feelers out about what would happen if he had to go back to America. He was ready to talk about it, he just needed the right opening, and hoped tomorrow might provide that chance.

“Eren?” Armin’s voice shook Eren from his troubled thoughts.

“Sorry, I was just thinking.” Eren mustered a smile, feeling guilty for spacing out. “Don’t get me wrong, it’d be great to get to hang out with you all the time again, but I’m not sold on California, Arm.”

“Yeah, I surmised.” Armin sighed. “I’m glad you went for the degree, though.”

Eren rested his cheek on his fist, trying and failing not to brood. “I am glad I went for it, but I still don’t really know if I’m cut out to be an analyst or whatever. I can’t actually do math without Excel or R.” He was terrified that no one was going to want to hire him in this country or any other one.

Armin laughed. “Eren, I’m telling you, if you possess even an iota of people skills, can send a well-crafted email, and can do some programming or analytics, you’ll succeed.”

“I was an American Studies major. This is insane. What am I doing again?” he half-laughed, half-groaned.

Levi had teased him when he found out his major. Really seized onto the name in his acerbic way and gone to town. Eren fought the urge to tell Armin the story.

Armin grinned at him. “You’re taking charge of your life, Eren.”

“Did you read another one of those self-help books your company gives out?”

“Yes. At our last conference, we had a keynote speaker who gave out copies of his latest one.”

Eren leaned back in his chair, interlacing his fingers behind his head.“Of course you did.” 

Armin chuckled. “So how’s school work going? You holding up alright?”

“It’s stressful,” Eren said. “There’s so much riding on it. If I don’t get my degree, there’s no way I can stay here. My dissertation feels like a shit show.”

“At least you’re working on it already,” Armin said. “I remember in high school you used to procrastinate and then panic last minute.”

“Yup. Exactly what I’m trying to avoid this time around.”

“I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks, Arm.” Eren sighed. “You still liking work? What’s the real world like?”

“I miss academia, but I like the money. I could do with some more free time to spend it in, though.”

“You’re really not selling me on this whole moving to California and working with you plan.”

Armin laughed. “Oh! One thing I don’t mind about work is that I’ve met someone I’m interested in.”

“Oh?”

“She works on another team, so I think it’s alright if I go for it. We’ve been getting lunch together a lot, and I think she might be interested. I think I’m going to ask her out soon.”

“That’s great, Armin! Let me know how it goes.”    

“How about yourself? You still seeing that guy from your class?”

“Um...” Eren hesitated.

Armin still didn’t have the full story, and the more Eren avoided setting the record straight, the more it just felt like lying. So he’d mostly refrained from talking about Levi to Armin, which sucked. He actually wished they could meet and geek out together. Levi would love Armin’s stories about his company and all the insane, cult-y bullshit they did.

But if he told Armin, then he’d have to tell Mikasa or he’d be a real fucking dick. And if he told Mikasa she’d tell their mother--oh Christ, and Zeke--and no. Fucking no. If Eren was going to burst this beautiful Levi bubble it would be with his own fuck up, not everyone else’s judgemental input.  

“Yeah, I am. It’s been busy, but we’re hanging out tomorrow night. I’m taking him out to dinner.”

“You don’t sound too happy about that.”

Eren sighed. It still felt weird to talk about when he was withholding the details, but it would be nice to vent a little. “I am, but I’m scared. I don’t know. I feel like so far whenever we hang out, it’s him kind of...taking the lead, paying for stuff, since he’s got more money than me. But he was weird about agreeing to it.”

Armin hummed in acknowledgement, but the mention of money didn’t seem to arouse any suspicion that Levi wasn’t a fellow student. “So this is you making a gesture, and you feel like if he rejects the gesture, he’s rejecting you?”

God it felt good to talk to Armin again. They needed to stop waiting months between calls.

He pointed at Armin through the screen. “Exactly! It’s me stepping up, showing him that I’m serious. And that I appreciate how good he’s been to me.”

“I know we’ve all teased you in the past for being, well, a bit overwhelming when it comes to relationships, but this sounds like a good plan. Much better than that time you stood outside Mina’s house and Lloyd Dobblered her. Look at you, growing up.”

Eren grinned, proud of himself and even more proud that Armin approved. Maybe he had come a long way since high school, even though he hadn’t felt that way in college.

“I feel like if I can even the scales a little, it’ll finally be the right time for me to ask about us. Sometimes I feel like we’re on exactly the same page, it’s totally mutual. And other times, I can’t figure out where his head is at at all.”  

“Well, just be careful. Try to just enjoy your time with him and not get too stressed.”

“Yeah,” Eren said, feeling his stomach sink a bit. Levi still hadn’t texted him back, but he was probably just busy with the gig. He’d probably write back in the morning. “I’ll try.”

 

 

 

Armin’s advice was in the back of his mind the next day, but it didn’t assuage the feelings of frustration when he saw Levi still hadn’t texted him back.  

Hey, hope you had fun at your gig. Can you just let me know if we’re still on for dinner? Eren texted in the morning, trying to keep his words clear of anger or stress.

His phone lit up ten minutes later, and he scrambled to read the message, heart sinking as he did.  

I’m so sorry, Eren, can we postpone? Hangover’s gotten the best of me.  

Eren stared down at his phone, unblinking as his chest tightened. Surprise, hurt, and crushing disappointment merged together into impulsive anger. He didn’t even think, just typed out the first furious thought that came into his head.

Whatever, it’s fine. But if spending time with me is so low on your list of priorities, maybe we shouldn’t bother rescheduling.

Most of their time together was spent at Levi’s home, in his bed. He never actually told Eren he liked him or gave him any compliments really. Well, he’d said that one kind of nice thing about his voice, hadn’t he? But clearly it was Eren who was invested in this, and Levi hadn't bothered to show up when Eren had gone out of his way to do something nice for him. His pushiness had probably freaked Levi out, which meant Levi didn’t even fucking like him all that much in the first place.

I’m a moron, Eren thought.

So he wouldn’t be tempted to check his phone; he threw it across the room and stomped downstairs. His frustration and disappointment extended to Levi and himself. He shouldn’t have gotten so excited about this. He shouldn’t be so disappointed.

“What’s got your knickers in a twist?” Ymir asked, looking up from her bowl of cereal.

“Nothing,” Eren grumbled, rifling through the cabinets for his box of Fruit ‘n Fibre. He turned and glanced back at Ymir. “Did you finish my fucking cereal?”

“Oh. Was that yours? Sorry.” Ymir asked, not looking very apologetic.

Eren slammed the cabinet shut. “Are you fucking serious right now? How hard is it to just eat your own food?” They each had their own cabinet, so Ymir would have had to deliberately go through his shit to find his cereal.

Historia walked in, looking worried. “Is everything okay?” she asked, glancing between them.

Eren kept his narrowed eyes on Ymir, but said to Historia, “Your girlfriend ate my food and needs to replace it.”  

“I’m not buying you a new box of cereal.” Ymir glared back at him. “You’re overreacting. I only ate one bloody bowl.”

“Just share some of yours next time with Eren,” Historia suggested diplomatically.

“But that was the last of what I had,” Eren protested. “It fucks my weekly budget up, and with that dinner I told you about--” Eren stopped mid-sentence; now that he wasn’t going out for a fancy dinner, he technically could afford another box of cereal. The principle of the matter still pissed him off, but now he just felt sad.

“What?” Historia prompted.

“Levi cancelled.”

“Oh, Eren. I’m so sorry. Did he say why?”

“He’s hungover,” Eren said, a mix of embarrassment and bitterness lacing his words.

Ymir looked pensive, and then stood and made her way towards the stove, grabbing a clean frying pan from the drying rack.

“What are you doing?” Eren asked suspiciously.

“Making you some of my eggs. Then we’re even.”

“Oh.” Eren was taken aback by the sudden display of kindness or at least basic human decency. “Thanks, Ymir.”

“What about me?” Historia mock-pouted at Ymir.

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll make some for you too.” Ymir waved her hand, hiding a smile. “Please can you get the prosecco we didn’t finish last night and the rest of my orange juice. I reckon we can each get at least one sip of a mimosa out of that.”

Ten minutes later, the three of them sat around the table with Ymir and Historia advising Eren on how long he should wait to check his phone.

“You need to cool down, mate,” Ymir advised. “I mean you were nearly going to murder me over some cereal.”

Historia rolled her eyes. “Oh my god, stop. But yes, you should definitely wait until you’re in a better headspace, Eren.”   

It was late afternoon when Eren finally worked up the courage to go upstairs and check his phone. He’d filled his day with more Love Island, a nap, and an hour spent reformatting his dissertation document, and he felt sufficiently cooled down.

With dread, Eren turned his phone over and scrolled through the notifications.

The hell? Levi had texted just minutes after Eren’s hissy fit of a text. His face flamed hot.

Another message from Levi twenty minutes later: Where is this coming from?

Finally, two hours after the first message: I don’t want to play games, text or call me when you want to talk.

Fucking shit fuck.

Eren took a deep breath and texted Levi back. Calling seemed like a better idea on the surface, but Eren didn’t trust himself to speak. At least in writing he could collect his thoughts better.

I’ve been looking forward to this all week. Those reservations were hard to get, and I planned a lot for this.  

Eren was still typing when Levi’s reply came: I didn’t realise it was such a big deal to you. I wasn’t expecting you to get so upset when I cancelled, and I’m sorry.

It wasn’t just dinner, though. The whole process of even getting Levi to commit the date had sowed Eren’s doubts.

It just feels like maybe I’m more excited about whatever’s happening between us than you are. If I were hungover, I still would’ve dragged my ass out of bed to see you. Or better yet I would have been careful about how much I was drinking in the first place.

What’s your address, Levi wrote. I’m back in London, and I’d rather just talk to you face to face now that my head’s not in the toilet.

Eren’s heart pounded and he sent Levi his address. It was either an amazing sign that Levi was willing to come to his place, or a terrible sign and he was about to get dumped.

Wait. Don’t come over if you’re going to dump me.

I’m coming over.

An excruciating thirty minutes passed until Levi arrived. In that time, Eren shoved every stray item of clothing into the bottom of his wardrobe, tried to stack papers into neat piles on the desk, and threw out all the bits of trash around his room. It did nothing to distract him from how fucking nervous he was, the dread in his gut.

“Hey,” Eren said as he opened the door.

“Hey.”

They stared at each other. Levi looked exhausted, prominent dark circles under his eyes, his face paler than usual. Maybe it was the hangover, maybe it was Eren.

“Come on in. Try not to judge too harshly,” Eren said awkwardly.

Levi cast an appraising look around as Eren led him upstairs. Eren couldn’t tell what he was thinking, and neither of them spoke as they made their way to Eren’s room.

“The house isn’t so bad,” Levi said. “Still quite student-y, but better than I was expecting for this area.”

“Yeah, we get by.”

The room looked passably clean, although it still felt nowhere near as fresh as Levi’s place. The window hardly let any air in, the furniture was old, the wood blemished from previous tenants, a stain on the carpet. Eren’s nerves were getting the better of him.

He sat down on the edge of his bed and Levi took a seat in the desk chair, assessing Eren. “Why are you so pissed off with me?”

“I’m not,” Eren protested. At Levi’s disbelieving look he clarified, “Well, I’m not anymore. I was just hurt and disappointed that you cancelled. It made me feel unimportant, and I’d planned it all really carefully.”

“I’m not a mind reader,” Levi said. “I didn’t know cancelling would be such an issue, and quite frankly I wouldn’t have been good company. I’m sorry I hurt you, though.”

“We could have still gone to dinner, though,” Eren pointed out. “You’re here now.”

“Sushi sounds absolutely disgusting. Unless you want me to have the shits at a fancy restaurant. In that case we can head over right now.”  

“Point taken.”

“But I came here because I didn’t like that I upset you.” Eren met his eyes, startled at how sad Levi looked. “I can guarantee you I will disappoint you again, so if you want out of this now, I’ll understand.”

“I don’t,” Eren said, gripping the edge of the bed tighter. He was trying to be so careful. “I overreacted. That’ll probably happen again too.”

Levi nodded.

“Do you actually care about seeing me?”

“I’m sitting in your flat right now ignoring a splitting headache,” Levi said slowly. He ran a hand through his hair, looking exhausted. “I’ve been in a state all day. I was trying to spare you.”

Eren let out a small laugh, but he still felt unsettled. It took a lot of willpower not to apologise for the mention of priorities. What a stupid fucking thing to text. Why would Eren be a priority? It had only been a couple months. Sure, it would have been nice if Levi had asked him to come over instead of going to dinner. At least then Eren would have still felt...wanted. But just because he wanted to see Levi whenever he could, didn’t mean that Levi had to feel the same.  

Unable to keep a note of exasperation from his voice, he asked, “Why was it so hard to get you to agree to a date?”

Leaning back in the chair, Levi folded his arms. He didn’t look at Eren as he mulled the question over. Finally, he said with a sigh, “I’m not good at being fussed over. At least not so obviously.”  

“I guess I can understand that, but I want to be able to do nice things for you too. Mooching off you isn’t right.”

“You’re not mooching off me just because you eat dinner round my flat. Cooking for one is shit. It’s hard to get through what’s in my fridge.”

“So what then? I’m just never supposed to plan a date? I have to trick you into it?”

“Maybe. I’m not very good at this. And why Sushi Samba?” Levi raised his eyebrows slightly. “That place is pricey.”

“I know, but I can make it work,” Eren replied defensively.  

“That’s partly why it was hard to pin me down,” Levi admitted. “It was just a bit much.”

Eren’s gaze was fixed on his lamp. He couldn’t meet Levi’s eyes as his face grew hot. Of course he was too intense, too sensitive, too much. His well-meaning plan had failed so miserably.  

“Look, you’re a student.” Levi sighed. “I have an established career. Don’t inconvenience yourself for me. Things should be a little financially imbalanced, it’s just the way it is for now.”   

“How do I make sure I’m not taking advantage of you?”

“I think the fact you’re even asking means you probably won’t. I promise to tell you if you are.”

“Okay,” Eren said.

What he really wanted to say was: Please just come to bed . This stupid bed that’s smaller than yours, and the sheets aren’t nearly as nice, but at least I’ll know you still want me. At least I’ll know I can make you feel good and make you forget what a mess I am.

“I’m not staying over,” Levi informed him, as though he’d read Eren’s mind. It was hard to tell whether he sounded apologetic or not, but Eren wanted to believe he did. “Your bed’s too small, and it’s too hot.”

“I don’t remember inviting you.” Eren’s flippant reply masked his disappointment. “But thanks for the clarification.”

Levi snorted, visibly relaxing.

Eren didn’t ask when they’d see each other again, or if they still would. He hadn’t been dumped, but a slow fade could still be on the cards. Not even intentionally, just Levi slowly becoming disillusioned, seeing clearly how annoying Eren could be.

“Come over Tuesday afternoon?” Levi suggested. “I have to finish off some work, but if the weather’s good we can go to the pub you like.”

“Sounds great.” Eren managed a smile, and Levi gave him a quick kiss goodbye after he walked him to the door.

Lying in bed, Eren stared up at the ceiling for a long time after Levi had gone. On the one hand, Levi had cared enough to show up to talk to him in person. On the other hand, he hadn’t stayed. Eren would have stayed. He felt a bit like a child plucking petals from a flower: he loves me, he loves me not.

They weren’t even really in a relationship yet, and already Eren had let his temper, his sensitive side, flare up. Shame hit him hard. He wondered how many times he could fuck up, how many times Levi could see the ugly parts of him, before he didn’t show up. Before he didn’t invite him over again.

Chapter Text

The venue was dark, sweaty and crowded. If Levi moved just a fraction in any direction, he’d bump elbows with a stranger, but as long as they stayed away from the mosh pit, he figured it would be fine. It was worth it to see the Cribs playing again. Worth it to be back at a gig with Farlan and Is.

He’d met them right at the venue, so he and Farlan hadn’t yet had a chance to clear the air. They’d hugged awkwardly when they’d arrived, brief claps on the back, and had studiously avoided the sensitive subjects of Eren and their argument.

Levi stared up at the stage, watching one of the singers grip the mic, sweat dripping down his forehead. A strange feeling suddenly hit him in his early state of drunkenness as, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Farlan wrap an arm around Isabel’s shoulder and kiss the top of her head: he wished Eren was with him.

They’d had these tickets for a long time now, but maybe he should have looked online to see if anyone was trying to sell theirs off. Setting aside the matter of introducing him to Farlan and Isabel, it would have been nice to have him here. Even if only to serve as an additional buffer for the people crowded around him.  

“You good?” Farlan asked between songs, raising his voice to be heard over the crowd around them. Isabel tilted her head at him too.

“Yeah,” Levi said, avoiding their eyes.   

Farlan gave him a long look, but let it be.

When the show ended, they lingered in front of the entrance as people hopped into cabs or stood in clumps on the sidewalk, discussing the show or which chip shops were still open.

“You headed back?” Farlan asked in a way that Levi knew meant stick around.

Levi shrugged. He knew he should probably get back home, but he caught Isabel’s pleading look and sighed. “Might stay a bit longer. Fancy a drink?”

He was already buzzed but figured it couldn’t hurt to have another round. Besides, he always had a hard time saying no to Isabel when she widened her eyes that way. It reminded him of the way Eren looked at him sometimes, which might explain why he’d been so susceptible to his charms.

“Yeah, go on then,” Levi agreed, and Farlan shot him a small, tentative smile.   

The surrounding pubs had closed and they wound up drinking in their local park like they were teenagers again. Farlan and Isabel had returned to Kingston a few years ago, while Levi had refused to move back. He didn’t mind going back to visit them for gigs or a movie night round their flat so much, but he tried to avoid passing by Kenny’s old house--long sold and completely renovated. All Levi had left of that place was money in the bank.     

A quiet, melancholy ache settled in Levi’s chest as they sat atop the stone ledge overlooking the deserted playground. They used to play there together as kids, and then they’d made the rest of the park their territory. Football, throwing a frisbee for Farlan’s dog, sneaking beer up here in the dead of night as they gazed up at the stars, gossiped about their classmates, and dreamt about the future.

Farlan took a swig of his beer, then cleared his throat. “About what happened the other day, mate…”

Levi slid his gaze over to Farlan, waiting.

“I shouldn’t have jumped down your throat like that. It’s just...given your past, I was surprised by the choice. But I shouldn’t have just assumed you were behaving irresponsibly.”

Levi popped the tab off his can, which made a satisfied hiss. An explanation wasn’t owed, but he said, “I talked to my department chair.”

“Yeah, Is told me. Look, I know I can be a self-righteous prick, but I care about you. I want you to be happy with someone first and foremost, but I also didn’t want, you know, a young guy to get hurt the way you did. And again, I’m sorry I assumed you were repeating history like that.”

It took Levi a minute to absorb all that. There’d been Robert--one of the founders of the startup Levi had worked at when he was fresh out of uni--who’d been fifteen years older than Levi; Greg, who was a decade Levi’s senior when he’d met him in high school as a busboy at a local cafe.

Just because those experiences had been shitty, didn’t mean he was acting out a reversed sort of history. At least, he didn’t think so. He sat with the uncomfortable thought, staring out into the darkness of the park, lit only by the moon and a few lamp posts that had definitely not been there when they’d been growing up.

Before he started dating Eren, he’d been concerned by the very same thing, so he couldn’t exactly blame Farlan for being a decent human. The thought of hurting Eren in the way he’d been hurt by those relationships made his chest ache.

“It’s alright,” Levi said, and Farlan smiled at him. “You just care about me, and other people. Annoying as fuck sometimes, though.”

Isabel grinned, and Farlan gave a relieved laugh as the tension broke.  “Now that that’s out of the way, how are things going with...?”

“Eren.”

“Eren! How are things going with Eren?”  

“I’m still adjusting to it all.”

“What do you mean?” Isabel asked.

Levi frowned and shifted uncomfortably. “He wants to take me out on a fancy date tomorrow.”

Raising an eyebrow, Farlan said, “And?”  

“You know. He likes me.”

“Oh, right. Of course, you don’t know what to do with that.”

Levi nodded mutely. He took another sip of beer and looked out at the park’s trees rustling in the wind. The swing set below began to sway and creak.  

“We just want you to be happy. What if you just try to let him like you?” Isabel suggested.

“Yeah, we’ve liked you for this long,” Farlan agreed.

Levi tried to hide his smile.

“Tell me about him,” Farlan prompted.

“Tch.”

“Come on, you’ve told Isabel a few things. I’m sorry I was a prick, please tell me.”  

Levi took another swig as he thought. The corner of his mouth quirked up fondly. “When I told him I don’t drink coffee, just tea, he had a proper go at me. Said I was a walking stereotype and should be ashamed of myself.”

Isabel smirked. “He’s not wrong.” She’d been pushing coffee on Levi for years, always insisting that he just had to try the right brew.

There was no excuse for why he added the next part, aside from the pleasant way his head was buzzing and how relaxed he felt being back here. “He didn’t know you couldn’t put wood in the dishwasher, and he ruined two of my spoons.”

Farlan grinned. “You must really like him if you didn’t kick him to the curb after he ruined not one but two of your precious cooking utensils.”

Isabel bumped Farlan’s shoulder with her own. “Imagine if we’d done that, Far. Would’ve never forgiven us.”  

“Nope,” Levi agreed. “You morons should have learned by now. I taught you lot better than that.”

“You think you might bring him round soon to meet everyone?”

“He met Hanji and Erwin,” Levi said, and at Farlan and Isabel’s outraged looks clarified, “Briefly. Before anything had even happened between us.”

They were going to have a field day once they found out. He’d still not told any of his friends except for Mike since they were in the same department and he was Eren’s advisor. Even if Levi was ready to bring Eren to one of their get togethers, Levi didn’t want it to be awkward.  

“We could do something just the four of us, if you like,” Farlan offered. 

“I’ll think about it.” It wouldn’t be the worst thing. He yawned, and realised he better start heading home. “Shit. I’m exhausted.”  

“Stay round ours tonight, yeah?” Isabel said, before Levi could check the train times. “I’ll make us a fry-up in the morning.”

Levi sighed. “Fine.”

She and Farlan cheered, lifting their triumphant fists towards the moon.

 

 

 

The next day, Levi regretted every choice he’d ever made that had led him to this moment where his head was over the toilet, knees digging into the checkered tile floor. When he finally managed to crawl back to the couch, head pounding, he saw Eren’s message asking if they were still on for tonight.

Feeling terrible, he told Eren he wouldn’t be able to make it, assuming Eren might be a tad disappointed but ultimately wouldn’t mind very much. It took him by surprise when the reply said, Whatever, it’s fine. But if spending time with me is so low on your list of priorities, maybe we shouldn’t bother rescheduling.

Where the fuck had that come from? Assuming an explanation would be readily forthcoming, Levi wrote back as much.  

“I might have fucked up,” Levi announced blandly as he dragged himself back to the living room where they’d all been nursing their hangovers together. He recounted the text exchange with Eren, and Farlan and Isabel exchanged one of their looks. The kind that since they’d gotten together had made Levi feel on the outside on occasion.

“You need to say something else,” Isabel said when Levi showed his stunted reply: the hell?

Levi groaned. His head pounded. “Can’t I leave it until tomorrow? I think I’m going to be sick again.”

“No!” Farlan and Isabel chorused.

“Write back right now,” Isabel instructed, using what they referred to as her ‘teacher voice’.

Levi hung his head over the bin, gagged a few more times, then sat up again. “Right. Fine, I’ll write something else.”

Where is this coming from? He wrote, thinking it sounded gentler than his initial message.

To his dismay, Eren still didn’t respond.

Nothing came all day. The promised fry-up was never made, at their mutual agreement. Levi managed to shower and keep down a bottle of water before catching the train back to Clapham. He lost signal during part of the agonising journey home, and hoped that when he got above ground again, he’d have a text or voicemail from Eren waiting for him, but there was nothing.

He arrived home and moped around his flat, still waiting on a reply. Too tired to hoover the living room like he wanted, he opened The Book of Dust, re-read the same paragraph over and over, and finally gave in and put on a film.

Was this really how he’d blown things with Eren? He’d imagined it would be something both bigger and smaller. No particular event, but tied deeply to his personality. Not something as mundane as asking to reschedule plans. If he was being honest, he was a bit taken aback by the intensity of Eren’s reply.

For a very long time now, Levi’s top priority had been his work and his research. The only living thing that had trumped that had been Luna while she was still alive.

He’d dozed off on his couch by the time his phone vibrated by his side. They messaged back and forth a couple times until Levi decided fuck it, he would go to Eren. He didn’t want this to end just because he didn’t feel like going out to bloody dinner.

If I were hungover, I still would’ve dragged my ass out of bed to see you, Eren had written. Fine, then, Levi would drag his ass to Eren’s flat to talk this out face to face.

Exhausted, he hauled himself up off the couch and to the bathroom. He splashed some water on his face and then went to see Eren.  

