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Once More, Like it's Our Last

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"Mr. Ackerman, we're calling from Sina Lawfirm in regards to the late Kenny Ackerman and we extend our sincerest condolences. You're listed on his will and we would instruct you come to our office at your earliest convenience. You can reach us at..."

 

Levi didn't bother listening to the rest of the voicemail, his stormy gaze narrowed in annoyance as he ended the call. He stood inside his kitchen, leaning against the counter of the middle island and sipping quietly on his tea. Erwin had already left for work, leaving a dull silence lingering inside the apartment. Everything in the apartment was lavishly decorated to the point everything felt sterile. There wasn't anything remotely comforting about it. While Levi thoroughly enjoyed cleanliness, a bit of life inside the white walls would have been nice.

 

His fingers drummed thoughtfully, wondering what in the possible fucking hell Kenny would have wanted to leave to him. They hadn't spoken in over ten years after they had both left Shiganshina― Levi moving to Trost to finish out his college degree and Kenny moving to Sina with one of his many girlfriends. Levi huffed inwardly at that, remembering how many women that man brought home on a weekly basis during the horrific six years he had lived with him. 

 

He thought about phoning Erwin, letting him know he'd be driving to Sina for the day. Curiosity was getting to best of Levi and he couldn't help but decide he may as well take the hour drive and see what the hell was going on. He had only been there a week prior for the man's funeral, knowing not too many would have been attending anyway. 

 

Kenny Ackerman hadn't been a very civilized human being if Levi were to put it lightly.

 

Levi's bare feet padded across the apartment, his eyes glued to the screen of his phone as he texted Rico. He let her know he had personal affairs to deal with for the day and said he'd be taking the day off, which he knew she'd understand. It was incredibly rare that Levi would call out from work, so he knew she'd honor it. He sifted through his closet, finding a casual outfit to wear during the cooling month of October. As he walked, he ran a tired hand through his hair and strode into the bathroom to get changed. As he gazed at his reflection, his expression soured.

 

He could faintly see it, that light purple bruise just beneath his jaw. He tilted his head to the side, his gaze wracking over where yellow was starting to form over his pale skin. He didn't understand what prompted him to stand there, feeling miserable for himself. But he ended up turning away and scowling, dressing in haste while shoving his wallet and phone into his pockets.

 

Fuck Erwin, he'd handle this on his own.


 

"He what?" 

 

Levi's words came out sharp; brittle as his gunmetal orbs traveled from the lawyer sitting in front of him to the young girl with her back pressed against the leather couch. Her onyx hair was cut at her shoulders, her dark eyes staring impassively at the hardwood floor. He feet dangled as she swung her legs, her hands occupied inside of the red scarf adorned around her neck. 

 

The lawyer sitting across from Levi sighed, his graying hair pushed back from his wrinkled face. "Kenny Ackerman listed you as this child's guardian if something were to ever happen to him. He had me compile a list of―"

 

"―you've got to be fucking kidding me! I can't take this kid in! Do I look like a parent to you? Where is her mother?"

 

When Levi had arrived at Sina Law Firm, he wasn't expecting much. He figured if Kenny was going to leave him anything, it'd probably be nothing but debts.

 

But this―this was not what he had been expecting.

 

"We aren't sure on Mikasa's mother's whereabouts and since Mr. Ackerman's passing, she's been in custody of the state."

 

Levi wanted to laugh in incredulity. "Of course they don't know where her mother is. Christ, how many women did this man knock up? Any more children I should be aware of?"

 

Levi's eyes glanced toward Mikasa, noticing her dark gaze was still glued to the floor. She wore a knee-length maroon skirt and a long-sleeve dark top. A small barret held some of her hair from her face. She couldn't have been older than eight, Levi realized. While he observed her appearance, Levi could see the slight resemblance she had with his Uncle. Her eyes... looked so incredibly dull. He could understand the pitiful feeling of being pushed through the foster care system and he hated himself for feeling that pity.

 

"None that we're aware of. Mr. Ackerman, I know you're frustrated, but it's my job to ensure each case and point is met on this will. If you're not interested in taking Mikasa in, we'll sort out the process of finding her a foster family until a family is willing to permanently adopt her."

 

Levi's gut clenched when he noticed Mikasa's body stiffen, but she kept herself steady with avoiding Levi's eyes.

 

Fuck. Fuck, that bastard. I don't... know what the hell I'm supposed to do. I can't just abandon her, she's my family. Probably the only family I have left at this point. I hadn't spoken with Kenny in almost ten years, so I guess it's no surprise I've never heard of her before.

 

"Can I have some time to discuss this with my partner? Leaving the house and then coming home with a kid isn't exactly how I planned on starting my day."

 

Trost was a busy, bustling city. Levi had moved to Trost nearly a decade ago, leaving his hometown of Shiganshina behind in favor of a different lifestyle. It was there he finished out his college degree in business and settled as an account manager at Trost Bank. It was also where he had met his partner, Erwin; who had somehow wormed his way through the walls Levi had created with his calm demeanor and his insistent charm. They owned a house together, worked their respective jobs and lived comfortably.

 

Well, semi-comfortably.

 

The lawyer leaned back in his chair, regarding Levi while saying with a sweeping hand, "You can call him now if you'd like. My schedule is open today but unfortunately, I need an answer before you leave."

 

Shit. 

 

"Fine," Levi huffed, standing from his seat and reaching into his pocket for his phone. He looked down at Mikasa, noticing she still hadn't fully acknowledged his presence.

 

"I'll be right back," he told her, not realizing it was probably the first words he'd ever actually said to her. She nodded mutely, not giving Levi much of a response after.

 

When Levi stepped outside, he dialed Erwin and tapped his foot against the pavement of the sidewalk. While Sina was a smaller city in comparison to Trost, it was still quite busy. Many people passed him as they walked along the sidewalk and vehicles drove by in haste. Cool air tousled his raven hair and his long-sleeved sweater didn't do much to deter the cold.

 

"Hello?"

 

"Hey," Levi responded quickly. "Listen, I've got a bit of a situation here, and―"

 

A sigh was all he heard and Levi fought the audible grinding his teeth were making. "Levi, I'm working. You know better than to call me―"

 

"Evidently," Levi's voice drawled, which probably didn't work in his favor. He wasn't in the mood for this game. "I wouldn't be bothering you if this wasn't something important," he clarified.

 

Levi heard Erwin speaking to someone else and his eye twitched, clearly not being regarded as how significant this was. He had an overwhelming urge to bring his hands to his hair and rip it out of his scalp. "Can you stop talking to someone else for five fucking seconds so I can discuss something that involves the both of us?"

 

There were a few moments of silence before a beeping reached Levi's ears, causing the raven to bring his phone down with wide eyes. That fucker hung up on me.

 

Levi knew better than to try to call the man back, instead, he laughed bitterly and slipped his phone back into his pocket. He closed his eyes, taking in several deep breaths in an attempt to ground himself back to reality. He weighed his options, knowing, either way, it was going to cause complications. Erwin wouldn't be happy, already expressing more than once that he didn't plan on having children. Levi was more than willing with that discussion when it had come up merely for the fact Levi couldn't picture himself as a suitable parent. Given his chaotic upbringing, he wasn't sure if he'd ever be a stable parent.

 

On the other hand, Levi knew what it was like to be in and out of the foster care system. He couldn't count the amount of the times CPS came and took him away from Kenny, forced him to stay with a more than incapable family only to send him right back to the bastard again. The most stability Levi felt he ever did have was when he and Erwin purchased their apartment together.

 

And he'd hardly call that stable at this point.

 

Opening his eyes, Levi knew he had to make a choice. As he turned on his heels and stepped back into the law firm, a part of him deeply knew he had already made his decision. 

 

"So how does this work? I highly doubt you're just going to throw this kid at me without some sort of process happening in court."

 

Levi could briefly see Mikasa lifting her head and for the first time, an array of emotion was behind her young gaze. She looked unsure and... almost expectant.

 

"Seeing as you've been appointed her guardian, you're free to take her home with you. We'll need to go over several documents and notarize them here, but I'll be the one to handle sending them to the courthouse. If there's anything else I'll need from you in the future, I'll call you and have you come back in." The lawyer explained slowly, as if in disbelief.

 

Levi crossed his arms over his chest, his foot tapping on the granite tile before sighing out, "Let's get this process started, then."

 

He couldn't see it with his back turned, but Mikasa brought the deep red scarf up to her mouth, concealing the small smile that was hidden behind it.


 

Paperwork was a bitch, in Levi's opinion. He dealt with it on a daily basis at the bank but it didn't make this less overwhelming. His pale hands gripped the steering wheel as they drove along the highway, his companion quietly staring out the window as he observed her through the rear-view mirror.

 

Mikasa didn't have many belongings with her, a simple backpack and a roll-on suitcase Levi had put in his trunk. It made Levi silently wonder what her short life with Kenny was like but squandered it.

 

"We'll need to get you some clothes... we have a second bedroom, so you'll have furniture. Do you watch TV? What the hell am I asking, of course, you watch TV. Everybody does. I'll move the one in our bedroom into your room for now. Erwin will be home by the time we get back... we can figure everything else out tomorrow."

 

Levi wasn't sure at this point if he was talking to Mikasa or himself, the young girl barely acknowledging him. She nodded silently, keeping his tight grip on her scarf while headlights reflected off her pale skin. It was starting to get dark, the sun setting quickly over the horizon when he pulled into his Ford Fusion into the parking lot of the pristine apartment complex. 

 

The raven adjusted his keys and opened to door, letting Mikasa walk in first before he followed her through the threshold. He closed to door quietly behind him, taking his key and tossing them into the dish along with the side table. 

 

"Where have you been?" A deep voice rose from the kitchen. 

 

Erwin appeared from the kitchen into the main foyer, his deep blue eyes settled on Levi before shifting to Mikasa. The young girl instinctively moved toward Levi, one small hand reaching for his pants and gripping the fabric. Levi looked down, somewhat stunned at how close she had moved. Levi knew he was much shorter than an average man of his stature, so he wasn't surprised if Mikasa was slightly intimidated by Erwin's height. He towered over him, after all.

 

"Who might this be?" Erwin inquired, his voice a little calmer.

 

Levi took a deep breath, placing Mikasa's luggage on the floor. "My cousin."

 

"Your cousin," the blonde repeated, somewhat dumbfounded. "Your uncle..."

 

"Apparently had a daughter," Levi finished for him, ushering Mikasa to step toward the long hallway across from the dining room. "Kenny assumed I'd look after her if something were to ever happen to him. I'm surprised the bastard even had a will."

 

Levi didn't need to face Erwin to feel his jaw was clenching, wanting to say more. "Levi..." he exhaled deeply. "Kitchen."

 

Levi's gunmetal orbs turned toward Erwin, giving his partner a critical look. "Let me get her situated first." 

 

What that really translated to was not in front of her.

 

The raven led Mikasa down the hallway, away from Erwin and into the guest room. The room was furnished with a simple queen-sized bed with a deep oak frame, a matching dresser, and walk-in closet. There was a desk along the far wall and the bright carpet was a deep contrast to the light in the room. "I know it doesn't look very inviting, but that mattress is comfortable as all hell," he tried to coax the tension from her shoulders. "I'll go into my room and get you my laptop so you have something to watch for the night. You can get cleaned up and I'll order us something to eat after I speak to Erwin."

 

Mikasa hadn't uttered a single word since she had been thrown into Levi's life that day, and Levi could understand why. He knew the feeling of not belonging far too well and wanted to do what he could to make Mikasa comfortable. She and he shared the same blood; they were family whether Levi wanted to accept it or not. But when Mikasa had clung to Levi earlier, it made him realize it was him she was concerned about.

 

"Erwin's not a bad guy," Levi said as he came back into the room with his laptop. He typed in his password and propped the device up on the bed. "He comes off a little strong... but he's not a bad person."

 

Levi wasn't sure who he was trying to convince.

 

"I'm going to close the door," he explained to her as she leaned forward to search on YouTube. "I'll be back in a few minutes."

 

Levi's shoes sounded on the floor as he walked toward the kitchen, only to screech against the hardwood as his body was being pressed against the wall connecting to the living room. "What the hell were you thinking?" Erwin hissed in his ear. Levi felt a sharp pain blooming along his lower back but kept his gaze steady.

 

"I tried calling you," Levi started viciously. "You fucking hung up on me when I tried to explain what the hell was going on."

 

"You shouldn't have brought her here without my permission," Erwin continued, his strong hand reaching to grip Levi's jaw. The raven flinched, the bruise already there throbbing under Erwin's grasp. 

 

"Last time I checked this is my house as much as it is yours," Levi snapped, pushing the taller man away from him while gingerly rubbing his chin. "What the fuck was I supposed to do, leave her to be sent off to some abusive family? We're blood-related, Erwin. I couldn't just leave her there."

 

"You very well could have and you should have!"

 

"I don't expect you to understand, but I do. Do you have any idea how terrifying it is for an eight-year-old to be thrown from house to house? It's traumatizing, Erwin. I know it fucked me up more than I'd like to admit."

 

The blonde male muttered something under his breath and Levi barely caught the word, "Evidently."

 

Levi's blood boiled, roared in his ears. How fucking dare he?

 

"Fuck you," he breathed out, his eyes narrowed to slits. He pushed himself away from the wall, his hand carding through his hair to move it from his eyes. "I'm ordering us some food and don't bother worrying, I'll sleep out here tonig―"

 

A smack had sounded crisply and clearly through the apartment, causing both men to freeze in place. Levi felt an overwhelming stinging on his cheek while involuntary tears collected in the corners of his eyes. He had never shed a tear and he wouldn't start now. The burning in his eyes was merely from the impact, he knew. He brought a shaking hand up to his cheek, already feeling the flesh plump against his fingers. He kept his fractioned gaze on Erwin, who looked just as stunned as Levi had.

 

"―as I was saying, I'll sleep out here tonight."

 

Levi didn't give Erwin a chance to respond, his rigid body moving on its own toward the back of the apartment.

 

"I'm giving you a few days to figure something out," Erwin had finally said, causing Levi to stop momentarily. "That child is not staying here."

 

He swallowed the lump in his throat, not bothering with a rebuttal as he disappeared from Erwin's sight.


 

Mikasa had bathed, changed into pajamas and settled into the bed after eating their Chinese take-out. Levi stayed in the guest room with her, helping organize the few belongings she had. He hadn't spoken or seen Erwin since their initial confrontation which he was silently thankful for. He set up a movie on his laptop, hoping he could move the television in his and Erwin's shared room into her's tomorrow while he was working. He had already texted Rico, telling her he'd need another day to sort his affairs out.

 

His normally unruffled mind was racing, thinking of what he could possibly do to appease both Erwin and Mikasa. He couldn't formulate any plan that would benefit either of them. Erwin had made his stance clear and Levi couldn't just dump the only family he had left on this earth because his selfish partner had demanded him to.

 

While he was placing articles of clothing in the closet, Levi heard a soft voice ask, "Why do you let him do that to you?"

 

Levi's hand froze mid-air, his usually slitted gaze wide as he turned toward Mikasa. She had slipped off of the bed, trotting over to Levi while raising a small hand to his cheek. "Why do you let him hurt you?" she asked again.

 

He was momentarily stunned by her touch and her words, hearing her speak for the first time since they had been forced to meet. Her dark eyes shimmered with a wisdom that was beyond her years and even Levi could see that. He closed his eyes briefly, chuckling deeply to himself.

 

"That's a good fucking question, isn't it?" he responded with a brittle edge to his tone. 

 

Mikasa tilted her head. "I'm sorry."

 

Levi took Mikasa's hand, lowering it from his pale cheek. "You have nothing to be sorry for, you understand? You didn't ask for this shit and you definitely don't deserve it."

 

"Neither do you," Mikasa responded boldly, surprising Levi.

 

She removed her hand from Levi's, strolling back over to the bed while resting her back against the headboard. She made herself comfortable, balancing the laptop on her knees and focusing her attention on its screen. Levi felt the lump in his throat from earlier return full force, the stinging that his eyes felt forming yet again. Only this time it wasn't from Erwin's hand.

 

I'll figure this out, Levi thought to himself as he turned his attention back to the closet. He couldn't bring his mind to focus, instead, he softly bid Mikasa goodnight and settled into the living room as planned. It had to have been after 11 PM, so he knew Erwin was asleep. Exhaustion was present in the corridors of his mind, gripping him in its clutches. But he couldn't close his eyes, instead, he stared up at the ceiling while the thoughts raced and whirled. 

 

What the fuck am I supposed to do? 

Chapter Text

Levi hadn't moved when he heard Erwin moving about the apartment, keeping his head tucked while feigning sleep. He wasn't in the mood for another confrontation and he especially didn't want Mikasa to witness one. Levi had seen and been through enough in his life; at the age of eight, Levi couldn't help but wonder what Mikasa had already been exposed to thanks to Kenny. She held herself together in a way no eight-year-old should and he wouldn't be responsible for tainting her with the dysfunction of his own life.

 

When he heard the front door close with a sound of finality, he groaned and sat up. His cheek still throbbed but luckily, the swelling had gone down considerably. He hadn't even showered or changed his clothes from yesterday, which made him grimace in disgust. He padded down the hallway, leaning an ear into the guest room. He could hear even breathing on the other side of the door, indicating Mikasa was still sound asleep. It was rather early, 6:45 AM to be exact. The only reason Levi was up and about was the simple fact his racing mind wouldn't let him sleep. He usually slept at least four hours a night, if he was lucky.

 

Not this time.

 

He showered and dressed in clean clothes, standing in the silence of his and Erwin's room. He found himself walking over to the full-length mirror, his lips thinning into a line as he took in his appearance. Erwin's hand had done a fine job leaving yet another dark mark on his face, only this time, it was much more visible. He could easily say it was an accident because accidents do happen... 

 

But still...

 

I'm getting tired of this shit, he thought, raising his hand a gingerly pressing against his skin. What the fuck does he expect me to do? Does he even understand the concept of family? 

 

Erwin hadn't always been this way, Levi could remember a time where his company was all he needed to sustain anything. But Erwin had a completely different upbringing then he had, more sheltered and privileged than Levi had ever been. It was a wonder the man was even attracted to him. Levi knew his persona wasn't for everyone; he was brash, he was rude but he was honest. Honesty had to count for something.

 

When Levi stepped back out into the living room, he was surprised to see Mikasa sitting at the dining room table. She let her legs swing back and forth in the air from the chair, her hands on either side to hold her balance. She tilted her head when she caught sight of Levi but didn't say anything; she simply watched him enter the room. 

 

"You're probably hungry, aren't you?" What an idiotic question, of course, she was hungry. "I'll see what we have."

 

Levi and Erwin rarely ate breakfast at home, so his search for something edible was a failure. They didn't even have a box of cereal in their cabinets, for fuck's sake. Groaning to himself, he closed the cabinets and threw a glance over his shoulder. "You up for going out to eat, brat?"


An hour later, Levi and Mikasa sat at one of the many diners in the area. Mikasa, to Levi's surprise, had some impeccable table manners. She didn't eat like a child, her back straight while she used her utensils with precision. Levi had to admit he was impressed. For being Kenny's daughter, she was extremely quiet and well behaved. She cut her pancakes into small triangles, bringing each piece to her mouth with a quiet and happy hum.

 

Levi picked at his simple meal or eggs and toast, hunger not gracing him quite as much as it was Mikasa. He didn't particularly enjoy coffee either, he would much rather have a cup of tea. But he needed something stronger today, especially with how much he had been trying to brainstorm.  

 

"You're not eating?" Mikasa asked, her voice just as soft as the night prior. Levi noticed she wasn't one for much conversation to begin with but had started speaking to him more than she had than the day before. He would say it was as good as start as any.

 

Levi sighed, letting his fork rest on his plate. "Can't say I'm hungry," he started, gray eyes meeting deep onyx. "How much did you hear last night?"

 

"Enough," Mikasa replied, using her fork to scrape up the last of her pancakes. "I'm not as naive as you think I am."

 

"So I'm gathering," Levi admitted, taking a long sip of his coffee. "I'm assuming your father had something to do with that?"

 

"Kenny didn't treat me that badly," she amended, reaching and drinking her orange juice. Levi cocked a brow at how casually Mikasa said her father's name. "He tried hard to be a parent but..." she bit her lip. "I wasn't planned."

 

"And your mother?" the raven inquired. "Do you know anything about her?"

 

Mikasa shook her head and replied, "She left when I was two. I haven't seen her since."

 

Levi set his coffee down and asked, "So it's been you and Kenny this entire time?"

 

Mikasa nodded mutely, her eyes downcasting to the table top. A waiter had come to collect their plates, Levi pushing his over even though it held a full meal. As Levi prepared to ask more questions, his phone began to vibrate in his pocket. Retrieving it and holding it up to view, his eyes narrowed when he noticed it was Erwin. He very rarely contacted Levi when he was working so he couldn't help the churning in his stomach at the thought as to why he was calling.

 

Levi swiped the ignore option and let his phone rest on the table.

 

"You're not going to answer it?" Mikasa asked.

 

He shook his head while saying, "I have nothing to say to him. He's already made himself crystal clear."

 

"Won't he... go after you again?"

 

Levi bit the inside of his lip and closed his eyes, inhaling deeply and then exhaling sharply. He couldn't believe he was having this conversation with an eight-year-old. She probably was the only person on this entire planet that knew what was happening between him and Erwin. It unsettled him greatly. He ran a shaky hand through his hair, mentally cursing the shit out of himself for nearly losing his composure in front of this child.

 

"Last night," Levi started, opening his eyes and glancing around the diner. "Is going to be the last time you hear something like that happen. You don't have to worry about me, I can handle him."

 

"But he's hurting you!"  

 

Several heads had turned to Mikasa's outburst and Levi's eyes were wide in surprise, never hearing the girl raise her voice before. Levi moved quickly, not letting naked eyes settle on them for long. He placed several bills on the table and shoved it to the middle, standing up and offering Mikasa his hand. "Come on, we're leaving."

 

Levi held Mikasa's upper arm as they crossed the parking lot toward the car, his lips pursed in frantic thought. "You didn't need to shout that for the entire diner to hear."

 

"I'm sorry," Mikasa whispered, shrugging out of Levi's grasp and looking up at him. "But it just doesn't make sense."

 

"What doesn't make sense?" the raven asked, exasperated. 

 

"Why you stay!" Mikasa's tone was edging toward desperate.

 

"Look, you brat; you're a child. I do not expect you to understand why adults do the things they do. I don't have many other options―"

 

"That's bullshit," Mikasa muttered, bringing her scarf up to cover her lips. Levi nearly laughed at the explicit, but couldn't very well fault her for it. 

 

I have my eight-year-old cousin calling me out on my own bullshit, how could this possibly get any worse?

 

"What's your suggestion, then?" Levi raised his hands in the air, imploring Mikasa. "Let's hear it since you seem to know everything."

 

"Do you want to send me away?" she asked, stunning Levi into surprise.

 

"If I had wanted to do that, I wouldn't have signed you into my custody. So that's evident, don't you think?"

 

"But Erwin will," she continued, ignoring Levi completely. "You know he will."

 

"I won't let him," Levi clarified, his lips forming a thin line. "I'll try to talk some sense into―"

 

"If you do that again, he'll just go after you. I don't want you to get hurt because of me.

 

Her words bellowed, the cool air around them becoming thick. Cars passed them as they stood in the diner parking lot, people walked around them as they argued. What the hell was he doing here, arguing with a child like this? Especially when he knew she was fucking right. Erwin wouldn't see reason and he was more than likely calling him to follow up on his progress of getting rid of the girl. Levi reached up and tangled his fingers into his hair, momentarily tugging for some sort of anchor to reel him back in. Years of allowing himself to be controlled, used and abused; God, just the word inside of his mind made a lump form in his throat. He was no pushover, he had tried fighting back. Who the fuck wouldn't? He wasn't a coward.

 

But at that moment, he felt like one. Because he was more concerned about what Erwin would do rather than listen to Mikasa's words of reasoning. He knew if chose Erwin, he'd be turning his back on her.

 

And he wasn't like his father or his Uncle; he wouldn't turn his back on his only family.

 

Retracting his hands from his hair, Levi brought them to his side. He knelt down to meet Mikasa's level, clearing his throat while asking, "What do you want me to do?"

 

"You should leave him," Mikasa's response was swift. The lump in Levi's throat started to hurt. "There has to be someplace you can go."

 

"Not in Trost," Levi said quickly, sighing. "Definitely not in Sina. The only place I have is..." he trailed off, his eyes widening slightly. "Why do you want to stay with me? I'm not a parent, you should realize this by now. You might be better off with another family."

 

"I don't need you to be a parent, you're still my family. Why did you work so hard last night to defend me?"

 

Levi didn't hesitate with his answer. "Because you deserve a chance to start over."

 

"And so do you."

 

Levi scoffed, though there wasn't any malice in it. This little shit is quick, I'll give her that. She's definitely an Ackerman.

 

"Fine," he said after a few moments. Mikasa's head picked up, surprise evident on her features. "Let's say we do it your way, we start over. Are you sure you're okay with being with me? I'm not exactly an easy person to get along with―"

 

"Levi," Mikasa's voice cut through his ranting, hearing her say his name for the first time. "I trust you."

 

I trust you.


"What are we doing here?" Mikasa asked uneasily, following Levi as they stepped into Trost Bank. The inside was painted with a variety of reds and beiges, a color scheme Levi had grown accustomed to after working there for so long. With Mikasa in tow, he walked through the main lobby and toward his own office.

 

"If we're leaving, I'm going to need to let my co-workers know. And we're obviously going to need some money..." he mused, more so to himself. Although he and Erwin shared a joint account, Levi was never one to be unprepared. He had his own separate account with Trost Bank and intended on draining any funds he had saved in there. He had planned on saving for his own retirement but crossed the option out quickly. If he was going to be taking care of his cousin, he didn't see retirement being something to prepare for anytime soon.

 

He unlocked the door to his office, letting Mikasa step inside first before closing the door behind them. "I'm just going to transfer some money and empty my desk, I shouldn't be long."

 

Mikasa nodded in acknowledgment, her hands behind her back as she looked around the small office. "How long have you been working here?"

 

"About nine years," he replied, his eyes set on his current task. From outside of the office window, Levi could feel someone's eyes on them. He glanced up to see a woman with silver hair and glasses staring at him, quickly taking strides and entering without knocking.

 

"Ackerman? What're you doing here? I thought you said you were taking the day off?" she asked, not yet noticing Mikasa's presence. When she did, however, her brows creased and she turned back to Levi. "Care to explain what's going on?"

 

"This is my cousin, Mikasa," he started, nodding his head toward the girl. "It's been brought to my attention that I'm left to care for her, so to say it's a culture shock would be an understatement."

 

"I... see."

 

"And I'm also going to give you my notice, although, I'd hardly call it a notice seeing as though I'm leaving the city by tonight."

 

The words flowed effortlessly, much to his disbelief. 

 

"Leaving Trost? Levi, what for? And what happened... you have a rather large bruise on your―"

 

Levi stood up swiftly. "I've put a lot of my time and effort into this company, so I need you to do me a final favor―" he took a deep breath. "I want to you put this down as a family emergency, it's the only probable cause for me leaving on such short notice. And I do not want you to tell Erwin Smith I was here."

 

Rico was quiet, letting Levi's words sink in. "Is there something you'd like to talk about, Levi? I'm not going to lie and say I'm not a bit concerned with this rash attitude you have right now."

 

"Nothing you need to worry over. I'm only asking for you to do those two things for me. Erwin will no doubt poke his nose in here, looking for me. I don't want him to know I came here to empty my desk or drain my accounts. I've known you for a long time, Rico and I'm trusting you to help me."

 

There was a hint of urgency in Levi's voice and Rico noticed. She felt her shoulders sag as she reached up to adjust her glasses. "I'll do what you ask, Ackerman. I can't lie and say you haven't brought a lot to the table in your time here. You're not going to tell me what brought on this impulsive decision?"

 

Impulsive. He wanted to laugh at how true that was. A part of him wanted to forget the entire thing and run back to Erwin while the more prominent part of him knew if he didn't walk through this open door now, he'd never get the chance again.

 

When was the last time he had taken a chance?

 

"Her," Levi jerked his chin to where Mikasa was standing, idly teasing the worn ends of her scarf. "That's all you really need to know."


Levi swept through the apartment with an inhuman speed, gathering what was important and leaving behind the rest. Erwin wouldn't be home for another few hours which gave him plenty of time to sort out his personal belongings. 

 

"Grab what's important. With the money I have, I'm sure I can buy whatever you need," he explained to Mikasa while he neatly folded a few articles of clothing and placing them into his luggage. "While you're doing that, I have a phone call I need to make."

 

Mikasa did as she was told, concealing a small smile behind her scarf. Levi couldn't mistake the small look of... excitement she had. He let the notion dissolve as he stepped out to the balcony, leaning against the railing with a heavy sigh. Shit. Am... fuck, am I making the wrong choice? With all my rushing around, I haven't had a single second to get my thoughts together. Am I really prepared to raise a kid by myself?

 

Levi made the final choice of taking Mikasa to Shiganshina, the only place he knew he'd be able to start again. He had a history there, seeing as it was his hometown. His had lived comfortably with his mother for many years before she passed away. After that, he found himself at the mercy of Kenny. It was affordable, scarce enough where if Erwin did decide to come looking for him, he'd have a hard time, and he had support there. Most of his friends stayed in Shiganshina after he left for Trost. If he was going to raise this kid, he was sure as shit going to need some help.

 

Deciding to not let his resolve crumble over his own insecurity, Levi pulled out his phone and tapped on the name of a very close and somewhat eccentric friend.

 

"Levi?!" their voice rang loud enough for Levi to draw to phone away from his ear, his nose scrunching in annoyance. "My God, it's been so long! To what do I owe the pleasure of this surprise? Do you have any idea how many times I've tried calling you?"

 

"Hange," Levi started, not allowing them to continue with their tirade. "I'm going to get right to the point― I'm coming back to Shiganshina tonight." 

Chapter Text

His hands were going numb.

 

He couldn't explain it as he gripped harder on the steering wheel, his knuckles white but no feeling coursing from the action. He ignored it at first, keeping his eyes on the road ahead and occasionally glancing back at Mikasa; who for the most part, stared out the window in silent contemplation. But when his heart starting racing, to the point it started to hurt inside of his chest, his focus began to waver.

 

"Are you alright?" Mikasa asked from the back seat, sitting up a little to glance at Levi.

 

"Yeah," he rushed out, clearing his throat as he felt it was closing up. "Yes... I'm going to get off at the next exit and get some gas."

 

Shiganshina was easily four hours away from Trost and he was about an hour into the drive when he started feeling the strange sensations going through his body. He still had half a tank of gas left, so he wasn't sure who he was fooling when he pulled the vehicle into a small hole-in-the-wall station. He shut off the ignition and turned to his cousin, doing his best to ignore the clammy feeling clinging to his skin. "Do you need anything?"

 

"No," she answered shortly. 

 

"Right," he said while stepping out of the car. "Stay there... I'm going to pay at the pump and make a quick phone call."

 

Ignoring the gas pump completely, Levi's trembling hands reached and dialed Hange, bringing the phone to his ear while shaking out his other hand.

 

"Hi, there! So are you two close yet? If you're close to Rose you should try and―"

 

"I need you shut the fuck up," he breathed. "Because I'm almost a hundred percent sure I'm having a goddamn panic attack."

 

His words came out in a rough snarl, his breath unsteady as he leaned against his car with a shaking hand. "I can't feel my fucking hands, my throat is closing up and my fucking chest―"

 

"Okay, listen here, sweetheart. That's definitely a panic attack. You need to focus on your breathing and you need to focus on reminding yourself that you're okay."

 

Levi let out a strained laugh. "I'm the farthest thing from okay right now, you shit. Fuck..." he clenched at his chest, his pulse racing beneath his hand. 

 

"Keep talking to me. Trust me, it'll help. Where's the little one? Where are you?"

 

"An hour out of Trost," Levi replied, glancing around. "I've got no fucking clue where we are, but I'm standing right outside of the car. Mikasa's sitting inside probably wondering what the hell is wrong with me."

 

"Panic attacks are common under severe stress, have you ever experienced one before?"

 

"No," he let out a steady breath, hoping it would calm him. The more he continued to speak with Hange, the less tingling he felt on his fingertips. "Maybe... fuck, maybe I should turn back around. This was an idiotic thing to do..."

 

"Levi―" Levi was surprised at the commanding tone the Hange used. "Don't you dare go back to him. This right here is showing what kind of hold he has on you and you need to fight it."

 

"It's ten years of my fucking life!" he exclaimed. "Ten years wasted! What the hell am I thinking? Listening to a fucking eight-year-old!"

 

He was hoping nobody inside the convenience store could see him, standing outside and throwing his hands in the air while screaming. He must have been a sight. Hange continued providing soothing words over the phone, letting Levi release whatever was building up inside and it all flooding out at once. He never felt so out of his element, so reckless before and it was exhausting him already. He still had a three-hour drive.

 

"I know you think you've wasted your time, but you haven't. Everything that has led you to find your cousin. You made the right choice, Levi. You're still making the right choice. I know you, hon. You're going to over-think this to the point you'll turn that car around and I will personally come and beat your ass if you even consider it again."

 

The tingling in his palms began to subside, thank fuck. Levi could feel Mikasa's eyes on him and she was harboring a look of concern. 

 

"You'll come back from this. You have so many people here who will help you. This is your chance to not only make a better life for yourself but Mikasa as well. God only knows what the poor girl has been through."

 

Although Mikasa had mentioned Kenny not treating her poorly, he still couldn't fault Hange for their words. He didn't know too much about Mikasa's past but in a sense, they shared a similar thread of dysfunction. He began to breathe deeply, steadying himself once again. Hange was right and he knew they were right. He closed his eyes and let the words wash over him. You'll come back from this.

 

He was thirty-two years old and about to completely piece together his life again. Without Erwin this time.

 

"You still with me, Levi? Are the symptoms getting better?"

 

"Yeah," he answered, his throat feeling constricted and dry. The earlier frantic pounding of his heart was starting to slow to its original rhythm and the tightness in his chest began to loosen. "Shit... I hope this is a one-time thing because that was fucking ridiculous." And terrifying.

 

"Like I said, panic attacks happen from stress. Trauma too. I'm surprised given your history you've never had them before. Just remember that when you have them, you need to breathe deeply. Preferably your own breath, so it'll help the ph balance in your body."

 

"How the hell do you know all of this crap? And that's disgusting."

 

"I read a lot," they replied simply. "You're sounding more like yourself. Maybe take a quick rest before you get back on the road again? Get a drink, some snacks and get back on the road when you're ready. I'm staying up and waiting for you."

 

Levi nodded, rolling his shoulders and looking around. He was grateful that for the most part, this area was deserted. No other cars around except for an old sedan parked in front of the convenience shop. He straightened his black blazer, running a hand through his hair while saying, "I think I'm all right now. You're probably right, I'll wait a few minutes before jumping on the highway again. I shouldn't be there any later than ten o'clock."

 

"I'll see you then, shorty. But if you need me, you call me. Understood?"

 

"Understood," Levi replied before hanging up. Whether Hange was on the borderline of insanity, they were one of the closest friends Levi had. He was thankful for their intervention, otherwise, Levi wasn't sure how long that attack would have lasted. They solidified his resolve to keep moving forward. He finally pulled himself together enough to open the back passenger door, glancing down at Mikasa while saying, "Sorry about that."

 

She nodded, her eyes shimmering with an emotion Levi doesn't understand. 

 

"We didn't eat dinner... not that eating greasy gas station food is a healthy substitute, but we'll grab something here and be on our way. Sound good?"

 

"It's fine," Mikasa assented, stepping out of the car when Levi offered his hand. She took it, balancing once her feet touched the concrete. Her dark eyes were steady as she gazed at Levi, wanting to say something but not sure how to get it out.

 

Levi noticed Mikasa's hesitation and huffed, looking down while asking, "What is it?"

 

"It helps to touch something..." she murmured and Levi's brows furrowed.

 

"Excuse me?"

 

"During panic attacks," she clarified, adjusting her scarf as if tousled in the wind. "It helps to touch or pet something, like an animal... or something soft. It helps with the tingling."

 

Levi's facial expressions very rarely changed from bored to downright inscrutable, so when his face crossed with surprise, Mikasa simply hid half of her face beneath her scarf and said, "I'm sorry."

 

"Don't be," Levi said quickly. "How the hell do you know anything about anxiety at your age?"

 

That was a stupid question. She was Kenny's daughter.

 

 

"Nevermind," he muttered, reaching for her hand again. "Let's get something to eat. After that, we'll get out of this shithole. We'll be in Shiganshina soon and I don't want to stop again unless it's absolutely necessary."

 

Mikasa grasped his hand in turn, watching as Levi glanced at his phone and swallowed heavily. He didn't comment as he took his phone and tossed it into the backseat; closing the door and leading Mikasa into the convenience store without another word.

 

Incoming Call: Erwin


 Everything felt the same, yet, there was so much that had changed. The road was scarce of streetlights, winding through a towering display of lush, green trees; some of which were losing their color due to the fall season approaching. The pavement whirled around with guard rails on its side, which Levi was surprised to see. Last time he had been driving through here, there were no guard rails along the long road. How many years had it been since he last visited? He drove accordingly, feeling familiar once he had reached the area. Shiganshina still had its same produce stands along the side of the road, which Levi could track back to his early childhood. There were still some lonely houses sitting along the mountains edge, some lights dimly lit inside to remind Levi that there were still people living there.

 

When Levi had left Shiganshina, he sought out a different life. Something different from the secluded and small existence he had come to know growing up. But as he drove through the familiar country roads, it all came rushing back to him. The simplicity and calm that Shiganshina offered. His entire past was laid here and he felt a strong tendril of uneasiness at being back to dig through his roots.

 

"It's so... quiet here," Mikasa observed, staring out the window. She leaned against the door, her eyes wide with wonder. "It's beautiful."

 

"Wait until you see it during the day," Levi commented back, never letting his pale eyes leave the road. You'd have to be an idiot to get distracted in these parts. "Especially in the fall. The leaves will be changing very soon."

 

"You grew up here?" Mikasa inquired.

 

Levi nodded, surprised to see a car passing him on the other side of the road. "I left when I was eighteen. But yes... this was home at one point. For me and Kenny."

 

Mikasa didn't comment any further, silently watching as Levi drove them through the area. Hange's house wasn't far from here, he knew. When the road began to straighten, Levi sat up a bit to look at himself in the rearview mirror. He grimaced at the large bruise forming on his cheek, knowing Hange would see it immediately. He sighed, knowing he would be explaining everything within a matter of minutes.

 

"Hange is a bit... extreme, to put it lightly. Bat-shit fucking crazy. But I've known them for over fifteen years and I have no doubt they'll help us. We're just settling in tonight. We'll worry about the heavy shit tomorrow."

 

"Levi."

 

Levi's eyes glanced back at Mikasa momentarily, arching a thin brow in question.

 

"Thank you for this," she said in a soft, quiet tone.

 

Levi didn't know what to say, his throat suddenly tight. He nodded, bringing his eyes back to the road. "You're welcome."


 

Levi wasn't surprised when he pulled into a familiar gravel driveway, someone was already standing on the front porch. They were practically bouncing in the rocking chair, jumping up when they noticed his headlights. Levi sighed, putting the car into park while he took a moment to gaze at Hange's home. The outside of it was downright deplorable, shingles missing on the roof and a few patches of grass dying in the front year. But Levi knew Hange kept their house in order. There were a variety of small gardens in the front, lightly fenced off. He could see several windchimes strumming along the deck and plenty of bird feeders and baths. Hange hadn't changed one damn bit.

 

"Leviiiii!" 

 

Oh.

 

 

Levi hadn't even opened his car door fully before he was pressed against it, warm arms surrounding him in a tight embrace. Mikasa stepped out of the vehicle, a small array of amusement in her eyes. Levi scoffed.

 

"There, there; calm down, would you? You'll fucking scare her."

 

"But it's been so long," Hange responded, pulling Levi close. He finally pushed them away, gently. "Gosh, it took you two long enough to get―"

 

Their words were cut off as Hange brought a hand up and touched Levi's cheek. Levi's lips tightened, moving to shove the other away once more. Hange didn't budge though, keeping a firm hand on him. "That son of a bitch," they breathed.

 

Fuck, not now. 

 

"Stop," he ordered, finally snatching their hand and moving it away. "Not now, alright? I just drove over five fucking hours and we're exhausted." When Hange didn't move, Levi added, "Let's get her situated and we can talk."

 

"You better bet your ass we're talking," Hange murmured, finally shifting their eyes to Mikasa. "Look at you! Goodness, you're just adorable. Mikasa, right?"

 

Mikasa nodded shyly, reaching and gripping the fabric of Levi's trousers.

 

"Don't be shy, my dear. I'm Hange! Otherwise known as this grumps best friend!"

 

"Tsk," Levi began under his breath, laying a reassuring hand on Mikasa's shoulder. "Unfortunately, they're right. I seem to attract the most wobbly of characters."

 

"You better hush or I'll drop you right here," they threatened, reaching a hand out toward the young girl. "I bet you're tired. Why don't we leave this old man to get your bags and I'll show you where you'll be sleeping, okay?"

 

Mikasa glanced at Levi for purchase and felt relieved when Levi nodded, taking her hand and releasing her grip. "It's alright, I'll be right behind you. Everything is fine right now, understand?"

 

Mikasa nodded and allowed Hange to lead her inside, chatting away about some nonsense Levi couldn't understand. He stood out by his car, listening to the sharp sound of tree frogs and crickets in the distance. It was so unsettlingly quiet out here and it shook him to his core. He couldn't believe he was actually here, back to where everything had started. He didn't know what tomorrow would bring or even what the night ahead held for him... but when Mikasa had uttered those small words of thanks, he couldn't help but believe he had done something right.

 

As he unloaded the car, his slate eyes immediately caught his cellphone still tucked away in the back seat. Erwin had attempted to call him several times which meant he knew Levi had packed important items and left the house. Twitching fingers reached out for it, picking it up to see several missed calls and even text messages. Levi was so tired, not sure if tonight was the time to deal with this. Hange was already waiting for an explanation and he was steadily approaching his limit.

 

He stuffed his phone into his back pocket, reaching and retrieving his and Mikasa's belongings. He would get Mikasa comfortable, speak with Hange and then phone Erwin. 

 

But right now, he needed to fucking sit and collect his vast whirlwind of thoughts. 

Chapter Text

Levi braced himself against one of the rocking chairs on Hange's porch, sighing into his steaming cup of chamomile tea. He took a tentative sip as his eyes roamed over the darkness of the forest surrounding Hange's property. He had forgotten how disturbingly quiet it was here, growing used to the sounds of horns blaring or music streaming from some of the local shops near his apartment in Trost. Here it was... so silent. It was nearing eleven thirty at night once they had brought all of the belongings inside Hange's house. Mikasa had opted to sit up and watch television, content after Hange had prepared a small snack of carrots and hummus. Levi could have gagged, never particularly enjoying that sort of thing.

 

"You know, normally children enjoy something like chips or cookies or some shit."

 

Hange stepped out from behind the screen door, holding their own cup of tea while flicking the porch light on. Levi's eyes narrowed briefly as he adjusted to the brightness that shined over the darkness. "I can tell just by looking at her she isn't an ordinary child."

 

Levi certainly couldn't deny that fact, grunting as a response.

 

Hange moved to sit next to Levi, leaning forward with their cup of tea in hand. They wrapped their hands around it, glancing down while saying, "Talk to me, Levi."

 

There was a thick silence before Levi said, "I'm sure you've already figured out what's going on."

 

"I can put together what's going on, but what I want to know is why you've waited this long to do something about it."

 

"I..." Levi's grip tightened on his teacup. "I honestly don't have a plausible answer to that question."

 

"Maybe that's the wrong question to ask, then. How about you tell me how long this has been happening?"

 

His face twitched as he responded, "About six years."

 

Hange looked at Levi incredulously. "Six years?" 

 

"Maybe if you scream it a little louder, your neighbors up the street will hear. Jesus."

 

"But Levi― I mean, why did you keep this from all of us? From me?"

 

Levi could hear the hurt clenched in Hange's voice and he couldn't bring his face up to look at them. Shame coiled inside of his chest. "It isn't something I go around telling people, you dip shit. In case you haven't noticed, it's not something I'm particularly proud of."

 

"I know that!" they argued. "But Levi... we could have helped you. I can't even believe Erwin out of all people―he always seemed so well put together, I'm having a hard time picturing him putting his hands on you."

 

"It's spontaneous," Levi began explaining. "Most of the time, I didn't see it coming. He wasn't always like that. I fell for him relatively fast and we made things work for a long time. I felt... fuck, I had a taste of normalcy for the first time in my life and I practically basked in it. I partially blame his upbringing, knowing his father pulled the same shit with his mother. But another part of me blames myself."

 

Hange's lips formed a thin line, tightly asking, "How the hell is this your fault?"

 

"Because I allowed it," Levi sighed, sipping his tea with silent defeat. "I allowed it for so long that it became routine for me. I can man up to my own mistakes, you know that. I wasn't about to come crawling back here like some pitiful imbecile."

 

"Your pride will be the death of you, I swear to God."

 

"I'm here now, aren't I?"

 

"Yes, you are. I could smother that child inside with so much love for bringing you back here."

 

"The first night I brought her home, he was waiting," Levi began to explain. "As soon as I mentioned she was my cousin, his expression changed. He was so bent on not letting her stay and I didn't understand it at first. I think I do now; he sees me and anyone associated with me as toxic. He probably thought he was doing me a service by staying with me. That's what is beginning to feel like, at any rate. I'm not a fucking charity case that needs fixing and neither is Mikasa. I didn't want him looking at her the same way he looked at me."

 

"Do you love him still?"

 

Levi fell into a bout of silence, staring out at the vacant lot. "I'm not sure," he said honestly. "If this is what love feels like, then I want to be done with it. If I'm going to fall through with this, I can't look back."

 

"I'll help you," Hange stood up from where they were sitting, kneeling in front of Levi and grasping his hands. "Every step of the way. You're like a brother to me, you shrimp. Petra, Oluo, Mike, Nanaba; all of us are here to help you and especially Mikasa. I know we're not related by blood, but we're still family. If I need to give you a swift kick in the ass to keep you on track, I'll do it."

 

Levi chuckled, shaking his head while averting his gaze. His throat felt tight and he wasn't sure what to say. "I don't know how to be a parent, Hange."

 

"Nobody does," they responded, giving Levi's hand a few pats before rising again. "But you're the best chance that little girl has at having some sort of stability in her life."

 

"I find that comment condescending," Levi muttered.

 

"I'm being serious," Hange swiftly replied. "You know what it's like to be in her shoes. Now is your chance to pave a different road for the two of you."

 

"I don't even know where the hell to start."

 

"You already know you're free to stay here as long as you want, but I have a feeling you won't like that. You enjoying your space. We'll look around for houses for rent around here and get Mikasa to the family clinic here. She'll need to get a physical before starting school here."

 

Levi hadn't even thought that far ahead, letting him know just how unequipped he was. But he found himself nodding anyway. "Right, that sounds doable. I packed all of the documents with her past records on it. Hopefully, they'll be able to transfer all of her medical papers here."

 

"Petra is one hell of a mother, but you already know that. Her and Oluo have two daughters so if you ever needed some guidance, you can definitely ask them."

 

"I take it they all know I'm here?"

 

"Of course," Hange grinned. Levi scoffed.

 

"Can't keep your fucking mouth shut for the life of you. At any rate, I'll keep all of that in mind. We'll go with your plan and start looking for houses. You're right, I don't think I can share a living space with you. Sorry, not sorry."

 

Hange punched him lightly on the shoulder, laughing quite loudly as it echoed in the forest. Levi chuckled quietly himself, feeling some of the tension from earlier beginning to subside. As he took another quiet taste of his tea, which had started to cool, he felt his phone vibrating in his back pocket. It was loud enough for Hange to hear and they furrowed their brows in concern.

 

"Is it him?"

 

"Probably," Levi murmured while reaching and pulling out the device. It was Erwin, alright. "I can't keep avoiding him, he needs to know why I left."

 

"You don't want to wait until morning? You look like you're about to fall over, hon."

 

"No, the longer I push this off the worse it'll get. I may as well just get it over with now."

 

Hange smiled sympathetically, nodding while saying, "I'll leave you to it, then. I'll go spend some time with Mikasa."

 

They went back inside, closing the screen door quietly to avoid the noise. Levi let out a deep breath and placed his teacup on the arm of the rocking chair. He stood up and walked out to the gravel driveway, the rocks crunching beneath his feet as he made his way. He stopped by his car and leaned against it, collecting his resolve before tapping Erwin's name to phone him back.

 

When the line clicked, Levi fought down a shiver. 

 

"Levi?" Erwin's voice drifted to his ear, making Levi close his eyes.

 

"Erwin," he responded, not very sure on how to start the conversation.

 

"Where the hell are you?" There is was, Levi thought. The deep, threatening tone Erwin took on when he was furious.

 

He took a deep breath.

 

"You don't need to worry about that," Levi said swiftly. "All you need to know is I'm not coming back. I'm tired of this, Erwin."

 

"This is foolish," Erwin chuckled and it made Levi's face twist with distaste. He hated that disdainful laugh Erwin would use when he thought he was right. "Absolutely foolish. Just come home, Levi. What do you think you'll do without me?"

 

"More than I've probably done in the past ten years, you self-righteous prick. Or are we going to forget what the hell happened last night?"

 

"You're being over-dramatic. You forced my actions."

 

"Forced? How the fuck did I force you to leave a goddamn purple welt on my face?"

 

"By arguing with my reasoning. Bringing that child here was irresponsible on your part. Do you really want to subject that girl to your influence?"

 

Levi wanted to laugh, he felt it bubbling up in his throat. He had never heard anyone speak so lowly of him while keeping such an upbeat tone to their voice. 

 

"Oh, I get it now. You think that by me raising Mikasa, I'll corrupt her? Who the fuck do you think you're talking to? I'm not some rabid animal that's on the loose, I'm a human being. How dare you throw my past in my face like that? Manhandle me whenever it's convenient for you."

 

"Someone needs to keep you in check, Levi. As I said, you've forced me multiple times to do so."

 

Levi could hear his pulse, his hand trembling with rage as it held the phone. He felt he could've split the device in two if he applied enough pressure. Had this man ever loved him? What had been the point of their relationship? For Erwin to fix him? Levi considered himself many things, but he was not a terrible person. He may not have been the most upstanding man alive but dammit, he didn't deserve this. Not from someone he thought he could trust to always be by his side and not against him.

 

When Levi felt he could properly speak again, he closed his eyes and said, "Don't call me again. Don't think of me and don't you fucking dare come looking for me. This ends now, Erwin. We're done."

 

With whatever strength he could muster, he ended the call before Erwin could say anything else. Levi was breathing heavily through his nose, staring at the phone with wide eyes. He thumbed at the side, successfully powering it off. He didn't want to imagine what would happen if he had to speak to the man a second time, the first already mentally draining him beyond all reason. His labored breathing began to steady, doing whatever was in his power to regain his composure. He was hours away from the man and it had been so long since Levi spoke to him in such a way. Usually, Levi remained impassive and clear of any conflicting emotions. But this anger that licked every inch of him, this rage; he didn't want it to consume him.

 

He wouldn't succumb to this. 


When Levi entered back into the house, Hange immediately noticed how off-put he looked. They gave him a sympathetic smile, eyes crinkling caringly. "You alright?"

 

"Never better," the man responded, taking his phone and tossing it carelessly on the coffee table. Hange was moving around the small kitchen of their home, putting some plates away and placing Mikasa's snack back into the fridge.

 

"I take it the conversation didn't go well?"

 

"I'm not in the mood to discuss it," Levi commented dryly, walking up to Hange and placing his now empty mug into the kitchen sink. "All I know is first thing in the morning, I'm changing my phone number."

 

"That bad, huh?"

 

Levi frowned deeply, leaning momentarily onto the counter and sighing. Hange cupped his left shoulder, offering a short-lived assurance. "It'll be okay. You're here now. He can't do anything to you right now. You're stronger than you realize, hon."

 

"Tch," Levi shook his head, bowing his head for a moment as he clenched his eyes shut. Hange kept their hand in place, trying to give the man some sort of comfort. But they didn't want to over-step. 

 

"Why don't you get some sleep? It's late. I'm canceling classes tomorrow so you'll have me here to show you around. There are plenty of houses to buy here, still in fairly good condi―"

 

"I'm thinking of renting," Levi admitted. "I don't feel like dealing with the hassle of maintenance."

 

"I get it and I can't argue. So go check on Mikasa and take a load off. You remember the couch pulls out. I'd offer you my room, but I know you pretty well. You wouldn't step foot in it."

 

"You've got that right," Levi replied, straightening himself up and preparing to go down the hall. He cocked his head briefly, glancing at Hange. "Thank you for this. I know I'm an uptight asshole, but just know everything you do for me is appreciated."

 

"Of course," Hange smiled knowingly, resting their elbow on the counter. "I'm here for the two of you. I have a feeling you're not the only one in need of assurance right now."

 

Levi took that as a cue. He slipped out of his shoes, resting them near the front door. All of the luggage was sitting inside of the living room. He rolled Mikasa's carry-on with him toward the back of the house and toward the spare room. It was early in the morning at this point. He had spent a half an hour alone outside throwing punches against his car and pulling his hair until he felt his scalp was sore. He couldn't find a healthy way to channel to outrageous anger he felt. It was too dark outside to tell if he had dented his car or not. 

 

He knocked briefly at the spare room door, waiting for Mikasa's soft utterance of 'come in' before entering. Mikasa was laying on her stomach, clad in her pajama's and skimming through channels on the television. The bed was smaller than what she had slept in his guest room the night prior, a simple twin mattress with crisp looking sheets and blankets. He was thankful Hange was up to date with current technology. Shiganshina was known for being quite the rural area, so many residents didn't bother with getting anything other than basic cable. Levi was a bit spoiled in that department. He didn't know what he'd ever do without Netflix or online streaming services. Times had changed though.

 

Mikasa glanced up, folding her arms under her chin. "Are you alright?"

 

"I should be asking you that," Levi replied, setting her luggage down on the floor next to the bed. 

 

"I heard you yelling outside," Mikasa stated. "And I'm pretty sure I heard you hitting something."

 

"Damn," Levi muttered, rubbing gingerly at his sore knuckles. "You weren't supposed to see or hear that."

 

"It's okay," she assured him. She sat up on her knees, her small fingers bringing a lock of her onyx hair behind one of her ears. "Was it... you talked to Erwin, didn't you?"

 

"Tch, you could say that. I'm changing my phone number tomorrow, I don't want to hear that bastards voice again."

 

Levi took a seat on the edge of the mattress, bringing his face into his hands during a rare moment of insecurity. "Look, I need to know that you're going to be alright with all of this change. It's not too late to go back to Trost. You're young and sometimes you think you want one thing but in actuality, you want something else entirely."

 

"Are you trying to convince me or yourself?"

 

Touche.

 

"Not bad," Levi admitted reluctantly, lifting his face to glance at his cousin. "I mean it, though. If this is too much, we can go back."

 

"After everything we just did to get here? Levi," she scooted closer, taking his hand into hers. Levi stiffened at the counter. He hadn't been expecting it. "I know I'm young, but you know I've already been through a lot. I've lost so much already. Instead of turning away from the responsibility, you took me in because you know what that feels like. So I know you're not going to abandon me. I told you yesterday I trust you and I meant it. Maybe this is a chance for us to make something for ourselves."

 

Levi blinked at her, reeling at the words that left her lips. "How the fuck are you eight-years-old?"

 

Mikasa let out a giggle at that, the most cheerful sound Levi had ever heard from the young girl. "So I've gotten my point across?"

 

"Oh, you definitely did. If that's how you feel, then you should start getting ready for bed. We're going to go house-hunting with Hange first thing in the morning. I'm not sure about you... but I'm not particularly keen on the idea of living with someone else. Even if they are my friend. Houses here are cheap. They sell and rent fast. After that, we'll make you an appointment for a checkup. How long has it been since you've been to the doctor?"

 

"I went a little over a year ago," she admitted quietly. 

 

"Then you're definitely going. They'll need to verify you're up to date on your vaccines and shit before letting you in school."

 

Mikasa's face fell at that. "School?"

 

"Yes, school. Don't give me that face, you have to go to school. Didn't you go back in Sina?"

 

"I did but... I didn't like it. Not too many students really cared for me."

 

Levi understood her apprehension. He sighed, patting her hand. "It'll be fine. This is a small town and most of the people here are pretty kind. At least when I lived here. Kenny and I were pretty well known here back then. You're the one who fearlessly pushed me to come here so you're going to let something as simple as going to school intimidate you?"

 

Mikasa's mouth set in a determined line. "No."

 

"Good," Levi approved, ruffling her hair and causing the young girl to huff. Levi stood up, stretching momentarily while turning back to Mikasa. "Get some sleep, alright? I'm going to be in the living room. It's been a long few days and I'm fucking exhausted."

 

Mikasa nodded, making a mess of the sheets and blankets as she wrapped herself in them. Levi wasn't sure if she wanted the light on or off, so he decided to leave it for the time being. She seemed perfectly content laying there so Levi made his way out of the room. As he did, he heard Mikasa utter a soft 'goodnight'. 

 

As Levi said a quiet goodnight back, his heart stuttered.


 

He tried to lay down and fall asleep, he really did. But his mind betrayed him in every way. It was almost two in the morning and sleep was not gracing him on this night. It wasn't unusual for him to be unable to fall asleep, but he felt an anxiety stirring in the depths of his chest he hadn't felt in quite some time. It made it difficult to allow himself to fall into a simple state of consciousness.

 

He sighed and tossed the covers off, standing up and walking away from the fold-out couch. Hange and Mikasa were asleep finally, leaving him and a now-rare moment of solitude. Having others around him kept him busy but at that moment, he was left to his minds mercy. He stalked over to the front door and unlocked it, opening it and soon pushing the screen door to reveal the early morning sky. The same rural noises poured from the forest, vacant road and field around him. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet, successfully finding two cigarettes stashed inside.

 

It was a rarity that he smoked, only common in times of severe stress. Erwin had never approved of it, a black eye a result of that disapproval at one point. But his anxiety was eating away at him, consuming his every thought. Of Erwin. Mikasa. Shiganshina. Kenny. Fuck, he couldn't even focus.

 

He brought a stretched cigarette to his lips, reaching for a book of matches in his pocket and striking quickly against the box to ignite it. The overwhelming scent of tobacco filled his senses and soon he sighed, relaxing as he exhaled a plume of smoke. It drifted into the late, October air and floated away. He envied the stream, wishing he could do the same. His words with Mikasa had strangely fueled him but also frightened him. He didn't know what was ahead of the two of them but he knew deep down he couldn't turn back. 

 

With a new boldness, Levi examined his wallet and took note of the small picture that was placed on the left side of it. It was a picture of Erwin and him from nearly seven years ago. He had never been a very sentimental man, but he felt a swell of pride when he carried the picture with him everywhere he went. That pride had warped into something unrecognizable; foreign to Levi and he wanted nothing more than to see it burn.

 

Fuck him.

 

He flicked another match, feeling a tendril of deep satisfaction flow through him as he extracted the picture from his wallet and held it into view. He leveled it with his sharp gaze, trying to quell his deep fulfillment as the shaky flame caught the edges of the picture. It successfully began tearing at the sides before it spread right down the middle. Erwin had been leaning in, placing a soft kiss on Levi's cheek. Levi was rolling his eyes, but otherwise was very indulgent and pressing against the older man with a subtle smile. Everything was simple and prepossessing at the moment of that capture.

 

But now, Levi was more than content to sit and watch it all burn. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, everything would begin anew.

Chapter Text

"...I don't like it," Levi commented dryly, tilting his head to examine the house before him. It was small, uncomfortably so. The house was a sickeningly bright yellow, too much to where Levi nearly squinted his eyes. The outside of it was covered in thick moss and fading green, indicating it hadn't been properly looked after in quite some time. It desperately needed a power-washing or a tsunami to hit it. The property wasn't very large, but that wasn't Levi's main focus of concern. He wanted something stable, comfortable and decent. He wasn't an extravagant man, no matter what he and Erwin had purchased together. With his name officially off of the lease, Levi now had no choice but to stick to his decisions. 

 

Mikasa remained silent next to Levi, crossing his arms and tilting her head as well. Hange had roamed somewhere along the property, possibly speaking to the landlord. "What do you think?"

 

"Me?" Mikasa inquired, surprised.

 

"Yes, you," Levi scoffed, shaking his head. "You'll be living in this house too. Your opinion matters."

 

"Well..." she began, scrunching her purple sweater into her hands. "It's... not what I was expecting."

 

"A lot of houses around here a pretty run-down, so don't be too surprised if our choices are limited. It's a good thing it isn't summer, otherwise, we probably would be shit out of luck. Tourists and all." Levi adjusted his long, dark coat. His shoes tapped against the dirt driveway beneath them while adding, "So I'll take that as a no?"

 

Mikasa frowned and slowly shook her head. Levi sighed, calling for Hange's attention. 

 

"What's up?" they asked, tearing their attention away from the landlord. 

 

"Let's move on. Neither of us is really interested in this one."

 

They drove around for over an hour, using their phones as guides to what was for rent in the surrounding area. Shiganshina was a rural area but it was still fairly large ground to cover since so much of it was spread out. Levi was close to giving up and pushed his phone back into his pocket. "This is bullshit. There has to be one decent place around here. I already know there aren't apartments close to here and I'm in no mood to commute over forty-five minutes to come out here."

 

"Hmmm..." Hange tapped their finger against their chin, attempting to brainstorm while steering their 97' Chevy Blazer down the twining roads. "You know, Pixis had mentioned the last time I saw him he had several houses for rent. Maybe you'll have some luck talking to him?"

 

"Since when does Pixis own homes?"

 

"Since his father died and he left him a damn goldmine of houses for rent. He owns almost the entire neighborhood outside of his bar."

 

"Shit, that bastard must be living easy," Levi commented, staring out the window and up at the trees passing his vision. The brilliant golds, tangerines, and reds blurred together as they passed. "Well, we don't have many other options. And nothing to lose, for that matter. Would he care if we brought her in?" Levi jerked his thumb behind the passenger seat toward Mikasa.

 

"Psh," Hange lips quivered at the sound. "He could give two hoots if she comes in. He'd probably be thrilled to see the two of you."

 

"Still a drunk, I'm sure."

 

"May-be," Hange sang out, maneuvering the truck down the next turn. 

 

"I'll never understand how that man owns a bar," Levi mused, shaking his head. "Fuck it, let's go talk to him.


It wasn't long before Hange pulled the truck into a gravel lot, revealing the small, secluded bar with the sign hanging overhead 'P's Brigade'. It was surrounded by towering trees with a vast array of colors above. Only a few cars littered the parking lot, seeing as though it was a weekday, there wasn't too much business. Levi could remember back when he had lived there that this was a comfortable and relatively familiar place that most of the town gathered at. It was familiar and it was quiet for the most part. Levi had known Pixis since he was a child, famous for his eccentric and brazen personality. He was a kind man, although, slightly off the hinges in certain areas.

 

They all exited the vehicle, Levi gazing up in silence. How many years had it been since he had visited here? It was rare that he and Erwin went to bars. Mostly fine dining and high-end restaurants. Levi couldn't help but admit he missed the atmosphere of the private club. They walked up to the heavy door, strolling through and Hange moving first to sign them in. The inside was dimly lit with neon signs, a few tables, and chairs littering the main room. The bar was a deep chestnut brown, slick and moving from the door to the end wall. There were snack machines and a cigarette dispenser off to the far right. Beyond the bar area, there were steps that led down to a few pool tables. Plasma's sat along the far walls of the bar, the back walls of the main room and one was in the pool area. Beyond there was a door that led to a patio area, revealing an open yard with tables and chairs. There was a patch of grass that also had horseshoes and cornhole equipment. 

 

It couldn't possibly get more familiar. Levi had to remember this is where he grew up. This was where he would be staying now. He felt like an outsider.

 

"I'll be damned," a slurred voice poured from the side of the bar. 

 

Levi walked behind Hange, Mikasa treading closely as he made himself present. Levi chuckled, despite himself, leaning against the bar while saying, "Still drinking on the job?"

 

"Depends," Pixis answered, holding a flask proudly against his chest. "Still haven't grown any taller yet?"

 

"Bastard," Levi muttered, shaking his head while suppressing a grin. He removed his coat, draping it over one of the chairs. 

 

There were only two other patrons inside of the bar, which helped Levi to relax. Mikasa seemed uncomfortable, though. Pixis had taken a quick notice to her, offering a disarming smile. "Who might this young lady be?"

 

"My cousin," Levi said shortly, placing a hand on her shoulder. "So do me a favor and be nice, would you? Her names Mikasa."

 

"Your cousin...?" Pixis mused questionably, his hand going a bit slack on his flask. His wrinkled gaze traveled to Levi. "That would mean..."

 

"Kenny," Levi didn't miss a beat. Hange had moved to take a seat, offering their hand to Mikasa to help her find a place at the bar. "Do I really need to explain further?"

 

Pixis let out a roar of laughter, nearly falling over. "Didn't think he had it in him. He was always a firecracker, that man."

 

Levi ran a hand through his hair. "That's one of the nicer ways of putting it, to be fucking honest."

 

Pixis held one hand up in surrender as Levi continued, "I'm not here to discuss him, though."

 

"Oh?" Pixis responded, somewhat intrigued. "Well then, make yourselves comfortable. How about you tell me what I can get for you, little lady?"

 

Mikasa's eyes averted to Levi, looking at him with a swarm of confusion before steadying herself. She sat up straight and played with her scarf. "Gingerale."

 

"Coming right up," Pixis said kindly, his eyes traveling to Levi. "What about you?"

 

"Fireball," Levi said without hesitation. It had been a while since he had a decent bit of liquor and he wasn't driving. God knows he needed it. Pixis's attention turned to Hange shortly after that and Levi took that opportunity to move closer to his cousin, looking down at her while saying, "He's a bit on the strange side, but he's a good man. I've known him almost all of my life. Don't be nervous."

 

Their drinks were prepared and Levi took a steady breath in, looking down at the caramel liquid inside of the small shot glass. He picked it up and tilted his head back quickly, letting the liquor burn against his throat. It went down smoothly, luckily. Pixis remembered certain liquors were best served chilled. He slammed the shot glass down with a sigh. They weren't here for a good time, although, that had definitely helped to loosen him up. Before he could open his mouth to speak, Hange had beat him to it.

 

"So, Pixis, dear," they began, leaning their elbows onto the wooden bar. "We're here on official business."

 

"Is that so? Well, don't keep an old man in the dark." 

 

"It just so happens that Levi is looking for a house to rent and I've heard you're just the man to talk to."

 

Pixis hummed, taking their discarded glasses and placing them in the sink behind him. "Is that right? So you're coming back here for good, Levi? I thought you were sitting pretty in Trost?"

 

Levi's bottom lip retracted between his teeth, an involuntary reaction that he wanted to curse himself for. "I'll be straight with you, it doesn't matter what was happening. I'm here now and in need of a stable home. Hange tells me you've got a line of houses pretty much falling out of your ass."

 

Pixis laughed again, throwing his head back while tapping his hand against the bar. "As blunt as ever, I see. They'd be right, though. When my father passed, he had several properties he left to me in his will. So I manage what I can. If you're serious about renting, I have something in mind that may be right up your alley. Spacious, affordable and most of all clean."

 

Well, Levi couldn't deny he liked the sound of that and if Mikasa's hopeful expression was anything to go by, she did as well.

 

"You've captured my interest, old man. When are you able to break away from this dust bucket?" 

 

"Give me ten minutes," he answered shortly, placing his flask on the counter and walking over to one of the customers leaning over the bar. 


True to his word, Pixis handed over a set of keys to one of the patrons, instructing to lock up behind him while he showed them the property. Levi arched a brow at that, unsure if any of the two men inside of the bar could be trusted. Pixis seemed unaffected, merely ushering them outside and to the gravel lot. Levi figured they'd be piling up into Hange's truck but was surprised when Pixis led them across the lot and toward the main road. 

 

"We're walking?"

 

Pixis chuckled. "You'll find this house is rather close."

 

Levi glanced behind him at Hange, who simply shrugged while keeping Mikasa to her left and away from the road. The grass they were walking through was tall, much to Levi's annoyance. Once they crossed the patch, Levi momentarily stopped walking when they hit a small, paved road. In front of them was a large, salmon-colored house with a yard that was easily two acres. There were trees surrounding it, offering it a deep shadow of shade from the sun. There was a front stoop and a private entrance for vehicles. Although the front of the house could have used some tender, loving care; it wasn't run down like the previous house had been. Matter of fact, it held a certain quaint charm. As they edged closer to the back of the house, he noticed a large backyard as well. The property was massive with two other entrances to the inside.

 

How the hell did I miss all of this one the way here? When the hell did all these houses get built?

 

Sensing Levi's confusion, Pixis offered, "This house was built shortly after you left but I'm sure you never noticed all of the others behind it?"

 

Levi shook his head, eyes narrowing while saying, "Can't say I had. Never thought to venture back here."  

 

There was a line of several smaller, but still equally charming, houses down the short, paved road. "So you own all of these?"

 

"Seems so," Pixis said. "My old man did a good job at keeping up with them. I do what I can. So far I've had nothing but honest renters and I can assume you're just as prompt as they are."

 

Hange whistled, clasping their hands excitedly. "I've passed this house on so many different occasions but I've never had the chance to drive up and look at it. It's adorable! If I didn't own my house, I'd probably just snag it from you, shorty."

 

"Psh," Levi huffed, averting his silver orbs to his cousin. "So?"

 

Mikasa returned his gaze and Levi could see an array of hopefulness in their dark depths. "Can we look inside?"

 

Pixis was already reaching for his keys, smiling softly as he did. "Of course."


The floors were an unfinished hardwood, which Levi was silently thankful for. Easy cleaning. It was a three bedroom, two bath which was also a blessing in disguise. Since he was now Mikasa's legal guardian, it meant that somewhere in the future he'd be presented with typical female problems. Sharing a bathroom wasn't something Levi was keen on doing and wanted to offer Mikasa the space she deserved. The rooms were all open and spacious, a detached laundry room that had its own door to the backyard. The kitchen was also easy to move around, unlike the small and cramped one he and Erwin shared at their apartment.  

 

Not bad. 

 

After waltzing around, taking in the different rooms and examining the house for any damage, Levi was surprisingly pleased. It was a rarity to see Mikasa so expressive, following behind Hange and barely able to contain the giddiness she was trying to hide. Each day, Mikasa continued to surprise him. She was slowly allowing others in, letting them see her true colors. For being Kenny's daughter, she was making greater strides than Levi ever had. He felt pride swell in his chest, silently grateful he could offer her something that made her this happy. There were bay doors in the middle room, which Levi could only identify as a sitting room that led to a very spacious wooden deck.

 

"How much a month should be my next question?" Levi said, his voice echoing inside of the house. Mikasa's eyes widened and Hange hid a grin behind their closed fist.

 

"Usually, I'd say eight-hundred. That's typically the going rate for the size of the lot and house. But for you and your adorable cousin, I'll knock off two-hundred."

 

Levi considered this carefully, very much appreciative of the offer. He looked at Hange and then Mikasa, who was practically bouncing where she stood.

 

How the hell can I turn this down? Look at her.

 

"Well, then," Levi reached inside the back of his trousers for his checkbook. "Let's finalize this."


 

They spent the night again at Hange's house. Seeing as though they had no furniture to work with, it meant spending another night or two at their house. Mikasa didn't seem to mind and Levi wasn't going to complain. Hange had stepped out, offering to get dinner from one of the local diners in the area. Mikasa was currently browsing through the laptop, exploring the internet (Which Levi glanced down at the screen every now and then, observing to make sure she wasn't looking up anything she wasn't supposed to) while he sifted through his bag for sweatpants and a long-sleeved shirt. It was nearing seven in the evening and he was exhausted. He was proud of the progress they had made that day and hoped he could continue down this uncertain path without hitting any bumps along the way.

 

I just rented a house. 

 

It sunk in, burying deep inside of his mind as he went to the bathroom to change. He let out a deep sigh when he closed the door, standing in silence. He looked at his reflection, running his hand on the yellowing bruise on his cheek. Fucker hit me hard, Levi thought acidly. At least another day or so and hopefully it'd be the last trace of Erwin left on him. He knew Pixis had noticed the mark but didn't say anything. At least the man knew when not to pry.

 

Thankfully, he was snapped out of his brooding thoughts when he heard the front door open. He was surprised, however when he heard more than one voice.

 

They fucking didn't... 

 

Levi quickly discarded his clothing and slipped into his fresh pair, silently cursing under his breath as he stepped out of the bathroom and was greeted by a petite woman throwing herself at him. His back hit the wall behind him and he let out a startled grunt. "Levi! Goodness, it's been how many years?"

 

Levi exhaled a deep breath, reaching and patting the woman on the back. "Six, I think. You'd think you'd know how to control yourself by now, Petra."

 

Petra pulled back, amber eyes narrowing kindly. Her hair was was shorter than when he had last seen her, cut directly above her shoulders. She wore a pair of denim jeans and a baby blue top, adorned with a light jacket. She shook her head, smacking Levi lightly on the shoulder. "I would control myself if you actually came and visited, you dolt! But now I hear you're here for good, so I'll let it slide."

 

Levi chuckled, unable to truly stay angry. "You've heard correct," he assented. Petra took several steps back.

 

"Everyone's here. Hange said you wouldn't mind... although, I guess I should've known better."

 

When the two of them stepped into the living room, Levi was greeted by the sit of Mike, Nanaba, and Oluo standing in the center of it. Behind Oluo, he observed two little girls, no older than seven and eight, clinging to his leg with curiosity and a bit of shyness.

 

"You could have warned me," Levi barked at Hange, though there was no malice in his tone. He chuckled when Nanaba had been the first to cross the room, embracing him in a tight hug.

 

"She insisted we surprise you," Nanaba explained. She hadn't changed one bit. Her hair was still as short as it had been in school, her face holding the same softness it did all of those years ago. She turned back toward Mike who had begun walking over and holding out his hand to Levi. 

 

"Been a while," Mike grunted, giving Levi's hand a firm shake and bringing him in for a small hug. He pulled back quickly, allowing Oluo to do the same. Levi had forgotten what it felt like to be around close friends like these. He kept his emotions in check, his face remaining impassive. 

 

"You must be Mikasa," Petra said while making her way to the eight-year-old with a warm smile on her face. She knelt down in front of her, noticing Mikasa bringing her scarf to cover the lower half of her face. Levi made a mental note to ask about the garment later, realizing she rarely took it off of her neck. Mikasa appeared uneasy.

 

"I'm Petra, and that loof over there is my husband, Oluo. Those are our daughters, Dominique and Nora. Dominique is actually the same age as you so it's likely you'll be in the same class once you start school," she explained softly, not wanting to startle her. Hange had briefly gone over the small details of Levi taking Mikasa into his care but left out the more disturbing details of the reason for his sudden move. She figured he'd discuss it when he was ready.

 

Mikasa looked up at Levi, who had been standing behind the couch with hesitation in her gaze. He offered her a short nod. "I've known this bunch since we were in Middle School. You'll be seeing a lot more of them since we're staying here."

 

Dominique and Nora appeared to be well-behaved children, scampering over to greet Mikasa with child-like curiosity and wonder. Mikasa's face, mostly stoic, couldn't fool Levi. She didn't know how to react to the two little girls gawking at her and it was evident. Mikasa had briefly mentioned that she didn't get along with anyone at her previous school so it didn't surprise him to see her so uncomfortable. 

 

"Girls, give Mikasa a little space. She's still winded from the move," Oluo's voice boomed out, gently coaxing the two of them to move away and get Mikasa some breathing room. Mikasa relaxed visibly and Petra's face softened. Mike chuckled from his place next to Levi.

 

"Kids'll be kids, you know? Going to need to observe as much as I possibly can," he admitted, almost in a sheepish manner.

 

A thin brow shot up. "Why's that?"

 

Hange broke the silence, stepping out of the kitchen while exclaiming, "You don't know? Nanaba's expecting!"

 

Levi's eyes widened. "Is that so? Well shit, I mean―" he covered his mouth, noticing the two little girls were still present in the room. He cleared his throat. Mikasa seemed used to Levi's crude language but that didn't mean Petra and Oluo would appreciate it in front of their daughters. "Congratulations."

 

Nanaba ran a hand through her short, blond hair while saying, "Much appreciated, thank you, Levi."

 

The evening went by in a blur, all of them sitting in the living room while passing around containers from the diner. The split several of the meals, chatting away about topics off and far. Levi began to relax, wistful and quiet as he gazed at his friends. It had been so long since they all had been together like this and it made him feel less alone in the world and grounded him on his choice. He chewed his food thoughtfully, his mind backtracking on just how much has happened in a few short days.

 

"So you're renting from Pixis? How is that old drunk doing?" Mike asked, sipping on his soda.

 

Levi shrugged. "Hasn't changed a bit, so I suppose well. We're going to go furniture shopping tomorrow and hopefully start moving in the day after tomorrow. We're in the house directly beside The Brigade."

 

"Oh, that's wonderful! That house always held so much potential, in my opinion," Petra said, taking a small bit of her chicken. "I'm glad Pixis cut you a deal. He's always had a soft spot for you. We'll all be here to help get you settled in, don't you worry."

 

Levi expressed his thanks. "At any rate, it'll be a process. Then, I need to get her over to the clinic before registering her for school."

 

"Oh! You should take Mikasa to where we take the girls. The office we all went to as kids got moved and a new doctor came in a took it over. He's exceptional. Dr. Yeager. Right, honey?"

 

Oluo nodded, shuffling over as his youngest, Nora, snuggled up to his side. It was getting late and the two children were getting tired. Mikasa, however, appeared very much awake and following most of their conversation.

 

"I'll keep that in mind. Thanks for the suggestion," Levi replied. He pushed the last bit of his food aside, glancing Mikasa's way. "Why don't you start getting ready for bed? We have a long day tomorrow and I didn't realize how late it was."

 

"You read my mind," Petra said, standing up with Dominique close to her hip. "It's a school night. We should probably get home," she watched as Oluo attempted to gather a rather sleepy Nora in his arms. "You got her?"

 

"She's heavier than she looks," Oluo grunted. "You'd better be ready for sleepless nights and tired arms, Nanaba."

 

Mike and Nanaba stood up to prepare to leave as well, Mike rubbing a gentle hand against her abdominal while snorting softly. "We've got a ways to go before they're here. She's only twelve weeks."

 

"And barely showing," Hange enthused. "Lucky gal."

 

While all of them said their goodbyes, Levi was surprised to see Mikasa walk up and reach for his hand. His chest tightened as he was proud she was trying to be a part of the small, makeshift group they had formed so long ago. It was almost as if Levi had never left, Erwin a far away thought in his mind. He squeezed her hand and then let go. "Sorry we weren't warned," he said, only the two of them able to hear.

 

He hugged Petra and Nanaba, knowing just how particularly touchy-feely they were. Oluo simply clapped a hand on his shoulder, struggling with the seven-year-old in his arms as he walked out the front door. Mike was last and he bent down, offering a kind smile to Mikasa. "It was nice meeting you, Mikasa." When he returned to Levi's level of vision, he felt Mike's eyes staring at his cheek and then back at him. "It's good to have you back, Levi. We're all here if you need anything."

 

Levi heard the words that weren't said and found himself nodding. "It's good to be back."

 

When the house had cleared, Levi slumped against the doorframe. "Fuck," he muttered, running a tired hand through his hair.

 

"Was it too much?" Hange inquired, hesitantly. Which was completely unlike them, so Levi just sighed.

 

"Some fucking warning next time would be nice. I'm in a pair of shitty sweatpants and I have a baseball size bruise on my face. I'm sure they've all put together what's going on here."

 

Mikasa looked between the two of them before wandering off to the bathroom to clean up, leaving Levi and Hange alone.

 

"I didn't tell them anything," they said. "I know I'm pretty nosy, but I wouldn't invade your privacy like that. If you don't want them to know, I'll respect that. But Levi, you need support from people who are on your side. I feel like it's been too long since you've had that and you may have forgotten just how many people here care about you."

 

"I haven't forgotten," Levi cut in quickly. "It's just a little overwhelming. Just... ask me next time, alright? I'm still reeling from all of this."

 

Hange nodded, accepting his response. They began moving around the room, picking up empty food containers and bottles. "So tomorrow, furniture shopping and doctor?"

 

"Furniture shopping and doctor," Levi echoed in confirmation. "I didn't take much with me... clothes and essentials, so I'll have to do more than just shop for furniture. I'm starting from fucking scratch."

 

"In the future, we could go to Trost while Mikasa's in school. We can try and grab the clothes and belongings you left behind."

 

Levi pursed his lips, pondering the thought. "Not a bad idea. I still have the key and I know when Erwin's working. So we'll see."

 

"Well, we'll cross the bridge when we get to it. As for now, leave the cleaning to me. Go check on Mikasa and get some sleep. I have a feeling you're going to be in over your head tomorrow when we got into town so you'll need all the rest you can get."

 

Levi snorted. "You're probably right."

 

He left Hange to the cleaning, which he expected to be half-assed. He couldn't bring himself to really care, a tiredness settling inside of his bones. He strolled down the hallway toward the spare room, noticing the door was ajar. He settled against the doorframe, leaning his hip against it. Mikasa was rummaging through her bags as if she was looking for something in particular. She looked up and her dark eyes settled on Levi.  

 

"I hope that didn't overwhelm you too much. I wasn't expecting it either."

 

"It wasn't bad... I'm just not used to it, is all," Mikasa explained honestly. She seemed to find what she was looking for, a loss fitting pair of cotton pajama bottoms and a dark top. "They seem like very kind people."

 

"That they are," Levi agreed. "We all grew up together. I lost touch with most of them after... Erwin." His throat tightened just mentioning his name. He had been fortunate that he was able to change his number by simply using his laptop. Hange had given out his number only to their friends and no one else. While he had it fresh on his mind, Levi held up a single digit and said, "I've got something for you."

 

He left the room briefly, Mikasa staring after him with the utmost curiosity. When Levi re-entered, he held out a sleek, thin smartphone. Mikasa's eyes widened. "I've gone ahead and programmed my number in there for you as well as Hange's. I'm going to go ahead and put everyone else's numbers in there as well if you'd like. Either way, you're going to need this in case we're not together. I'd feel better if you kept it on you at all times."

 

Mikasa's eyes held their roundness, looking at the phone and then up at Levi. "Are you sure? Aren't I a bit... young for a phone?"

 

"I trust you won't go looking up inappropriate shit. Plus, you seem careful enough. I know you won't abuse it. It's more practical you have one."

 

Levi kept the device held out, giving Mikasa time to sort her thoughts before she reached up and accepted it into her small hands. It was already powered on, screen lighting up and easy to read. She couldn't contain her excitement or her appreciation. She jumped up to her feet, a surprised huff escaping Levi when her thin arms wound around his waist. "Thank you," she said against his shirt.

 

It was the most contact he had had with her, so to say he was shocked was an understatement. She was so grateful for every little thing he did and it made a feeling similar to pain shoot through him. 

 

"You didn't have much growing up, did you?" Levi asked, wrapping on arm around her shoulders.

 

"I had enough," she replied. She pulled back and added, "But this is... I mean it, thank you. I won't abuse it, I promise."

 

"Good," he nodded. "Because I'll take it away like that―" he snapped his fingers in emphasis. "If you do."

 

She cracked a small smile, letting Levi's arm fall and stepping away from him. "I'm going to get changed and set it up. I've never really used one before... so it might take me a while to figure."

 

Levi watched Mikasa exit the spare room while taking the phone with her, closing the bathroom door to get dressed in her pajamas. Levi shook his head, chuckling under his breath while going out to the living room. He noticed Hange had made a decent attempt at cleaning, throwing out the old containers and placing the leftovers in the fridge. Hange was nowhere to be seen so he assumed they went to sleep. It was late, after all. Nearly going on eleven. Hange couldn't drive them around forever, remembering they taught biochemistry at the community college. They more than likely had classes to teach which left Levi and Mikasa on their own the next day.

 

Levi helped himself to a cup of raspberry tea, heating it up while slipping out to the front porch. He reached into his wallet yet again, pulling out the remaining cigarette and lighting it up with much more ease than the night before. Maybe a spiteful part of him enjoyed the feel of the harsh tobacco entering his lungs, knowing here no one would reprimand him for it. And if anybody did, he'd gladly smack them. 

 

He lingered outside for about twenty minutes, enjoying the wisps of smoke leaving his mouth, as well as the puffs of heat rising from his teacup. He held it at the top rim, sipping quietly while the chilled air held him in its cool embrace. In Trost, you didn't get to enjoy hushed nights like this. He had grown so accustomed to horns blaring, bass pumping and people shouting that the stillness washed over him. He closed his eyes and exhaled steadily.

 

When he went back inside, it was just as noiseless as outside. He crept carefully, expecting to see Mikasa thumbing through her new phone. Instead, he found his cousin with the side of her face pressed against her pillow, mouth parted while quiet breaths left her. One of her arms was bent awkwardly beneath her body and Levi couldn't imagine it being very comfortable. The other clenched her smartphone loosely at her side. Levi felt his lips twitch against his will, walking over to help the young girl into a more comfortable position. He took her arm and placed it against her side. As he moved her arm, he noticed several scars resembling burn marks on her pale skin. His small quirk of a smile turned into a deep frown. If he jostled her arm too much, she'd awaken. So he told himself he'd wait for her to speak to him about it. He understood what it was like hide. He reached for the blankets beneath and draped them over her body. She didn't so much as stir, only releasing a soft sigh and burying her face against the pillow. Off to the side, Levi noted her scarf rested on the nightstand. It had been the first time she hadn't worn it since she was thrust into his life.

 

He looked down at her for a few long moments, unsure and unfamiliar with the emotions coursing through him. He reached and tucked a loose strand of onyx hair behind her ear while saying, "Goodnight." 

Chapter Text

It had taken a week for Levi to get the new house situated. With an enormous amount of help from Hange, Mike, Oluo, Petra and even Nanaba; they were able to clean the house to Levi's standards, move all of the necessary furniture inside and begin organizing the entire property. Levi couldn't lie and say that it wasn't overwhelming, it was a surreal feeling that surged in his chest. He and Mikasa would be living here, in this house, moving forward with their lives while trying to establish a new one. If it weren't for the help of his close friends and the constant encouragement from his cousin, he didn't think he would have made it this far. He would have run.

 

But once he stood inside, glancing around at the neatly positioned furniture and the brightness that lingered inside of Mikasa's room, he didn't feel overwhelmed anymore. He felt proud. He felt security and he felt relief. This was theirs and with an effort from those around him, it was now possible. The kitchen was the easiest to furnish, simply finding a dining room table that was small enough for the two of them. If there was ever a time he decided he'd wanted company, which he had a feeling Hange would worm their way in as often as possible, there was still room to seat more. He found simple yet modern furniture that suited his tastes just fine. A little off compared to the tastes Erwin had, but this was Levi's space, not his and he had a child in the mix now. This wasn't just about him.

 

He allowed Mikasa to pick out her own bedroom set and dresser, to which she was ecstatic. She had good taste and indulged a bit for a child her age, picking out a few bright colors to match the bedroom set but nothing over the top of extreme. Purple seemed to be a color she favored, which Levi was thankful. He could tolerate pinks but it didn't mean he had to like it. He and Petra spent a lot of time working on Mikasa's room, making it a space she'd be comfortable retrieving into. Like him, Mikasa enjoyed her space. He couldn't deny they were related and a few of their mannerisms were even similar. It made it easier for the two of them.

 

Levi left his room as a project of his own. This space was his and his alone. He no longer shared it with another person, just himself. So he bought what suited him, made him feel comfortable and knew he'd enjoy if he wanted a place to allow himself to unwind. Hell, he even took his time setting up the bathrooms in the house. Levi didn't consider himself a decorator by any means, but he knew what he liked and he knew what was pleasing to the eye. He scowled at Hange when they casually mentioned Levi may or may not have been having a bit too much fun with moving things around to satisfy his own tastes.

 

Levi set up a desk in his room, setting up his laptop and a desktop he had had for a few years. After a few days, Petra had taken Mikasa over to her and Oluo's house for a few hours while he and Hange drove out to Trost. The two of them were able to slip in, grab as many of Levi's belongings as possible and leave without fear of running into Erwin. Levi knew the man's schedule like clockwork. With a final glance behind him and a full car waiting in the parking lot, Levi placed the apartment key gently against the counter and didn't turn back. The scent of Erwin made his insides knot and he couldn't place if it was from longing or from nauseousness.

 

When he adjusted a few things on his desk, he felt a tendril of finality surge through him. He stood up straight and took in the stillness around him. Everyone was outside of the porch, talking adamantly and taking a much-needed break from all of the chaos. He sighed, running a hand through his hair while taking a look around. His room was drenched in grays and blacks, much to his pleasure. He wasn't a flashy man by any means, he enjoyed colors that soothed him. The curtains along the far wall matched. He had to wonder if he hadn't started putting money aside for himself if this would have been possible at all. He quite literally started over from scratch and he felt an immense feeling of accomplishment.

 

Erwin was always so certain of his failures yet here he was, standing within the proof that he could manage without him. And he knew in his heart that he would.


 

With Petra's help, Levi had managed to squeeze Mikasa into Dr. Yeager's busy schedule. He had meant for the younger Ackerman to see him sooner, but with the chaos of the move and lugging furniture and shopping, it was a heavy task. Now that they had settled into a more familiar routine, nine days had passed and it was time to get the ball rolling. As he walked down the long hallway, he stalled at Mikasa's room and knocked on her open door. She glanced up from her spot on the bed, arching a dark brow.

 

"You need to get ready, we're due at the doctor's in an hour," Levi stated.

 

Mikasa's face fell slightly but she made no move to get up.

 

"Oh? Did you think I forgot you were eight years old? We need to register you for school. We're on our own today and I think we've had enough time to settle."

 

"I haven't forgotten," Mikasa argued quickly, shifting to sit at the edge of the bed. She sighed. "I just... did you go to this school when you were young?"

 

"I did," Levi offered, walking into the room and leaning against the wall. "It's a good school. Like I told you, everyone is pretty kind in this town. We've gotten through the worst part. Getting you into school will be a good thing; you need to be around other kids. Hanging around me all the time will piss you off, I promise."

 

Mikasa smiled weakly at that. "You're not that bad. But I..." she sighed, tucking a lock of onyx hair behind her ear. "Fine. I'll get dressed."

 

It was a thirty-minute drive, much to Levi's annoyance. Everything within the town of Shiganshina was always a wide stretch. If you wanted to find more habited stores and businesses, you had to drive out at least forty minutes. It was a pain in the ass, but he wouldn't complain. The city life inside of Trost had spoiled him. When they arrived at the clinic, Levi was relieved to see it looked fairly slow, despite the trouble of getting Mikasa fit into the busy time slots. It was a charming place, small and quiet as they went to the receptionist to check in. Levi was fortunate to have all of Mikasa's medical records transferred and was silently thankful for how far technology had come. If this had been back in the day when he was Mikasa's age, they would have been screwed.

 

"Dr. Yeager is finishing up with a patient," one of the nurses told them. Levi noticed her name tag. Dina. "I'll bring you both to the back and we'll take your vitals, Mikasa." The woman offered a patient smile at Mikasa's uneasiness. "Right this way."

 

Levi followed close behind his cousin, sensing her tension. He understood, visiting a doctors office always had him on edge. Practically made his skin crawl. But this was necessary. He placed a firm hand on Mikasa's shoulder, looking down at her while saying, "It'll be fine. We'll be in and out before you know it."

 

"It's always natural to be nervous visiting a new doctor," Dina said. They entered a sterile, white room. There was a chair in the middle with white sheets adorning it and a few shelves off to the side with sanitizer and medical supplies. She ushered Mikasa into the chair, stretching gloves onto her hands while moving to adjust some equipment behind her. "If you could honey, please take off your scarf and sweater. It'll make it easier for me to take your blood pressure."

 

Mikasa shot Levi a nervous glance to which he nodded. "It's alright. Just listen to what she has to say."

 

The young girl nodded, unraveling the red scarf from her neck and sliding her sweater off of her shoulders. Dina had moved to secure a cuff around Mikasa's upper arm, holding a dial in her hand while pressing against the pump in the other. She reached up and tapped at the computer screen in front of her as she displayed Mikasa's vitals onto the main screen in the room. "Bare with me... this will only take a few seconds."

 

Levi observed Mikasa and her uncomfortable aura. The scars lingering on her arms were now visible and her face was turning with distaste. After a few, long seconds the cuff loosened and next was a thermometer inside of Mikasa's mouth. The young girl opened her mouth willingly and settled herself as best she could. "Blood pressure looks good... no temperature..."

 

Dina removed the tube from Mikasa's mouth and undid the cuff on her upper arm. "Right. You're all set until Dr. Yeager comes in. He should be ready in―"

 

As if on cue, the door on the opposite end of the room opened up. All three of them glanced up, seeing an older man with long, chestnut hair tied back into a ponytail and thick glasses walk in. He appeared genuinely calm and friendly, looking over at Mikasa with a smile on his face. "Thank you very much, Dina. I'll take over." Levi took a moment to examine the man. He wasn't wearing a traditional white coat or scrubs, he was simply wearing a dark button up shirt that had a badge attached to it. As he looked more closely, Levi made out the name Grisha Yeager on it.

 

"My name is Dr. Yeager, but please feel free to call me Grisha," Grisha held out his hand to Levi, which he took and shook while nodding. 

 

"Levi," he responded shortly. "Ackerman," he added with a second thought. Grisha's brows rose to his hairline.

 

"That's a name I haven't heard in quite some time," he smiled. "Now that I'm looking at you... you look very familiar. Kuchel's son?"

 

Shock crossed Levi's face, surprised. "That's right."

 

"She was a lovely woman. My wife, Carla, spent some time with her back then. If I remember correctly, you were just a toddler. But my memory isn't as sharp as it used to be," Grisha chuckled. His attention shifted to Mikasa, who was anxiously rubbing her hands against her knees. "You must be Mikasa."

 

Grisha knelt down to Mikasa's level on the chair, holding out his hand. "It's nice to meet you," he offered, keeping his smile warm and open. Levi noticed Mikasa visibly relax, sensing no ill intentions from the doctor. She took his hand and shook it with a shockingly firm grip. 

 

"Nice to meet you, Dr. Yeager."

 

"Well then," Grisha started. "What brings you both in today? I've noticed you've had several records transferred here. You're both from Sina, correct?"

 

"She is," Levi corrected. "I've been in Trost the past ten years. When my uncle passed away, I was left as her guardian. She's only been in my custody a few weeks. We need a physical to get her into school and to make sure she's up to date on her vaccines. I thought Shiganshina would be a more family-friendly environment for her rather than the city."

 

Not entirely a lie, but Grisha didn't need to know the details of his past.

 

Grisha looked thoughtful. "I see," he nodded. He walked over to the sink and washed his hands while speaking. "Well, we'll be happy to have you. My wife and I have been here for nearly our entire lives. We've come to love Shiganshina. We do get restless from time to time, so we've ventured out quite a bit. Our son is more adventurous than the two of us combined, being raised in such a small town. But we've all grown fond of this place. I'm sure you will too, Mikasa."

 

Mikasa smiled softly but didn't say anything. Grisha slid on a pair of latex gloves and approached her carefully. "Tilt your head back for me," he instructed, to which Mikasa complied. Grisha's hands were delicately pressing against the sides of her throat, careful not to startle her. "So, Levi, your relationship with Mikasa...?"

 

"She's my cousin," he answered. Levi took a seat on one of the two chairs in the room. "We're not sure on the whereabouts of her mother. I suppose Kenny left her in my care knowing I have the only family she had left."

 

Grisha hummed thoughtfully. "Kenny Ackerman?"

 

"Kenny Ackerman," Levi nodded. 

 

"He was quite the wild card back when he lived here."

 

Psh. You have no fucking idea. 

 

Grisha removed his hands and brought them to Mikasa's arms, pressing against the skin of her forearm and tilting his head. "These scars...?"

 

"An accident," Mikasa quipped quickly, swallowing while averting her eyes. Levi inwardly winced.

 

"I see," Grisha continued to examine her, placing both hands on her shoulders while saying, "Lean forward for me, I'm going to need to take a look at your spine."

 

Mikasa obeyed, closing her eyes. Her shirt was briefly brought up along her back and she felt Grisha trace her spine quickly before bringing to article of clothing back down. "Very good."

 

The rest of the examination went quickly, Grisha merely checking her breathing and heartbeat. He commended her on her health, stating she was perfectly healthy and up to date on all of her vaccines. "You did wonderfully, Mikasa. I'll make sure to have Dina print out the forms for your school entry." 

 

Grisha removed his gloves and offered Mikasa a hand down from the seat. He offered her sweater and scarf back, which she took immediately. She was more comfortable than she appeared to be when she first walked in. Levi had to admit, Grisha was wonderful just as Petra said. He was patient and kind, which served as a remedy to his nervous cousin. "We'll go up to the front desk and get all of your paperwork together. If you'll follow me."

 

When they walked into the main foyer, Grisha spoke to Dina and instructed her to print out the necessary documents for Levi to take home. As Levi gathered the paperwork, he noticed Grisha was still close by. He turned and regarded the man questionably.

 

"Would you mind if we spoke privately for a moment? The clinic is empty and Dina can keep an eye on Mikasa in the waiting room for you."

 

Levi looked down at Mikasa, who didn't appear frightened, only curious. "Right," Levi said. "I'll be right back. Just wait over there where the nurse can see you, alright?"

 

Levi followed Grisha to the corridor that led to the back examining rooms, leaning against the wall. Grisha mimicked his movement, leaning back and sighing. "I'm assuming you've never known about Mikasa until the passing of your uncle?"

 

Levi shook his head. "No, and to say it was a culture shock would be an understatement. But... I couldn't bring myself to turn her away. She had nobody left."

 

"You appear well put together," Grisha observed. "I won't ask why you decided to spontaneously move back to Shiganshina, but I'm sure I'm not the only one who noticed the scars on her arm. It's very apparent she has been abused."

 

"I'm aware," Levi said softly. "I don't want to push her into telling me anything. She's... she's a good girl. And I wasn't lying when I said I thought this would be a better environment for her. I'm noticing she's smiling more, acting like her own person. She was practically a fucking shell when I first met her."

 

Grisha didn't seem to deter from Levi's crude language. "I'm passionate about what I do," he explained. "And I want you to know that if there is anything that you or her need, we're here. We have therapists and a good staff. I won't push either of you, but also consider a school counselor. Your family was very well known here many years ago, so I can tell you I know you've been through a lot."

 

Oh, you don't know the half of it, old man.

 

"I... appreciate that Dr. Yeager," Levi pushed himself off of the wall and continued. "I'll keep it in mind. Like I said, I don't want to push her. When she's ready to talk, I'll go from there. I think it's important that she becomes comfortable first. We've literally just gotten settled into our house."

 

"Of course," Grisha agreed. "I just wanted to put the offer out there. She's so young, it's heartbreaking when you see a child her age struggle. From what I've seen on her charts, she is eight years old?"

 

Levi pursed his lips and nodded, not sure why that was relevant. Grisha gave Levi a small smile. "So she's in third grade. She'll more than likely be in my son's class then. You'll find he's... very gifted when it comes to handling young children."

 

There was a light air around the word gifted, Levi noted. Grisha appeared very easy going and friendly, so it made Levi silently wonder what his son would be like. He stored that information. "Good to know."

 

Levi didn't specialize in small talk, so he shifted his foot uncomfortably. Luckily, Grisha broke the ice. He held out his hand and said, "I'll let you both be on your way. Remember what I said, though, should the two of you need anything. My door is always open here."

 

Levi took his hand firmly and nodded, saying his thanks while exiting the hallway. Grisha went the opposite direction to where Levi would assume was his office. When he stepped back out to the main lobby, Mikasa was sitting patiently with her hands folded in her lap. She glanced up when she noticed Levi's presence, Levi offering her his hand while asking, "Ready to go?"


Mikasa played with the straps of her backpack, sliding out of the car after Levi opened the car door for her. She looked up at the school building, taking in how old yet sturdy it was. There were several young students littering the front of the building, chatting adamantly among their friends and peers. "You went to school here?"

 

"Sure did," Levi answered, closing the door with a soft flick of his wrist. "Hard to believe that was over twenty years ago. I'm getting fucking old."

 

Mikasa smiled weakly at that. Levi sighed. "Don't be nervous, it's going to be fine. Either Hange or I will be here to pick you up when they let you out. I'm not usually paranoid, but I'd prefer that then letting you take a bus. These drivers don't know how to drive period."

 

Levi could practically taste the anxiety radiating off of Mikasa as they stepped into the building. Students were scrambling to get into the classrooms while teachers around them ushered them along. Mikasa stuck to Levi like glue, her dark eyes taking in each person that passed them. He understood her anxiety, he really did. But he had a feeling once she was around other children her age, she'd start to feel more like a child her age herself. He vagely remembered being her age, he smiled more and thourougly enjoyed the simple things in life. She shouldn't have to worry about anything other than being a kid. He wanted to make sure of it. He knew what it felt like to grow up too fast.

 

When the were in the front office, one of the staff members turned and greeted them both with a smile. "Good morning."

 

"Morning," Levi offered shortly. His gaze shifted to Mikasa while saying, "This is Mikasa Ackerman. I believe I spoke to someone yesterday about her starting today?"

 

"Oh! Of course!" the older woman exclaimed, appearing delighted. "Welcome! Goodness, it's been a while since we've had a new student. Forgive me for being a bit excited. I'm just going to set up a file for her and we'll go ahead and send her to Mr. Yeager's classroom."

 

Mr. Yeager, right. Levi didn't forget the small fact that Grisha's son was a teacher here. He hoped he was a good with children as the doctor mentioned he was.

 

"Alright, I've got you all set. If you'll follow me, Mikasa I'll bring you to your―"

 

Levi felt Mikasa reach for his hand. He looked to the older woman, tilting his head while saying, "I'll come with her. She's a little nervous."

 

He missed the small glare Mikasa shot his way and he inwardly smiled a bit. "Of course," she said. "I understand. You've got nothing to be nervous about, sweetheart. Mr. Yeager is probably one of the sweetest teachers we have. We're lucky to have him."

 

That eased Mikasa a little bit but she went willingly, Levi moving her along as they strode through the narrow hallways. A wave of nostalgia hit Levi like a smack to the face. He could barely remember, but he had so many memories running around in these halls. And he could remember very clearly reaching for his mother's hand, looking up at her imploringly and fearfully. Just the thought of her made his heart clench. He had been so focused on getting him and Mikasa situated, he hadn't thought of visiting her plot. Perhaps that could be something he'd do when Mikasa was in school. He had quite a bit of free time on his hands until he figured out what he wanted to do work wise.

 

"Here we are," the older woman said. She rapped at the door a few times and pushed it open after a few seconds. 

 

The sight Levi was greeted to was a classroom colorfully decorated, banners and pictures littering the walls proudly. There was a station for arts and crafts along the far wall and away from the desks that lined up in the room. There was also an area that contained bookshelves, the shelf itself overflowing with several children's novels. It was an endearing and warming sight. His storm gaze roamed around, taking in the different shapes and sizes of all of the children inside. If Mikasa wasn't clinging to him before, he definitely felt her grip increase it's tightening around his hand now. He squeezed back reassuringly, noticing all of the children's eyes were trained on his cousin curiously. Whatever activities they were doing prior had ceased as soon as they entered the room.

 

"Sorry to interrupt," the staff member began with a small smile. "But I've brought along your new student."

 

"Oh! That's right! Jeez, I'm so forgetful. Please, come in!"

 

The voice was confident and buoyant, warmth filtering through his words. Levi had been so focused on the conditions of the classroom he hadn't thought to look at the teacher himself. When his gaze met the man currently speaking, he felt an unfamiliar jolt shot straight up his spine. When looking directly at the man, he could see similarities between him and Grisha immediately. But his eyes were warmer, softer yet fierce. Levi had never seen such a stunning shade of emerald before in his entire life. They were bright, cerulean shimmering in their depths. His hair was a lighter chestnut brown compared to his fathers and it made Levi wonder if he took more after his mother. His hair was long in its length as well, tied up in a bun behind him while a few strands fell along his tanned face.

 

Holy shit. 

 

 

He couldn't have been older than his mid-twenties, his face holding an attractiveness that could have pinned anybody in their place. Mr. Yeager was wearing a white, button-down shirt with a dark vest adorned on top of it with slacks to match. He pushed back a lock of hair behind his ear while moving around his desk, smiling widely while leaning down to take a look at his cousin. Levi was frozen in place. "Mikasa, right? I've been hearing about you for a few days now. I'm excited to have you in my class! My names Mr. Yeager, it's nice to meet you."

 

Mikasa's cheeks were dusted pink, bringing her scarf up above her mouth. "Me too, nice to meet you," she mumbled softly, meeting his gaze with a smile hidden behind the wool material.

 

When the teacher's eyes shifted to Levi, his smile brightened. "You're Mikasa's... cousin, right?"

 

Levi mentally wanted to smack the shit out of himself. What the hell was wrong with him? He cleared his throat, nodding his head. "Right. Levi Ackerman."

 

His eyes focused on the hand that was held out to him and the grin that caused something molten to bubble inside of the depths of his chest. When Levi dared to let his gaze rise, those fiery eyes were unwavering and penetrating. "Eren Yeager." 

Chapter Text

Mikasa was stunned the moment Mr. Yeager showed her to her seat, directly in the middle of the classroom. She hung her backpack on the back of her seat, turning her attention back to the front of the classroom. Mr. Yeager, or rather Eren, as Mikasa recalled, leaned the small of his back against the front of his desk. His eyes were bright and expressive, the smile that was present earlier never slipping from his face. Mikasa felt a sense of easiness from the man which was such a relief. Since placing her trust in Levi and coming to Shiganshina, she had met nothing but good-hearted and wholesome people. It warmed her once cold heart and shattered the ice that glaciers around it. For the first time in so long... she felt like she had found someplace she belonged.

 

"Alright, guys! As you can see, we have a new student! She was transferred all the way from Sina! I expect each and every one of you to give her a warm welcome!" Eren's voice rang cheerfully, though, there was a distinct firmness in his tone. 

 

There was a chorus of agreements, each student openly gazing at Mikasa in silent wonder. Mikasa felt scrutinized under their eyes but reminded herself this was normal for children their age. She turned her head and briefly offered a small smile in each person's direction. 

 

"Wow, you're from Sina? Isn't that a really big city?" 

 

Mikasa cocked her head in the direction of the question. "Not really. Trost is bigger, but it is pretty busy."

 

The girl behind her drummed her fingers excitedly against her desk, her scarlet hair falling in front of her face while the rest was held back in neat pigtails. "You hear that, Farlan? Gosh, I wish I could see it for myself! Could you imagine the stores? The buildings?"

 

The boy sitting next to her, Farlan, chuckled and sighed. "Don't mind her, she's always excited about something. It's nice to meet you, though. I'm Farlan."

 

He waved to Mikasa and she returned the wave with a small smile. She was stunned momentarily when the girl sitting at her desk nearly jumped from her seat, offering her hand in a childish anticipation. "And I'm Isabel! Welcome to Shiganshina, Mikasa!"

 

"Oh..." she murmured quietly, reaching over and shaking hands with Isabel unsurely. "Nice to meet you both. Thank you."

 

A few other of her new classmates offered her warm welcomes, only hearing a few of their names. There were a few other girls in their small class, Annie, Gabi, and Petra and Oluo's daughter, Dominique while more boys seemed to be present. She tried to remember the flurry of each students name; Reiner, Bertolt, Falco, and Marcel. The children that Mikasa had associated with back in Sina hadn't so much as spared her a glance. So the attention was overwhelming and distracting. The attention was also so positive and open, she wasn't sure if her face reflected the silent appreciation she felt. She reached for her scarf on instinct, bringing it up to her lips to hide her smile.

 

She wasn't shunned. She wasn't an outcast or unwelcomed. She felt normal and basked in it.

 

"Guys, don't overwhelm Mikasa! It's only her first day. You'll have plenty of time to get to know her. So let's..." Eren drifted off, his warm gaze falling upon every child as they moved closer to Mikasa, awe and wonder present of each of their faces. He smiled despite himself, chuckling low under his breath. "On second thought, maybe we can make this an activity today. Why don't all of you move your desks in a circle and we can get to know each other and make Mikasa more comfortable?"

 

Each child scurried and pressed their desks together, Mikasa's expression broad and Eren's smile wide as he observed.


Levi tapped his fingers idly against the steering, peering through the passenger-side window and out to the courtyard outside of the school. Shiganshina Elementary hadn't changed much in the years that had gone by; the only things noticeable being the obvious wear of the structure itself and the landscaping. Painted colors decorating some of the signs and rocks displayed in the front. There was a long string of cars parked outside the pick-up area, Levi remembering when his mother would park in the same spot, waiting for him to come bursting through the front doors. He turned the radio down, keeping his eyes and ears peeled open as he heard the distinct sound of a bell sound in the air.

 

It was just after three o'clock, the air outside crisp and cool. He had taken advice from both Petra and Oluo with shopping for the right school supplies, suitable outfits for dress codes and other accessories before Levi felt comfortable sending Mikasa off. He couldn't fight the strange feeling inside of him, a few weeks ago unable to picture himself here. It was a whirlwind and a mess that he fought like hell to clean up. But here he was, sitting in the parent pick-up line waiting for his cousin to make her way to the car. He silently wondered how her day went. He didn't want to admit the thought of Mikasa's uneasiness had been at the front of his mind for a majority of the day. 

 

Children were running in several directions, excited chatter and squeals echoing all over. A few of their parents had stepped out of their cars, waiting fondly to greet their kids. Levi tilted his head, wondering if he should do the same. Instead, he remained seated while his eyes moved from one person to another. Some of the school's staff made their way to usher others along, smiling brightly as they did so. It had taken a full five minutes before Levi became worried.

 

Should I go in there and look for her? Maybe I should've parked somewhere else... Shit.

 

Levi was about to maneuver his car out of the line when he caught a flash of scarlet. His gray orbs caught sight of Mikasa walking through the throng of students, her eyes slightly downcast with a small tilt of her lips as she played with the bright scarf around her neck. Levi was about to exit the vehicle to meet her when his breath caught in his throat. Once the swarm had moved away, he was about to make out a much taller figure walking beside her. The lump he felt grew intensely and his fingertips tingled as Mikasa's teacher, Eren, had appeared in full view. He walked with a vibrant stride, beaming and waving at several others as they bid him farewell.

 

"Hi there," Eren said as he approached Levi's car, even white teeth revealed as his smile grew. The stray hairs of his tied up bun swayed with the breeze, framing his strong and handsome features. He stepped aside to allow Mikasa entry into the back seat, leaning against the passenger door and continuing, "I wanted to make sure Mikasa found her way to the pick-up line. It gets really hectic when school lets out. You'd think for such a small town, there wouldn't be so many kids."

 

Levi just stared, his fingers tightening around the steering wheel. Say something, you dipshit!

 

Grassy eyes didn't lose their luster as Eren chuckled, "Mikasa had a great first day. I'm really looking forward to working with her. I actually have a packet to give to you so you have an idea of curriculum she'll be going over with us. Her school records were sent without a problem and from what I can see, she's all caught up. So there shouldn't be any issues with that. So, here you go."

 

Levi reached numbly, accepting the packet and glancing at it briefly before setting it on the passenger seat. 

 

When Levi found his voice, he nodded. "That's appreciated, Mr. Yeager. Thank you."

 

Eren let out a little huff, laughing as he waved his hand. "Please. Just call me Eren, alright?"

 

"Right... Eren, thank you. I'll take a look at the packet tonight."

 

A few tense seconds ticked by, Eren's eyes boring into Levi's in a way that made the raven want to squirm in his seat. Levi generally didn't care for small talk or socializing at that, but something about Eren's gaze seemed to pin him in his place. He wanted more than anything to make it stop.

 

"Anyway, I should probably let you guys get going," Eren tapped his hand against the side of the car. He cocked his head in Mikasa's direction and said, "It was nice to finally meet you, Mikasa! I'll definitely see you tomorrow."

 

Mikasa waved a small hand while saying her goodbyes, Levi making a quick move to put the car into gear to drive away as fast as he could. 

 

"Oh, and Levi?" Eren asked before the other man had a chance to pull away. The warmth Eren emitted could be felt in the cold air around him. "Welcome back to Shiganshina."

 

Levi wasn't given a moment to reply as Eren stepped back from his car and trekked back to the building in front of them.


"You seem tense," Mikasa observed as she placed two sets of plates, napkins, and forks against the kitchen table. Levi didn't have to hide the fact that cooking just wasn't his forte. All of the years he and Erwin had been together, the two of them usually either went out for dinner or ordered in. It was a rarity that Levi would attempt to make something in fear of somehow sabotaging it, so he settled for not trying at all. So on the way back home, Levi stopped at one of the local deli's and ordered something for the two of them. Shiganshina Elementary was a way out from their small area so it was a prime time to stop at any of the stores or local markets that were available. 

 

With his laptop perched in front of him, pale digits dancing along the keys as he responded to several emails. He tried to disguise his apprehensive expression from his cousin, but as always, her observations were sharp and uncanny. In his inbox, Levi had seen several different emails from the very man he was doing everything in his power to avoid. Levi hadn't thought to change his account's address after already altering his phone number. It had also been several weeks since he last attempted to check. He sighed, not bothering to open any of them. He simply clicked the select all option and deleted them on the spot. It looked like he was going to have to deactivate his account after all. What a nuisance.

 

"Not tense, just annoyed. Don't worry about it," Levi responded cooly, reaching over to the container Mikasa had placed on the table. Over the course of the weeks that had passed, both Levi and Mikasa found it was easy to live with one another. He already could see she was well behaved, but she also picked up after herself and wasn't rowdy or loud like other children her age. She woke up without hassle, sat and had tea with him in the morning before she headed off to her first day of school. Levi took those precious hours to organize what was left of his bedroom and catch his breath. But the idle time left room for too much thinking and that was a dangerous thing. 

 

He needed a bloody job.

 

"So," Levi began once Mikasa sat down across from him. "You going to tell me about your first day or keep me in the dark?"

 

Mikasa smiled softly, picking up a fork and bringing several pieces of chicken onto her plate. "It was... better than I expected, actually. The children in my class are all really nice. Two of them couldn't stop talking to me and it worried me at first. Their names are Isabel and Farlan."

 

Levi nodded, sighing in relief as he scooped his own food and began taking delicate bites. "And your teacher?"

 

Mikasa shot him an unusual look and Levi made sure he was paying attention to his food. 

 

"Mr. Yeager is really nice. He's always smiling and he's so good with the other kids... I'm glad I got him and not some idiot," she said matter-of-factly.

 

Levi snorted, glancing up at her. "I take it your past teachers weren't as kind?"

 

She shrugged. "Not really. Or I didn't care enough to bother noticing. I don't know... Mr. Yeager just makes it look so easy to interact with each other and easy to follow what he's saying. He doesn't rush and he takes his time explaining things that others don't understand."

 

He understood exactly what she meant. Just after a few brief moments of being around Eren, he could see his disposition was sunny and benevolent. Seeing both Grisha and Eren, Levi had a feeling charm just seemed to be a natural ailment for their family. It was evident they were well established in town, even going back to when Levi was young. Eren couldn't have been older than twenty-five, so it wasn't surprising that Eren didn't strike anything vital in his memories. Grisha had mentioned to him that his wife spent some brief time with his own mother and wondered if he happened to meet her if he'd recognize her.

 

Levi hadn't realized he fell silent so he cleared his throat, bringing his mug to his lips. "Glad to hear it. So it's safe to say you're adjusting pretty well here?"

 

"So far, so good. I can't complain. Everyones so welcoming and you didn't see that in Sina."

 

"Didn't see it in Trost, either."

 

"What made you leave here? I know you said you went to college in Trost, but you never mentioned anything else." 

 

Levi stopped sipping his tea, eyes downcasting to the kitchen table. "I guess I got tired of the same old bullshit. Small town, word gets around quick. After my mother, your aunt passed away, I got stuck with your father. We didn't get along, to put it lightly. When I turned eighteen, I was able to move out and get away from him. I didn't waste a damn second. I also didn't know what the hell I wanted to do with my life. Staying here meant either working at one of the local plants or being stuck in retail. I didn't have a dime to my name and my mother hadn't planned on dying so young, so nothing was left to me. So, I worked with Mike and Oluo. We did small jobs around town, a jack of all trades. Once I saved enough money, I bought a beat up piece of shit car and drove until I hit Trost."

 

Mikasa was quiet as she absorbed this information. "When did you meet Erwin?"

 

Levi grip tightened on his cup. "Almost three years after I got there. I was twenty, almost twenty-one. I got a job at some hole in the wall diner and barely was able to get by. I had a shitty apartment and if I didn't work with food, I probably wouldn't have eaten. Erwin came in one night and..." Levi trailed off, the memory still lingering his mind. "He was a charmer and we hit it off fast. All expensive suits and smooth words. He's been an architect for almost fifteen years. Why he was in the part of the city, to begin with, is a mystery to me."

 

The raven sighed. "At any rate, he helped me get on my feet. I owed him a lot. Helped me figure out what I wanted to do with my life and before I knew it, I was in college. Time just went by so fast for the two of us and for a long time, things were better..."

 

"I'm sorry," Mikasa said softly.

 

Levi pursed his lips. "What the hell are you apologizing for?"

 

The young girl pushed her plate away, any remnants of food long gone. "I shouldn't pry. I know it wasn't part of your life's plan to take me in, and I'm grateful. I really am. But you don't have to tell me anything you don't want to."

 

"I wouldn't have said anything if it really bothered me, trust me. It is what it is, brat. I can't go back and change anything and if I did, I wouldn't be here now. So we'll take it for what it's worth and try to make the best of our shitty situations. If I don't want to talk about anything, you'll know. So don't be afraid to ask. Just like if there's something you don't want to talk about, you say something and I'll shut up."

 

There was a flash of emotion that shot across Mikasa's eyes but just as quickly as it appeared, it vanished. Her eyes softened and looked down at her empty plate. "I'll try to remember that," she murmured.

 

As if in silent agreement, the two of them began to clear the table and Levi busied himself at the sink. He placed their dirty dishes underneath the running water and his hands moved mechanically. He turned to look over his shoulder while asking, "I'd never thought I'd be asking this, but do you have any homework?"

 

Mikasa laughed lightly, using a rag to wipe the surface of the table off. Levi was inwardly impressed. "No. Mr. Yeager said it's cruel to give a student homework on their first day of school."

 

Levi shook his head, scoffing to himself. "Why does that not surprise me?"

 

"I'm sure he'll make up for it," Mikasa replied. She walked to stand next to Levi, placing the rag onto the countertop and looking up at the clock. It was still fairly early, just a little after six o'clock, but Mikasa was already excited for what tomorrow had in store. "I'm going to get cleaned up and watch some T.V."

 

Levi watched her go, looking back down at his current task thoughtfully. He figured once he was finished here, he'd join her. He and Mikasa may have started off rocky, but he was surprised at just how well the two of them seemed to get along. Perhaps it was because they shared so many of their unusual traits with their personalities that they sort of just meshed together. Maybe it was how familiar it was for both of them to sort through the wreckage of their lives. Maybe it was just an Ackerman thing.

 

Levi thought of his uncle and instantly cut the thought to bits.

 

The house was becoming less vacant and more lively, each room more occupied than it had been the day before and the feeling of finally settling in dawning upon them both. For taking such sharp measures, Levi was surprised with himself. He hadn't thought it would be so easy but with the help of his close friends and the always willing effort of Mikasa, they managed. And they would continue to manage. He was fortunate to have savings to fall back on, otherwise, he wouldn't have been able to make this possible. Sooner rather than later, he needed to work. While Mikasa was at school the next day, he figured he'd tackle that in his free time. Sitting in a large house on his own would have grated on whatever sanity he had left. He needed to move. He needed a distraction.

 

Placing the last of the dishes into the dish drainer, the raven wiped his hands against the dish towel and carefully placed it back against the sink. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the pack of cigarettes that were held inside, pursing his lips before deciding he'd wait until Mikasa was asleep. He wanted to berate himself for starting up a filthy habit like smoking but didn't want to waste the energy. He had been pushed and denied so much while he was in Erwin's grasp and now that he wasn't there, a part of him was silently rebelling. How mature. How fruitless. Whatever, fuck it, he deserved a vice.

 

When he stepped into the living room, Mikasa was already situated on the couch. How she had managed to shower and dress so quickly was beyond Levi but he didn't bother voicing his inquiries. He simply sat down next to his cousin, leaning back while asking, "So, what's on tonight?"

 

Mikasa smiled and started flipping through the channels.


"You've got all your books in your backpack?"

 

A sigh. "Yes."

 

"Money for lunch?"

 

A few shuffles were heard in the backseat before another drawled, "Yes."

 

"Three o'clock, I'll be out here. If you need to, let your teacher walk you out again if―"

 

"Mikasa!"

 

Both Levi and Mikasa's eyes rose, staring outside the car to see a young girl with crimson hair jumping excitedly while waving. Next to her was a young boy with sandy, short hair and he waved, albeit less enthusiastically. They clutched their backpack straps close on their shoulders, shifting on their feet while waiting for Mikasa to exit the car. Levi glanced back in the rearview mirror.

 

"The friends you told me about?"

 

Mikasa nodded, hiding her small smile while turning to look at her cousin. "Thanks for driving me. I'll see you later," she said while stepping out of the car. The late October air brushed against Levi's skin and even the heat couldn't stop the chill from racking his body. He watched Mikasa walk up to the two students, chuckling under his breath while attempting to force the curve of his lips back down. He felt a small feeling of accomplishment, seeing Mikasa openly letting down her guard and interacting with more children her age. 