 

 

 

Later that night, on the train journey back to Clapham from Eren’s house, Levi cursed his hungover body. He wished he’d been able to fuck Eren, even in his shitty bed with sheets that probably hadn’t been washed in weeks. Wished he’d been able to climb into Eren’s lap and ride him until Eren’s head fell back, his mouth agape as he clutched at Levi’s thighs, hands seeking purchase as he came. He liked watching Eren’s face when he came, so relaxed and open.

The screeching of the train made his head pound, made it hard to think. Why was it that part of him wanted to be alone and part of him wished he’d asked Eren to come home with him? Even if it was just to cuddle and maybe watch a bit of TV.  

The next day, finished with emails and research earlier than planned, he looked at his empty couch and wished Eren was there. He really liked Eren. Though it wasn’t exactly a revelation, the thought humbled him.

He called Eren.

“Hey, you free?”

“Uhh,” Eren paused. Levi could hear a rustling sound in the background. “I could be.”

“If it’s not too last minute, I thought of something we could maybe do. I know it wasn’t what you had planned, but if you wanted you could take me.”

Another pause. “I’d like that a lot, but take you where ?”

Internally, Levi groaned. He wasn’t normally one to hem and haw, but this was embarrassing. “St Paul’s.”  

“Um...the cathedral? I didn’t know you were religious.”

“I’m not. We’re not going in. Just meet me there.”

“Okay, when?”

“An hour work for you?”

“Yeah, okay, I’ll see you then.”

“Dress...decently.” Don’t wear the hoodie for fuck’s sake, he silently pleaded.

“I’ll wear my Monday best,” Eren quipped.

“Ugh.”

It was still sunny out when Levi arrived at the cathedral, the summer sun refusing to set, bleaching the stone spires white. As grand as it was in the daytime, Levi wanted Eren to see how beautiful it was at night.

He settled down on one of the empty benches. The area was quiet, since most of the crowds had flocked to the nearby chain restaurants that lined the streets.   

Eren arrived wearing the same outfit he’d worn to the Southbank Centre: a grey button-down and black slacks. His hair looked tamer too, Levi noted with a bizarre surge of desire, fighting the urge to drag Eren down a quiet street and make a mess of it.

“You look nice,” he said instead, as though Eren too might be startled to hear the news.

Eren rocked back on his heels, looking nervous as his gaze darted around, eyes tracing the grand dome of the cathedral up towards the sky. “Why do you sound surprised? You told me to dress nicely.”

“I was still expecting the bloody hoodie.” He kept some of his usual bite out of the words, knowing that it was actually an odd source of pride for Eren.

Eren turned his attention back to Levi. “You’re obsessed with it. Look, if you’re so desperate to wear my hoodie, I would consider loaning it to you once in awhile,” he teased. “But it’s my favorite one so you’d have to give it back.”

“I’m familiar with the concept of lending.” Scoffing, Levi turned away so his face wouldn’t betray him and give away how much he might like to take Eren up on his offer; he wouldn’t mind wearing something that was soft and smelled like Eren. “Come on, let’s go.”

“Where are you taking me?”

“You’ll see.”

Levi led them around through the gardens and towards a row of shops.

“Are you taking me to Top Shop?”

“No.”

Eren tentatively reached for Levi’s hand, the question in his eyes as he interlaced their fingers. Levi flicked his gaze down, careful to keep his face neutral even as uncertainty shot through him. He didn’t pull away.

“It feels like you’re taking me to Top Shop,” Eren said as they stepped into the open entrance to the shopping centre. “Or H&M? I know our running joke is you making fun of my clothes, but I don’t need you to sugar daddy me here.”  

Levi ignored him. They walked to the middle of the complex, and Levi pressed the button to call the lift with his free hand.

“Oh, I bet there’s a tea shop upstairs,” Eren guessed.

“Nope. Not a bad shout, though.”

The glass lift doors opened, and they stepped inside. “Holy shit,” Eren exclaimed, “that’s terrifying.” The entire thing was made of glass, and Eren moved towards the side facing the city as they began to rise above it.

He knew Eren wasn’t afraid of heights from the hiking stories he’d told him, but this ride had freaked out a few of Levi’s friends. Moblit had to close his eyes every time they came here.

“It’ll look better at night,” Levi promised as the doors opened to the rooftop and he steered Eren past the bar and restaurant towards the viewing platform.  

Eren gaped out at the view, as though in a trance. His hands came up to grip the ledge. They stood side by side and stared out across the city skyline. You could see so much of London from up here, the bridges, trains and bright red buses looking like a children’s playset from high above.

“It’s incredible,” Eren whispered. “Can we go around the other side too?”  

They began to walk along the perimeter of the roof, and Levi pointed out the Shard, the tall, jagged glass structure rising high above the other buildings. “Tallest building in London, but costs thirty quid for the view. This is free and you can’t tell the difference.”

Eren started laughing.

“What?”

“Nothing. It’s just that was one of the places I thought about taking you.”

An undercurrent of awkwardness found its way into the conversation, bringing the discomfort of the weekend back into focus.

“We could get drinks at the bar here.” He inclined his head back in the direction of the mostly-empty bar. There were couches with thick tan cushions surrounding a few tables outside with a few high top tables in a row in front of them. “If you really insist on that nice date.”

The grin that broke out on Eren’s face was worth the mild discomfort.

Eren bought them a bottle of prosecco and they sat next to one another at one of the free tables outside. The bartender had told them that if the night was too cool, she could grab a blanket for them, but Levi liked how the cold air combated the warmth in his chest. Proximity to Eren or the bubbly - who was to say, really?  

“How was the concert? I never asked,” Eren said apologetically.

“Wasn’t really a concert, but it was good.”

“Oh right, you called it a gig. Very cool.”  

“I stayed in Kingston with my friends after. Been a while since I was back in my hometown.”

“How was that?”

“Good for a bit of nostalgia. Weird, too, though. Probably why I got so drunk. I’m sorry again about that.” He flicked his gaze to Eren who didn’t look bothered.

Eren shrugged. “Water under the bridge. Going home is weird for me too, I get it.”

“Nice to see my friends, though.”

“I’m glad.” Eren smiled at him, eyes crinkling at the edges. “Who’d you go with? I mean...if you, like, want to tell me about them.”

“I guess I could, like, tell you about them,” Levi teased.  

Eren’s smile broadened. “I mean like, if you want to like, tell me, like, about them?”

Levi laughed. There was something deeply appealing about a person who could take the piss out of themselves, take the piss out of you, and dish out exactly as much as they could take. He hadn’t realised this had been missing from his few past relationships.  

“Isabel and Farlan are the ones I mentioned to you before. Grew up with them, family and all that. Farlan’s a social worker and Isabel’s a secondary school teacher. They started dating when we were teenagers and have been together ever since.”

“I’ve been there,” Eren said. “Was it kind of weird for you too?”

“At first, yeah. But it’s alright now. What about you?”

“It’s actually my sister and one of my best friends. They started dating in high school, and they even have one of those gross couples nicknames. Jean will still add it to the hashtags on their Instagram photos together like there are people out there searching ‘hashtag JeanKasa’.”

“That’s awful,” Levi said. “If Is or Farlan started doing that, I’d knock their heads in.”

“Oh, definitely. It’s the worst. Anyway, it was weird as fuck when they first started dating. Jean would come to my house and then just disappear off with Mikasa, and it was like, ‘oh okay, see you never.’ It’s better now, but do your friends ever do the thing where they just share a look about something you say?”

“All the time,” Levi replied, thinking of yesterday morning when they’d insisted he text Eren back straight away.  

“Ug.” Eren rested his arm over the back of the chair behind Levi and took another sip of his drink. “The worst. Jean and Mikasa do that every time I see them.”

“Same with my lot. Might help if there was a fourth person around.”

Eren blinked at him.

“If you want to meet them sometime.” Smooth, Levi thought. “They offered.”

Sitting up straighter, Eren said, “Yeah, that’d be cool.” He tried to hide his smile as he took another sip, but Levi clocked it.  

Eren retracted his arm and looked down at his glass, rotating the flute of prosecco. “Speaking of friends…”

“What?” Levi prompted.   

“Can I tell you something?” Eren had a sheepish look on his face, but he was biting his lower lip, and Levi thought he might be trying not to laugh.

“You sure you should?”

Eren looked up from the glass he was still fiddling with. “What do you mean?”

“You sure you want to make a drunken confession?” Levi clarified. He took a sip of his drink.

Tonguing his cheek, Eren considered this. “Yeah, I want to tell you. Definitely.”

Levi raised his eyebrows and gestured for Eren to continue.

“Do you remember that night I ran into you at the pub? Before you fell for my ridiculous charms.”

“Oh yes, I remember that time in my life fondly.”

“I...wasn’t actually there with anyone. I could tell you didn’t want me to join you guys when your friend uh--”

“Erwin,” Levi supplied.

“Erwin, yes! When Erwin invited me to join you, I said I had to get back to my friends, but I was just there alone. I don’t know why I made that up.”  

“That was very brave of you to confess. But after a lie like that, I’m not sure how we can move forward, Eren,” Levi said gravely.

Eren laughed. “No, Levi, there’s more.”

“I’m listening.”

“I had seen you going in, and with classes ending, I’d been thinking about how I could make a move or something, and I just...followed you in and waited around until I worked up the nerve to actually talk to you. And then I was worried you were on a date, but then your other friend showed up. Anyway, I’m a creep, and I thought you should just know that.”

Levi kissed him. Mostly to put an end to the babbling, but also because he loved the stupid, very American way Eren said these things, all in an honest rush. And because Eren’s crush charmed him.     

Moments after they pulled apart, Eren blurted out, “Are we okay?”

The ernest way his green eyes searched Levi’s face for any hint of an answer thawed a cold place inside of him. He nodded.

Eren shifted towards him and rested his head against the top of Levi’s arm, wrapping around his side. “I want to talk about us. You know, where we are. At the beginning you said you didn’t see this going anywhere and...I think I want to talk about that.”

“Okay,” Levi said, ignoring how the mere suggestion of this conversation made him want to get up and walk far away. Nothing against Eren--in fact, it was only how much he liked Eren that kept him rooted to his seat. “Tomorrow night?” He needed time to collect his thoughts.

“Tomorrow night,” Eren agreed.

They stayed there for a long time, watching as the sun set over the city and the cathedral lights glowed like the moon. Levi thought of what he might say tomorrow. He was sure of most of the things he did and did not want, but was less sure of the things he could and could not give. Wanting to be with someone was one thing. Being a good partner was another.

Chapter Text

On his way to campus, Eren had finally managed to get ahold of Mikasa before her morning yoga class. He needed to find out if the London trip was actually happening. It would be great if his mom and Mikasa could make it, but he needed to plan accordingly.

“I have to go in a second, but are you and Mom coming next month or not?” Eren asked as he tucked his phone between his arm and shoulder, rummaging through his pockets for his school card as the cluster of grey-stone buildings came into view.

Mikasa sighed. “Mom’s still trying to sort her work schedule out, and now Zeke is saying he wants to come.”

Eren’s blood boiled. He’d already been feeling on edge since he’d asked Levi if they could talk tonight, so he was even quicker to anger over Zeke than usual.

Seething, he said through gritted teeth, “You cannot be serious. He better not fucking be planning that. With what money even?” The money he owed Eren? Please.

“Well, he’s dropping not-so-subtle hints that he wants one of us to cover his ticket, and then he’ll pay us back.”

“So I’m guessing he never took that bartending job.” Eren had never talked to Zeke about it like Mikasa had asked. He was careful not to mention that.

“Nope.”

“What’s he been doing? I know you’ve probably been dying to tell me, and Mom keeps making vague comments about him working on creative pursuits, so it’s gotta be good.”  

“He’s been making Youtube videos with Colt…”

“Oh great, he’s making videos with that idiot! Well, this can only end in fame and fortune.”

Mikasa snorted. There was a rustling sound in the background and the noise of something being zipped. “Eren, I’m sorry to cut this short, but I’ve got to start heading out to class,” she said.

“I have to head off now too, but I love you.  Let me know soon what you all decide so I can plan around it. Talk soon.” And please warn me if Zeke is coming.

“Love you too. Mom’s off on Sunday, by the way, so you should give her a call.”

“Will do,” Eren replied before hanging up and putting his phone back in his pocket. Depending on how his conversation went with Levi tonight, he might actually have something new to report to his mother beyond, “Yes, I’m doing laundry. Yes, I ate a vegetable this week. No, I don’t have scurvy yet.” It had been a running joke between them since he went off to college the first time that he would likely come down with scurvy without his mother and Mikasa to stock the house with fruit and vegetables.

Eren hurried onto campus, making his way to the coffee cart before his dissertation check-in with Mike. Clusters of students were hanging out on the lawn at the centre of the small campus, in front of the main building, enjoying the early summer sun. He spotted Historia with a few women he recognised from her course and waved. She made a heart symbol with her hands at him. Birds chirped cheerfully and laughter filled the quad, which helped Eren relax. He’d been fretting most of last night and this morning about how his talk with Levi would go tonight, but now he felt some of the lingering tension fall from his shoulders.

That is, until he’d purchased his coffee and spotted Levi talking to Mike and Erwin.

Levi’s gaze raked over him, and Eren knew - he fucking knew - that Levi wanted to make a joke about his hoodie from the way his lip twitched. A joke would be welcome right now because this was painfully awkward.

Eren raised his hand in a half-wave. Erwin lifted his coffee cup in greeting, Levi raised his eyebrows, and Mike looked like he was trying to suppress a laugh.

This was going to be an awkward advisor meeting, Eren realised with a sinking feeling. It had only been a matter of time; he’d known that Mike and Levi were friendly outside of work. He’d just never seen them in the same place until now.

There was a brief moment of time that felt more like an hour where Eren waited to see if Levi would motion for him to come over. He didn’t, so Eren awkwardly turned and made his way to wait outside Mike’s office.

Mike wasn’t far behind, and looking like he was still trying to fight back a laugh, he unlocked the door and let them both into the room.  

Eren settled down in the chair next to Mike’s desk, but before he could speak, Mike cleared his throat and said, “Eren, please stop me if I’m out of line, but as you’re probably aware I’m aware of the, uh, situation with you and Levi.”

Face frozen, Eren swallowed and nodded mutely, unsure where Mike was going with this.

“So, uh...you can say hi to him if you want, if you see him on campus. It’s not a big deal. And if we ever run into each other in social settings, that’s okay too.”

“Oh,” Eren said. “Yeah, thanks. That’s a relief.” It had crossed his mind that Levi might do his best to keep Eren away from the other professors he was friends with, and he was happy that this didn’t appear to be the case.

Mike nodded. “Right, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to business.”  

 

 

 

That evening, Eren arrived at Levi’s apartment with a bottle of wine and two mini strawberry cheesecakes that Levi loved but would hardly ever treat himself to. It was the least Eren could do for initiating this conversation. Necessary as it was, he knew talking about feelings wasn’t Levi’s favorite topic.

When he arrived, he pulled Levi into a long hug, pleased when, without hesitation, Levi wrapped his arms around Eren’s waist, cheek pressing into his chest.

After a long, glorious minute, Levi dropped his arms, and said, “Come on then, let’s go have something to eat.”   

Eren followed Levi through to the kitchen. “So...earlier today was super awkward,” he ventured.  

“I’m sorry.” Levi sighed, and gave Eren an apologetic look. “It’s the first time we’ve run into each other, and I didn’t quite know what to do.”

“Me neither. I know you mentioned that you still hadn’t told Erwin, so I didn’t want to make it weird.”

“Listen, I told my friends this afternoon, including Erwin, so next time we can act normal if we see each other on campus.”

Eren tried to keep a straight face as he said, “I’ll make sure I leap into your arms and kiss you.”

“Yes, that’s the ticket.” Of course Levi’s poker face was flawless. One day Eren would knock him off-balance again. Get him to give a shocked laugh like he had that first night when they’d had dinner together along the river. He thought about that moment a lot, the first time he’d made Levi react that way.

Eren poured himself a glass of water from the tap and mixed in some orange squash, watching as it swirled into the water. He’d only realised it recently, but Levi never drank the squash, just kept it stocked because he knew Eren drank it. The thought comforted him a bit, his heart already thumping against his chest as he tried to think of how he could start the conversation. He’d been running through scenarios in his head all afternoon, but it didn’t seem to have helped.  

“Eren? I know you like the taste of that shit, but it can’t be that interesting to watch.”

“No, yeah. I just…I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wanted to say to you, and I don’t even know where to begin.”

Levi took a seat at the edge of the couch and appraised him. “Start wherever you like, I’m listening.”

“Okay. Well, considering you told your friends about me, it seems like you’re into me.”

“You have the true makings of an analyst.”

Eren let out a short bark of laughter. “And I’m really into you. I don’t know if it’s too soon to say this, I hope it’s not. I don’t want to see anyone else but you, and I feel like this could go somewhere.”

He paused, trying to gauge Levi’s reaction. This speech had been going through his head all afternoon, but it still sent a rush of adrenaline through him, his heart rate spiking.

“You do?” Levi didn’t sound skeptical, not exactly. Curious maybe. So Eren took a deep breath and pressed on.

“Yeah. I do. And I know it’s weird as shit to hear this kind of thing, and we’re all trapped in this never-ending performance of playing it cool, but I’ve never pretended that with you, and I can’t really start now. I think it’s better if you tell me now if you still don’t think there’s anywhere this could go between us.”

“I don’t think I quite realised how much you liked me,” Levi said, tone unreadable.

“Really? I don’t think I hide it very well.” Eren laughed, small and a little sad. “You on the other hand? Sometimes I get kind of worried.”

“I like you,” Levi said it bluntly, no finesse. So bluntly that for a moment Eren thought he’d said the opposite, and it took him a second for the actual words to sink in. “I didn’t think I hid it well either.”

“Oh,” he said. “Good.”

“And for the record, I’m glad you don’t play it cool with me. There are times I’ve found it a little...intense, like the other night. But I like how forthcoming you are. I’m not seeing anyone else, by the way. Just you.”

It had seemed unlikely that Levi would have time to see anyone else, but Eren hadn’t been sure. The confirmation felt good, though he still needed more. “What does that make us then?” he asked.

Levi furrowed his brow. “How do you mean?”  

“Like...does that make us boyfriends?” The word sounded so stupid, childish when Eren said it.

“I know it’s just a word,” Levi said. “But it’s not one I use very often.”

Eren nodded. “I know there’s a lot up in the air, so I don’t blame you for not wanting the label. Maybe we’re just exclusively dating or whatever. I’m really bad at this part. It’s always been completely casual or a relationship for me, so I don’t know all the standard steps between.”

There was a pause, and in the silence Levi folded his arms and turned his head away. “I didn’t say I minded.”  

A tentative smile broke out across Eren’s face; he couldn’t hold it back even though he wanted to appear nonplussed by this startling clarification. “So what are you saying?”

“If you want to use the term, we can.”

“No, no. Don’t put this all on me to decide.”

Levi blew out his cheeks. “Fine. Eren, would you like to be my bloody boyfriend?”

“Yes!” Eren wrapped his arms around Levi and kissed him on his neck, his cheeks, his forehead, until their lips finally met. It didn’t matter if he seemed like a doofus, not that Levi seemed to mind; happiness permitted him to behave foolishly. He hadn’t let himself imagine they’d avoid a negotiation of labels.

Before Eren could get too carried away--his mind already scrambling to process this label, Levi’s my boyfriend. Levi’s my boyfriend-- Levi held up a daunting hand. Instantly, Eren’s breath caught in his throat and he froze.

“I want to be completely and utterly up front with you.” The intensity of Levi’s grey eyes further troubled Eren.

“Okay.”

Levi looked like he was weighing his words carefully. In a startling move, he reached over and held Eren’s hand firmly in his. Kind and warm, the touch eased Eren’s nerves.

“If you can’t stay here--if you have to go back to America, I don’t want to do long distance. It’s absolutely nothing against you, but it’s not something I’m built for. Is that alright?”

Eren let out a long breath. “I mean, I think so. To be honest, I haven’t let myself think too much about what going back home would be like or what that would mean for you and me. It just scares me too much. But I get it. It doesn’t sound too great, does it?”

“No,” Levi said gently, shaking his head.

“But you still want to be my boyfriend anyway?” A small, hopeful smile crept onto his face.

“Yes,” Levi affirmed, “I still want to be your boyfriend.”

“At least until October.” When Eren would have to return home if he didn’t get on a work visa.

“At least until October,” Levi agreed.

Cramming the fear as far down inside of him as he possibly could, Eren leaned forward, resting his hands on Levi’s strong shoulders as he kissed him. Levi responded in kind, deepening the kiss until their tongues slid against one another and their hands were both tangled in the others hair. Along the way, Eren had wound up on top of Levi as he kissed and kissed him.

Smirking, Eren pulled back and said, “I want to fuck my new boyfriend. That cool with you?”

“I suppose,” Levi said with a long-suffering sigh, but he had his hands on Eren’s ass pulling him closer.

Eren nudged Levi’s legs apart with his knees, and unzipped his black work pants. Half-hard already, Levi’s cock swelled in Eren’s hands. He loved the way the foreskin glided over the thick head as he stroked, loved the way Levi’s eyes fluttered shut as he let out a low groan.  

“I’m going to make you feel so good,” Eren promised as he moved to kneel in front of the couch. “Tell me exactly what you want.”

“Mm. I want you to blow me, fuck me, and then blow me again.”

“I can make that happen. You want me to fuck you on the dresser?”

“God, yes.”

“Why wait?” Eren said. “Let’s go.” He stood and headed for the bedroom, Levi eagerly trailing behind him.

The room smelled sweet and inviting, like figs, from the diffuser oil Levi kept buying from a shop in Brixton. When Eren had pointed out he could find it online for a similar price, Levi had admitted he liked the shop because there was always a fat, ginger cat asleep in the owner’s chair. Eren felt another wave of affection at the thought, and he could only stop himself from ravishing Levi long enough to undress them both and hoist Levi up on the dresser.

All the items that had previously had a home there were moved a few weeks ago and had never managed to make it back, save for the condoms and lube. It was undoubtedly Levi’s ‘subtle’ way of letting Eren know he’d been eager to do this again.

“You know I can get up here myself,” Levi said.  

“I thought you’d find my way sexier.”

“I don’t find anything you do sexy,” Levi reminded him, and Eren laughed.

“Right, my bad. It’s a shame because this next move I’ve got planned is especially unsexy.”

“I’d expect nothing less. Go on then. Show me just how unsexy you plan to be.”

Levi leaned back against the wall, and placed both his feet on top of the dresser so his knees were folded, and he was totally open to Eren.

“I love you like this,” Eren said, drinking in the sight. He wanted to fuck Levi into the dresser, the wall, right this minute.

“Then do something about it.”

Eren bent forward and braced himself with one hand on the dresser, knuckles tickling as they brushed against the silky, dark hair on Levi’s knee. His own cock began to throb as he nipped at the inside of Levi’s thighs and was rewarded with a sharp, anticipatory intake of breath above him.

Holding the base of the shaft with his free hand, Eren flattened his tongue and began to lap at Levi’s cock in long, slow licks, making sure to give special attention to the nerves underneath the head. Levi’s legs opened even further as he began to moan and buck his hips up into Eren’s mouth.

“Hold still, I’m trying to put my least sexy moves on you.”

“Eren,” Levi rasped, “don’t be a shit.” His cock twitched, bumping Eren’s lips.

Affronted, Eren’s jaw dropped. “But you like when I’m a shit.”

“I will kick you in the face if you don’t get back to what you were doing.”

“Violence is never the answer.”

Levi groaned and let his head fall back against the wall.

“Please suck my dick. I take back what I said. You are incredibly sexy, I want you.”

“Well, it’s no fun if you give in before I even ask!”

“You’re not sexy, I’m not fun. That’s the drill.”

Eren won the ‘argument’ by wrapping his lips around Levi’s cock again and taking him in the entire way, holding him in place as his throat constricted with each swallow. The moan that Levi let out was low and long and one of the most rewarding sounds Eren had ever heard.  

The lube was close enough that Eren didn’t have to pause his ministrations to pump some lube onto one of his hands. He slicked his fingers and slid one into Levi, who let out a sharp gasp of pleasure. There was a light thud as Levi tipped his head back against the wall. “God yeah, just like that.”  

As Eren fell into a rhythm, his lips and fingers moving in time, he found himself hoping more than ever that this wasn’t just good sex, but great sex. He might be younger, he might have less experience, but he wanted nights like these seared into Levi’s mind, so if everything else about them faded away, something would remain. Passion was worth remembering, right? At least Eren had that in spades.

It was far too early to say things like I love you or even I think I’m falling in love with you, but he could show Levi like this.

He ran his tongue along the underside of Levi’s cock as he took him all the way down again, relishing the way Levi had started to writhe and beg for more.

Giving Eren’s hair a rough tug, Levi pulled him up and rasped, “Fuck me, Eren.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice.” He wiped his lips with the back of his hand and reached for a condom.  

Levi squirted more of the lube on his hand and coated Eren’s sheathed dick before leaning back and lifting his legs up again.

“Have I mentioned how much like seeing you like this?”

“You may have a few times, yeah.”