 

He heard a car horn blare from behind him and he immediately reached to put his car into drive. As he did, a familiar figure caught his slate gaze. He dared to look up, seeing Eren standing in the middle of the chaotic first-morning rush. He was leaning against the corridor leading into the main hallways of the school, greeting Mikasa and her friends with an avid wave while ushering them inside. The young teacher turned back and Levi felt that unfamiliar, anomalous feeling stirring inside of his chest when those mossy eyes met his from across the enclosed area, bringing a tanned hand up and waving from across the distance. Levi's eyes averted around him, wondering if perhaps Eren was waving to someone else. To his surprise, Eren's eyes seemed to be trained on him from a distance, waiting for Levi to acknowledge him.

 

Levi's hand rose slowly, that peculiar churning in his stomach strengthening as he waved back.  

Chapter Text

Mikasa hurried through the small trailer, picking up beer caps and soiled clothing. She sighed, brushing a strand of her ebony hair behind her ear. She walked into the small kitchen and tossed the caps into the garbage while carrying the little bundle of clothes toward the laundry room. She opened the washer, dumping the clothes inside while reaching for the detergent and starting the cycle. She walked with cat-like graces, not wanting to wake her father up as he was slumped up against the loveseat in the living room. The small trailer they lived in wafted with the smell of tobacco and stale beer. Whenever she had the opportunity, Mikasa would spray a disinfectant or light a candle. The scent was permanent, and she learned just to accept it.

 

Mikasa glanced at the clock on the stove, bright numbers shining. It was a little after seven o'clock, and her stomach was rumbling painfully. She glanced inside of the refrigerator and only found an almost empty 24-pack of beer and an old container of take-out that was probably weeks old. Her face scrunched distastefully, taking the foam box out and tossing it away. She licked her lips and noiselessly moved a chair to the kitchen counter. She climbed onto it, peeking into the cabinets above. Her eyes roamed eagerly, looking for something ― anything to calm the raging hunger she felt. She was fortunate to get free meals at school but one meal a day only went so far. Her father was in-between jobs, so their income was scarce. She felt an overwhelming feeling of relief when she spotted a single box of macaroni and cheese in the corner of the cabinet and retrieved it hastily.

 

She prepared the food in silence, stirring the elbow's into the water once it started boiling. Without milk or butter, it was going to taste bland. But she didn't care; she just wanted something to stop the painful churning in her stomach. The only sound that could be heard was whatever nonsense was pouring from the television across the trailer in the living room. She was glad the electricity was still on, despite all of the late notices sitting on the small table inside of the kitchen. So it was at least warm, and she could cook. She didn't want to have to go to any of the local stores and try to steal whatever food she could; she didn't want to get into trouble or get reprimanded. The only thing she could think of doing was splitting her meals at school and trying to take some of it home with her. She had told Kenny plenty of times that he needed to find work, but the man was slowly descending into an oblivion of alcoholism and drugs. This was the quietest the house had been in quite some time. Mikasa had grown used to rowdy men from one of the local bars coming through as if they had a residence in their home. She was grateful to have her room otherwise she wasn't sure how she'd escape.

 

A few minutes passed, and Mikasa prepared two bowls. She reached for aluminum foil and wrapped one of the dishes and put it aside while she started eating. Her stomach made an ungodly noise to the food entering it, and she sighed, finishing the remnants of the food in a matter of seconds. Mikasa glanced over to the pot, debating if she should finish the rest or put more aside for her father. She opted to save him the remains, washing her bowl and placing it back in the cabinet.

 

The sound of the front door opening made Mikasa freeze, peering from the kitchen to see a dangly man enter the trailer. He wore a wool coat with holes in it, a worn baseball cap and dirty boots. Mikasa inwardly groaned. She had just cleaned the floors a few hours ago. Joshua, Mikasa recalled, dragged mud in behind him. He sniffed the air, looking to Kenny for a split second before glancing up to Mikasa with a sickly smile. "Something smells good," he said.

 

Mikasa's eyes narrowed and she crossed her arms. "There's nothing left over and Kenny's asleep."

 

"Hm," he hummed, licking his teeth. "I can see that. Well, I'll just hang out until he wakes up. Fucker can only sleep so much."

 

Mikasa's stomach clenched, and it wasn't from hunger anymore. It was an uneasy feeling stirring in her gut. She placed the bowl into the refrigerator and started for her room. She didn't spare to the ailing man standing in the middle of the living room. She closed her door quickly, leaning against it while making a face. She glanced around her room, looking for anything to distract her so she could maybe fall asleep early. She opted to read a few books, sitting crossed-legged on her bed and keeping her ears sharp for any strange noises. She didn't like the fact Joshua was still there, and it made her uncomfortable. Especially with the way he was staring at her. Kenny attracted terrible people in their lives, and Mikasa was always right in the middle of it. She wouldn't cry, and she wouldn't cringe, though. This was her home too.

 

An hour into her silent solitude, her door creaked open. Mikasa expected to see Kenny stumbling in but met with the thin face of Joshua. He swayed on his feet, and the overwhelming scent of alcohol reached her nose. He must have helped himself to the beer in the fridge because he hadn't appeared this intoxicated when he showed up. Mikasa closed her book, pushing herself further onto her bed and her body going rigid.

 

"Get out of my room," she demanded. Her eyes narrowed, clutching the book in her hand and preparing to swing it. It wasn't going to do very much damage, but maybe it could knock him on his feet. Joshua chuckled, and it was a sickening gurgle.

 

"You're never nice to me, Mikasa. I think you and I... well, we could have some fun." He slipped a cigarette between his curling lips, yellow teeth revealed in his smile.

 

She didn't like the way he was slinking his way to her or the unsteady look in his eyes. Mikasa swallowed thickly, knowing a book wouldn't be enough to hurt him. Still, she tried. She lunged forward, swinging the book and smacking it against the side of his head. Although Joshua did stumble, he didn't fall. He shook his head, and that weak smile turned into a sharp scowl of anger. His cigarette dropped to the floor and began burning a hole into the discolored carpet. The lanky man reached and shoved Mikasa hard against the bed, causing the young girl to kick wildly as her back hit the wall behind her. In that instant, Joshua reached for the cigarette that was on the floor. He plucked it between his fingers and swiftly brought it down onto Mikasa's wrist.

 

"You fucking stupid little girl," he snarled, and Mikasa cried out, the burn startling her. He pulled the butt back and placed it against her pale skin again and again. Mikasa tried to struggle out of his grip, but it was strong. She moved her legs, swung her shoulders and tried everything in her power to get the man off of her. The pain hindered her mind, and she gazed around her room, seeking anything that could help her. In a flurry of movement, she leaned her body as best she could to grasp at the gray lamp sitting on her nightstand. She yanked it out of the wall, causing the room the dim considerably and she roared when she catapulted the lamp against the man's face. The cigarette dropped onto her bed this time, and she hastily threw it to the floor. Joshua let out a howl of agony, blood trickling on the side of his face as a piece of the glass lamp slid through his skin. He jumped back, cradling his cheek and Mikasa reacted on pure instinct. She took the lamp again and  with a stunning strength she didn't know she had, it smashed above Joshua's head with a powering series of shatters.

 

Mikasa panted, Joshua's body dropping to the floor unceremoniously. She felt hot tears trickling down her cheeks, her body shaking at what she had just done.

 

"You got him good, kiddo."

 

The raven looked up, her eyes wide when she caught sight of her father leaning unsteadily against her doorframe. His coffee-colored hair was sticking to the side of his face in what appeared to be sweat and his face paler than usual. There was no beer can or cigarette in either of his hands, which surprised the young girl. She looked at the man incredulously while shouting, "Were you just going to let him do whatever he wanted to me?" She didn't want to say rape. She didn't want to say abuse.

 

"Tch, 'course not. But you seemed to sure as hell have it under control. Knocked that fucker out good. You got him right in the brow." Kenny reached up and traced his eyebrow, grinning proudly. "You got fire in you, girl. You're definitely an Ackerman. We don't go down without fighting."

 

While Kenny praised her, Mikasa did all she could to stop herself from sobbing. She looked down at the man still unconscious on her floor, not so much as a twitch coming from his body. She looked down at her own hands, flexing her fingers in disbelief. "I... I could have killed him."

 

"Bastard would have deserved it. I never really liked him, don't know why the fuck he keeps coming around." Kenny chuckled. "Doubt he will now."

 

Mikasa watched as Kenny bent down, locking his hands beneath the man's shoulders as he lifted him up. "I'll take out the trash. You clean up that glass and take care of those cuts on your arm."

 

She hadn't even thought to look at her wrist, her eyes widening when she noticed the searing burn marks littering her skin. She couldn't help it, her face twisted and a soft sob escaped. 

 

"Don't you go cryin'. We don't cry. We fight. Been trying to teach you that your whole life. The worlds a bitter, fucked up and cruel place. You'd better remember that."

 

He dragged Joshua's body and quite literally, dumped it onto the front porch. Mikasa stared after her father, unsure of how to process what had just happened. She dragged herself off the floor in her room and began collecting the stray shards of glass. A few nicked her fingertips, but she was too numb to feel it. She disposed of the mess and quickly went into the small bathroom. She hurled herself inside and slammed the door, resting her back against it while breathing heavily. She brought her hands into her hair, closing her eyes as her fingertips began to tingle and her throat felt constricted.

 

Ackerman's didn't cry, Kenny had said. She bit her lip and tried to stop the distressed whimper that wanted to escape. 

 

But in the end, she did cry.


 

"Mikasa!"

 

The voice entered into her subconscious, stirring and rousing.

 

"Shit, kid! Wake up! Come on, can you hear me?"

 

Someone was calling her name, and she shrank away from it. She felt pressure against her arms and even her wrists which caused her to thrash.

 

"MIKASA!"

 

The darkness that had surrounded her was suddenly lifted, a light next to her glaring and causing her eyes to flutter open. She didn't understand why her breaths were coming out in hurried gasps or why Levi was standing above her, pinning her shoulders down against her bed. His eyes were wide with confusion and concern, which was the most expressive Mikasa had ever seen him.  She looked up at her cousin, misunderstanding crossing her face.

 

Especially when she noticed a small, red gash on Levi's lips. 

 

"W-What happened?" she began shakily, Levi releasing her arms with a heavy sigh. He stood up fully, peering down at her while rubbing his thumb across his mouth. He pulled it back and examined the blood on his fingers. "Did... did do that to you?"

 

"You didn't mean to," Levi retorted, exhaling deeply while letting his hand rest on his hip. "You started screaming like a banshee, and I couldn't get you to hold still. You did what any other normal person would do and clocked me."

 

She hurriedly sat up on her bed. "That's not an excuse! I hurt you!"

 

"Mikasa," Levi interrupted, his voice surprisingly soft. "You were having a nightmare. When you're experiencing something like that, you have no control over it or what you do. You can't be upset about this."

 

She didn't understand why, but she felt tears of frustration leaking from her eyes. She rubbed her hands furiously against them, hissing in annoyance at herself. The bed dipped beside Mikasa, and she looked up with a watery gaze. "I'm... I'm so sorry."

 

Levi looked genuinely confused. "What the hell are you sorry for now?"

 

"For hitting you, for crying, I don't know―" she stammered, swiftly catching her tears before they fell. 

 

Levi rubbed his tired face while saying, "You apologize for the dumbest shit, I swear to God."

 

"What?"

 

"How can you be sorry for having a nightmare and being upset about it? We all have bad dreams, brat. You're not an exception, and neither am I."

 

"But... crying is a sign of―"

 

"Don't even finish that sentence," Levi growled. His eyes slit, and he dared to ask. "Let me guess; your father taught you that?"

 

Mikasa hung her head in shame, nodding.

 

Levi scoffed, shaking his head. "Stupid bastard. If he were still alive, I'd rip his insides out and string him up by them." He turned to the young girl, placing both of his hands on her shoulders. She looked up at him with a mixed expression of surprise and dubiety. "Don't apologize anymore. Especially for being in your feelings. You are a child. You're supposed to be scared, cry, get upset; whichever. I'm not your father, and I'm not going ever pretend to be, but you're still my family. If you need to cry, then cry your heart out. You're entitled, and I'd never dictate your emotions that way."

 

Mikasa's lips trembled and stared down at his arm. The burns there was a constant reminder of the life she used to live before she met Levi. If Levi hadn't taken her in, what would have happened to her? Would there be more scars? Levi followed her gaze, and his eyes softened. "How did you get them?"

 

"It wasn't Kenny," Mikasa defended quickly. Her voice held a higher octave than usual. "Another man did it. Kenny attracted all kinds of lowlifes to our house. One of them got... too close to me, and when I attacked him, he burned me with cigarettes. I ended up breaking a lamp while hitting him with it," she let out a shaky breath. "Kenny didn't do anything to stop it. He told me as an Ackerman; I need to be strong and handle my own battles. I could have killed that man, and he just shrugged it off. After that... I didn't know how to act like myself anymore. I didn't even know who was. I felt different and always out of place."

 

Levi's jaw clenched. "That sounds like him. His life's mission when I lived with him was to make a man out of me. But that was different; he shouldn't have ever pushed that shit on you." 

 

They sat there in the dim room and the clock resting on the side shined with bright, red numbers. It was almost three o'clock in the morning. Levi knew he wouldn't fall back to sleep so quickly after this and he was sure leaving Mikasa alone was the last thing she needed. It was a school night, and Levi didn't want his cousin over-exhausted when she went in the next day. On his sleepless nights, tea always soothed him. It was better than offering nothing.

 

"I'll make us some tea," he began while pushing himself off of Mikasa's bed. He glanced down at the younger raven and inquired, "Want me to bring some in for you or do you want to have it out in the kitchen?"

 

Offering a silent answer, Mikasa raised herself off of the bed as well, her bare feet padding on the hardwood and into the kitchen behind him. Levi only turned on the light above the stove, enclosing the area in a soft glow. Mikasa took her seat at the table, and Levi shuffled through the top cabinets while balancing on his tip-toes. "Peppermint or Chamomile?"

 

Mikasa's eyes continued to burn a hole into the table while replying, "Peppermint."

 

Levi moved fluidly, having done this so many times by himself. If he didn't have tea, he probably would've ended up following in his uncle's footsteps and became an alcoholic. He set the kettle and turned the dial for the burner to high. He pulled out three separate tea bags, two for himself and one for Mikasa while slipping them into two black mugs. Through the windows next to the laundry room door, Levi could hear the now familiar sound of tree frogs and crickets outside in the Fall air. It was only a few days away from November, and although he was aware Halloween was only a few days away, Mikasa hadn't mentioned anything. Perhaps another time would be best for bringing it up in conversation. He wanted Mikasa to experience all the wondrous things childhood had to offer. He wouldn't deprive her of that no matter how silly it was.

 

A few minutes later and Levi placed a steaming mug in front of Mikasa and took the other to the opposite end of the table. He sat down across from his cousin, bringing the hot liquid to his lips and humming softly when the tip of his tongue tasted heated peppermint. Mikasa wasn't as enthusiastic, merely wrapping her hands around the cup and staring into the liquid of it. 

 

"Thank you," Mikasa murmured gratefully, Levi finally noticing her bringing the mug to her lips and sipping tentatively. It wasn't as hot as Mikasa assumed it would be and realized a melting ice cube was floating at the surface of her tea. For some reason, that simple gesture made Mikasa smile. Levi may have been brash, but he was very kind in his way. He had done nothing but go out of his way to make her comfortable in a new environment, and all she could offer in return was waking nightmares and obstacles he didn't ask for.

 

Levi hummed in response, continuing to sit and enjoy his hot beverage. "After this, we'll try to get some sleep. If you're not up for school tomorrow, I can always call you out for the day. But I don't think you'd be happy with that."

 

Mikasa shook her head. "No. I... I like the school. The children are kind, and Mr. Yeager is sincere. Plus, I'm still new. It wouldn't look good if I'd missed a day on my first week."

 

They finished their drinks in silence, Levi collecting their empty cups and setting them into the sink. He debated washing them but shrugged it off, telling himself he'd do it first thing when they woke up. Levi was about to walk Mikasa back into her room but noticed she was still sitting at the table, an almost dazed look splitting over her young features.

 

"Are we broken people?" she asked quietly, taking her lower lip between her teeth.

 

Levi was stunned by the question, his body stilling near the entryway into the kitchen. Mikasa didn't raise her head to look at him nor did she say anything more. The raven took quick strides and knelt in front of Mikasa, catching her unsure eyes as he responded with a firm, "No."

 

He reached and ruffled her hair, smiling softly. Mikasa was almost surprised, never seeing a genuine smile on Levi's face before. She smiled in return. "Okay?" he asked, removing his hand from her hair.

 

She nodded, allowing Levi to help her from her seat. "Okay."


Every morning and afternoon, Levi noticed a pattern. He would drop Mikasa off at the front entrance and wait as she met up with her friends. First, it had just been two of them, Isabel and Farlan. Soon, Levi could see more of the students in her class were trying to befriend Mikasa. There was a young girl with blond hair tied up in a tight bun while there was another with dark, cocoa-colored hair, pulled back in a messily. Dominique and her sister, Nora were close by and approached with happy expressions. There were also two boys, one with very bright blond hair cut neatly and another who was the tallest out of all of them, dark hair and polite smiles. Levi wasn't always given a chance to take a look at the children around his cousin, but they all seemed sincere and content being around the young raven.

 

She was opening up. She was really trying, and Levi felt such immense relief. Since the night of Mikasa's nightmare, her attitude had changed. She was smiling more, openly expressing herself rather than hiding behind a facade of indifference. She enjoyed school; she enjoyed spending time with Levi's friends as well as her own. She even enjoyed spending time with him. They would watch television, idly throwing jokes and ill humor or they'd just sit outside on the porch and read. Sometimes, they'd separate and go into their rooms. Levi found his place had become a sanctuary of sorts while Mikasa was just content with having a clean, open space.

 

Erwin had lost all connections to him, no longer did he have any way of contacting him. He was anxiously waiting for Erwin to attempt calling Hange or even Mike, knowing that they were his closest friends, but so far neither had mentioned it and therefore, he merely did his best to push it to the back of his mind.

 

That morning, just like every other morning, Eren was standing just outside of the building. He always greeted Levi with a sunny smile and a wave in good morning before ushering his students inside. Levi had asked Mikasa if Eren had ever approached any of the other parents with his kind gestures in greeting, but was surprised when his cousin simply shook her head. She said Eren was generally polite with anybody he crossed paths with but hadn't noticed him standing outside for any of them. It started with Eren wanting to ensure Mikasa made it out without hassle, but Mikasa knew her way around now. He'd always come up to his car and indulge in small talk during the afternoon pick up hours, which Levi wasn't sure what to think of it.

 

What the hell did it mean then?

 

He made the mistake of asking Hange. They sat next to him in the car that morning, seeing Mikasa off before dropping them off at the community college just up the street. The schools were further away from their rural area, and Hange was a professor there and taught biochemistry. How Levi wasn't sure.  Hange's car was in one of the local shops for routine maintenance and Levi offered to take them while he was already in the area. 

 

That was probably a mistake.

 

"Who is that?" Hange pointed their finger noticeably in Eren's direction. Levi hissed, reaching over and forcefully pulling their hand down.

 

"Would you stop fucking pointing, you heathen?"

 

"Well, sorry. In case you haven't noticed, I think he's waving to you."

 

"No shit, you dolt. I'm not blind. That's Mikasa's teacher, Mr. Yeager."

 

"Ohhh," their lips formed an 'o' as well, bouncing excitedly in their seat while turning to Levi and saying, "He is absolutely gorgeous! I'm pretty sure I've seen him once or twice at Pixis's place, but it may have been a while ago. That's her teacher? Goodness, lucky little gal. I wouldn't mind a tumble in the sheets with―"

 

"You have a boyfriend, you dumbass. Jesus, what the hell is wrong with you this morning?"

 

"Just because I'm taken does not mean I can't appreciate the beauty around us. The day we stop looking is the day we die, munchkin."

 

Levi shook his head irritably, sneering out, "Call me that again, and I swear on everything holy―"

 

"Oh! Look, he's coming this way!"

 

Levi's head swiftly followed Hange's gaze, and sure enough, Eren was making his way over to his car. His hands gripped the steering wheel, and he swallowed audibly. Hange was, much to his dismay, waving enthusiastically and Eren waved back. Levi wanted to fly across the car and strangle them to death―

 

"Morning, Levi! And hello... friend of Levi?" he inquired unsurely, but politely. 

 

"Try best friend to this little grump! Hi there, I'm Hange! And I hear you're Mikasa's teacher, Mr. Yeager!"

 

Levi felt one of his eyes twitch and he bit his lip. 

 

"Just call me Eren, please! And it's nice to meet you, Hange. You look a bit familiar... but then again, small town, you know? I'm sure we've passed each other somewhere." He reached over and shook Hange's hand, his grin broadening briefly before those emerald eyes flashed over to Levi. Levi's breath caught.

 

"Morning, Eren." Shit that sounded entirely too unpleasant. Levi cleared his throat and released his grip on the steering wheel. The poor thing had indentations from where his fingers were just pressed. This was becoming a much too frequent thing. He tried to remain indifferent, solidifying his composure. "You might not want to get to close to this beast, for the most part, they do in fact bite."

 

"Burn. Ouch," Hange feigned in mock hurt. Eren let out a bark of laughter at Levi's terrible humor, shaking his head and revealing his teeth in his smile. Levi felt heat sweltering on his cheeks and quelled it down, unsure of what the hell was the matter with him.

 

"I'll keep that in mind. But, I did have something to give to you, actually." Eren unfolded a piece of paper he had tucked away in the back of his trousers, holding it out to Levi but letting out a huff of amused air when Hange took it instead. Levi growled low in his throat. "Halloween is only two days away, and with how spaced out the houses are in Shiganshina, we usually come together as a community and have something held here for the kids. It makes it easier for them to get all sugar-high and have fun while easily being kept an eye on. I figured I'd let you know so you and Mikasa can attend. I think she'd really like it."

 

Levi snatched the paper from Hange's hands while his eyes were locked with Eren's. He nodded his head, looking over the paper until Hange ripped it out of his hands again. "We'll be there. I'm sure she'd love to go."

 

"You can come too, Hange. It's really just for the students, but I'm always encouraging more people to attend."

 

"Oh, I'll definitely come along. This little guy might get lost in the crowd if there isn't a chaparone―"

 

Levi discreetly moved to kick Hange in the shin, causing them to stop speaking abruptly. Eren didn't seem to notice as he was still holding his patient smile, although his eyes were swirling with amusement that didn't go unnoticed by Levi.

 

"Awesome! Well, great. I'll let you guys go since I'm the one holding up the line. But it was nice meeting you, Hange!" Those eyes made Levi's chest do something strange, a foreign feeling he wasn't sure he'd felt in a very long time. He didn't have a name for it or a clear definition on what it meant. But he didn't like it. He didn't like that he couldn't control it. While Eren's eyes held cheerfulness wherever he went, when they turned to him, they were thoughtful and keenly focused. "Have a great day, Levi."

 

Levi couldn't drive away fast enough, already sensing Hange was about to open their fucking mouth―

 

"Shut up."

 

"But I did even say anything!"

 

"You're going to, and I don't want to fucking―"

 

"Does he come out and talk to you often?"

 

"Hange..."

 

"He does, doesn't he? Holy shit, Levi. Did you take a good look at him? I may have to break things off with Moblit because that right there is a true masterpiece." Hange made the dramatic motion of fanning themselves while Levi pulled out of the school parking lot and back onto the main road.

 

"You are a fucking idiot. I should smack you for that shit you just pulled."

 

"I don't think you realize that that man was trying to flirt with you, do you?"

 

Levi nearly swerved off the road, glaring at Hange while exclaiming, "The hell is the matter with you? He is not trying to flirt with me. He's probably just trying to be nice. I'm back in town after ten plus damn years, and he's trying to make me and Mikasa feel welcome or some shit."

 

"Uh-huh. Levi, I don't think you'd know someone was flirting with you unless they blatantly told you they were. Sorry, sugar but it's the truth. That man didn't take his eyes off of you for more than maybe a few seconds."

 

"So what? In case you didn't notice, we were all in a conversation―"

 

"We were, but did you also hear the way he said your name? Ugh, I swear you're so oblivious."

 

"I'm done discussing this. It's become apparent you're bat-shit insane, and you need professional help. Dr. Yeager said they had top of the line therapists at his practice. Maybe I'll call and sign you the hell up."

 

Levi needed to derail this conversation before his face turned any warmer. He gritted his teeth, anticipating the moment the sign for Shiganshina Community College came into view. He maneuvered the vehicle until it was gliding to the front of the large building, already hitting the unlock button while saying, "Off you go."

 

"Levi," Hange whined, making Levi's eye twitch again. "You can't be mad at me for pointing out the obvious."

 

Levi inhaled deeply. "I'm going to kick you out of this car, don't test me."

 

"You're such a spoilsport, you shrimp." Hange opened the door and stepped out of the car, shutting the door with a small bit of exasperation. "But not to fear, that's why Hange's here! So, you'll be here around three thirty, right?"

 

Levi kept his eyes ahead, shifting his car into drive and only humming in faint acknowledgment. Hange deserved to squirm after that embarrassing scenario. He pulled away slowly, hoping to get his point across as Hange followed the car.

 

"Right?!" They called just as Levi pulled away, waving his hand dismissively. Oh, yes. They definitely deserved to squirm. 

Chapter Text

The classroom that morning was particularly loud, young and excited voices chatting away excitedly about what was to come later that night. Today was Halloween, which meant each child was bragging and gloating about what costumes they'd be showing up to the gathering in. Eren indulged fondly, coming around and picking up their assignments while chuckling to himself. Annie was helping him collect the papers while joining in on the conversations as well. The air was tinted with wonderment and excitement. Mikasa felt a little out of place, but also very giddy.

 

"Oh! Oh! Mikasa!" Isabel whispered urgently, leaning away from her desk and toward the dark-haired girl. Mikasa inclined her head curiously. "What are you dressing up as tonight?"

 

Mikasa bit her lip and averted her eyes. "I'm... not sure, actually. I haven't been able to make up my mind." I've never celebrated Halloween before, she wanted to say but kept it to herself.

 

Isabel appeared thoughtful, tilting her head and narrowing her eyes. "Hmm... well, you're pale and have dark hair. Maybe a vampire?" she offered.

 

Mikasa and Farlan both made a face. "I'm not sure how I feel about that..." 

 

"You're right, you're too pretty to be a vampire!" Mikasa hid a small blush at the words, pulling her scarf up to conceal her cheeks. Farlan laughed beside her. "Oh, I know! I think you'd make an adorable witch!"

 

The redhead visibly perked up when Farlan tapped his chin. "You know... she's right. You would make a good witch. Maybe see if your... cousin can help you with some face makeup?"

 

Mikasa almost snorted at the thought of Levi putting makeup on her. She still found the idea of dressing up as a witch appealing, especially since she enjoyed so many fantasy novels about them. Levi was supposed to take her costume shopping after school with Hange, Petra, and her daughters. Now that she had some sort of idea what she wanted to be, it would be easier to pick out accessories and adornments to go with the outfit.

 

"I'll figure something out," Mikasa said. "But I like the costume idea, Isabel. I think I'd make a pretty good witch."

 

Farlan and Isabel exchanged small grins of victory while Mikasa smiled softly. 


 

Levi observed his cousin with a hint of amusement as she spun around in front of the mirror, turning back to him with a questionable expression. 

 

"How does it look?"

 

Mikasa adjusted the pointed hat on her head, offering a shy smile while Hange and Petra both clapped their hands enthusiastically. Dominque and Nora were both dressed in their respective costumes; a fairy queen and a superhero from one of their favorite movies. The black, pointed hat complimented Mikasa's skin tone and matched the dark dress that was drawn down to her dark boots. Petra had helped Mikasa with a bit of makeup; applying eyeliner and some deep eyeshadow. 

 

The younger Ackerman looked so happy, Levi had to wonder if she had ever had the opportunity to do something like this with other children her age. Dominique and Nora, both dressed quite colorfully compared to his cousin, came up and gushed over the costume. It caused Mikasa to blush.

 

"You make an outstanding witch, my dear! We should have gotten a small broom or something to go with the costume."

 

Levi snorted. "She's not going to want to carry a damn broom around. She'll have a basket in her hands."

 

Petra chuckled. "Always the killjoy, Levi."

 

"Always," Levi replied, not missing a beat. He pulled out his phone, glancing down at the time. "Speaking of killjoys, you about ready? We're going to be late if we don't leave now."

 

Petra moved to gather her two daughters. "I'm going to pick up Oluo at home and meet you guys there. He couldn't get out of work early enough."

 

Levi nodded, already reaching for his keys and allowing everyone to step out of the house in front of him. He dimmed most of the lights, leaving just a few on to let others believe someone was home. Levi felt an uneasy feeling at keeping the house completely dark; perhaps a part of him was still paranoid of Erwin poking around and finding him. The weeks were starting to morph together and it was hard to believe that it was already going into the month of November.

 

It was also hard to believe that he was here, helping his younger cousin pick out Halloween costumes and preparing to take her to a school event. If someone were to ask Levi a month ago if he would have pictured himself here, he would have laughed. Instead, he smiled softly while locking the door behind him and walking out behind everyone into the driveway.


There was an insistent twisting in Levi's stomach when he pulled into the school parking lot, his eyes scanning for somewhere to park. The entire area was overcrowded with rows of cars that were parked both in the lot and on the grass surrounding the property as well as throngs of families making their way toward the playground area. Levi sighed, leaning forward to see better.

 

"Oh! Right there, Levi!" Hange pointed ahead, narrowing in on a spot. 

 

Once they had parked, Levi locked the doors of the vehicle and observed the scene in front of him. There were several booths and stations set up around the back of the school, all with activities for the young students and plenty of candy being spread around. It reminded him of a carnival. Levi inwardly groaned. He had never seen so many children in his life. Glancing over at his cousin, Levi could see Mikasa was vibrating with both anxiety and excitement. She held her dark basket close to her chest, her eyes peering curiously for anybody she may have known.

 

They walked toward the grounds, Levi shoving his hands into his pockets while looking around himself. The children and parents around him were all smiles, laughing merrily and running around in enthusiastically. Some of which were bumping right into the three of them, making Levi groan aloud. "Aren't these children supposed to be supervised?"

 

"Oh, hush," Hange chided, bumping their shoulder into Levi's. "Don't be a spoilsport. Look how happy Mikasa looks."

 

They said is quietly so only the two of them could hear, but Levi couldn't argue. Mikasa looked elated. He sighed, running a hand through his hair. Up ahead of the crowd, he could see Petra standing with Oluo, their two daughters busying themselves at one of the booths while Mike and Nanaba were watching in amusement. Mike was the first to notice them, waving widely to catch their attention. Hange shouted back in response, walking ahead while Levi and Mikasa followed.

 

"About time you three showed up," Mike greeted, peering down at Mikasa with a small smile. "Hey there, Mikasa. Your costume looks great."

 

Mikasa smiled shyly, gripping her dress a bit. "Thank you."

 

"Doesn't she make the most adorable little witch you've ever seen? Her friends gave her the idea. Credit goes to Petra for the makeup," Hange responded.

 

"She has a magic touch when it comes to that sort of thing," Nanaba agreed, shooting Petra a knowing look. "Depending if we have a boy or girl, you'll have the show me the ropes with that. I rarely wear makeup."

 

Mike pulled Nanaba close at that, whispering something in her ear and causing the woman to chuckle. Levi rolled his eyes.

 

While the adults were conversing, Mikasa noticed off to the side Isabel and Farlan waving in her direction. Isabel wore a wide smile, grinning ear to ear while Farlan was shaking his head next to her. Isabel was dressed as a zombie princess while Farlan wore a dark, punk outfit. Mikasa raised her hand to wave back, looking up to Levi while asking, "Can I go over there with Isabel and Farlan?"

 

Levi's eyes traveled to the two children, eyeing this for a few moments before answering, "That's fine. Just stay where we can see you."

 

Mikasa didn't need to be told twice, nodding her head while running off to talk to her friends. Levi noticed a few other children from her class as well. They all surrounded the young Ackerman, complimenting her costume and talking adamantly. Mikasa laughed; an open, unrepressed laugh that made Levi smile softly to himself.

 

"Would you look at that? Never thought I'd see the day you'd be so parental," Oluo commented, grinning a bit when Levi shot him a glare. Before he could say anything, Petra slapped her husband hard on his shoulder. 

 

"Be quiet. I think it's great that Levi and Mikasa are getting along. Maybe you can learn a thing or two since you're such a softie to the girls."

 

Oluo gapped at Petra. "I am not."

 

"Sure, keep telling yourself that," Petra said offhandedly, giving Levi a smile. "Don't listen to this oof. I'm glad you were able to make it. You don't really realize how special things like this are to the kids. It seems a little silly, but it's always worth it."

 

Levi had to agree, Petra always being more spot on then she let on. Although children were screaming around him, more than likely sugar-high off whatever junk they were consuming; it was a light and festive atmosphere and it soothed his nerves from earlier. 

 

That didn't last very long, however.

 

"Hey, isn't that Eren over there?" Hange pointed their damn finger again, causing all of them to turn their heads in unison. Feeling that unfamiliar churning in his stomach flare to life again, Levi's gray eyes caught sight of the young teacher just ahead of the schoolyard, sitting at one of the booths while smiling brightly and handing out candy. He was wearing what appeared to be a ridiculous wolf mask, though it was pulled up to reveal his face as it flattened his hair. Otherwise, he was dressed in a more casual outfit than what he normally wore to teach; a pair of dark wash jeans and a maroon sweater. He was surrounded by a group of children, all laughing while Eren chuckled along with them. 

 

Levi wasn't sure if it was Hange's obnoxious hollering or if Eren's eyes just happened to wander their way, but Levi bit his lip in frustration when he was spotted. Eren waved his hand in greeting, standing up from the booth while leaning down a bit. He exchanged a few words with the parents and their kids, gesturing that he'd be right back as he made his way over to Levi and the rest of his group. Hange greeted Eren rather enthusiastically and everyone else seemed pleased to see him.

 

"I'm glad you guys could make it!" Eren said as he stood in front of Levi, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly. "It's a pretty nice setup, right? There are a few booths down a ways that have some food too―"

 

"That mask looks ridiculous," Levi blurted before he could stop himself, a part of him wishing he could slap a hand over his mouth. What the fuck was wrong with him? Everyone's eyes turned to Levi curiously, although, Hange had a glint in their eyes that Levi recognized immediately.

 

Eren blinked at the statement a few times before he laughed, bringing a hand to his mouth before he sounded too rude. "Ah, yeah... it does, doesn't it? But you know, for the kids and all..." he trailed off and Levi couldn't help but notice the light dust of pink of his cheeks. Shit, he wasn't trying to embarrass him.

 

"You'll have to excuse this one, he's a bit short when it comes to manners," Hange intervened, giving Levi a knowing look. "I think the mask is just charming."

 

"Remember a man named Moblit? You know, your boyfriend," Levi hissed, ready to kick Hange right in the shin. Everyone laughed heartily at that, falling into a much easier conversation. Levi watched as Eren easily conversed, the smile never wavering from his attractive face. How could someone be so damn happy all the time? Levi couldn't remember a time since he moved to Shiganshina where he's seen Eren with anything but a sunny expression on his face. It made his stomach and his body react in a way he wasn't familiar with and he hated not understanding why. 

 

Looking for any excuse to walk away, Levi did notice Mikasa had disappeared from his sight. Deciding that was the opening he needed, he went with it without hesitation. "I'm going to go find Mikasa, I'll be right back."

 

Eren perked up at that. "Oh, I'll go with you. I haven't had to chance to see her or her costume yet and I know her and the other two troublemakers in my class were helping her decide what to wear."

 

Dammit it all to hell. 

 

Shooting the group a glare when he heard some snickering, Levi and Eren made their way through the large crowds around them. Eren kept up his stride next to Levi, occasionally glancing sideways at the shorter man. Levi did his utmost best to keep his eyes ahead but found himself gazing at the teacher walking beside him. 

 

"So..." Eren began, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a small package of candy. He popped one into his mouth in between words, his emerald eyes shifting to Levi. "I never did get the chance to really have a conversation with you. What made you move back to Shiganshina?"

 

Levi considered his answer, seeing no harm in responding. Eren seemed like the type to get answers anyway. "I figured it'd be a better environment for Mikasa. Plus, I've lived here in the past."

 

"My father mentioned you," Eren stated, surprising Levi. "Nothing personal. Just that you've lived here before. Your last name is pretty familiar, but I guess I was young and never had the chance to see you around."

 

Probably because I was always stuck in that shithole of a house with Kenny, Levi thought acidly. "I was around," he said vaguely instead.

 

Eren offered the candy in his hands toward Levi with a hopeful expression, but Levi shook his head. "That shit is terrible for you, you know."

 

Shrugging his shoulders, Eren threw another piece into his mouth instead. "You only live once, you know."

 

Cheeky little shit. 

 

"What made you stay in Shiganshina?" Levi asked in turn. "You don't seem like the settling down in small-town type."

 

Eren rubbed the back of his neck like he had earlier, chuckling lowly. "Ten years ago, you'd be right. All I ever wanted to do was get out and explore the world. I hated being here. But, as I got older, things changed. I have great friends and support here. I also really love the community. My old man wanted me to practice medicine like him, but I wanted to help others in a different way. So, I took my courses in early education and went from there. I'm pretty happy where I am now. Wouldn't change it for the world. I've learned to appreciate the little things."

 

Eren's words entranced Levi in a strange way. He was... just so content and easy going with life. Letting the currents of it just take him wherever it decided to lead him. Levi had never known what that was like in his entire life. He was always used to fighting to survive; fighting for some sort of normalcy.

 

It was as if they were from two completely different worlds, yet, they were both from the same damn town.

 

Before Levi had the chance to give any sort of acknowledgment, Eren's eyes scanned ahead and his smile widened a bit. "Looks like we found the kiddos."

 

Levi turned to where Eren eyes were, spotting Mikasa, Isabel, and Farlan heading in their direction. Mikasa's basket was overflowing with candy, making Levi sigh. She was indulging in a few pieces while chatting happily with her friends. She increased her pace a bit when she saw Levi standing next to her teacher, Isabel, and Farlan following quickly behind her.

 

"Wow, I'm impressed! I've seen a few witches here but none of them even compare to you! You look great, Mikasa! All of you do. I approve," Eren gushed, bringing a hand up to his mouth while nodding enthusiastically. "And I also see you guys scored half of the candy jackpot."

 

Mikasa looked down at her basket and smiled. "Thank you, Mr. Yeager. It was Isabel and Farlan's idea, and all of the other teachers have been pretty generous."

 

"Probably not as generous as me. I'm sure the parents will be scolding me after the weekend. Speaking of which... I should probably get back to the booth," Eren stated while sagging in visible disappointment. "I technically wasn't supposed to walk away for more than a few minutes."

 

Levi took note to the way Eren said this, the lilt in his voice downward. He didn't understand it but he didn't have a lot of time to question it. Eren turned to him, his eyes holding a strong warmth that he hadn't seen before. His eyes practically shimmered in the evening sun. "I'm glad we had a chance to talk... even if it was only for a little while."

 

The raven arched a brow at the statement, shocked. "Why?" he found himself asking.

 

Eren also expressed his surprise, as if he didn't comprehend why Levi would ask him that. "I want to get to know you. You're... interesting."

 

Any words Levi wanted to say couldn't seem to form, stuck deep inside of his now dry throat. His mouth opened but nothing seemed to come out. Eren was already backing away, waving a goodbye to the children but still keeping his eyes on Levi. He pulled that ridiculous mask back down on his face and finally turned away, making his way back to the booth he was sitting at previously.

 

He was stunned in place with his hands in his pockets as he watched Eren walk away. He snapped out of his daze when Mikasa tugged at his sleeve, eyeing him curiously.

 

"Are you alright?" she asked quietly.

 

"Yeah," he responded, clearing his throat and adjusting his coat. He ran a quick hand through his hair and looked down at his cousin. "I'm fine. Let's go find the others. It's going to get dark soon."

 

Mikasa nodded her head, moving her hat back in place while she turned her attention back to Isabel and Farlan. As they wound their way around the crowd, Levi cocked his head to glance back at Eren once more before following his cousin.

 

 

Chapter Text

Levi drove over to Pixis's bar, pulling into the uneven gravel lot and putting his car into park. It was twelve in the afternoon and only a few cars were in the parking area. He turned off the ignition, reaching on the seat for the check he had prepared for the older man. He knew Pixis wouldn't hound him for rent so soon after initially only moving in a few weeks ago... but Levi was prompt and always wanted to be one step ahead. He adjusted his coat and stepped out of the car and advanced toward the bar. It was becoming increasingly chilly out with the breeze blowing from the early November air.

 

When Levi walked inside, the stale smell of cigarettes and alcohol greeted him immediately. There were a few patrons sitting silently, sipping on their respective drinks while their eyes were glued to the television screens hanging above the bar itself. Their eyes momentarily turned to Levi but quickly looked away, not wanting to waste too much of their attention on him with whatever was currently playing. There was soft music playing in the background from the jukebox and the raven could hear a content humming from behind the bar.

 

Pixis was bent down, currently sorting through a few orders while occasionally reaching for the flask hidden in his breast pocket. Levi rolled his eyes and cleared his throat, causing the older man to slowly raise his head and give Levi a buttered smile.

 

"A bit early for you to be here, don't you think?"

 

Levi took a seat on one of the stools, folding his arms in front of him. "I'm not here to drink, old man. I'm here to give you this," he explained, reaching into his coat pocket and waving the check in the air. "Figured it was due, a new month and all."

 

"Hm," Pixis hummed faintly, reaching to take the check from Levi's hands. "I wouldn't have minded giving you a few extra weeks, seeing as you've just moved in not too long ago. But you also won't see me complaining."

 

As Levi was sitting, his eyes scanned the bar in front of him. With a grimace, he swiped one finger across the wood and found a coat of dust on the pad of it. Disgusting, Levi thought, looking up to see Pixis taking yet another swig of his drink. "Your bar is as filthy as I remember it."

 

Pixis eyed Levi momentarily before breaking out in a grin. "I forget that we can't all meet your high standards," he retorted with a snort. "I do what I can. I don't seem to have much help these days."

 

"Why's that?" Levi inquired.

 

Pixis shrugged. "Lost a lot of help when school let back in. I don't have an issue with the technical work, but I wouldn't mind someone to help with bookkeeping and cleaning. Manning the bar would be a plus."

 

Levi drummed his fingers and looked thoughtful. "If I'm good at anything, it's bookkeeping and cleaning."

 

Pixis let out a breathy laugh. "Somehow I don't see this being the type of environment you'd want to work in. You and large crowds of drunk patrons?"

 

"Why not? I don't have anything else going for me. I don't want to go back to sitting in a dull office space every day, that's for fucking certain. I wouldn't mind the change in pace. As far as the patrons are concerned, you keep a gun back there don't you?"

 

Pixis looked as though he was seriously considering it. "And Mikasa?"

 

"What about her? I'd have someone watch her, naturally. I'm literally right next door. If something were to happen, I could sprint across the damn yard."

 

The older man was leaning against the bar, his hand idly massaging his mustache. "You know what, Ackerman? You make several fair points. I could use some organization around here and I trust you'll be just the man for that. Trost has certainly changed you. I don't think I would have heard this coming out of your mouth ten years ago."

 

"I'm not who I was ten years ago," Levi commented, somewhat darkly. His eyes downcasted and he sighed. "So, I'm assuming that means I have the job?"

 

"It's yours," Pixis agreed with a smile. "Come by tonight. You don't need to start immediately, but perhaps get a better feel for what this place is like when it's actually busy. It's a Friday, so half of Shiganshina will be here. Sit, have a drink, people watch."

 

Levi snorted but nodded anyway. "I'll be here. Don't expect me to drink. That'll defeat the entire purpose of people watching."


 

There he was again. Just standing there, waving with that big ass smile on his attractive face. Levi's hands gripped the steering wheel as he parked in the pickup line. He found himself waving back, his eyes immediately catching sight of his young cousin making her way to the car. She said her goodbyes to her friends while flinging her backpack into the backseat of Levi's car. Levi rolled his eyes as Mikasa immediately pulled out her phone with a smile on her face.

 

"Have a good day?" Levi asked, his eyes straining to stay forward and off the handsome teacher across the schoolyard. 

 

"We did," Mikasa answered. "We're learning about the Solar System, and Mr. Yeager makes it really exciting when he's explaining it. He mentioned maybe having us do some projects on it, so I think it'll be really fun."

 

Levi remembered doing school projects with his mother. He recalled how much fun they'd have together, making a mess and more than likely messing up the project entirely. He was happy Mikasa was thrilled about it. "Well, keep me in the loop. We'll need to get supplies if he's going to have you attempt a project."

 

Mikasa nodded, her eyes raising for the first time since getting into the car and then dropping back down to her phone again. 

 

"I got a job today," Levi said after a few moments of silence.

 

"Oh? That's wonderful! Where at?"

 

"Right next door. I'll be working with Pixis."

 

Mikasa appeared concerned and it made Levi sigh. "What?"

 

"I don't know... That just doesn't seem like a place you'd work at."

 

"You're not the first person to say that. Cut me some slack, I can handle people."

 

"Drunk people?"

 

"Especially drunk people."

 

Mikasa chuckled, although it appeared a little sad. "I guess you're right."

 

"Look, it's a step out of my own comfort zone. It's something different and as hard as it is for me to admit it, I need different. If I keep doing the same shit, I'm bound to fall back into old patterns."

 

"I have complete faith in you, Levi. I'm just having a hard time picturing you working at a bar."

 

Levi made a face, turning onto their street and advancing toward their house. "You and me both."


After dinner, Levi ensured Mikasa had her homework finished and had completed her nightly routines before Hange showed up. Levi had wanted to reach out to Petra or Nanaba, but he also knew they wanted time with their families. Especially since it was a weekend. So he opted for the former. Hange, although eccentric and annoying, was also someone Levi trusted explicitly. He knew they'd be more than willing to spend time with Mikasa, and Mikasa, in turn, enjoyed spending time with them. It gave Mikasa a chance to get closer with his own circle of friends and he was silently pleased with the idea.

 

Instead of walking in the now cold night, he drove his car over instead. The parking lot was completely packed, just as Pixis said it would be. As Levi stepped out of his car, he heard music pouring from the building. There was someone standing outside, keeping watch the make sure nobody got rowdy outside. That gave Levi a bit of comfort. Especially if he was going to be working on nights like these. Pulling his coat closer, Levi stepped through the gravel lot and into the noisy bar.

 

Levi couldn't remember the last time he had seen it so busy and it brought him back to his teenage years. Bass was thrumming through the floor and the walls, making Levi's ears ache. The raven turned his head, glancing around to see if he could spot the older man. Pixis was busy running behind the bar while two of his bartenders, one being a young woman with apricot hair and the other being a middle-aged man he had never seen before. Shrugging off his jacket, Levi made his way through the large throngs of people dancing and laughing with drinks in their hands. Levi already felt aggravation creeping into his mind, but he pushed it aside. This was more than likely why Pixis suggested he come in to observe; the place was a fucking madhouse.

 

Seeing one seat was open at the bar, Levi didn't hesitate in taking it. He was beside an older man who had an unlit cigarette in his hands and another who was turned away and speaking to someone else. His fingertips itched to reach into his own pocket for the pack of cigarettes nestled in there, but he refrained. Instead, he leaned forward to get the bartenders attention.

 

She was quick, holding up a finger to whoever she was speaking to and talking to him instead. "Hi there, sorry. My names Anka. What can I get for you?"

 

"Start me off with a rum and coke, I guess. I won't be staying here very long."

 

"Ah," she said, knowingly. "I think I recognize you now. You were here earlier talking with Pixis. I also think you moved in next door to that cute little pink house."

 

She spoke while preparing his drink, causing his eyebrow to arch. "Did Pixis mention me?"

 

"Oh, no. I was here earlier. I was in the back completing some inventory. You'll find me here a lot, watching this old oof so he doesn't die of alcohol poisoning."

 

Levi couldn't help it, he cracked a small smile and chuckled. He decided he liked this woman. "I applaud you for taking on that job."

 

"I know, right?" she laughed, sliding Levi's drink across the counter. "Don't hesitate if you need anything. And for what it's worth, I feel like you'll be a fresh face that'll have more people stopping by. Call it intuition."

 

Before Levi could respond, Anka already turned her back away from Levi and began taking care of other customers. The raven lifted his drink carefully and sipped on it, letting the taste of bitter rum and sweet soda hit his tongue. While he didn't really want to drink, he didn't want to stand out either. The point was to blend in and keep a careful watch. It appeared to be any typical Friday night inside the Brigade, drinks being poured while excited chatter surrounded him. He sat for what seemed like hours, simply taking in the atmosphere and allowing himself to loosen up. He was tense upon arriving but was slowly letting his body relax. 

 

Soon, one drink turned into two. Then, two turned into three. More and more, people were starting to clear the main bar area and migrate either outside or the pool table area. Levi felt a delightful little buzz and figured it would be about time to leave. He wasn't one for conversations with strangers nor did he bother with some of the flirtatious looks being cast his way.

 

What did catch his eye as he turned to reach for his wallet was a melodic laugh that echoed through the bar. Levi's head rose, his hands freezing with his task and he sought out the source of that laugh. Once he heard it again, he didn't even need clarification on who it belonged to. Once more patrons moved aside, Levi made out the figure of a tall, lean man leaning against one of the pool tables with a stick in hand. He appeared relaxed, lazily smiling while taking a swig from the bottle sitting on the table next to him. He wore a tight-fitting black shirt with a jacket hanging on the chair near his table, pants that were dark denim and allowing anybody to see the curves of his hips and backside―

 

Oh for fuck's sake ― Levi thought quickly, attempting to reach over and wave Anka down quickly. His heart was racing and he felt his fingertips tingling just from being in the same proximity as Eren Yeager. He was currently engaged with his friends, two of them he recognized as teachers from Shiganshina Elementary. One of them had bright blond hair, cut almost awkwardly while he spoke adamantly with a man with two-toned hair, his face looking slightly irked when he conversed with Eren. Eren simply shrugged, not seeming very bothered by the exchange. 

 

Eren's expressive eyes shifted and the moment they met Levi's, Levi thought he was going to fall out of his fucking stool. His entire body jolted.

 

Fuck me, are you serious right now? 

 

Eren's expression changed from mildly amused to positively radiant, a grin splitting between his lips as he pushed himself off of the surface he was leaning against. All Levi wanted to do was fucking run when Eren strode toward him with a confident sway of his hips. Holy shit, did the man even realize how many eyes were on him? And yet here he was, eyes steadily drawn on Levi. If he were to run now, it would only make him look like an absolute idiot. So instead, he turned his attention to his drink. He looked at it like it was the most fascinating thing on earth.

 

Eren approached with a smile on his face. "Hey, Levi! I'm so surprised to see you here tonight!"

 

Even though Levi's heart was doing a wild dance, he turned to Eren with a cool expression. "I could say the same thing to you. Didn't see you as the drinking type."

 

"I'm really not," Eren confessed. "I only come here with Armin and Jean for pool league. Other than that, I actually don't go out very much."

 

Levi found that very hard to believe. Eren seemed like that type of man to attract all sorts of attention. The teacher took place his hand on a nearby stool, looking at Levi with an arched brow. "Mind if I join you?"

 

Levi took note of Eren's friends behind him and asked, "Won't your friends mind?"

 

"Nah," he said dismissively. "I was actually about to leave when I spotted you. I couldn't believe my luck."

 

Your luck? Levi wanted to ask, but instead, he shrugged. "Don't let me stop you."

 

Sitting next to Levi, Eren raised a single digit to get Anka's attention. When she moseyed over, she leaned against the counter with a smile. Eren flashed her a charming grin in return. "Can you get us two..." As Eren held up his hands, he looked at Levi questionably.

 

Levi thought for a moment before saying, "Fireball."

 

"Two Fireball's," Eren echoed with a chuckle. When Anka stepped away to get their drinks, Eren said, "Trying to get me drunk?"

 

"You're young," Levi countered. "You'll live."

 

Anka placed their drinks on the counter, offering both of them a smile before turning back to her previous activities. Eren shared a look with Levi while raising the small, plastic cup. "Cheers," he said with a charming smile.

 

"Cheers," Levi echoed, tapping his cup against Eren's and tossing it back. The liquid burned his throat immediately, but it was a pleasant tingle. He let out a huff when he put the empty cup back on the bar.

 

"So," Eren began. "Tell me about yourself, Levi."

 

Levi regarded Eren quizzically. "What do you want to know? You already know enough about me."

 

"But I want to know more," Eren said, somewhat exasperated. It reminded Levi of Mikasa when she was trying to get an obvious point across. Levi was somewhat stunned that Eren wanted to get to know him better. He wasn't sure what sort of territory he was stepping into, but if Hange was correct, Eren was attempting to get to know him because he was attracted to him. Hell, he did even know if Eren preferred the same sex or not. He hardly knew anything about him.

 

"I'll make you a deal," Levi began. "You seem keen on getting to know me, for whatever reason that may be, but I hardly know a thing about you. I know you're a teacher, you were born and raised here, and that you're good with kids. That's it. So, we'll make an exchange of sorts."

 

Why was he saying this? 

 

Eren's smile turned into something coyer. The way his hair was pulled back, some of the strands dipping just near his forehead, made him look all the more handsome. "Alright, you're on. You'll find I'm not very interesting, though. Fair warning."

 

"For some reason, I doubt that."

 

Eren chuckled. "Hm... okay. I'm twenty-six. I moved out of my parent's house right after I turned eighteen. I can't say I've had anything traumatic ever happen in my life, so I guess I'm pretty fortunate. I have a small group of friends that I've known since we were kids. Two of them are by the pool tables. I come here once a week on Friday nights. I love all food, seriously, all food. I've never had a serious relationship."

 

While most of those details were trivial, Levi blinked at the last bit. "Bullshit," Levi blurted out before he could stop himself.

 

Eren tilted his head. "What's bullshit?"

 

"You've never been in a serious relationship?"

 

"That's what you focused on? Why is that so hard to believe?"

 

"Have you seen yourself?"

 

Eren blinked a few times in confusion before throwing his head back and laughing. "Are you saying I'm attractive, Levi Ackerman?"

 

This man was good, Levi would give him that. Fighting down the heat that was rising to his cheeks, he reached over and took a long swig from his rum and coke. 

 

"Alright, I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to tease you. To answer your question... no, I haven't. I've come close a few times. When I think of a serious relationship, I think of one that's stable and you're happy. I haven't had that. I've been fucked over plenty enough, and after so long, I sort of stopped trying. I've never really had a lot of people catch my eye either. Whether they were male or female. So I focus on my job instead and surround myself with friends and family."

 

Levi absorbed all of this information, the question from earlier being answered. Eren was at least bisexual if that admission was anything to go by. Still, Eren didn't wear his heart on his sleeve either. He always had such a sunny disposition about him... it was almost difficult to imagine someone hurting him. 

 

"Sometimes, that's better," Levi responded vaguely, swirling his drink in his glass. He did the opposite when Erwin began isolating him, he pushed everyone he ever cared for away. Perhaps if he reached out sooner, he could have avoided so much heartache.

 

"Enough about that," Eren dismissed, waving one of the bartenders over again. "Your turn, Mr. Mysterious."

 

"Mysterious, huh? Alright, I'll bite. I'm thirty-two, going on thirty-three very soon. I used to be a bank manager before moving here. As soon as I was able, I moved out of this town and to Trost. I'm not going to give you a sob story, so don't bother asking about it. I lived in Trost for ten years. My parents are dead. I have a good group of friends here, as well. I didn't know Mikasa existed until about a month ago."

 

Levi didn't know why he listed off those details, but he made sure to avoid the topic of relationships entirely. The last thing he wanted Eren to do was look at him differently. He didn't understand it, but he couldn't cope with the thought of it either.

 

"First of all, you do not look like you're in your thirties. And I'm also not just saying that, because I've been told I'm too honest. Secondly, how did you not know about Mikasa? Isn't she your cousin?"

 

Levi accepted when another drink was placed in front of him before nodding. "She is, but I had lost touch with whatever family I had left. I moved to Trost, my Uncle moved to Sina. Apparently, he didn't feel the need to tell me about his daughter until he died and left me as her guardian."

 

"So... you don't have any family?"

 

"Nope," Levi let the pop with his tongue, the effects of the alcohol starting to make his mind swim. "And don't look at me like that, either. It was a long time ago and my uncle was an absolute prick."

 

"Right, I'm sorry." Eren took a tentative sip of his alcohol. "It's still sad to hear though."

 

"All that matters is Mikasa is doing well, and that she was taken out of a bad situation. I'm no parent, but I do what I can for her. She's a good girl."

 

"She definitely is," Eren agreed with a soft smile. "She's brought a lot of excitement to my classroom, and she focuses and gets her work done first. She's really responsible for her age. I'm glad she has you."

 

Levi glanced at Eren and saw the sincerity in his eyes. Levi felt awkward at the comment, and Eren noticed. So with a chuckle, Eren asked, "Ready for another drink?"


It was one in the morning.

 

Levi didn't know how so much time had passed, but to say he was intoxicated would have been an absolute understatement. Levi couldn't even remember the last time he had felt like this. His body was positively buzzing and his head felt pleasantly empty of any negative thoughts. Most of the crowd had left for the evening, either taking cabs or having designated drivers taking them home. But he and Eren were still rooted right in their seats, exchanging banter back and forth. It had been so long since Levi had held such a strong conversation with someone. The alcohol helped loosen his tongue, allowed him to speak his thoughts more freely.

 

Which wasn't necessarily a good thing.

 

"So!" Levi started, pointing his finger in the air for emphasis. "I have to ask you something because it's really been bothering me."

 

Eren looked amused but nodded his head. "Okay, shoot."

 

"Have you been flirting with me? Hange says you are. They think I'm blind to romantic advances but I'm not."

 

Eren's smile turned into something bashful. "I mean, is it working?"

 

Levi tilted his head, his body swaying in his seat. "Is what working?"

 

"The flirting," Eren replied, gauging Levi's reacting. The older man simply blinked at him and Eren sighed. "Levi, I'm not even trying to be subtle because I'm terrible at it."

 

It took several moments for Levi's intoxicated mind to comprehend what Eren was saying, but once he did, his eyes widened and his heart slammed in his chest.

 

Oh. Oh fuck, Hange was right.

 

 

"But why?" Levi had to ask. "I don't understand why you'd... you'd... seriously?"

 

Levi couldn't remember the last time seriously had left his mouth. Oh God, now he really wished he watched how much alcohol he consumed. He sounded like a drunken teenager with this nonsense tumbling out of his mouth.

 

Eren smirk was killer, a sexy lifting of his lips as he leaned closer to Levi. He was so close... Levi's entire being screamed for him to back away but he found himself leaning forward instead. When was the last time someone looked at him like this? Eren smelled of gratifying cologne and alcohol. And his eyes, for fuck's sake, his ocean eyes were boring into his. "What was it you asked me earlier? Oh, right. Have you seen yourself, Levi?"

 

Levi's instincts were clouded, but still functioning. Eren was leaning still, bracing a hand against the bar as he tilted his face just so. Levi felt his body move subconsciously, the area around them fading into a white noise. Unlike Eren, Levi didn't brace himself against anything as he lifted his face expectantly―

 

―and slipped from his stool and onto the floor.

 

"Oh, shit!" Eren hopped off his seat, kneeling down and quickly getting Levi to his feet. "Shit, I'm sorry! Are you okay?"

 

"I'm fine!" Levi felt his heart spasm. For the love of fuck and all that was holy―

 

"Nope, I think you and I had way too much to drink. Dammit, I'm so sorry. This is my fault. You were probably trying to move away from me. My mom always said I came off a little too strong sometimes and dammit Levi I'm so sorry―"

 

"Eren," Levi started, letting the man steady him on his feet. "Shut up."

 

Eren shut up with his mouth snapping shut. Levi shook his head, glancing around to make sure no one had seen him make a complete and utter ass of himself. Luckily, it was quiet and the bartenders were outside on the porch cleaning up for the night. He sighed and looked up at the taller man. "I'm obviously drunk, shit happens. I just need to get home and sleep it off."

 

"Did you drive here? I can take you home. You're definitely in no condition to get behind the wheel."

 

"No need," Levi said. "I literally live right next door. I can walk."

 

"So you moved into that house? I'm sure Mikasa loves it. Still, I don't trust you to walk by yourself. I'll help you."

 

Feeling in no mood to argue and drowning in the horror of embarrassment, Levi simply nodded. Eren took care of their tabs, the raven having no energy to even stop him. He also grabbed both of their coats and threw it over Levi's shoulders. Once he had taken care of the bill, Eren wound one arm around Levi and held him close. Levi took in how well his body fit into Eren's, the warmth of his frame emitting some comfort in this cluster fuck of a night. Eren didn't loosen his grip as he opened the doors to the outside, leading both of them into the parking lot.