Eren pulled Levi forward so he could run his hands up and down the smooth, soft skin of Levi’s muscled back and kiss his neck, salty with sweat. He eased himself into Levi, letting himself feel every inch of pleasure as he sank into him.

“I want you in deep,” Levi said, hooking a leg around Eren’s backside to hold him in place. He leaned back and gripped the edge of the dresser.

As Levi tightened around him, Eren let out a hiss of pleasure. “Yeah, yeah, I know how you like it.”

And he did. Deep and fast when they fucked like this. Eren decided he needed to invest in a cock ring; the way Levi fell apart underneath him, the way his face contorted with pleasure, made it hard to hold it together.

Both of his hands rested on Levi’s hips so he could steady them both, and he ran his thumbs along the sharp points underneath soft skin. Eren needed more. He wanted to touch him, to have their bodies pressed closer together and to have his hands roaming across all of Levi.

“Wrap both your legs around me,” he instructed. When Levi complied, Eren lifted him up and spun them around so he could drop Levi on the bed.

The desire in Levi’s eyes knocked the wind out of Eren. Seeing his expression so unguarded made Eren feel deeply privileged. They moved together, Levi meeting Eren’s thrusts, taking him in as deep as he could. It felt good, so good, but it was Levi’s eyes that did him in. That made him shudder as he came, whimpering Levi’s name into his shoulder as he lost control.   

“God,” he said, “fuck that was good.”

“It was,” Levi agreed, stroking Eren’s back. “You’ve got a job to finish, though.”

Eren gave a wolfish grin and slid down the bed to work Levi with his mouth, finishing him the way he’d promised at the start. Levi writhed and made pleading, filthy noises until he came and Eren swallowed him down.  

“You are so fucking good to me,” Levi said, breathless.

Eren grinned and reached for one of the dirty towels in the hamper and wiped off the corner of his mouth. Then he let himself collapse back on the bed, exhausted.

Levi lay down next to him. “Hey, Eren,” he said.

Eren turned so his cheek was resting on the bed and he could see Levi’s face. “Yeah?”

“That was sexy.”

Eren grinned up at the ceiling.

 

 

 

“Tell me your favorite song,” Eren said later that night. They were curled up in bed, Levi doing some reading that looked intriguing but way beyond Eren’s current skill level: "Natural Language Processing for Song Lyric Generation”. So Eren had music on the brain and this seemed like something he already should have known.  

The question made him self-conscious after he’d asked it. It was the kind of question you asked in a tiny dorm bed when you were trying to impress your post-party hookup. Not in the bed of your older, cooler, newly-declared boyfriend.

Levi shut his book and considered the question. “Wuthering Heights.”

Eren propped himself up on his elbow. He peered down at Levi skeptically. “The Kate Bush song?”

“Yeah.”

The reply was met with laughter. “Wow. You almost had me there for a second. My friend showed me that stupid video of her where she’s just twirling around the forest. It was hilarious.” Asking a question so cliche had been begging for a sarcastic reply, he couldn’t even fault Levi. He and Historia had nearly wept with laughter when they’d watched it.

Levi’s gave him a bemused look. “I’m not joking.”

“What?”

“The piano is lovely. I taught myself how to play it.”

“You--you what? Wait you play piano? And you really do like that song?”

“Yes and yes. Grade seven.”

“I don’t know what that means.”

“There are eight grades, and I made it to seven.”

“Why didn’t you make it to eight? That doesn’t sound like you,” Eren teased.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Oh.” Quiet fell over them until Eren said, “Do you want to play Wuthering Heights for me? Maybe without Kate Bush wailing I’ll be able to appreciate it.” It stung a little that Levi had shut down so quickly, but he hoped he might be able to draw him back out again.

Levi looked affronted. “She’s not wailing.”

“She is. Will you wail for me instead, Levi?” Eren ran a hand down Levi’s chest.

“Absolutely not. I will, however, play the song for you tomorrow.”

“Really?”

He’d probably melt into a puddle in the ground if Levi played piano for him. The thought of those long, slim fingers brushing over the keys, the look of concentration on his face, the fact that he’d be playing something for Eren...Shit. His spent cock twitched with renewed interest at the image.

“I suppose.”

 

 

 

The next morning Levi hauled his keyboard out of the hallway closet and set it up in the living room. “Right, turn around,” he commanded.

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. It’s bloody weird if you’re watching me.”

“It’s weirder if I’m facing the kitchen while you play behind me.”

Levi huffed, which Eren took as acquiescence. He planted himself down on the couch, and smiled innocently as he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, chin resting on his hands.

“Knock it off.”

“I’m just being a good listener!”

Muttering a few curses under his breath, Levi plugged the keyboard in and then hovered his hands, claw-like, over the keys. His eyes closed, then he let out a breath and began to play.

Transfixed, Eren watched with admiration as Levi’s fingers glided over the keys with ease. There were one or two occasions where he faltered and furrowed his brow, but he pressed forward each time. Without the accompanying music video or singing, Eren had to admit the song really was pretty.

“Bravo!” Eren clapped and brought two fingers to his lips for a wolf-whistle. “You may not have wailed for me, but that was great.”

“Gee, thanks,” Levi said.

“I’m serious! You’re really good. I can’t believe you played that from memory.”

“Just takes a bit of practice.”

Eren made a gun with his fingers and pointed it at Levi. “Accept the compliment.”

“Typical American.”

“Wow. I set you up for that, but I didn’t think you would actually go there.”

Levi smirked and turned to unplug the keyboard.

“Wait!”

“What?”

“You’re not going to play more? I mean, you brought it out of storage.”

Looking skeptical, Levi said, “You want me to play more?”

“Yeah! I just told you how good you were. I want to hear more.”

“Go put on another pot of tea and you’ll have yourself a deal.”

When his back was turned to Levi, Eren grinned to himself. Let it split his whole face, let it go so wide it hurt his cheeks. He was going to keep his fears at bay, he was going to let himself enjoy this.

Chapter Text

How much tea should I bring tonight? Eren texted. Or do you just want to regift the tea I got for you?

Pmsl, Levi wrote back.  

Pms what?

Pissing myself laughing, idiot.

PmsLevi

Ug. Get here at six unless you’d rather meet me at Farlan and Isabel’s.

I’d rather show up with you. I’ll meet you at the station.

 

 

 

It was six thirty when Eren arrived at Waterloo. They’d already missed the 6:15 fast train they were meant to catch.  

“You’re late,” Levi said, surprised and a tad annoyed. “Train problems?”

“I--yeah.”

There was something off about how Eren said it, the way he shoved his hands in his pockets and wouldn’t meet Levi’s eyes. Once they boarded the train, though, Eren started asking Levi how his research was going, and Levi pushed the odd feeling out of his head.

“Hey, do your friends have a backup plan if it starts raining?”

Levi sighed and glanced back out the train window. Ominous grey clouds hung overhead, drifting slowly across the sky. “Every bloody time we try to plan a barbecue this happens. I reckon we’ll just cook something inside or order a takeaway.”

“That sounds good too,” Eren said. “Remind me how long the train ride is again?”

“Forty minutes.” The fast train would have only taken fifteen, but he didn’t want to make Eren feel bad.

“Nice!” Of course an American would think forty minutes was ‘nice’. Levi fought the urge to roll his eyes. “Did you come into the city a lot when you were growing up?”

Levi looked back out the window, up at the grey clouds. “Not really.”

“London was forty minutes away and you didn’t take advantage?” Eren pressed, curious.   

“Never really appealed.” He and his friends had once gone into the city for an awful, crowded New Year’s, but otherwise stuck close to home; their hometown had all the high street shops and pubs that they needed anyway. “I didn’t get to know the city until I started working. One of my coworkers who wasn’t even from this country had to show me around when I first moved here.”

“Lame.”

“Lame indeed. Didn’t you grow up near Philadelphia? Did you go into the city much?”

“...no.”

Levi chuckled. “Those in glass houses, Eren.”

By the time they had gotten off the train, rain had started bucketing down.

“Thank God I brought this!” Eren said, throwing his hoodie on, but he stopped before he’d gotten his left arm in the sleeve. “Wait, do you have a jacket or an umbrella or something?”

Levi shook his head. “It’s not a far walk from the station.”

“Here, take it. I know you’ve been dying to wear it anyway. I don’t mind some rain.”

“I’m not taking your hoodie.”

“Why not?”

“You shouldn’t have to show up at my friends’ looking like a wet dog.”

“They’ll think I’m a gentleman. Come on, I insist.” Eren shoved it towards him, and there was something so sweet and hopeful in his eyes that Levi took it without further protest.

Was this how normal couples felt when they were headed somewhere together and it rained; when one of them bit the bullet and got wet so the other could stay dry? It was such a small, simple thing, and that made it all the more obvious that Levi had never had it before.

They walked through the rain, Eren’s wet hair plastered to his forehead. He smiled all the way, and Levi smiled too.

 

 

 

A low thrum of anticipation buzzed through Levi as they waited to be let into the old Victorian that his friends had lived in for the past five years. It was almost a second home to Levi, an escape from the confines of the city.

Though the tension had been lifted between himself and Farlan, bringing Eren along for the first time still worried him. It had been a long time since he’d brought anyone round to meet his friends, let alone been in a relationship.

In the end, Eren was right. His drenched sacrifice put him on good terms with Farlan and Isabel right away. It was a good an icebreaker as any.

Isabel fussed over Eren: “Mate, you’re soaked. Come upstairs and use my hair dryer.”

“And borrow one of my shirts,” Farlan added, trailing behind as Isabel hurried Eren up the stairs. Levi poked his head into the living room where Erwin, Hanji and Moblit were already sat and said his hellos.

“Woah woah, slow down. Where’s Eren?” Hanji asked, standing up from the couch and peering out into the hallway before Levi could extract himself.

“Drying off upstairs.”

“Well, hurry him up. I want to meet him.”

“Yes, I’ll make sure the best hair dryer is on the job,” Levi deadpanned.    

“Hanji, give them some air,” Moblit said, fondness in his voice. He motioned for them to come back.

“Yes, we don’t want to scare Levi away,” Erwin put in, a smirk playing on his lips. “If we’re not careful, he might send Eren off again.”

“Yeah, you should have let him sit with us at the pub that night,” Hanji agreed, settling back into their seat. Moblit wrapped an arm around their shoulder, looking amused.   

The whirring of a hair dryer could now be heard, and Levi said, “Right. I’m going upstairs.”

“You wouldn’t want Isabel and Farlan finding out your secrets,” Erwin said.

As Levi began to ascend the stairs he heard Moblit say, “Aren’t they the only ones who know everything about him already?”

By the time he arrived upstairs, Eren was wearing a different shirt and Isabel was making him laugh by styling his hair in ridiculous ways as she pointed the dryer at his head.

“Yeah, that one! Keep it that way, Levi will love it,” Eren raised his voice over the sound of the dryer as Isabel blew his fringe straight up from his forehead.  

Isabel laughed. “You just need a bit of hair gel.”

Farlan, sat on the bed, caught Levi’s eye in the doorway and gave him a small nod of approval.

A little flustered, Levi cleared his throat. “The place isn’t as filthy as last time I was here.”

“Cheers, mate! Wanted to impress you.” Isabel flashed a grin, still ruffling Eren’s damp hair.

He always gave his friends shit for the state of their house, since they’d moved in years ago. But sometimes he had to admit he admired their shared, messy lives.

“As much as I’d love to keep chatting, we ought to go back down,” Farlan said. Briefly, Levi thought he caught a flicker of disappointment or worry in Eren’s eyes at the suggestion. Eren nodded and followed Farlan and Isabel downstairs to meet the rest of their friends.  

 

 

 

As the night progressed, there were more than twenty people scattered throughout the house. Not exactly the intimate gathering Farlan had made it sound like when he’d suggested bringing Eren. Levi cornered him in the kitchen and said as much.

“Well, it got a bit bigger than planned,” Farlan explained sheepishly. “Mostly thanks to Is.”

“You could have warned me earlier,” Levi said.

“I’m sorry, I should have. But Eren’s holding his own,” Farlan replied, taking two pizzas out of the oven and putting them on top of the stove.  

“That’s because Hanji and Isabel keep giving him more booze and won’t leave him alone.” He was the tiniest bit grateful that they were both looking out for Eren. Though he’d chatted a little to Erwin, Mike and some of the other guests, the conversation had been mostly stunted, and Eren hadn’t seemed like his usual animated self. At least with Hanji and Isabel he seemed more at ease.

Levi had always wished he were the type of person to give absolutely no fucks what others thought, but he’d never been that person. He worried that friends like Erwin wouldn’t exactly dislike Eren but find no common ground with him, and suspect that Levi was with him for less scrupulous reasons than he’s such a fucking delight.

Levi reached for one of the steaming slices of pizza, his fingers burning a little as he moved it onto on a nearby plate. He grabbed some more food for Eren and headed back towards the living room.

“Alright, anyone who wants to have a bit of fun, come upstairs to the game room,” Isabel declared as Levi walked into the living room.

“It sounds like you’re trying to lure us into an orgy,” Levi said dryly. Eren coughed into his drink, choking on a laugh.

Isabel grinned. “Piss off. And grab some more beers, will ya?”

Levi, Eren and Hanji gathered up some cans of beer, exchanging confused looks before they followed Isabel.  

The “game room” was a spare room they’d turned into a den. A cosy corner couch, blue beanbag chairs on the floor, and a variety of video and board games filled the room. Most of the board games had been Christmas and birthday gifts from Levi, since he knew how much his friends enjoyed them. Sometimes it made him wonder what it might be like to move somewhere with more space, but he’d never been one to take up much room.

Eren’s eyes lit up when he stepped inside. “This is my home now,” he crowed. “I’m amazing at Scrabble.”

Levi turned to give him a strange look. “You?” Eren did not seem like the Scrabble type. It required a certain level of mute, strident patience to enjoy.

“Me.” Eren turned to smirk at him.

Before Levi could reply, Isabelt cut in. “We’re not playing Scrabble,” she said, making a face. (She also lacked the mute, strident patience the game required). “We’re playing beer pong.”

“The fuck? How?” Levi asked at the same time that Eren and Hanji were making sounds of approval and excitement.  

Isabel gave a cheeky smile and opened up the storage closet, pulling out a folded up table along with a bag of red plastic cups. “Ta-daaaaa!” She looked smug as she said, “We picked this up last week. Reckoned tonight we could try it out.”  

“I haven’t seen these since college!” Eren laughed and took the bag of red cups from Isabel. “I didn’t know you had them over here.”

“We had to order them online,” Hanji explained.

Unimpressed, Levi said, “That’s a lot of effort for some fucking cups .”

Together, they set up the fold-out table and arranged the red cups into triangles on both sides.

“Okay, so we need to fill these cups with beer, and we need one or two others for washing off the ball,” Hanji explained.  

Levi didn’t like the sound of this. “We’re meant to drink the beer that the ball’s been in, after it’s been on the floor? That’s disgusting.”

“You rinse it off in the cup with the water, though.” Isabel protested.

Levi shook his head. “No bloody way.”

“We can just drink from the cans then,” Eren cut in. “And we can fill the cups with water. We used to do that all the time at school.”

Eren took aim, slowly moving his arm back and forth as he found the right angle. “My roommates and I used to have pong training sessions during the week.” The ball bounced off the rim of the cup and fell to the ground. “But that was a long time ago.”  

There was no way Levi would let that slide. “You had training sessions for this?”

Isabel grinned at Eren. “Mate, that’s tragic.”

“It’s a little sad,” Hanji agreed, sounding apologetic as they prepared to take their go.

Farlan wandered into the room and flopped down on the couch. “Is it rude I’ve come up here? The politics talk has started and I can’t be arsed with it tonight.”

“S’fine,” Isabel said distractedly. She’d just missed her sixth shot in a row and was looking aggravated.

“Let me guess: our resident Tory versus the one Lib Dem left in the country?” Levi said.

Farlan tipped the neck of his bottle towards Levi. “Yep.”

“The who and the what now?” Eren frowned at them, confused.

“Erwin’s the Tory,” Levi clarified. “Meaning he supports the conservative party. Petra is a staunch defender of the Lib Dems for reasons none of us can quite understand.”

“So they’re like our democrats?” Eren asked, looking over at Hanji for confirmation.

“Sort of,” they said. “They’re kind of between Labour and the Conservatives.”

Hanji started to say more, but Farlan hooked up his phone to the speakers in the room in an effort to get them all to shut up. “You need a soundtrack for your game. What music do you like, Eren? You’re the guest of honor, you pick.”

Eren laughed. “Didn’t know I was the guest of honor, but sure.” He fiddled around with Farlan’s phone, and Levi could tell he was up to no good from the smirk on his face. The familiar piano chords of Wuthering Heights filled the room.

“Oh, tune!” An enormous grin broke out on Isabel’s face.

“We can do the dance moves!” Hanji said, grabbing Isabel’s arm.  

“Good choice, Eren.” Farlan pointed at him.

Eren’s smile faded away, and he watched in horror as Levi’s friends began to sing, and it was Levi’s turn to smirk. “Yeah, good choice, Eren.”

“They all like this song?”

“Yep.”

“I hate my life.”

“There, there.” Levi patted his arm with as much condescension as he could.

 

 

 

More people gravitated upstairs, forming a proper queue for the game. Levi and Eren reigned as champions for three rounds but eventually lost to Gunther and Eld.

Eren excused himself to go to the bathroom, and after a while Levi began to worry when he didn’t return. Maybe he was stuck in a long queue-- twenty fucking people, he thought with renewed annoyance--or maybe someone had cornered him into a conversation. He wasn’t anywhere in the house, and Levi realised that the rain had stopped, so on a whim he went to check outside.

He found Eren sitting alone in the backyard, sipping a bottle of beer. His head was tilted back, and when Levi stepped in front of him, he jerked in surprise.

“I didn’t hear anyone come outside,” Eren said, sounding apologetic and a little bit drunk. Levi had a nice buzz going from their rounds of pong.   

Levi retrieved one of the folded chairs leaning against the wall; the metal scraped against the wet patio tiles as he moved it closer to Eren and took a seat, so close their knees bumped together. The rain had stopped hours ago, but the pleasant smell of damp earth and wet grass still clung to the air.  

Troubled by Eren’s faraway expression, Levi asked gently, “What are you doing out here?”

“Do you ever just...need a minute? To get your head together and let things be quiet?”

“All the time.”  

He was rewarded with a smile. Making Eren smile took astonishingly little effort--Levi’s general crankiness and snide comments often delighted rather than perturbed--but this smile felt different, almost secret.

“You know, at first I worried we might have nothing in common, but I’m starting to wonder if we’re the same.”  

“You and me?” Levi couldn’t see it.

“Yeah. Like deep down we understand each other.”

Not exactly the same thing, Levi thought, but he didn’t want to derail Eren’s train of thought. “Maybe.”

“Not to sound totally insane, but I feel like I’ve known you for a really long time. Like in another life or something. I have some pretty trippy beliefs about that kind of thing.”

“Of course you do. But I hope you don’t think deep down I have those 'trippy' beliefs too.”

Eren snorted. “No. Although I’m sure you have your own weird beliefs.”

“Shit. That’s probably true,” he mused. Though none sprung to mind at that moment.

He crossed his arms and leaned back in the chair, staring out into the night. What if Eren was right? What if other lives held the answer to hidden, infallible truths about yourself? It was both comforting and terrifying to think there was a reason you could be drawn to the same souls time and time again.

Eren’s voice snapped Levi out of his thoughts. “I didn’t have train problems earlier,” Eren said, eyes darting apologetically to Levi. “I was late because I just...freaked out.”

“About what?”

“A better question would be what didn’t I freak out about. My dissertation, meeting your friends, job hunting, my family coming to visit--” Levi’s head jerked up in surprise, “--sorry, I was going to tell you that, but yeah they’re coming to visit.”

“You could have told me why you were late.”

Eren rested his head on Levi’s shoulder. “I’m telling you now.”

A plane came into view above them, glittering like a star as it cut through the sky.

“I don’t know if this will make you feel any better,” Levi started, “but for what it’s worth, it seems like my friends really like you.” Farlan’s nod earlier in the night, the thumbs up Hanji and Isabel had given him when Eren had left the room. Those were the three Levi had hoped--and expected--Eren to get along with most.

“Really? That’s awesome.”  

Levi squeezed his hand. “You’re very charming, Eren.”

“Sometimes. I used to be pretty tough to get along with, so I’ve worked hard to be, like, friendly with people.” Eren sat up and took a swig of beer, staring out at the garden. The low lights along the garden path cast his face in shadows. “It’s pretty exhausting to be honest.”

Surprised, Levi said, “It doesn’t seem that way watching you.”

“I’ve heard that before.” Eren gave a short, humorless laugh.

“But you were so persistent with me.” Eren had been so outgoing, and he’d even admitted intentionally approaching Levi at the pub that first night they’d spoken.

“I push myself when I really want something.” A small smile crept onto Eren’s face, a little sad as he flicked his eyes to Levi’s. “Doesn’t mean it’s easy.”

Levi stared at Eren. An even deeper fondness seized his heart. It was a new joy he’d discovered being with Eren, to be so wrong about someone else in all the right ways. To see a likeness in someone else you’d never guessed was there.

“You want to go back inside?” Eren asked. “I’m ready to head off whenever you are, to be honest. But I wouldn’t mind talking to Hanji a bit more. They’re really cool.”

“Another thirty minutes? Then we can call a cab back to my place if you want to stay round.”

“Will you make me pancakes in the morning?”

“Yes, but the real kind.”

Eren gave him a skeptical look, then said, “Do you have squash?”

“Only because you’re disgusting.” The corner of Levi’s mouth quirked up.

“And you’ll let me spoon you?”

“In the morning,” Levi acquiesced. “It’s too warm for that tonight.”

“Okay then. I’ll stay over.”

Chapter Text

In a mere two weeks, Eren’s mother, sister and (unfortunately) brother would be arriving. Now was the time for honesty, time to face the threat of motherly judgement and restrained disappointment. Levi had agreed to meet Eren’s family if they were up for it, so when his mom called to ask, yet again, what the weather would be like, Eren was ready...sort of.

Steeling himself, he said, “Mom, I’m seeing someone.”

“Oh! That’s great.” He could hear the smile in her voice. His mother had never been difficult to talk to about relationships in the past, so she’d undoubtedly be confused when he clarified that this wasn’t exactly a new development. “Tell me about them.”

“It’s this guy I met at university.”

“From one of your classes?”

“Um, you could say that.”

“Eren…”

“He was one of my professors. But he’s not anymore! Classes are done, and it’s all fine, I promise.”

“Wait wait. When did this start?”

“Just before the end of the semester. It’s been a few months now. The term ‘boyfriend’ has been used.”

Silence on the other end and then a groan. “Oh, Eren…Your professor ?”

His reaction was visceral, a whole body flinch; it was terrible when she used that tone. The sheer disappointment of it was soul-crushing. Worse than anger by a million miles. His mother’s approval had always been deeply important to him, and now it was probably clear to her why their calls had become so sporadic, his excuses about his dissertation flimsy.

He pulled at one of the loose threads on his sheet. “Yep. My professor.”

“Do I even want to know how old he is?”

Eren breathed out. “Thirty-four.”

“Oh. I guess that’s not so bad. I’d prepared myself for mid forties.”

They laughed. It was awkward on both ends, but a laugh nonetheless.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before.”

“You have a right to your privacy.”

“Thanks. The thing is, I’m telling you now because I think it would be kind of cool to introduce you guys when you’re here.”

There was a pause, but she said, “I’d be happy to meet him. I’m sure your sister would love to as well.” Eren noted she hadn’t mentioned Zeke and appreciated the honesty in the omission.

“I didn’t tell Mikasa either. She knew I had a crush on him, but I didn’t tell her anything else.” Moments after they ended the call, his mother would have inevitably informed both of his siblings, and hopefully this meant they would get any and all of their unfiltered opinions off their chests before meeting Levi.

“Okay, well...I’ll let your brother and sister know about the plans. I’m excited to meet him!” She could be so diplomatic even when stunned by news like this. The only issue now would be if she had time to think and then sprung some well-formed arguments at him later when he least expected it.

 

 

 

He met his family at their hotel the night they arrived. They were staying a fifteen minute walk from Eren on Old Kent Road at a place cheaper than most of the other hotels Eren had suggested. The hotel was right next to a Chinese restaurant that Eren sometimes went to with Historia, so at least he had one local recommendation for them.  

He heard his family before he saw them as he waited in the hotel lobby. Zeke and Mikasa were explaining something to their mother and they all sounded so excited. Eren didn’t know why, but hearing them all like that, together, made him nervous.

“Eren!” His mother called when she caught sight of him. He rose from his spot on one of the worn chairs by the doors and went to greet them, hugging his mother first. She looked much the same, her long brown hair pulled into a bun, makeup perfectly done but not too much, never too much.

“Hi mom,” Eren said, hugging her tightly.

Mikasa was even more toned than he remembered, which he hadn’t thought was possible. Her perfectly-sculpted, protein-powered arms engulfed him. She and Jean had been on another juice cleanse in the week leading up to this London trip. Once in awhile she’d manage to convince their mother to join her in one of her diet plans--they’d done keto for four months before their mother had thrown in the towel. It was one of their bizarre ways of bonding that Eren had never understood.

“You look amazing,” Eren said when they pulled apart.

She gave him a small smile and then prodded his stomach. “You’re doing better than I expected. Are you still making it to the gym between study sessions?”

“Uh, yeah.” He was, but mostly it was between fuck sessions. He started trying to go for runs with Levi, or at least going to one of the cheap, 24-hour gyms nearby when he was free. “We can’t all be as ripped as you, though,” he said, poking her back. Jesus, did she have a twelve-pack or something now?

His brother was next in line to greet him, and Eren struggled to greet him politely. “Zeke,” he said, with as much cheer as he could muster, which was about a four on a scale from one to ten.

Zeke’s beard was longer than when Eren had left but otherwise he was much the same. “Hey little bro! Good to see ya!” Before he could protest, Eren was pulled into a bear hug complete with an awful hair ruffle. “Man, you need a trim,” Zeke said.

“You’re one to talk.” Eren sighed. “Come on then, let’s go get some lunch.”

A feeling of overwhelming homesickness struck Eren as he led his family towards the station and they fell into old rhythms that felt just a half-step off. It was a strange kind of homesickness, one he’d never experienced before. It was for both his old life and his new life as he occupied the space between.

 

 

 

Halfway through their trip, his family had seen most of the tourist attractions on their list. When Eren wasn’t working on his dissertation, he ran around with them to the British Museum, Westminster Abbey, a boat ride along the Thames, a trip to the zoo and the aquarium. He was exhausted, and he hadn’t even been with them the entire time.

He missed Levi even though he’d been working on his dissertation in Levi’s apartment when he could, and he’d spent last night there after dinner with his family. Tonight, though, Levi would be meeting his family, and Eren wasn’t sure what to expect. At best, both Levi and his family had expressed a subdued enthusiasm for meeting one another.  

They met that evening at a tapas restaurant on the periphery of Borough Market that Historia had recommended. She’d made it sound more glamorous than it was, but he trusted her when she said the food was “divine”.

The tables inside and outside were all occupied, hopeful patrons spilling out onto the street holding glasses of wine as they waited to be seated. The outdoor seating at each of the restaurants lining the market was full, Eren noticed - it was a warm evening without a cloud in the sky and no one wanted to be inside.  

Levi was waiting outside amidst a crowd of people.

“You can’t make a reservation here,” Eren said apologetically, glancing at his family, looking for signs of disappointment as they made their way towards Levi.

“I’m fine to wait,” Mikasa said, shrugging. “The wine looks good.”

Levi approached. Eren wasn’t sure if he was imagining it, but he seemed more tentative than usual, something about him concaving inward despite his blank expression. He reached for Levi to pull him into a brief embrace, not knowing if that was right or not.

“Hey, you,” Eren said, and then he introduced Levi around to his family. Zeke had a tiny smirk on his face that Eren hoped desperately would not blossom into obnoxious comments and questions. Or god forbid more of his awful attempts at a British accent. Even their mother was starting to tell him to knock it off, and her tolerance for Zeke was so much higher than anyone else’s.

“I put our names down already, and ordered us a bottle of wine,” Levi said. “They said it’ll probably be close to an hour wait.”

Carla thanked Levi warmly and peppered him with questions about himself, his career. Mikasa listened with her usual quiet intensity, while Zeke looked preoccupied with his phone (Eren knew that somehow he was still soaking up every word. That’s what Zeke was like). The waiter brought them the wine while they waited, the cool liquid a reprieve from the heat.

“I just can’t believe there’s no air conditioning here,” Carla said, shaking her head.

“I tried to warn you.” Mikasa took a sip of her wine.

“It’s not usually this hot. It’s a bad summer,” Levi said.  

“Global warming,” Zeke said, and he said it in such a triumphant tone of voice, that Eren anticipated a self-serving follow-up. “Colt and I are actually working on a series of videos to raise awareness.”

“Of course you are,” Eren said, feeling a little bad at the wounded look Zeke gave him, and even worse when he caught Levi’s raised eyebrow. He cleared his throat. “Sorry. That’s a good cause for you guys to work on.”

A smile appeared on Zeke’s face, but it was a little duller this time. “Thanks, bro!” He reached over to ruffle Eren’s hair, but Eren ducked away. “Do you have a Youtube account, Levi? You should check out my stuff when you have a chance.”

“I don’t,” Levi said.

“Really? You must be older than I thought.”

“Yep.” Levi nodded. “Must be it.”

Zeke laughed, and Eren thought maybe he was just trying to joke around with Levi, suss out his sense of humor, but it toed the line of a conversation Eren had been avoiding since the arrival of his family. One that centered around Levi’s job, how they’d met, their difference in age and life experiences. The conversation had such potential to go badly. He imagined Levi leaving dinner reminded of all the reasons he shouldn’t be with Eren. He imagined his mother and Mikasa returning home all the more convinced that this was a mistake, something to remind him of in the future when he made another “reckless” decision.

He took another sip of his wine and shifted the topic onto less treacherous territory.  

 

 

 

Their food arrived in quick succession. A parade of garlicky shrimp, jambon croquettes, a mixed platter of cheeses and charcuterie, duck breast, lamb.  

“So what exactly do you do in the summers?” Mikasa asked Levi as she cut into her lamb. “Do professors have off or do you need to work?

“I’m working on my research mostly, though I’m a thesis advisor to a few students.”

“Including Eren?”

Levi didn’t seem surprised by the question. “No. Obviously a conflict of interest.”

“Things are really different now,” Carla said. “When I was Eren’s age, I was just starting as a nurse in training, and Grisha was an attending when he asked me out. Now that would certainly be frowned upon.”

Eren groaned. “Can we maybe not?”

“I’m just trying to tell you, I understand,” Carla said.

“Thanks, Mom.” Eren glanced at Levi, whose expression was still neutral, but his jaw had tightened.

“But it’s not like...a thing,” Mikasa said, staring intently at Levi. “Is it?”

Levi’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Is what a thing?”

“Dating students. Is it something you’ve done before or is it just Eren?”

“Just Eren.”

“Oh,” Mikasa seemed surprised by the answer. She softened. “I had to ask. Eren’s my favorite.”

“Mine too,” Levi said, surprising no one more than Eren. “It’s fine.”

Zeke remained quiet, watching the scene unfold with interest. He had a way of doing that sometimes, removing himself from the center of attention every so often just to observe, to gather information. He looked a little amused by the change of tone, by the warmth Carla and Mikasa were now displaying towards Levi, asking him all sorts of questions about his work, life in England, whether Eren was a good student.

“Mom, Levi’s teaching me how to play soccer,” Eren said.

“He’s awful,” Levi said, and Mikasa snorted.

Affronted, Eren turned on him. “No I’m not, I scored a goal.”

“Farlan was being nice to you.” Levi directed his attention to Eren’s family. “A friend of mine,” he explained.  

“Don’t lie to my family. I did it all on my own.”

“Sure you did,” Levi replied.

Mikasa rolled her eyes. “Quit flirting, it’s gross.”  

“You know, Eren probably could have been good at sports if he’d stuck with them,” Carla mused. “It’s very nice of you to teach him.”

Zeke’s eyes lit up, clearly about to make a joke about the teaching comment, but Eren shot him a look and said, “Don’t.” And to his surprise they both started laughing. He had a brief flash of missing his brother, but then it was gone.  

Things were exceeding Eren’s expectations--Levi had just suggested, to Mikasa’s delight, that she try yoga at the Shard--until Levi went to use the restroom towards the end of the meal.

“They make them small in London!” Zeke said after Levi was out of earshot. A small mercy he’d waited.

Mikasa and his mother rolled their eyes, but Eren took the bait. “That’s so funny because I’m sure when he met you he thought, ‘boy they sure make them stupid in Pennsylvania’.”

“Eren, come on,” his mother said.

“You ignore his shit, but never mine!”

“Come on, I was only kidding, bro. Calm down.”

Eren opened his mouth, but Mikasa spoke first. “Save it for later,” she said, looking around the room, though their raised voices went unnoticed in the cacophony of voices around them. When Levi returned they’d fallen into a tense silence.

“Why do you all look like someone died?”

Eren burst out laughing--more of a sudden, relieved expulsion of nerves--but everyone else gave him odd but polite looks. Without another word, Levi sat down and picked at the last piece of bread.

“Shall I ask for the bill?” he asked.

“Yes, I think we’re all worn out,” Carla said, a note of gratitude in her voice.

Levi reached for the check when it came and told the waiter not to take the other cards on the table, despite Carla and Eren’s protests.

I’m your favorite, Eren thought stunned to himself as Levi rested a hand on his back briefly. Their eyes met and he said, “Thank you” as he thought and you’re mine too.  

After Levi had paid, they gathered in front of the restaurant to say their goodbyes.  

“It was nice to meet you all,” Levi said, taking a small step towards Eren so their arms brushed.

Zeke laughed. “Thanks, shorty. You too.”

Eren died inside. He opened his mouth to say something, but Levi spoke first: “You’re welcome, beardy.”

Everyone laughed, and Eren was grateful that at least this awkward meal had ended with evidence of Levi’s good humor.

 

 

 

Besides Zeke, the greatest source of frustration during his family’s visit had been his mother’s well-intentioned but exhausting questions about what was going on with his job search and did he think he’d be returning to the states.   

Rejection greeted Eren as he checked his email later that evening. He’d applied to so many graduate schemes, been turned down by so many dismissive recruiters who had forced him to come down to their offices only to remind him that without the right to work in the UK, it would be an uphill battle as a recent grad.

With a sickening twist of his stomach, Eren realized he would likely not be staying. Most of the grad positions that would even consider hiring foreign nationals had already filled their slots. He’d made it to the final round of the NHS’ informatics scheme--he’d dragged his ass to Leeds for an all day, immersive simulation--but he hadn’t made it to the top five. It was time to start accepting that he should apply to jobs near home.  

If punching a wall had been an option, Eren would have taken it. Back in middle school, his mother had enrolled him in martial arts so he’d have a way to channel his angry energy. His father had been wary of diagnosing him with ADHD and medicating him, so martial arts it was. He’d loved it. Loved being able to punch and kick with as much force as he wanted.

He didn’t know where to channel that frustration now, so he slumped down on Levi’s couch and stared out at the skylight. He would have to move home. His family got under his skin. A resentment lodged in his throat that they had not been as inviting to Levi as some of Levi’s friends had been to him.

He had hoped in a stupidly naive way that they would see how perfect he and Levi were for one another, that they would pull them both aside to say so. That in their eyes they would be made completely legitimate and they would finally see Eren as a real adult with a real relationship and a real future. Mikasa would report this back to Jean, and Jean would report back to their friends. Zeke would respect him enough to pay him back or at least Eren would feel so superior he wouldn’t care about the money anymore. He would be generous enough to write the whole thing off. And best of all his mother would look at him with pride, the way she did when he’d gotten accepted into his master’s program.

“Eren?”

Eren blinked himself back to reality and turned his head. Levi was standing in the doorway with a funny look on his face.

“You alright?” Levi asked.

“Just thinking.”

Levi considered him for awhile, it looked like he was working something out in his mind. Then he said, “Come with me,” with the jerk of his head towards the bedroom.

“Is this a sex thing?” Eren asked, half-joking, half-hopeful.

“Yeah.”

Eren scrambled to his feet and followed.

Chapter Text

Eren had been in an odd, dark mood since they’d returned to Levi’s, not to mention how on edge he’d seemed during dinner, but he was tight-lipped about what the issue was. Now he was brooding in his favourite place, lying on the couch underneath the skylight, hands cradling the back of his head.

“You alright?” Levi asked.

“Just thinking.”

Levi paused, questions caught in his throat. He’d had an idea when he entered the room, something he’d been wanting to offer anyway. A way to get Eren out of his head. So he said, “Come with me,” with the jerk of his head towards the bedroom.

“Is this a sex thing?” Eren asked, a hopeful note in his voice.

“Yeah.”

Eren eagerly followed Levi into the bedroom where Levi perched on the side of the bed, hands resting on his knees as he studied Eren. Never one to shy away from asking a lover, point blank, what they wanted, he asked, “Do you want me to spank you again?”

Eren’s cheeks turned red, but his eyes snapped to Levi’s, sharp and eager. He nodded, absentmindedly running his tongue along his lower lip. “You really, really don’t need to do this. I get that this isn’t so much your thing.”

“I want to make you feel good.”

That brought a smile to Eren’s face, made him blush harder. “Believe me, there isn’t much you could do that wouldn’t make me feel good.”

They’d only really done this one other time and while Levi was normally more inclined towards the vanilla, the way Eren had fallen apart the last time kept his mind circling back to doing this again. The sexual thrill of making Eren lose his mind proved too intoxicating to resist. No one had ever really looked at him the way Eren did in bed, and it made Levi feel so shockingly, unbelievably sexy.

Levi let out a huff of laughter. “Still. I have an idea I think you’ll like. Something you mentioned once.”  

Eyes going wide, Eren said, “I may not be the smartest guy in the world, but I’m smart enough not to keep arguing.”

“Good. Take off your clothes,” Levi commanded in an undertone.

They didn’t break eye contact as Eren began to unbutton his shirt, fingers fumbling in his excitement. His unruly hair fell into his eyes as he concentrated, tried to steady his hands.

Eren was already rock hard when he stepped out of his jeans and boxers, cock bobbing towards his firm stomach. “Where do you want me?” He asked, voice raspy, eyes dark with lust.

“Here,” Levi said, beckoning Eren with his fingers. He gave his lap a pat.  

He’d meant for Eren to lie down flat, but instead Eren straddled him, bending forward to nip his way down Levi’s neck. Having Eren naked in his arms made Levi dizzy with lust; he couldn’t stop himself from running his hands over the planes of his muscles, the smooth expanse of his skin.

Voice husky, Eren said, “I need to feel you.” Still shaking, his fingers reached to untuck Levi’s shirt. “Let me undress you.”

Levi swatted swatted his hands away. “No.”  

Eren whimpered, biting at his neck again as he rutted against Levi. “ Please.

Skimming his fingers along Eren’s spine, ignoring how hard the neck biting was making him, he said again, “No.”

Though he wanted to give in, he knew Eren would enjoy it so much more if he refused. It was so easy to give Eren pleasures like these. It was so much harder to give him assurances, to know the right things to say, to soothe and praise, but this? This he could do.

“Now turn over,” he commanded, voice low. Eren bit his lower lip and did as he was told.

He knew how to tease Eren, to bend him over and slap his ass at the perfect angle, eliciting sharp cries of pleasure until it was time to slip fingers inside of him. He could finger Eren until he squirmed against Levi’s leg, trying to find friction as his cock leaked onto Levi’s trousers. He could whisper in Eren’s ear, “You want to fuck me, or for me to fuck you?”

He could do all these things for Eren because they were easier than saying, I think I’m falling in love with you or maybe I already have.

 

 

 

For the rest of the evening, Eren was in considerably better spirits--Levi wasn’t sure if it was the teasing, the spanking, or fucking Eren on the floor until he was totally incoherent--but the next morning Levi awoke to him moving around the room, sighing to himself quietly and rummaging through his backpack. It was unusual for Eren to get up before him, even mornings like these where Levi didn’t get up for a run.  

A frown tugged at Eren’s lips when he noticed Levi watching him.

“You alright?” Levi asked, arching an eyebrow. He didn’t move to get out of bed, but he stretched long, muscles still sleep-stiff.  

“Shit, sorry. Did I wake you?”

“Yeah,” Levi replied, shifting to sit up. “‘M not fussed, though. I wake you all the time.”

“Are you sure you want to come hang out with my family again?” Eren asked as he grabbed a faded blue t-shirt from his bag. Most of Eren’s clothes were that way, but Levi understood his hesitations with money. He would have happily gifted some new clothes, but he knew better than to offer.  

“Sure, if you want me to.”

“They didn’t put you off too much with their annoying questions?”

Levi gave a half-shrug. “It wound up being alright.”

Light flooded the room as Eren opened the curtains, back muscles bunching under his sun-kissed skin. “We need to go somewhere with air conditioning today or my family will lose their minds.”

Levi looked out his bedroom window at a cluster of trees in the distance, branches swaying slightly in the summer breeze, distracting himself from the fact that he wanted Eren all over again. “You don’t already have plans?”

“We’re more of a last-minute family.”

“Ah.”

“I’m sorry about Zeke by the way,” Eren added.  

“What? The shorty comment? I’ve heard worse.”

Eren rubbed the back of his neck. “I can’t figure you out sometimes.”

“How’s that?”

“You come across so blunt and harsh sometimes, but then like right now you’re just being so...chill about stuff.”

Levi sighed. “Look, yeah it was quite annoying, but the impression I’ve got is that your brother needs a lot of attention. He was just trying to have a bit of banter with me. Shit banter, but just banter.”

Eren perched on the side of the bed, so he was facing Levi. “I’m so tired of it, though. I want him to stop trying to get attention that way. To stop charming my mom and even me into loaning him money when he doesn’t give a fuck about paying either of us back. He borrowed the money from her to come on this trip! And of course I want him to pay her back first.”

Levi reached for Eren, pulling him down alongside him. “Sometimes you just have to accept people the way they are, not how you wish they were.”

He knew a thing or two about that. Probably could have used that advice himself growing up with Kenny who had been a hard bastard in some ways and a decent caretaker in others. It was too late to do anything about it, but he tried to honor Kenny’s memory with that acceptance.

“What if I don’t want to accept him the way he is?” Eren murmured, forehead pressing into Levi’s shoulder.

“You don’t have to,” Levi said, smoothing a hand over Eren’s hair absentmindedly. “I only think it’s an option you can consider.”

Outside his window, Levi could hear the low rumble of a passing motorbike, and broken bits of conversation as people walked by.  

“I’ll think about it,” said Eren finally.

After a little while, still cuddled up against Levi despite the heat, Eren said. “Hey, next time I’m in a bad mood will you let me call you Professor Ackerman in bed?”

Levi shifted so he could glare at him, but relented when Eren grinned. “Maybe.”

Eren sat upright. “What? Really?”

“Yeah, if I can figure out how not to gag at that shit. Sure we can try it.”

“I don’t see how you could possibly gag at the thought of me, a young sexy student coming to your office hours expecting some lessons but getting so much more.”

Levi threw a pillow at him.

“Would you like it better if it was a different scenario?”

“Like what?”

“Uhhh you’re the head chef and I’m the new bus boy.”

Levi rolled his eyes.

“You’re my captain and I’m your subordinate?”

“...So we’re pirates?”

Eren shook his head. “No, no, like in the military or something.”

“Do you seriously have a boner right now?” Levi asked, catching sight of the bulge in Eren’s trousers.

“Maybe. I can’t help it, you’re so hot when I’m annoying you.” Eren flashed him a shameless grin.

“Stop fucking around then. Get over here and do something about it.”

“Anything you say, Professor Ackerman. I really need that extra credit.”

 

 

 

They’d spent most of the afternoon wandering around Tate Modern with Eren’s family, where Eren and Zeke had started a game to keep track of all the post-modern pieces that looked like, “actual turds,” which had made Levi laugh so hard his stomach ached. Mikasa and Carla had gamely joined in as well, creating new additions to the game like, “Did a janitor leave it there or is it art?”

Now that it was evening the air was balmy instead of oppressive as they walked along the perimeter of Regents Park’s lake. Eren and Zeke were chatting a small ways ahead of the rest of the group. Though it was clear from Eren’s posture and tight expression that he was a little on edge, it didn’t look like things were getting too heated.  

“Oh my god, there’s another one!” Carla pointed at one of the herons standing at the water’s edge. Her enthusiasm over the wildlife was oddly charming and very very American.

“Yes mom, thank you for pointing that out to us again,” Mikasa deadpanned, tone not unkind. Eren had told him that Mikasa and Carla were best friends, and it was clear from the way they teased one another and often spoke in shorthand that it was true.  

“They’ve tried getting them out of the park, but people won’t stop feeding them,” Levi said. He pointed at a man throwing bread towards the bird. “Like that bellend...sorry.” He probably shouldn’t swear in front of them, but it was a hard habit to curb.  

“Bell what?” Mikasa asked, narrowing her eyes in confusion.

“Bellend! It means the head of a penis!” Eren called back to them, having overheard Mikasa’s question. A woman sat on the grass nearby glared at Eren as the two children beside her giggled. Eren gave an apologetic wave and lowered his voice as he and Zeke rejoined the group. “It’s like when someone’s being annoying or a dick.”  

“Good lesson,” Levi said. “You’re really acclimating.” He didn’t point out the fact that Eren was still putting the emphasis on the wrong part of the word.

“So to give you all an example of how it’s used, Levi is being a bellend,” Eren said.

“Wow, Levi. You’ve really taught him so much.” Carla raised her eyebrows, looking so much like Eren when he was cracking a joke. “What a great education he’s gotten here.”

Ah, so not only had Eren taken after her in appearance, but his sense of humor too. In fact, the whole lot of them shared a similar sensibility. Even Zeke, who seemed less like he was trying to prove something today. Levi could tell that when they were all on good form, they were an especially happy family.  

The path winded around the lake where the swan paddle boats were parked for the night though it still wouldn’t be dark for another hour or so. Carla peppered Levi with questions, and he tried to reciprocate, but she was persistent in that way that he recalled his own mother being when he was young and he’d gotten home from a day of school.

“So Levi, what was it like growing up in London? Was your uncle from around here?”

“Mom,” Eren groaned.

“Sorry, sorry.” Carla sighed, chastised.

“Eren gave us a list of things we’re not supposed to ask you about,” Mikasa explained, arching an eyebrow at Levi.

“Well wasn’t that thoughtful of him,” Levi said dryly as Eren made another miserable noise. The rest of his family laughed at him.

“It’s fine,” Levi said. “My uncle and mother were actually born and raised in Manchester, but they both moved to London round the same time.”      

He told them a little bit about his family, even mentioning how Kenny had left him the house in Twickenham when he’d died.

Carla touched Levi’s shoulder, startling him a little. “You know, you’re always welcome in our home if you want to visit sometime.”

“Thank you,” he said, sensing there was something else she wanted to say.

Carla and Mikasa exchanged looks. “Mom’s trying to say you’re welcome whether you’re visiting with Eren or coming to see him.”

Eren opened his mouth to say something, but Carla spoke again. “I don’t want it to sound like I don’t believe he can find something,” she said, casting an apologetic look at Eren. “I just know how hard it’s been.”  

“Ah. I know it’s hard to find post-grad work,” Levi said. “He’s in a tough position.”

“Yep, it sucks,” Eren said. “They want me to start looking for jobs back home.”

“That’s sound advice.”

Eren’s shoulders tensed, but he nodded. Levi had been quietly coming to terms with this reality, the increasingly unlikely chance of Eren staying. Still, though, he’d wanted to meet Eren’s family, and he tried not to dwell on it, though it was getting harder to ignore the dark cloud forming overhead as it gradually blocked out the sun.

“You could always get work experience being my analyst, bro,” Zeke said, and Levi was actually grateful for his interjection.

Eren’s shoulders relaxed slightly and he turned to Zeke with a smirk. “Oh yeah? I could help you increase your douche conversion rate by at least 100% easy.”

Zeke shot back, “With your fancy data science degree, you can’t do better than that?”

“I didn’t get a data science degree, I took one intro class with Levi.”

“That’s what happens when you’re just mooning over the teacher, Eren. You don’t get your fancy data science degree.”

“I was never getting a data science degree!”

Though the mood had lightened again, Levi spent the rest of the night with a heavy heart.

 

 

 

The next month passed quickly, August a hazy summer dream. Eren’s family returned home, and Levi found he was disappointed not to be spending a bit more time with them. Having more time alone with Eren was nice too, though.

Days spent blasting Levi’s new fan in the living room as they worked on their projects, basil plants appearing on his windowsill that Eren kept growing more and more of, hot nights spent telling Eren to quit pressing his sweaty chest against Levi’s back. Evenings spent in pub gardens with Levi’s friends, and Eren brought his friends--well, Historia. It was unclear whether Ymir and Annie could be counted as friends or not--along to their gatherings sometimes.   

And despite that dark cloud looming overhead, they became more comfortable with one another.

“I don’t mind shitting at your place anymore,” Eren announced one day as though this was a reasonable thing to brag about.

“Oh, bravo,” Levi said with fake cheer. “Well done.”

“It’s a milestone I thought you’d appreciate.”

Levi wrinkled his nose. “It’s a milestone I can fucking smell.”

Or Levi finally blocking out an hour of their day to teach Eren what does and does not go in a dishwasher and how to properly clean out the oven.  

“You’re the busy professor who just doesn’t have time to clean, and I’m the sexy maid you hired to get the job done.”

“You’re the maid I fired for being unprofessional and terrible at his job.”

“That was a low blow but fair.”  