 The first thing that registered into Levi's hazy mind was pain. So much pain. It shot from his neck and straight into his skull. He groaned, turning over to bury his face further into his pillow. His entire body ached, the comfort of his bed offering his no solace. His stomach clenched and he felt a burning rising in his throat―

 

Suddenly, he shot up. He stumbled out of his bed, his feet slipping on the floorboards as he raced into the bathroom. He had just enough time to flick the light on, the brightness of it immediately making the pain in his head intensify, as he knelt down to the toilet and emptied the contents of his stomach. He dry heaved, his body shaking miserably as he scoffed. "Gross," he moaned, his head hanging limp when he felt he could breathe again.

 

"Looks like you had fun last night," an entirely too amused voice commented. 

 

Levi growled, turning his head to see Hange standing in the doorway to his personal bathroom. "Fuck off," he snarled.

 

"I can't remember the last time I've seen you so drunk," they continued, stepping inside and leaning against the bathroom sink. Levi would have made a comment about the fact he was vomiting and really didn't want an audience, but he just couldn't bring himself to. "You were adorable last night."

 

"I will fucking end you if you don't get out of my bathroom right now."

 

"But I offer aspirin and water, which you definitely need. So, come join us in the living room when you're done."

 

Grumbling under his breath, Levi flushed the toilet and closed to lid. He sat on top of it, placing his head in his hands while breathing deeply. Fuck, he thought. What the hell is wrong with me? How could I let myself get so drunk around Eren like that? 

 

Feeling sorry for himself would do nothing for him. So with that resolve, he stood up shakily and walked out into the living room. Mikasa was sitting on the couch in her pajama's still, eating a bowl of cereal while watching television. She glanced up at Levi as he walked out of his bedroom, his face contorted in misery as the migraine he felt began to worsen. He glared at Hange as they held out a glass of water and two blue pills. "Drink up, munchkin."

 

He did as he was told, tossing the aspirin into his mouth and drinking the entire glass of water. His dry throat ached as he emptied the glass, placing it in the sink and leaning against the counter. "So," he began. "How bad was I last night?"

 

"Oh, you were hilarious. I will say though, the last thing I expected was to see Eren carrying you through the door last night."

 

"He carried me?" Levi asked, horrified.

 

"And you were clinging to him like a damn koala bear, not that he minded. He said you almost fell into the ditch in the front yard."

 

Levi groaned, hiding his face in his hands. "I'm such a fucking idiot."

 

"You were drunk," Hange reasoned. "Eren was completely fine with making sure you got home safe. He actually stayed for a few minutes to make sure you didn't get sick, then he wrote something down on a piece of paper and left."

 

"What?" Levi looked through his hands.

 

"We didn't look at it," Mikasa commented from the living room. "But we think it's his phone number."

 

Another miserable groan.

 

"You should text him," Mikasa continued. Levi shot her a withering look. "You know, to make sure he knows you're okay and all. He looked really worried."

 

Deciding these two were plotting against him, Levi stepped out of the kitchen and back into his room. He closed the door behind him, convincing himself he needed to shower and crawl back into bed. He sniffed at his clothes and grimaced at the smell of alcohol and tobacco on them. As he made his way to the bathroom, his cell phone caught his eye. It was sitting on his nightstand with a piece of paper under it. Curious, he lifted both the phone and paper up.

 

You couldn't unlock your phone last night, so I wrote my number down instead. Let me know you're okay. I really enjoyed spending time with you tonight.

-Eren xxx-xxx-xxxx

 

Levi didn't want to appear to be a complete asshole, so he tapped the number into his phone and thought carefully of what to text. 

 

I had a good time too. Thanks.

 

Pursing his lips, Levi adjusted the last sentence.

 

I had a good time too. Thanks for not letting me fall into a ditch.

 

 

Chapter Text

The first time it happened, it shocked Levi to his core.

 

He'd spent a few hours with a number of his work associates, celebrating one of their co-workers retiring. Levi hadn't wanted to go, feeling too tired and unenthusiastic about going out around the city. One of his co-workers convinced him it wouldn't be very long, that it'd be nice of him to show his support for all of the efforts someone had put in before leaving. He eventually shrugged it off, not seeing any harm in it. Rico was going, after all, and she was always the level headed one. 

 

He had forgotten to text Erwin.

 

Nearly six years into their relationship, Levi couldn't say how many times he had ventured out on his own. It was refreshing in a liberating sort of way to walk around the city and shoot the shit with several people he would consider friends. They had all overlooked his brash personality and strange humor with grace and it made him feel somewhat normal for a change. He had a great job. He had a degree. He had a good man waiting for him at home. Things were steadily moving toward stable for the first time in his life.

 

But that night, he had come home to a dark apartment. It didn't surprise him, seeing as though it was nearing two in the morning. He slipped off his shoes and toed them to the side, feeling a light buzz from the cocktails they all had with dinner. It was a rarity that he drank, so it didn't surprise him that just a few drinks made his entire body vibrate. He moved across the living room while beginning to take off his shirt, not noticing a tall figure standing in the kitchen.

 

"Where were you?"

 

Levi jumped, turning to see Erwin gazing at him through narrowed eyes. "Holy fuck, Erwin. What the hell are you doing standing in the dark?"

 

"What the hell are you doing walking in at two in the morning?"

 

Levi didn't like Erwin's tone and he scowled. "I went out to celebrate a co-workers retirement. I wasn't aware that I needed to check in with you."

 

"And you'd be alright if I pulled the same thing?"

 

"You do anyway," Levi shrugged, dismissing Erwin completely and walking into their bedroom. He went to their dresser and began sorting through his shirts to find something comfortable to sleep in. He heard the other man's footsteps but didn't look up from his task. He was exhausted and just wanted to lay down. Luckily, it was the weekend and he would be able to sleep in for a change. He began to reach down to undo his belt when he felt a strong arm wrap around his waist.

 

The force of it made Levi squirm. "Erwin, do you fucking min―"

 

Levi's vision churned momentarily, the feeling or air brushing against his bare back and neck as he was tossed forcefully onto the bed. He blinked a few times and looked up to see the taller man begin to crawl above him. Erwin's hands went to Levi's upper arms, pinning them above his head. Levi would have thought that this was some sort of sexual conquest if it wasn't for the furious look in Erwin's eyes. Levi attempted to push the other man off of him but he wouldn't budge.

 

"I don't appreciate you walking in here in the middle of the night and speaking to me that way."

 

Levi looked at Erwin incredulously. "Are you shitting me? Who the hell do you think you are, my father? Get off of me. This isn't funny."

 

Erwin's eyes were blazing and Levi felt an uncomfortable tendril shooting through his body. He had never felt like this around his partner before and every cell in his body was screaming in alarm. The grip on Levi's arms tightened, making the raven grit his teeth. "Hey, I fucking said get off of―"

 

It happened quickly.

 

A searing pain shot through Levi's neck, the hands that were pinning him down now wrapped around his neck. Levi's eyes widened in astonishment, his smaller hands raising to wrap around Erwin's. His fingers attempted to peel the bigger digits away from him as he felt the air in his throat constrict. Each time he would attempt to breathe, his breath would linger in his throat and not release. He felt sweat beginning to collect on either side of his neck and his body began to struggle. He tried to knee Erwin, reach to claw at him ― something.  Each time he did, Erwin would easily avoid him. The look in Erwin's eyes continued to burn a hole in Levi's memory, never once witnessing such a horrific expression in those blue eyes he'd come to adore before.

 

When Levi's vision began to blot with black spots and his lungs begged for air, Erwin released him.

 

Erwin looked down at Levi and slowly, the expression from earlier transformed into one of confusion. He pulled his body away from the smaller man, Levi immediately inhaling sharply through quick gasps. He sat up, his hands against his swollen neck as he gazed at Erwin with wild eyes. He watched as his partner didn't assess what he had done, didn't bother to give Levi any sort of explanation.

 

He simply left.

 

When he heard to front door close with a slam, Levi sat up on the bed for several minutes. His ragged breathing was the only sound that pierced the darkness. When he realized Erwin wasn't coming back, he slowly slid off the bed and walked into the bathroom. He flicked the light on, his eyes still wide as he removed his hands and took in the angry red ring around his flesh. He touched two fingertips to it gingerly, horrified by how quickly they had swollen. 

 

He hadn't expected Erwin to do such a thing. He was always so calm, always so composed; he hadn't seen it coming. Erwin usually wasn't the type to cling to Levi, he gave the man freedom to do what he wanted. Maybe he should have called. Maybe his partner had been worried.

 

But that didn't warrant this.

 

Levi felt sick to his stomach. He felt the urge to throw up, to call someone, to do anything but continue to sit there and stare at the marks.

 

But, he simply stayed.


Levi found he enjoyed working in a bar, much to his surprise. He usually was there during the day while Mikasa was at school, allowing him to use Hange or Petra as little as possible. He helped clean, organize inventory and help out during the small afternoon rush. There were nights Pixis would ask if he'd come in and each time, Levi would accept. Being able to keep the rest of his savings was a silent blessing since he seemed to receive a surprising amount of tips for his service.

 

It was a quiet, stable job that Levi wouldn't complain about. It gave him an opportunity to open up and converse with strangers, which was an area he certainly lacked in. It gave him a chance to keep his mind busy when it would stray to Erwin. He'd scold himself, wondering why in the hell he'd think about the bastard. It had been over a month and luckily, the contact from Erwin's persistence finally ceased. There were nights where he'd dream of him and each time, he'd wake up with the same nauseous feeling stirring inside of his gut. It would render him still in bed, his breathing coming out in heavy gasps. Unmistakeably, each time he'd find his own hands around his throat. But as time continued to pass, those dreams would start to have spaces in between, helping Levi move forward silently. He didn't talk about it often, once in a while maybe with Hange or Mike, but other than that, he kept it to himself. 

 

This was his battle and he was determined to not let Erwin control his life, even from a distance.

 

His panic attacks began to happen more often since the day he had driven down. He did what he could to manage them; meditation and change in diet. He even considered talking about it with Mikasa since she seemed to understand what it was like. But, Levi had always withstood his shortcoming and obstacles alone and the more stubborn part of him was certain he would overcome this. He didn't want medication, he downright refused. He didn't want to go the therapy and speak with a stranger when he could just turn and talk to a friend.

 

So, he endured it because if he could walk away from Erwin, he was sure he could do just about anything.

 

Work helped keep him busy, and so did being around his cousin. It helped him to focus on her schoolwork, things that needed to be attended to around the house, cleaning, and so on. Levi started to feel comfortable in his skin at the thought of being alone for the first time and that in itself would sometimes set him in a silent panic. But each time, he would survive it. Just like had so many other challenges in his life.

 

It was nearing Thanksgiving, which made Levi's head spin. He was finishing up during a routine afternoon shift and ready to pick up Mikasa from school. Anka seemed to be the one he worked with the most which was a pleasant experience. She was diligent and organized, exactly what the bar needed. She did he job with a smile on her face and she did it well. Leaving with a brief wave, Levi slipped into his car and drove to Mikasa's school.

 

The leaves had all changed and withered, leaving the trees towering and bare. Levi loved the late seasons. Nothing gave him more comfort than sipping on a cup of hot tea and sitting on the porch and observing the quietness of the country around him. A part of him silently marveled at how much he seemed to change within the course of over a month, but he welcomed it; knowing Mikasa had helped him make one of the best decisions he could have ever made. It helped him sort out his racing thoughts that he couldn't express outwardly. Thoughts of his ex-partner. Thoughts of his Uncle and Mikasa. Thoughts of his Mother.

 

Thoughts of Eren.

 

Levi's interactions with Eren had drawn back to mere waves from the car, a part of him wondering why he was so apprehensive about approaching him. He had a great time with Eren, despite the horrific embarrassment that engulfed him from making such an idiot out of himself in front of the young teacher. Eren did not judge him, did not look down on him. Instead, he accepted the situation with grace and helped Levi home. He didn't take advantage of him and Levi now knew Eren obviously felt some sort of attraction to him.

 

It continued to blow his mind.

 

Levi did not have self-loathing tendencies of problems with self-esteem. He actually never had. Despite his upbringing, he never believed he was worthless or useless. He had always had other things to worry about. Like ensuring he didn't starve. Making sure he had a place to sleep. Overcoming the abuse Erwin had subjected him to. The last thing on his mind was whether he looked good or met the standards of society.

 

But still... Levi couldn't mistake the young man's beauty. He had such a glow to him, a light that was a stark contrast in any dark room. It was so hard to turn away from that charming smile or those kind eyes. Though they were always soft with gentleness, there was something fierce that lingered in that gaze. Something powerful that could pin you in place. Each time, Levi felt he was subjected to those bold eyes. Rendered still. 

 

And it scared the shit out of him because it had been so long since he felt drawn to another person. 

 

They would occasionally text. Nothing major, simple things like how was your day and this happened at school with Mikasa. Eren hadn't brought up that night and Levi silently wondered if it was because Eren was nervous or if he was respecting Levi's boundaries. Either way, Levi wasn't sure what the next move was. He felt like an absolute chicken-shit. With those thoughts swirling around in his mind, he pulled into the school parking lot and found Mikasa sitting outside with Isabel and Farlan, staring at each other's phone while bursting with giggling laughter. Levi smiled a little fondly, happy to see Mikasa getting close with the two other students. 

 

As soon as he had pulled up, Mikasa's head whipped up and she jumped to her feet. Waving goodbye, she climbed into the car and closed the door beside her. 

 

"Good day?" Levi asked, as usual. 

 

"Definitely. I can't wait for the break to start. We'll have six days off in a row."

 

Levi nodded. "That's right. I forgot about that. Starts Wednesday, right?"

 

"Yes and Mr. Yeager is only giving us a little homework for the time off. He thinks it's―"

 

"―cruel. I know." Of course, he knew.

 

"Have you talked to him?" Mikasa inquired.

 

Levi's head shot up so he could view Mikasa from the mirror. "What's it matter?"

 

"Well... it seemed like you both got along, but you haven't really brought him up. Did he do something that night?"

 

Levi's brow creased. "What? No. We talked and had a few drinks. I evidently had more than I could handle and then he took me home."

 

"Right..." Mikasa mused, causing Levi to scowl. "Maybe you should call him."

 

"Maybe you should mind your business, brat," Levi countered.

 

Mikasa held her hands in defense, causing the man to roll his eyes. "I'm just going off of what Hange said!"

 

He groaned, leaning his head momentarily onto the steering wheel. "I think I'll have Mike and Nanaba watch you next week. You're spending entirely too much time with that certified nutcase."

 

Mikasa sighed and shook her head, staring out the window as they began to pull away. "You can at least wave to him since he's standing outside."

 

Levi's head whipped around and of course, there was Eren. He was leaning against the front entrance, hands in his pocket as he was conversing with another teacher. His hair was as wild as ever, pulled back and away from his face. His wore a dark vest above a light shirt, as well as slacks to match. His legs crossed as he braced himself against the door, a lazy smile playing at his lips. He chuckled while speaking and Levi recognized the other man as one of his friends from the bar that night. His emerald eyes rose and Levi felt that sharp jolt shoot through him when Eren's eyes met his. As always, Eren smiled and raised his arm to say hello. And as usual, Levi did the same thing back. 

 

Dammit, maybe Mikasa was right. He didn't want to appear cold and indifferent. Eren didn't deserve to be brushed off.

 

"It's obvious he likes you," Mikasa stated.

 

"I am not taking advice from an eight-year-old."

 

"Maybe you should since I seem to have more common sense than you."

 

"What was that?" Levi growled, turning to look over the seat and at his cousin.

 

"Nothing," Mikasa said innocently, turning her attention back to her phone.

 

Levi grumbled under his breath, maneuvering the car and taking both of them home.


With Thanksgiving only a few days away, Levi and Mikasa made themselves busy. With an enormous amount of pressuring and begging from Mikasa, Levi had decided to host the holiday at their home this year. Levi couldn't remember the last time he was surrounded with such warmth compared to the cold holiday nights spent with Erwin and his co-workers. Levi hardly would call it holiday-worthy but he never tried to complain. He sat and dealt with it like always. But this year, with his enthusiastic cousin pushing him, they made the inside of their home warm and welcoming with smells of pumpkin spice and cinnamon. 

 

They did the shopping days prior to ensure they acquired what they needed. Levi hadn't ever prepared a holiday meal before... but he remembered the basics with his mother. Mikasa helped him pick out the essentials of stuffing, vegetables, doe for dinner rolls, and other goodies. He already knew most of their friends would be bringing their own contributions to the meal even when Levi tried to refuse them. He couldn't quite pick up on what he was feeling... but it was a good feeling in the end.

 

"Let's hope they still have some damn turkeys left..." Levi muttered as they made their way through the local grocery. They wound up in the deli department and were blessed with the sight of several frozen turkeys still on display in the freezers. "Well, I'll be damned..."

 

"Too many people wait until the last minute to shop," Mikasa commented off-handedly, peering over the display and eyeing a turkey that seemed to catch her interest. "We should do this one. It's big enough to feed everyone, I think."

 

"Hmm," Levi hummed, leaning over and examining the meat first hand. "It'll do. I just need to look up how to cook the bloody thing."

 

"Thank God for Google," Mikasa said.

 

"Thank God for Google," Levi agreed, shooting his cousin a small smirk before picking up the turkey and placing it in their basket. "I think we covered everything. Anything else I'm sure Petra or Nanaba will bring along."

 

"Don't forget about Hange. I have a feeling they'll be very festive."

 

"Don't remind me," the raven sighed. "After this is all said and done, we'll be moving right into Christmas. Fuck, I can't believe it."

 

"We need to get a tree," the younger Ackerman declared, giving Levi a look that dared him to oppose. The man just chuckled, his shoulders bouncing lightly as he did. "I'm serious. We need to make sure we decorate outside too."

 

"What the hell do I look like? A jack of all trades? I'm not climbing on the roof, just so we're clear."

 

"I'll help you! All we need is a few streams of lights, maybe something for the front yard―" Mikasa's words cut off abruptly when Levi stopped walking, causing her to walk into his back and force him to push against the cart. "What's wrong? Why'd you stop?"

 

As she asked the question, she moved so she could peer around the older man and toward where he was staring. Her eyes widened when she caught sight of not only her teacher but his father and a woman walking beside them. If she were to guess, she'd assume it was Eren's mother. The two of them looked so alike it was almost uncanny. It hadn't appeared they were noticed as Eren pushed a separate cart while smiling and talking with his parents. Mikasa glanced up at Levi and nudged him.

 

"Go talk to him."

 

"No," Levi responded firmly. God, was this really his luck? The one disadvantage of living in a small town was the possibility of running into everybody. His insides whirled to life at the sight of the young teacher. He was dressed casually again, wearing a dark green shirt with a brown jacket above it. His jeans were a lighter shade this time around, complimenting the outfit nicely. His hair was also down and it was the first time Levi had seen him with his hair so wild before, the chocolate strands being brushed behind his ears with tanned fingers.

 

"Why not?" Mikasa demanded, huffing and crossing her arms.

 

"It's obvious he's busy. I'll just shoot him a text later or something―"

 

Mikasa shook her head and went to wave her hand, causing Levi's eyes to widen. "Stop―"

 

"Mr. Yeager!" she called out, making Levi grind his teeth. The little shit.

 

All three heads turned in unison to Mikasa's voice, both Eren and Grisha's eyes shining in recognition. "Mikasa, Levi!" Eren didn't waste a moment as he met the two Ackerman's halfway across the store, his parents following behind him with polite smiles. "Hey, guys! I see you're getting your holiday shopping done early too."

 

"That's right," Levi managed to say through tight lips, doing everything in his power to not shoot his cousin a glare. "Figured we'd get it over with..."

 

"We're doing the same. My parents tend to wait until to last minute and I wasn't having any of that this year," he replied in nonchalance, looking over his shoulder as his parents approached. "I think you've met my old man already, right Dad?"

 

"I wish you'd find a more appropriate name for me other than old man..." Grisha sighed, shaking his head with a fond chuckle. "It's good to see you again Mikasa, Levi." The woman standing next to him was pulled close to Grisha. "This is my wife, Carla."

 

Her eyes held the same shimmer as Eren's, though not the same color. Her eyes were a deep chestnut brown and her face was beautiful and almost held a youthful glow to it. It was incredulous at how much Eren took after his mother. She held out her hand to Mikasa first and said, "It's wonderful to meet you, Mikasa. Eren's been gushing about you since you started in his class."

 

Mikasa hid her smile behind her scarf and a blush dusted her cheeks. "It's nice to meet you, Mrs. Yeager."

 

"Oh, please," she waved her hands dismissively. "Call me Carla. You're far too polite," she laughed lightly and her eyes traveled to Levi. "I've also heard quite a bit about you, Levi. I remember when you were just about the height of my knee. I used to meet your mother when we'd go shopping at the outlets just outside of town."

 

Levi's throat felt dry but he smiled nonetheless, offering his hand to her. "I wish I could say I remember, but it's nice to formally meet you this time around."

 

"You're such a dear, you look just like Kuchel," she returned the gesture and then looked down at their cart. "That's quite a full basket you have. Preparing for company this year?"

 

"We are. We'll have a full house. I'd extend an invite to you but it looks like you're preparing yourselves."

 

"That we are. My parents are driving from up north. But we'll definitely keep it in mind for the future. I'd love to get to know you and Mikasa. You seem to be all Eren ever talks about," Carla teased, smirking as her son covered his face. 

 

"Stop it, Mom..." Eren groaned, laughing despite his embarrassment. Levi was surprised that he found himself chuckling at the new information and soon, they all fell into an easy conversation. As they all walked around the store, idly chatting about what they'd be preparing, Levi felt Eren tug at his sleeve. He glanced up at the younger man, cocking a brow. 

 

"Can we talk for a minute?" he asked, looking over at his parents. Grisha seemed to catch on rather quickly, offering Mikasa a small smile.

 

"Mikasa, would you like to help Carla and I decide on pie? We've been contemplating for half an hour and can't seem to make up our minds."

 

Mikasa accepted eagerly, casting a knowing glance Levi's way. Little did the Yeager's know that Mikasa was indeed the furthest from naive.

 

When Levi and Eren were alone, the teacher sighed and rubbed his hands together. "Listen... I know we haven't really talked since that night at the bar. I've wanted to apologize but I'm just not sure how. I feel like an asshole. Like I told you, my Mom's told me before that I come on a little too strong some―"

 

"Eren," Levi held up a hand. "Stop. You're literally word vomiting right now."

 

"Right... dammit, I'm sorry," he tried again.

 

"You don't need to be. I... I promise you I haven't been avoiding you." Levi took in a deep breath. "It's not you. I'm sure you've heard this shit before, but it's true. I wasn't entirely honest with you that night. I got out of a serious relationship not too long before I moved here so I'm a bit out of touch with... the idea of dating."

 

"Oh," Eren caught on quickly. "Shit, that makes me feel even worse. You should have punched me or something."

 

"You're misunderstanding," the raven reasoned. "I said I was out of touch with the idea of dating, not that I'm opposed to it. I'm just going to need you to be patient with me. You seem like a really nice guy, Eren. I'm still trying to figure out why you're wasting your efforts on me."

 

"Are you kidding me? Levi, I know we were a little drunk the last time we saw each other but my question was serious. Have you seen yourself? You're one of the most interesting people I've ever met. I haven't been able to take my eyes off of you since you got here. I can't put my finger on it... but there's just something about you that makes me want to know more."

 

Levi was taken aback, blinking while his mouth attempted to open and say something in response. Absolutely nothing came out but a tangled, "I..."

 

"I can do patient. I can definitely do patient. You say I'm a nice guy, and you don't understand why I'd be interested, but I also see the way you are around Mikasa. You're more affectionate than you let on. You might not think I see you, but I do see you, Levi."

 

Those words caused Levi's heart to stutter.

 

Eren smiled softly, brushing his hair behind his ear again. "I won't push you; I'm not that type of person. But one of these days, I'm going to ask you out."

 

Levi ran a hand through his hair while responding with, "One of these days, I'll accept."

 

Fuck, how incredibly lame. Still, it caused Eren's subtle smile to form into a sultry grin. "So... we're okay? I didn't overstep with you?"

 

"No. As I said... I'm new at this."

 

"Well, I'm grateful I get the chance. No offense, but your ex must have been an idiot to let you go."

 

Oh, no. He didn't let me go. I fucking ran. The thoughts buzzed inside of Levi's subconscious, but he kept them under wraps.

 

"Heh, if you say so." As Levi said this, Eren's parents rounded the corner isle with Mikasa in tow. She had a hopeful look on her face while Grisha and Carla pushed their cart to meet the two of them. 

 

"I think we have everything we need," Carla stated. "We're going to go on ahead, Eren. We'll see you on Thursday?"

 

"Definitely. I should get going too... I have a few papers to go over at home." He turned to Mikasa first, giving her a small half hug. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay? We only have one more day left until break. I'm sure you're just as excited as I am."

 

"Excited to get away from the kids? I wouldn't expect that of you," Levi commented.

 

"Oh, no. I love being around the kiddos. I'm excited for the food, Levi. I already told you that."

 

"Right, how could I forget?" 

 

Eren's eyes softened, and he rubbed the back of his neck. "So... I'll see you?"

 

"I'll text or call you. You'll definitely see me."

 

Levi couldn't stop the swell in his heart at Eren's hopeful expression. It never left his face even as he and his parents left the store. Levi stood there, watching after him as he went. When he glanced down at Mikasa, she was hiding a smirk behind her scarf.

 

"Don't you start," he scoffed, even though there was no real malice in his voice as they walked over to the checkout line.


 

It was a strange feeling. He couldn't quite place it.

 

It was there when he and Mikasa were watching YouTube videos on how to properly thaw and cook a turkey. It was there when they moved together as a team to prepare the side dishes and set the table. It was there when his friends arrived, all dressed in their best golds and tawny browns with their meals in tow. It was there as they hastily and clumsily walked around each other to place each hot dish on the table in the dining area. It was the laughter, light banter, and jokes.

 

It was a strange feeling... but it was  not unwelcomed.

 

Levi sat at the head of the table, examining the scene in front of him. His cousin's smile was blinding, helping Hange and Nanaba as they passed around several plates and casserole dishes. Each person held a particular joy in their expressions, even Mike as he tended to keep quiet. His pale eyes roamed, watching as his cousin interacted with Dominique and Nora as if they had known each other their entire lives.

 

Yes, this feeling was welcomed. It was warmth.

 

His phone buzzed in his pocket, and Levi averted his eyes discreetly, pulling out the device and peeking at it quickly. That warmth manifested into something stronger; something like a wildfire began to stir to life.

 

Happy Thanksgiving to you and Mikasa, Levi.

 

He forced himself not to smile, quickly hiding his hands beneath the table as he responded. He put the phone away with a quick flip of his hand, reaching for the carving knife on the corner of the table to prepare to cut the turkey Oluo and Mike placed in front of him.

 

Happy Thanksgiving, Eren.

 

Yes, it was a good feeling. It was freedom.

Chapter Text

"No."

 

"What do you mean no? Why not?"

 

"Are you kidding me?"

 

"I want a real reason, Levi."

 

"Hm, I don't know, maybe because the fucking thing is pink."

 

The two Ackerman's stood in front of the Christmas tree display, one of them staring at the disgustingly pink Christmas tree while the other's eyes were wide with wonderment. With Christmas just around the corner, Levi reluctantly agreed it was time to purchase a tree. Not wanting to go through the hassle of cleaning up after a real tree, they settled on buying a fake one.

 

And of course, the one that caught Mikasa's eye happened to be pink.

 

"That's exactly why we should get it!" Mikasa argued, sighing and throwing her hands in the air. Levi was surprised each day by the child's boldness. "It's so pretty, and we can use golds and maybe even silver's to decorate it. I saw something on Pinterest the other day, and I think we can pull it off."

 

"What the hell is Pinterest?"

 

Exasperated, Mikasa said, "That's not the point."

 

Levi ran a hand through his hair out of frustration. "We're not getting it, and that's final."

 

An hour and a half later, Levi was muttering explicitly under his breath while dragging the contents of the horrid pink Christmas tree out of its box. Mikasa hummed under her breath, excitedly unwrapping several ornaments and placing them against the couch in the living room in preparation. There was a bounce in her step and Levi, while he was excessively annoyed with the idea of such a monstrosity in his house, couldn't deny his cousin. God only knows what her Christmas's looked like before she ended up in his care. 

 

The air outside was filled with a sharp and brittle cold, making the windows fog. So Levi didn't notice the figure through the glass as they made their way up his driveway and onto the front porch. Mikasa, however, did notice and jumped off the couch and raced to the door. Levi's head rose in question when he heard a knocking sound. When the younger Ackerman opened the door, she revealed a man wearing a familiar bright smile.

 

Levi hid his smile before Eren could see it, still working on the task of setting up the tree. It was easy enough. Just snap a few pieces in place and viola. After listening to Mikasa and Eren chatter a bit among themselves, Eren removed his scarf and jacket to hang by the door. He had learned from Mikasa the man's exceedingly high expectations for cleanliness, so he toed his shoes off and pushed them aside. He adjusted his ponytail and entered the living room with an amused expression.

 

"Pink? Really?"

 

Levi scoffed. "Shut the hell up."

 

"You know what? I like it. It suits you."

 

"I will fly across this room, you shit."

 

Mikasa hid a smirk behind her hand and made herself busy with organizing the ornaments. Eren walked over and helped Levi with the finishing touches before the bright tree stood tall. Levi grumbled under his breath for how much taller the younger man was, and it made Eren grin. Once they were finished, Levi turned to Eren and asked, "Coffee or tea?"

 

"Tea sounds great." 

 

Taking a small break before decorating the Christmas tree, the three of them gathered into the kitchen while Levi prepared the kettle. Over the weeks, Levi and Eren began spending more time together. Whether it was at Levi and Mikasa's house or Eren's, the two of them seemed to gravitate more toward each other as time passed. Since their initial run in at the supermarket, Levi did his best to open up while Eren kept his word and gave Levi space and time he needed without seeming too over eager. So far, Eren was doing a fantastic job. Levi tried to pick his brain for something to complain about and couldn't seem to find a damn thing. 

 

Though Levi knew Eren harbored feelings for him, he remained patient and open to him. Levi couldn't deny feeling a pull toward Eren himself, and that alone scared the older man, but he wanted to take this slow. He didn't know how to act in a new relationship. So far, they seemed to become friends quite fast. Levi enjoyed spending time with Eren, and the other man seemed to enjoy his company in turn.

 

Yes, things were going swimmingly. 

 

"So what brings you by? I doubt it was to help me set up that disgusting thing now standing in my living room," Levi commented dryly. He smirked softly when Mikasa huffed.

 

"It is not disgusting. Even Mr. Yeager agrees it's cute."

 

Levi's eyes cast to Eren, who shrugged and admitted sheepishly, "I mean, it is kinda cute."

 

The raven rolled his eyes and poured seething, hot water into their mugs. 

 

"Actually... I'm a messenger today. My mom wanted me to tell you both you're invited to their house for Christmas Eve if you're not busy."

 

Both Levi and Mikasa blinked. "Oh," Levi began. "That's kind of them."

 

"You don't have to," Eren said immediately, noticing the aura around Levi changing. "They're just that type. My mom is dying to spend more time with you and Mikasa and my old man... well, he's a little nosy when he wants to be."

 

"It isn't that," Levi sighed. He glanced over at Mikasa who was reaching for one of the mugs and handing it over to Eren. Eren took it gratefully. "We were just taken off-guard by the invite. We'd love to go. I don't know what the hell to bring, but I'm sure we can figure something out."

 

"Bring a bottle of wine, and you'll have my mom wrapped around your finger. Bring a red velvet cake, and my dad will probably fall at your feet." When Levi cocked a brow at that, Eren continued, "My mom gets on him a lot about what he eats. She never lets him indulge in the finer things."

 

Levi nodded and his lips pursed. "Thanks for the pointers. I'll keep them in mind."

 

Eren sipped his tea tentatively before adding, "I was also told your birthday is on Christmas."

 

Levi's slate eyes traveled to his cousin immediately, and she gulped a more significant bit of her tea, coughing on it and placing it back on the counter. She retreated into the living room, and Levi sighed. That damned brat didn't know how to mind her own business.

 

"Why didn't you tell me?" Eren asked when they were alone. His back was pressed lazily against the opposite counter, his head tilting in question. 

 

Levi shrugged. "I didn't think it was important. I don't like the holiday centering around my birthday."

 

"Well, I can understand that I guess. Still... I'd like to give you something. Maybe after dinner at my parent's house if that's alright with you."

 

That intrigued Levi greatly. "What might that be?"

 

Eren tsked him, his smile revealing his teeth. "Wouldn't be a surprise if I told you."

 

"Shitty brat," Levi commented with no malice in his tone. Eren chuckled, his eyes unwavering as he gazed at Levi. Levi's stomach would clench just at the sight of those expressive eyes. "Fine, you've captured my interest. So, I'll be patient."

 

"Good," Eren said as he finished his tea and walked over to place his mug in the sink. "I have a few things to do in town otherwise I'd stay here and help you both decorate. I'll see you next week?"

 

Levi nodded. "Text me their address, and we'll be there."

 

Levi walked him to the door. Eren reached for his jacket and scarf, throwing it around his neck carelessly. The brunet turned to Mikasa and shouted a quick goodbye and then glanced at Levi. "I'll call you later," he said with a warm smile.

 

I'll call you later. Fuck, why did such small words affect him so profoundly? He nodded mutely.

 

When Levi closed the door behind the taller man, he leaned his back against it with a deep breath.


Levi drummed his fingers against the steering wheel while keeping his steady gaze on the road. He shifted his eyes momentarily to glance behind him, watching Mikasa as she balanced the freshly baked cake on her lap. He was surprised the two of them were able to pull off such a feat; baking was not his forte. Still, he couldn't help but inwardly grin at Mikasa's proud expression.

 

"Just to be clear," Levi began. "You're not going to pull any of the shit you did in the grocery store a few weeks ago."

 

Mikasa caught his gaze in the rearview mirror while innocently inquiring, "What shit?"

 

Levi turned to look at her over the seat briefly. "You know exactly what I'm talking about."

 

"You mean the obvious attraction between you and Mister Yeager?"

 

"You know, when you're not in school, you can just call him Eren."

 

"You're avoiding what I'm saying," she countered.

 

"And you're insufferable. What the hell do you want from me?" Levi asked, exasperated.

 

"To admit that you like him!"

 

Levi cleared his throat, his hands tightening their grip while his heart raced. "He's... a nice guy is all."

 

"Wow," Mikasa muttered, causing Levi's gray eyes to travel upward again. "Smooth."

 

"Would you cut it the hell out?" Levi demanded. "You're becoming as bad as Hange now!"

 

"Hange isn't the only one who notices, you know. Mike and Nanaba noticed it right away. Petra and Oluo did too after a few weeks."

 

Levi groaned miserably. "You're all going to drive me insane, I swear to God. Maybe we should turn back and go home. Hange's get together isn't until tomorrow so we can just have dinner amongst ourselves―"

 

"Don't you dare!" Mikasa shouted while straightening in her seat, nearly knocking the cake over. "What are you so afraid of? Are you not ready to admit you like him or something?"

 

"It isn't that," Levi replied. "You're only eight; you wouldn't understand. It's just... It's been so long since I've dated, brat."

 

"I know it has," Mikasa responded softly. "I'm not insensitive, and I know more than you realize. But when's the last time you just took a chance and did something you wanted? You don't talk about Erwin very much, but I know he held you back from doing what you wanted. But, nothing is holding you back now anymore."

 

"It's only a matter of time before he sniffs out our trial. I'm surprised he's waited as long as he's had―"

 

"Don't think like that either! Gosh, it's almost like you're sabotaging yourself!"

 

Levi growled under his breath. "That's not what I'm doing."

 

"Are you still in love with Erwin then? If that's the case... then I'll stop."

 

Levi bit the inside of his cheek but answered, "No. That I can say with certainty. I feel that that ship had sailed a long time ago. Still, it doesn't mean I still don't..." His words faded and he scoffed with a laugh. "Why the hell am I discussing this with you?"

 

"Because I understand more than you realize. I can also say with certainty that Eren looks at you in a completely different way than Erwin did."

 

"Until he gets to know me," Levi said bitterly. "Trust me."

 

It was Mikasa's turn to scowl, her lips curling. "I'm about to climb over this seat and smash this cake―"

 

Levi took an abrupt next turn on the long and winding road, causing Mikasa to slip into her seat with a gasp. She hastily grasped the container holding the cake and leveled a glare into the rearview mirror. Levi looked up with a blank expression.

 

"Oops," he drawled.


 

The Yeager family owned a large farm with the span of almost twenty acres of land. It was quaint, charming, and full of livestock and crops that were being contained for winter. Levi couldn't remember the last time he had seen a home as lovely and open as this one. One of the benefits of living in such a rural area, he supposed. His home growing up with his mother wasn't quite as expansive as this, but it reminded him of it. He remembered watching his mother out in the garden every single day while rushing out to assist her when he was just a child. He felt nostalgic just gazing up at the wooden structure.

 

"Wow," Mikasa breathed when she closed the car door. "It's beautiful."

 

Levi nodded his head numbly as his eyes roamed. His heart nearly exploded in his chest when a familiar figure stepped out from inside of the house and down the main steps to the large, surrounding porch. 

 

"I was beginning to wonder if you guys got lost!" Eren called out, nearly running down the long, gravel driveway. He was wearing a charming sweater that was snug against his chest and torso, a deep emerald laced into the fabric while also wearing dark slacks. His hair was pulled back into its usual bun this time around, and the strands of his chestnut hair brushed against his forehead. "I was this close to calling you guys," the brunet indicated with his index and thumb finger nearly pressing together.

 

Mikasa smiled softly, and Eren embraced her in a half hug. "You look adorable. I love the Christmas dress!" 

 

Mikasa used her scarf as a tourniquet against her blush, her hands reaching absentmindedly to brush against the fabric of her green and red dress. "Thank you."

 

Levi felt his heart expand at the sight until Eren's sharp, emerald eyes turned to him. "Hey," he greeted, grinning slightly. "Wow... I don't think I've ever seen you wear anything but gray and black."

 

The raven glanced down at his own attire which consisted of a deep burgundy shirt with a dark sweater adorned above it. His slacks were black which complimented the outfit nicely. Mikasa made a few snide remarks, and Levi reminded her it was to present himself accurately in front of Eren's family, not the teacher himself.

 

Fuck, who was he kidding?

 

Running a quick hand through his hair, Levi held out a small bag with the other and said, "For your mother, since you said she favored wine."

 

Eren accepted the bottle with a smirk. "She's already a bottle in now, but she'll appreciate this. So... you took my advice?"

 

"If the cake in Mikasa's hands is anything to go by."

 

"Oh!" Eren quickly walked over to examine the cake. "What kind did you get?"

 

"We baked it," Mikasa explained. "We know you said Dr. Yeager likes red velvet... but we found a recipe and tried a lemon cake with raspberry frosting."

 

Eren groaned. "We haven't even eaten dinner yet. You guys are killing me." He chuckled and beckoned the two Ackermans. "Enough of that, though. Let's get inside."

 

The inside of the Yeager home was just as captivating as the outside; soft lights emitted a comfortable glow as Christmas decorations and garnished surrounded the house. It was a warm, pleasant feeling and it instantly soothed Levi's heart. The smell of roasted vegetables and ham hit his senses quickly, and he couldn't deny his stomach calling to it. It had been so long since he had seen such an uplifting family presence.

 

Grisha was the first to greet them. He was holding two, small glasses in his hands while he approached the arriving guests with a polite disposition. "I'm happy the two of you made it. Please, make yourselves comfortable."

 

Mikasa approached the doctor with the container of dessert and said, "We brought this for you. Mister Yeager said you were fond of sweets."

 

Grisha chuckled, handing one of the glasses to Levi with a knowing look while accepting the dessert. "Goodness, you're both too kind. Might I ask what it is?"

 

"Raspberry!" Mikasa answered.

 

Levi took a tentative sip from his glass as he observed Mikasa and Grisha continue their exchange. The tang of cranberry and vodka hit his senses.

 

"I'll have to sneak a piece since I'm limited on sweets."

 

"I can hear you!" A light voice called from across the corridor. Levi hid a small smile behind his glass while Grisha and Eren merely rolled their eyes. 

 

 

Carla appeared in a lovely red dress with a light sweater above it; her hair pulled back as she entered the room. Her smile was warm, and it reminded Levi of Eren's smile instantly. "I'm so happy you both accepted. We were hoping if we gave you enough time, you'd be able to join us."

 

"We appreciate the invite," Levi said sincerely. "We didn't have any plans for tonight. We're having a small get together with some friends tomorrow."

 

"No birthday party?" Carla inquired. Levi instantly shot Eren a quick look, who pointedly glanced away with an innocent look. It seemed there was no escaping it now.

 

"I don't like mixing my birthday with the holidays. It tends to be too much."

 

Carla chuckled and smoothed out her outfit. "You don't need to explain. I completely understand. My birthday tends to fall on Easter sometimes, but I focus more on the holiday itself. Anywho!" She clapped her hands together. "Dinner will be ready shortly. Mikasa, would you like to help me put some finishing touches on the side dishes?"

 

Mikasa brightened visibly and nodded, following behind Carla without a second glance behind her. The older woman stopped briefly to say, "And Eren? I need your help lifting leaf for the table."

 

"Right," Eren replied and followed behind his mother and Mikasa. Levi looked after the two of them and realized he and Grisha were alone. The older man swirled his liquid in his glass.

 

"Care to join me on the patio?"

 

Levi considered this but nodded, following the older man outside. The night air was fresh and crisp, surrounding both men with a chilling breeze. 

 

The raven was shocked when Grisha reached into his coat, extracting a pack of cigarettes. He arched a brow. 

 

"You're surprised?" Grisha asked with a hint of amusement.

 

"A bit," Levi admitted. "I've never known a doctor to take a risk with smoking before."

 

"Ah," Grisha dismissed. "Sometimes you can be too careful. It's an occasional vice. Usually only when I partake in this," he explained while lifting his small glass up.

 

When Grisha offered one to Levi, he accepted. The cigarette slipped between his fingers, and he waited until the doctor finished igniting his before offering him a book of matches. "I'm surprised your wife doesn't get on your case about it."

 

The older Yeager chuckled. "She means well. We're far from perfect, but we've come along way as a family. Eren especially."

 

At the mention of the brunet, Levi's cigarette tightened in his grip. It certainly didn't go unnoticed by Grisha.

 

"The two of you are spending quite a bit of time together lately," he observed with a small smile. "I don't think I've ever seen him grow so attached to anybody before."

 

Levi felt his stomach tighten instantly and he wasn't sure why. "Mikasa and I enjoy his company," he replied.

 

"He is strapping when he wants to be. He's been that way since he was a child. This town was too small for him, and he was hell-bent on leaving and exploring the world," Grisha smiled softly, as if wistful at the thoughts of Eren being young. "He's changed and adapted though. Pursued a career he was passionate about and something, in the end, made him stay. There's still too much willpower inside of him, though."

 

Levi knew his words were exact. He could tell just by spending a few months around Eren.

 

Grisha continued, "He's grown quite fond of the two of you."

 

Taking a long drag from his cigarette, Levi's eyes traveled to meet Grisha's. He wasn't sure what to say. He wanted to admit that yes, he felt a strong pull to Eren and yes, he knew Eren felt the same way. But he just wasn't sure how to act on these confusing feelings or where to start. He merely nodded his head while replying, "We've become fond of him, too."

 

Noticing Levi's discomfort, Grisha changed the topic. Levi was eternally grateful. A few more minutes of speaking and casually smoking, they were called inside. Grisha gave Levi a knowing look before opening the door for him, and Levi wasn't sure what it meant. Perhaps it had something to do with Eren wanting to spend time with him after dinner. 

 

When they re-entered the house, the home was filled with an even richer aroma than before. Levi felt his stomach grumble just at the display in front of him. Mikasa seemed... cheerful as she helped Carla and Eren set the table. 

 

"Mikasa, you're our guest. Let us take care of setting the table," Grisha attempted as he walked over to the dining room table. Eren just laughed.

 

"We tried stopping her," he explained. "She insisted."

 

"If only you had those manners at that age," Carla jested, casting a small grin Eren's way. Levi chuckled breathlessly.

 

"Don't listen to them, Levi. I was an outstanding child growing up."

 

Levi tried to picture a young and reckless Eren, all heated and honest in the moment about anything he believed in. It wasn't hard to imagine, given what he'd learned from Grisha. The level of comfort that became instilled inside of Levi surprised him, but the Yeager's seemed to have that effect on both he and Mikasa.

 

They all soon were seated at the table, Carla leading in grace before they began serving themselves. Levi couldn't remember the last time his holidays were filled with such ease and serenity. It was always a bitter time of the year, given how busy he and Erwin always were. Erwin tended to work or be delayed in their home life, so Levi was used to being alone. But watching his cousin effortlessly fall into place with such an open community made him truly believe he made the right choice in coming back to this small town he once swore away from.

 

Mikasa's eyes rose and met Levi's, the depth's of them reflecting a life that wasn't there back in October, and he knew he was right.


Hours later, it was nearing eleven at night. The Yeager home was filled with music playing softly in the background while the five of them indulged in some small talk over wine and dessert. Levi had to admit, Grisha and Carla were some of the most easy-going and charming people he'd ever met. Mikasa took to them instantly, and he felt comfortable, which surprised him. Mikasa had fallen asleep on the couch shortly after dinner, and that surprised Levi even further. She was always a light sleeper like himself, so to see her on the couch with her arms folded in a deep sleep touched his heart.

 

Soon, Eren was asking him if he could step out with him.

 

"My parents can keep an eye on her for a few minutes," he explained with a short smile. "I won't keep you long. But there's still something I'd like to show you."

 

Intrigued, Levi followed after Eren and outside of the home. He was confused when Eren led him to his pick-up truck and just explained, "It'll be quicker."

 

The sky was partially clear that night and the air had a smell to it that indicated snow. Levi could remember as a child his mother playfully explaining to him you can smell when it's about to snow and used to think it was childish and imprudent. Now, he looked outside of the windows of the vehicle as Eren drove with a feeling of both sincere remembrance and frazzled anticipation. The property of his family's home was quite large, covering at least a few dozen acres. It was yards of tall and withering trees and open meadows. 

 

Levi glanced at Eren momentarily and noticed how focused and determined he looked as he began to press on the brakes. He shifted to truck into park and said, "We're here."

 

Levi didn't know where here was. He slipped out of the truck and instantly regretted not bringing a heavier jacket. Why the hell did Eren think it was a good idea to drag him out in the cold? He wanted to say something but stopped short when a reflection caught his eye. He started toward a large lake, the night sky cascading over its surface. Though the sky was partially covered with clouds, the moon's image was so clear on the gentle waves of the lake. In all of his years living here, Levi had never noticed this lake before.

 

Eren was beside him, and Levi could feel the warmth of him on his shoulder. "I've been coming here since I was a kid," he began. "If I were ever angry or upset, I'd come running all the way down here. I could spend hours just sitting here and staring out. It was my safe place."

 

Levi turned and acknowledged Eren. "But, that wasn't the only reason I came here."

 

He waited for Eren to continue, but the brunet quietly stepped behind Levi and leaned in close. His entire body felt hard against Levi's, the heat of it creeping into his senses and rendering him entirely still. His heart was beating so fast, he thought at any moment it would implode inside of his chest. He had never been this close to the young teacher, and his entire being was gravitating to him. 

 

"Look," Eren commanded softly as he lifted one hand and pointed out up toward the sky. Levi's slate eyes followed the tanned finger, and his eyes widened. Above them, several streams began to pour through the heavens and lit not only the world above but the lake below. It was one of the most wondrous things Levi had ever seen in his entire life. The stars continued to shower like rain, and the cold no longer seemed to persist. "You'll never see anything like it anywhere else. It was one of the main reasons I continued to stay here."

 

Eren's voice was near his ear, and Levi fought the urge to shiver. Instead, he leaned back against Eren and sighed. "It's... incredible, Eren," he murmured.

 

The teacher's body continued to remain tight and present, grounding Levi in a way he never thought possible. While his mind attempted to race with several reasons to pull away, his form fought to stay in the safety of the brunet's embrace. "I know it isn't much of a birthday present... but I wanted to see it with you. You're the only person I've ever brought here."

 

Levi finally turned, his eyes wide as he gazed up at Eren. Eren's eyes shown brilliantly under the moonlight and the small flashes of the stars above. Levi had never seen anything more remarkable. "Thank you for bringing me here," he began. He swallowed, unsure of himself. "And thank you for being patient with me. I still don't know what the hell you're seeing in me, but thank you for giving me the chance to make up my mind."

 

"And have you?" Eren asked, boldly reaching up and brushing a strand of dark hair from Levi's eyes. "Made up your mind?"

 

A smile playing at his lips, Levi answered, "Perhaps."

 

Eren's eyes burned. "Maybe that's the wrong question then."

 

Pressing his forehead against Levi's, Eren asked a different question. "Levi," he began, and the raven's blood roared in his ears. Eren's breath was so close to his. "Are you going to punch me if I kiss you?"

 

Closing his eyes, Levi took a chance and replied, "I think I would if you didn't at this point."

 

There was a single breath that passed between the two of them before Eren's lips pressed solidly over Levi's. The cold no longer was present. Instead, an immense warmth filtered through Levi's entire body. His heart felt as though a fist has sucker punched it and shoved it back into place again. He let out a sigh through his nose, his hands seeking purchase somewhere from the onslaught of emotions coursing through him. Eren must have sensed this because he reached and took the smaller man's hands into his. They felt so strong and sure as Eren massaged his fingertips against Levi's skin. 

 

There were no words to explain how something so entirely simple left Levi breathless. How many moments like this had he shared with Erwin, but never felt the security he did with Eren? The passion behind grazing touches of simple flicks of the tongue? He couldn't recall. All his mind could register was Eren Eren Eren and the way his mouth slotted into his own. The rich taste of him and the heady fragrance of his skin. Levi wanted to be consumed by it and didn't want to fear what could and what if stop him anymore. It was as if the very thing his soul had been searching for was instilled into the body of this young man.

 

It was intimacy. 

Chapter Text

"You're in a good mood," Armin noted as he watched Eren take a seat in front of him. The sun was at it's highest, blanketing the playground area in a warm hue. It was nearing February, and the cold was still ever present. With the sun, however, it added some warmth to the chilly day. Usually, most of the teachers ate inside during lunch hours. But seeing as the days in Shiganshina were so pleasant, it was nice to sit outside for a change. Especially while the students were running around during recess. 

 

Eren smiled softly as he sat down, unwrapping his lunch and gazing at Armin. "Why shouldn't I be? It's a gorgeous day. Not too cold at all."

 

Armin hummed, stirring his food with his fork. "I have a feeling there's more to it than that."

 

Eren's eyes wandered momentarily, looking out toward the playground and averting his gaze to each student. He watched as Mikasa, Isabel, and Farlan all chased after each other. It warmed his heart to see Mikasa coming into her own in the short few months she had been in their small town.

 

"Things with Levi are going well?"

 

Emerald eyes shifted sharply, a small hue of pink dusting his cheeks. "They're... really great. He's amazing."

 

"So we've heard," a new voice drawled, causing Armin and Eren to lift their heads. Jean waltzed over with a knowing smirk, sitting close to Armin and reaching for a piece of the blonde's lunch. Armin made a face but didn't say anything. "Over and over again."

 

"Shut the hell up," Eren snapped, aggressively taking a bite of his sandwich. "I don't talk about him that much."

 

Jean and Armin stared at him flatly, making the brunet sputter on his food. "Right. All I hear is Levi did this and Guys, yesterday Levi and I did that. Face it, Yeager," Jean continued while thrusting his fork in the teacher's direction. "You've got it bad."

 

"So what if I do? I'm happy with him. He's..." Eren bit his lip, trying to find the right words. "I don't know how to explain it. Ever since I've met him, I've felt this connection that I couldn't shake off. I know there are some bad rumors spreading around town about his family, but he and Mikasa are some of the most incredible people I've ever met."

 

Jean scoffed. "People talk shit all the time. Even I know that. I'm just giving you a hard time," he amended and sighed. "I just don't know how much of this lovey-dovey bullshit I can stand before I hurl."

 

Armin elbowed Jean; then he shot Eren a small smile. "I'm happy things are going well. Take it at your own pace. From what you've mentioned and what I've heard, Levi's been through a lot."

 

Eren bit his lip. "He has... there's a lot I don't know about him though. I'm learning as I go. I'm trying to give him space to set the pace for both of us."

 

"That's the best thing you can do. Knowing you, I'm sure it's killing you inside," Jean remarked. Eren glared at him, and Armin just rolled his eyes with a sigh. As the blonde's gaze traveled, they widened briefly. 

 

"Um... Eren," he began, hesitantly. "Isn't that Mikasa over there?"

 

Eren turned his attention away from his food and over his shoulder. As his turquoise eyes looked over to the playground, they widened in shock as well. "Holy-- shit! What the hell?"

 

Suddenly, Eren was scrambling from the bench, and his food fell to the ground. Armin and Jean followed, hearing the sounds of skin hitting skin and enraged screaming. The three of them crossed the short distance of the field from the benches over to the playground area as quickly as their feet could carry them, getting a much more close look at a distressed Mikasa kneeling over another child, raising her fists and bringing them down against them. Several of the other children, including Isabel and Farlan, were trying to pull Mikasa away from the defeated student.

 

"Mikasa, whoa, stop it!" Eren shouted, skidding across the woodchips and snatching the small Ackerman away. Armin and Jean immediately reached and sat the other student up, assessing for injuries. Aside from a swollen cheek, there didn't seem to be anything serious. Still, Eren was glancing from the stiffened child in his arms and back to the one currently holding his face in agony. "What is going on? Why were you hitting him?"

 

Mikasa blinked a few times as if a trance had been lifted like a veil. She looked up at her teacher and followed his line of vision with a dazed expression. "I..." she began, unsurely. She shook her head. "I'm..."

 

"We'll talk about this more after I call your cousin," Eren sighed. "Both of you are going to the main office until we get this sorted out. Now."

 

It was rare for Eren to use such a stern tone and Mikasa visibly sagged at it. Hell, most of the other children did as well. Eren looked at Armin and asked, "Can you get these two to the office? I'm going to get the others inside and find someone to fill in for me until Levi and the other parents get here."

 

Armin agreed without hesitation, beckoning Mikasa and the other student, a boy just a bit taller than her, to follow him. "Come on, guys."


 

Levi walked into the elementary school with a heady sense of urgency, his hands rubbing his upper arms from walking in the cold without a jacket. As soon as he stepped into the main hallway, a familiar face greeted him. Eren was pacing in front of the central office door, looking a little flustered. It was unusual to see Eren in any mood other than a happy one. Levi felt his gut clench when he approached the man.

 

"What the hell is going on?" he asked. 

 

"I'm not sure," Eren said as he walked beside Levi. "Armin, Jean, and I were eating lunch, and we all saw Mikasa just... walloping on this kid. I've never seen her look so angry. Afterward, she looked like she had absolutely no idea what was going on."

 

Levi took in a deep breath, closing his eyes briefly before exhaling slowly. "Any idea why?"

 

"We wanted to wait for you and the other parents to get here before we tried talking to them," Eren stated. He hesitated as he continued, "I also know Mikasa is a good girl. This isn't like her. I figured it would be better if you spoke to her. We're trying to avoid anyone getting suspended."

 

"Right," Levi assented, giving Eren a strange look. "Let's get this over with then."

 

When the two of them entered the office, Mikasa was sitting with her hands in her lap while looking to the floor. The other student, a boy named Chase, had his arms crossed and a scowl on his face. Levi knew instantly this kid was going to be trouble. When Mikasa looked up and saw her cousin, she looked... incredibly frightened. Levi hadn't seen her look like that since they first met back at in Sina. His hard gaze softened slightly, and he ran a hand through his hair.

 

"Want to explain to me what's going on?" he asked plainly. 

 

Mikasa was hesitant to answer, but before she could, the other student did for her. "I'll tell you! We were just playing and minding our business and Ackerman decided to start beating to crap--"

 

"Language," Eren said moodily. His expression was tight, which was yet another surprise.

 

"Sorry, Mr. Yeager," Chase mumbled. He cleared his throat and continued, "But yeah, she just went crazy!"

 

Not expecting a child to have an intellectual response, Levi turned to Mikasa and asked, "Is that what happened? You just went crazy?"

 

"No!" Mikasa rebutted. "I..." She bit her lip and clenched her hands. "Chase and the other boys were saying nasty things about... our family."

 

Levi blinked, surprised by her answer. "So that gave you the initiative to raise your hands? If he was bothering you, you could have gone to Mr. Yeager or one of the other teachers. From what I've heard, there were at least five of them out with you."

 

"I know," she insisted, bowing her head with shame. Levi already knew that Mikasa lacked control, especially from Kenny's influence on her. Still, this was the first time aside from the night of her nightmare that he had dealt with this. He was beginning to wonder if was going to present as a problem as time passed by. "I have no excuse for my behavior. I'm sorry."

 

"And you," Levi turned his head to Chase. "Were you saying nasty things about Mikasa and her family?"

 

"I'm just going off of my what my parents said!" Chase explained, throwing his hands in the air. Levi was tempted to smack him upside his head. Eren just huffed and crossed his arms. "I didn't mean..."

 

"--to upset her? You might not realize it, but Mikasa has feelings too. The two of you need to apologize and--" As Eren began explaining this, a highly agitated woman entered the office in an abrupt sweep. 

 

"Chase?" she screeched, immediately reaching down to cup her sons face. "Honey, what happened? Who did this to you?"

 

When the young child's mother shifted her gaze around the room while snapping, "Well?! Someone answer me!"

 

"There was a mishap on the playground during recess earlier," Eren began explaining. Armin was Chase's teacher, but Eren felt it was his responsibility to explain the situation on Mikasa's behalf. "We were just trying to clear that up now. Chase was saying things to upset Mikasa over there, which made her respond by attacking him. We don't condone what she's done at all--"

 

"You're damn right you won't condone that! My son never gets in trouble at school! Look at his face!" Angry eyes were on Mikasa now, causing the young girl to shrink in her seat. Levi instinctively moved closer to her without realizing it. "She should be suspended, at the very least!"

 

"We'd like to avoid that," Eren continued, holding his hands up in an attempt to look peaceful. "We'll definitely make sure she receives detention for this, and I'm sure Mr. Ackerman will find a suitable punishment for her as well--"

 

Levi was starting to get severely agitated at Eren being interrupted. "Ackerman? Oh, well," the woman let out a breathy laugh. "That explains so much. No wonder this child felt the need to hit my boy. She probably doesn't know any better."

 

Eren glanced at Levi worriedly. "This child," Levi started acidly. "Wouldn't have gone after your sweet boy if he wasn't intentionally upsetting her with words that he apparently heard from his parents."

 

Chase's mother's lips formed a thin line, evidently thinking of an argument. "I have no idea what you're--"

 

"And," Levi continued, not bothering to give the woman a chance to continue. "Maybe this will be a lesson to you on what you should be saying in front of your children, to begin with."

 

Eren was speechless when he turned to Mikasa and held out his hand. "Give me your phone."

 

Mikasa blinked a few times but complied, reaching into her backpack and handing her smartphone over to Levi. "Also, you're grounded for the week. No phone. No friends. No computer. I'll allow T.V. and outside. Now," he continued. "Hold out your hand."

 

Everyone in the room was flabbergasted when Levi took Mikasa's hand, smacking to top of it with little effort. "Don't do it again," he deadpanned. 

 

Chase's mother had a striking shade of red adorned on her puffed out cheeks, and Eren had to turn his face away to stop himself from laughing.


When Levi had finally settled on the couch, he threw himself against it with a loud sigh. Fuck, what a day. Mikasa had just fallen asleep on the sofa, which resulted in Levi carrying her to bed and tucking her in. While he didn't approve of the way his young cousin handled the situation at school today, he couldn't very well blame her. At the same time, he knew that wasn't acceptable behavior. He would be contacting Eren's father and setting up an appointment for therapy. Unfortunately, the teachings from his uncle hadn't strayed very far from Mikasa, and Levi understood that it needed to be addressed. He was the same at one point in his life, up until he met Erwin. He would get into fights at the drop of a hat.

 

His affection for Mikasa grew with each day, which surprised the raven. While he knew he wasn't the parent of the year, his goal was to steer Mikasa in the right direction so she could lead a happy and fulfilling life without hitting bumps at every crossroad. He needed to ensure boundaries were set and lines weren't crossed. He was in charge of her upbringing, and he was doing the best he could.

 

Just as his eyes were beginning to drift shut, a quiet knock on the door caused them to flutter open. Already anticipating who would be stopping by at ten at night, Levi sat up from the couch and made his way to open the front door. He was greeted by a handsome face that seemed to make his heart leap right out of his chest.

 

"Hey," Eren said, giving Levi a quick look over. "I uh... probably should have called, huh? If it's a bad time..."

 

"It's not," Levi said shortly. "Mikasa just went to sleep."

 

Pushing the door open, Levi let Eren in and closed it quietly. When he turned around, Eren was gazing at him with an array of emotion. 

 

"I'm sorry about today," he began. "I should've been keeping a better eye on the kids. Maybe I could have stopped it before it got any worse."