 

 

 

At the start of September, Eren booked his tickets home for the following month. He also had a few phone and Skype interviews lined up with companies back in America. Neither of them made a faff about it, but Levi’s heart sank every time he thought about Eren leaving.

Though Levi wished that things were different, that he was different, the fact remained. He didn’t believe they could make long distance work, and he certainly didn’t want it to destroy the memory of what they had. Dirtied like a pristine white shirt accidentally mixed in with the colors.

He knew that Eren was more open to trying long distance than Levi. It was in the periphery of their conversations, but Levi had not known Eren to be someone to shy away from asking for what he wanted (repeatedly sometimes), so it was possible he was misreading the situation. There was really nothing to be gained from bringing it up, so Levi let it lie.    

“Let me take you away this weekend,” Levi offered. The awful summer weather refused to fuck off, and he wanted to create more of those pristine memories with Eren, a gift to both of them. “My treat. Before I start work again and to celebrate the end of your dissertation.”

Eren tried to make one of his usual jokes, but his heart didn’t seem to be as in it. “You trying to be my sugar daddy or something?”

Levi snorted. “I’m tired of feeling like I’m living in Satan’s arse. So if it gets us out of the bloody city and this flat for a few days, yes.”

“This is a goodbye, isn’t it?” Eren said with a small, sad smile. He was leaving in two and a half weeks after all.

Levi nodded.  

“Okay.” Eren mulled this over, then said, “I’m in.”

Chapter Text

“God this place is fucking sick.” Eren grinned and reached for his beer on the side of the pool. When they’d booked the hotel, he’d been most excited about the rooftop pool and it hadn’t disappointed. Not many people were around that morning, and though it was only eleven AM, Eren had still been able to order croquettes and beer.

He was in a great mood. He’d gotten laid that morning, the food tasted great, and all that was left was to spend the day lazilly sightseeing and eating their way through the city. It was easy to forget his troubles for a moment, to let them sink heavily like stones to the bottom of the water.

The sunglasses made it hard to tell, but Levi appeared to be in good spirits too. He was more physically affectionate than usual, pulling Eren in to kiss him, squeezing his ass whenever the bar staff disappeared inside.

“You should put more sunscreen on,” Levi said when Eren flinched at Levi’s fingers on his shoulders. He could see some redness, but Eren didn’t feel like getting out of the cool water.

Eren splashed him. “You’re one to talk. I didn’t even think they let British people out in the sun.”

“Piss off.” Levi splashed him back.

“Can British people even get a tan?”

“Yes.”

“Can you get a tan?”

“You’ve seen me right? Course I can’t. Burn to a crisp if I’m not careful.”

Eren laughed and splashed him again, letting out a gleeful cry when Levi began to wrestle him into the water.

 

 

 

Later, floating on his back, staring up at the bright sky, Eren said, “When was the last time you went away like this?”

Levi joined him, their arms brushing in the water. “About a year ago. I went to Belgium with a few of my lot.”

“That’s nice.” Eren closed his eyes, enjoying the contrast of cool water on his back, while the sun beat down on his chest. “Belgium has the good beer, right?”

Levi gave an affirmative hum. “When’s the last time you went on holiday?”

“Well, I guess my year in London doesn’t technically count as a vacation. We did beach trips every summer, but the last time I went on a real trip was before my dad died. We went to Canada and went like skiing and snowtubing and ate a shitton of poutine. It was such a great trip.”

“Sounds nice,” Levi said. “My mum and I only went on one trip that I remember. I think it might have been Brighton, because I remember the pier and the rocky beach. And eating crepes by the water.”

“That sounds nice too,” Eren said. “Thanks for bringing me here. It was nice to go away again. I know it’s just a weekend, but it feels like...like a real vacation.”

Levi didn’t reply. Instead, he dove under water and moments later, Eren felt a tug on his leg and let out a sound between a laugh and a shout as he was pulled under too.

 

 

 

Eren spread his arms wide, declaring to the warm evening air and the sinking sun, “I’m going to eat so much fucking paella tonight!”

Levi raised his sunglasses to deliver a scathing look. “All you care about is food, you uncultured swine.”

“Oh please. You just want to eat and read by the pool too.”

Levi gave him a sly look, a silent admission. Eren slung an arm around his shoulder and kissed the top of his head.

As they walked down Rambla de Mar’s boardwalk, surrounded by restaurants and lights glittering along the water, Eren was struck by Déjà vu. “It’s like our first date,” he said suddenly, a little dazed.

“What, Southbank? That wasn’t a date,” Levi corrected. He didn’t raise his sunglasses this time, but Eren could sense the eyeroll that accompanied the statement.

“It was!”

“If it was a date, I wouldn’t have tolerated that shitty kiss.”

“That kiss wasn’t shitty!” In fact, Eren thought fondly and often of that kiss. He touched a finger to his lips instinctively remembering it again. The memory still sent a thrill through him.

“It was,” Levi said, turning to face Eren. He bunched the front of Eren’s shirt in his fist. “Come here and I’ll show you how it’s done.”

“I still don’t think it was a bad kiss,” Eren protested, but he let Levi pull him in and kiss him like he was giving Eren everything he had. It made Eren’s knees weak.

“Are you going to miss me?” Eren asked, the question slipping out when the kiss had ended. It should’ve been teasing, but came out more like a plea.

“Not one single bit,” Levi said in a way that only he could, a way that made Eren’s heart quicken. A way that meant he might miss Eren very much indeed.

“Not even like...a teeny tiny bit?” Eren tried, still wanting to hear the words. The real words.  

“Maybe.”  

They were still standing face to face, so close together. Levi was still holding onto Eren’s t-shirt. He could probably feel Eren’s pulse racing. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to make this trip sad.”

“You’re not. We don’t have to pretend like it’s not happening,” Levi said. “I never meant for it to feel that way.”

“I guess, yeah. I want to talk about it more later, but we should get paella now.”

“Well, come on then,” Levi said, letting go of Eren’s shirt. “Don’t want to be late for dinner.”

Eren began walking again but noticed Levi was standing still. Hesitation, and then Levi’s voice, a quiet admission. “I will.”

“Will what?”

“Miss you.” Levi let out an aggrieved sigh.

Eren froze, didn’t dare move as he drank Levi in. The backdrop of the water, enormous yachts docked in the port, the couple holding hands on the bench, Levi in his dark jeans and grey t-shirt, the shape of his arms, the way his head was angled just slightly away, the feeling of wonder Eren had in his chest.

Would Levi come here again without him someday? Would he come here with someone else? Where would Eren be?  

The love and longing, the feeling of having already left this place, swallowed him whole.

 

 

 

Full of paella and wine, tired from their long, leisurely walk back from the restaurant, they lay on the hotel bed bed, watching a film on Levi’s laptop.  

Eren waited for the credits to roll before saying, “Can we talk about it again? The whole... me leaving in a couple weeks thing.”

Levi closed his laptop and sat up next to Eren. The curtains were still open, and the light from the lamps cast shadows along Levi’s face.

“I’m just so--so fucking sad,” Eren admitted, not really knowing where to start. “And I don’t want to be sad on this trip or with you, but I can’t help it and then I feel bad for feeling that way. It sucks.”

All Levi said was, “Me too.” But somehow hearing those words, knowing that Levi could relate, helped ease some of the heaviness in Eren’s chest.

“It isn’t fair. I feel like such a fool. I let myself hope...and I failed.”

“I don’t see it that way,” Levi said.

Eren scrubbed a hand over his face.

“Was it a mistake?” Levi asked. “For me to meet your family? To label ourselves?”

“No,” Eren said, not needing to give it much thought. He let his hand drop from his face. “I...I wouldn’t have changed it. Even knowing the outcome for certain. I would have wanted my family to meet you, and when I talk about you I don’t want it to sound like you were just some guy to me. You’ve--you mean a lot to me. But I think you know that already.”

“I was scared that you’d regret me,” Levi said. “That was one of the things that terrified me most.”

“No. Not at all.”

Levi brought Eren’s hand to his lips and kissed each knuckle.

“Things don’t feel over between us,” Eren said, words that felt simple and true as they left his lips. “I respect our agreement, I’m not trying to change that. But they don’t feel over.”

Levi watched him quietly, eyes dark.

“I’m going to come back one day, and you’re going to be like, ‘Oh my god, Eren, you’re back. Please baby, please call me Professor Ackerman in bed.’”   

Levi didn’t laugh, he just stroked gentle circles into the space between Eren’s index finger and thumb and said, “I really hope that’s true.”

Eren had a surge of bravery. “Will you--can we still talk? Like, do I just go back home and that’s it? We never talk again? Because I don’t know how I’m supposed to do that.”

“It might be easier.” Levi’s eyes looked especially grey, light from the streets slicing across his face at an odd angle. “But I’d still quite like to talk to you too.”   

Eren wanted to ask so many questions: how often can we talk? Are you still interested in the little things about my life? Do I only talk to you with big news? Do we text or call?

He bit back all of them, trying harder than he ever had in his life to hold something back, to not frighten Levi away now when he’d made it this far. Or maybe he was just afraid of the answers, afraid to ruin their trip.

He made love to Levi after that. Slow, sharp snaps of his hips. I can show restraint, I can show control, you can’t have everything from me.

 

 

 

Eren’s final weeks were spent in a similar fashion. Sex with Levi whenever possible, wherever possible. Visits to his favorite parks and pubs. A melancholy feeling dogged him the whole time. He felt like he was in a constant dream.   

“I wish I could change your mind,” Eren admitted the night before he left, futilely searching Levi’s face for any hint that this wasn’t an impossible feat. He wished he could just insist that he still understood, play it cool, but that wasn’t him, and he had nothing more to lose. “I know I probably can’t, but I just want you to know that.” Tears stung in his eyes as he fought them back.

Levi sighed, the mattress dipping as he shifted his weight. “You’re right, you can’t.” The words were harsh, but his tone was gentle.

“Would that answer be different if it was someone else?”

“No.” Levi tilted Eren’s chin up and made him meet his eyes. “I adore you, Eren.”

Oh god. It knocked the wind right out of him. It took every single bit of restraint Eren had not to weep. The man of his dreams adored him. He’d never heard such beautiful words. His whole life he’d been waiting to have someone look deep into his eyes and affect him this way. How easy it would be to dismiss them as pitiful, a way out. It wasn’t a declaration of love, but coming from Levi it was everything.

I love you. Eren knew it. Had probably known it deep down all along. There had been times he’d woken up in bed next to Levi, the words struggling to escape him as he watched Levi sleeping. He loved Levi, and this was it. This was how they said goodbye.

Maybe if he didn’t close his eyes, not even for a second, time would stop and they’d never be apart again. If he could focus on the warmth of Levi’s skin against his own, the cool fall breeze rustling the curtains, the sound of sirens in the distance, maybe he could slow time down.

But that’s not how it worked.

Morning still came.

 

 

 

The world around him looked colorless, his head ached from his self-imposed lack of sleep and his heart ached from an awful overabundance of love.

Levi helped Eren gather up the last of his things from his own flat. He kept unfolding and refolding clothing in more efficient ways, advising Eren on future packing strategies. Neither of them, it seemed, could muster up any of their usual jokes. The packing advice was straightforward, simple, and Eren didn’t feign ignorance to rile Levi up.    

“This is really hard,” Eren said, rolling a pair of jeans to make space for another book.

Levi snorted. “You would think packing is hard.”

“You know I don’t mean packing.”

Something rippled between them, a shared shock of pain perhaps. Levi met his eyes and nodded wordlessly.

“You’ll call me?” Eren said, still clutching so tightly onto that hope, that last thread. He swallowed hard.

Another wordless nod as Levi placed Eren’s copy of The Book of Dust into the suitcase.   

Impulsively, Eren opened up his second suitcase.

“What are you doing?” Levi protested. “I’ve only just finished packing the bloody thing.”

“It’s important,” Eren said, trying as best he could to unpack the clothes without disturbing them too much. “Here!” He held out his hoodie, the one Levi had teased him for all those times. “It’s yours if you want it.”  

Levi looked uncertain. “Eren--”

“Really. I like the thought of you having it.”

Levi nodded and took it from him, a small, fond smile playing on his lips as he stared down at the sweatshirt. “Thank you,” he said. “I got you something too.”

"You did?” Eren’s eyes went wide and his stomach fluttered.

“I was going to wait until the cab came so you wouldn’t embarrass yourself,” Levi said gruffly, and Eren smiled.

Levi reached into his pocket and pulled out a small black box. Inside was a black key on a leather chord. He turned it over in his hands, inspecting it, unsure of what it might open or what it meant. Jokes died on his lips does this open a treasure chest? Is this the key to your heart? The air between them felt too heavy for his humor to survive.

“What is this?” he asked, eyes snapping to Levi’s.

To Eren’s surprise, Levi’s face had gone red. Maybe it wasn’t Eren he’d been worried about embarrassing at all with his plan to present the gift moments before Eren departed.

“I don’t know,” Levi said. “I saw it, and I felt like you needed to have it.”

Eren slipped the necklace around his neck.

“Don’t cry,” Levi said taking a step towards him and brushing a tear off his cheek.

Eren hadn’t realised he was crying, he was too busy staring down at the key. “Thank you,” he said, inexplicably grateful for Levi. For everything. “Thank you.”     

 

 

 

The cab arrived at twelve, and Levi helped him carry his bags outside. The sky was appropriately grey and bleak.

“This is it,” Eren said, he tugged on the strings of his jacket and looked down at his feet. Dread and defeat made his entire body heavy.  

“This is it,” Levi agreed miserably.

“I, uh, I guess I’ll talk to you soon.”

Levi nodded and stared at Eren with so much sadness in his eyes. Eren felt cheated, furious again with the unfairness of it all.

He pulled Levi into a crushing hug. Holding him tight as he bent forward to bury his face in Levi’s neck, breathing in sweet, warm smell of his skin. How long could you hold onto a moment for? Last night had been a lesson in futility and moving forward that he clearly hadn’t learned because he thought, I will not let this moment go and then in an instant it was over and they were apart.

“Eren Jaeger?”

“Hey, yes,” Eren said, eyes still on Levi outside of the car. “Heathrow terminal five.”

“What time’s your flight?”

“Four thirty,” Eren answered, voice flat and hollow.  

Heart a heavy stone in his chest, Eren waved to Levi as the cab began to pull away. Always a challenge to read, Levi’s mouth was set in a hard line, but Eren swore it looked like maybe he was about to cry too.

 

 

 

Once he’d checked his bags and gotten through security, Eren found a secluded corner at his gate. He threw his carry on down on the plastic green seat next to his and fixed his miserable gaze out the window at the tarmac. One of the men directing traffic had dark hair and an undercut like Levi’s, and Eren watched him until he gave in and checked his phone. Levi hadn’t texted him yet, and he didn’t want to seem too needy and text first. He needed time to learn the new rules, to follow Levi’s lead a little, or he risked scaring him away entirely. Losing him for good.  

Eren spent the entire flight home trying not to cry and then crying during every film imaginable no matter how funny it was meant to be. Thanks for nothing, Adam Sandler, he thought bitterly .

Sleep eluded Eren. By the time the plane landed he was dehydrated, his skin and eyes dry and itchy, and he was sad-angry that there was no text from Levi waiting for him, asking how the flight had been.

“Eren! Over here!” Mikasa and his mother waved at him from beside the Dunkin’ Donuts stand in the waiting area.

His mother kissed his cheek and Mikasa jumped on his back, wrapping her arms around his neck.

The combination of dehydration and plane-crying seemed to have drained all of Eren’s tears, so all he could do was smile weakly and hug his mom and sister tightly and let them coo over him. They had a bottle of water and a hazelnut latte waiting for him, and he loved them so much it hurt.

“Calm down,” he said. “You just saw me.”

The whole car ride home his mind kept drifting to Levi, wondering what he was doing. It would be nearly nine for him now, so probably reading with a cup of tea, maybe doing some lesson planning. Still no message from him, and Eren tried to focus on his family, on the familiar sights flying by his window, but he couldn’t keep Levi out of his mind for long.

He closed his eyes, heartsick and homesick. Behind his eyelids he saw Levi, London. Eren wondered how long it would take to recover.  

Chapter Text

The moment Levi stepped through the door of his flat, the stillness disturbed him in a way it never had in the past. Clean, orderly and quiet--in the time pre-Eren those things were a great source of comfort in his home. Though Eren hadn’t spent every day or night here, there had always been the promise of his return. Without that, he could suddenly see what Eren had the first night he’d been there: he lived in an Ikea catalogue.  

Levi spent the first day without Eren cleaning and cleaning, even the bits that were already clean.

Then he tried to work on getting ahead in lesson planning, checking and rechecking his powerpoint presentation for upcoming lectures. It would take place in the same lecture hall where he’d met Eren and he anticipated the sting of that memory tomorrow. The ghost of Eren smiling dopily at him from his spot in the front row.

Fuck October, he thought staring out his window where he could see the leaves starting to change color. It was at that moment that his flat’s buzzer went off.

“What are you doing here?”  

He hadn’t told any of his friends the exact date Eren was leaving, so he had no idea how they’d known to be here. Levi never would have asked them to come.

“Eren gave me the date,” Farlan said, holding up a bottle of wine.

“People don’t just drop by like this unannounced.”

“Trying new things,” Hanji said, breezing past Levi and into his kitchen where they proceeded to unload a Sainsbury’s bag full of snacks onto the table.  

Isabel threw her arms around Levi’s neck. “I’m sorry, mate. Your boy was a good egg.”

“Uh huh,” Levi said, giving her two uncomfortable pats on the back before she let him go.

“That Eren’s hoodie?” Farlan asked as he uncorked one of the bottles of wine. “That’s cute.”

Heat colored Levi’s cheeks as Hanji and Isabel awwed at him. “All of you fuck off.”

But they didn’t and the company was probably good for him. There were only so many times he could clean the countertops and mope around in Eren’s hoodie alone and not be utterly ashamed of himself.

 

 

 

 

It took Levi three days to call Eren, though they’d texted a little. Levi had asked how the flight was and let Eren know that he’d fobbed off the rest of Eren’s disgusting Squash onto Hanji.

The kettle was on, and when Levi had rooted around in his cabinet for a new box of tea, he’d spotted the shitty ones Eren had brought the first time he’d come to his flat. A fond smirk played on his lips as he turned the box of Strawberry tea over in his hands, and then he reached for his phone, forgetting about the kettle.

“What took you so long?” Eren asked when he answered the call.

Levi wasn’t sure if Eren was joking or not. He sounded flippant, but he’d noticed sometimes Eren did that when there was some truth to his statements, truth that he was ashamed of. Levi kept his tone neutral. “Phone works both ways.”

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t sure if you meant it when you said we could keep in touch. And I texted you first,” Eren pointed out. Levi didn’t see why that mattered.  

“I meant it,” was all he said.   

“I’m glad you called.” Now Levi could hear the smile in Eren’s voice, and the tension eased from his chest. He leaned back in the couch, eyes looking out the skylight at the lazy clouds rolling by. It made him feel closer to Eren, like any second he’d muscle Levi out of his spot.

“How’s home?”

“S’ok. Doesn’t really feel all that much like home anymore, though.”

“That happens,” Levi agreed, thinking again of his old neighborhood, of Kenny’s old house. He’d always been glad he’d sold it straight away. Not for the money, though that had been and still was certainly a nice cushion, but because going back always felt off. “How’s your family? Happy to have you back?”

“Yeah, I think so. Zeke and I are kind of working on something together. We, uh, never cleaned out the garage after our dad died. All of his things just kind of wound up in there along with a lot of our family’s crap, so we’re tackling that right now.”

“Nice of you to do that. Must have been hard for your mum to go through it on her own.”

“Yeah, definitely. We’re mostly making our own decisions but checking in with her on anything we’re not sure about.”

“Makes sense.” Levi stood from the couch, finding it hard to sit still while they spoke. He hated being on the phone, though it was good to hear Eren’s voice. “How’s the job hunt going? Or you taking some time to settle in?” Before Eren had left, there hadn’t been many openings in his area.

“I’m looking for some freelance gigs. I might apply for one setting up some analytics tracking. A lot of the local businesses here have no idea what they’re doing.”

“Not bad. That’ll look good on your CV,” Levi said, impressed with Eren’s initiative. He wished he could see the fire in his eyes. Not that he wanted to be on Skype or anything, he felt so fucking awkward on video chats. If Eren asked for that, though, he wasn’t sure what he’d say. He wasn’t his boyfriend anymore, but Levi didn’t want...didn’t want what? To let go completely? Selfish.   

“Yeah.” Eren laughed. “The pay is dismal, but you’re right. It’ll look really good on my C-- resume. I have to remember to call it a resume, don’t get me in bad habits.”

Levi chuckled. “Good habits.”

“Bad habits.”

“All my hard work undone,” he lamented.  

A silence fell between them as their laughter faded. They both started speaking at the same time, and Levi conceded to Eren, relieved because he was only going to ask about the weather in Pennsylvania.

“Historia cried over the phone about how much she missed me.”

“It’s nice you two are keeping in touch,” Levi said, unsure of what else there was to say to the statement.

“You miss me?” Eren prodded.

Levi looked down at the hoodie he was wearing again. “You could say that.”

“So say it.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

Levi sighed. “I miss you.”

“I miss you too.”

That fact was as obvious as the sky being blue or rain being wet. Stating it seemed a little absurd.

“How is it seeing your friends again?” Levi asked, trying to guide them away from unhelpful, depressing avenues of conversation.

“I haven’t seen too much of them yet, but Mikasa’s organised a welcome back dinner when the whole gang’s free next week. Well, obviously Armin’s still in California. But everyone else. I’m hanging out with Jean tomorrow, though. Just the two of us which is cool.”

“So you’ll be safe from the JeanKasa hashtag.”

A soft laugh, the one Levi secretly loved most. “No one is ever safe from that god damn hashtag.”  

They talked for another hour, a shocking amount of time for Levi who usually found an excuse to get off the phone after ten minutes at most.

Partially relieved to be off the phone, partially miserable that now he was untethered to Eren again, he finally returned to his forgotten kettle to fix himself some tea. Despite how easy it had been to talk to Eren, the call only made things worse as Levi had predicted; the loneliness had crept into all the corners in the flat again.

It didn’t mean he wouldn’t seek the pain out again, though he wasn’t sure how sustainable this was. How much it harder it would be if one of them began seeing someone else or began to move on with his life in other ways.

He pressed his fingers to his forehead.

 

 

 

It’s really weird having to drive everywhere again, Eren texted one night as Levi was having a beer, reading through a new research paper on text mining methods . The flat was already chilly though they were only just nearing the end of October. Winter was coming on quickly, and Levi felt cheated now that Eren’s warm body would come in handy. What he’d save on heating.  

Levi put the beer and paper down and leaned back on the couch to reply. It baffles me why you can’t walk anywhere. Don’t you have pavement?

Sidewalks.

They really have gotten to you again, haven’t they?

I’m becoming more American by the day. Like the country is reclaiming me and I’m powerless to fight back.

Such dramatics.

And no we don’t really have any ‘pavement’ where I live. It just makes more sense to drive everywhere, but I miss the train and the buses and just being able to walk somewhere. I think if you tried to take a bus here it would take you a couple hours to get somewhere that’s only a fifteen minute drive.

It was so quiet without Eren here, but Levi could hear his voice so easily in the words. It felt so hollow to smile down at a glowing phone screen, but it wouldn’t have felt much different to smile at Eren through a screen either. All of it just a dull echo of the real thing.

He typed back: Jesus Christ. You know, Erwin’s got some family in the states, and once his aunt tried to walk somewhere and the neighbors kept stopping to offer her a ride like something was wrong.

He told me about that! I think it was the night he had that dinner party with the fancy wine. It was the drunkest I’ve seen him and he kept cracking himself up.

He’s hosting another tomorrow night. We’ll see if he’s on good form again.  

Sad to miss it.

You’ll be missed. Right, well, I’ve got some work to do and then I’m going to head to bed. He wasn’t lying, not exactly. There was truth to the words, but the more honest statement would have been: I have to go. This is the pain I was trying to avoid by ripping the plaster off before you left.

 

 

 

At Erwin’s the next night, Levi tried his hardest to avoid dwelling on his continued interactions with Eren. The uneasy, confused feeling it was giving him. The fresh waves of yearning and pain that rolled over him each time they spoke. He drank too much, talked too little.

“You know, long distance wouldn’t be the worst thing,” Hanji pointed out to him. “Moblit and I made it work.”

“But you knew you’d be coming back.”

“You never know anything for certain. Eren could come back.”

“I just don’t think it would work for me.” Every time he tried to imagine how that scenario would play out, there was a twist in his gut, a resistance. “If he does come back, we can have a fresh start.”

Hanji looked at him for a long time, serious in a way that made Levi uncomfortable. They were scary when they were serious. “Alright,” they said. “But if you ever want to talk about it again, I’ve got opinions for hours.”

Levi rolled his eyes. “I’ll bear that in mind.”  

 

 

 

Life slipped back into its old routine, a stark defiance to Eren’s absence. It was almost as though Eren had never been part of Levi’s world at all.

Teaching classes, office hours, grading papers, pub with Hanji and Erwin, football, a couple gigs with Farlan. Things were pleasant enough, time was still moving forward and there never seemed to be enough of it, but it was as though all the colors were more muted now.

He found himself both anticipating and dreading his sporadic calls with Eren. They gave him a temporary rush and then left him lonelier than ever. More often than not Levi was the one who initiated them, though Eren was the one prompting him for them.  

“You know you can call me first, right?” Levi said one night. He didn’t add that maybe they should scale back on communication because he didn’t know what ‘scaling back’ would even mean. Didn’t know what the perfect mix of keeping in touch and staying friends and also not being beholden to one another even looked like.

He’d been asked on a date at the pub the other night and though he’d said no, it made him wonder what would have happened if he’d said yes. Eren wasn’t his boyfriend anymore, but saying yes would have felt like cheating.

“Maybe we could set up weekly Skype dates or something.”

“Skype dates?” They hadn’t video chatted yet, and though he wasn’t entirely opposed to it once in awhile, it wasn’t an appealing prospect. Levi found those kinds of calls awkward as fuck.

“Dates in the loosest sense of the term,” Eren clarified.

“I understand what you mean, it’s just. It’s a bit much.”  

“How so?”

“This is the part of this I can’t do,” Levi said, running his free hand through his hair. “The scheduling, the promises, the disappointments. You’re free to do as you want and that includes talking to me when you want with no obligation. We agreed to be friends.”

He remembered Eren’s anger when he had cancelled their date what felt like a long time ago but really was only a matter of months. How were they meant to handle situations like that when Levi didn’t have the option to go to Eren, to sort things out face to face.

The line was silent. His eyes closed, waiting for Eren to say something.

“You make it sound so easy,” Eren said, voice tight. “So chill. I think we both know I have no chill, and I just...every time I talk to you I wonder if you still feel the way I feel, if I’m losing you day by day. I know you’re not--I know you’ve never really been one to say those things. But all we have are words now, and I just want to know you still feel the same way.”

Levi’s heart beat against his chest. His stomach twisted into uncomfortable, tight knots. “I will only let you down. I told you already. Long distance isn’t something I’m equipped to do.”

“So you don’t feel the same way anymore?”

“I do .”

“Then why is that so hard to say?”

Levi pinched the bridge of his nose with his free hands as he sank down onto the couch. “It’s just not the sort of thing I can work into casual conversation.”

“All I’m asking is that you try.”

“Why? So I can make this even harder for us both?” He couldn’t keep the frustration out of his voice.

His tone apparently wasn’t enough to deter Eren--of course it wasn’t--and he was louder, firmer when he responded, “Because I know that I’m going to come back. Because I really want to come visit you in a few months. I wasn’t going to say anything yet, but I’m saving up, and if you’ll have me I want to come visit.”

Levi’s mind whirled. “Eren--”

“Just think about it. Please. Just think about it, and maybe tomorrow we can do a video chat. I don’t want to just do this over the phone.”  

“Okay,” Levi said. “Tomorrow then.” The knots in his stomach tightened further when he hung up. The silence in the room, the emptiness, made him feel caged in somehow. Trapped with his thoughts. Causing Eren pain made his whole body heavy.

He covered his face with his hands as he leaned back against the sofa, trying to decide what to do next.

Chapter Text

Surprising no one more than Eren, Zeke was the one best able to distract him from thoughts of Levi. When Eren had returned home, he’d observed Zeke’s ongoing project of clearing out the garage. This was especially touching because no one in their family had had the heart to do so in all the years since their father had passed away.

Zeke also paid Eren back $200 with money from the bartending job he’d finally taken. Eren didn’t know if he’d ever get back all the money he’d lent Zeke, but it was something, and he hadn’t forgotten Levi’s advice. So his tolerance for Zeke was at an all time high as they tackled the garage together.  

The amount of cardboard boxes still piled around the room, leaning against the peeling, white-painted walls made the room feel small though it was a two-car garage.

Zeke tossed a baseball over to Eren, found at the bottom of the box he was methodically making his way through. “Dude, do you remember playing catch with dad? Some of my fondest memories with him.”

“Yeah.” Eren caught the ball easily and smiled down at it, rolling it over in his hands. “On the weekends when he wasn’t on call, I think.”

“Paging doctor dad away from his kids,” Zeke tried to joke but the words sounded sad.

“You know you don’t have to do that,” Eren said.

Zeke removed his glasses and lifted his shirt to wipe at them. He didn’t look at Eren. “Do what?”

“Try to...be funny all the time or whatever. It’s been nice, I don’t know, hanging out with the real you.”

Eren tossed the baseball back to Zeke, but his aim was off and it veered to the left, bouncing off the wall with a dull thud.

“Come by the bar sometime,” Zeke said as he retrieved the ball from between two boxes. “I’ve still got mad skills. I’ll hook you up with some free drinks.” Though he’d been reluctant to take the job at first, fearing it would cut into his time filming Youtube content with Cole, he was now smug about his success and nightly tips.

“Yeah, man. Sounds good.”

Eren took a seat on a low, wooden table and began unpacking another one of the boxes, this one full of dusty medical textbooks.

“So how’s your boy toy?” Zeke asked.

“My boy toy? ” That anyone would refer to Levi this way made Eren burst out with incredulous laughter even though he didn’t have a great answer to the question. He was stuck in that headspace where all he wanted to do was think about Levi, talk about Levi, but knew how fucking annoying that would be to everyone around him once he got started. “He’s okay, I guess.”

“Not enjoying the Skype sex?” Zeke smirked.

Eren jerked his head up in surprise, though he should have seen this kind of question coming from his brother. “God damn, Zeke. You really have no filter, do you?”

“So you’re not even having Skype sex. That sucks.” Zeke threw the baseball up in the air and caught it with his other hand, still smirking.

“We’re not even together anymore. We’re just like...talking, staying in touch.” He hated explaining that. It sounded so lame even to his own ears.

“Huh.” Zeke peered down his glasses at Eren.

“What?”

“Nothing. Just seems like you’re always texting him or running off to try to call him.”

“Well, I mean. Yeah. He’s my friend. I miss him. I text Historia too.” Eren didn’t look at Zeke, just kept digging through the box with the text books to make sure there wasn’t anything worth keeping in there.  

“He’s not going to get back together with you just because you keep him on the phone,” Zeke pointed out. Eren knew this was bad because Zeke hadn’t called him ‘bro’ and there was no mischievous glint in his eyes.

Eren sighed, shoulders sagging. “Yeah, I know.”

But what else could he do?

 

 

 

When he had first returned home, Eren had looked around his house, his neighborhood, the streets of his town. It was as though he’d never left. Everything was still in its place, and Levi had probably only been a beautiful, painful dream. So far away now that the dreams had been chased away by morning.

With each passing day, the feeling of being a stranger in a strange place didn’t dissipate as he’d expected. Eren only felt more alone, his conversations with Levi both a balm and a blight.

It was early November now, and Eren had been home for nearly a month. Time and distance hadn’t made him love Levi any less. Every time they spoke, it felt like Eren would be seeing him again any minute. Recurring dreams nearly every night where he was close to Levi but couldn’t quite touch him.

He couldn’t fathom that Levi wasn’t feeling the same way, that he wouldn’t jump at the chance for Eren to come visit him over his Christmas holiday. He’d quickly been rehired at the local grocery store where he’d worked in high school, and maybe Levi would even be willing to split the cost with him. He hadn’t really expected Levi to need time to think about it, and if he was being honest with himself, it stung.

 

 

 

He was going to go see Levi in December. They were going to figure this out. This whole situation was stupid as fuck. People made long distance work, they could figure it out.

Though they’d agreed to video chat, Levi called him. It seemed like a bad sign, but Eren laid back in his bed and answered the phone, trying to make his voice cheerful.  

“Hey you. Did you think about what I said?”

There was a long, awful silence where Eren could hear something rustling in the background, and he had a feeling that Levi was anxiously messing with something in the kitchen or cleaning.

“I did,” Levi finally said. “I’m not sure about the visit yet. We should take some time to think about if you really want to come or not given it won’t change the circumstances after you leave again.”

“Oh,” Eren said dumbly, chest tightening. He felt foolish for thinking things would go so differently. His eyes fixed on a small crack in his ceiling, right around the fan. He didn’t look away as Levi spoke.  

“I think we should stop talking as much, Eren. Pull back a bit.”

Eren was numb. “Why are you saying this?”

More rustling, and then Levi let out a long exhale. “It’s becoming what I thought it would. Arranging Skype dates, feeling guilty if I can’t reply to your texts or answer your calls. And I don’t want to let that taint what I feel for you, Eren.”

“You’re breaking up with me,” Eren said, feeling as though he’d been slapped as understanding hit him. “What the fuck, Levi?”

“I’m not breaking up with you. We’re not together.” There was a defensive note in Levi’s voice now, but he sounded relatively calm. In other situations, Levi’s pragmatic, matter-of-fact replies helped assuage Eren’s temper or worries, but now it only roused his anger. Fucking show me you feel something! he wanted to scream.  

“Are you fucking kidding me?” he bit out. “That’s bullshit and you know it.”

“It feels like you’re trying to force things so that it feels like we’re still together.” Now at least Eren could hear a note of anger in Levi’s voice. At least it was something, a fucking emotion. “But I told you before you left. Long distance is a bad idea.”

Eren’s heart raced. He felt like his mind was scrambling, trying to find something to grasp at, something he could say to reverse the course of this conversation. This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t fucking be happening. This wasn’t right.

“Can’t we at least try, give it a real shot before you say that?”

“I’m sorry.” Eren could practically feel Levi shaking his head. “You know how much I care about you, Eren. It has nothing to do with that. If you were here...If you were here there’d be no question in my mind.”

Eren rolled over to his side, gripping the phone tighter against his ear. “So I guess this is goodbye forever then.”

“I don’t know. I don’t want it to be forever. I just think we need to take a step back.”

“You’re not even going to do this over video?”

A pause and then, “We can do it over video.”

Hands shaking, Eren grabbed his laptop and called Levi.

Levi’s eyes were red. Good.

“Don’t do this,” Eren pleaded, hoping that now Levi could see his face, he’d reconsider, realize he couldn’t do this.

In the small window at the bottom of the screen, Eren could see his own haggard face. His dark hair was sticking up in all directions from the way he’d been lying on it before, his red-rimmed eyes blazing with anger. Part of his Die Hard poster was in the frame, and Jesus he was a child. Of course someone like Levi wouldn’t see a future with him.

“I’m sorry,” Levi said again, as though the words weren’t useless to Eren.

“You British people need to stop apologising so much. Especially when it feels like bullshit.” Adrenaline surged through him, temporarily shielding him from the inevitable torrent of pain.

Levi’s jaw tightened. “It’s not bullshit. Eren, you know how much you mean to me. It’s not you. It’s the situation.”  

“The situation is whatever we make of it.”

“It’s not fair to you. It’s what’s best for both of us, believe me.”

“You’re being fucking selfish if you really think that. Like you know what’s best for me.”

Levi ran a hand through his hair and let out a heavy sigh. “I’m sorry, Eren. I still want to talk to you, we just need to scale back a bit, maybe take a bit of time for things to cool down.”

The fury that shot through Eren surprised him. Born from a feeling of utter helplessness, it overwhelmed him. There were ways for them to be together again one day. Sure, Eren already knew Levi had no interest in moving to the states, that he had an established career that he wouldn’t just leave for someone he’d been dating for less than a year. But Eren wanted to move back to the UK, and even if he didn’t get sponsored by a company, they could get married someday. But he couldn’t exactly say that now and risk sounding insane. He knew he was intense, had always been intense, but there were fucking solutions .

“Goodbye, Levi,” was all he said before he hung up, Levi’s sad red eyes the last thing he saw before he closed the screen.

Levi didn’t text or call him back.

Lying in his childhood bed that night, feeling pathetic, Eren played Wuthering Heights on repeat and scrolled longingly through the few pictures Levi had on his Facebook and the few that Eren had on his phone of the two of them.

It felt like it had all been violently ripped from him: his dream to live in London, his dream to be with Levi. Here he was back where he’d started. An utter failure.

 

 

 

Crisp autumn sunlight streamed in through the kitchen windows. The backyard was full of orange and brown leaves that were in desperate need of raking. As they unloaded the dishwasher together, Eren had told Mikasa about last night’s conversation with Levi, what felt like their second breakup. This one somehow more painful to Eren.

“What did you expect to happen?” Mikasa asked, her tone not unkind but not indulgent either. “Where did you see this going?”

“I thought I could marry him someday.” His hand reached for the key around his neck, running his thumb along the jagged edge.

Mikasa put the dish she was drying on the rack and tucked a lock of hair behind her ears. “Are you serious?” Same tone as before, but she looked perplexed.

Maybe Eren and Levi hadn’t been dating for that long in the grand scheme of things, maybe their difference in age and careers made it seem less likely to those on the outside, but Eren knew what they had was special. He could feel it all the way down to his bones.

“I am,” he said with a defensive scowl.  

“Eren, I know you liked him a lot, but…” She thought for a moment as she slowly dried a cup, the glass edges catching the sun. “Not every relationship leads to forever. There were a lot of obstacles from the start, and long distance is hard. I don’t blame Levi for not wanting to do it.”

“If someone means enough to you, you’d make it work.”

Mikasa gave him a pitiful look as though she was thinking then maybe you didn’t mean that much to him .

There was a voice inside of Eren saying the same thing, but over and over he heard Levi’s voice with a competing I adore you. He couldn’t shake his resolve that there was still something left worth fighting for, that to give up now would be a mistake.

They finished the dishes in stony silence, the clanking of plates against the metal the only sound in the room.

 

 

 

The next few days dragged on, molasses slow. During the day he picked up shifts at the grocery store and set up some analytics tracking for a local restaurant who had hired him to work on their website. At night he tried to spend time with his friends and enjoy himself, but the task proved difficult; even playing FIFA depressed Eren to no end. It made him imagine Levi at the pub watching “the football”.

His friends were sympathetic but like Mikasa they seemed skeptical of the seriousness of Eren’s feelings, of the relationship. They were supportive, but kept telling him to move on.

No he most certainly would not. Just fucking watch, I’ll show you , he raged to himself. He drove home from Jean’s house too fast--except when he drove through town, and then he slowed to the ridiculous 20 mile speed limit and kept his eyes peeled for the cops who had fuck all to do otherwise--and played his music too loud.

But by the time he pulled into his driveway he’d deflated, his anger turning into sadness. Oscillating between the different stages of grief, Eren now bumped his forehead lightly against the steering wheel. He couldn’t keep fighting and fighting for Levi. At a certain point he would just look like an idiot, he wouldn’t just figure out the magic words to change Levi’s stubborn mind no matter how many fantasies he had of how things could play out perfectly between them if only Levi met Eren in the middle.

Moving on might actually be his only option. The realisation made his stomach lurch.

 

 

 

“How are you holding up?” Eren’s mother asked as she poured herself a glass of wine. It had been her day off from work, so she was more relaxed than she usually was in the evenings. Her hair which was normally pulled into a tight ponytail was loose around her shoulders, and she was wearing sweatpants, which had shocked Eren.

Mikasa was out with Jean, and Zeke was working, so it was just the two of them. Eren had been hiding his distress as best he could, but he knew with his mother he could afford to be more honest, more irritating in his sadness.

“I keep thinking about the end of The Amber Spyglass ,” Eren said and gave his mother a grateful smile as she placed a beer in front of him. “When Jake has to return to his own dimension. I never stopped thinking about that. That he and Lyra might be passing by one another and they’re never able to touch. I don’t know. I know we’re not actually separated like that, but it feels that way. Like Levi’s right behind me but I can’t touch him. I keep having dreams like that.”

“I know what you mean,” his mother said, sadness in her voice. “I felt like that a lot after your father died. I still do sometimes. I’ll think he’s going to walk up behind me in the kitchen while I’m doing the dishes and start talking about a new clinical trial he’s read about.”  She ran her finger along the edge of her wine glass, and Eren remembered belatedly that it had been a wedding gift to his parents. Over the years, each of the Jaeger children had been guilty responsible for at least one breakage.

“Shit, mom, I’m sorry. I’m over here whining about a breakup. I’m being an asshole.”

His mother rolled her eyes. “Eren, please. You’re still allowed to whine to me about breakups. I didn’t mention it to draw that comparison.”  

He felt so grateful. Sitting here like this with his mother in the kitchen was the closest he’d felt to being home since he’d been back. His whole life, it had hardly ever been just the two of them, and there was something special about it, something that made it easy to pour his heart out to her. There was no judgement in her eyes right now, only patience and understanding.

“It fucking sucks. I feel like he’s the one for me, but do I just give up for now without more of a fight? Where the fuck is the line between fighting for love and not respecting someone’s wishes?”

“He asked you to take a step back,” his mother said. “From what you’ve told me about your relationship, would it be the worst thing if you laid it all out for him, made it clear you’re going to respect that he wants space, and then take some for yourself?”

Eren considered this. “Yeah, I don’t know if I can handle the whole ‘step back’ thing. It’s so vague. Maybe I need some real space too.” He looked out the window into the darkness of their backyard. His next move was a total fucking mystery.

“You, my dear, are an all or nothing person,” his mother said gently. “And it might be okay not to force yourself to be somewhere in the middle this time.”

The words hit him hard, made a wave of shame run through him. He had been forcing himself into the middle, and instead of it bringing him closer to Levi, it seemed like it was only hurting them both. Maybe Levi had been right, maybe without meaning to Eren had been subtly trying to manipulate him into something that mimicked a relationship so that eventually they’d be in one again.

 

 

 

Levi texted him the next morning. It had been four days since their call, and Eren’s heart raced when he read the text. 

I wanted to give you space, and I didn’t know if you’d want to hear from me. I hate how we’ve left things. Can I call you?

A mix of emotions swirled through Eren. He wanted to pick up the phone right then and there, but he needed more time to think, to decide what it was he wanted to say. He said as much to Levi, and early in the evening--when Levi had likely already gone to sleep--Eren finally wrote:

I’m sorry to do this over text, but I just want to try to get my words out.

I don’t want things to have ended that way between us either, but I also don’t know how else they can be.

Since the beginning I’ve been the one to push to be with you. That’s who I am. Who I’ve always been. I want to keep pushing you, it’s really fucking hard not to, but I won’t anymore. If you really want this to be over then I need it to be over all the way or I don’t think I’ll be able to move on from you if I still have the option to check in with you sometimes.

Like I said over the phone, you don’t get to pretend you’re doing this for me. Do it for you, but don’t tell me it’s for me. I don’t regret a single minute we spent together. If you really do want to take more time to think about me coming to visit, you know where to find me if you decide it’s what you want. I know it’s still what I want even if it means we have to say goodbye again, I don’t give a shit.

He sent the text, and something eased in his chest. At least he’d tried.  

Chapter Text

Graffiti-covered brick walls sped by outside the train window, dull against the bleak grey sky. This was a terrible day to be going to a Christmas market, let alone the one on Southbank. He’d read Eren’s text so many times he’d lost count by now and he was still no closer to deciding what to say.

He rested his elbows on the dark green fold-out tray attached to the chair in front of him and pressed his thumbs against his temple.

Levi hadn’t cried in years, not even when Kenny had passed away, but he did after that terrible video call with Eren. Causing Eren pain was worse than his own loss. He wished he could tell him that every day he woke up and imagined Eren was on the other side of the bed. That he never got tired of spending time with Eren. That he taught himself songs on the piano that he knew Eren liked.

Levi had never realised it was possible to miss someone every second of every day. For your entire day to feel empty when you couldn’t text them something that reminded you of them, to share the tiny details of your day.  

Recently, Levi had heard about a woman who conned people out of small bits of money. She trawled expensive areas like Maida Vale and Little Venice, telling people she’d been locked out of her house, had left her purse behind, she’d pay them back tomorrow if they could loan her 20 quid. Then she disappeared, blocked their numbers when they tried to contact her.

The amounts were small enough that the victims would likely not report her, the loss small enough not to pursue. That’s the best way he could describe what it felt like to fall for Eren. Like every day small, negligible bits of him were being taken away. In isolation it was fine until he’d looked at the grand total of what he’d given away. In aggregate, the loss was staggering.  

“You are now approaching Waterloo,” the chipper recording announced, and Levi sighed and headed for the doors.

It was late November, surely the bloody countdown until Christmas could have waited until December. He’d agreed to meet some of his friends at the Christmas market mostly for the opportunity to have some mulled cider, and a little bit because his flat felt so cold and lonely. Fuck the summer for being so hot, now it would have been nice to have Eren’s bloody furnace of a body wrapped around him in the mornings.

All his protests and all of his reasons haven’t done a thing to make his choice clearer. He had always tried to make the choice he’d regret the least, but what the fuck was that decision now? Eren must be out of his mind, Levi really wasn’t worth this fight.

Unable to bear another lonely minute of lesson planning this weekend, he’d finally agreed to Isabel’s repeated invitation to come to the Christmas market at South Bank.

 

 

 

Before they went to the market, Levi went to meet his friends for a pub lunch near the station. Levi spotted Hanji, who was warming their hands around a steaming cup of mulled cider, sitting by themself at a table near the windows. Pale autumn light streaked across the table, inviting and warm. It wouldn’t last much longer, the days were getting shorter and shorter.   

“You came!” Hanji said, grinning up at Levi. “I thought for sure you were going to bail on us.”

Levi pulled out his chair and hung his coat and scarf off the back of it. “Why’s that?”

“Because you’ve been bailing on most other things,” they said matter-of-factly.

Levi grumbled a little but he knew Hanji was right. He went to go buy himself his own mulled cider. When he returned, the others still hadn’t arrived, and Hanji seemed to take this as an invitation to ask, in a conspiratorial voice, about Eren again. Given they were the only other American in their circle of friends, Hanji seemed to believe they could be utilised as a cultural translator of sorts and thus was entitled to up to the minute updates on Levi’s relationship or lack thereof.

“So how are you two doing? Did you get a chance to talk to Eren again yet?”

The cider carved a warm path down Levi’s throat and into his chest. “Sort of. He sent me quite a long message last night.”

“Can I read it?”

“Piss off.”

“It was worth a shot.”

Levi hid his mild amusement with another sip of his drink. Hanji was a good friend, but even so, Levi didn’t find conversations like this easy. It was like pulling his own teeth trying to figure out how to engage in them.

“What did Eren say?” Hanji pressed, resting their elbows on the table. When Levi looked at them, he was surprised to find that instead of an eager look on Hanji’s face, their eyes looked curious and concerned.

“It was so very Eren,” Levi said wryly. “He still wants to make this work, and he can’t just keep in touch more casually. Is that common with Americans? This all or nothing mentality?”

“I don’t think it’s limited to Americans, no. He knows he wants to be with you, and if he can’t be with you all the way, he’s out. I admire him.”

“Ug.” Levi shook his head.

“Levi, you have a sweet, adoring man out there who is head over heels for you. Is ug really how you feel?”

“Pretty much.”

“Why?” Hanji looked down her nose at him, a perplexed frown on their face. Whenever Hanji looked serious like, it made Levi uneasy.

“Because why’s he so bloody hung up on me ?” Levi rolled his eyes. “It’ll pass. He’ll meet someone in America, and realise he was young and stupid.”

Disbelief clouded Hanji’s face. “Wow,” was all they said with the shake of their head. “I need you to listen to me for a second, and you can glare at me and call me foureyes or pretend you didn’t hear me, but I’m going to say it anyway. As your friend, I think you’re being a fucking idiot.”   

“Do you honestly think long distance is a good idea?”

“Moblit and I made it work.”

“That was for one summer for a research project. You knew you were coming back.”

“Yeah, but it’s not like you couldn’t figure something out if you were still happy together.”

“I don’t see how we could stay happy together like that,” Levi pointed out. “It’s too hard.”

“I get it, but I just think you’re giving up a bit too easily. If you still care about him, maybe you should just take a risk and at least try.”

“He wants to come visit me in December.” Levi sighed. “I don’t know what to do.”

“Do you want him to come?”

“Of course. But I don’t know what it’ll change.”

Hanji’s face softened. “I don’t know, but it’s better than just never seeing him again, isn’t it?”

Levi was about to reply when Erwin, Farlan and Isabel arrived, apologising for delayed trains and asking whether the cider was good and whether Hanji and Levi had decided on lunch yet.

Hanji cast a meaningful look over at Levi as they offered a sip of their cider around.

 

 

 

At the market, Levi tried to listen as Erwin and Isabel brainstormed what to get their mums and grandmothers for Christmas, tried to listen as Farlan convinced Hanji that the chocolate covered marshmallows looked better than they tasted and Hanji should refrain from buying in bulk, but all he could think about was Eren’s text.    

Detached from the conversation around him, his friends voices fading into the background of his thoughts, Levi excused himself. “I’m going to have a wander,” he said, his tone making it clear he meant alone. No one argued.

“Just give us a ring when you want to meet up again,” Farlan said.