 

"It's not your fault," Levi sighed, crossing over and standing closer to the young teacher. "It's done with. I had a long talk with her tonight, and she understands what she did was wrong. I also know that the little shit set her off on purpose. If I had my way, I would've smacked him too."

 

Eren fought hard to hide his grin, but he failed. "He's a special case that kid. His mother says he hardly gets into trouble, but Armin tells me otherwise." He stopped for a moment before adding, "I'm sorry about what his mother said about you and your family. That's not fair."

 

"My uncle made a bad name for my family," Levi admitted, guiding Eren over to the couch and imploring him to sit. The brunet did, and Levi continued, "I'm not going to drop an entire sob story on you, but that bastard didn't treat Mikasa kindly. She was exposed to a lot more shit than she lets either of us on to believe. She has nightmares. She struggles, but you and I both know she would never hurt anyone without a good reason."

 

"I know that," Eren said while reaching over and boldly taking Levi's hand in his. "I know the two of you have been through a lot... even if you don't tell me. Which is fine, I'm not entitled to know everything about you. But if there is a day you do want to talk about it, just know I'm here. I really care about the two of you, and I want to be there for each of you."

 

Levi glanced down at their joint hands, wonderment filling his pale gaze. He adjusted his fingers and brushed them over the smooth skin of Eren's hand. Feeling quite bold himself and not wanting to dig deeper into the waters that were his and Mikasa's past, he leaned forward and pressed his lips to Eren's. Eren let out a small noise of surprise, but his eyes closed with a low hum and deepened the kiss. His other hand reached up to cup the side of Levi's face, bringing the smaller man closer with instinctual need. Levi's skin felt like it would ignite into flames everytime Eren touched him, and he wanted more than anything to let that fire consume him.

 

Eren pulled back shortly, his eyes parting slightly. "You said Mikasa's asleep?"

 

Nodding his head, Levi breathlessly replied, "I did."

 

"Good," Eren answered as he leaned across the couch, pushing Levi against it gently. As the weeks had passed, Eren really did allow Levi to control the motions of their new relationship. He didn't want to push the man into doing anything he wasn't ready for nor did he want to destroy the trust Levi had placed with him. Their encounts together were usually calm, not moving passed kissing and light touching. But, Eren felt a hunger stir inside of his belly just from the motion of something as simple as kissing. Levi's eyes followed Eren as he leaned back and Eren rested his hands on either side of him. "Is this okay?"

 

"Are you going to ask that every time we do this?" Levi asked, giving Eren a withering look. "I can appreciate how considerate you've been, but I'm also not a delicate flower." To prove his point, Levi lifted his knee to brush against Eren's trousers, causing Eren's eyes to flutter with pleasure. "Do I need to explain myself further?"

 

Eren shook his head and quickly attached his lips to Levi's, groaning when Levi opened his mouth to allow him entrance. Levi's hands reached up and buried themselves into Eren's hair, tugging him closer in an attempt to center himself. Eren's tongue brushed against his like a silken tie, and he couldn't suppress the small noise that left his throat at the feel of it. The hot organ enticed Levi to allow one hand to move from Eren's long hair and down his hard chest, memorizing the lines and muscle that he felt beneath the cotton shirt he wore. While he did this, Eren repositioned himself, and his hand brushed delicately over Levi's hip. Without realizing it, Levi's hip buckled against Eren's hand.

 

Eren pulled back, panting with reddened cheeks. "Shit, I'm sorry. I didn't mean--"

 

"Fuck, Eren, that wasn't me trying to move away," Levi hissed through his own breathlessness. To prove his point, Levi wrapped an arm around Eren's middle and flipped them over. Eren blinked up at Levi, who was looking down at him with storming eyes. "I'm going to say this right now. If you do something I'm not comfortable with, I'll tell you. Hell, you'll know. But we also aren't high schoolers. So when I say that this," he reached for Eren's hand, bringing it to the hardened length that was concealed by his sweatpants. "is okay, trust me when I say it is."

 

Maybe this was a way for Levi to push himself past his panic and insecurities. He would never deny that attraction that lied between him and Eren. He would never deny that selflessness this man had shown him, never once pushing. But enough was enough. Levi could do this. He could learn to trust and feel again and shit, he was. He knew he was.

 

Eren's mouth parted in a silent 'o,' rubbing experimentally against Levi's clothed member. Levi's eyes danced with a pleasure he had long since forgotten, letting himself go as Eren loosely tugged at the band of his sweatpants. They shared a long look before Eren's hand dipped in and took hold of Levi's confined cock. The noise that escaped Levi's mouth was not one he meant to release, but it fueled Eren's body so quickly it was as if gasoline was finally poured onto the flames of his desire. Stroking slowly at first, Eren allowed Levi to readjust his position on top of him, so he was sitting more comfortably. After a few moments, it didn't feel like it was enough. Levi wanted to touch Eren too. 

 

Scooting back, Levi darlingly reached and began to unbutton Eren's pants, causing the taller man to groan with want. He used his free hand to help Levi, not wanting to waste a moment to feel those hands against him. The moan that he released was more audible than Levi's, and it caused to raven to harden further just at the sound. Stroking in time with each other, Eren dragged Levi down to his lips and instantly was rewarded with his tongue delving in. He couldn't get enough of the way Levi tasted and how precious the feeling of having him this close was. If Eren didn't know any better, he'd say he was falling quite hard for this man.

 

Their hands began to move with more vigor; causing Eren to pant openly against Levi's parted lips. Levi felt a shiver run up his spine and coiling start to spin inside of his lower stomach. While he was a man with an average libido, he hadn't had very much sexual release in quite some time. So the feeling spurred him for a moment before he began to accept it. His toes curled against Eren's legs, and his body began to stiffen. His hands pumped Eren's length more quickly, his thumb rubbing against the slit as it started to dribble with the beginnings of his release.

 

"S-Shit, Levi," Eren breathed, his mouth teasingly brushing against his lips. "I'm close," he added.

 

Levi knew Eren was nearing the edge just from his body language and the way his body was tensing beneath him. Fuck, how long had it been since he was so aroused? His tongue traced Eren's lips as he twisted his hand with just enough pressure to bring Eren over the edge. The shorter male felt Eren's mouth open against his, a long string of praise leaving his lips as something warm began covering Levi's hand. It caused Eren to stroke Levi more quickly, bringing him to the brink of his release. Using his free hand to squeeze Eren's arm, Levi groaned in satisfaction as he came. 

 

The two of them stayed close for several minutes, the only sound being their joint breathing and the quiet hum of the muted television behind them. When his consciousness finally caught up with him, Levi allowed Eren to kiss him one more time. A pure, quiet and chaste touch of their lips. When they parted, Eren smiled. "Wow," he started cheekily. "I don't think I've ever been so turned on by a handjob in my entire life."

 

"You have no filter, do you?" Levi questioned, though his lips were lifting upwards.

 

"No more than you do," Eren responded, chuckling. Emerald eyes sparkled with warmth.

 

Levi held Eren's gaze, and then it drifted to their messy hands. "We need to clean this up. It's disgusting."

 

"And you complain I have no filter?" 

 

Smacking his arm lightly with his clean hand, Levi climbed off of Eren and pulled his pants back up. "I'd offer you something to wear, but I doubt anything I have would fit you."

 

"It's okay. I have some spare clothes in my truck."

 

Following Levi into the kitchen, they washed their hands and Levi went into his bedroom quickly to change. Once he emerged, he found Eren dressed in a pair of loose fitting cotton pants and a tight long-sleeved shirt. The sight of the muscles beneath made Levi's stomach tighten again, but he squandered it. Clearing his throat, he asked, "Coffee or tea?"

 

Eren looked up thoughtfully before answering, "Tea sounds good."

 

"Want to spend the night?"

 

The brunet blinked at that. "Don't you work tomorrow?"

 

"I do," Levi replied. "But it's Saturday; I don't go in until one tomorrow. It's cold as shit outside." Debating on adding this last part, Levi said, "Plus, I wouldn't mind."

 

Eren's smile was breathtaking. "I'd love to, then. Mikasa won't be upset?"

 

"I'm an adult last time I checked. She'll be fine. It's not like she'll wake up to find us fucking on the couch."

 

Levi hid a small smirk when Eren's eyes widened, turning away to prepare their tea. A half an hour later, the two of them were sitting on the couch, watching whatever horrifically dull program just happened to be on the television. Both of them held their mugs close, but Eren kept Levi close with an arm wrapped around his shoulders. Levi tried to remember in his mind the last time Erwin had held him close like this, but he found the memories were very far away. So he marveled at the firm hold Eren kept him in. He relished the way his warmth radiated right to his heart.

 

Fuck, he was falling hard for this man. It scared him because he didn't know how to stop himself from doing so. Nor was he sure if he wanted to. So he allowed himself this moment to let himself go. To truly, and utterly, let himself go.

Chapter Text

Levi had forgotten what dates were like. It was something that became a thing of the past once he and Erwin began working full hours. Erwin was always diligent with his job, but Levi didn't start working until after he graduated from college. While they did eat out quite a bit, it was rare that it was because of a romantic impulse. It was merely for the fact neither of them enjoyed cooking. Levi could proudly say he did cook at home a few times a week, especially for Mikasa's sake. It was nice to have home cooked meals, even if Levi sometimes would fail at them. It would give him and Mikasa something to laugh over. A lot of the times, Eren would come by. He always brought an immense warmth to their home. 

 

After the initial grounding, Mikasa was given back her phone and allowed to speak with her friends again. Levi knew her birthday was less than a week away, and he wanted to do something special for her. He planned on having Mikasa speak with Dr. Yeager, but for this week he decided it could wait. He wanted Mikasa to experience a birthday unlike any she'd ever had. With family and friends surrounded by happiness and joy. Levi felt a bit silly for thinking of it, but he knew when his mother was alive she often made huge deals over his birthday. Mikasa probably did not have that luxury with Kenny. 

 

"What did you have in mind?" Eren asked one night, strolling alongside Levi as they walked around town. It was a quiet evening, and although it was cold, Eren kept a warm arm around Levi's shoulders the entire time. They had just finished dinner at a local hot spot that served delicious soups and tea, so they were both feeling content and full. Levi held a to-go cup of tea in his hands and Eren opted for hot chocolate. The night sky glittered with stunning stars.

 

"Mikasa has two close friends, Isabel and Farlan. I was thinking of having them spend the night. I know there are a few other classmates she would want to invite."

 

"Oh. She gets along well with Annie, Reiner, and Bertolt. A few others as well," Eren grinned a little while leaning in. "Are you sure you can handle all of those kids in your house? I don't know if you have the same gift I do."

 

"Who says you won't be there?" Levi questioned, glancing up at Eren with an unamused expression. "If I'm doing this, you're stuck with me. Hange too. They definitely deserve it."

 

"You're too hard on them. It's sort of cute."

 

Levi wanted to gag. Instead, he chose to shove his foot in front of Eren. Eren tripped half-heartedly and laughed. Levi couldn't help but inwardly smirk, feeling something playful emerging inside that he hadn't ever felt before. Eren seemed to bring out hidden parts of him that he wasn't even aware were there. "I can see it now. You'll be in your room, hiding while Hange and I are caroling the kiddos."

 

"That's the plan," Levi assented, sipping on his tea. Eren dragged him closer and brushed his face against the to-go cup, his lips seeking Levi's. Levi lifted himself up and met those lips, never growing tired or weary of how they felt against him. That warmth filtered right to his bones every time. Since their previous night together, Levi couldn't get Eren out of his mind. Judging from the way Eren couldn't keep his hands to himself, neither could he. "In all seriousness, I know she'll love that. She adores you, so you'd better be there."

 

"Are you kidding? I wouldn't miss it for the world. Actually, would it be alright if I invited my parents? I think they're starting to look at her like she was their daughter, I swear. She's like the little sister I never had."

 

"Better be careful no one at the school hears you say that otherwise, they'll think you're showing favoritism. And you already know they're welcome anytime."

 

"Psh," Eren scoffed playfully. "You can't fault me for having a soft spot."

 

They continued walking together, basking in each other's company while taking in the sights of the small town. Valentines Day decorations were set up on all the lamposts and garden sections of the sidewalk. It made Eren smile again. "Would it be ridiculous if I asked you out for Valentines Day?"

 

"Depends on what you had in mind. Just so you're aware, I'm allergic to dark chocolate."

 

Eren mock-gasped, holding a hand to his heart. "How are you allergic to dark chocolate? 

 

"You're changing the subject."

 

"Well... I guess it wouldn't be anything too crazy. We go out a lot, which is nice and all. Maybe I want to cook you dinner at my place and have you to myself for a night?"

 

Levi's skin tingled at the thought, but he still gazed up at Eren while saying, "Maybe I'd like that."

 

"Maybe it's settled then. You find someone to keep Mikasa for the night, and I'll show you how a true romantic works. You'll be swooning."

 

Levi wondered if Eren realized how much his words really cut through him. Eren had so much life inside of him; he held no malice or bitterness. He sensed no darkness, and it amazed Levi that Eren fell for him to begin with. While Levi did everything he could to keep his past relationship with Erwin under wraps, he wondered if one day he would find the courage to share those painful memories with Eren. He doubted Eren would judge him. Something continued to stop him though. For once in his life, he wanted to feel comfortable in his own skin. Eren helped him more than he realized, and he didn't know how to thank him. So he leaned into him, grabbing onto the edge of the taller man's coat. "I'm sure I will be," he said quietly.

 

Eren held him closer, halting his footsteps as he reached under Levi's chin to tilt his face upward. Anticipating those warm lips again, Levi allowed Eren to bring his face to his, slotting his mouth against his own. Eren may not have realized it, but he was already swooning. He also didn't know how to stop.


 

The next day, Levi began working on setting everything for Mikasa's party. He called some of his friends over to help him with the arrangements, though he knew he was capable of doing it himself. He still wanted to include every one of them. They were a significant part of his life, and they were steadily becoming a tremendous influence on Mikasa as well. Eren would be coming over as well once school had let out. Mikasa would be spending a majority of her afternoon over Isabel's house, which meant they would have some time to prepare. 

 

"So, how many of the kids are we inviting?" Petra asked as she jotted down a few things. She was helping take some notes. Mikasa was still at school while Eren was, of course, teaching that afternoon. Levi didn't have to be at the bar until later in the evening with Petra offering to mind Mikasa. 

 

"So far... about eight?" Levi replied, jotting this down as well. "My house will be overrun by a bunch of loud-mouthed brats."

 

"Tell us how you really feel," Nanaba snickered as she entered the room. She had tea brewing in the kitchen and set down a few mugs on the dining room table. "It won't be so bad. Are they spending the night?"

 

Levi sighed. "I'm not sure about her classmates, but I know she would want Isabel and Farlan here. I have to ask their parents sometime today."

 

"That just leaves us putting in an order for the cake, which Mike already offered to pick up this weekend. What about food?" Petra asked.

 

"I'll order something. I also know Eren's parents wanted to be included with the planning, so I'm sure they'll be bringing quite a bit."

 

At the mention of Eren's name, Nanaba and Petra exchanged a quiet look. "How are things with you two? You seem pretty close."

 

"I'd hope so. We are dating," Levi deadpanned, not taking his eyes off his current task of writing.

 

"You know what I mean," Petra continued with a soft smile.

 

Levi finally looked up, his slate eyes regarding both of the women. "Things are... good. I..." He hated explaining himself, mainly for the fact he usually wasn't very good at it. He bit his lip while reaching for his tea. "He's a good man, and he's great with Mikasa."

 

Nanaba chuckled, "And you, apparently. I'm not sure if you realize it, but every time you talk about him, you get a soft look in your eyes."

 

Both Petra and Nanaba laughed when Levi scoffed, his cheeks flushing against his will. "Fuck off, the two of you. I know what you're doing."

 

"We're just happy," Petra amended. "It's good to see you opening up, especially after Erwin. But I can't doubt Eren's abilities. He just has that natural charm to him. He could melt the coldest heart with just a glance and a smile."

 

"The two of you are married, remember? I feel like Hange is to blame for this."

 

"Speaking of which, they'll be here soon. I should probably put up some coffee for them," Nanaba said while standing up from her seat. Petra reached for her arm and shook her head. 

 

"I'll do it. You take it easy, preggo."

 

Instinctively, Nanaba rubbed her stomach and laughed lightly. "I'm only four months. I can still handle simple tasks."

 

"Take her advice, Nana. She's had two of them. Let someone cater to you for a change," Levi drawled.

 

"Take your own advice sometimes, shorty."

 

Levi was about to open his mouth to retort, but a knocking pierced through the dining room. The three of them all glanced at each other in confusion. 

 

"Hange wouldn't knock. Are you expecting someone else?" Petra asked.

 

Shaking his head, but not answering, Levi stood up and went to the front door. When he opened it, he was met with the face of a stranger. She was dressed in a navy blue dress suit, a clipboard in her hand and thick glasses framing her face. She appeared around Levi's age, perhaps just a bit older. She had short, dirty blond hair and a small build. She offered the raven a small smile and asked, "Levi Ackerman?"

 

Raising an eyebrow, he replied, "Can I help you?"

 

"My name is Risa Janson, and I'm with Child Protective Services." The woman briefly showed her identification before continuing; I'm here today because we've received reports with concerns about the welfare of a child living here. I believe her name is..." Checking her paperwork, the woman added, "Mikasa Ackerman?"

 

Petra was moving closer with a look of concern, and Nanaba began to stand from her seat as well. Levi looked genuinely confused and shocked, his eyes widening briefly. While was stunned into silence, the caseworker continued and asked, "Can I ask if she's here?"

 

"She's at school," Levi said after regaining his composure. It was only a quarter after two, but he knew Mikasa released around two thirty. Eren had offered to bring her home seeing as though they were spending their free time planning her surprise party. "She won't be home for another half an hour at the very least."

 

"Oh! Wonderful. I don't mind waiting. I'll need to speak with both you and her privately. In the meantime, you won't mind if I take a look around?" As Risa asked this, she began stepping past Levi and into the house. Levi didn't even have a chance to block her off; even if he knew deep down, it would only make matters worse. His gut was twisting painfully inside of his stomach. Who the fuck would be calling Child Protective Services on him? Surely none of his friends had done it. He sincerely doubted Eren or his parents would. The school and its staff knew him pretty well at this point, and his co-workers seemed to get along well with him. 

 

So what the fuck?

 

Levi closed the door and swallowed thickly, watching as Risa let her self in while she was observing her surroundings. "I hope I'm not interrupting... I could come back at a different time if you'd like."

 

Hell no, I wouldn't like. You're already here, you idiot. Instead, Levi said, "Now is fine. But, I have to ask... what exactly brought on this visit? I've already cleared any issues with Mikasa's custody with the courts."

 

Petra and Nanaba were quiet, taking their seats back at the dining room table. They kept polite smiles on their faces, but Levi could see the two of them occasionally looking at him while silently saying what the hell is going on?

 

"This is regarding her safety," Risa replied, a matter of factly. As she walked, she took notes. Levi wanted more than anything to know what they were. "Sometimes the calls are just precautions, but we do take them very seriously. I'd be out of a job if I didn't."

 

Levi wasn't sure if he was supposed to laugh or not, so he kept silent instead. Risa kept herself busy while inspecting the house. Levi knew she wouldn't find anything damaging, but it still made his skin crawl to see a stranger was going through his home like this. It was forty minutes later that the front door was opening and Mikasa was stepping inside first before Eren followed. Levi made sure Petra and Nanaba had put away all of the party plans so he could continue keeping the surprise. When Mikasa stepped in, she immediately noticed Risa in the far end of the living room.

 

"Who's that?" she asked abruptly, her eyes narrowing as she set down her bag. Eren looked equally perplexed as he took off his coat and hung it near the door. 

 

Risa offered a sweet smile, kneeling in front of Mikasa while saying, "Hi there, you must be Mikasa. My name is Risa, and I'm from Child Protective Services. I was hoping I could ask you a few questions?"

 

Eren's eyes met Levi's, his lips mouthing What's going on?

 

"If it's alright, I'd like to speak with Mikasa alone for a few minutes. It usually takes about twenty for the standard questions. After that, I'll speak with you alone Mr. Ackerman."

 

Mikasa looked incredibly unsure and insecure, glancing at Levi with questionable eyes. Levi nodded and offered a short smile. "It's alright. We'll just... step outside and give you both the dining room."

 

Mikasa was led over to the table and Levi, along with Petra, Nanaba, and Eren stepped out onto the front porch. Immediately, Levi hissed out, "What the fuck?"

 

"What's going on? Why would Child Protective Services be here?" Eren asked as he paced around the porch. 

 

"Your guess is as good as mine. I have no fucking clue."

 

"I highly doubt anyone here would call..." Petra murmured, frowning deeply as her face set in deep thought. "Maybe because you've brought Mikasa into the bar a few times?"

 

"I doubt it," Eren said. "My Dad used to bring me there all the time as a kid. Hell, most of the older patrons with grandkids sometimes do too. I don't think anyone in this town would do something like this."

 

As the four of them continued to ponder through their minds, Hange pulled up and arched a brow. "Why are we all standing outside?"

 

Nanaba sighed, sitting on the rocking chair in the front of Levi's house. She rubbed her stomach and replied, "There's a caseworker inside with Mikasa... someone called Child Protective Services on Levi."

 

"What? Who the hell would do that?"

 

"We're trying to figure that out..." Eren mumbled, walking over to Levi and touching his arm briefly. Levi's eyes shifted and met Eren's. "It'll be alright. You've got nothing to hide, and you're amazing with Mikasa. She'll be out of there soon."

 

Levi knew Eren was right, but that didn't ease the feeling of apprehension that churned inside of his stomach. Hange was giving Levi subtle looks, which meant they were both coming to the same conclusion. That churning turned into something much sharper; something that could have pierced right through Levi's heart. There was only one person who would have done something as dubious and down-right despicable as this.

 

Erwin.

 

Which also meant Erwin knew he was here in Shiganshina.

 

Levi did his best to disguise his panic as he waited for the caseworker to summon him inside, but it was difficult. His hands began to tingle, and his heart was racing up into his throat. His head suddenly felt heavy, and he wanted nothing more than to run off of the porch and into the woods. How could he have been so idiotically stupid? He knew sooner or later, Erwin would eventually reveal himself to him somehow. He just hoped it wouldn't be this soon. Erwin didn't need him, but he was indeed a man who always pursued what he wanted.

 

Risa stepped outside a few minutes later thankfully, fetching Levi and bringing him inside to speak with her and Mikasa. Mikasa appeared a bit more relaxed than she had been nearly a half hour before, but Levi felt his skin crawling. He needed this woman to leave before he showed any signs of unease. He numbly answered her questions and signed the necessary paperwork. When she announced she would return within another six weeks, Levi felt that impending feeling of doom hit him like a tidal wave. He hated the way he reacted to situations now. He had thought he was overcoming them, but then they crept up on him like a shadow in the night.

 

"I'll be in touch. I appreciate your time, Mr. Ackerman. Everything checks out here, and I can see Mikasa is well taken care of. Regulations are regulations, though. I'll need to check up in a few weeks. It won't be a surprise like this time, I promise." She seemed kind enough, but Levi still didn't appreciate her presence in his home. He feigned kindness and showed her out, watching as she said goodbye to his friends gathered on his porch. She slipped into her expensive, county car and eventually pulled out of the driveway and drove off. 

 

Levi turned to Mikasa. "Are you okay?"

 

"I'm fine," she answered, tilting her head. "Are you okay?"

 

"What? Why the hell are you asking me that?"

 

"Levi..." Eren said, approaching him calmy. "Your hands are shaking."

 

Levi blinked and then looked down, observing as his hands shook with small spasms. He inhaled sharply and retreated into the house, leaving everyone bewildered on the porch.

 

"Shit," Hange said, not bothering to take off their shoes as they followed behind the raven. "Levi!"

 

Levi closed his bedroom door and leaned heavily against it, closing his eyes and breathing deeply through his nose while exhaling through pursed lips. Fuck, he thought miserably. Fuck, fuck, FUCK! His hands reached up, and he tugged harshly on his hair, gritting his teeth as another quake of panic rose through him. He heard Hange attempting to enter the room, but they soon gave up after a few minutes. In the silence, Levi tried his best to control his breathing and calm his raging body before it went into a further panic. He hated that this was what Erwin's abuse had reduced him to, and he refused to let anyone see him like this.

 

There was a soft knock on his bedroom door, and Levi rose his head to shout, "Fuck off, Hange! Give me a damn second."

 

"It's Eren," Levi heard the brunet say through the door. "I'm not going to rush you out, and you don't have to let me in. I just wanted you to know I'm right here."

 

Levi closed his eyes at Eren's words. "I'm sorry," he said. "I just... Give me a minute, okay?"

 

"I'll give you as much time as you need, but we're all out here worried about you. Especially Mikasa." A few seconds of silence and Eren added, "How long have you been having them?"

 

"Having what?"

 

"Panic attacks."

 

Levi exhaled in a huff. "How did you know that?"

 

"My old man's a doctor, remember?"

 

Levi chuckled, feeling somewhat stupid. "Of course. And... I've been having them since I moved here, I suppose."

 

Levi heard Eren lean against the door. "You've never brought it up before."

 

"It's not something I go around exclaiming," the shorter man said. "It's... embarrassing."

 

"It's not embarrassing. It's human nature and perfectly normal. I've had them before, Levi. I know what they feel like. It's almost like having a heart attack."

 

Levi found it hard to picture Eren of all people having panic attacks, let alone any sort of anxiety. 

 

"When I was younger I had them a lot. I think it was because I was so high-strung and emotional. My father put me in therapy for it. My mom always called me sensitive, but don't tell her I told you that. Don't tell Mikasa either; I have an image to maintain."

 

Levi's lips broke into a small smile, and he felt his heart lessening in it's pounding. "You might not realize this, but everyone in this town sees you a giant teddy bear."

 

"Even you?"

 

Levi pushed himself off of the door, turning around and opening it slowly. Eren stood on the other side, his eyes softening as he glanced down at Levi. "Especially me," Levi admitted earnestly.

 

Eren embraced him, and Levi didn't stop him. The final remnants of fear began to filter away, and his mind began to clear. He pulled back from Eren and reached for the taller man's hand, bring it to rest against his chest where his heart was racing just moments before. "Do you feel that?"

 

Eren kept his hand still for several, ticking seconds and realized Levi's heartbeat was slowing down to a reasonable speed. 

 

"That's the first time it slowed down so fast," Levi admitted. "So... thank you."

 

Eren kissed him briefly. "I don't care how embarrassed you are. If you ever need me, you tell me. Alright? I'll race over here. You might not realize this or not, but I'm here for you and Mikasa. You're stuck with me. And maybe one day, you can tell me exactly what's going on. Because in my heart I can feel you're carrying a heavy weight on your shoulders."

 

Levi stared into Eren's eyes as he said this. Sometimes he forgot just how perceptive Eren could truly be. He swallowed the lump that formed in his throat. "One day, Eren. I promise."


Levi found Mikasa in her room, sitting on her bed while gazing out the window. Her eyes appeared far away, and they turned sharply when Levi entered into the bedroom. They were both silent, just staring at each other while Levi attempted to form words. Before he was able to, Mikasa was jumping off of her bed and running toward Levi. The older Ackerman readily opened his arms as the small girl came crashing into him.

 

"I'm sorry," he said slowly. He held her close, and her grip on his shirt tightened. "I wasn't expecting that. I also wasn't expecting to have a panic attack right after."

 

He felt a warmth spread into his shirt, along with wetness. When he glanced down, he realized Mikasa was crying. 

 

"I thought..." she started, her voice watery. "I thought she was here to take me away."

 

"No," Levi said sharply, causing the young girl to raise her head. Levi's jaw set and he said, "I wouldn't let that happen. I promise you that. You trust me, remember?"

 

"I know. I just... Does this mean Erwin knows we're here?"

 

Levi brought Mikasa back at arm's length while answering, "It doesn't matter if he does or not, I'm not going to let anything happen to you. I need you to know and understand that, alright?"

 

Sniffling her nose, Mikasa nodded and hugged Levi again. "I'm sorry I'm causing so much trouble in your life. Maybe it would've been better if I did go into a foster home."

 

"Don't you dare\ say that, you brat. You didn't bring trouble into my life. You helped me realize I needed to make a change in my life. I swear, if you say some shit like that again, you'll be grounded a month straight."

 

Mikasa laughed lightly at that, and Levi smiled while gently petting her hair. "I mean it, kid. I wouldn't change anything. We're Ackerman's. I don't care what Kenny told you, we're strong, and we're able to rebuild. You were always the one saying we can start over and this is our chance."

 

Levi didn't know how much time had passed while he held Mikasa, but it was the closest he had ever felt to the young girl. Each word he said was the truth, and he could only hope she took his words to heart. I won't let anything happen to you; he thought as he tightened his arms slightly. I won't let anyone take you away. I won't let anything happen to either of us.


 

He tapped his hands idly against the countertop of the bar, his blue eyes trained on his cell phone. It was nearing nine at night, so he continued to sit patiently. As he reached for another glass of brandy, he heard his phone chirp a delightful tune. He reached for the device and answered it quickly.

 

"I was beginning to think you wouldn't call," Erwin said softly.

 

"I apologize. I had to make sure my wife and kids were asleep."

 

"Any word back from Shiganshina?"

 

He listened as Nile stepped outside and away from any listening ears. "He's there. And he has the kid with him, too. Risa just got back to me. He's got a house, job, everything. There were also quite a few people there, I'm assuming friends of his."

 

"You don't say? He did mention close friends when we met, but I had only seen them maybe once or twice. How is it you still have connections with Risa? How did she end up in a backwater town like that?"

 

"She owes me a few favors. We go back a ways, and she moved there for the family setting. Anyway, that's beside the point. You never did  tell me why you have me look up Levi Ackerman, to begin with."

 

Erwin sipped casually on his drink. "I hardly see how that's any of your concern. Perhaps I'm concerned about that child's welfare."

 

Nile laughed. "We both know that's a load of shit. You hate children."

 

"No more than you do."

 

"I actually like my children, thank you. In all seriousness, is this something I shouldn't get involved in? I hope this is the only favor you're asking me for."

 

"It's nothing serious. Levi is just going through a bit of a mid-life crisis, and I want to keep tabs on him to ensure he's safe. I'm giving him his space until he comes back home."

 

"If you say so," Nile replied. "Let me know how that goes. I need to get back inside before Marie finds me talking to you."

 

"God forbid," Erwin purred, causing Nile to sputter on the other side of the phone. "I'll see you over here tomorrow, I presume?"

 

"We'll see," Nile said before adding, "Night, Erwin."

 

Once the line clicked, Erwin placed the phone back onto the counter. "Oh, Levi. I've never considered you a stupid man, but you're predictable. What are you thinking, moving to some hogwash town like that? What could you possibly gain?"

 

He swirled his drink within his glass, smiling softly. "It looks like I'll get to see those beautiful Shiganshina sights you mentioned, won't I, Levi?" 

Chapter Text

 

Levi was just finishing up for the afternoon, wiping down the counter at 'P's Brigade' and closing tabs. He wanted to make sure Anka was all set when she arrived, and he was thankful he was able to switch around his usually busy schedule for Mikasa's party that night. Mikasa was with him for the afternoon, sitting at the bar with her phone in her hands as she occupied herself. He had most of his friends, including Eren, busying themselves with getting everything in order while he worked. It worked out in his favor, as it ensured Mikasa was out of the house. 

 

While slamming the register closed and wiping his hands on a towel, Mikasa blurted out something Levi wasn't expecting to hear.

 

"I want to visit Kenny's grave."

 

He paused, his head turning and his eyes casting over his shoulder. 

 

"Really?"

 

Mikasa's face with set in a stern manner. "It's my birthday, isn't it? You said I could ask for anything I wanted."

 

"Within reason," Levi sighed, tossing the rag aside and leaning his hands against the old, wooden bar. "You realize that's a pretty far drive, right?"

 

"It's only 2 hours. I checked. Plus, it's not like we have plans tonight anyway." To prove her point, Mikasa held up her phone which displayed directions to Sina. "See?"

 

Chewing the inside of his lip, Levi's eyes darted to the side. He was surprised none of Mikasa's classmates spilled about the party, though he was grateful. Still... if they were to drive to Sina that afternoon, it would mean they'd be walking in right around the time the party was supposed to start. He wanted to be there to help, and he couldn't merely push Mikasa to his friends when he knew she wanted to spend time with him.

 

Weighing out his options, Levi decided maybe it would work out if they took the drive. Why Mikasa wanted to see Kenny's grave was beyond him, but he couldn't fault her for wanting to say her goodbye's to her father. Even if the bastard didn't deserve that much.

 

Drumming his fingers, Levi feigned indifference as he shrugged. "Fine. We'll go. But, only for a few hours. I'd like to make sure we're back home tonight for dinner at least."

 

"Is Eren coming over tonight?" Mikasa asked eagerly, slipping off the bar stool when Levi rounded the corner of the bar. 

 

Smiling a bit, Levi said, "I'm sure he will be. I think he may even be bringing something for you, too."

 

Mikasa always tried to hide her smile when she talked about Eren, but Levi could see beyond the scarf as she concealed her face. "Let me run to the back really fast to double check the liquor inventory. Hang tight, alright?"

 

Mikasa nodded, and Levi disappeared into the back room. He pulled out his phone quickly and dialed Eren.

 

"Hey, gorgeous,Eren greeted, causing Levi to roll his eyes.

 

"Hi yourself. Listen, I have a bit of a situation here."

 

He heard Eren take the phone off speaker, which was a habit Levi had come to learn about the man. "What's up? Everything okay?"

 

"Everything's fine. I know you and the others are all getting things ready over there, but Mikasa wants to drive out to Sina for a few hours. Do you think you guys can handle things until we get back? I would tell her no, but... well..."

 

"...It's hard to say no to her, I know. Plus, it gives us more time to get things ready anyway. We need to keep this a genuine surprise."

 

"You're sure you don't mind?" Levi winced at the hesitance in his voice, unsure as to why he sounded so apprehensive. He knew Eren didn't mind.

 

Chuckling, Eren replied, "Of course not. We've got plenty of hands here. The food will be ready for pick up in a few hours. The kids will all be here around six anyway. By the time you two get back, we'll have a full house here. Mikasa will be completely caught off guard!'

 

Levi couldn't help himself; he smiled at Eren's enthusiasm. "Sounds like a plan. Just don't let Hange run free in my house, please. I know what that can result in."

 

"I heard that you shrimp!" Levi heard Hange scream in the background, and Levi sighed. "Sorry,Eren breathed. "They were right by the phone. Anyway, you guys go make a day for yourselves. We've got everything completely under control." 

 

Nodding, Levi said, "Thank you."

 

"You got it. I'll talk to you later, babe."

 

The line clicked, and Levi pulled the phone into view with an arched brow. Babe he thought. Snickering at the pet name, Levi slipped the phone into his pocket with a somewhat small smile on his lips. Eren always continued to surprise him. He stepped out of the backroom and into the main area of the bar, noticing Mikasa was waiting by the front entrance with her hands clasped in the front. Levi reached for his jacket and slipped it on while saying, "Ready? If you need anything, we can stop on the way."

 

Mikasa shook her head and held out her hand, wiggling her fingers a bit expectantly. Arching both brows, Levi reached and slipped his hand into hers as the two of them made their way to the car.


 

The drive to Sina was surprisingly easy. There was hardly any traffic, given it was a Saturday, and the roads were clear of any weather issues. It did snow regularly in Shiganshina, but Levi was happy the weekend looked sunny and bright. It had been quite a few years since Levi had returned to the small city, and it brought back some unwanted memories. He never bothered to visit Kenny here, but he had traveled a few times with Erwin. Perhaps if he wasn't so selfish and bitter in the past, Levi might have known about Mikasa a long time ago instead of only finding out she was alive and breathing a few months ago.

 

He tried to tell himself it wasn't his fault, and that Kenny played a significant role in the separation. Kenny had chewed him up, and spit him out. The same as Erwin. Those images and thoughts made a fire burn inside of his stomach and peeled away at his gut. So, he let them dissolve and focused instead on Mikasa's wandering eyes.

 

The cemetery was nice enough but busy. Hundreds upon hundreds of headstones lined up along the freshly manicured grass. The winter's harsh cold didn't seem to damage any of the surrounding foliage, and the trees that gathered around the property were hanging as a solemn reminder of death. It made Levi realize how long it had been since he visited his mothers grave, and decided to make sure he did so when he had a moment to himself. 

 

Pulling up along the curb, Levi was able to see from across the distance a headstone with the name Ackerman on it. It was there, clear as day. He was surprised Kenny even had the means to have a plot reserved, and was even more shocked that it wasn't near his mothers. Although he and Kenny didn't get along, he knew he was close with Kuchel. Even if he had a fucking strange way of showing it toward him. Mikasa seemed to know already where Kenny's grave was, as her eyes were trained right where Levi's were.

 

"Do you want me to wait in the car, or go with you?" he asked, glancing up to the rearview mirror. Mikasa met his eyes momentarily.

 

"Come with me, please?" There was hesitation in her voice, and Levi felt it right in his heart.

 

The two of the exited the car and walked around several different plots. A few of them Levi could mournfully see was too young to be buried there, while others lived what he would assume to be a long and eventful life. Most of the graves were decorated with stuffed animals, assortments of flowers, and stones with colorful writing on them. When they approached Kenny's grave, Levi immediately noticed it was bear.

 

Levi kept his distance and allowed Mikasa to kneel down in front of Kenny's plot. She gazed upon the wording thoughtfully while running a silent hand along the stone. Levi kept his hands in his pockets and watched his cousin carefully. She didn't speak. Didn't cry. But, Levi could see the edges of her face were lined with a quiet sadness. Kenny may not have been a promising parent of any sort, but Mikasa was still his daughter. Whether he took care of her or not wasn't the issue anymore. She was here; alive and thriving in greater strides than Levi could have ever hoped for. The proof of it was right there in front of him. 

 

Mikasa stood up slowly and glanced around for anything she could place and found some stones as well are a small bundle of flowers that seemed to bloom despite the cold. Winter's Lush, Levi recalled from his mothers constant gardening vocabulary. They were a dull shade of purple and blue, which was a nice assortment against Kenny's headstone. Mikasa arranged them neatly and stood up to dust herself off once she was satisfied.

 

"Do you want to say anything?" Levi asked quietly.

 

Mikasa turned to him, bit her lip, and then shook her head. "I think he knows what I want to say, so I don't need to say it. I know he wasn't a good dad... but he tried. That has to count for something."

 

Frowning, Levi said, "It does. Maybe you were the key to straightening him out."

 

"Maybe," Mikasa murmured softly.

 

Stepping closer, Levi added, "As much as I couldn't stand the bastard, he obviously cared about you. Otherwise, he wouldn't have bothered to leave you in my care. Probably not the greatest idea on his part... but, I'm glad he did."

 

Levi looked down almost indifferently as he said this, but Mikasa could see the truth that shined through his eyes and broke through his words. Smiling a little more widely, Mikasa walked over and reached for Levi's hand. "I'm glad he did, too. I'm happy being with you. You've been nothing but good to me. I don't think I can thank you enough."

 

"You don't need to thank me," Levi replied, squeezing Mikasa's hand. "Despite everything, you're the best piece of that man. And I know he can hear me--" As Levi said this, he turned toward the grave with narrowed eyes. "Right, old man?"

 

Snickering, Mikasa began tugging Levi toward the car. "Let's go. Maybe we can stop around here for lunch. There's a place I used to sneak into, and they had the best burgers in the entire town."

 

"Sneak in, huh?"

 

Bashfully, Mikasa mumbled, "Sometimes I had to, you know?"

 

Sighing, Levi wrapped an arm around Mikasa's shoulders as they headed back to the car. "Hopefully you won't ever have to do that again, alright? Let's go check it out. We've got a long drive back. Anything else you want to do while we're here? Do you have a favorite place?"

 

Shaking her head, Mikasa said, "No. I just want to get something to eat and go home."

 

Home.


 

Levi maneuvered his car back into the driveway, carefully scanning the area for any vehicles. It seemed most of his friends had taken the initiative to park their cars in the backyard, making it easy to hide from Mikasa's wandering eyes. Eren's truck was easy to spot, and the young Ackerman immediately perked up. "Eren's here!"

 

Smiling to himself, Levi replied, "Looks that way. Well, wait a minute, let me park the car."

 

Mikasa was practically jumping out of the passenger side as she waited for Levi to walk up with her. The nighttime air was crisp and fresh, and a few dim lights were shining through their windows. When Levi stepped out of the car behind Mikasa, his boots crunched against the gravel in the driveway. Mikasa was eagerly running up the front steps and Levi tried to keep up with her. It warmed his heart that being around Eren made her so happy.

 

When the two of them entered the house, it was quiet and dark. "Why are all of the lights off?" Mikasa asked quietly. She blindly reached for the light switch near that front door and let out a sharp gasp when several voices exclaimed, "Surprise!"

 

Mikasa was frozen stiff, her eyes wide as she took in the scene before her. Several of her classmates, including her close friends Isabel and Farlan, were all gathered in the living room. Hange, Mike, Nanaba, Petra, Eren, and Oluo were standing near the kitchen, smiles on their faces and each of them sporting a ridiculous birthday hat. Annie, Bertolt, Reiner, Dominique, Nora, and a few other of her classmates were there as well. There were several dishes of child-friendly food on the dining room table, and Mikasa could briefly see a cake on the kitchen counter. The entire house was decorated in her favorite colors; dark purples and sky blues. There were dozens of presents wrapped and placed on the coffee table on the other end of the room.

 

Levi glanced down at his cousin, a small smile on his face. "Happy Birthday, kid," he said softly. 

 

Levi was expecting a reaction out of Mikasa, but he hadn't expected her to burst into tears. He was taken aback, as were many of the guests that were there. For a moment, Levi felt he had possibly screwed something up. Maybe Mikasa wasn't particularly fond of surprises. Maybe... shit, what if it brought back bad memories for her? Dammit, he hadn't considered that. His pale eyes rose up and met Eren's in panic, silently asking what he should do.

 

A sudden, crushing weight caused Levi to huff in surprise. He looked down as Mikasa wrapped herself around him, burying her face into his coat. "I love you," she said, although it was only heard between the two of them. Everyone let out sighs of relief and cheered, watching as Mikasa continued to cling to Levi for dear life.

 

Swallowing the large lump in his throat, Levi wrapped his arms around his cousin while responding, "I love you too, brat."

 

When Isabel came barreling over, Mikasa pulled away and hastily wiped away her tears. "Happy Birthday! Come on, we've got so much planned! Let's go in the backyard. Hange and Eren set up a fire pit back there! We can roast stuff! Or tell stories!"

 

Levi watched as Mikasa was snatched away, and he couldn't miss the watery smile on her lips. She kept her coat on as she turned to Levi and asked, "Is that okay? Can we go outside?"

 

"You can do whatever you want. It's your party, so you call the shots. Get some food and bring it out with you, if you want."

 

Mikasa nodded, sprinting off to join her friends. The children all wore happy expressions, giving Mikasa hugs and helping themselves. Levi winced a bit when he noticed how much of a mess there was already, but he couldn't find it in his heart to be upset about it. Instead, he sauntered over to Eren. The brunet gave Levi a knowing grin.

 

"We did good, huh?"

 

"I can't thank you all enough," Levi responded sincerely. He glanced at each person and added seriously, "I mean it. I don't think any of you realize how much this means to her."

 

"Judging by the way she hugged you and cried, I think we do," Hange said. They were holding a small plate of food and nibbling between words. "You don't need to thank us, shorty. You know we'd do anything for the two of you."

 

"We should go out there with them," Mike said, helping himself to a few beers that were gathered on the counter. "I picked some of these up on the way here. Anyone want one?"

 

"I'll take one," Levi raised his hand, knowing he could probably use something to settle his nerves. His heart was still racing from the declaration from his young cousin. It was the first time he had ever heard Mikasa speak those words to him, and if it didn't make his heart race, he'd have to consider himself callous.

 

"If you're offering, I'll have one. I think we all deserve it," Eren explained, to which each person in the room nodded and helped themselves to some beer and wine. All of them stepped out onto the back porch, where they were able to keep an eye on the children while also kicking back and enjoying the clear night. They had dinner already ordered, refreshments and snacks laid out, and cake waiting. Levi couldn't have been more thankful at how well things worked out that day.

 

"So, where did you and Mikasa end up running off to today?" Petra asked as she sipped on her glass of wine. 

 

Placing his beer on the large patio table, Levi replied, "Sina."

 

Arching a brow, Oluo asked, "What made you drive all the way out there?"

 

"She wanted to visit Kenny's grave. Asked me out of the blue, too."

 

Eren appeared thoughtful. "I guess she was bound to ask sooner or later... although, I'm a little surprised she'd want to do that on her birthday." Turning to Levi in his seat, Eren continued, "Was she okay?"

 

"Better than okay. She handles herself better than most adults. We stayed for maybe a half an hour, got lunch, and drove back here. We actually had a nice day."

 

Levi watched as Mikasa broke out in a fit of laughter, Isabel hanging off of her while they attempted to roast marshmallows in the fire. Most of the children burned the delicious treat and it made Levi sigh in fondness. He was getting too damn soft being in this town.

 

"And you?" Nanaba asked. She sipped sourly on her ginger ale. "Were you okay?"

 

Levi thought the question over. "Yeah... I was okay. I didn't fall into a fit of rage, at any rate. I went there for her, not me."

 

Deciding not to press the issue further, the topic was discussed. Instead, Levi turned to Eren and asked, "Where are your parents? I thought you said they'd be here?"

 

"They're coming for cake. My Dad got called in today, which isn't usually on the weekend for him. My mom wanted to make sure they came together."

 

"Fair enough," Levi said. His eyes traveled back to Mikasa and the other children. "This turned out better than I expected. They seem to be having a good time."

 

"We weren't sure about the fire pit... you know since they're pretty much only eight and nine years old. But, I think they're responsible enough to stay a safe distance from it. I even made sure we got permission from most of their parents." Hange explained.

 

"Most of them?" Levi questioned.

 

"A few of their parents we couldn't get a hold of, but we know most of them will be picked up by nine. If not, Mike and Nanaba offered to drive some of them home. I think Annie will spend the night since she and Mikasa are becoming close."

 

This was the first time Levi had heard of this, but his gaze lingered on his cousin and how close she was sitting next to the petite, blond girl. His eyebrows shot up and he gave Eren a questionable glance. "Really?"

 

Eren shrugged with a small grin. "I mean... they're young, you know? But Mikasa may or may not realize what it all means. But I see the way Annie looks at her, too. You may have to worry about that one in the future."

 

Levi's expression soured, and everyone around him laughed. "Careful, Levi. Your parent is showing." Nanaba teased.

 

"Har har," the shorter man drawled.

 

Letting the light banter and natural air surround him, Levi leaned back in his chair while saying, "Let's let them stay out here another few minutes. It's cold out. After we'll corral them inside for pizza and cake."

 

"Sounds like a plan," Eren replied warmly.


 

Dinner was an easy enough affair, aside from the mess, which Levi reminded himself he would take care of when most of the children left. They all indulged in pizza and soda, while the adults held onto their respective beers and wines. The house was filled with joy and laughter, and Levi couldn't believe he was here now. He wasn't the type of person to easily pull these sorts of things together, but with the help of his friends and Eren, things came together quite nicely. Grisha and Carla came along right when Levi was placing candles on the cake in the kitchen.

 

"Happy Birthday, Mikasa!" Carla called out excitedly, offering the small girl a warm hug and an affectionate ruffle of her dark locks. Grisha followed her gestures, embracing Mikasa with a kind smile.

 

"Thank you both for coming," Levi said as he stepped out of the kitchen with an enormous cake in both hands. "It means a lot."

 

"Are you kidding? We wouldn't miss it. Actually," Carla began while digging into her purse, pulling out a neatly wrapped present. "Have we opened gifts yet? I hope we didn't come too late."

 

Glancing at the glimmer in Mikasa's usually careful eyes, Levi gestured to the young Ackerman. "We haven't. But if she wants to open presents before the cake--"

 

"I want to open presents before the cake!" Mikasa chimed in quickly, making Levi roll his eyes.

 

"Can't say I'm surprised. Alright then, everyone find somewhere to sit."

 

Mikasa ripped through the gifts with so much enthusiasm, Levi had to wonder if anyone had ever thought of her for her birthday. The thought made a chill run up his spine in distaste, but he kept his emotions in check. She received a number of things; starting from a few handheld gaming devices, different accessories for her phone, some fitting new clothes, as well as a new scarf Carla had knitted solely for her.

 

Mikasa gazed at each person with such affection, and Levi couldn't remember a time he had seen the young girl glowing with so much warmth. When she opened Eren's gift next, she glanced up at her teacher with a knowing smile.

 

"A journal?" she asked.

 

Eren chuckled, "I always see you writing and doodling in class, you just might not realize it. I figured this way; you'll always have a safe place to write how you feel."

 

Levi felt a swell of understanding wash over him, and Mikasa's smile softened slightly. The journal was not something Eren would have found in town. It was expensive; with a light purple leather cover. "Thank you," she murmured. She looked around the room and said, "Thank you, everybody. I... I don't know what to say."

 

"You don't have to say anything," Levi reminded her while standing up. "It's your day. You deserve it."

 

You deserve so much more than what you've had. I can't promise you I'll give you everything, but I'll damn well try. For the both of us.

 

Those thoughts lingered as everyone gathered at the dining room table, singing more loudly than Levi probably would like the admit, as he stepped out of the kitchen with a bright purple and cream colored cake in hand. Nine candles burned brightly on its surface, and he placed it carefully in front of Mikasa. She met his eyes as he sang along, reaching and ruffling her hair. Once the song had come to and end, Levi said, "Make a wish, kid."

 

Levi was puzzled when Mikasa shook her head, conveying her thoughts through her eyes.

 

I already have everything I could wish for.

 

She leaned forward and blew out the candles in one swift blow.

Chapter Text

"You look nice."

 

Levi turned and regarded Mikasa with an arched brow. "You think so?"

 

Nodding her head, Mikasa rounded the corner and entered Levi's room. He was standing and observing himself in his full-length mirror. He glanced at his outfit; a dark pair of slacks with a slim, gray turtleneck. He adjusted the belt on his pants and reached down to pull up his boots. "You don't think I'm overdoing it?"

 

Giggling, Mikasa answered, "No way. Eren would be happy if you walked in with pajama pants and a hoodie."

 

"I don't doubt it," Levi murmured, smiling a bit to himself. It was nearing six o'clock, and Levi's stomach was fluttering. While he and Eren had gone on plenty of dates at this point, there was something entirely different surrounding that evening. There was an aura of inexplicit excitement and anticipation. With those thoughts, Levi finished tucking his trousers into his shoes and stood up swiftly.

 

"What're you and Eren's plans tonight?" Mikasa asked casually, walking into Levi's room and plopping unceremoniously onto his bed. Levi made a face as he threw his coat over his shoulders, looking at Mikasa through the mirror.

 

"None of your business, you nosy brat."

 

Mikasa grinned. "Your face tells all, you know. You're blushing."

 

Looking back at his reflection, Levi scowled at the color adorning his cheeks. "Shut the hell up and go in the living room. Petra and her kids will be here soon."

 

The young Ackerman snickered under her breath as she jumped back to her feet, practically skipping into the next room. Sighing to himself, Levi did a final look-over. In the months since he had arrived into town, he had gained some weight. He looked almost sickly when he was living in Trost and now, he could see some color returning to his skin as well as some more muscle definition. Being a smaller man, Levi knew his body wasn't quite as proportioned like Eren or Mike. But, he was grateful he appeared healthy. Healthier than he had been in a long time. The same went for his young cousin.

 

With those thoughts, Levi felt heat radiate to the back of his neck. He still found it strange and surreal to be in a relationship with Eren, and instead of panicking and straying from these feelings, be embracing them. He wasn't just espousing new beliefs, he was embracing an entirely new way of life simple, honest, and seemingly pure.

 

It had been so long since Levi felt a stable foundation in his life, and now that he was standing on solid ground again, he felt the fog clear. Through that mist, he saw Mikasa and his friends.

 

He also saw Eren.

 

Since the incident with CPS stopping at his door, Levi had become hypervigilant. He wasn't sure why, either. He had nothing to hide. There was no reason anybody or anything would take Mikasa away. But, the thought that Erwin knew he was there... and he was silently reaching forward to toy with him...

 

It made Levi's blood boil, and he refused to let those thoughts overpower him. So, he pushed forward. He would not Erwin ruin whatever he had managed to build. He would not let Erwin ruin future possibilities that were within his grasp, and he would certainly not let Erwin ruin whatever was beginning to bloom between him and Eren. Standing finally in his hardened resolve, Levi flicked the sleeves of his coat and left his room.


Eren's house was small, but comfortable and charming in its own way. Levi had to say it suited the young man. Buried deep inside of the woods about fifteen minutes away from Levi's house, the small, red cottage resided near a riverbank. There was a roundabout gravel driveway and several stacks of chopped firewood outside. Though the surrounding forest was currently withered from winter, Levi would imagine during spring and summer it would be quite breathtaking. 

 

When Levi pulled up to the house, he noticed smoke streaming from the chimney above the tin roof. It wisped in the cool, dark air and Levi could already imagine Eren preparing a fire inside. Turning off the engine and stepping out of his car, Levi walked up the now familiar driveway and went onto the porch. He knocked on the door and rubbed his hands together to keep them warm. 

 

When Eren opened the door, he chuckled and said, "You know you don't need to knock, right?"

 

"I'll remember that for next time, so I don't freeze my ass off."

 

Levi observed Eren's attire; a simple v-neck olive shirt, and a pair of dark slacks. Eren let Levi walk in first before sweeping down and claiming his lips against his own. "Mm," Eren hummed against Levi's lips. "You taste... minty."

 

"I may have had some peppermint tea before coming here."

 

"Well, it's a good thing I'm brewing some now then. I figure with how much you order it when we're out, it'd be good to keep some here for you. You know... for when you stay the night and all."

 

Levi noticed Eren rubbing the back of his neck in a sheepish manner, and it made a swell of affection surge in his chest. "Is tonight one of those nights?"

 

"God, I hope so," Eren answered in a rush, and immediately closed his mouth with a click of his teeth. 

 

Levi couldn't help it, he laughed. It was rare to see Eren flustered. "Is the whole romantic Valentines Day dinner thing getting to you?"

 

Eren scoffed playfully, reaching and grabbing Levi's coat. Levi rolled his shoulders and allowed Eren to hang it up by the door. "Of course not. I promised a night of swooning, remember?"

 

When Eren led Levi in further, the raven couldn't help but feel his heart beat quickly in his chest. As predicted, Eren really worked diligently to put together a calming and romantic atmosphere for the two of them. Eren's home was a two bedroom, one bath. It was a simple layout; most of it easily seen as soon as you walk through the door. The living room connected right into the kitchen, which was large enough to fit a dining room table in. The walls were a soothing wood which matched the furniture of his home. The fireplace was burning to life and enveloped the room in a soft, orange glow. The entire house smelled of rich spices and meat, along with roasting vegetables. 

 

The dining room table was set up simply, but nicely. A few candles were lit and two plates were set. Levi ran his hand lightly over the table top, taking in the amount of effort Eren really put into everything. There were two wine glasses on the tabletop, and as Levi continued to observe, Eren asked, "Do you want tea or wine?"

 

"Wine sounds good."

 

"I hope so," Eren said as he held up what appeared to be an expensive bottle. He wiggled his eyebrows. "I got the expensive kind, too. See?"

 

Rolling his eyes, Levi watched Eren uncork the bottle and pour each of them a small glass. As Levi took his first sip, he said, "It smells really good in here."

 

"I figured steak was romantic, right?"

 

"You had me at steak."

 

Eren's eyes were brighter than Levi had ever seen them. He walked over and pulled out one of the chairs to the table. As he did this, he swept in a grand gesture. Levi played along, taking a seat and gazing up at Eren as he disappeared into the kitchen. Levi took that moment to try to calm his storming thoughts. He tried to think back and couldn't ever remember a time someone had been so tender and kind to him. Sure, Erwin had taken him out before things went to absolute shit, but he had never gone out of his way to give Levi something as simple as a calm dinner at home. There was something overwhelming about anything Eren did, and this was a perfect example of just that. 

 

Eren was like a raging storm, twisting and churning his way into his heart. 

 

Eren placed several plates on the table, and Levi's eyes widened at the presentation of each dish. "Eren... this all looks amazing. Shit, I knew you could cook..."

 

"Ah, well, I can't take all of the credit," Eren confessed, causing Levi to arch a brow. "Mikasa may or may not have introduced me to something called Pinterest."

 

Throwing his hands in the air, Levi exclaimed, "What the hell is Pinterest?"

 

Grinning, Eren responded, "I'll show you after dinner."

 

When they began eating, Levi nearly moaned out loud. The steak was cooked to absolute perfection, nearly melting from tenderness. The roasted potatoes and baked vegetables were seasoned just right and added to the budding tastes of the entire meal. Levi was still learning as he went, and was proud to say he could cook fairly well now, but nothing came close to this. In between bites, Levi noticed Eren would watch and try to make out his reactions.

 

"Good?"

 

Levi gave Eren a flat look. "If me shoving my face is anything to go by. Eren, this is delicious."

 

Smiling sincerely this time with a small blush on his face, Eren said, "I'm glad. Cooking... sort of runs in my blood, I guess."

 

"Your mother, I take it. I'm sorry, but I can't picture Grisha working a stove properly."

 

Eren laughed and covered his mouth to avoid being rude. "Between you and me, he's prohibited from using any cooking appliances at home."

 

"I believe it."

 

It only took another ten minutes before both of them finished their dinner, and Levi began standing up to gather their plates. As he did, Eren tsked him and snatched the plate from his hands. "I'll clean up. Pour yourself some more wine and relax. I'm taking care of everything tonight."

 

There was something suggestive about the way everything left Eren's lips, and Levi felt a shiver run up his spine. Shrugging his shoulders to remain indifferent, Levi did as he was instructed. He poured himself another glass of the deep, red wine and walked over to the fireplace. He stood in front of it and the fire danced before his eyes, wrapping him in a warm embrace and mingling well with the steady tingling the wine was providing. 

 

That warmth intensified, and Levi closed his eyes when he felt Eren's arms wrap around him. "You awake in there?"

 

Levi hummed, keeping a tight grip on his wine glass as Eren's lips came beside his ear. "More than awake. It's always so busy at my house, so I'm enjoying how quiet and calm it is here."

 

Eren's lips moved from Levi's ear to his cheek. "I had a whole night planned. Cheesy movies and more wine, you know. But if you're tired... we can just relax by the fire."

 

Opening his eyes fractionally, Levi thought it over. "I wouldn't mind a cheesy movie and more wine."

 

The two of them situated themselves on Eren's couch and as promised, Eren popped in the first movie he could find. The sipped on their wine and Levi allowed Eren to hold him close. Eren's warmth filtered through Levi's subconscious, and he marveled at it. He tried to remember the last time he and Erwin did something as simple as this. The touching. The peace. The welcoming depths of their feelings. A simple silent communication between the two of them.

 

Every time Levi would think back to memories of Erwin, he'd have to stop himself. It wasn't fair that he was always comparing. Eren didn't deserve that. He deserved nothing but honesty, no matter how painful it was for Levi to admit. When Levi unintentionally gripped Eren's arm, Eren took notice to it and gazed down at the smaller man.

 

"Are you okay?" the brunet asked, his eyes filled with concern. "You're spacing out on me. Is this... I mean, was it too much?"

 

"No," Levi answered quickly while sitting forward. His eyes remained on the television as he asked, "Did I ever tell you why Mikasa and I moved here?"

 

Eren's brows furrowed at the question. "I remember you telling me it was because it was a better environment for her."

 

"That's partially true," Levi said. "But... there's more to it. I mean... shit," Levi sighed, reaching to hold his head in his hands. He laughed lightly to himself. "I don't know why I'm bringing this up, now isn't the time."

 

"Hey," Eren said while sitting up as well, reaching up to gently place two fingers beneath Levi's chin. He tilted Levi's face toward his. "Levi, it doesn't matter what today is. If you want to talk about... well, anything, you know I'm here to listen. I don't want you to ever feel obligated to tell me everything, but I also want you to know that you can tell me anything."

 

Swallowing at Eren's words, Levi's lips formed a tight line. Through clenched lips, he said, "I came here because... of my ex-partner."

 

Eren's features hardened slightly, but only slightly. "Why?"

 

"Mikasa... sort of appeared out of nowhere, and you already know that. My Uncle never mentioned her to me, but I suppose that's also my fault. I stopped talking to Kenny over ten years ago. So, when he died, I was left with the choice of taking her in or sending her to live with a foster family. I've been through the foster system before, and it's a living hell. Especially at her age. I just couldn't bring myself to let her go through that, no matter how unfit I was to take care of her. Plus... she's the only family I have left. There aren't any other Ackerman's out there. We're it."

 

"What does that have to do with your ex?" Eren asked.