Levi walked down the river, retracing the path that he’d walked down with Eren here before. He passed the smoky hot food stalls and stopped to buy himself another mulled wine as he brooded and made his way further down the river, retracing the steps he and Eren had taken. He wasn’t sure what he was moving towards, but he walked with purpose, as though he had a clear destination in mind, and maybe he did.

Jars of colorful jams were piled up on top of the homey, wooden stall behind the spot where Eren and Levi had first kissed. A crowd of people jostled one another to sample the spreads on crackers, which you couldn’t have paid Levi enough to partake in.

He stood there watching people come and go from the stand for a while, the cold, watery wind whipping at his face.

All the relationships Levi had had in the past had left a sour taste in his mouth. There hadn’t been many, but they’d made him wary of what happened when he opened his heart up enough to get hurt. Because if he still tried his best and let Eren down with long distance, it would crush him. If he tried long distance only to call things off again with Eren in a month or so, he would hate himself.

Although, Eren had been gone for over a month now, and he still thought about him every day. Not being able to be with him in person hadn’t dulled those feelings, which shocked Levi.

Levi knew it then, the realisation cutting him right down to the bone. He couldn’t break Eren’s heart like this, not when he still had the power to prevent it. If it wasn’t going to work between them, let Eren wake up and fall out of love with him and crush Levi’s heart. He could take it. But he couldn’t take this.

There were so many different permutations of what could happen between them and ways it could all go wrong. But he could do his best by Eren and feel like he’d done right by them both by bloody trying. The probability of success without even trying was 0, and even if trying meant it was only 0.01%, fuck it. He would try.

There was only a moment’s hesitation after he took his phone out of his pocket and pulled up Eren’s number. His pulse raced as he called--and thank fuck that long distance calls could be done using data plans now because dear god he was really doing this.

“Levi?” Eren said, as though he still didn’t believe who was on the other end.

“Hiya,” Levi said dumbly.

“Where are you?” Eren asked. “It’s kinda loud and windy too.”

“Shit.” Levi turned to face the water, holding his free hand up to his unoccupied ear to block out some of the sound for himself too. “I’m at the Southbank Christmas market.”

“Oh.” Eren’s tone was impossible to decipher. “How is it?”

“Bloody awful.”

A small, short laugh. Reluctant. “That why you’re calling me? Cause the market’s awful?”

Levi couldn’t help himself, “Yeah,” he said.

“Come on, Levi.”

He swallowed. It was almost harder to do this than it had been to tell Eren he needed space. The risk felt so much bigger here. The water below was rough, and the salty smell brought him back to the moment where he’d taken Eren’s arm and kissed him standing almost in this very spot.

“Don’t come to me in December,” Levi blurted.

Eren sighed and started to speak, but Levi didn’t give him time. “I’m coming to you.”

Silence. “What?”

Levi’s heart hammered against his rib cage. His words threatened to spill out of him in a rush, but he kept his voice steady. “You were right. You should stop fighting so hard. If you’ll have me, I’m coming to you. I still can’t make you any promises, you already know I don’t think I’m cut out for long distance. But I miss you. I--”

“Fuck, Levi.” Eren’s voice sounded choked. “I don’t even know what to say right now.”

A chilly, icy wind blew up from the water but Levi hardly felt it, his face was so warm. “Say that it’s alright if I come to see you.”

Eren let out a shaky laugh. “Yeah, it’s alright. More than alright.”

For a brief moment, Levi closed his eyes, felt a stark relief expanding outwards from his chest. Once he let himself feel this, he couldn’t stop. In about a month’s time, he’d have Eren in his arms again.

“Does this mean you’ll stop being a pain in the ass about Skyping?” Eren asked, making Levi laugh now too.

“Probably not. It’s awful.”

He could hear the smile in Eren’s voice. “But I want to see you.”

“Fine. I’ll call you tomorrow. Your morning, my afternoon?” Seeing Eren smile again would be rather nice. A good way to replace the memory of making Eren so miserable. It still made him flinch.

“Yeah, as long as it’s before eleven my time, I have a shift then.”

“Alright,” Levi said.

Night was already beginning to fall, orangey pink lines cutting through the dark clouds. He didn’t feel like everything was suddenly alright, that all of his concerns were assuaged, but he felt better than he had since Eren had left, and at least there was that.

“Well I guess I should let you go,” Eren said.

“Yeah,” Levi agreed. But neither of them made a move to hang up the phone.

After a beat of silence, Eren spoke. “You still adore me?”

“I suppose so,” Levi replied, a small smile forming on his lips.  

“Yeah, that’s what I thought, asshole. I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” Eren said and ended the call.  

He had already known it before. Of course he had. But it was the first time Levi let himself openly sit with the thought, let it build and simmer until his heart buzzed with the acceptance of it.

He was completely and utterly in love with Eren.

Chapter Text

For two solid minutes after Eren hung up, he stared at his phone in disbelief as though Levi might call back at any moment and take it all back. He wondered what was going through Levi’s mind, what had made him change it, but he decided to try to let this be. To enjoy it without prodding Levi too hard for more answers. There would be time for that later.

Lightheaded with surprised delight, Eren fell back in his bed and began to laugh. The situation wasn’t particularly funny, but the act of releasing all of those emotions was deeply satisfying.

He’d convinced himself he wouldn’t get the answer he so desperately wanted from Levi. That he’d have to accept that instead of everything, he would be getting nothing. He’d already felt the heavy weight of mourning beginning to drag him down.

But now he smiled up at his ceiling, his heart soaring up and beyond, free.

 

 

 

Levi was going to be spending Christmas (which also happened to be his birthday) with the Jaegers; suddenly a month seemed like not at all enough time to figure out what to get him and also like the longest amount of time in the world to wait to see Levi again.

They agreed not to discuss what the future might hold for them until they were together. It made sense to wait until they were in person, but small pinpricks of fear prodded Eren. Just because Levi was coming, it was unclear what would happen after the visit. Instead of dwelling, though, Eren pushed those thoughts out of his mind in favor of deciding what gifts to get for Levi and trying to convince him to have Skype sex.

“Do you ever stop pushing for something?” Levi grumbled, crossing his arms over his chest. He was sitting at his kitchen table with a cup of tea beside him. Eren wanted so badly to be there next to him that he felt almost as though his longing would allow him to reach through the laptop screen and appear beside Levi.  

“Not really, no,” Eren replied, leaning back in his desk chair with his hands resting behind his head.  

Levi glared at him. “I gave you an inch, stop trying to take a bloody mile.”

Eren lowered his voice even though nobody else was home. “You’re acting like it’s some sort of favor to me when you’d get the pleasure of seeing me jerk off for you on camera.”

“It’s not that long until we’re together,” Levi said. He took a sip of his tea and gave Eren a sly look. “Then I can jerk you off in person.”

Eren pictured that and let out a low moan.

“You can’t possibly be that easy,” Levi said.

“Sure I can.”

“I’m hanging up. Don’t ring me back.”

“Wait wait! I’ll be good,” Eren said, and Levi moved his hand away from his laptop with a suspicious look. “Before I forget, my mom wants to know if you have any food requests.”

Levi had of course offered to stay in a nearby hotel, but Carla was having none of it and insisted he was welcome to stay with them for the holidays. Though Eren suspected at some point during Levi’s visit the need for complete privacy would take precedence and they’d get away for a couple nights.

Raising an eyebrow, Levi said, “Odd change of subject, but alright. I’ll have a think.”

Eren grinned, a mischievous glint in his eyes. “I told her to buy you some baked beans so you’d feel at home.”

As Eren had hoped, this set Levi off right away. “I still don’t understand what your problem is with beans on toast. Fry ups shouldn’t be dry.”

“You can dip stuff in your egg yolk. Or in maple syrup. Beans are weird with breakfast.”

“You fucking bellend.”

Eren spun his chair around in a circle and laughed, pleased to see that Levi was trying to hold back a smile. Every time they chatted Eren was half-expecting Levi to turn around and tell him it was too hard, that inside he was miserable. It still hadn’t fully sunk in that he hadn’t had to pull Levi’s teeth at all these past few weeks, that he’d gotten on calls willingly. That he was able to enjoy himself. That he was fucking trying for Eren.

 

 

 

“So when am I going to get to meet the famous Levi?” Jean asked, trailing after Eren in the home goods department in TJ Maxx. His mother had assured him that there were great deals on quality cookware there, and given how clueless he was about where else to go, Eren had taken her advice, dragging Jean and Mikasa along with him. On the ride there, he’d tried to tell them how TJ Maxx was known as TK Maxx in the UK, but Jean had groaned and told him not every conversation had to be a comparison between the two places, and they’d bickered for the rest of the ride.

Now they elbowed their way through crowded aisles full of Christmas shoppers, and Eren realised he was looking among a picked over group of items. The rejects. Mikasa hummed along to All I Want For Christmas is You as she gracefully maneuvered her way around a family of three blocking their path.

“You’re at the house all the time. You’ll probably be one of the first to meet him,” Eren said to Jean, scanning the aisle for that elusive gift that was thoughtful and that Levi would be able to bring home without too much hassle; Eren had forgotten that minor detail until Mikasa had reminded him. So far he was not having any luck unless he wanted to get Levi a gag gift like the macaroni and cheese table cloth hanging on the rack in front of him.

“Even Armin’s going to meet him,” Mikasa said, turning back to glance at Jean. “He’s in town for the holidays this year. I can’t remember if I told you that already.”  

Eren nodded, picking up a blue tin that was sort of nice looking. Maybe Levi could put tea in it. No, that was stupid. Distracted, he said, “Yeah, he said he’s up for spending New Years with us even if we go into the city.” He wasn’t sure how he felt about Levi meeting all of his friends and didn’t have time to worry about it now when he had bigger concerns like what the fuck to give him.

Jean sniggered. “Armin on a night out? That’ll be a shitshow.”

A woman standing a few feet a way with a young girl glared at an oblivious Jean. Mikasa made an apologetic face at her.

“Maybe he can hold his booze better now that he’s partying every night with his tech bros,” Eren said, knowing the mere mention of ‘tech bros’ would get Levi laughing. Every time he had thoughts like this his heart would jump rather than sink. It would be a reality soon--Levi there laughing in person. Whenever Eren superimposed him onto his life here it felt so unreal, impossible, and yet it was happening. Levi would be standing in all the places Eren had been going to his whole life, and suddenly escaping from them didn’t seem so urgent if he had Levi by his side.

“You and Levi coming out with us on New Years?” Jean asked.

Eren shrugged, suddenly feeling as though the ugly fluorescent lights were a spotlight on him as Mikasa and Jean both stared at him. “Uhhh. Hadn’t really thought that far ahead. I’ll see how Levi feels when he’s here.”

“Zeke said he’d be too old for a night on the town with us,” Jean said.  

“Fuck that!” Eren said, temper flaring. “Zeke’s full of shit.”

“Levi is very mature, Eren,” Mikasa said, trying to hide a sly smirk as she looked at some hideous bright pink oven mitts. “You two will probably be asleep by 10.”

“Hey, we’re usually asleep by 9,” Jean pointed out.

Mikasa elbowed him.

“But we can still rally for a night out,” Jean amended, rubbing at his ribs with a wince.

“So can we! You’ll see.” Eren doubted the validity of his defense, but he was never able to ignore the siren’s call of proving Zeke and Jean wrong. He was about to say more when they turned the corner to the next aisle and something caught his eye. A grin spread across his face, and he turned to Mikasa and Jean. “I know what I’m getting Levi.”

 

 

 

Eren had never cleaned more in his life than during the week before Levi’s arrival.

“Wow, Levi can stay with us any time if I get a free cleaning service out of it,” his mother said as she walked in on him mopping the kitchen floor.

Zeke and Mikasa were united in their frustration with Eren’s sudden fastidiousness.

“Can’t you two ever clean up after yourselves? There’s popcorn everywhere!” Eren stood in front of the television, glaring down at Mikasa and Zeke who were side by side in two beanbag chairs, stray pieces of popcorn littering the carpet around them.

“The movie isn’t even finished yet. Down in front!” Zeke threw popcorn at Eren’s head.

“Stop it!”

“Eren, calm down or I’m going to knock you unconscious,” Mikasa threatened, probably half-serious.

“Mom!” Eren shouted. “Look at this shit! They’re not even trying.”

Mikasa scowled. “No one likes a tattletale.”  

“Eren,” his mother said gently, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Zeke said. “What does Levi threaten to beat you or something if everything isn’t spotless? You’re acting demented.”

“Don’t joke about that, Zeke,” Mikasa snapped. “But you need to chill out, Eren.”

“Stop putting so much pressure on this trip,” his mother said, her hand still on Eren’s shoulder. “I’m sure your brother and sister can handle clearing up the living room, but maybe let them wait until their movie’s finished.”

“Yeah, you should relax. If you’re acting this wound up when Levi arrives, he’ll probably catch the next plane back,” Zeke said, voice grave as though he were doling out sage advice.  

“I’ll vacuum in here later,” Mikasa promised after rolling her eyes at Zeke.

Eren sighed, realising his family had a point. “Thanks,” he mumbled.

 

 

 

“You’re really going to be here tomorrow,” Eren said that night. His laptop cast a soft glow in his otherwise dark room as he smiled dazedly at Levi.

It was one AM and the rest of Eren’s family was fast asleep. An early riser himself, Levi hadn’t minded getting up at 6 AM to video chat, so it was dark for him as well. It felt more intimate like this, like they were both in the same place already.

“I’m really going to be there tomorrow,” Levi agreed. “Well, today for me.” The rumpled way Levi looked this early--shirtless, dark hair mussed from sleep and falling into his eyes--made Eren horny, desperately wishing he had woken up in bed with Levi, though it wouldn’t be long now.   

With a touch of dreaminess, Eren said, “I can’t even picture what we’re going to do when you first get here.”

“I’m going to be knackered, I imagine.”

“Yeah, but I mean when we first see each other. I know it’s only been a month, but it feels longer. Time’s been fucking dragging without you.”

“I’ll give you a firm handshake.”

“Oh yeah? That’s it?” His cock was already stirring just imagining Levi in his arms.

“What? You want me to blow you in the airport?”

Eren reached a hand down under the covers and gave himself a gentle squeeze. He didn’t think Levi would be able to tell, but part of him hoped he’d know. “Kind of. Yeah.”

Levi snorted.

“I could fuck you like an animal right there on the floor of the waiting room even with all those people around. I don’t care.”

“Tch. Too dirty.”

“You can lie on my winter coat.”

“Pass.”

“Touch yourself for me,” Eren begged. “Come on, please.”

“Bit stupid. I’m seeing you tomorrow.”

“I’ll be just as fired up for you tomorrow. Promise.”

With a sigh, Levi slipped his boxers down and let his cock spring free. Fuck how Eren had missed the sight of it. He licked his lips, a blush creeping onto his cheeks--self-conscious and suddenly aware that though his family was asleep, he was not exactly alone.

The sight of Levi touching himself was too much for Eren. He watched as the foreskin glided up and down Levi’s thick cock as he stroked and had to bite his lip to keep his moans trapped inside as he reached again for his own cock.

They watched each other jerk off, and Eren realised that he’d never before been able to observe Levi’s face quite like this. Heavy-lidded lust-drunk eyes, mouth parted in pleasure. Unguarded and all for Eren.  

Eren came at the thought of his own hand wrapping around Levi like that while he fucked him into the floor, making Levi cry out his name. Tomorrow, he thought with post-orgasm bliss. Tomorrow.

 

 

 

Eren’s hands shook as he drove towards the airport, thrumming his fingers along the steering wheel and playing Hey Jealousy on repeat. He could almost carry a tune when he sang along, and he sang as loudly as he possibly could. Exuberant tension released from Eren’s body with every word he sang-shouted until he’d made it to the airport and headed inside with a deep breath.

Eyes glued to the stretch of hallway leading from arrivals to the waiting room, Eren stood waiting, shuffling from foot to foot. His heart was going a mile a minute, and he chewed his gum in an effort to both seem relaxed and in anticipation of the moment he got to kiss Levi.

Every time someone appeared with their suitcase, Eren’s stomach flipped and then sank when it wasn’t him.

Until suddenly it was.

A choked sob escaped, coming from deep in his throat. His heart felt like it was split in two and being stitched slowly back together. Levi walked towards him. This wasn’t a dream. Somehow Levi, with his unrumpled clothes and tired but happy face, was fucking real, and Eren couldn’t stop himself from crying.

“Bloody hell, Eren. Pull yourself together,” Levi said with fondness in his voice, his eyes soft.

“I’m sorry,” Eren said somewhere between tears and laughter. “You want that handshake now?”

“Fuck off,” Levi said and pulled him into his arms, wrapping tightly around Eren as he rested his face on his chest.

Who knew the smell of someone’s hair could feel so much like home? Eren breathed Levi in so deeply that Levi pulled back and said, “Fuck’s sake, Eren. Are you smelling me? I’ve just been on a plane for seven hours. I smell like shit.”

“You really really don’t.” Eren couldn’t take his eyes off Levi, and he kept his hands on his arms, unable to let go. He didn’t even mind that the scrutiny was clearly making Levi uncomfortable because here he was. That angular, beautiful face. Grey eyes looking tired but happy. Those god damned perfect arms crossing over his chest now as he glared at Eren.

“Eren, let’s go. I need to shower and have a shit.”

Grinning, Eren said, “Be still, my heart.” He grabbed Levi’s suitcase with one hand--despite his protests--and took Levi’s hand with his other and didn’t let go of it until they were out in the parking lot.  

Once in the car, Eren turned on the heat and the seat warmers to fight against the freezing cold, and then with one simple, long look between them, they were kissing. Levi tasted like spearmint, and so did Eren, and the fact that they’d both been chewing gum in anticipation of this made Eren giddy.

“Okay, we should go now. It’s been like twenty minutes, and you need a shit.” Eren pulled back, eyes dropping to Levi’s red-kissed lips. “Maybe just one more minute.” And then they were kissing again and Eren was sucking Levi’s tongue into his mouth, trying to remind himself and his boner that they weren’t going to fuck here in the parking lot.

Eren pulled back again and said, “Okay, now really we should go.” He let out a long breath before taking the car out of park, “Jesus, I still can’t believe you’re here.”

“Me either,” Levi said, but he sounded a little distracted. “Something’s digging into my arse.” He shifted around to reach a hand underneath him and pulled out Eren’s iPod.

“Sorry, I use that to play music off of. You can put something on if you want.” Eren pulled up to the parking lot’s exit, reaching a hand out of the window and into the icy air to stick his parking ticket into the slot.

“Why don’t you just use your phone for that?”

“Hey, there’s a lot of good shit on that old iPod, and I don’t have a fancy mega memory phone like you do.”

“Tch.” Levi turned on the iPod and Eren snuck a quick glance at him, noting the amused look on his face.

“What?”

“Good song.”

Eren’s cheeks heated. “Oh, you like Gin Blossoms?”

“Yeah, I’m surprised you do, though. Weren’t they a bit before your time?”

Unable to resist, Eren said, “I like the oldies.”

“Fucker.” Levi plugged the phone into the stereo and Hey Jealousy began to play again. “Did you just have this on repeat?”

“How did you know?”

“There’s a repeat symbol.”

Eren had forgotten about that. “Shit. You caught me. But listen it’s one of the best driving songs.”

“It’s also incredibly depressing.”

“I don’t think about the song’s backstory while I’m driving, Levi.”

Levi snorted. “Fair enough.”   

Having Levi by his side while Eren cruised down the highway felt more right than he could have imagined. Like Levi had been there all along. They talked a little about the flight--and Eren was disappointed to learn that Levi did not also cry along to Adam Sandler movies on the way here--but mostly they talked about music as Levi browsed Eren’s library. Eren even found himself singing along as Levi played different songs.

And when Levi told him his singing was “bloody aw ful”, he only sang louder. 

Chapter Text

Eren’s neighborhood was so different than what Levi was used to back home. So much space existed between all of the houses, which, no matter the size, had large front yards. Christmas lights wrapped around trees and lining rooftops lit up the street in a range of colors, from crisp white to technicolor. Americans don’t bloody hold back, Levi thought. Slightly horrified, slightly impressed.  

“Fucking hell,” Levi muttered as he caught sight of a giant inflatable Santa Clause that was nearly as tall as the house it sat in front of. 

Eren smirked. “Ha! You better prepare yourself if you think that’s bad.” 

Levi cast a suspicious look at Eren who wasn’t forthcoming with more information.  

“Just about there,” Eren said as he turned down another street, this one just as lit up as the last. “I hope it’s not too much staying with my family. Remember, we can always get a hotel room or something for a couple nights if we need to.” 

“I’m sure it’ll be fine.” From the short amount of time he’d spent with them, Levi liked Eren’s family. They’re boisterous and direct but friendly. Besides, Levi was curious to see how Eren interacted with them--and how Eren was in general--when he had the home field advantage.  

“Here we are,” Eren said with a grin. 

Now Levi understood what Eren had been alluding to. Before he could take in any other aspect of Eren’s home, Levi’s eyes landed on another inflatable Santa Claus with his reindeer and sleigh full of gifts. 

“You get one guess whose idea that was.” 

“Mikasa’s,” Levi deadpanned.  

Eren laughed as he parked the car on the street. “I don’t want to get boxed in by my mom later” he explained when he caught Levi’s raised eyebrow. There was only one car in the large driveway. 

“I’ve never even owned a car,” Levi said, awed by the prospect of having so many cars that you had to be concerned about something like that. In the past, Eren had alluded to financial issues in his family, but that didn’t seem to be reflected in the number of cars they had, or their trip to London over the summer. It was perplexing, but felt too rude to pry. 

“Shh not so loud, man. You might get deported.” 

Before they got out of the car, Eren leaned over and gave Levi a long, sweet kiss that sent a rush of heat through Levi’s body. Having Eren so close, kissing him again, was so mind-meltingly good that it wasn’t clear how he’d ever force himself out of this seat. He wrapped his hand around the back of Eren’s head, deepening the kiss as he tangled his fingers in Eren’s unruly hair. God he’d fucking missed him. He put all his relief, all his love and the words he hadn’t figured out how to say into that kiss.  

When they pulled apart, Eren’s eyes had that dreamy-glazed look they often got after they’d had sex or when he was watching Levi and didn’t think he’d been noticed. Levi cleared his throat and said, “Right. Shall we then?” 

Eren blinked and then smiled, giving Levi’s arm a squeeze. “Yeah.Shit it’s getting cold in here isn’t it? Let’s get you inside for that shower and shit.” 

A stone path bisected the lawn, and Eren led them past what was clearly Zeke’s Santa monstrosity to a pale-yellow house with a string of white Christmas lights around the roof. It was rather sweet, but looked as though it could use a fresh coat of paint. The garden out front was well-maintained with a stone path leading up to the front of the house, and Levi spotted Mikasa as she pulled open the curtains from a window above them and peered down. He gave her a wave, and after she returned it, she disappeared from view--presumably to come down to greet them. 

Eren pulled out his keys and held the door open for Levi as he stepped into the welcome warmth. “My mom and Zeke are out right now, but you should start preparing yourself.” 

“For what?” Levi asked as he stepped into Eren’s hallway. 

“For them.” 

“Right.” He looked around him, taking in the little table by the front door with a picture of Eren and his siblings when they were children. A man with shaggy brown hair and small, rounded glasses stood next to Carla. He had Eren’s smile. 

“Eren’s right,” Mikasa said as she came down the stairs, “Zeke’s been practicing his British accent for you.” 

Levi made a strained sound at the back of his throat. 

She laughed and moved to give him a quick hug. “Good to see you again.” Her smile was small but warm. Mikasa exuded a calmness about her that helped put Levi at ease. She tucked a loose strand of her dark hair behind her ear a little shyly. 

“You too,” he said, realising that he was looking forward to getting to know her during the trip.   

Eren smiled between them, then said to Levi, “Come on, I’ll give you the grand tour.”

“I’ll distract mom and Zeke if they come home early,” Mikasa said. 

“You’re the best,” Eren replied. 

Eren showed Levi around the house, and Levi was floored by the size of it. He didn’t think by American standards it was large, but it still seemed massive. Isabel would have said it was mental. The Jaegers had four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a kitchen, dining room, living room, den, and a basement.   

“And this is where the magic happens,” Eren said, leading Levi into a bedroom frozen in time, the room of a high schooler. Action movie posters hung on the walls and over the bed, off to the side was a bookshelf containing more video games than books, and a double-bed covered in a faded blue bedspread that clearly hadn’t been replaced in a long time. 

“We’re both going to sleep on that?” Levi looked skeptical. 

“It’s not so bad. Besides, I told you we can always get a hotel.” 

Eren walked across the room and turned on the lamp on his bedside table, leaving the overhead lights turned off. He sat down on the bed and motioned for Levi to join him. 

“Not worried about your family?” 

The soft glow of the room suited Eren’s skin, and as he brushed a stray strand of dark hair away from his eyes, Levi didn’t fight the urge to replace Eren’s hand with his own. 