 

"Erwin," Levi added, and Eren's lips pursed thoughtfully. It was the first time he had ever said the bastards name out loud to Eren. "He wasn't happy with the idea of taking her in. So, Mikasa and I came up with the idea to come here together." Not entirely the truth... but not a lie, either. I don't want to ruin the rest of the night with my shitty down talk. Bad enough I brought this crap up.

 

"Did he know you were leaving?"

 

"Yes," Levi lied, licking his lips. "I was evidently given a choice, and I chose her."

 

Eren reached up and carded his hand through Levi's hair. Levi could see the fire reflecting off of Eren's emerald gaze, and it was fierce. "I'm glad you did. Nobody, no matter who they are, should ever make you chose between the love of a partner or family. Especially given Mikasa's situation." Holding Levi's eyes steady, Eren added, "You always asked me what I saw in you. Sometimes I have to wonder how you don't see it yourself. You have a good heart, Levi. You're a good man."

 

Levi's gaze shifted from the intensity in Eren's eyes. "You seem so sure about that."

 

"I'm not just sure about it, I know it." Eren sighed. "I'm sorry things ended the way they did with him, but in a selfish way, I'm glad they did. Because it gave you and Mikasa a chance to start over. Look at everything you've accomplished in just a few months. Look how far Mikasa has come since she's gotten here. She hardly resembles the little girl who first came strolling in my classroom. But you..." Eren paused, hesitantly briefly. "You're not the same either. You're warmer, and I can see you're becoming more open too. I know I pursued you like crazy, and I'm surprised you didn't knock me out. But... shit, Levi, I'm so glad you gave me a chance."

 

Eren's words were so raw and sincere, Levi's heart couldn't take it. He leaned into Eren's touch. "I'm glad I did too. You were patient from the start, and you've been nothing but good to me."

 

"I'll always try to be good to you," Eren promised firmly, his hand reaching to grasp the base of Levi's neck. "I promise I'll always try to do right by you and Mikasa."

 

Levi let Eren drag him to his lips, the television and fire a misting image in the background. Instead, all Levi could focus on were the words exchanged between the two of them and the pounding of his own heart. As Eren moved closer to him, Levi could feel the frantic beating of Eren's heart as well. It was a solid reminder of Eren's honesty, and the purity behind each word spoken. A small weight felt as if it had been lifted off of Levi's shoulders, and he let Eren work his magic of helping him let go. 

 

Eren's tongue traced Levi's lips, and Levi readily parted them. Eren's mouth tasted of bitter wine and a sweetness that could only be a remnant of Eren's soul. Eren's hands traced the back of his neck and then moved down to rest along his back. Levi felt bold and his hands splayed against Eren's chest as their mouths moved in unison. Levi couldn't help to small groan that slipped as Eren gently nipped at him, a small noise of appreciation escaping him as well. 

 

Levi wasn't sure how they ended up on the floor after that, but he couldn't complain. Not when Eren's comforting weight settled over him. As their relationship continued to grow, their advances to one another venture beyond their usual boundaries. Eren wasn't pushy; Levi noticed this quickly. He meant it when he said he appreciated Eren's patience. Since their last intimate encounter, Levi felt a hunger begin to stir to life inside of him. A hunger to be touched; almost as if he were starved. So when his nimble hands reached up to tug at Eren's thin shirt, the brunet pulled back from his lips and gazed down at him questionably. 

 

"Off," Levi ordered, and he didn't recognize his own voice. Shooting Levi a sultry smile, Eren obeyed. He reached up and tugged his shirt over his head. Loose strands of hair fell from his usual tied back bun, and it complimented his face so well. Levi's eyes darted down and he took in the delicious, tanned chest. He leaned up from his place on the floor and placed a single kiss against the revealed skin.

 

Eren's eyes narrowed and he let out a hiss. In turn, he reached and began to help Levi remove his own shirt. Once removed, Eren gently pushed Levi back down against the area rug and began to place open-mouth kisses from his neck and to his nipples. Levi shuddered and his eyes traveled upward to the ceiling. The fireplace continued to cascade its warm hue but it was nothing compared to the scorch of Eren's lips against his skin. His hands buried themselves in Eren's silky hair and his eyes clenched suddenly when Eren took one of the buds on his chest into his mouth.

 

"S-Shit," Levi breathed, and Eren chuckled seductively. 

 

"You're perfect," Eren said as he continued his journey south. "Stunning." A kiss. "Beautiful." Another kiss.

 

Levi felt like he was going to go mad. A flush was steadily taking over his cheeks and he felt that blush cover his entire body. Stopping Eren in his tracks, Levi leaned up again to capture his lips again. Eren let out a surprised sound, but he melted right into the smaller man's lips. Levi's hands were going haywire and they hastily reached for the belt of Eren's pants. Eren briefly pulled back and Levi knew what he was going to ask.

 

"These need to come off, too," Levi continued, not wanting to give Eren a chance to back down. "And I already know what you're going to say, so save it. I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't want to."

 

"I wasn't..." Eren began to argue but stopped as soon as Levi finished unbuckling his belt. As soon as he ripped the belt free from the loops, he threw it onto the couch and worked on swiftly pulling Eren's pants down. Eren assisted him as best as he could, and Levi almost missed the smoldering look in his eyes. "Levi, slow down. I wasn't... I mean, you know I wasn't trying to--"

 

Levi sighed. "I'm not repeating myself like last time. Do I really need to say it out loud?"

 

"Say what out loud?"

 

"That I want your cock," Levi said, exasperated.

 

Eren moaned out loud. "Fuck Levi."

 

Perhaps Levi's words finally settled into Eren's deep subconscious, because before Levi realized it, he was being lifted off the floor. Instinctively, Levi's legs wrapped around Eren's bare waist. "The hell are you doing?"

 

"Bedroom," was all Eren said before he silenced Levi with his lips. Levi let Eren carry him, and all the while the brunet's hands were everywhere. They were gripping his upper thighs, caressing his back, and then moving fluidly and cupping his backside. Levi moaned against Eren's mouth just as they collapsed onto Eren's large bed. Eren's bedroom wasn't a place he had ventured into often, mainly because things had never really carried on this far before. Aside from a handjob and simple hushed kisses, the two of them had a relatively simple relationship. But... this, Levi realized...

 

... this was fun.

 

Levi let Eren remove his pants, and then his boxers. He let Eren lean down and run his mouth along his inner thighs and drag his lips along his belly. Fuck, it felt so good to be touched like this. Levi tried to contain the quaking of his own body but he failed miserably. Eren took notice to this because he leaned down and covered Levi's body with his own. "God... you've got no idea how long I've wanted you like this."

 

Levi hummed and ran his hands through Eren's hair. "I can say the same. You're..." Levi couldn't find the right word to describe Eren, because the teacher was doing a good job at turning his mind into an absolute mess.

 

Exquisite. 

 

"Do you have any lube?"

 

Eren froze at Levi's question, and his eyes widened. "I... uh, I don't..."

 

Levi felt Eren retreat and move to his nightstand. He shuffled through the drawer messily. Levi frowned when Eren let out a heavy sigh. 

 

"Are you serious? You're a man with an average libido, aren't you?"

 

Eren shot Levi a playful glare. "Of course I am! I guess I ran out..."

 

Levi's eyebrows arched. "Really?"

 

"N-Not in the way you think!" Eren quickly defended. "It's just... well..." The brunet appeared to be blushing as he continued, "I've thought about you. A lot."

 

Oh. Levi tilted his head. Oh shit. He isn't kidding, is he?

 

"Is that right?" 

 

"You know..." Eren tapped a finger against his chin, and Levi felt those fiery eyes settle on him again. "This might actually work out in our favor."

 

Levi was about the simply ask how but Eren was moving across the bed and leaning above the raven. Levi gazed up and Eren's eyes were pinning him in place. "Trust me when I say I'd love nothing more than to really have you, but I'm going to do this right. So, that might not happen tonight... but there is something I've always wanted to try."

 

That intrigued Levi, but also made his stomach churn with anxiety. He trusted Eren though. "I'm listening."

 

"Alright, so, we both need to be laying down for this."

 

Levi didn't need to be told twice since he was already lying flat against the bed. He moved along with Eren though as the brunet went to his back as well. "Like this?"

 

Eren chuckled. "No, the other way."

 

Levi was really confused now. "I'm not following here."

 

"Here," Eren offered, shuffling over the covers and gripping Levi's hips with his hands. He helped Levi until both of them were leaning on their sides. Levi's mind began to shift gears, and he realized exactly what Eren wanted to try. Especially when the man's erection was so close to his face. He could feel Eren's warm breath against his cock and he shivered in delight. Being a man in his thirties, he couldn't say he had ever been adventurous enough to try something this daring. Certainly not with Erwin, or any of his previous partners. Levi was not an inexperienced man... but...

 

this was new.

 

"Like this," Eren said as he pulled Levi's waist closer, eyeing his length like it was a prize to be taken. 

 

"This is fucking..."

 

"...Weird, I know. But, from what I've heard, it feels really good," Eren assured the other man. To prove his point, he leaned in and tentatively licked Levi's cock.

 

Levi exhaled sharply, not expecting the slick warmth that overtook his lower half. He couldn't help it; he let out a shuddering moan. Taking this as a sign of approval, Eren fully engulfed Levi's length without further warning. Levi's eyes were fighting to stay open and his mouth couldn't stop pouring with praise. In the sweeping tide of pleasure, Levi used one hand to steady Eren's caramel hip and brought his mouth against his cock. He felt Eren quiver under his ministrations, and he felt confidence burst through him. His tongue tasted the salty tip of Eren's cock and it fueled his desires further. He let his mouth sink completely down until it reached the base. He could feel course hair brush against his nose and his throat screamed in protest. But, when Eren suddenly cried out, Levi felt an overwhelming urge to bring the man over the edge more and more. 

 

Eren's hands clenched onto Levi's backside desperately, seeking purchase as Levi continued to lick, suck, and nip. Levi's entire body felt as though it was vibrating with want and need. God, if this was what was in store for him in the future... he wasn't sure how much longer he'd be able to hold out waiting. He was surprised the two of them had made it as far as they had. Eren's hands on him made Levi realize just how much the other man desired and wanted him. He was tracing every inch of his pale hips and skin and sucking vigourously until Levi felt his toes curl. 

 

"You taste so good..." Eren moaned, and Levi had to contain himself before he really lost his mind. Levi's smaller hands roamed to Eren's back, and he loved the way the ridges of muscle felt beneath his fingers. He continued to tease Eren, and Eren did the same in turn. 

 

"Fuck, Eren," Levi gasped as Eren focused solely on the tip of his length, kissing the sensitive skin of it. "I'm close..."

 

Dauntlessly, Eren reached and traced the lines of Levi's ass. Levi's eyes clenched, his stomach tightening, and his fingers digging into Eren's skin. He could feel Eren reaching and tracing the outside of his entrance and it was all the raven needed to be pushed over the edge. With a strung-out sound, he released without voicing more warning. Eren didn't seem to mind one bit, and he drank Levi as if he was more decadent than the wine from earlier. 

 

Levi pulled away from Eren's cock momentarily to catch his breath, his release bringing a wave of exhaustion and lust over him. 

 

Eren kissed Levi's hip while warning, "L-Levi! I'm going to--"

 

Levi didn't need to hear more and he fully took Eren into his mouth once more. He was assaulted with the taste of bitterness and passion. It was liberating, and it was rewarding. Especially since he could hear Eren chanting his name over and over again.

 

The two of them rolled onto their backs and their eyes were gazing at the ceiling. Levi placed a hand on his chest and he could feel his heart pounding. The adrenaline coursed through his veins and his entire body was singing and pleased. His head tilted and his eyes met Eren's. The teacher was shifting on the bed and reaching out to him. Levi felt Eren wrap his arms around him and the older man pressed his face against his damp chest.

 

"Holy shit," Eren whispered. Levi felt his lips twitching upwards.

 

"That was fucking amazing," Levi agreed once his breathing was steady. While the beginning was probably more awkward than anything, he couldn't deny that it was definitely something he enjoyed. It was also something he wouldn't mind trying against with Eren. "I can't say that's a road I've ever gone down before."

 

"Me either," Eren admitted. "But... you gotta admit it was fun."

 

Levi hummed, tracing Eren's biceps. "It was definitely something."

 

"I'm kinda glad we tried it. I've only ever seen it in porn."

 

"Like I said, you've got no filter."

 

"Psh," Eren huffed, running his hands through Levi's hair. Levi lazily lifted his face and the two of them caught each other in an unwavering gaze. "You love it, though."

 

Levi felt so relaxed and content, but tired. He wasn't sure how to reply. He could feel Eren reaching for the comforter and pulling it over them while tangling his long legs with Levi's. The light from the fireplace began to dim down the hall, and the only sound that could be heard was the crickets outside of Eren's bedroom windows and the steady beating of Eren's heart. 

 

"Thank you," Eren murmured, his voice heavy with sleep.

 

"For what?" Levi asked.

 

"For this," Eren said simply as he pulled Levi closer. "For all of this. I..."

 

Eren was hesitating, and it made Levi raise his head again. "What?"

 

"I..." Eren licked his lips and finally said, "I'm falling really hard for you. You know that, right?"

 

Swallowing the lump inside of his throat, Levi laid his head on Eren's chest again. He could feel how fast the organ was pounding as Eren waited for Levi to respond. He expressed his feelings with light touches and a simple kiss against the skin of his chest. Several moments passed and before Levi could register it, Eren's breathing began to even out. His hold on Levi was strong and secure; almost as if he was afraid to let him go.

 

"I'm falling for you too," Levi whispered, knowing Eren couldn't hear him. "So fucking hard that it's scaring the shit out of me."

 

Chapter Text

"F-Fuck!" Levi cried out, gasping as Eren's tongue lavishly licked a long line along the underside of his length. His legs shook with the effort to keep them from squeezing against Eren's skull while the brunet worshipped every inch of his lower half. Eren merely hummed, causing more tendrils of arousal to shoot straight from Levi's cock and to his stomach. Since their time together on Valentines Day, the two of them found it rather hard to keep their hands off each other.

 

Or their mouths.

 

They were tangled in a mess of naked limbs along Levi's bedsheets, hands roaming and every inch of their skin explored. Eren made it a mission to memorize every inch of Levi's body as if it were a map; finding exactly which spots sent the man into a fit of euphoria and what caused him to have the very breath rush out of his lungs. While Eren's skilled mouth was traveling beneath his sac and darting against his entrance, Levi's hands buried themselves into the soft, silky strands of his long hair. He loved the way they felt against his fingers, and he especially liked how far those locks extended. 

 

Eren daringly pressed his tongue inward, and Levi swore he saw white. His chest heaved, and his hair was collectively raised on one side of his head from tossing and turning in bliss. "Eren, I swear to God, if you don't stop teasing me--"

 

Levi's mouth fell open in a silent scream as Eren not only continued to prod his entrance with his tongue, but his hand reached up and wrapped around his cock. Shuddering with the beginnings of his release, Levi's hands fell from Eren's head and gripped the pillow below him in a frenzied grasp. Just as he felt he couldn't take anymore, his eyes clenched and his body began to clench--

 

...and a knock on his bedroom door sounded throughout the silence of his dark room.

 

Eren jerked in surprise, and Levi's body shot up in an attempt to gather himself. Eren tried to raise his head, but Levi grabbed the covers and shoved Eren under them just as Mikasa's voice called out, "Levi?"

 

Eren made a noise of distress as Levi cleared his throat, his voice cracking as he answered, "Yes?"

 

"Can I get some toilet paper from your bathroom? I'm out in the other one."

 

It was almost eleven o'clock, and although Mikasa's sleeping schedule was less than stellar, she was usually asleep at this hour. But Levi couldn't very well tell her no, you can't have toilet paper, so when Eren poked his head out from the covers, Levi shot him a knowing look. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair to compose himself. "Sure, come on in."

 

Mikasa opened the door and slipped in, her bare feet padding against the hardwood floor. She quietly glanced at Levi and did not comment. She went into his shared bathroom and grabbed what she needed. "Sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you."

 

"You didn't," Levi assured her, though his voice was still a little shaky. 

 

As she began to walk out, she said, "Goodnight, Levi." She stopped moving briefly and added, "Goodnight, Mr. Yeager."

 

A few moments of awkward silence and Eren whispered from beneath the covers, "Goodnight."

 

The bedroom door closed behind her and Levi could practically feel her grin. When Eren emerged from the bedsheets, he looked at Levi and asked, "Are you sure she's nine years old?"

 

Levi dropped flat on his back onto the bed, looking up at the ceiling while sighing, "I question it every single day."


"He has a boyfriend."

 

This surprised Erwin greatly, making blonde eyebrows arch. "Pardon?"

 

"Levi," Nile casually explained one afternoon. Erwin and Nile were exchanging notes over their latest project over lunch, preparing to construct one of the newest additions to Trost's already stunning skyline. "Risa has been keeping tabs on him. She told me he's been dating some teacher from the kids' school."

 

Erwin wasn't sure how to explain what emotions surged through him, but if he weren't in such a professional setting, he couldn't guarantee the condition of any of the tables or chairs in the restaurant. He kept his composure though, and quietly sipped on his gin.

 

"I see."

 

Nile leaned against the table while asking, "You don't seem too bothered by this."

 

"Not bothered," Erwin said, sighing and placing his glass against the table. "Amused, perhaps."

 

"Really?"

 

"There aren't many people in this world that understand Levi Ackerman. Not the way I do, at any rate. Whoever this... teacher is, they'll eventually see Levi for who he truly is."

 

"And what's that?" Nile dared to ask.

 

Smiling, Erwin replied, "A man that needs to be tamed. Disciplined; controlled. All of the things he's lacked his entire life. Between the absence of his mother and the unruly raising by his Uncle, it's not misplaced that Levi lost his way. It's because of me that he was able to find any stability in his life. He's seemed to have forgotten that fact. If it weren't for his friends in Shiganshina, he wouldn't be standing on his own two feet right now."

 

"You're sure about that?"

 

Erwin shot Nile a look that could have killed, but the other man didn't deter one bit. "At any rate," Erwin continued. "I'll be going to Shiganshina soon enough. I've let Levi have his way and have his fun. Perhaps space has given him time to realize that a simpletons life isn't what he was made for."

 

"Would it be too much just to let him go? You've got women and men falling at your feet. Hell, my wife knows that. Risa tells me he seems pretty... well, happy."

 

"You wouldn't understand," Erwin explained as he set his napkin down onto his plate. He leaned back in his chair while continuing, "As I've said before, there aren't many people in this world that understand him. Besides," his eyes smoldered as he added, "He's mine."


 

Fall may have been one of the main attractions of Shiganshina, but Spring was an entirely different matter. The trees bloomed with wildflowers and stunning shades of light pinks, blues, and purples. The birds littered the skies above and the sun shined with beautiful hues of warmth and welcoming change. The lakes and other attractions were beginning to set up for the upcoming summer, and all of the crops and stands around the entire area were starting to collect harvest for its sales as the cold was finally chased away.

 

Levi had forgotten just how beautiful it was.

 

With a bouquet of lilies in his hands, Levi crossed through the fresh grass of the local cemetery and inhaled deeply as the site of his mother's headstone appeared in his sight. It had been many, many years since he had visited and he felt in his heart it was long overdue.

 

"Maman," he murmured as he approached, kneeling against the damp grass. It was quite early. He had just dropped Mikasa off at school and spent a few moments sharing coffee with Eren before driving off with an open afternoon. He wasn't due for work until one o'clock, and something called out to Levi that brought him here. He observed the tattered headstone that was beginning to fade along the sides while running a hand delicately against the stone. "I'm sorry it's been so long since I've visited... as you've probably seen, my life has been a shit show."

 

He sighed and placed the flowers into the vase that was connected to the sight. "But, I think it's finally all falling into place." He closed his eyes as he continued, "Can you believe your brother had a little girl? I couldn't believe it myself... but, she's really something. I know you would have loved her. She reminds me of you, sometimes. Certain looks or something she says. You wouldn't believe she was nine."

 

He absent-mindedly traced the edges of the lilies. "She's an amazing person, and I know she'll grow up to be an amazing woman. I'm..." Slate eyes looked up toward the trees. "I'm doing my best with her. In the beginning, I didn't have a damn clue what I was doing. I thought I was honestly going to ruin her. But she's come such a long way, and I hope I contributed a little bit to that. I... honestly can't picture my life without Mikasa now."

 

Sitting entirely onto the grass, Levi kept speaking. "The rest of the crew is doing good. Still as loud and boisterous as ever. Especially Hange. That nutcase hasn't changed one bit. Nanaba  Ifis due in a few months with a little boy. If it weren't for all of them though, shit, I wouldn't be sitting here right now. God only knows where I'd be."

 

When Levi said this, he smiled. "And then there's Eren. He came into my life like a hurricane. He's Mikasa's teacher, but only for a few more months. It's going to be strange when she's in someone else's class. I'll be on edge all the time, wondering who's keeping an eye on her. Shiganshina is still as friendly as ever though, and I can see now why you chose to raise me here. It's one of the reasons I brought Mikasa here, to begin with. But between her, my friends, and Eren..."

 

Levi felt an overwhelming stinging behind his eyes that he hadn't felt in years. He raised a shaking hand and pressed it against his cheek, feeling a wet warmth against his fingers. "I think it's all going to be alright now. I've been given more than I deserve, and I'm not going to question it or waste any more chances. I think..." Levi bit his lip and chuckled wistfully. "I think I'm feeling love for the very first time since you've died."

 

In his heart, Levi knew his mother was listening. He felt it in the wind that caressed his back, and the warmth that was beginning to ignite inside of his heart. It was a remarkable feeling of being whole.


Levi's shift was going well into the evening, so Mikasa was home with Hange spending time with her. Eren had respectively dropped her at their house and stopped off for a quick beer and a few moments to spend with Levi. Their schedules made it difficult to sometimes spend more time together, but with the help of his friends, he did try to at least have one night during the week with Eren. Whether it was spent at his house or Eren's was always up in the air, but he didn't mind either or as long as it resulted in being next to the other man.

 

Levi was currently restocking the liquor cabinet beneath the bar, and as he bent down, he could feel Eren's eyes on him. "I can hear your thoughts from here," Levi commented dryly, but with a hint of amusement.

 

Levi could also feel Eren smirk. "I don't know what you're talking about."

 

"Yeah? So you're not staring at my ass right now?"

 

Eren took a long sip of his beer before saying airly, "What can I say? It's a nice ass, and it deserves to be stared at."

 

One of the patrons at the bar made a gagging sound, and Eren shot the man a glare while Levi said out loud, "You know I have a gun back here, right, Jeff?"

 

The patron, Jeff, shifted his gaze rather quickly as he grinned. Pixis stepped around the bar with a box of several assorted beers inside. "Threatening my customers, Ackerman? Remind me why I hired you again?"

 

"Because your bar was a dust bucket before I stepped foot in here. Plus, your customers adore me. Right, Jeff?"

 

Jeff held up his beer, and Eren offered him cheers. The two of them clinked their bottles together, and Pixis rolled his eyes. 

 

"Plus, I may be biased, he's also pretty nice to look at," Eren offered, and Levi sighed while reaching for Eren's bottle.

 

"I think one beer is enough for you. Don't you have plans with blondie and horse face?"

 

Eren threw his head back and laughed. "Oh man, Jean would absolutely lose it if he heard you call him that."

 

Levi offered Eren a small smile. "I'll gladly say it to his face. At any rate, where are they dragging you to tonight?"

 

Eren was reaching into his wallet and placed a few bills on the bar. "There's a concert in town tonight. I guess they thought it would be nice to drag me out of my comfort zone."

 

"You know that translates to you're spending too much time with your boyfriend, so we're stealing you away," Levi mimicked in his best attempt at Jean's voice.

 

"Nobody could ever steal me away from you," Eren said, placing a hand on his heart with mock-hurt.

 

Pixis took Eren's money while saying, "You're lucky you're a paying customer. You're going to make every person in this bar throw up, and trust me, I've had my fair share of that being the owner of this place."

 

"Not since I've been here," Levi muttered, but kept his eyes engaged with Eren's. "Well, don't let me keep you. Have fun. Dance. Get drunk, Whistle at men."

 

"You're lucky you're working, or I'd climb over this bar and kiss your senseless--"

 

"Oh God," Pixis and Jeff muttered together, and Eren smirked in triumph. He leaned over the bar and gripped Levi's chin, dragging him in for a chaste kiss. When he pulled away, his smirk softened to a sincere smile.

 

"I'll see you tomorrow? Your house this weekend?"

 

"Sounds good," Levi assented, watching as Eren hopped off the bar stool and grabbed his hoodie. "Be safe," he added when Eren waved and exited the bar. He continued to watch the entrance with a distant look in his eye. Off to the side, he could hear a few of his customers clearing their throats and wolfishly making noise. His head whipped to the side, and his eyes narrowed. "Shut the fuck up, Jeff. I still have a gun back here."


The afternoon dragged into the evening, and it was a long night for Levi. The bar began emptying bit by bit, and his eyes would travel to the clock behind him. He waited patiently for Anka to come in for her shift while he spent his free time setting up for her. Fondly, he couldn't help but think back on everything that had led him to this point in his life. He was filled with anticipation for what was to come, and he was present for everything. He knew he'd leave work, go home and sit on the couch with his cousin while sharing a pint of pistachio ice cream and sipping on raspberry tea, and watch whatever stupid sitcoms were on for the night. He found himself looking forward to those peaceful nights with Mikasa. Just as he knew he had those nights spent in Eren's arms to reach for as well. 

 

Anka is early, as usual. Levi appreciated how punctual she was. When she stepped inside, several of their customers whistled and hollered, causing Anka to roll her eyes and set her bag behind the bar. "The usual crowd tonight?" she asked.

 

"That's right," Levi answered. "Is it just you tonight?"

 

"Hannes requested the night off for the festival and concert going on in town. I don't mind. I'll just catch up on some of my shows during downtime." She gave Levi a knowing look. "I've got it from here. Thanks for getting everything ready for me. Any special plans tonight?"

 

"Eren's in town, too. So, it'll just be me and the brat tonight. I'd join him, but it looks like his friends are getting tired of our lovey-dovey bullshit."

 

Chuckling, Anka said, "I'm sure he'll be thinking about you the entire time. Have a good night, Levi. I'll see you on Friday."

 

Levi grabbed his light sweater and waved as he left, stepping out of the bar and into the gravel lot. As soon as he was outside, he reached inside his pocket and pulled out his pack of cigarettes. He was supposed to be berating himself for continuing such a habit, but he felt a small sense of freedom every time he lit one up. He retrieved a lighter and ignited the butt, inhaling a small plum of smoke before exhaling in contentment. He watched the air tainted with the tobacco and prepared to walk across the lot and to his house. His phone vibrated, and when he brought the device into view, he tried to control the twitching of his lips.

 

Really wish you were here. It's depressing watching Jean and Armin make out. I'd much rather be home with you. In your bed. Or my bed. Whichever. The point is, I miss you.

 

Placing the cigarette between his lips, Levi typed out a quick reply. You just saw me a few hours ago. Miss me already, huh?

 

Eren's reply didn't take long. I'll always miss you. 

 

Levi's heart stuttered, and he replied, Damn, there must be a lot of trees around me.

 

??? Trees? Eren asked through his message.

 

Because I swear, a bunch of sap just fell on me.

 

Levi was still standing by the bar's entrance, finishing his cigarette and feeling a little triumphant with his witty joke.

 

Haha, you're hilarious. Anyway, you're off work now right? Go home and relax. I bet you're tired. I'll talk to you tomorrow?

 

Of course.

 

In the midst of their conversation, Levi barely noticed the sound of the gravel crunching behind him. He took a long drag of his cigarette and kept his eyes on his phone.

 

"Levi?"

 

Levi's eyes widened, and his body stiffened visibly. If he had thought he had felt his heart pound before, there wasn't a clear definition of what it was doing now. His entire body began to tingle from his fingers to his toes, and his breath caught deep inside of his lungs. The cigarette in his mouth fell to the ground below, and his phone felt like lead within his hand. Closing his eyes, he prayed for several seconds that he had imagined that deep voice was calling his name. But deep inside, he knew he hadn't, because you can never really bury your past.

 

He turned slowly and met those sharp, azure eyes that always could render him motionless.

 

"Erwin," he breathed in astonishment.

Chapter Text

"Erwin," Levi breathed in astonishment.

 

Erwin was wearing one of his familiar, tailored jackets and dress slacks. He always looked cunning and incredible in his work attire. And his eyes, for fuck's sake, his eyes were trained right on the smaller man. Levi's entire world shifted and his mind focused solely on the man before him. He stared incredulously, unmoving.

 

"Levi," Erwin said soothingly, holding his hands up in peace. "It's okay."

 

"What the fuck are you doing here?" Levi hissed, backing away as Erwin slowly advanced toward him. "You shouldn't be here."

 

"Is that all you can say to me after so much time has passed?" Erwin asked, his voice laced with concern. "Is it hard to believe that perhaps I've missed you?"

 

Levi almost laughed. Almost. But, Erwin's voice was so... shit, it was so calm and collective. Levi felt his tone pierce right through him and his chest hurt. 

 

Swallowing thickly, Levi asked again, "What are you doing here?"

 

Erwin smiled softly while lowering his hands. "I wanted to see you. I've... truly missed you, Levi. You left without any warning at all."

 

"You smacked the shit out of me for bringing my cousin home. You expected me to dump her off and just be alright with it. What the hell would you have done?"

 

The silence was thick around the two of them, and several customers stared at them as they stepped out to have their cigarettes. Levi shifted on his feet and felt increasingly uncomfortable. He glanced around, his shoulders rising in defense. He expected a sarcastic or condescending response from Erwin, but instead, the blonde man surprised him.

 

"Perhaps I would have done the same," Erwin admitted softly. Levi's eyebrows arched in disbelief. "I'm not angry at you for what you did. I..." It was rare to see Erwin so understanding and hesitant, it almost made Levi question if the sky was blue or the fucking grass was green. "I would love a chance to sit down and talk. Really talk about this. I feel I deserve at least that. If you never want to see me again afterward... I'll wholeheartedly respect that."

 

Levi knew what he should have done. He should have turned right on his heel and left the man standing in the parking lot. He should have gone back inside to dwell in the safety of the bar. He should have gone home and confided in Hange. Anything. But his feet refused to unroot from their current spot, and Levi felt all of his understanding and resolve slip away from him. Erwin had always known just what made him tick... and this newfound sincerity was not what he was expecting.

 

"And if I don't want to talk?"

 

Erwin carded a thick hand through his hair. "I'll respect that as well. I wanted at least a moment to see you and make sure you were okay."

 

Warning, warning! Don't listen to him. Come the fuck on, Levi. You've heard this shit before.

 

Instead, Levi pursed his lips. "Fine. Ten minutes. There's a coffee shop in town, about twenty minutes from here. After that, I want you out of my town." In case shit went south, Levi would not risk Mikasa's safety. He also didn't want to see the disappointed look on her face if she knew he was even considering hearing this man out. 

 

Erwin offered Levi a genuine smile, and his shoulders fell in relief. "That's all I could ask for."


 

With the festival going on in town, it was easy to slip through and go into the coffee shop unnoticed. Sawny and Beans was a regular spot that he frequented as a teenager, but it was under new management. He was fortunate not too many recognized him as he didn't venture in there too often anymore. Erwin held the door open for him, which Levi scowled at, and led Erwin to a booth in the back of the shop. He slipped in on the opposite end and glanced out the window briefly, his mind wholly vague and clouded with discontent.

 

"Can I get you two something to start?" one of the young waitresses asked, smiling expectantly as she held a small notepad. 

 

"Two peppermint teas, please," Erwin said before Levi could open his mouth. The taller man shot Levi an apologetic look. "I'm sorry, that was rude of me. Order what you'd like."

 

"That's fine," Levi assured the waitress, waving his hand dismissively. "I need something to settle my nerves anyway."

 

With a firm nod, the young lady left the two men to their privacy. The tea arrived only a few moments later, and Levi reached for his mug to occupy his tingling hands.

 

"You look well," Erwin commented after a few moments of silence. "You've gained a bit of weight, but it suits you."

 

With his hands tightening, Levi replied, "It shouldn't matter to you."

 

Sighing, Erwin took a sip of his tea while asking, "Are you going to be this way the entire night? Are you at least somewhat elated to see me?"

 

Levi gave Erwin an incredulous look. "Elated would be a completely different term to what I'm feeling right now. You shouldn't be here."

 

"And you shouldn't have left."

 

Levi bristled. "I'll do whatever the hell I please. Maybe you should have thought it over before you decided to raise your hands to me. Or are we going to forget that little tidbit of information?"

 

"I haven't forgotten, and I can sincerely say I'm not sure what came over me. It was incredibly childish, and for that I'm sorry. You didn't deserve that."

 

Levi tilted his head in disbelief. "Really? Because you were playing a much different tune that last time we spoke on the phone."

 

"Can you blame me? I was angry and hurt, Levi. You took off, and I was worried something had happened to you. Then I come to find out you're living in this backwater of a town, working at a bar no less, and raising a small child by yourself. It was within my right to worry about my partner."

 

"Ex-partner," Levi corrected, leaning forward boldly. "How the fuck do you know I work at a bar? Are you..." Biting his lip in rage, Levi asked, "Are you keeping tabs on me?"

 

"That's hardly the point!" Erwin raised his voice several octaves. "If our situations were reversed, would you not have been the slightest bit worried that something may have happened? What you did was not only irresponsible but imprudent. You not only put yourself in harm's way, but you did so as well to that child."

 

"Don't pretend you suddenly care about her," Levi hissed in warning. "You could give two shits about what happens to Mikasa. That's why you sent fucking Child Protective Services to my door, right? This is about you and me, and when I say you and me, I mean it in the past tense. I'm happy here. I enjoy working at that shitty bar, and I like this backwater town. The people have personalities to them, and they fucking smile and wave and do all of that other wonderful shit you didn't see in Trost."

 

"Watch your tone," Erwin warned. Levi's nostrils flared.

 

"I don't have to watch anything, you self-righteous prick. This was a fucking mistake," Levi said suddenly, standing from the booth. "I'm leaving. I can't believe I actually thought you and I could have a stable conversation."

 

"Wait!" Erwin pleaded, standing up as well and catching Levi's arm in his hand. Levi stiffened visibly, and luckily there was only one other couple inside of the shop. Otherwise, Levi would have felt extremely self-conscious. "I... I apologize. I shouldn't be speaking to you this way. I feel I do not have a proper check on my emotions at the moment. Five months I've waited for you to call or return to me. Five months it took for me to find out you had picked up your entire life and started over. It also took five months for me to find out you're with another man."

 

Levi's blood ran cold, and his eyes widened.

 

"A teacher, no less," Erwin scoffed. "Honestly, Levi. Can this man even provide for you?"

 

"I don't need him to," Levi growled. "That's not why I'm with him. I'm with him because he treats me like an actual human being and not some lapdog that needs to be trained."

 

"I've only ever wanted to protect and nurture you; I don't understand why that makes me such a terrible man."

 

"It makes you a delusional man," Levi ripped his arm away. Their voices were steadily rising, and a few people from outside were beginning to look in on them. Levi hurriedly collected his wallet and said, "I need to leave. Stay the fuck away from m--"

 

Levi's sentence was silenced when he felt warm lips against his own. Erwin had moved so fluidly, Levi couldn't see when he had wrapped that smaller man in his strong arms. He was pulled flush against Erwin's chest, and his hands pushed against him in an attempt to get away. His mind was screeching with alarm, and yet his body almost melted at the contact. How utterly betrayed Levi felt by his subconscious. Erwin delicately massaged his lips against Levi's, and the raven-haired man felt powerless and hopeless. God, what the fuck was wrong with him.

 

Time stood still, and for a moment, Levi wondered if Erwin realized he was trying to push him away. The older man untangled himself from Levi, and he gazed down at him with a captivating stare. "Levi... please, just come back with me."

 

Lost in the array of emotion in the depths of Erwin's eyes, Levi noticed the man had turned his head fractionally and was looking toward the window. Confused, Levi followed his line of vision, and his pale eyes widened in sheer fear.

 

Eren.

 

Eren stood on the other end of the large, bay window, frozen and with eyes filled with confusion. Within several seconds, those eyes changed. Fury and hurt, Levi recognized immediately. Erwin's arms were still wrapped around him, and Levi began to fight against the other man. "Get the fuck off of me!"

 

Erwin let Levi go smoothly, which surprised the shorter man. But he didn't give a shit. He raced through the coffee shop and nearly tripped over his own two feet trying to round to the exit. He ripped the shop's door open and called out into the noisy night, "Eren! Eren, stop!"

 

Eren stood out in contrast within the vast throng of guests at the festival, and Levi felt his heart being ripped out of his chest the sight of him. Eren's eyes hardened when they fell on Levi. Jean and Armin were standing only a few feet away, looking between the two of them in confusion. Levi could feel Erwin watching from inside of the shop. "Has this been a joke to you the entire time?"

 

"Excuse me?" Levi asked.

 

"You and I," Eren continued, his teeth clenching. "Was I... I don't know, some sort of side-project while you were off exploring with other people?"

 

"That hasn't been what I've been doing at all!" Levi shot back. "That wasn't what it looked like! Fuck, Eren, that man is my ex-partner."

 

Eren's entire demeanor changed. "Oh," he said as if he was suddenly enlightened. Levi had never heard such a tone leave Eren before. "Oh, I get it. So was I just a convience while you were trying to settle things with him?"

 

"That's not--" Levi was fucking outraged. "Eren, you know that's not what this is about."

 

"Then maybe you should explain it to me," Eren said lowly. His lips formed a thin line, and his eyes were swirling with distrust and bitterness. "Because I'm getting tired of being kept in the dark. I've been patient, I've been understanding and given you your space," Eren took a step toward Levi while his shattered gaze looked down at him. "But one thing I'm not willing to do is share you."

 

"Eren, I..." Levi could feel Erwin behind him, and his eyes rose to see Jean and Armin were looking at him with a mix of confusion and betrayal. This entire situation was a fucking mess, and Levi knew the only way to fix it was by explaining to Eren what had happened in his past. How could he have been so forgetful? He knew Eren was in town with his friends tonight. He knew he had feelings for Eren that went beyond the usual I like you, or I think we're good together. He knew he was falling slowly but surely in love with Eren. Each fucking day that passed, those feelings continued to manifest into something so pure and surreal that he felt he could combust at any moment from the warmth that it brought to his heart.

 

So why couldn't he just be honest with him? 

 

Erwin had stepped out from the small coffee shop, and Eren's eyes heatedly rose to meet those strong, cerulean eyes. His face twisted considerably when Erwin audaciously walked behind Levi and wrapped a strong arm around his shoulders. "You must be the teacher I've heard so much about," Erwin said with a voice that was thick like honey. His eyes roamed up and down, giving Eren a full look over with unimpressed eyes. 

 

Levi couldn't move. It was as if everything around him was in slow motion. 

 

Eren closed his eyes and his fists clenched at his sides as if he were trying to contain the rage he felt. Instead of bursting the way Levi had expected him to, Eren simply deflated and shook his head. "You must be the ex-partner I've heard so much about."

 

Slower now. Everything was moving slower.

 

Erwin chuckled. "I'd hardly call myself his ex-partner. Consider this a pitstop before Levi travels back to Trost with me."

 

Eren's eyes sharpened. "And Mikasa?"

 

"She'll be coming with us, naturally."

 

"Naturally," Eren echoed, his voice hollow. 

 

"Back where they belong," Erwin continued, and Eren shifted on his feet slightly.

 

"Where they belong... right, of course."

 

Levi still wasn't moving, and he didn't understand why. Eren's voice sounded so broken. 

 

And Eren was walking away. Armin was placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder, urging him to move before anything else was said. Jean shot Levi a disgusted glare as he helped Armin steady Eren and made their way through the crowd. The noise drowned out the roaring inside of Levi's ears, and the frantic panic that surged through him. The adrenaline he felt was unlike anything he had ever experienced before, and he wasn't sure if it was panic this time.

 

"You know my words are true," Erwin whispered in his ear. "You don't belong with these people, Levi. You belong with me. I've done everything in my power to help you through this life, and you should know by now that that is where you belong. You wouldn't have made it this far without me."

 

It was like a whip cracking, smacking against the corridors of his mind.

 

Twisting on his heel, Levi moved with speed he wasn't aware he possessed. He felt like his entire body was gushing with a renewed energy, and it sent tendrils of indignation and fury through him. He raised his arm and his fingers clenched into a fist as it connected solidly against Erwin's cheek. The taller man stumbled and fell onto the ground. Levi felt the very air in his lungs escape him as he panted with a newly found settlement. Several of the townsfolk gathered and gasped in disbelief, watching as the scene unfolded. 

 

Levi shook his hand a few times, hissing at the pain the blow had caused him. But his knuckles stung pleasingly. He towered over Erwin with a stunning look of determination. "Stay the fuck away from me," he growled in warning. "I belong to no one, you hear me? Nobody. Least of all, you. Stay away from Mikasa and me. If you come near us again, I'll knock those perfect teeth out."

 

Levi turned to leave, not bothering to look back as he scouted the area for any signs of Eren. As he did, he could hear Erwin chuckle while the blonde wiped the blood from the corner of his cracked lip. "You're running back to him?"

 

Levi briefly looked over his shoulder. "No, I'm going willingly to him. There's a difference."

 

He didn't turn back this time.


 

It was fucking raining.

 

Of course, it was raining, April showers and all that fucking jazz.

 

Levi attempted to juggle his cell phone while steering over the ridges of the mountain, not caring how hazardous is was to his health. He struggled to find Hange's number, and he used his knees to steer for a few moments. He finally found their name, bringing the phone to his ear while regaining control of the wheel.

 

"What's up, sugarplum? You know it's almost ten o'clock, right? Where the hell are you?"

 

"I fucked up," Levi blurted.

 

Silence, and then, "What do you mean? What happened?"

 

"Erwin's in town. He... fuck, he found me at the bar. Begged me to give him a chance to talk. Hange, I fucking went with him. I don't know what the hell came over me. I can't even believe--"

 

"Okay, whoa, whoa, slow the hell down. Erwin's here?! And you went out with him? Levi, I don't think I need to tell you how incredibly stupid that was!"

 

"Oh, it gets worse," Levi was laughing, driving like a madman and trying to navigate his way through the sudden storms. "We went into town to get coffee, tea, whatever. Of course, it happened to be a night where Eren was already at the town square, and--"

 

"Oh," Hange suddenly realized on the other end. "Oh, Levi. You fucking idiot. He saw you with him?"

 

"He saw Erwin kissing me!" Levi shouted. "Can you believe my fucking luck? That fucking prick did it on purpose because he knew Eren was watching!" His grip tightened on the steering wheel until his knuckles were white. "He knows everything, Hange! Everything! He knows I've been dating Eren. He knows where I work, where Mikasa goes to school. He's been keeping tabs on me like a fucking mouse in a cage!"

 


"Levi, honey, you need to calm down. Are you driving right now? It sounds like you're driving."

 

"Yes, I'm driving! I have to get to Eren's house! I've tried calling him a hundred fucking times and I--" Slamming his fist in disgust, Levi continued, "You should have seen the hurt in his eyes, Hange. I may as well have taken a gun, and fucking shot him in his heart! Erwin just kept pushing and pushing, and I froze up!"

 

"Listen, you have to calm down before you drive off the mountain. It's downpouring right now. Pull over, and Mikasa and I can come and get you."

 

"No!" Levi quickly dismissed. "You two stay there. Don't tell her what's going on! I can't handle her being disappointed in me."

 

"Levi, she would never be disappointed with you. She may want to smack you a few times, but that's all in good jest, huh?"

 

Levi laughed bitterly, clenching the phone hard. "Hang, please, stay with her. Don't drive in this shit. I know all I do is ask you guys to watch her, but I can't let things stay like this between Eren and I. I..." Briefly closing his eyes, Levi continued, "I think I'm in fucking love with him."

 

"Oh, honey, you know we'd do anything for you. Also, I could have told you that," Hange clarified. "So go get him, tiger. Show him you want him and that your past is just that, your past. By the way," Hange piped. "How did you manage to leave off with Erwin?"

 

"I knocked him out. In front of the entire festival."

 

"That's my boy!" Hange hollered, and Levi had to momentarily pull the phone away from his ear. "Go get your man, slick. You know I've got things covered here!"

 

Letting out a shaky breath, Levi exhaled, "Thank you, Hange."

 

Hanging up and tossing his phone onto the passenger seat, Levi pushed his foot down onto the gas pedal and raced to Eren's house. There were many things in his life that he may not have had control over, or spontaneously let go to shit, but this... relationship, this partnership he had formed with Eren, was not going to be one of them. He meant it when he told Erwin he belonged to absolutely nobody. But, he chose to give himself to Eren, and that was what love should have been about, to begin with.


Levi parked his car in Eren's driveway, not bothering to care about the way his tires started to stick into the red clay of the dirt below. Eren's truck was in the path, which assured Levi he was home. He attempted to try Armin and Jean, but he ended up getting nothing but voicemails. He jumped out of the vehicle quickly and raced onto the porch, nearly slipping on the wet wood. He opened Eren's screen door first and began pounding against it. "Eren!" he shouted, the downpour of the rain drowning out his voice. "Eren, please, I know you're in there! We need to talk, and I mean really talk!"

 

The only thing Levi could hear was the thunder roaring outside, and his body shook from the combination of fresh air against his damp skin and panic that he had broken things beyond repair. "Eren," he tried again as he leaned against the door. "Please... I know I hurt you, and I'm sorry! You know I would never hurt you intentionally. I know I haven't been completely honest with you, but it's hard, Eren. It's so fucking hard! There's so much for me to tell and I don't even know where to begin, alright?"

 

There was some shuffling inside, and it gave Levi hope. So he kept going. 

 

"When I first met you, I couldn't even believe you had eyes for me. It scared me. It scared the shit out of me because I've never had anyone look at me the way you did. I didn't lie to you when I told you I chose Mikasa over Erwin. I'd do it again, too. But I didn't tell you the entire story behind all of this... and I promise, I'm trying to be better at this. It's just so fucking hard because I don't want you to look at me differently than you do now. I want those eyes to stay the same."

 

Levi exhaled shakily, and he said, "You've taught me more about myself in five months than anyone has in my entire life. You wormed your way into my fucking heart and found a place in it. Don't you understand that? I'm not going anywhere, especially with him. I'm here to stay. I may have done a lot of things in my past, but I would never do anything to violate or destroy what you've helped me build."

 

Levi almost fell into Eren's house when the door opened suddenly. His clothes were a soggy, tattered mess and his entire body was drenched from head to toe. He stumbled and looked up to see Eren looking down at him, his eyes shimmering with a sentiment he couldn't understand. 

 

"Eren," Levi breathed, "Look, I know you probably want nothing else to do with me. But before you slam that door in my face, I want to be at least honest about one thing I know for certain is true now." 

 

Breathe. Just say it. Let it wash over you, and say it.

 

"I'm in love with you."

 

The sound of water was gushing from the gutters around the properly sounded noisy, and it intermingled with the crackling of the thunder above. Levi breath came out in harsh pants his entire body shook. "I've known it for a while now, but seeing Erwin tonight... feeling him kiss me and touch me. Fuck, I couldn't get away from him fast enough. You didn't see me push him away. I would never go backward like that, not when I found someone like you. I know I don't deserve you, and I just--"

 

"Say it again," Eren murmured, his expression almost unreadable.

 

Levi blinked, but he swallowed and said again, "I'm in love with you."

 

Eren inched closer, slightly. "You're not leaving? With him?"

 

"I'm not going anywhere, and neither is Mikasa." Unwavering, and unmoving, Levi added, "Our home... my home is where you are. Erwin may have been my past, but I want you to be my future, Eren."

 

Eren moved quickly, and Levi anticipated it rather fast. Eren gathered Levi in his arms and held him like a lifeline, smothering him in the most comforting way. Eren nuzzled his face and smoothed his wet hair, carding his fingers through it. Levi's body began to quake, and Eren's heat radiated through him like the sun itself was shining upon him. Eren pulled Levi into the house, but never let the other man go. Eren leaned forward just enough to capture Levi's lips, mumbling against them as he did so.

 

"I'm in love with you, too. "

 

Levi felt Eren's lips curve into a smile, and he whispered, "Show me."

Chapter Text

Eren drove until he couldn't anymore.

 

Quite literally until his truck began to sputter from the hood, and the rain continued to downpour.

 

"Come on!" he shouted, slamming his hand against the steering wheel. "Come on you piece of crap!"

 

Along the mountains edge, his truck began to roll in a dull neutral as his battery light started blinking on the dashboard. He clenched his teeth and kept pounding his fists against the steering wheel. "Come on, come on, don't do this now!"

 

Out of all of the times, this could have happened, and it had to be at that moment. Of course, when it came to certain aspects of his life, this would be his luck. His breathing was coming out in ragged breaths, and his heart was pounding from the rush of adrenaline. 

 

All he kept picturing was Levi wrapped in the arms of Erwin, and his blood positively boiled. 

 

"Please..." he whispered as the truck finally stopped. An ungodly noise sounded from inside of the hood, and he leaned his forehead against the wheel. "Please... not now. I can't handle anymore."

 

He really couldn't, and he didn't know if he had any more fight left in him. He had been through this before. Several times, a matter of fact. Eren had always taken life with a grain of salt, and he kept his head held high during even rough times. While he hadn't been in a relationship quite as serious as his one with Levi, this heartbreak he was feeling was too familiar. It had all started with a man named Thomas, whom Eren had developed feelings for during their time together in college. Most of Eren's friends had always told him that he wore his heart on his sleeve, and he hadn't really known it until he felt it crack for the first time.

 

He had fallen in love with a man who led him on, experimented with him, touched him, used him, only to find out the man wasn't the least bit interested in him. In all actuality, he wasn't interested in men period. Or so he wanted the world to believe. Sometimes, people carried a bit of cruelty in their hearts, and Thomas surprised him when he revealed that. Eren had kept it under wraps for some time that he was gay, and he preferred it that way. His sexuality was not meant to be on display, and it did not define him as a person. Aside from his own close friends, Eren kept those intimate details to himself. He had messed around with several different people, men, and women alike, but he didn't feel the same fire ignite in his gut when he was with another woman. Eren was able to maintain his indifference for quite some time.

 

Until Thomas.

 

Thomas exploited all of Eren's secrets, and in the process, he shattered his heart. While most of the town accepted Eren for who he was, there were so many simple-minded folks who did not. It not only brought shame to him, but it brought shame to his family's name. His parents handled the entire situation with grace and held Eren when he cried in frustration and betrayal. How could someone who seemed so caring and compassionate be so hurtful and judgemental? Grisha did not let anyone stop him from continuing with his clinic. Carla did not let anyone stop her from working during seasons, and they both encouraged Eren to not let anyone stop him from pursuing his passion with public education.

 

In time, the town moved forward from the news. One of the downsides of a small town was everyone's business was always on display, and it followed him into his teaching career. He received so much trouble when he attempted to teach at some of the other local schools, and he was fortunate Shiganshina Elementary offered him a position. It had taken many years for Eren not only to become accepted in Shiganshina, but it took him even longer to accept himself. He had established himself and began to embrace who he was. It was his determination alone that helped him manage his ground and become who he was today. 

 

He was content to teach, spend time with his friends, and his family. He fell into a steady pattern that suited him, and he accepted that perhaps he'd never find love again. Not the way he saw it with Thomas, and he certainly wasn't prepared for another heartbreak. He had accepted that perhaps he was meant just to be alone. He had a few one nights stands here and there, and he continued to work up his charm when it was necessary. But, Eren made it a mission never to hurt again. 

 

Until Levi appeared.

 

Levi was unlike any person he had ever seen before. He was like a breeze on a warm summers night, and it swept over Eren like a raging storm. He couldn't help but feel drawn to him. It was like an insistent tugging on his very soul that made Eren want to become closer and closer. Like a moth to a flame, Eren was entranced. 

 

So, when Levi began to return his advances, Eren felt hope for the first time. Hope that perhaps his previous heartache was meant to show him there was something better out there. Someone who was open-minded, accepting, and willing to give him a chance to prove his worth. That he was a creature, who wanted to be loved and knew that he could return that love tenfold. Every kiss they shared, and every moment they spent together, it all was forever embedded in Eren's mind. When he was with Levi and Mikasa, it made him feel like he was around a family who understood what it meant to be broken. Eren could see through the weariness in Levi's eyes that he had endured his suffering. From his own experiences, Eren understood that precious information such as that was something that should only be shared when someone was ready and willing.

 

But fuck, fuck this hurt. He would take the pain Thomas put him through over this any day. Because what he felt with Levi was true and real, and what he felt with Thomas was demeaning and counterfeit.

 

At least he had thought what he and Levi shared was real. All of those nights of having the man mold into his side while basking in each others company. All of the times of running around town, enjoying the sights and sharing wisecracks and poking fun and jokes. All of those private moments of mouths melding together and their hands excitedly exploring each other's bodies...

 

Was that a fantasy he had chanced after, and Levi went along with it to overcome his past conflictions with his ex?

 

A stream of lights caused Eren to break from his train of thought, and he lifted his head when he noticed a pair of headlights behind him. Wondering if it was one of his friends or perhaps Levi, Eren opened the driver's side door and stepped out into the pouring rain. Uncaring of his appearance, Eren shut the door and came face to face with his father.

 

"What are you doing sitting on the side of the road?" Grisha asked through the downpour. He held his coat above his head as he rushed from his vehicle to assist his son. 

 

Eren shrugged. "I guess the battery died."

 

Grisha sighed. "You're lucky I spotted you. I was just coming back from the store and--" As Grisha stepped closer, he noticed the dismay that strained on his sons face. "Eren... are you alright? Did something happen?"

 

Eren laughed, throwing his hands in the air. "Nothing I apparently can't handle!" he exclaimed with a wild look in his eyes. "Just... don't ask right now, okay, Dad? I'll get the cables from your trunk."

 

Grisha watched, perplexed, as Eren trekked over and opened the back of his car. He grabbed a pair of jumper cables and walked back over to raise the hood of his truck. No words were exchanged, and Eren set to the task of busying himself with bringing life back to his truck so he could just get the hell home.

 

"Eren," his father attempted, and Eren sighed sharply.

 

"Look, I don't want to talk about it, okay? Can we please just try and get the truck to--"

 

"Son, you're about to electrocute yourself."

 

Glancing down, Eren realized he was about to attach the wrong cables to the opposite ends of the battery. "Oh," he said lamely.

 

Grisha gently moved Eren aside and assisted him. Once the cables were attached, Grisha walked back over to his car and began to process of transferring what he could over to Eren's truck. Eren slipped back in to shelter himself from the rain, and when he looked up at his appearance in the rearview mirror, he cringed. He looked as bad as he felt, and that wasn't going to help his case any. Especially when the passenger side door opened and Grisha took a seat next to him.

 

Several seconds ticked by, and Eren waited a few moments before turning the key in the ignition and hearing the engine sputter a few times. 

 

"Son," Grisha tried again. "Tell me what's going on. I've watched you since you were just a babe, and I know when something is troubling you."

 

Licking his lips, Eren tried to start the truck again. It clicked over barely, and he growled. "It's nothing serious. Just me being a fucking idiot again."

 

Frowning deeply at Eren's language, Grisha said, "You're hardly an idiot."

 

"You sure about that?" Eren asked, repeatedly turning the key over and over again. If he kept doing it, he knew he was going to flood the engine. Grisha watched helplessly as Eren continued. "Because I'm not so sure anymore. It's like... I thought things were different this time, you know? I listened to my heart for once, and look where it got me. Sitting here in a broken down truck, in the rain, and feeling like my heart just got ripped out of my damn chest."

 

Grisha calmly touched Eren's arm, and the younger man flinched. He turned and met his father's gaze, which was saddened, but still warm. "Things with Levi took a turn, didn't they?"

 

A sob wrenched inside of Eren's throat, and he dropped his hand in defeat. "I don't know what the hell happened," he whispered. "One minute, we're happy. I mean... I thought we were. I never thought I'd have a shot with him, and once we started dating, I felt like I could do anything. I just... I couldn't picture myself with anybody else. I know it's only been a few months, but I thought we had something special."

 

"You do," Grisha assured Eren. He chuckled softly. "It doesn't matter if you've known each other for a few months or a few years, love doesn't transpire on the periods of time. I fell for your mother after two months, proposed to her, and we were expecting you just a few months after."

 

Sniffling his nose, Eren reminded Grisha of when he was just a boy. His hair was wildly unkempt, and his eyes were straining with emotion. "So why did he run back to his ex-partner, then?"

 

Grisha blinked. "Is that what happened?"

 

"I don't know!" Eren suddenly roared. "All I know is that bastard was kissing Levi like a man seeing the light for the first time! And I just... I couldn't..."

 

"Did Levi explain things over with you? I may not know Levi very well, but he doesn't seem like an unfaithful man."

 

"That's why I don't understand what's going on! I don't know anything about his past relationship other than he left Erwin in favor of bringing Mikasa here. I know there's more to it, but Levi hasn't told me about it!"

 

"Perhaps Levi felt it would damage your relationship if he brought it up. Did you happen to let Levi explain things over with you, or did you assume the worst and turn your back on him?"

 

"I didn't!" Eren began but abruptly stopped when his father gave him a pointed look. "I mean... shit, I was angry. For all I know, what Erwin said was true. He says that he's taking Levi and Mikasa back to Trost where they belong. Levi just stood there, and he couldn't look me in the eye."

 

The rain continued the pour outside of Eren's truck, and he felt like taking his head and bashing it into the steering wheel just the get the image or Erwin kissing Levi out of his mind. 

 

"Look, son," Grisha tried to sooth. "I know since college; you haven't bothered with a relationship. I know it's hard for you, trust me. But when I noticed you were taking a chance with Levi, and I mean really taking a chance with him, I can't tell you how relieved I was. And if what you're saying about Levi is true, then it's obvious this was quite a risk for him as well. You both have something to lose here, not just you."

 

"But he's going to leave with him," Eren whispered in defeat.

 

"Did Levi tell you that, or are you going to listen to the words of a man that Levi pointedly left behind?"

 

Biting his lip, Eren kept his eyes ahead and refused to look at his father.

 

"You didn't let Levi explain, and maybe this wasn't the best way to go about it. But, perhaps things will come to light now, and it'll help you both become stronger. Take my word for it, you both may be good together, but there will always be obstacles. The question you need to ask yourself is whether you're willing to face them together, or give up without fighting for each other."

 

Eren's eyes finally shifted and met Grisha's, and he saw an array of emotion that he had never seen in his father's eyes before. The older man reached and moved Eren's hand away from the keys, and he swiftly turned it in the ignition. A few subtle clicks and the engine roared to life. Grisha gave Eren a small smile, and Eren returned it weakly. 

 

"Don't give up, son. That isn't who you are, and I think Levi needs you now more than ever."


"I'm in love with you."

 

Those four, simple words affected Eren so profoundly; he was surprised he had the strength to stand. He hadn't expected Levi to show up to his door, nor did he expect such a confession from the man. It sent Eren's heart into overdrive, and he found it was too hard to keep the barricade of the door up for very much longer. His affection for Levi swelled at that moment, and taking him into his arms was enough to ground him back to reality.

 

His father had been right, it wasn't in his blood to give up, and if the marred skin on Levi's knuckles were any indication, it wasn't in his either.

 

"I'm in love with you, too."

 

It left Eren so quickly as if it were the most natural thing in the world to say. Especially when Levi brushed his lips against his own, whispering words that made Eren shiver with delight and longing.

 

"Show me." 

Chapter Text

Eren's house felt more aloof than usual, and the fireplace was dim for once. In most cases, when Levi would come over, the fireplace would be lit to life. Of course, he wasn't sure what Eren's habit was during Summer, but it always brought a comforting aura to the small house. The rain continued to pour outside, and it pattered against the tin roof above them. Eren led Levi inside carefully while helping the man strip off his sweater. 

 

Levi noticed Eren's hands were shaking, and he realized the other man's clothes were just as soaked as his own. Wanting to ask what had happened, Levi began to open his mouth to ask. 

 

"Here," Eren said before Levi could ask, and his tanned hands began working on Levi's clothing. Levi allowed it, and the cool shiver that ran up his spine did not go unnoticed by the teacher. "I'll warm these up in the dryer. You're welcome to the shower if you need to warm up."

 

Feeling bold, Levi asked, "Why don't you join me? You're soaked to the bone."

 

Eren blinked and glanced down at himself, then slowly raised his eyes to meet Levi's. They shared unspoken words through the intensity of their gazes, and Eren smiled softly. "Okay, then."

 

Each word spoken was so soft, it was almost like the entire situation surrounding them was as fragile as glass. There was anticipation and small twinge of worry coursing through Levi's veins, and if Eren's jerky movements were anything to go by, it ran through his too.  Eren assisted Levi in taking off his drenched attire, and then Levi began the task of helping the taller man out of his own clothes. Each piece of clothing that he removed was done with delicate concentration, and Levi felt Eren's eyes watching him closely.

 

Eren took Levi's hand after and led him into the bathroom. While they had explored many avenues in their relationship, showering together was not one of them. There was something so incredibly intimate and tender about the way Eren turned on the water, waited for the temperature to rise, and then held his hand out to Levi. 

 

Levi didn't hesitate when he retook Eren's hand.

 

The steaming stream warmed Levi's bones, and he shuddered with a content sigh as the water cascaded down his tense back. Eren's bathroom was a respectable size, and the shower was also graciously open. Levi had never showered with Erwin, he realized in a sudden wisp of thought. Their shower wasn't designed to fit two people, as most aren't. There wasn't anything appealing about taking something as simple as a shower with another person. Not when you'd be bumping clumsily into them or taking turns trying to get some of the limited hot water.

 

But this... this was soothing. 

 

Levi's hair began to fall in front of his eyes, but he was able to see clearly as the water made Eren's wild hair frame his youthful face and reached below his chin. Levi's hand moved without control over the impulse, and it traced the damp strands as he lightly brushed it against the side of Eren's face.

 

Eren's brilliant eyes closed, and Levi's heart stuttered.

 

Reaching for his hand, Eren brought it to his lips and kissed the pale fingertips. Then, after kissing each digit, he began to litter Levi's wrist with more. Levi watched in pure entrancement and fascination, never seeing something so tender in his life. Eren's eyes opened fractionally, and those stunning orbs held a question.

 

Will you let me show you? How much I really love you? How much I can love you?

 

Instead of answering out loud, Levi wretched his hand out of Eren's grasp and took hold of the back of his neck. He raised himself onto his toes and solidly placed his lips against Eren's. Eren let out a wild sound, and it sent a tendril of both love and arousal right through Levi. He groaned in turn and shifted until he felt his body pressing flush against Eren's. The warmth of the water and the heat radiating off of Eren's skin was enough to drive Levi mad. He readily opened his mouth for the brunet, who delved in greedily. Eren's arms wrapped around Levi and pulled him impossibly close; as if he just couldn't get close enough.

 

It was serene, this feeling.

 

Levi's shaking hands roamed against the expanse of Eren's back, his fingertips tracing each muscle as they flexed from Eren's ministrations. Shifting slightly on his feet, Eren continued to hold Levi close while his tongue moved in a silken dance with his own. Levi's mind felt delightfully hazy with warmth and pleasure, and they'd barely even begun. 

 

The proof of that was when Eren's hand traveled down his shoulders, his back, and right to the curve of his backside. Levi moaned against Eren's mouth as the teacher grasped both cheeks within his palms and squeezed. "Ngh, Eren!"

 

Levi felt Eren smile as he pulled back from his lips, his eyes hungry in a way the raven had never seen. It made his stomach quiver with delight. "God, you're perfect. You're so damn perfect. You know that, don't you?" To prove his point, Eren's slick fingers traced the delicate skin of his entrance, and Levi swore he felt a flush spread from his chest up to his face. "I don't think I'll ever get enough of you."

 

Words were useless in Levi's mind, but his body began to respond in place of what he wanted to say. His erection was heavy between his legs, and he felt Eren's pressing against his own. The heat inside of the steamy shower did nothing to contain the wracks and shivers that continued to assault the raven. Eren leaned in a nipped at the shell of his ear while whispering, "I want to make you mine."

 

Levi nuzzled Eren's face while whispering back, "Do it." Eren stilled for a short moment, but Levi boldly continued, "I asked you to show me, so make me yours, Eren."

 

 I want to be yours. Willingly, wholeheartedly, yours. 

 

The water was abruptly turned off, and Eren didn't waste a single moment taking Levi's naked form into his arms and stumbling to his bedroom. The water dripped from both of their bodies, but neither of them cared. Levi's hand was carding through Eren's hair, nails digging desperately into his shoulders, while his mouth kissed every freckle and beauty mark on his shoulders. 

 

Levi felt his wet back press into Eren's sheets, and the younger man unsteadily reached into his nightstand to produce a bottle of warming gel. Levi felt the dampness of his skin begin to take its effects, but Eren's body covered his, and it was forgotten once again. Eren's lips sought his, and Levi didn't deny him. Their tongues danced while Eren's hips pressed down against his own in the most maddening way. Levi groaned happily, raising his waist as it ground against Eren's slender hips.

 

"Shit," Eren hissed, his eyes falling to a close while he pulled back shortly. "I... um, you know, gotta prepare you and all--"

 

"I swear to God if you try to explain the mechanics of sex to me right now, I'll knee you right in the balls."

 

Levi expected those words to sway the mood somehow, but he heart fluttered when Eren let out a laugh of pure glee. He shook his head while beginning to coat his fingers in the clear gel. "You're incredible," he chuckled, rubbing the gel to bring out its warmth. His smile was almost lazy, like a cat about to sip on its milk. Levi tilted his head when Eren helped him to his back, and he held those fierce eyes with his own as Eren's hand descended and brushed against his entrance.

 

Levi's body wanted to stiffen, but he forced himself to relax. His body knew what was happening, though, his mind was screaming several different things. He had been battling with panic and doubt for so long, and sometimes it was hard to just accept the good through all of the shit he had dealt with. Eren's eyes are fierce, yet, reassuring. As he slipped one digit inside, he breathed out, "It's okay."

 

And it was.

 

Eren was considerate and gentle, which Levi didn't doubt. He forced himself to relax, and Eren held his gaze steady as he massaged his inner walls. Eren kneeled between his legs, his body still glistening from the shower. While Levi felt cool before, his body warmed due to the flush that consumed him. Levi had nearly forgotten what it meant to be this close to another person, and it was undoubtedly the closest he had ever been to the teacher. If he were to think back all of those months ago, Levi wouldn't have seen himself here. Here he was, openly exposing every bit of his soul to Eren. The pressure from Eren's finger increased when he experimentally slid in another, and Levi's heels dug into the sheets on the mattress.

 

"Tell me if it's too much," Eren said, his voice breathy and rough. Levi knew he was holding back, and he was tired of watching Eren do so.

 

"I'm fine," Levi gasped as Eren's fingers curled slightly, adding to the pressure that continued to rise. "Y-You don't have to move so fucking slow. It's fine; I'm fin--"

 

Levi's words cut off abruptly when Eren brushed against that bundle of nerves that sent the raven's mind into a frenzy, his eyes widening slightly as he released an involuntary huff. His arms were holding the pillow on either side of his head, and the material of the fabric tightened within his hands. Eren's small smile returned. "You were saying?"

 

"Cheeky shit," Levi managed through his increased breathing, his body twisting slightly as the onslaught of Eren's hands continued to make his stomach coil. "Hn!" Moving with more urgency, Eren's eyes bored into Levi's as he added one more digit. It felt so good to be filled like this, and Levi didn't know if he could get enough of it. His hips swayed as he pushed against the brunet, and Eren let out a moan of longing.

 

"Look at you... God, I don't... I have to..."

 

Levi's eyes were fighting to remain open, and he didn't want to reach his release just yet. He reached up to brush his hand against Eren's hair while he said, "Kiss me."

 

Eren swept down and claimed Levi's lips, and Levi moaned appreciatively. With a few more pumps of his fingers, Eren withdrew in a hasty retreat. His tongue brushed against Levi's in a teasing manner, even as he gripped Levi's hips and suddenly rolled the two of them over. Levi let out a surprised breath against Eren's mouth while breaking away. He looked down at the brunet with questionable eyes. "What the hell?"

 

Eren traced every inch of Levi's pale hips, and then slowly let them wander upward. "I want you to set the pace. I want you to be in control of this. I know you think I'm overcautious, and probably want to knock me out, but I promise you I'm not."

 

To assure Levi his words were true, Eren let his hands fall to Levi's waist again while grinding desperately against the older man. Levi's head tilted slightly, and his lips parted in sheer bliss. "Plus... I'm really enjoying the view from down here."

 

Eren's locks splayed against the pillow beneath him, and shit, if he wasn't a fucking sight. Levi had to admit he was enjoying the view from above. He was also reluctant to accept it had been quite some time since he had taken this position during any forms of intimacy. His legs rested on either side of Eren's thighs, and he could feel Eren's cock brushing against his backside. The hardness of it grounded Levi back to reality, and he daringly shifted his hips just slightly with enough force to make the teacher moan again.

 

"Is that so?" Levi asked, not recognizing his voice. The was a teasing lilt to it, and Eren closed his eyes briefly and bit his lip.

 

To be given control like this... it made Levi feel a sense of empowerment he wasn't sure he had ever felt before. Not for many, many years, and he fucking adored Eren for that. So his slate orbs remained on Eren as he raised his hips slightly, using his hand to grasp the thick erection that rested between Eren's legs and began to press the tip against himself. Eren's eyes widened, and Levi let out a broken gasp as he slowly began to sink down.

 

Eren's breathing began to intensify, and Levi's heart was positively racing. Fuck, he thought as he felt that hard column of flesh press inside. Oh, fuck. It was remarkable, and truly wondrous how something as simple as sex could cause every cell inside of his body to suddenly ignite to life. Moving his arm, Levi raised his one hand to rest against the headboard, while the other delicately laid on Eren's chest.

 

If he thought his heart was racing, Eren's was running a damn marathon. 

 

Levi remained still once he was fully seated, and he licked his lips while saying, "Your heart is beating really fast."

 

Swallowing, as if he were afraid to trust his voice, Eren said, "I know."

 

It made Levi's breath catch in his throat, and his affection for Eren swelled inside of his chest. He could continue asking himself what does he see in me or how is this possible, but he was so tired of living in the constant regressions of the unknown and not just taking the chances that were laid out right in front of him. He had blindly remained by Erwin's side because he didn't know how to move forward. It was degrading and also debilitating. But, it took the help of his cousin to take those first tremendous steps in beginning anew and learning to trust himself in the process.

 

And here was Eren, arms open, and ready to catch Levi should he fall. But at that moment, Levi couldn't tell whether he was falling or flying.

 

Together, they'd put the pieces together. Together, they'd move forward.

 

Their hips moved in unison. 

 

Levi's eyes fell to a close as he used the strength in his legs to push himself upward and slowly come back down again. Eren's teeth ground so hard together, Levi could've sworn he heard it. With each delicate slid of Eren's cock inside of him, Levi felt as if he was suddenly enlightened. He kept a firm hold on the headboard, and his nails were dragging against the wood. His other hand wandered over the plains of Eren's chest, up to the delicious line of his neck, and then to the side of Eren's face. Those eyes, those dammit they were greener than emerald eyes, were narrowed to slits as they watched Levi continue to move up and back down again on his lap.

 

Eren began to meet Levi's movements, and it was as if something scorched inside his belly. His legs pushed through the exertion of their intimacy, and Eren's hands scrambled to grip his hips. He was moving in sync with Levi, and he helped guide the smaller man as his upward thrusting become more frantic. Levi leaned over the brunet, never taking his eyes off of him, no matter how much they fought to stay open. He didn't want to miss a single moment of watching Eren's face twist in utter bliss, and it seemed Eren felt the same. He had never held such firm contact with someone before.

 

The scorching began blaze uncontrollably.

 

Eren pulled Levi down suddenly, their lips messily coming together as Eren took hold of Levi's upper back. It gave Eren a small advantage of keeping Levi in place as he began to thrust with more earnest, and Levi cried out through the sudden wave of gratification that crashed over him. Eren swallowed every sound, nipped at Levi's lips, and breathed in pure ecstasy against Levi's mouth.

 

"I love you," Eren breathed against his lips, and Levi felt as if the color of the very existence around them faded. "I..." Eren was panting, and Levi tried to stifle the shuddering moan that threatened to spill. "I've got you, Levi."

 

Levi didn't understand the words, or why Eren had said them. It wasn't until he felt something wet slide down his cheek that he realized what Eren had meant. Feeling Eren shift beneath him, Levi felt his entire body being adjusted as the younger man sat up with Levi still in his lap. Levi's hands detached from their original places while they sought purchase on Eren's shoulders. His nails dug into the tanned skin until there were white crescents left behind. "I've got you," Eren repeated again as those strong hands reached below Levi's ass, using the angle as leverage to help the raven continue to move on against his cock.

 

Levi's arms wrapped around Eren and he held onto him for dear life. His lips dragged against Eren's supple neck, and he moaned and cried out against his skin. Each thrust brought him close to the edge of awe, and he knew for sure now he was flying, and Eren was helping him stay before he drifted any further. Levi felt Eren's nails drag against his wiry back, and he was plunging into his body with an astonishing force. He felt like he was dancing in the flames that burned behind Eren's eyes, and it was a heated passion that would consume them both.

 

"Oh, fuck!" Levi called out as Eren's length continuously assaulted his prostate, and his arms tightened around the other man. He could feel their bodies already accumulating sweat, and it caused slick friction where his cock was pressing against Eren's stomach. Keeping one hand in place below Levi, Eren's other snaked down and wrapped around the neglected member, and Levi's entire world began to fall apart piece by piece.

 

"Oh, God. You feel s-so damn good," Eren declared in astonishment, his voice cracking as his breathing became too labored. "I don't think... I'm going to..." Eren hissed suddenly, and Levi knew they were both close. He felt it with every twist of Eren's wrist and every incredible drive of Eren's cock. Levi felt as if he was suddenly falling into a derealization, and that he was going to wake up and find this was all a dream. His body was singing, and Eren was his voice. 

 

Eren's grip became desperate, and his movements began to become clumsy. Levi felt the strength starting to recede, and the fire finally burned too bright for him to ignore. With a whimpering cry of Eren's name from his lips, Levi felt his orgasm crash through him like a raging storm. He felt wetness spread against his cock and both his and Eren's stomachs, which made Eren groan. Levi shivered when Eren's nails dug just a bit deeper, and his body arched with a sharp gasp as Eren pressed inward as deeply as he could. There was something so incredibly gratifying about the heat that consumed him inside as Eren shuddered through his own release.

 

Levi's chest was heaving, and his and Eren's breathing was erratic and uneven. Eren's grip on him remained, and Levi couldn't seem to get close enough. Eren pulled back just enough to meet his gaze, and Levi's glossy eyes were still reddened from tears. Eren's face softened, and he delicately placed his parted mouth against Levi's. It was chaste, soft, and unspoken; this kiss. It was every bit of reassurance Levi had always been searching for his entire life, and he found it in this man that was currently holding him.

 

It was such a profound thought.

 

As Levi pulled back, his murmured, "I love you too, just so we're clear. I love you more than I think you'll ever realize."

 

Eren's smile was the only thing that registered in his mind, and the brunet leaned his damp forehead against Levi's while whispering his love right back.

Chapter Text

Levi felt a warmth spread from the top of his head, and slowly down to his shoulders and to his hips. He shifted slightly in the bed before his eyes began fluttering open. His eyes took several seconds to adjust before realizing how dark it was. As he came to, he noticed Eren was laying next to him while playing with the strands of his dark hair.

 

"You mumble in your sleep," Eren pointed out with a small smile. His silhouette was enlightened by the moon, and it reflected beautifully off his tan skin. "Hey, by the way."

 

Licking his dry lips, Levi said, "Hey, yourself. What time is it?"

 

Eren's legs tangled under the sheets with his own, and Levi scooted to the warmth. "A little after midnight. Hange called your phone a bunch of times, but I didn't want to wake you up. I called her back on mine. They took Mikasa over to their house. You passed out pretty fast."

 

Assuming the sex had worn him out, Levi reluctantly sat up and let the comforter pool around his hips. "I should probably go and get her. It's a school night."

 

Still gliding his fingers on Levi's hip, Eren asked, "Want me to go get her? It'll give you time to get home and get situated. I'd offer another shower here... but..." He trailed off, suddenly bashful. Levi grinned lazily and felt his cheeks warm a bit.

 

"I doubt we'd accomplish a shower, and it is getting late. But..." Levi bit his lip, and his eyes averted anxiously. "You and I need to talk. Really talk. Would it be too much to ask if I want you to stay by me tonight?"

 

Eren's smile twitched, and Levi wasn't sure if it was a good or bad thing. Eren sat up next to him in his bed and stared down at the covers. "You know I'll always answer that with a yes. But... I don't want tonight to dictate our relationship. I don't want to force you into anything, Levi, but I want to know this is something we're both willing to fight for."

 

Eren's eyes rose to meet Levi's as he said this. "I mean it. I can't tell you... Fuck, I don't even have to words to explain how much seeing you with him hurt me. I wasn't expecting it, and I know I jumped the gun a little too fast and ran with every worst possible scenario there was."

 

"I don't blame you for that. I probably would have done the same thing..." Hitching his shoulders as he wrapped his arms around his knees, Levi drew to up to his chest. "I'm sorry you even had to meet him this way. I wasn't expecting him to come to town, and I was stupid enough to go along with him to try and talk. That's all he wanted, which I know is a lie now. I'm a fucking idiot for even giving him the time of day," Sneaking a glance at Eren, Levi added, "I promise you that's all it was meant to be. I'd never do something like that to anybody, especially you. I care about our relationship too much, and I meant what I said. I love you more than you realize."

 

Reaching out to brush his fingers against the side of Eren's face, Levi continued, "There's a lot of history behind Erwin and me, and I haven't been completely honest about everything. It wasn't meant to hurt you; it was meant to protect myself. But..." Sighing, Levi said, "It is late, and you must have worn me out because I don't know how I fell asleep for two hours without you waking me. We can talk about everything at my house."

 

Taking in each word with delicate detail, Eren still offered a soft grin. "I think once I heard you say those words... that you loved me, and we made love right after, it was sort of hard for me to control myself. I hope I..." Making a face, Eren said, "I wasn't... rough with you, was I?"

 

Snorting, Levi let his hand fall. "Hardly. Maybe this is a lesson for both of us to stop holding back."

 

Eren hummed in agreement as he watched Levi slip out of his bed, still naked and bare while stretching his arms. As Levi did this, Eren noticed the smaller man wince quietly to himself and made a face. 

 

"It's been a while," Levi defended quickly. "You weren't too rough. If I catch you holding back again, I'll make you regret it."

 

Giving Levi an amused look, Eren said, "I'm looking forward to it. Maybe next time, we'll switch so your body can heal. If you're... you know, into that."

 

Levi lifted his head thoughtfully. It had admittedly been quite a few years since he was the one in charge during any sexual activity, and he couldn't deny that the idea appealed to him greatly. "I guess we'll have to wait and find out, huh?"

 

The two of them left the comfort of Eren's room, walking back out into the real world with all of its obstacles and worries, beginning to process of gathering their now dry clothes from the dryer in preparation to get Mikasa. The house had less of a chill dwelling inside of it, and the warmth of Eren's persona was back where it belonged. Knowing Levi had so much more to confess, especially his past abuse, he couldn't lie and say he wanted a few moments a home to himself before he was bombarded with questions from Mikasa. God only knows how worried she may have been, depending on what Hange may have told her.

 

"Here," Eren offered Levi a damp rag with soap on it. Levi nodded appreciatively, knowing the sticky mess that caked on his stomach was starting to itch. They cleaned themselves up and set to the task of getting dressed. As they walked outside to their vehicles, Levi noticed several dents in the side of Eren's truck that weren't there earlier. 

 

"The hell happened to your truck? It looks like someone pelted it with boulders." 

 

Eren rubbed the back of his neck and shifted his gaze. "I... may have punched it a few times."

 

Levi sighed and walked over to grasp Eren from the front of his shirt. "I'm not worth you beating the shit out of your only reliable truck. But I suppose it'll be more to talk about later, right?"

 

"You're worth more to me than a lot of things. I'm hoping I'm starting to prove that now."

 

Levi pulled Eren down for a kiss, their lips meeting and seeking purchase in one another. As they pulled away, Levi's eyes were firm, and his voice was steady. "You don't have to prove anything to me. We're here now. We'll get past this." Looking at his phone, Levi said, "You remember where Hange lives, right? I'm sure Mikasa will be delighted if you're picking her up."

 

"Sure do. Just..." Lingering close to Levi for a few more moments, Eren said, "Drive safe. Roads are bad, and hopefully, I'll give you enough time to get cleaned up."

 

"You can clean up after me, so I can sit down and talk things over with Mikasa. Once she's asleep, we'll talk."

 

"Sounds like a plan," Eren agreed as he reluctantly stepped back from Levi. "I love you," he added as he walked over to his truck while swinging the keys out of his pocket. Levi watched him slip inside, and as he did, he smiled softly.

 

"I love you, too."

 

It felt so good to say it finally.


When Levi pulled up to the house, he sighed and turned off the engine. He needed a shower and a cup of tea. He'd even settle for a shot of rum and considered going next door to treat himself to one. He did keep several bottles of liquor in the house, compliments of Anka and Pixis. Perhaps he'd indulge in one before Eren and Mikasa came back home. Getting out of the car, Levi strolled up the driveway and to the front door. He fiddled with his keys before finally unlocking the front door and stepping inside.

 

The house was dark, and only the light above the stove remained on. Levi let his sweater slide off his shoulders and placed it onto the hook while kicking his shoes off. He glanced around and was silently thankful that Hange had taken the initiative to clean up before taking Mikasa over to their place. Hange was like a walking fucking tornado, and they knew Levi couldn't stand the messes they left behind. Still, he couldn't complain. Hange had been nothing but helpful and by his side, through all of the bullshit he had been enduring for so many years. Even before Erwin came around.

 

Levi began to turn the lights on in the house and decided he'd shower first. As he walked, he felt that constant reminder of what had occurred only a few hours prior, and it made his heart positively soar. He smiled softly to himself, even with the pain that shot from his backside and up his spine. It was a pleasant tingle. His socked feet padded against the hardwood floor, and as he stepped toward the bathroom, he almost missed a small noise that sounded from the kitchen.

 

Levi stopped walking abruptly, and for a moment he wondered if perhaps Eren and Mikasa were here already. In his mind, Levi knew it would have taken at least thirty extra minutes for Eren to return, so it wasn't plausible. The hairs on the back of Levi's neck stood up, and the incredible sensations he felt in his body moments before began to fade into something more sinister. It was a frightening feeling of foreboding and insecurity.

 

Panic began to race through him when another soft noise echoed in the house.

 

Trying to remain impassively unaware, Levi's body turned nonchalantly, and he headed to the kitchen. He forced himself to reach into the bottom cabinet for the tea kettle, and then he stood on his tiptoes to retrieve the small box of assorted teas. As he did this, Levi's hands kept busy, and he tried to look as though he was merely setting up tea. The panic surged through him uncontrollably, and he knew he wasn't alone in his home right now.

 

He stepped in front of the cooking utensil drawer and slowly began opening it. Several sharp knives revealed themselves, and Levi slowly reached in the retrieve the largest one. 

 

His heart skipped a beat when a shadow erupted from across the kitchen, moving with ungodly speed. Levi was barely able to turn around with the knife in his hand before he felt a throbbing pain bloom in his temple, and his entire world went dark.


 

The roads were still slick from the earlier rain, and there was debris in that caused a bit of trouble. Other than that, Eren's drive to Hange's house was rather easy. His mind kept replaying the entire night over and over again, and it was hard for him to focus on his surroundings or anything other than what he and Levi shared that night. His entire being was clashing with several different sensations. One of them was love; so much of it, he thought he was going to combust. Another was fear; fear of the unknown that was laid out before the two of them. Bitterness; because the images of Erwin kissing Levi were forever imprinted in his mind, and Eren did everything in his power to wash those memories away with the picture of Levi gazing down at him as if he were the most precious thing in the world.

 

A small smile tugged on Eren's lips, no matter how much he tried to fight it.

 

Eren knew Levi was doing his best to bear his soul, and tonight wasn't something he planned. His heart knew for sure Levi was honest, because if he hadn't, why would the man have shown up to his door in the pouring rain? Why would he have confessed his love to Eren, especially given the circumstances of his ex-partner being in town? Erwin was a liar, and Levi made sure Eren knew that from now on. He would be happy to never see the bastard again.

 

But it left so many open questions.

 

Why had Erwin come down here for Levi? Levi didn't give specifics of their previous relationship other than Levi being the one to leave. But, perhaps Eren should have pushed for a few more answers. It didn't feel right to dig his way right into Levi's past. Because that exactly what it was; his past. Eren wasn't there and didn't belong there. As Levi had said, he wanted Eren to be a part of his future.

 

But that gnawing feeling in his stomach lingered, and Eren felt that uncertainty rear it's ugly head because Levi's past was here. Right in this small town, looking for him. He wanted to know how the two of them left off, and he wanted to ensure Levi felt secure in their relationship despite this event.

 

The brunet brought a hand to his head and winced, feeling a headache coming on. His parents warned him about overthinking, and perhaps he should just be patient and wait for Levi to explain things over. Maybe it would give Eren a chance to bare his soul a little as well, although, he didn't want to burden Levi with his useless past either. He needed to keep his father's words fresh in his mind and focus only on what was ahead.

 

Hange's street came into view, and the teacher sighed in relief. He was grateful the rain had stopped, and it wasn't chilly enough to warrant a chill. Pulling into the messy driveway, Eren maneuvered the wheel and parked his truck. He could see Hange sitting outside on the porch with Mikasa, and the young man smiled as Mikasa's face lit up with recognition.

 

"Mister Yeager!" she called out from the porch, waving at him. Eren slipped out of the truck and waved with a broad smile. 

 

"Hey there, you shouldn't still be awake," he said, laughing lightly when Mikasa jumped up from her chair and gave the teacher a small hug. "I get hugs now?"

 

Mikasa peered up and smiled shyly, stepping back as Hange stretched from their place on the corner rocking chair. 

 

"Thanks for letting me know what was going on. I was going out of my mind worrying about that little weasel," Hange stated, grinning at Eren's wide eyes. "You'll have to get used to my pet names, honey-bun. Levi knows they'll never stop. Speaking of which... where is he?"

 

"He went on home. I told him I'd pick up Mikasa and bring her back for him. I figured he needed a few minutes to gather his bearings after what happened?"

 

"What did happen?" Mikasa interrupted, glancing between Eren and Hange. "Is Levi okay?"

 

"Oh, he's fine, don't worry," Eren assured the small girl. "We just... uh, had some things we needed to talk about after he got off of work. I sort of stole him away for the night. But, he's home and waiting for you now. Probably cleaned the house top to bottom waiting for you."

 

Mikasa didn't seem convinced, but mostly it was because of the look in Hange's eyes.

 

Eren was confused. 

 

"What's going on? What's with that look?" Eren questioned, and Hange began to fidget.

 

"Maybe you two should hurry up and meet up with Levi," Hange suggested, and Eren's gears were really beginning to shift in his head.

 

Mikasa threw her hands in the air. "If Levi is okay, why are you two acting so weird? What can't you talk about in front of me?"

 

"It's about Erwin," Hange finally clarified, and Eren and Mikasa's eyes widened.

 

"Erwin?" Mikasa asked. "What about him? What the hell is going on?" Mikasa's voice dropped several octaves, and if the girl wasn't nine years old, Eren might have felt a small shiver wrack up his spine. 

 

"He's in town," Hange confessed. Their eyes turned to Eren. "Levi called me when he was on his way over to you and told me everything that happened. Listen, I'm not trying to jump to conclusions here, but I think Mikasa should stay with me and you drive back over to Levi's."

 

"What? Why? I came here to pick her up. She's got class tomorrow, and I've got to teach--"

 

Sighing, Hange dragged a frustrated hand down their face. "He still hasn't told you, has he?"

 

Eren was about to burst, finally losing his patience. "What are you getting at, Hange?"

 

"He'll hurt him."

 

Eren's eyes were on Mikasa quickly. "What?"

 

"Erwin," Mikasa said. "He'll hurt him. You don't understand, I've seen it!"

 

"Hurt him... you mean..." Eren trialed off, and he suddenly felt so many pieces of the puzzle that was only Levi fall into place. It made Eren feel so incredibly stupid for not seeing the signs sooner. The panic attacks. The reluctance to start a relationship. The entire purpose of moving to this small town. Child Protective Services. It all suddenly made sense. He wanted to smack the shit out of himself for not seeing or realizing it sooner, but now he understood why Levi didn't want to speak about the matter. Hell, Eren wouldn't have wanted to. Feeling bile bubble in his throat and his blood becoming hot like smolders, Eren's fists suddenly clenched and he bared his teeth.

 

Abuse. The word sounded foreign in his head, and he couldn't find his voice to say it out loud.

 

"If he's here in town, then he's after Levi. When Levi became my guardian, Erwin went after him and told him I needed to leave. That he needed to find me another family," Mikasa began to explain, and Hange continued for her.

 

"He came here with a bruise that size of a softball. He stayed with me until he found a place to rent. He didn't bother buying, because I think a part of him needed the option to run if he wanted it. If it weren't for this little girl here, he probably would have continued putting up with Erwin's backlash."

 

"But why?" Eren demanded. "Levi just doesn't seem like the type of man to stay with someone who doesn't appreciate him. He's such a strong person! I can see that!"

 

"Because at one point, he loved Erwin," Hange said simply. "Erwin was good to him for a while. They made a good team, and he gave Levi a chance to get on his feet when he was really down. After about four years though... Levi sort of disappeared, and we lost touch with him. We know now that it's because of Erwin, and Levi isn't even sure what set him off."

 

Eren's fists were beginning to crack he was clenching them so hard, and his very breath burned inside his chest.

 

"He loves you, Eren," Hange said with certainty, sensing Eren's rage. "We could all see it clear as day. Whenever he'd talk about you, whenever he'd pick Mikasa up from school... He was just so taken by you, and you've brought him back when he probably felt everything was lost."

 

Slightly. Eren's fists loosened somewhat.

 

"I shouldn't have left him alone," Eren said, already turning to walk over to his truck. "I'm such a fucking idiot; I shouldn't have left him alone."

 

Mikasa ran and grabbed Eren by his arm. "Let me go with you. Please. If something happens, I should be there--"

 

"No way," Eren said firmly. "I'm not going to risk you getting hurt. You need to stay here with Hange. If I need to, I'll call you and let you know he's fine."

 

"Eren, please," Mikasa begged, using his first name. 

 

"I'm sorry, Mikasa," he apologized sincerely. "I can't risk you getting hurt. I wouldn't be able to forgive myself, and neither would Levi. He loves you so much."

 

Eren pried Mikasa's hand away from his arm. "And I love you, too. You've become like family to me. All of you." Glancing up at Hange, Eren said, "Keep her safe. If nothing else, it'll at least ensure Levi is safe."

 

Mikasa looked so wounded and helpless, but she nodded and with much reluctance, walked back over to stand by Hange. Hange hugged her close and smiled down at her as Eren trekked over to his truck and slipped inside of it. "It'll be okay. If anyone can help Levi, it's Eren. But..." Hange watched as Eren pulled out of her driveway at an alarming speed, and reached for their phone. "I'm going to call the local sheriff, and give them a heads up about Erwin. I'm going to also get in touch with Mike and Oluo, just in case. We're not going to stand on the sidelines for this."

Chapter Text

His world was churning.

 

As he began to come to, Levi blinked his heavy eyes open. It took several seconds for the dark spots to stop obscuring his vision, but once they did, he realized he was laying in his bed. He wiped his eyes and sat up in alarm, glancing around once he eyesight returned to normal. He let out a hiss and gingerly touched his head, where he felt a throbbing lump forming above it. He also noticed as he pulled his hand away that there was a sticky, warm liquid caked on it. It was a bright red, and it shook Levi to his core.

 

Blood.

 

"I tried my best to clean you up," a deep voice said from across the room. "I didn't want to get blood on your sheets."

 

His eyes shifted fast, and it caused his head to pulse even more. Once his eyes landed on the source of the voice, a lump formed inside of Levi's throat.

 

Erwin was sitting on the chair at Levi's desk with his hands folded together. He sported a rather nasty bruise on his cheek, and his eyes were glossy and tired. Levi was frozen stiff, and he sat up in his bed while merely staring at the man. He could see blood outlines on the ridge of Erwin's knuckles, and when his eyes wandered, he could see several pieces of his luggage pulled out from his closest and placed near the door of his room. His heart was racing so fast, and his head was causing so much pain, he was surprised he hadn't passed out again.

 

"I wanted you to make this easy for me, but of course, you've always chosen the difficult route, haven't you?" Erwin asked, remaining where he sat.

 

Levi tried to swallow the lump still lodged in his throat, and he quickly looked around for his phone.

 

"Looking for this?" Erwin asked as he held up the device, shaking it slightly. "Eren seems to be calling quite a bit, but I'd like us to have no interruptions this time."

 

Hissing, Levi finally spoke, "He's on his way here. You're a fucking idiot if you think he's going to just let you drag me out the door."

 

"I'm not going to drag you out the door, Levi," Erwin stated matter-of-factly. "You're going to call him, and you're going to tell him to go home. You're going to pack your things, and you and Mikasa are going to come back with me. This isn't up for debate, and your games have gone on long enough."

 

"Games?" Levi asked incredulously. "Is that what you think this is? A game?"

 

"I can't think of what else would cause you to act this way."

 

"Erwin, I fucking left you. I didn't want to put up with your control and abuse anymore. If it weren't for Mikasa, I don't know when the fuck I would've woken up." Levi made a face, his lips deepening into a frown. "You... You think this is love?"

 

"Love doesn't have anything to do with it," Erwin waved his hand. "Of course I love you, I always have. This is a matter of principle. We've been together for ten years, Levi, and you threw that away for some little girl whom you owed nothing to."

 

"It doesn't matter if I owed her anything, she is my family. I'd throw it away a second time if it meant keeping her with me."

 

"And Eren? Would you throw away your relationship with him as well?"

 

It may have hurt Levi's heart to say it, but his lips tightened as he answered, "Yes, I would."

 

Erwin nodded his head and briefly looked away. "I see."

 

The only sound Levi could hear was the ticking of his bedside clock, and each tick roared in his ears. He sat in painful silence and Erwin seemed to be pondering something profound. Levi felt so incredibly stupid for believing Erwin wouldn't track him down after that scene in town earlier. He should've stayed at Eren's until he was assured Erwin was gone. He should have filed a restraining order in the beginning, as most people do. His heart didn't want to believe that Erwin was capable of this because deep down Levi knew this wasn't the man he had initially fallen in love with. He was at a loss at what transformed in his heart and repulsed him to know that there was no changing the darkness that lingered inside of him.

 

Thoughts interrupted, Levi watched Erwin stand from his chair and held the phone out to Levi. "Call him and tell him not to come. I'm not going to ask you again."

 

Levi felt trapped, and he wasn't sure how to escape this. Erwin was always much stronger than him, and he had quite the size to use to his advantage. Levi felt he was being given a choice here, and he was unsure of what to do. His mind was racing with impulses, and his body was retaining it's fight or flight mode. He was tired of taking flight; he was fucking exhausted from always running away.

 

No more.

 

Levi delicately took his phone from Erwin's hands, and for a moment, the blonde smiled knowingly at Levi. "This will all work out, Levi. I promise you."

 

Licking his lips, Levi nodded. "Yeah, it will work out."

 

With as much force as Levi could muster, he took the phone and launched it into Erwin's face.

 

Fight.

 

Erwin stumbled back, the shock evident on his face. Levi used every moment, down to the second, to scramble off of his bed and dart across the room. He could hear the heavy footsteps of Erwin running behind him, but that didn't stop Levi from bolting through the house and toward the kitchen again. A weapon. I need a weapon. Fuck, I should've bought a damn gun! 

 

Nearly slipping on the area rug in his living room, Levi was barely able to take hold of the kitchen drawer again before Erwin's weight pinned him against the counter. Levi's breath rushed out of his lungs as the counter pressed right into his diaphragm, and he struggled to push all of his weight against Erwin from behind. Using the counter of leverage, Levi planted one foot and pushed back as hard as he was able. Surprised at his strength, Levi felt himself falling backward with Erwin, and the two of them ended up on the floor.

 

Levi's vision momentarily shifted, and then it was replaced with the face of his enraged ex-partner. It reminded Levi of the very first time Erwin had put his hands on him, and Levi felt the fear bubble inside of his throat. He squandered it quickly, and just as Erwin began the process of wrapping his hands around Levi's throat, the shorter man swiftly lifted his knee and let it collide against Erwin's groin.

 

Erwin howled in agony, and Levi used his legs to push the other man back. Panting harshly and feeling the dizziness from his head injury, Levi attempted to get away a second time. His neighbors were scattered pretty far out, but the bar was right next door. If he were able to make it over there, he'd be safe until he was able to get the local authorities involved. 

 

Erwin wasn't letting that happen.

 

Just as the two of them began to collect themselves off of the floor, the knife from earlier glistened from the drawer. Both men stared at it, at each other, and then sprinted for it. Levi growled when Erwin took a fistful of his head and tugged as harshly as he could, successfully pulling Levi back and giving him enough room to grab the weapon. As soon as Erwin held the knife in his hands, Levi's eyes widened at the dark look in his eyes.

 

Levi didn't see a trace of Erwin in that gaze.

 

"Erwin..." Levi said carefully, taking small steps back. "I know this isn't you. What you're doing... shit, have you completely lose your fucking mind?"

 

Erwin stiffened only slightly, and Levi wondered if his words were actually getting through. So, he kept going.

 

"Maybe... Look, maybe we can figure something out, alright? You, Mikasa, and me." Taking an unsteady breath, and feeling the adrenaline pulsing through his veins, Levi continued, "But you're going to have to put the knife down. Eren will be here any minute. If you want me to leave with you, you probably don't want him seeing that knife in your hand."

 

Erwin glanced down at the knife in his hand, and then back to Levi again. Misunderstanding crossed the blonde's features, and Levi took that as a good sign. Instead of stepping back, Levi made a bold step forward. He held out his hand, coaxing Erwin with patience, even as his skin crawled. "Give me the knife. I'll put it back in the drawer, and then we can go back to my room and pack. Sound like a plan?"

 

The seconds that ticked by were agonizing.

 

Slowly, but evidently, Erwin hesitated while holding out the weapon. Levi's fingers shook with anticipation, and he kept his eyes on Erwin's deep cerulean ones as he grasped the handle of it. "Good... Good."

 

Levi didn't waste a single moment as he took the knife and plunged it into Erwin's thigh, and Erwin screamed. 

 

Eyes wide, Erwin looked down at his thigh and then back to Levi again. "You... You said--"

 

"I know what I said," Levi hissed. "You're lucky I didn't stab you in the fucking face!" The words flew out of his mouth like bullets while he twisted handle of the knife, and he heard with grim satisfaction as the blade tore through Erwin's muscles. "After everything I sacrificed for you, after everything I did for you. It was never enough. I fucking loved you, Erwin! Love isn't about owing your partner anything, and it isn't about what is meant to be yours. It isn't about hurting the ones you love or trying to conform them! It's about understanding, and compassion, and sharing what isn't meant to be shared. Eren taught me that!"

 

Erwin roared, and even with the knife still in his skin, he raced toward Levi. Blood seeped through his pants from his wound, and it dripped onto the wood floor. It caused Levi to slip as he stumbled back, and Erwin tackled him with so much strength, it knocked them into the next room. Levi felt the very air in his lungs burn with agony as he landed on the floor with Erwin's full weight on him. Fire blazed inside of Erwin's gaze, and his teeth were bared as his hands set to the original objective of wrapping around Levi's neck.

 

Levi immediately tried to raise his knees again, but Erwin successfully pinned them down with his legs. Levi even considered ripping the knife from Erwin's thigh, but his arms were also beneath the other man's weight. Feeling completely hopeless, Levi watched in horror as his vision began to swim, and the very breath that tried to enter his lungs was trapped. He kicked his legs and attempted to squirm out of Erwin's hold, but the other man's size was far more significant than he was. In those moments, Levi felt as if the life inside of him was beginning to dissipate, and this time, Erwin was making no move to stop. Memories and different people scattered inside of his mind; his mother, Mikasa, his friends, and Eren. 

 

The world became a little hazier, and the blood in his body pulsed in his ears.

 

"I tried to give you so many chances," Erwin said through gritted teeth. "I was patient, and I waited for you to come back. I've done everything for you, if it weren't for me, you'd have been living in the slums of Trost."

 

The spots in his eyes became more in-depth, and his mouth fell open to gasp for air. His lungs burned. His eyes watered. His skin tingled.

 

"I'm sorry it had to come to this, Levi. I can't just let you... go like this. It's cliche, I know. But... I just can't allow it."

 

Darkness was swallowing Levi, and his body gave in. He stopped jerking his legs, and his eyes began to fall to a close. The fight that drove him earlier all but disappeared, and he accepted that this was how he was going to die. Instead of pushing against death, he started to welcome it. At least he'd die with his heart full, and with the knowledge that Mikasa would be safe.

 

As the functions in his body started to fail, a crash in the house barely registered in his mind. His eyes were only able to open fractionally, and when they did, a blurry figure was barreling across the room and tackled Ewin to the opposite end of the living room. Levi rolled over as best as he could, sputtering and coughing as the air that was forced out of his lungs began to enter them again. He inhaled sharply several times, and his eyes were unable to focus correctly. The sound of flesh hitting flesh opened Levi's senses, and he groaned as he tried to move. 

 

"I'll fucking kill you!" Levi heard a voice bellow, and it didn't take long to recognize Eren's voice. The depth of its deadliness was unlike anything Levi had ever heard before, and it was enough to make any man quiver on the spot. Over and over, blow after blow, Eren didn't relent. Levi wanted to go over to him more than anything, but his mind was trapped in a distant fog and his body's energy was depleted into nothing.

 

The noise halted, and Levi feared that perhaps Erwin had bested Eren. But, when a warmth wrapped itself around Levi, the older man knew whose arms he was in. 

 

"Jesus," Eren breathed, his hands wandering to check Levi over. "Levi... babe, open your eyes, please. Please."

 

His throat was so sore and tight, but he still tried to speak as his unfocused eyes fluttered. "Eren..." His neck felt as if someone was sticking a hot skewer down it, but he kept trying. "Erwin... where...?"

 

"I knocked him unconscious," Eren said quickly. "Don't worry about him. Just look at me, okay? Hange already called the police, and they're on their way."

 

"Mikasa...?"

 

"She's safe," Eren softly said, his voice watery. "Y-you're covered in blood... I... Fuck, I can't... I shouldn't have left you alone."

 

Shaking his head, Levi whispered, "S'not mine."

 

Levi felt Eren sag in relief somewhat at his words. "Shh," Eren hushed him, his fingers lightly tracing the angry, purple marks on Levi's neck. "Don't talk. Just... stay with me until the ambulance arrives."

 

Levi just shook his head again, and his consciousness was beginning to waver. Distantly, Levi heard the sound of sirens wailing outside, and several different voices began to filter through the disturbing silence of his unsteady breathing. Alarmed, Eren shook Levi gently. "Keep your eyes open, okay? Don't fall asleep!"

 

Eren's voice hitched as he spoke, and Levi continued to slump in his arms. He suddenly felt so tired. "Levi? Levi, please! Don't close your eyes! Come on, stay with me!"

 

"Levi!" Eren sobbed, and once more, Levi's world turned to black.


"Levi!"

 

His head raised at the sound of his name, and he straightened from his place at the garden. The entire property was surrounded by luscious pinks and purples, mixed in with delightful oranges and greens. The lot of his home was small, but his mother was humble. He dusted a considerable amount of dirt from his raggedy jeans and jogged over to the source of the voice calling his name. At six years old, his small legs didn't carry him very far. He kept his hands hidden behind him, and his eyes fell as he stepped inside of the house.

 

"Honey," his mother sighed, walking over while placing a hand on her hip. "You need to at least shout back when I call out to you. Imagine if a coyote or a bear came and scooped you up? I'd be out of my mind with grief."

 

Seeing her unusual humor had no effect on Levi, Kuchel tilted her head and slowly bent down. "What is it, mon chéri?"

 

Silently, Levi's lips quivered, and he brought his arms forward. His hands revealed a small, wounded fowl. "Oh dear," his mother murmured. "Poor little thing. It must have fallen in the garden, huh?"

 

Levi nodded and bit his lip. "Is it going to die?"

 

"No, no," Kuchel cooed, reaching to smooth out Levi's hair. "We'll nurse it back to health. She's lucky you were able to spot it. Otherwise, it may not have had a chance. Hand her over to me, and we'll fix her up."

 

Reluctantly, Levi held the small finch and placed it into his mother's capable hands. Kuchel set to the task of examining the bird's short wings, and sure enough, one of them was bent slightly. "Ah," his mother said. "It's a small injury. If I can help straighten it out, it should be able to stay near the house until it's ready to fly."

 

Levi watched in pure fascination as his mother did merely that, and the bird gave a small noise of alarm as it's wing was slowly moved back into place. Tears formed inside of his young eyes. "Is it... broken?" he asked.

 

His mother regarded him with warm eyes, though they appeared tired. "It's a little bent out of shape, love, but it's not broken."

 

Levi's young mind didn't understand his mother's words, but he carried them with him even after she died. He had always been put in situations that bent him, and truly reshaped him. But, he was not broken.


The first thing he noticed was an annoying brightness, following by an insistent beeping. Feeling his lips curl, he tried to turn over and block out the world. Still, the lights lingered even behind his lids. Groaning, he opened his eyes and slowly realized he was denied the freedom to move. Feeling somewhat alarmed, Levi's vision was obscured by the lights above and the blinding white ceiling the accompanied them. 

 

Where the hell was he?

 

The beeping continued, and when he attempted to move his fingers, he realized there was something on one of them. He raised his hand and noticed first the pulse oxygen meter attached, and then the uncomfortable IV that was inserted into the skin of his forearm. His gaze fell, and he saw that outlines of the unappealing gown he was dressed in. Slowly, the events from earlier that night began to flood his mind, and he began to hastily glance around in confusion.

 

He was in a hospital.

 

The heart monitor to his left started with a slow, steady beeping. Soon, it began to increase bit by bit to the point it was setting off an alarm. Two nurses came rushing in and attempted to soothe him, but he wasn't having it. When he tried to open his mouth to speak, his throat felt so constricted and throbbed so painfully; it was as if the very voice inside of him was trapped.

 

"Levi," a soothing voice called out to him, and immediately the heart monitor began to slowly recede with it's repeated dinging. When Levi's eyes averted, he saw Eren entering the hospital room with a look of utter relief washing over him. "Oh, God, you're awake," he said unsteadily, stepping across the room and taking a seat next to the hospital bed. He looked up at the two nurses and said, "You need to give him some room. You're going to make him anxious rushing in here like that."

 

"Sir, unless you're family, you're going to have to--"

 

"I'm his partner," Eren corrected, his eyes narrowing. "I'm not going anywhere. So please, give him some space to breathe. Look, his heart rate is normal again. If we need you, we'll call you."

 

Levi was so damn grateful, even if the words burned as he tried to express his appreciation. The two nurses nodded and reluctantly left the room, leaving only Eren and Levi behind. When Eren turned back to him, he hesitated before reaching out to gently brush some of Levi's hair from his face. "Hey," he said softly.

 

Swallowing, even though it felt like swallowing glass, Levi looked down at the sheets of the bed. "H...ey."

 

Levi didn't know what to say. He didn't know where to even start.  

 

"They treated you for a concussion," Eren began to explain, knowing Levi probably was still lost in a bout of confusion. "You suffered a terrible blow to the head. You needed a few stitches. Your throat..." Eren's hand fell slightly, shaking as he gingerly touched Levi's throbbing neck. "He choked you so hard; it may have damaged some of your vocal cords. They're saying you might need speech therapy for it. But... it's fixable. They had to put you on oxygen when you got here because yours was so low from how long Erwin cut off your air supply."

 

Hearing Erwin's name, Levi felt his skin crawl. He looked at Eren in question. 

 

"They treated him for his injury, and then sent him out. He's in the county jail, but they're going to transfer him to Trost. They're going to try to charge him there, and I know they're going to want to ask you what happened. They want to put him away, Levi, for a long time. I had them leave for now, though. I know it would be too much for you right now."

 

Levi felt his lips tremble, and he turned his face away from Eren's to hide it.

 

"If..." Eren's voice shook. "If I didn't get there when I did... If I had shown up just a minute later, you would be dead right now. He would have killed you."

 

Levi felt tears forming behind his closed eyes, and they slid freely down his cheeks and collected near his quivering jaw. He felt so much shame swell inside of him, and he couldn't hide it anymore. 

 

"I'm... so sorry," Levi breathed.

 

Eren gently took hold of Levi's chin and guided his face to his. Levi kept his eyes closed, and Eren hushed him. "Baby," he said, and Levi shook his head. "Levi," he tried again. When Levi refused to open his eyes, Eren continued, "You have absolutely nothing to be sorry for. Matter of fact, I never want to hear you apologize for anything around me again."

 

Levi finally dared to face Eren, and when his gaze fell on the younger man, his entire world shifted around him.

 

Tears were glistening within those emerald orbs, and Levi felt that anguish pierce right through his heart.

 

"Eren..." he tried to say.

 

"I thought you were going to die," Eren said in a broken voice. "I thought... All of this time, I didn't see the signs. I pushed you and pushed you."

 

"Shut... up," Levi hissed out, and Eren's eyes widened briefly. "You... did nothing... wrong. If... it wasn't for... you..." The sob that was burning inside of his chest gushed forward, and it escaped passed Levi's lips. "If... I didn't... meet you... I wouldn't... have known..."

 

Levi's words came out in fragments, but Eren understood them quickly. As gently as he could, he pulled Levi to him. Levi's tears soaked through his shirt, and Eren's burned against the skin of his wounded neck. 

 

I wouldn't have known what it meant to be loved.

 

Levi let what he couldn't say in words rain down in his tears, and Eren surrounded him with so much understanding and affection. Eren's arms were so sure and secure around him, and Levi knew he'd never grow tired or wary of that embrace. It was home, and it was where he belonged. Eren nuzzled him gently and smoothed his hands against his shoulders and back. He pulled back slowly, and those meadow eyes held so much intensity inside of them. 

 

Reaching out, Eren wiped Levi's cheeks and said, "It's going to be okay now. Whatever it takes for you to move forward from all of this, I'll help you and Mikasa every step of the way. I love you so much. I can't make the promise that I'll never hurt you because there are going to be times I fuck up and piss you off. But, I'll never lay a hand on you. I'll never try to control you and take advantage of you. I'll..." Biting his lip, Eren continued, "I'll never let anyone hurt you again. I know it makes me sound childish because if anyone ever tries to hurt you again, I'll kill them. It took everything in me not to kill Erwin. In the end, you fought back. You stood your ground, and I'm so proud of you for that."

 

Levi had never felt such protectiveness from Eren before, but in light of recent events, he couldn't blame him. In his mind though, Levi knew it would take time to mend from this. It was as his mother said many years ago; he was bent, but he wasn't broken. He would pick up the pieces, and with Eren's help, he and Mikasa would both move on and continue with their lives. Erwin was likely going to go to prison, and the fact that he would never be able to reach out to Levi again gave the smaller man an overwhelming sense of peace. But, Eren also couldn't fight every single battle for him. Perhaps one day, when he was back to full health, he'd explore that path.

 

Right now, though, he knew he needed help.

 

Nodding his head, Levi let Eren catch his tears. He stared into his eyes and implored the younger man forward to press his lips chastely against Eren's. The action spurred his heart to race, and it could be heard on the monitor behind him. He didn't care, and he relished the possibilities of things only getting better from here.

 

As they pulled back, Eren smiled softly. "I think there's someone who's been waiting to see you."

 

On cue, Levi's eyes rose to the door of his hospital room. A dark blur came running in and tackled Levi onto the bed. Levi let out a noise of surprise, and Eren winced as Mikasa wrapped her arms around Levi's middle. As Mikasa smothered Levi, several other footsteps sounded from outside in the hall. Hange, Petra, Oluo, Nanaba, and Mike made their way inside, and each of them held such a solemn and hesitant expression. Levi's eyebrows drew together as he wrapped his arms around his cousin, but he kept his eyes on his friends.

 

"Don't... any of you... give me that look..." he started in a strangled tone. "Or... I'll kick the... shit... out of... all of you."

 

Hange chuckled, but a few tears collected in their eyes. Petra was leaning against Oluo, and trying to disguise her anguish over the news. Oluo rubbed her back soothingly. Mike kept an openly emotion Nanaba close, which surprised Levi since Nanaba was usually the more conservative one. 

 

"Hormones," Mike explained, though his voice was deeply saddened.

 

"You almost died," Mikasa whispered, drawing back and giving Levi a tearful look. "You... do you have any idea how much it would have killed me if something happened to you?" She inhaled deeply several times before making a fist and jabbing it into Levi's shoulders several times.

 

Eren gasped and Petra started to move forward while exclaiming, "Mikasa!"

 

A breathy chuckle sounded in the room, and everyone looked at Levi incredulously as he began laughing through the pain that burned as he did so. He reached up and ruffled Mikasa's hair, offering her a smile. "You're... still... a little shit..." he said, shaking his head. He caught Mikasa's tears and continued, "I'm... still here. Not... going anywhere."

 

His gaze rose. "All of you..." From his friends to his lover, and then his cousin. Levi felt so much warmth lingering in his soul; it came out in the form of a tired smile. Everything that mattered to him, everything that gave him drive and purpose resided inside of that room. At that moment, Levi felt powerful, despite the weakness that manifested inside of his body. No matter what obstacles he'd have to face to overcome this, and no matter how difficult the trials would be that lied ahead, Levi knew he'd somehow make it out stronger than before.

 

Because he knew... these magnificent people would always be right there. Just as they've always been.

 

"Thank... you."


 

 "It's a little bent out of shape, love, but it's not broken." 

Chapter Text

It took Levi several weeks to regain his focus, voice, and to shift his state of mind back into place.

 

It took effort on everyone's part to help Levi picked up the pieces of his life again.

 

It took all of Levi's willpower to let the past rest where it should while accepting the help of others.

 

Levi was released from the hospital two weeks after the incident with Erwin, and Eren didn't leave his side for a moment. He stayed at his and Mikasa's house, helped Mikasa get to and from school while keeping up with the house. As much as Levi wanted and enjoyed doing those sorts of things himself, Eren was firm when he told Levi to take it easy. He needed to rest. He needed to recover. He needed to process. So with much reluctance, Levi let Eren take the reigns, and he was grateful that he had managed to capture that interest of such an incredible man. Being taken care of like this... not with money, not with power; it was foreign to Levi, but certainly not unwelcome. 

 

The local authorities did return to the hospital before his discharge, and Levi gave his statement along with Eren's. Mikasa and Hange were questioned as well, and they were told that they'd more than likely be contacted again. Levi felt his skin prickle sharing the more intimate and disturbing details of the encounter, and he knew that the rest of it would be forced to come to light soon. He couldn't continue to let Erwin control every aspect of his life this way, and what's worse, he didn't want the man to try again with another future partner. He knew Erwin had that ability to charm his way into anyone's life, his included. Levi was never susceptible to anything like Erwin's personality until the very day came that the man entered his life. So, he took the advice of the ones he trusted most in his life and sought to prosecute.

 

His friends were coming and frequently going, checking in and ensuring Levi was managing well. The original doctor that treated him in the hospital came up with a treatment plan for him, which the raven wasn't thrilled about. Eren assured him it would help him in the long run, and that his father was always available. Levi felt shame bubble in his chest at the thought of Grisha or Carla seeing him this way, but there was no hiding what happened. Eventually, the entire town had all but heard, and it made Levi's embarrassment grow. He did, indeed, require speech therapy. He also was pushed to seek therapy. While he was dead against it, Mikasa implored him to try.

 

"We can go together," Mikasa offered with an encouraging smile. "You and I... maybe we really need this."

 

So, Levi found himself agreeing, and it was a long road ahead. Weeks of sitting with both a speech therapist and therapist. Levi refused medication, which most of the people in his life respected. He needed to address the root cause of his panic disorder and tackle it head-on. He had already accomplished the first feat, now it was moving forward while learning coping skills to manage the attacks themselves. There were nights where he'd be laying in Eren's arms and the raven would feel his heart begin beating up into his throat and an unbearable tightness in his chest. For a while, Levi tried to ignore them and not bother Eren. Soon, Eren began to notice. He'd wrap his arms more tightly around Levi and murmur those words that always seemed to bring Levi back to reality.

 

I've got you.

 

Speech therapy made him feel almost like a child, but he was flabbergasted to learn how many of their patients were victims of abuse. Vocal Cord Dysfunction was luckily very treatable, and while Levi grumbled about it, he endured it. For his own sake and for the sake of those around him. His broken sentences began to fill, and soon his voice returned to its usual deep baritone.

 

It took several more weeks for things to begin settling, and that was when a file addressed to him was mailed to his home. With that letter, more issues arose. When Levi opened it and gazed upon the documents inside, he found himself being thrown right back into the past he worked so hard to bury. It listed him as a witness for the trial against Erwin Smith, and that he was required to travel to Trost for his sentencing. Levi knew this day would come, but he was hoping it would wait just a bit longer for him to finally catch his breath.

 

"What is it?" Eren asked one night as he walked into Levi's bedroom. "You've been staring at it all day..."

 

Frowning deeply, Levi bowed his head. "They're taking Erwin to trial."

 

Nodding his head, Eren continued, "How soon?"

 

"Next week."

 

Eren came over to the bed and sat behind Levi, resting his head on his shoulder. "It'll be okay. You're doing the right thing. He shouldn't be allowed to get away with what he's done to you."

 

Sighing, Levi tossed the papers onto his nightstand and turned to face Eren. "I feel like what I'm going to say will piss you off to no end."

 

Eyebrows etching, Eren said, "I doubt that. You know you can tell me anything."

 

Fighting inside, Levi started, "When Erwin was holding that knife... I saw something change in him. It was almost as if he wasn't aware of what he was doing, or where he was. I remember the first time he... went after me," he paused at the anger that whirled in Eren's eyes at the thought, but he kept going. "I'm not saying he shouldn't be held accountable, because he absolutely fucking should. I'm just wondering... if there is something deeper going on with him. That maybe there is..."

 

"...a mental issue? Like a personality disorder?" Eren finished.

 

"I know it's ridiculous," Levi said. "But, I have a feeling they'll try to pull that out of their asses in his defense. You have no idea how good it felt when I took that knife and drove it into his body. Really, I can't even begin to explain it. But..." Levi shifted his eyes away from Eren's. "I'm not like Erwin, and it also hurt me to do that. That's one of the reasons I never fought back, Eren. I didn't want to ever be like him, or set out to be what the worlds made my family out to be."

 

Instead of anger, Eren smiled sadly. He reached and ran a hand through Levi's hair. Levi closed his eyes and relaxed. "You thought telling me that would upset me? You're too much sometimes, I swear. How are you real?"

 

Opening his eyes, Levi blinked.

 

"It will be okay. Somehow, I just feel it. Either way, he's going to pay for what he's done to you. You're not a possession or a rag doll to be tossed around. You're allowed to be conflicted and be in your feelings about this. You were with Erwin for ten years, and you evidently loved him more than he deserved. I'm not going to get upset just because all of his is weighing heavy on your heart."

 

Shaking his head, Levi asked incredulously, "And you ask how I'm real? Fuck, what did I do to deserve you?"

 

"Oh God," both men heard from the door to Levi's room. Their heads turned in unison and saw Mikasa standing with her arms crossed. "Are you both being lovey-dovey again?"

 

"I see Jean is rubbing off on you," Eren grinned while detangling himself from Levi and hopping off the bed. "What's up kiddo? I know it's probably silly of me to ask, but did you finish that paper on--"

 

"I want to be there," Mikasa abruptly declared.

 

Levi and Eren blinked. "Be where?"

 

"The trial. I want to be there."

 

Eren bit his lip and regarded Levi. "Levi...?"

 

"I don't think that's a good idea. I don't know if it's good for a child your age to hear the things that are going to be said."

 

"A child my age?" Mikasa was outraged. "Did you forget who my father was?"

 

"How could I? I lived with the bastard too."

 

"So don't... you know..." Mikasa made wild hand gestures. "Try to protect me. I want to be there for you, too. Like you have been for me."

 

Levi felt affection swell in his chest, and Eren turned his head to hide his small smile. "I'll be in the kitchen, guys. Want anything special?"

 

"Lemon tea," Levi said, and Mikasa opted for some as well. Since his throat was still in the process of healing, lemon tea had become quite the favorite of his.

 

"Coming right up," Eren said and left the room. Once he was gone, Levi watched Mikasa place her hands on her hips. It was remarkable how much she had grown in just a few months, and it shined bright each day she was still with him.

 

"You don't owe me anything," Levi began.

 

"I never said I did. But, I want to be there. I just... it feels important to me. This is the final step for you, and then we have nothing but freedom ahead of us."

 

That affection burst and Levi sighed while holding his arms out. Mikasa was confused momentarily until Levi waved his hands. "Come here, you insufferable little brat."

 

Mikasa smiled earnestly and walked over to the bed and right into Levi's arms. He wrapped them around her and placed a kiss on the top of her head. "So is that a yes?"

 

"Yes, it's a yes. I swear you and Eren are going to be the death of me."

 

Mikasa hummed, chuckling under her breath. "You know that's a lie."

 

She was right, after all. The statement was hardly a comparison to the actual truth. Both of them had given him life when it was nearly drained from him, and he basked in it.


 A week had passed, and Levi stood in front of the full-length mirror in his room. He dressed in a suit and tie, attempting to look presentable. Eren had gone home for several different reasons, as he had been by Levi's side for weeks. He would be coming back over to take the four-hour drive with him and Mikasa. Eren had taken several days off from teaching and Mikasa had missed quite a bit of school because of this ordeal. He didn't know how to thank Eren for everything he had done for him, and after everything was said and done, he wondered where his and Eren's relationship would go to next. He had high hopes for their future, even if it tended to frighten him just a bit.