They looked at one another for a long moment, a crackle of desire in the air between them. Eren’s eyes flicked down to Levi’s lips and his voice was low as he said, “The Pope could be downstairs right now and I wouldn’t give a shit.” 

“You’re not even Catholic.” 

“You get my point,” Eren said, voice dropping even lower as he moved his hands up to rest on either side of Levi’s face then captured his lips in a searing kiss. Levi’s hands moved up to fist the front of Eren’s shirt as he yanked him even closer. 

There was so much force in the way their lips moved against one another, and Eren pushed Levi down until he was resting on top of him as they devoured one another. The scent of Eren engulfed him completely, and he remembered that this was the first time he’d ever lain in Eren’s bed like this. Eren had always come to him. Now he was surrounded by him in every direction, and the rightness of it astounded him. 

Two months wasn’t all that long in the grand scheme of things, but all the uncertainty, all the ways in which he’d missed Eren, had made it feel like an eternity. No matter how hard he tried, no matter how he angled his head or how deep the kiss became, it wasn’t enough. Even when they shed their clothes and were skin to skin, it wasn’t enough. 

Eren must have felt it too because he pulled Levi against him, tugging at Levi’s legs until they wrapped around his back as Eren slid their cocks together. 

“I want to fuck you up against the wall.” Eren’s voice was raspy, almost a hiss. 

“So fucking do it.” 

In a rush, Eren dug around in his bedside table for his lube, slid a condom on and slicked himself up. It only took under a minute, but still it was too long. He needed Eren inside of him now. 

Levi pulled them both together on the bed and again wrapped his legs around Eren, who teased Levi’s entrance with the thick head of his cock. 

“Don’t be a shit,” Levi said through gritted teeth and Eren pushed inside of him, filling Levi to the brim. The pleasure made Levi throw his head back, face flushed. “Fuuuck,” he groaned, shifting to try to get Eren even deeper.   

Nuzzling Levi’s neck, Eren slid his hands between Levi’s back and the bed. “ Now I’m going to fuck you against the wall,” he said.

As he stood, Eren’s hands travelled down from Levi’s back to press firmly into his ass as he hoisted him off the bed. Levi kept his arms around Eren’s neck, kissing back hard. Eren slid their tongues together with long, languid strokes. Not fucking bad . Levi had to admit he was impressed. Liked a bit of manhandling from Eren. Liked the way Eren’s cock swelled and throbbed inside of him, making him so sweetly full. 

They kissed until Levi’s back thudded against the wall and Eren broke away so he could nip possessively at Levi’s neck, down to his collarbone where he sucked and bit enough that Levi knew it would leave a mark. He couldn’t bring himself to care as he tried to rub his aching cock against the taut muscles of Eren’s abdomen, flexing with the effort of holding both of them up.  

Fuck how he’d missed when Eren got rough with him. When all Levi had to do was let the fuck go. As much as he loved to give to Eren, he’d learned that to take from him was a pleasure unlike any other he’d experienced before. 

“Eren,” he groaned. “Fuck me already, would you.” 

“Thought that’s what I was doing.” Eren grazed his teeth along Levi’s throat again, eliciting a hiss of pleasure. 

“Move, moron.”  

At that, Eren grinned and began to thrust with sharp snaps of his hips, his fingers squeezing into Levi’s ass. “Wanna make you come with just my dick.” His eyes bore into Levi’s, pupils dilated with lust, more intense than ever. 

That won’t be a problem , Levi thought as Eren hit that sweet spot inside of him. He kept his hands around Eren’s neck, his thighs pressed tight against Eren’s sides. Maybe that’s where this had been heading all along, giving himself up to Eren this way. He let his head fall back, didn’t worry or wonder when the rest of Eren’s family would be home or whether Mikasa could hear the dull thuds against the wall or Eren’s moans. 

It was just him and Eren.  

 

 

 

The time difference along with his jelly-like bones left Levi exhausted by eight PM. He wanted to sleep now, preferably with Eren wrapped around him. Thank fuck it was winter and not summer anymore. 

They’d had dinner with Eren’s family, and despite his exhaustion, Levi insisted on helping to clean up after the meal. Which may have been a mistake given that not only had Eren joined in but Zeke too. 

Levi caught Zeke’s eyes flicker down to his collarbone as he bent forward to place a plate in the dishwasher. 

“You two feeling re-acquainted then?” Zeke asked, waggling his eyebrows when Levi straightened and raised an eyebrow at him. 

Eren turned on Zeke and opened his mouth with the clear intention of unleashing an angry retort, but Levi spoke up first. “Yeah,” he said nonchalantly as he placed a plate in the dishwasher. “Our dicks got to know each other quite well again. Thanks for asking.” 

Zeke threw his head back with laughter, and Carla poked her head in. “What’s so funny, boys?” 

Levi, a man who would be in his late-thirties come December 25th, hid his amusement at being referred to as a boy by clearing another dish. 

“Levi is a funny dude,” Zeke said. 

“That wasn’t even that funny. He just knows how to appeal to your basic-ass sense of humor,” Eren said. 

“Glad to see you’re all getting along so well,” Carla said. “Anyway, Mikasa’s taking me out for a drink at that little jazz bar she likes. Zeke, you should come along, that girl who likes you might be there.” 

“A girl? Likes Zeke?” Eren asked in horror. 

“Yelena’s a weirdo,” Mikasa said, coming up behind Carla as she pulled on her coat. “Come on, Zeke. Let Eren and Levi have some time alone.” 

“Alright alright, I’m coming,” Zeke said. “And Yelena’s not so bad once you get to know her.” 

Mikasa and Carla exchanged doubtful, amused looks but didn’t argue as they headed towards the front door. 

“So now it’s just us again,” Eren said with a sly smile. 

“You can have a wank if you fancy,” Levi said with a raised eyebrow. “I’m going the fuck to bed.” 

“It’s not even nine yet! You have to fight your jetlag, old man.” 

Levi ignored him and made his way upstairs, smiling a little to himself as Eren followed and eventually climbed into bed after him. 

“You won the battle but not the war,” Eren said. “I’m putting Netflix on.”

Levi didn’t care, he was already pulling Eren’s comforter up and closing his eyes. The bed was too bloody small for both of them, but that was alright. Everywhere smelled like Eren, not just one hoodie that had been left behind, and a deep calm settled over Levi.   

Though he was an ocean away from his own flat, Levi realised as he began to sink into sleep that he hadn’t felt more at home in his life. 

Chapter Text

On the first morning of Levi’s visit, he placed a thin envelope with Eren’s name printed on it under the Christmas tree along with three neatly wrapped boxes; one for each of his family members. The gesture flooded Eren’s chest with warmth. 

Jet lag had woken Levi--and in turn Eren--around 4 AM. They’d spent the morning quietly making love and touching one another as though neither could believe this was really happening. Once they finally dragged themselves out of bed around nine, Eren decided it might be nice to show Levi around town, and their first stop would be the local Starbucks where Eren and his friends used to spend most of their time hanging out. Options in this town were limited, to say the least. 

The bitingly cold air was tempered only slightly by the bright winter sun. As they drove down a decked-out main street--lights strung up around the street lamps, wreaths on every storefront, a Christmas tree at the center of the main circle of shops--and Eren pointed out all of his old haunts, he felt more fondness for his hometown than he had since he’d arrived back in the states. The feeling of staleness and the slight sense of resentment at being back here faded with Levi as his audience. Levi listened intently, adding in a wry comment or a question here and there.  

“Okay, so a couple of my friends used to work at that bakery over there and give us sick discounts even though they weren’t supposed to.” 

“And here I thought I was the one with the wild youth. What a daring life you used to lead.” 

“I know, dude. Your underage drinking and fake French IDs got nothing on me.” 

“Ah, you remembered that story.” Levi looked like he was trying to hide a smile as he turned his face towards the window. 

“Of course,” Eren said, pulling into the Starbucks’ parking lot. 

They headed inside and when Levi tried to place his order he was met with confusion. “You want a...what?” The barista shot Eren a panicked look.

Eren hadn’t considered how amusing it would be to watch Levi try to interact with Americans who were unused to his accent. Their town wasn’t exactly a popular destination for foreign tourists, so Levi got a lot of double-takes when people heard him speak.

“He wants a bagel and a Chai tea,” Eren said.  

“Oh okay, cool.” She turned back to Levi. “Do you want milk in that?” 

“Yes. Cheers.” Levi didn’t sound particularly grateful. 

“What kind?” 

Levi squinted. “What kind of...milk?” 

She nodded. 

“Full fat.” 

“What?” 

“Semi-skimmed?”

“We don’t have that...Do you want half-and-half?” The poor woman looked like she was wilting under Levi’s glare.

“I just want milk.” 

“Whole milk is good,” Eren cut in, rescuing Levi from the unfolding awkwardness. 

Once they were out of earshot of the barista, Levi muttered about milk terminology and how his accent wasn’t that thick. 

“Now you know what it’s like,” Eren said as they grabbed a table. At Levi’s questioning look he added, “When I first got to England it felt like I was speaking a completely different language sometimes. It got better the longer I was in London, but still no one seems to understand me when I order a mocha.” 

“Ah.” Levi let out a short, amused laugh. He took a sip of his tea and then said, “Right, so what else have you got planned for us today?” 

Wrapping his hands around his warm coffee mug, Eren made a humming sound as he thought. His gaze wandered out the window towards the frozen lake where a few kids and their parents were ice-skating. There wasn’t exactly a lot to do around town, especially not this time of year, so they’d likely spend time together at Eren’s house and maybe head out to the few restaurants that Eren still thought were decent. He’d been sorely disappointed to find that after years away, places he’d once loved turned out to be terrible.  

Besides he really just wanted to curl up on the couch with Levi and watch a movie. Maybe even show off some of the work he’d been doing since Levi was one of the only people he knew who’d get it. Maybe he’d even be a little impressed.  

“I figured I’d show you around a little more, maybe take you to this really good pizza place for lunch and then we can just chill. Not sure about tonight. I guess it depends on how tired you are, but maybe we’ll see what Mikasa and Zeke are up to.” 

“Sure, sounds good.” There was something off about Levi’s mood that Eren couldn’t quite put a finger on. Levi didn’t seem unhappy, but subdued and a little muted, though that could easily be due to jet lag. Eren got the sense there was something on his mind, but either Levi would bring it up first or Eren would try to pry it out when they were alone that evening, maybe splitting a bottle of wine. 

Something caught Levi’s eye behind Eren, and then a familiar voice said, “Oh my god, Eren?” 

Eren turned to see Sasha standing in line, waving excitedly at him. At her side was a man that Eren didn’t recognise, but from the way he was smiling fondly at Sasha, Eren guessed they were dating. 

“I’ll be right back,” he said to Levi, who raised an amused eyebrow in reply. Eren headed over to the front of the cafe, eager to see Sasha. She was one of the few people from high school who Eren still had fun with when he came back home. They didn’t keep in contact much when they were apart, but in person it was always easy to talk to her and have a good time. This was the first time he’d seen her since she’d moved to Philly about six months ago.  

“Sasha! It’s been a minute.” Eren grinned and opened his arms for Sasha as she came barrelling into his arms. “How are you?” 

“I’m great! Nicolo’s going to buy me as many muffins as I want. Oh! And a hot chocolate and a croissant.” Her eyes shone with excitement. Never had Eren met anyone who could get so worked up over fucking Starbucks food. 

Nicolo extended his hand for Eren to shake and gave Eren a warm smile. “Hey, man. I’ve heard a lot about you. Nice to put a face to the name.”  

Eren returned the smile. “You two want to come sit with us? You can be one of the first to meet Levi.” He directed the last part to Sasha, knowing how much she’d enjoy that. They’d bonded over crushes and boyfriends and girlfriends since they were kids, and she’d relish the opportunity to shove meeting Levi first in Jean and Connie’s faces.     

“Hell yes!” Sasha forced Nicolo to stay in line so she could sit with Eren now. “You remember what I want to eat, right?” she asked Nicolo.

This did not seem to perturb Nicolo, who nodded and said, “Yup, babe. I got it.”  

“Babe?” Eren teased as they walked back to his table. 

“Yeah, he’s my boyfriend. He’s a chef!” She sounded so proud, and Eren felt a surge of happiness for her. 

He introduced Sasha and Levi, and pulled over two extra chairs to their table.  

“Oh my god, hi! It’s so good to meet you,” Sasha said to Levi. “Mikasa told me all about you.” 

“Yes, Mikasa’s quite chatty isn’t she?” Levi said dryly. 

Not getting Levi’s sarcasm, Sasha began filling Levi in on how she and Mikasa had been best friends since elementary school. How she’d thought for the longest time that Mikasa hated her because she was so serious, but how one day she had offered Sasha a Carmello bar and Sasha had realised that Mikasa loved her. Nicolo had taken his seat at the table in the middle of the story and been given a brief interlude of an introduction. 

“Mikasa tells me everything,” Sasha concluded. “So of course she told me about Eren’s sexy professor boyfriend.” She picked up her chocolate croissant and took a big, satisfied bite. 

Levi practically choked on his sip of tea and Nicolo shook his head. 

“I highly doubt Mikasa used those words,” Eren said. 

Sasha swallowed her mouthful of food. “Well, no. But it was implied!”  

“He asked me out at the end of the semester,” Levi said with a shrug. “I wasn’t involved with grading his final exams. Though half of the department are lenient morons, so he probably would have done worse if I had done it.” 

“Levi said no like a million times, but I convinced him.” He remembered the blow job he’d given Levi in his office before the end of the semester and almost smirked at the thought. Underneath the table, Eren nudged Levi with his foot. “For a professor he’s pretty stupid.” 

“Piss off,” Levi grumbled, nudging him back. 

“Charming, though,” Eren added. 

“You two are gross,” Sasha said, making Nicolo laugh. 

Nicolo stole a bite of Sasha’s croissant (ignoring her outraged look) and said to Levi, “So how long you here for?” 

“Until January 7th,” Levi replied. 

Eren felt a pang in his chest. Levi hadn’t been here long at all and already Eren could feel himself forgetting that there was a time limit. That so much was still up in the air. 

It wasn’t a big shift in posture, but Eren noticed that Levi had stiffened slightly, that perhaps he was feeling the same unease, wondering the same things as Eren. Would they just go back in circles again the next time they talked about the future? Would Eren always have to push as Levi pulled? 

Eren forced himself back to the present moment and changed the subject. “You two have any New Year’s plans?” 

“I heard Connie and Jean were thinking maybe Atlantic City this year,” Sasha said. “Jean’s parents said he could use their beach house.”   

“Cool,” Eren said. He’d spent so many summers hanging with his friends in that house; it might be nice to go back. “We’ll think about it. Levi could probably school us in probability shit if we hit the casinos.” 

“Oh cheers,” Levi said. “Right, yes, let me just be of service to you all.” 

“I feel like I’m missing something,” Nicolo said, which prompted a discussion about what Levi did for a living and eventually led to stories about famous card counters and casino laws that had been exploited over the years, until an hour had quickly passed. 

Nicolo was sweet and easy to talk to, and Eren warmed up to him quickly. It helped that he was clearly enamoured with Sasha, laughing at all her jokes, always happy to hand over the spotlight to her.   

“Oh crap, we gotta go,” Sasha said when she noticed the time on her phone. “I still need to pick up a few things for my mom. I told her we’d be right back; she’s going to kill me.” She and Nicolo stood and began putting on their coats. “Before I forget, what are you guys up to tonight?” Sasha asked. 

Eren glanced at Levi, unsure if he should make something up. “Not sure yet,” he said to be safe. “Probably just taking it easy.” 

“Well, I was thinking of putting an open invite out for The Tavern since Nicolo and I were gonna grab some pizza there later anyway.” Sasha’s eyes glazed over as she mentioned the pizza. “I miss that place when I’m not here.” 

“We’ll think about it,” Levi said, tone neutral. Eren hadn’t expected him to chime in but was glad he had. “Might be nice to see what American bars are like.” 

“This one’s really nice!” Sasha assured him. “It’s not a dive bar or anything. Don’t let Eren take you to, like, Puss ‘N’ Boots - that place is so gross.”  

Eren made a face. “Why the fuck would I take Levi there? I think we went there once when we were finally legal and stayed for like fifteen minutes before we got out of there.”

Sasha giggled and wound her scarf around her neck. “Good times.”   

After they’d said their goodbyes, Eren turned back to Levi. “Sorry, I didn’t realise how long we’d been hanging out with them for.” 

“It’s alright.” Levi leaned back in his chair, looking surprisingly relaxed. “They were lovely.” 

“Yeah, I’m really glad you got to meet Sasha first actually without everyone else around. And, hey, looks like if we do spend New Year’s with my friends, you won’t be the odd man out.” 

“Wouldn’t really matter to me if I was. You did it for me,” Levi said. 

Eren thought of the first night he’d met Levi’s friends at Isabel and Farlan’s house, the conversation he’d had with Levi in the backyard. He had done that for Levi, so why was it that he still felt so grateful and disbelieving and a little frightened that Levi would take an interest in seeing Eren’s life? Maybe it was because Levi was a good decade older than Eren’s friends, maybe it was because Eren was still afraid that Levi would realise Eren wasn’t good enough for him, didn’t fit into his life, if anything went wrong here. 

“We can have a drink tonight if you fancy,” Levi offered later as they made their way back to Eren’s car. “Like I said, I really wouldn’t mind meeting your lot.” 

“Sure you’re not too jet lagged?” Eren squinted over at Levi. It was his way of asking whether Levi was okay without putting him on the spot too much. Though Levi had been polite and didn’t seem to mind Sasha and Nicolo’s company, there was still something off about Levi that Eren couldn’t quite put his finger on. 

“You don’t need to handle me with bloody kid’s gloves. A few drinks with your mates won’t kill me,” Levi huffed.    

Eren raised his eyebrows, an amused smile curling his lips. “Alright then. Cool. Drinks tonight it is.” 

 

 

 

After a lazy day filled with films, a nap, and a long lecture from Levi about Javascript and tag management naming conventions, they headed over to The Tavern along with Mikasa. There, Eren introduced Levi to Jean, Connie, Marco (who Eren hadn’t seen since junior year of high school, but now apparently hung out with Jean and Connie all the time), and, most shockingly of all, Armin. 

In the whirlwind of greetings and back slaps and arm punches and introductions, it took Eren a minute to process that the man with an overgrown head of blonde hair and a shaggy beard was Armin.  

“Surprise,” Armin said, holding up a pint of beer. 

Eren embraced him and gave Armin’s long hair an affectionate ruffle for good measure. “Jesus dude, remind me to call you more often. I didn’t know you were doing this to your hair.” 

“You look like a hobo,” Mikasa had said from the other side of the table. “Why do you have a beard now?” 

“Does anyone have scissors? Or a razor or something?” Connie asked. “I’ll give him a buzz cut right now.” 

“You guys can be like twins!” Sasha enthused. 

“Everyone fuck off,” Armin had said, surprising them all. “No one is cutting my hair.” 

Levi hadn’t spoken much, mostly politely answering a few questions directed his way, but Eren had suspected this might happen. There were too many of them at once, too many inside jokes and too many people showing up at the bar who Jean and Connie recognised. Eren had been on the verge of suggesting they call it a night when the configuration of people had shifted and only, Eren, Levi, Armin, Sasha and Nicolo remained seated together at their table with Sasha and Armin now discussing whether or not Armin would be joining them at New Year’s. (“Jesus,” Levi muttered to Eren, “Do you lot talk about anything else?” “Apparently not anymore.”)   

“Connie figured you wouldn’t come to Atlantic City with us,” Sasha said. “You should totally come! You’re sooo far away in California now.”  

Armin frowned and folded his arms against his chest. “What? Why would Connie think I wouldn’t come?” 

Wrinkling her nose, Sasha considered this.  “I dunno. Just doesn’t seem like your kind of thing.”

“Having fun isn’t my kind of thing?” 

“No...it’s just you…” Sasha looked over to Eren helplessly. She clearly didn’t want to say that Armin had trouble holding is liquor and never seemed to particularly enjoy himself when they went out.   

“Why does everyone always act so surprised that I like to party?” Armin continued without waiting for Sasha to come up with a suitable explanation, an exasperated edge to his words. 

“I don’t know, Armin! Probably the same reason everyone thinks I’m just a hungry ditz who can’t get anywhere on time.” 

Nicolo and Levi, who had been arguing about the merits of baked beans in breakfast, paused their discussion at Sasha’s outburst and turned their attention to her. 

“Okay, but it is pretty amazing that you always manage to be on time for work but never on time to hang out,” Armin pointed out. “I’d rather be known for having a good time than be known for being the lame friend.” 

Sasha threw up her hands. “I’m more than a joke. I love food and I know it’s my thing, but I don’t want to be potato girl forever.” 

“She once ate a baked potato in the middle of gym class,” Eren explained in a hushed voice to Nicolo and Levi who didn’t appear any less confused after Eren’s brief clarification. 

“I still think potato girl is better,” Armin huffed. “I’m just tired of you guys seeing me the same way forever. Can’t we just grow the hell up?”

Eren had never considered that Armin and Sasha had felt as trapped in their assigned roles as he had. That they’d also wanted to escape their hometown so they could be seen through fresh eyes. 

“I feel that,” Eren cut in. “Believe me I know how smart you are, Sash. And Armin, you’re right. We shouldn’t jump to conclusions like that about you, man. I know how you party with your tech bros now.” 

Armin lifted his beer in a weak salutation. “Thanks,” he mumbled. 

“Yeah, thanks,” Sasha said. 

“I’m tired of being seen as the same old impulsive, hot-headed idiot that gets into fights at parties and gets detention for dumb-ass reasons.” 

“I never once gave you detention,” Levi said, so dry that for a second everyone only stared at him in confusion. It hit Eren first and through his shocked laughter he told Levi he was an asshole.  

“Eren, believe me, we don’t see you that way,” Armin said and Sasha nodded. 

“Yeah, I mean, do you know how amazing I think it is that you just fucking went and did exactly what you wanted to do?” Sasha said, and it was Armin’s turn to nod. “You decided to get your Master’s in something totally different and you decided to go all the way to England to do it, and you...you did it!” 

Eren swallowed down the emotion bubbling up in his throat. Maybe it wasn’t always so bad being around people who had known him forever, had known the person he used to be. He’d thought it was the only way they could ever see him, but maybe Armin and Sasha weren’t the same people anymore either. 

Levi rested a hand on the small of Eren’s back, and Eren leaned into the touch. 

“You ever feel like that?” Eren asked, tilting his head towards Levi. “Or you too mature to worry about shit like this?” 

“I thought after, like, thirty you just didn’t worry about stuff like that anymore. Please give me something to live for,” Sasha said. 

“Sorry,” Levi said. “Not that simple.” He paused for a moment as he took another sip of beer. “I suppose I do feel that way. When I first started seeing Eren, a friend of mine accused me of falling into old patterns. It was shitty at the time, pissed me the fuck off, even though I can see why he might have thought that.” 

This was the first Eren was hearing of this, and he frowned as wondered who had accused Levi of that. Given their history, he guessed Farlan. Maybe Erwin. 

“What patterns?” Armin asked, giving Levi a quizzical, apprehensive look. “You haven’t dated a lot of students before Eren, have you?” 

“Fuck no.” Levi shook his head. “Dating people with no future. Wanting the wrong people. Setting myself up for failure. I don’t have the best track record. Started when I was a teenager.” 

Eren hid a wince. He knew Levi wasn’t talking about him, at least not now, but it still pained him to think that this was what he’d expected from Eren at the start. That this was what Levi’s friends had expected of the situation. Well. Fuck that, it didn’t matter. Levi had flown across the fucking ocean to see him and god damn adored Eren. 

Armin tilted his beer at Levi. “I understand. And if someone’s known you that long it probably gets harder and harder to keep an open mind in a new situation when you’re used to seeing certain patterns. Especially one like yours and Eren’s which comes with its own set of assumptions.” 

“Emotional intelligence in Silicon Valley,” Levi said wryly. “They won’t know what to do with you out there.” 

Armin grinned at the compliment. “It’s mostly because of research I’ve been doing on the brain and machine learning.” 

“Ah,” Levi said. “Well done for putting it to good use. Careful with that kind of power.” 

“Wait wait, let’s pause the nerd talk and go back to your past relationships, Levi,” Sasha said.  

“Not a fucking chance.”  

“I thought you were nice!” Sasha exclaimed. “You were being nice to Armin!” 

“He’s not nice,” Eren said. “He’s just kind of drunk.” 

Levi ignored Eren and said, “The point I was going to make was that you have to learn to trust yourself. Then those assumptions won’t matter so much.” 

Sasha, Armin and Nicolo all nodded, clearly hanging on Levi’s words. Eren had to admit he was too. 

“Do you trust yourself now?” Eren asked. 

Levi met Eren’s eyes, and for a moment it was only the two of them in the entire bar. “Getting there.” 

The moment broke, and they turned their attention back to the rest of the table, but Eren replayed Levi’s words, the look in his eye, in the back of his mind all night. That hope that he’d been fighting for nearly a year now refused to be beaten back anymore. It filled him up and buoyed him.