 

Walking to Mikasa's room, Levi knocked on the door before stepping in. She was dressed in casual but decent attire of a knee-length skirt and dress shirt. She turned to him and smiled softly. "Is this okay?" she asked.

 

"Just fine," Levi assured her. He looked thoughtful for a moment before asking, "Are you positive you want to come with us? Nanaba and Mike said they wouldn't mind keeping you over their house."

 

Mikasa gave him a flat look, and the older Ackerman sighed. "Fine, fine. I was just asking. No need for that look."

 

"Then don't ask silly questions," she countered, but she was smiling. She walked over to Levi and bumped him with her shoulder. "I want to be there for it. I want to see his face when they sentence him. Plus... I know it was brought up that they may have me as a witness."

 

"They might, but I'm hoping they don't. My testimony should be enough to put him away. Or..." Levi ran a hasty hand through his hair. "At least get him the fucking help he needs. It'll probably be the latter."

 

"I know this is hard because you loved him, but don't let that stop you from putting him where he belongs. He deserves to go to prison after what he did to you. Don't let him win."

 

Jaw set sternly, Levi met Mikasa's eyes with promise behind them. "I won't. You know I won't."

 

"Good. Oh..." Mikasa briefly turned her head when she heard the front door open. Both of them stepped out of her room and watched as Eren strolled inside the house. Levi had to admit he had never seen the man in anything other than his attires for teaching and his casual outfits. Watching Eren adjust his tie while straightening out his suit was... well, he looked incredibly attractive at the moment. His hair was slicked back with gel and tied into his usual bun. Even with styling gel, a few strands stuck out and covered Eren's forehead a bit. 

 

"I clean up good, huh?" Eren asked with a small smile. "It's my Dads... I'm not one for suits."

 

"I'm not either. I was lucky enough to get away with a more respectable set up at the bank. Plus, I was forced on too many occasions when I had to attend parties with Erwin."

 

Eren's lips twitched at the mention of Erwin's name, and Levi inwardly winced. "I'm sorry," he said quickly.

 

"Hey," Eren walked over to Levi and placed his lips against his forehead. Levi closed his eyes at the feeling of that warmth. "Remember what I said to you? That day in the hospital?"

 

Levi knew exactly what was said. "Not to apologize to you for anything?"

 

"Right. I meant it, you know."

 

Levi took Eren's words to heart and nodded his head. Eren pulled back and looked at him, and then Mikasa. "We ready? We'll make it right around one-thirty even if we have to stop for gas. I'm assuming we're taking your car?"

 

"I doubt that dusty truck will make it to Trost, no offense."

 

Smirking, Eren shrugged. "Fair enough. I've got to admit... It's been a while since I've left Shiganshina. I can't remember the last time I rode out to Trost."

 

"Probably not how you were expecting your next visit," Levi almost murmured the words as he searched for his keys. Mikasa had already stepped out onto the porch, and it gave Eren and Levi a moment alone. Eren heard Levi clearly, and he reached and took Levi into his arms. Levi met against Eren with a small oomph.

 

"It doesn't matter what I was expecting, there is absolutely no place else I'd rather be than here with you right now. I told you I'd help you in any way I can, Levi, and I meant that. Whenever you need me or whenever you need me, I'm here, okay?"

 

Levi pressed his face into Eren's chest and sighed softly. "I love you," he said into his shirt.

 

He could almost feel Eren's smile and the brunet wrapped his arms more firmly around the smaller man. "It's going to all work out Levi, I promise."

 

The last time those words were spoken, they were from Erwin's lips. But, hearing them from Eren... that promise made hope swelter in his chest and it ignited something fiery and tenacious inside of him. He pulled back and looked up at Eren with a smile of his own. "I know it will."


The drive to Trost was uneventful. Eren did take over the ride about halfway through when Levi felt his hands begin to shake and tremble. Although Levi had definitely managed to move forward as best he can, his panic attacks lingered no matter how much he fought against them. With an anxiety disorder already under his belt, post-traumatic stress was another diagnosis that was thrown at him. While he felt his mind was still sharp and able to withstand so much loss and trauma, he couldn't control what the events in his life had managed the create. 

 

It took one touch of Eren's hand and a soft and encouraging smile for Levi to realize he was okay, and that this was just another stepping stone to recovering.

 

Levi had never stepped foot inside of the courthouse of Trost before. It was respectively decorated with many silvers and stone, as many courthouses are. The structure was the largest he had seen in many months, and it overwhelmed him. The three of them found the courtroom assigned to Erwin's case, and with an unsteady breath, Levi pushed the doors open and stepped inside with Mikasa on his left and Eren on his right.

 

Most of the trial had proceeded without him, which Levi was grateful for. When they entered, there was a jury lined up and the seats were filled. Levi was surprised, as he didn't know many of the individuals that were seated. He kept his eyes forward to the front and witnessed the county sheriffs step around the room. The prosecutions stand was preparing their case and as Levi's eyes traveled, his heart almost rose into his throat. 

 

He was sitting right there. Right there. 

 

He had never seen orange on Erwin before, and he had to say, the color didn't suit him one bit. He was leaning and conversing with two different defense lawyers and he hadn't noticed Levi's presence yet. Levi couldn't seem to tear his eyes away and his stomach churned with the urge to vomit. He wanted to run. This was a terrible idea. He couldn't do this. He couldn't do this--

 

Warmth erupted in his palm, and Levi blinked down at Mikasa. She was holding his hand while smiling up at him. Afterward, Eren placed his hand on the small of Levi's back and guided him to their seats. As they walked through the courtroom, Erwin's eyes finally traveled upward and caught sight of Levi. Luckily, the shorter man finally managed to tear his gaze away before he truly caused himself a panic.

 

You can do this. He can't do anything to you again. Eren and Mikasa are here. 

 

Most of the room erupted into standing positions of the judge came out from the chambers of his office and into the courtroom. Levi, Eren, and Mikasa did the same before they were instructed to sit. It took everything in Levi's power to keep his eyes forward and away from Erwin. He could feel the others gaze on him. As they all took their seats, and just as the judge began to speak, the doors behind them opened. Every person's head turned in unison, and Levi's eyes widened in disbelief.

 

Hange, Mike, Nanaba, Petra, and Oluo all made their way inside as discreetly as they could, slipping right into the back of the courtroom. Eren smiled knowingly and Mikasa adjusted her scarf to hide her own. Levi met Hange's eyes, which spoke the words that he kept reminding himself each day. That's right, we're here, dummy.

 

"Let's begin," the judge drawled, sounding tired already even though they'd barely begun. "The case against Erwin Smith will proceed with its continuance. Is the defendant's plea still the same?"

 

Erwin's lawyer, a gangly sort of a man, nodded his head. "Yes, Your Honor. We are keeping the plea of not guilty."

 

Levi felt a surreal feeling sweep over him, and Eren held his hand tightly. Not guilty? Are they fucking serious?

 

"We believe genetics and upbringing play a large role in Mr. Smith's actions. We strongly believe with the proper treatment and supervision, he'll have proved he's not a threat to society or those around him. Erwin Smith holds a strong reputation with Legion's Construction and Design, and he's served his community well for many decades."

 

I knew it. They're throwing out the insanity card, aren't they? Shit...

 

The judge's eyes roamed over to the prosecution and asked, "Shall we proceed?"

 

"Absolutely, Your Honor." The prosecution only consisted of one person, but he had a confident aura around him. He sorted through several documents before raising his gaze again. "We'd like to present our witness."

 

Levi inhaled sharply and exhaled slowly. This was it. With another reassuring squeeze of Eren's hand, Levi stood up and made his way to the witness stand. He noticed a smaller woman typing near the podium, and he kept his eyes ahead as he took his seat. From this position, he could see every person in the room. His eyes roamed to the jury section, the middle, and then they finally found Erwin. The older man was wearing a blank expression, but his eyes held many emotions inside of them. 

 

Levi quickly turned away. 

 

Erwin's lawyer was the first to approach, and he seemed smug. Levi instantly knew he didn't like him. "Good afternoon. Would you kindly state your name for the record?"

 

Clearing his throat, Levi replied, "Levi Ackerman."

 

"Raise your right hand, please."

 

Levi did as he was instructed, and swore under oath. He had nothing to lie about.

 

"And how old are you, Mr. Ackerman?"

 

That's a stupid question. "Thirty-two."

 

"Very well. From what I understand, you've been involved with my client for over a decade?"

 

"I was," Levi stated. "Up until last October."

 

"Can you explain briefly to the jury what caused the rift between you and Mr. Smith?"

 

"In September, my uncle passed away. I wasn't aware he had a daughter. I was appointed as her guardian should anything happen to him in his will. I attempted to reach Erwin to discuss this, and he hung up on me. I couldn't leave my cousin there, so I signed the paperwork and took her home with me."

 

"What happened afterward?"

 

"Erwin was waiting for me when I came home. He noticed Mikasa and immediately became irritated by her being there. I made sure Mikasa was in a different room because I knew what was going to happen."

 

Levi felt a lump form in his throat, and his eyes fell to his lap. "Continue, Mr. Ackerman," the judge prompted to his right.

 

When Levi found his voice, he said, "He pushed me into the kitchen and pressed me up against the wall. He..." Levi raised a hand to his jawline. "He grabbed me here and made me look at him. We argued back and forth because he wanted me to get rid of my cousin. He started telling me how my toxic upbringing would hinder her from growing up. When I kept arguing with him, he smacked me across the face."

 

"I see," Erwin's lawyer nodded his head. Though he appeared understanding, Levi knew he was bluffing. "Did you happen to go to the authorities with this claim?"

 

"Objection," the prosecution exclaimed. 

 

"Overruled," the judge dismissed quickly. "You may answer the question."

 

This was the loophole, and Levi was adviced to be wary of it. "No."

 

"So, instead, from what I've seen in the testimony of my client, you decided to leave with your cousin without informing your partner of ten years where you were heading to?"

 

"That's right. I was told to figure something out, and I did. I took Mikasa and left."

 

"Why is it that with the number of years you've claimed your partner has abused you, you've never once reported it to the local authorities?"

 

Licking his lips, Levi's eyes met his. "Because I was ashamed."

 

"Or," the lawyer pointed a finger to the ceiling and turned to the jury. "Perhaps you used your cousin as an opportunity to leave your previous partner for your current one."

 

Levi's nostrils flared, and the prosecution lawyer stood swiftly. "Objection! That is pure speculation!"

 

"Sustained," the judge agreed. His eyes gazed down upon Erwin's lawyer. "I advise you change that statement into a question."

 

"Of course, Your Honor." Giving Levi a greasy smile, he continued, "I'll rephrase that. You say you were ashamed, yet you are currently with a new partner, aren't you?"

 

"I am, and he's sitting right over there." Levi proudly pointed his finger in Eren's direction, and the brunet smiled softly. "He is Mikasa's third-grade teacher, and we met by chance. I never left Erwin to pursue anybody. If you were to ask anyone we know, they'd tell you Eren, and I didn't begin seeing each other until December. I was still moving past Erwin's control over me."

 

"You say control, but I don't see evidence of that. You and Erwin had separate bank accounts. You had your own vehicles and jobs. The two of you were both on the deed to your apartment home. Can you please explain to the court what control Mr. Smith had over you?"

 

"He controlled me with abuse," Levi stated solidly. "He controlled me with my past. I don't care what that piece of paper says, that man went after me again and again. All the while, he would say it was for my own good. That I was someone that needed to be tamed."

 

"If that is the case, then why did you stay?"

 

That was the big question right there, wasn't it? "Because I loved him, and I didn't know what to do. If it wasn't for my cousin, I don't know when I would have realized what a toxic relationship Erwin and I had. If it weren't for her, I probably wouldn't be here now."

 

Many eyes burned as they gazed at Levi, and the man held his resolve. He had nothing to hide. The defense lawyer appeared flustered, and it gave Levi a strong sense of satisfaction. Good, he thought. I hope you fucking squirm. You thought you could talk circles around me.

 

"The defense rests," the lawyer said, and he turned to make his way back over next to Erwin. Unease crossed Erwin's features, and Levi never wavered. Once the prosecution came up to question him, Levi felt his shoulders relax from where they were previously wound from anxiety. There weren't very many questions that were asked, nor were there any more games. This lawyer was straightforward and very to the point. He knew Levi's testimony would put Erwin Smith away, and Levi was pushing himself to help them along the way. They went over the interactions in the town square. They went over every detail from the night of his attack. Every agonizing detail, even down to the private moments between him and Eren. They provided pictures of the scarring and wounds on Levi's neck, as well as the reports of the damage that had been done by Erwin's hands. Levi had to turn away when he felt the anger bubble in his chest.

 

"One last question, Mr. Ackerman..." A few moments or stillness, and then, "Can you point to the man that attacked you on the early morning of April twenty-first?"

 

Levi's hand rose on its own, and his index finger extended toward Erwin. "That man right there. Erwin Smith."

 

He stepped down from the witness stand shortly after, and a brief recess was called while the jury deliberated on what had transpired. Eren attempted to keep Levi calm, but Levi couldn't stop pacing around the foyer of the courthouse. His eyes were to the floor, and his blood was thrumming in his veins. What if I fucked up? He wondered to himself. What if they think I'm making all of this up to be with Eren? No... stop it. You've done nothing wrong. Erwin stalked you. He almost fucking kidnapped and killed you. Trust the prosecution to do their job.

 

It took forty minutes before the jury returned, and so once more they were sitting in the courtroom. Levi was grasping at Eren's hand, and Mikasa leaned into Levi to assure him she was there. Levi observed as a piece of paper was handed from one of the jurors over to the sheriff, and Levi suddenly realized his entire future was written down on the small piece of paper. His grip was hard enough to cause Eren's hand to crack, but the teacher didn't seem to care one bit. He instead rubbed his thumb soothingly over Levi's hand. The sheriff brought the slip of paper over to the judge, and the older gentleman asked, "Has the jury reached a verdict?"

 

"We have, Your Honor," the first person replied.

 

"On the charge of of assault and domestic battery?"

 

"We the jury find the defendant Erwin Smith..."

 

Levi's breath caught in his throat.

 

"Guilty, Your Honor."

 

"On the charges of attempted kidnapping and breaking and entering?"

 

"Guilty, Your Honor."

 

"On the charge of aggravated stalking?"

 

"Guilty, Your Honor."

 

"And..." The judge read over the last section. "On the charge of attempted murder?"

 

Levi closed his eyes, and his breath was still swimming in his chest.

 

"We the jury find the defendant, Erwin Smith..."

 

Seconds. Milli-seconds.

 

"Guilty."

 

Levi's eyes opened, and he exhaled.

 

"On behalf of the state, the court would like to thank the jury for their service. The defendant is to be held at Trost Correctional Facility until their sentencing. Court of adjourned."

 

Levi was helped up from his seat by Eren. Eren wrapped his arm around Levi's shoulders and leaned into his ear. "I told you it would work out. There's not a damn thing he can do to hurt you anymore. I'm so proud of you."

 

Levi couldn't explain what weight was lifted off his shoulders, yet, a strange feeling was also lingering inside of him. 

 

His eyes darted around the room, and they landed on Erwin as he was once again handcuffed and led away from one of the sheriffs. As he began to walk away, Erwin turned and met Levi's eyes dead on. The shorter man felt a jolt shoot straight through his spine, and he tilted his head as he watched Erwin mouth something that only he was able to see from across the room.

 

I'm sorry.

 

Levi wasn't sure whether he wanted to laugh or cry. Both seemed possible at this point. His eyes followed as Erwin was escorted out of the room, and Levi knew in his heart it was going to be the last time was ever going to see him again. He wouldn't visit him in prison. He wouldn't call him or ask about him. He would simply let Erwin reside where be belonged, which effectively was a prison. No matter how much anyone was to believe they knew the true nature of his and Erwin's relationship, Levi was the only one who carried that baggage and weight in his heart. A piece of him would always be with Erwin, even if it was a piece of him he wished to forget.

 

This was a new beginning for him, and he knew there was no turning back. He had made his choice and it all started with one little girl.

 

Eren lightly brushed his hand against Levi's cheek and asked, "You okay?"

 

Nodding, Levi's lips formed a thin line. "Yeah... I'm alright." He was, and the entire situation surrounding him felt unreal and foreign. "Let's get the hell out of here."

 

They met up with their friends in the foyer, and as Levi stepped out of the courtroom, he left his past behind and didn't look back. The door slammed behind them, and behind it, distant memories.

Chapter Text

"What are you thinking about?" Eren asked close to Levi's ear. Both men were situated in Levi's tub that night with the lights dim and the door slightly ajar. Levi's back was against Eren's chest, and the brunet was steadily tracing circles near Levi's heart. Mikasa was already asleep, which was surprising to the two of them. The day took its toll on every one of them. After the ruling at the courthouse, all of them drove back home and stayed over at Levi's for a few hours. They ordered takeout and discussed the events that had taken place. Thankfully, Levi's body language wasn't hard to read when it said he wanted to be alone. But, when Eren suggested he go home as well, Levi grabbed his arm and dragged him back inside.

 

Levi sighed and adjusted his position against Eren. "Everything. Nothing. I don't fucking know."

 

Eren hummed, reaching for a nearby washcloth and slowly rubbing it against Levi's chest. "I know today was hard. I can't imagine what you're feeling."

 

"A whole bunch of I don't know. You'd think I'd be jumping for joy right now seeing that prick where he belongs. I guess these last few weeks are finally catching up with me."

 

"You know that's completely normal, right? I don't think anyone in this world could make it out of what you did without some scars."

 

Levi gazed up thoughtfully to the ceiling at Eren's words. "Scars, huh?"

 

"Scars you should be proud of. We all have them. But... You just let me know if I'm too overbearing, alright? If you need space, I want you to tell me."

 

"I think space is the last thing I need right now," Levi admitted quietly. Eren stopped his ministrations and pulled Levi closer to his wet form. "I... don't think I should be alone right now. It'll be a perfect opportunity for me to overthink every single aspect of my life."

 

"Well..." Eren began, leaning so his chin was resting on Levi's shoulder. His hair tickled Levi's pale skin. "Maybe try something positive then. Like..." Thinking carefully, Eren asked, "Like... What's something you've always wanted to do, but never had the chance to?"

 

Levi's hand dragged against the surface of the water and his lips pursed. "You mean besides adopt my little cousin, work at a decrepit bar, and fall in love with a third-grade teacher?"

 

"Cheers to the last one."

 

Eren chuckled when Levi threw water back at him playfully, and Levi hid his small smile. "I'm... not sure. I'm done with office work. I don't think I have the wherewithal to travel the world. I need to stick around the make sure Mikasa is in a stable environment. As much as I hate to admit it, I like working at that shitty bar. It keeps my mind busy. But... as far a purpose in life goes... I've never given it thought. Being here is already something I never pictured, yet, here we are."

 

"Here we are," Eren echoed, kissing Levi's lithe shoulder. "It's not something I expected you to answer right away... but maybe now that you're being given some breathing room, it'll give you time to think of things you want out of life. You deserve everything and more, babe. I'm also not just saying that."

 

Levi hummed, and he reached behind to let Eren's wet strands of hair fall through his fingertips. "I know one thing I want..." he started.

 

"Hm?"

 

"You," Levi clarified, craning his neck so he could see Eren's face. Eren's eyes honed in on his face, and his lips parted. Pulling Eren to him, Levi's lips sought out his. Immediately, Levi's lips parted, and Eren didn't waste a moment letting his tongue delve into that sweet cavern. The water around them rippled slightly as Eren maneuvered Levi around, so he was now resting against his chest, their lower halves pressing together deliciously. The friction with the warm water had Levi groaning longingly against Eren's mouth.

 

"Shit," Eren gasped when they pulled apart. "I know we haven't since... well, that night. Are you sure--"

 

"If you ask me if I'm sure one more time, I'm going to drown you."

 

Eren let out a delighted giggle, and Levi felt his strong hand reach behind his head and drag him to his mouth again. Levi was laying flush against the taller man, and it felt so wondrous when Eren's arms wrapped around his wet body and dragged him impossibly closer. This closeness... this craving he had; Eren seemed to be the only person to satisfy it. It sent tendrils of need through his entire body. 

 

"Can't get enough of you," Eren panted against his mouth. His eyes opened, and they were glazed with want. He held Levi's gaze and brushed a damp hand against Levi's cheek. "I don't think we'll have enough room in here to do this."

 

"Oh, we'll have enough room." To prove his point, Levi began backing away from Eren. Eren nearly whimpered, but his mouth ran dry when Levi sat back on the opposite end of the tub. The raven's legs parted enticingly with an invitation, and Levi beckoned Eren closer with a finger. "See? Room. You'll fit right in. Pun intended. Now come here."

 

"Don't need to tell me twice," Eren said, sliding hastily over to the other side and melding his body against Levi's. Both men moaned as their lengths pressed together, and Eren was glancing around for anything he could use. "Dammit, do we have any--"

 

Levi produced a bottle of massage oil, and Eren's lips lifted in a sultry smirk. "Been planning this, have you?"

 

Shrugging his wet shoulders, Levi replied, "Possibly. I have no idea how that's going to work with us in the water though."

 

"We'll find out I guess. I've never had sex in a tub before. If it's uncomfortable, tell me." Before Levi could say anything, Eren quickly added, "I'm just saying. The water will probably wash the oil off my fingers. So... I guess as long as I get them in there--"

 

Levi huffed with impatience and began opening the bottle himself while pouring it onto Eren's wiggling fingers. The liquid made the tanned digits smooth and warm, and Eren moved quickly to slip his hand beneath the water and guided one finger inside of Levi's waiting entrance. The raven hissed slightly, and Eren almost withdrew his fingers. So Levi pushed against his hand and grounded out, "It's fine. It... went in easily."

 

Nodding his head, Eren began to set a natural rhythm. His finger moved without resistance and Levi was forcing himself to relax. The warmth of the water around him helped loosen his muscles both inside and out, and he leaned back further to give Eren more room. He found the scene before him incredibly erotic. Eren's body was slick and light cascaded down his muscles and the curves of his hips. His cock was hard and waiting; hanging between his legs and causing Levi to lick his lips. If he weren't in such a compromising position, he'd lean forward and take that delicious length into his mouth. Another time, he figured. They had plenty of time for so many things.

 

Eren added another digit, and it felt more uncomfortable than the first. After several moments though, the motions began to add more pleasure than discomfort. Eren scissored his fingers apart, and Levi's eyes fluttered closed while he leaned his head back against the tub. His lips parted, and his chest was rising and falling to the pace of Eren's fingers. When the brunet brushed against that one spot that made Levi's body nearly lunge forward, the young teacher smiled knowingly. He crooked his fingers just so, and Levi's toes curled, and he let out a strangled moan. 

 

Attempting to add another, Levi shook his head. "It's fine. Just... Please, I need..." Brushing against his prostate again, Levi's body arched and he tried to say again, "I need you, dammit. Please."

 

Eren's hand withdrew quickly at Levi's pleading tone, and he balanced himself with one hand bracing the edge of the tub. With Levi's help, he was guided into that sinful heat that had his eyes dancing to a close and his mouth parting in ecstasy. Levi bit his lip, and a flush spread from his cheeks all the way down to his chest. He adjusted his body to accommodate the lack of space, but he found it so incredibly erotic to share this intimate moment with Eren. 

 

Eren's thrusts started slowly at first. He was experimentally rolling his hips as the water around them rippled in lazy waves against the sides of the bathtub. Levi braced his hands on either side of him, keeping himself from slipping and drowning as the sensations of Eren's cock moving in and out of his body rendered him into a state of bliss. The water began to cool, but the heat of their bodies was enough to reflect the fire that was burning inside of their furious hearts.

 

Eren's hand reached for Levi's, and the smaller man grasped it and stuttered out a broken gasp as Eren began to increase the intensity of his movements. Levi was raising his hips to meet the others, and Eren's hair was starting to obscure his vision as several drops began cascading from the strands. Eren gritted his teeth and pushed as deeply as he could into Levi, and the raven cried out and arched a second time. This time, he almost slipped entirely.

 

"Hold... on..." Eren said through labored breaths. He pulled out of Levi, and the other man nearly whined at the loss. Reaching below to help Levi sit up, he adjusted the other man, so he was facing away from him rather than before him. Getting the idea rather quickly, Levi leaned forward and gripped the edge of the bathtub while lifting his hips and backside in the air. Eren's warm hands traced every inch of the tantalizing, pale flesh in front of him and a breath of astonishment left him as he slipped back inside. Levi's entire body stiffened in rapture as Eren began to drive back into him with a focused force. This position allowed Eren the freedom to move, and Levi felt each thrust with gratifying pleasure. He pushed back against the teacher and his voice nearly cracked at how much his tone had risen. Eren momentarily worried that perhaps Levi's voice was going to aggravate his throat, but the raven didn't seem affected by it. 

 

"God, Eren," he moaned loudly, pivoting his hips so that he was greedily swallowing Eren's length. Eren cried out, and he bowed over Levi and began to drag his lips between his pale shoulder blades. "F-Fuck! There! Right there!" 

 

"Ngh!" The very breath rushed out of Eren's lungs, and he began to pound into his lover with enough force to cause the water in the tub to pour over the sides. His hands gripped those stunning hips and thrust into Levi without abandon. The sounds of their slick skin meeting echoed in the bathroom, and if Levi were in his right mind, he would have worried about being heard. Instead, he marveled at the fullness of Eren's cock and the love that ruptured inside of him. 

 

Their first time together had been sensual and slow, and Levi would always have that memory burn bright. But this time... Eren was driven like a man starved, and Levi was the only thing that could satisfy that hunger. It was almost as if he was telling Levi he was afraid of losing him without words. His fingers dug into Levi's skin, and his mouth soon lifted to his shoulders, and his teeth dragged. Levi shuddered in pure pleasure, and he ground his ass against Eren's length. Eren's teeth sank into him, and his hips progressed to the point where Levi was sure there would be bruises on both of them. 

 

Feeling bold, and driven by a force he didn't understand, Levi pushed until his back was against Eren's chest a second time. He continued to roll his hips, and Eren gasped an explicit and growled under his breath. Levi realized he loved the sound of Eren slowly losing control, and he milked that for everything it was worth. He reached back and buried one of his hands into Eren's silky hair while the other roamed over his chest, brushing his own nipples, and then taking his aching cock into his hand. Eren's held one arm around Levi's middle and the other accompanied Levi's; both of them pumping the hard column of flesh between their fingers.

 

While Eren had given him full control the first time, it felt so good for Eren to take the reigns this time. Levi felt like he was drowning without water in the most delightful way. His mind was as blank as a sheet of paper, and he practically sobbed as Eren's brutal pace began to cause that familiar tightening sensation to lick its way from his stomach and down to his groin. His toes curled, his eyes fluttered to a close, and his mouth parted as his release abruptly tore through him and coated both of their hands.

 

Eren tore his mouth away and gazed down as he thrust into Levi a few more times, his entire being engulfed with desire. His breathing was unsteady, and he couldn't have pulled Levi close enough as he cried out in a strangled voice. He released into Levi's waiting body, and the raven sagged against the edge of the tub while attempting to catch his breath. Eren waited several minutes before pulling out of his lover and resting his forehead against his back. He placed several opened mouthed kisses along the damp skin and sighed softly in contentment.

 

"Is your throat okay?" Eren had to ask.

 

"Mmm..." Levi rumbled, still trying to catch his breath. His body was completely lax. "It's... fine. Scratchy."

 

"I really like your tub," Eren blurted, and Levi's shoulders shook as he tried to contain his laughter.

 

"Yeah? I'm glad I invested and got myself a bigger one. It'll prove useful in the future."

 

Eren hummed, not bothering to move. His eyes were closed, and he listened to the sound of Levi's breathing. "I... love you so much."

 

Levi lifted his head, and Eren leaned and placed a chaste kiss against those delectable lips. With a goofy grin on his face, Eren asked, "I guess we defeated the purpose of getting cleaned?"

 

"We did. So, we're going to shower this time." As Levi said this, Eren beamed. "Alone."

 

"Ruining my fun, huh?" Eren asked. Levi rolled his eyes, but the two of them did not attempt to move. 

 

"Always," Levi said, and though it was meant to be playful, his tone suggested something deeper. 

 

Eren's eyes were bright and warm, and he placed his forehead against Levi's back again. "Always," he agreed.


Before Levi could blink, summer was upon them. He, Eren, and Mikasa were bustling around the house that morning while packing beach bags and coolers. It was the perfect day to visit Lake Shiganshina, which was the busiest area in town. Tourists and locals alike spent most of their summer there. Levi could remember a time where as a child he'd be there almost every day with his mother. As he became older, he'd sneak off as a teenager and just sit on the shore. It was his only moment of clarity while dealing with Kenny.

 

Mikasa was officially out of Eren's classroom, and while that thought had Levi a bit worried, Eren assured him that she would end up in a good class next year. 

 

"She'll probably have Armin next year," Eren said. "He's just as good with kids like me, if not better. He says I'm too lenient."

 

Levi's response was a snort and a fond roll of his eyes.

 

While dragging out the large cooler from the kitchen, Levi glanced up at his boyfriend. Eren stepped inside from the porch, and Levi felt his mouth go dry. He was wearing a tank top that clung greedily to his defined chest with a pair of swim trunks. The brunet let out a breathless sigh and reached for his shirt, lifting it up to wipe the beads of sweat from his forehead. Shiganshina during the summer was brutal and humid, which is why most of the town ventured to the lake for refuge.

 

Levi would have found the sight before him a little disgusting if it were anyone else, but his slate eyes lingered a few seconds too long on Eren's toned stomach and chest. When Eren brought his shirt back down, he caught Levi's gaze and grinned knowingly.

 

"Shut up," Levi snapped before Eren could say anything. Eren's eyes smoldered with both amusement and desire.

 

"What, I can't appreciate the way you're looking at me right now? If Mikasa weren't here right now, I'd--"

 

"I AM here right now!" Mikasa cut in abruptly as she walked into the living room. She had a small bag hanging off of her shoulder and her cell phone in hand. "Seriously. You've both been making goo-goo eyes at each other all morning."

 

"With good reason. This is the first time I've seen you in a swimsuit."

 

Levi blinked and glanced down at himself. He didn't look too different from Eren; sporting a pair of dark trunks and a matching tank top. It wasn't typical of Levi to wear something like this, but given the weather, it was either that or die of a heat stroke. His pale skin was a dark comparison to his ensemble. Levi felt his face flush slightly at the way Eren's eyes were locking in on his form.

 

"Ugh! You two are ridiculous," Mikasa whined. "Is everything already packed? I'm going to call Isabel and Farlan now."

 

"I've got most of the stuff in the truck already," Eren replied and walked over to grab what was in Levi's hands. The raven made a face but allowed Eren to grab the cooler. "Armin and Jean are going to meet us there around one, and I already know Hange will be there when we get there."

 

"Of course they will. Even if you don't invite them, they still show up." Levi looked over at Mikasa, who was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. Beneath it, she was wearing a purple one piece. "Isabel and Farlan's parents know Hange is picking them up, right? I don't want any mix-ups here."

 

Mikasa nodded without taking her eyes off her phone. "They know. I..." Biting her lip, Mikasa added, "Annie and her dad might come, too. Reiner and Bertolt are away for the summer, so she's alone."

 

"You two have been talking quite a bit," Levi observed, his lips lifting slowly. 

 

Mikasa looked up with some pink dusting her cheeks. "N-No more than usual. Um..." She grabbed her bags quickly. "I'll meet you both outside," she said hurriedly, practically running out the door.

 

As soon as she was out of sight, Eren crossed his arms. "Smooth."

 

"It's a fact. I know when I was around her age, that's when I started noticing that I was attracted to the same sex."

 

"It took me a little longer..." Eren admitted. "I think I was fifteen. Plus, with everything that happened in college..." The young teacher rubbed the back of his neck. "It's too soon to tell with Mikasa, but maybe it's time to... you know... have the talk."

 

"I was sort of hoping Petra of Nanaba would take that off of my hands," Levi muttered as he walked beside Eren and out the front door. The sun blazed even with the cover of the awning on the porch. "I feel like that's asking too much though. Mikasa might get embarrassed."

 

"You could always ask Hange," Eren said in a sing-song voice.

 

Levi shot Eren a horrified look after locking the front door, and the brunet almost doubled over in laughter. 

 

"I would sooner shove my hand down a garbage disposal. Could you fucking imagine?"

 

Wiping small tears of mirth from his eyes, Eren let out a few unrestrained giggles. "I can totally imagine, which is sort of bad in my case."

 

Scoffing, Levi reached and lightly flicked Eren across the forehead. Eren's smile never wavered, and he nuzzled Levi's hand. The older man chuckled before the two of them met Mikasa by the car. 


Lake Shiganshina was packed, which didn't surprise Levi in the least. They stepped out of Eren's truck and carried their bags and coolers down to the shore. The sounds of excited chatter, music playing from smartphones, and children screaming and laughing surrounded them all. The trees that surrounded the lake offered sanctuary from the beaming sun above, and there was plenty of concession stands offering drinks, food, and treats. Levi felt a massive wave of nostalgia hit him all at once.

 

Mikasa appeared so excited that she was practically bouncing on the heels of her feet. The three of them made their way down to the shore and attempted to scout of their friends. Eren was the first to spot Hange, who was jumping up and down while waving their hands. "Over here!"

 

They were wearing a respectable one-piece maroon suit and a pair of summer shorts. Next to them was Isabel and Farlan, who were preparing their goggles and swimming gear. Petra and Oluo were lathering their children up with sunscreen and Dominique, and Nora both jumped excitedly upon Mikasa's arrival. Mikasa ran over, and Levi chuckled fondly while Eren waved in hearty greeting. "Hey, guys!"

 

"Hi, Mr. Yeager!" the children all said in unison, and the young teacher chuckled. 

 

"Schools out, remember? Eren is fine."

 

Petra gave Eren and Levi small hugs, and Oluo patted them on the back. "So, when are Mike and Nanaba going to be here?"

 

"Any minute now," Hange said. "Jean and Armin are getting lunch first before coming through."

 

They all worked to set up the piece of the shore. Levi packed enough equipment for a small camping trip, and Eren laughed in amusement at the amount of effort he put into keeping the sun off of his already pale skin. "You don't understand," Levi tried to explain. "I burn, Eren. Ask any one of these goons."

 

"It's true," Petra assented. "I remember one summer back in high school, we all came out here for an annual bonfire. He was only in the sun for an hour, and I mean only an hour, and he looked like a lobster the next day."

 

"I felt like one too. Right before it gets put into a boiling pot of water," Levi shivered at the memory while reaching into his bag to find sunscreen. "Brat, get over here and make sure you've got this on you."

 

Mikasa sighed unwillingly, but trekked over and applied a hefty amount of lotion onto her own pale skin. She lifted her arms and asked, "Satisfied?"

 

"Very," Levi nodded. "Go. Stay where we can all see you."

 

The children scattered and ran out into the water. The adults dug into the coolers and pulled out a few sodas and beers. Levi offered a beer to Eren, Oluo, and Hange. As he handed one to Petra, the petite woman declined with a small smile. "No thanks."

 

Levi arched a brow. "You love beer. Since when?"

 

"Ah... about a week ago, actually," she said, a faint blush dusting her cheeks. Her hands rested against her abdomen instinctively, and Eren's lips broke out into a knowing smile.

 

"What? Congratulations, you two!"

 

"Holy shit, are you serious?" Levi asked, taken aback. Oluo rubbed the back of his neck, and Petra giggled quietly. "When were you going to tell us?"

 

"Today, I promise. But you all beat us to it. I'm only seven weeks."

 

"You're pregnant?" A voice exclaimed, and everyone turned around to see Mike and Nanaba making their way over to their spot. Nanaba was carrying their little boy, who was named Mike Jr. in honor of his family name. He was only a few months old now and wearing an adorable hat and swimsuit that would have made anyone melt on the spot. The infant was gazing around with curious eyes, and Nanaba's face was lit up. "Goodness, there must be something in the water. Half the town is expecting!"

 

"You're going to have your hands full," Mike gave Oluo a sympathetic pat on the back. "Let's hope it's a boy this time."

 

"Dear God, I hope so," Oluo agreed. "I love my girls so much, but three of them?"

 

"The horror," Levi and Hange wiggled their fingers at Oluo while speaking in a dreary voice. Petra slapped Levi lightly on the arm, and he smirked.

 

The hours passed swimmingly, and the day was filled with laughter and relaxation. The children kept themselves busy in the water while the adults remained within a watchful distance. Annie and her father arrived, which Levi formally introduced himself. The young girl was as quiet as Mikasa, and the aura around her was just as intense. It was no wonder the two of them had become close. Annie's father was mild-mannered, but he spoke with Oluo and Mike for a majority of the time he was there. Armin and Jean came around one o'clock, and as their small group began to grow, Levi felt something warm inside his chest.

 

His thoughts were interrupted when Eren placed slicked hands on his back, and Levi nearly jumped. "The hell?"

 

"You're starting to get red back here, even with the umbrella," Eren said. "Stay still. Let me get your back."

 

With a small chorus of coos, Levi shot everyone a deadly glare. Eren's hands worked his back soothingly, and he sighed in contentment. If his days ahead were to be spent like this, he could honestly say nothing would have made him happier. His and Eren's friends had merged, and Mikasa had grown into quite the famous young lady in their small town. Levi's lips ghosted with a small smile without him even realizing it.

 

"You're smiling," Eren observed, but said it lowly for only the two of them to hear. 

 

Levi hummed in agreement, and he leaned forward to wrap his arms around his knees. "I am. This is... nice."

 

Eren understood, and he leaned to place a light kiss on Levi's neck. "I told you everything would work out, right? It'll only get better from here."

 

"Time to cool off," Jean said while stretching his arms. He gave Eren a small grin. "Want to race, Yeager? Winner buys the next round of drinks at The Brigade."

 

"Oh, you're on," Eren said while fluidly standing up. He ripped his shirt off and tossed it aside, giving Levi a delicious view. He glanced down at Levi. "I'll be right back."

 

With a wave of his hand, Levi said, "Don't let us stop you, please. Maybe I'll give a round of free drinks to the winner."

 

"Oh, hell yes!" Jean cheered. "Come on, let's go!"

 

The two of them raced down the shore, and Armin shook his head with a small laugh. "Those two have been like this since we were kids, I swear. Some things don't change."

 

Thoughtfully, Levi murmured, "Some things do change, too."

 

Mikasa spent a large portion of her time racing with her friends, but Levi could see her and Annie spend several bits of that time alone. He tilted his head and observed the way Mikasa would brush strands of her hair behind her ears in masked embarrassment or the way she'd look down and smile at the sand of the shore. Levi could remember those feelings when he was younger, and he knew how confusing they could be. So when Mikasa came up to dry off and get a drink to quench her thirst, Levi stood up and said, "Want to go for a walk?"

 

Mikasa took a few sips of her soda but nodded her head. "Okay."

 

The sun was at it's highest, and it beat down onto the two Ackerman's as they walked along the water. Eren caught a glance and smiled before returning to his activities with racing Jean. 

 

"It's gorgeous here," Mikasa said idly, her eyes cast toward the lake. "We didn't have this in Sina. We had a few city pools, but that was it."

 

"Trost didn't have anything like this either," Levi agreed, but he kept his mind on the words he wanted to talk about. "So... you and Annie?"

 

"Um..." Mikasa brushed her hair back again. "I... I mean, she's really nice to me..."

 

"She seems like a nice girl. I can see why you enjoying hanging out with her. But..." Levi glanced up to the sky while he was walking. "I see the way you look at her... and you don't look at Isabel or Farlan that way."

 

"I, um," Mikasa was getting flustered. "I don't know what I'm feeling. Is this normal?"

 

"Is what normal?"

 

"To like other girls?"

 

Levi stopped walking. "Of course it is. You're still so young... but I know I was your age when I started getting those confusing feelings. It wasn't really until I got older that I was able to confirm them."

 

Mikasa halted as well. "Did... Did you um..." 

 

"Act on them? Not for a very long time."

 

Mikasa looked like she wanted to run, and Levi ruffled her hair. "Look, I'm not doing this to upset you. I'm shit with words, and you know that. I just want you to know that no matter what you go through, you can talk to me about it. Anything. It doesn't matter. Because chances are I've probably been through it myself."

 

Mikasa smiled bashfully, but she nodded her head and smiled up at Levi. "I'll remember, I promise."

 

"Good," he said, gazing back out to the water. 

 

"Can I ask one thing...?"

 

"Go for it." 

 

"How do you know when you're... you know..." She pursed her lips. "That you're in love?" 

 

Levi's eyes never left the water as it wafted lazily onto the shore, and when his eyes found Eren again, his lips lifted. "You just do." 

 

Mikasa didn't look satisfied with his answer, but she had an idea what he meant. Levi snapped out of his daze and nudged his cousin. "Let's get in the water. I think another hour here, and we'll be ready to pack up and leave. We'll all be burnt to a crisp if we stay any longer than that."

 

Giggling lightly, Mikasa reached for Levi's hand. Levi grasped it with his own, and the two of them ran out into the wondrous blue of the lake.


Levi had showered and was settling to fix himself a pot of tea and lounge on the couch until Eren came back. He went over to his parent's house to help them with a few things around the house while they were out of down. His father was called out to Sina, which was something Eren mentioned was a frequent occurrence with Grisha's career. Mikasa was spending the night at Isabel's after much begging from their end, and Levi couldn't help but indulge.

 

 It had been a while since Levi stood in his empty house, and he realized that as the months passed, it didn't cause him nearly as much anxiety or panic as it did in the past. Gripping his hot mug in hand, Levi padded through to the living room and made to sit down. The day at the lake had worn him out considerably, and he was ready to snooze his night away. As soon as he did, his cell phone began to chirp, and he sighed while reaching for it on the coffee table.

 

"Hello?"

 

"Hey, it's me," Eren spoke through the other end, his voice a little breathless.

 

"Everything alright?" Levi asked, concerned. 

 

"Um..." Eren began. "Not really? I hate doing this because I know you're tired, but do you think you can come here and pick me up? My truck broke down by the pond."

 

Frowning, Levi asked, "What were you doing all the way out there? I thought you were putting things inside for your parents before the rain came through?"

 

"I was, but I felt like sitting down there for a little while. But... I drove my truck down there, and now it won't start."

 

Eren's tone was sheepish, and Levi sighed. "You're going to have to part with that piece of crap. I know you love it, but it's been breaking down way too much on you lately." As Levi spoke, he was already standing up and searching for his keys. He was settled in his pajama pants and a short sleeve shirt, but if it was just to pick Eren up, he didn't feel the need to change. "I'm going to have to get some gas, but I'll be there soon."

 

"I know, I know. I'm really sorry. I hate making you drive out here."

 

"Babe," Levi started, and Eren gasped on the other end. "It's fine. I don't mind. We'll leave your truck there until morning and worry about it then. Right now, I just want to cuddle the shit out of you on the couch."

 

"Absolutely, and... that's the first time you've ever called me that."

 

"Was it weird? It felt weird. Pet names aren't my thing."

 

"Not weird... just unexpected. I like it."

 

"Noted. Alright, stay where you are, I'm on my way."

 

Hanging up the phone with a snort, Levi left the house and began heading toward Grisha and Carla's home. Glancing at the clock, Levi realized it was already nine. Hopefully, this was a quick pick up, and he could go back to being a lazy bum with Eren by his side this time. Levi drove down the winding, barren roads and found the first gas station he could. He stepped out and decided to just pay at the pump. He slipped his card into the machine and reached for the nozzle, pressing it inside and letting the gas flow into his tank. He leaned against his car idly and drifted in and out of thought before they were interrupted. 

 

The sound of a man and woman screaming echoed through the night and Levi turned to see a young couple sitting a few pumps away, arguing quite visibly. The woman appeared to be crying and holding her hands against her face. Levi couldn't quite make it out in the dark, but as he squinted his eyes, he could see an visible red mark on her cheek. Levi felt a pang right through his heart, and he leaned further over his car to observe. It appeared the man was doing to most screaming, and the woman just shook her head and held her hands in place. As the man reached and yanked a hand away, Levi felt a familiar wave of urgency shoot through him. His stomach clenched into knots and his breathing became erratic. He didn't know the circumstances or really care, the abuse was evident and clear as the day at the lake.

 

Reaching for his phone, Levi decided to call the local authorities. But, as soon as he held his phone, the store clerk came running outside. He was an older gentleman and one that Levi recognized as the gas stations owner of many years. He was holding a shotgun in one hand and waving it in warning as he slammed a fist against the glass of the car. Both occupants jumped, and the woman looked almost relieved. Slowly, Levi slipped his phone back into his pocket and continued to watch. Levi's stomach tightened further when he heard the familiar words flow from the woman's mouth.

 

"Everything's fine," she said breathlessly. "We're just overworked and tired. Couples argue, right?"

 

Feeling sick, Levi glanced down when he realized his shoe was beginning to feel damp. Gasoline poured from the tank of his car and onto the ground. He hissed and retrieved the nozzle and placed it back on its holder. He shook his foot a few times and scowled when he realized the scent of gasoline wouldn't leave him anytime soon. Deciding he needed to leave before he was thrown into another state of panic, Levi put the cap back on his tank and slipped into his car, driving off as quickly as he was able.


Levi drove and parked in the driveway, deciding to walk the rest of the way down to the pond. His mind wouldn't stop racing, and his chest felt unbearably tight from what he had witnessed only fifteen minutes ago. His pace was quick and dire, and he just needed to be near Eren before he fell into a full blown attack. He cursed himself for it. It had been weeks since he had felt like this, and all it took was one small scene to trigger him right back to where he was. Why did she stay, he wanted to ask. He laughed inwardly and knew the answer. Because she probably loves him, he thought acidly. And she probably thinks she can't get away or do better. I was there before. I know that feeling. It's humiliating and it almost killed me. 

 

I don't want to see anyone else experience what I did. I just fucking can't.

 

Levi must have been walking at a pressing pace because Eren's red truck came into view with the brunet sitting on the bed of it. At the sound of Levi's footsteps mixing with the treefrogs in the field, Eren turned with an apologetic smile. "Hey. I'm sorry again, I feel so bad--" His words cut off abruptly as soon as he caught sight of Levi's distraught face. "Levi? Hey, what's wrong?"

 

Levi didn't answer him, instead, he climbed into the bed of the truck with Eren and reached for him. Eren's arms wound around him and Levi buried his face into his shirt. "Levi..." he murmured again quietly, feeling Levi's entire body quake against him. His arms tightened and his hands rubbed soothing circles on his back. "Shh, it's okay. I've got you. It's okay."

 

"Fuck," Levi gasped, his fingers tingling and his heart racing. "Dammit," he cursed again.

 

The two of them were silent for several minutes and the sounds of the wildlife around them drowned out the fierce noise of Levi's blood pounding in his ears. Soon, his heart began to slow and his body stopped spasming. Eren buried his face into Levi's hair and allowed him to ride out the rest of his attack. Eren had become accustomed to them, and he knew now what to do to calm the smaller man. Eren felt blessed that Levi trusted him to help him, but cursed that he had to witness them. Once Levi's body relaxed, Eren pulled back an inch and asked, "What happened? What brought this on, and why do you smell like gas?"

 

"You asked me what I wanted to do with my life," Levi began, his voice meek and shallow. "A few months ago. Do you remember?"

 

"I do," Eren nodded, unsure of where Levi was headed with this.

 

"I..." Levi licked his lips and finally drew back enough for Eren to see his face. It was marred with strife. "I think I've figured it out. Just a few minutes ago."

 

"I don't understand. What does this have to do with your panic attack just now?"

 

"It has everything to do with it," Levi said. His eyes searched Eren's desperately. "I went to get gas, and I saw... I saw this couple in their car. They were going back and forth, and I could see the marks on this woman's face..." Levi lifted his own hand and gingerly touched his neck in the exact place he knew a scar continued to linger. "I didn't expect it to throw me back like this, but it did. Not because of memories alone, but because I understood. I understood why she told the store clerk she was fine and that everything was okay."

 

Eren let Levi continued, even if his heart couldn't bear what he was hearing. "It was like watching myself, and all I kept thinking was why are you still here? Get away from him! Fight back!"

 

Levi's voice rose at a ferocious level, and it echoed through the forest. "I don't want to see anyone suffer the way that I did. I can't Eren."

 

"I know," Eren nodded, reaching to wipe below Levi's eyes. The older man hadn't even realized he was on the verge of tears, and it made him so damn angry and bitter. "I know, babe. So... what do you want to do about it? What's going on in your mind right now? Talk to me."

 

"I want to help those who can't help themselves," Levi said finally. "I want to let them know they aren't alone, and that they can fight back."

 

"Like a therapist? Or a counselor?"

 

"No," Levi shook his head, and despite everything, he laughed. "I would make a shit therapist, and we both know it."

 

"So...?" Eren's brows pressed together. 

 

Levi's eyes were wide when he said, "I want to help victims learn to fight back. I want to help others learn, so they never have to go through what I did. If I had that sort of knowledge, I might have never ended up almost dying by Erwin's hands."

 

"But, you didn't!"

 

"Because of you," Levi responded, reaching and brushing some of Eren's hair from his face. "I was fortunate that you found me. As you said, if you hadn't, I'd be dead right now. Not everyone has that sort of support. Before I came here, I was completely alone."

 

Eren understood immediately, and his lips nearly quivered at the memory. "You're right... I know where you're going with this. You want to be able to fight your own battles, and help others do the same."

 

"Exactly," Levi nodded fervently. "I think... once I gain that control and share it... It'll help me finally reel in this anxiety and fix the core of my issues. Even with Erwin in prison, there is still triggers out there for me, and I want to disarm them for good."

 

"Then I'm with you," Eren wrapped Levi back into his arms and brought him close. "Whatever you need to achieve this, whatever means are necessary... I'm with you one hundred percent."

 

Levi smiled against Eren's neck and placed a light kiss against the tanned skin of it. "Thank you."

 

"Always, remember?"

 

Levi hummed and grasped Eren's shirt more tightly between his fingers. "Always," he echoed.

 

"Do you want to head back? It's getting late... I know you're probably really ready to call it a night now. I can drive."

 

Levi shook his head and made no attempt to move. "Let's stay out here a little longer."

 

Shifting so they were laying down in the bed of the truck, Levi scooted as close as he could to Eren's warmth. The brunet wrapped his arms around Levi and kissed him breathlessly while basking in the glow of the stars above. Those moments of panic melted and were replaced with heady tendrils of peace and serenity. This place would always hold such a fond position in his heart, as it was where the two of them shared their first kiss. Now, Eren was kissing him with all the assurance and hope that he could muster, and Levi drank it in.

 

"I love you so much," Levi whispered, caressing Eren's face. Fierce, emerald eyes met pale and stunning steel. "If I knew this is where all of my suffering would have led me, I would do it all over again. It brought me right to you, and I'll always be grateful for that. You fucking crawled your way right into my heart, and I just hope you stay there."

 

Eren's smile was blinding, and he captured Levi's lips once more. "I'll always be there," Eren assured him in between each kiss. "I'll never leave."

 

Levi's smile matched Eren's, and he brought the other man back to him again. The two of them lingered there for several hours with nothing but the bright night sky stretched above them. At that moment, Eren felt like home, and it was precisely the place he had always been searching for.

 

Chapter Text

Sweat poured from his brow, and his heart was pumping in time with the movements of his feet. He bounced on the soles of them while moving fluidly, and if an outsider were to gaze upon him, it would almost look as though he was dancing. In a frenzy of hurried movements, he quickly reached and took hold of the form in front of him while bracing his feet solidly against the mat below. With all of the strength he could muster, he threw the body down onto the mat with a heavy grunt. 

 

"Garret, what was that? If I were any other person, your neck would be snapped in half right now," he chided, shaking his head while placing a hand on his hip. A few people inside the gym chuckled, and Levi was quick to snap his head up. "What the hell are you laughing at, Dustin? I nearly threw your ass across the room just a few minutes ago. Are any of you registering the information I'm trying to show you?"

 

Levi huffed with impatience, but he was silently more accepting than he let on. His eyes scanned and found one of his most observant students. "Elena, come here for a second."

 

The young woman was in her twenties with a reasonably small build. She had long, blond hair and green eyes that reminded Levi of Eren. What stood out most about her, though, was the scar that reached from the top of her forehead and down to the right side of her cheek. She had confided in Levi when telling him she was in an abusive marriage for three years, and he couldn't help but offer her the self-defense class for free. Slowly but surely, she started from being as frail as a baby buck to nearly dominating every single man inside of the gym.

 

"Garret, stand on the opposite side."

 

Garret was a brute, simple as that. He possessed some sound qualities about him. His reason for taking Levi's class was to better himself should the need arise. 

 

"Garret, I want you to attack Elena the way you tried attacking me. Let me see your form."

 

Levi felt pride swell inside of him as he watched Elena take on a defensive position, Garret rolling his shoulders with a small roll of his eyes. He pressed his feet against the mat and made a wild dash toward the young woman. Elena was small, sure, but she was fast. She pivoted her body to the side and outstretched her arms, successfully wrapping them around her assailant's neck and therefore trapping him with her strength. She summoned the strength burning inside of her and threw Garret to the floor with a loud smack against the mats below. Levi whistled, nodding his head with a small smirk.

 

"Good job. That is the type of form I want to see. You're strong, but your movements are sloppy and half-assed. Put yourselves in a position where you're forced to rely on this information. Your body responds differently when it's under a threat or stress. Your fight or flight kicks in, and most of the time, your first response is to run. You need to be able to channel that surge of adrenaline in case you cannot run. You need to be able to focus on where that strength counts."

 

It took Levi almost six months to understand the meaning behind those words, and with it came the knowledge that he was able to overcome anything.

 

Shortly after his confession to Eren, Levi took the initiative to actively seek out someone to help him learn the mechanics of self-defense. Eren's father, Grisha, had been the one to lead him in the right direction. A family friend going by the name of Keith Shadis had listened intently to Levi's story. He had heard of the young man through the news and story that quickly spread like wildfire through their small town. Levi had been somewhat skeptical, but the look in the man's eyes seemed promising to him. He held deep regret, just as Levi did. It was something they mutually shared. He accepted Levi as one of his students and began to process of showing him where true strength lied.

 

Levi was doubtful in his own abilities, but he was driven by a force that even Keith was fearful of. The look in Levi's eyes each time he failed didn't diminish, and he continued to prove his worth and discipline every day. It took nearly six months. Keith was able to show him how to strengthen his body while simultaneously using his mind as a focus to deliver powerful movements. Levi would always be grateful for Eren the day Erwin had nearly taken his life, but Eren couldn't be the one to fight his battles for him every time. It was the same case and point for so many others in the world who suffered abuse. Levi's heart burned with the desire to help others so that they'd never end up in the position he was in only one year prior. Each day, his strength grew. His body filled out, and his advances became precise. His core was worked, his mind was sharpened and aware, and his less than stellar attempts to maneuver a physical attack began to change. He felt weightless.

 

It was as if something had suddenly ignited inside of him. A surge of power that nearly knocked him on his feet. Like the cracking of a whip, Levi's past self was left behind and replaced with a man who knew exactly what he wanted and would do anything to obtain it. A man who would do anything to protect the ones he loved, just as they had done for him so many months ago. 

 

Keith had been the first one he was able to take down, and the rest was history. With the man pinned beneath him on one of the many mats in his gym, he smirked dryly and offered Levi a position at his establishment. Levi was taken aback, but brought the man up with an extended hand and accepted. 

 

Pixis had passed on a few months after his sudden realization, and the small town mourned his loss. While he may have been a drunken loon, he was a valued member of their small community, and he had a heart of gold. If it hadn't been for him, Levi might not have been where he was today. What surprised him more was when he was told that he was included in the man's will alongside Anka. Both of them were astounded, but Levi figured quickly that Pixis did not have a wife nor did he have any children to carry on his legacy. They accepted, and they worked together to maintain the properties and manage the bar. Luckily, many continued their patronage, and the bar was able to stay afloat. Levi was still able to say that he enjoyed working there, and it was easily one of his favorite places to be when his mind would race.

 

Between his sessions at the gym and his usual shifts at the bar, Levi kept plenty busy. Eren continued to teach, which didn't surprise him of course. The man still had a fiery passion for extending his knowledge to children, just as Levi had a burning inclination to spread his experiences with others so that they could learn and grow with him. 

 

It took a lot of effort. It took dedication and rigorous work. Eren and Mikasa were by his side through it all. His friends supported him in ways he couldn't explain. In the end, Levi knew he wasn't the same man who had run away from Trost with a little girl by his side almost two years ago. He was stronger. He was wiser. He was content, and he was loved. If that didn't make his heart swell inside of his chest, he didn't know what did. His panic attacks disappeared receded once he began training his body and mind to accept the things he couldn't change. He embraced the panic rather than fighting it when it did happen. Once he had done that and worked with his therapist, he found that the attacks began to vanish. It wasn't a miracle cure, but it was a damn good start. 

 

Snapping out of his thoughts, Levi called out, "Alright, that's it for today. Make sure you put any equipment back and get yourselves cleaned up."

 

People scurried and did as they were instructed, and Levi sighed softly while pulling out his phone. It was nearing six o'clock, and he wasn't working at the bar that night. He was looking forward to coming home to Eren and Mikasa while relaxing. It didn't take long for Levi to propose Eren to move in with him, even if the brunet was hesitant about it. He didn't want to invade Levi's personal space while he was still healing, but Levi assured him that that was the last thing he'd be doing. So, with a gracious smile, Eren had accepted. Levi was sure Mikasa was more excited than he was, which made his heart melt.

 

He dialed Mikasa first, wanting to check in with her. It was nearing the beginning of March, and it was still quite cold outside. The local news had called for a winter storm to come through that night, so he wanted to make sure they were prepared. The last time it had snowed their pipelines had frozen, and their electricity went out. He was sure as hell not looking forward to his night if it happened again. He brought his phone to his ear while glancing around the gym to make sure nothing was astray. Everything was put back in place, which was a relief. Most of the equipment was sanitized and clean, and he walked over to the towel rack to grab a few soiled ones to throw in the back. The phone rang and rang, and he sighed and decided to dial Eren. 

 

He received no answer on his end either. "The hell?" Levi muttered, scrolling through his contacts to see if perhaps Hange had spoken to either of them. Growing concerned at the lack of responses, Levi quickly finished the task of making sure everything was put aside for closing. He waited until his students were finished changing in the locker rooms and he locked the door to Beast Mode Titan. He shoved the keys into his pocket while he hugged his coat tighter against his form. "Drive safe! There's a storm coming through!"

 

"Goodnight, Levi! See you next week!" Elena called out as she slipped into her car. Levi waved his goodbyes and smiled softly as he started his car. It was a fantastic feeling... sharing his past tragedies so he could provide hope for others. It was one of his most significant accomplishments.

 

He bid them all goodnight and set off home. 


 

When Levi pulled into his long, gravel driveway, the last thing he had expected was to see a line of cars outside his house. Eyebrows shooting up into his hairline, he turned off the ignition while muttering, "What the fuck?"

 

The house appeared dark, though, there was a small hue of amber shining through the windows. Tilting his head, Levi stepped out of the car and inhaled sharply as the cold nipped at his skin. He observed Oluo and Petra's car, Hange's, Jean and Armin's, and Eren's parents. Becoming confused quite quickly, Levi tried to wrack his brain on whether he had missed a birthday or some other significant event. Eren's birthday wasn't for another few weeks, and Mikasa's had passed a month ago. 

 

Rushing up to the door, Levi quickly unlocked it and stepped into the house. As he did, his eyes went wide. 

 

Candles. There were dozens, if not hundreds, of tea candles strewn all over the house. They were all over the counters, the dining room table, the coffee table, and the mantle. They were on every surface that was probably deemed safe. Levi's arms roamed all over the room, but he found not a single soul was inside the house. Eren's things added a much-needed warmth into his and Mikasa's home, and he always noted it whenever he'd stroll through the living room. Curious, and feeling more unhinged than before, Levi noticed to candles led toward his backyard. 

 

If his mind weren't so muddled at that moment, he probably would have thrown a damn fit. But, his feet carried him regardless to the backdoor, and with a slow exhaled, he opened it. 

 

The cold air hit him a second time, and he closed his eyes briefly at the wind that came with it. As he walked past the threshold, his eyes opened fractionally, and his heart almost stopped. 

 

Outside, there were more tea candles lined up all along the porch. As Levi continued forward, he could see Jean, Armin, and Mikasa standing over to his left. Hange, Mike, Nanaba, and their little boy were further to his right. Grisha and Carla were leaning against the railing with Oluo, Petra, and their children. His eyes traveled to each of them, who were all smiling with a knowing gleam in their eyes. They were all bundled up in their coats and scarfs, and leaning close together. The candles offered a soothing glow around them, but it wasn't enough to stop Levi's furious heart from racing.

 

When his eyes found Eren, white specks began to fall from the sky above. He was standing at the foot of the stairs, and he wasn't dressed warmly enough to ease off the cold. Levi wanted to scold him for it, but his mouth was dry. Those meadow green eyes were crinkling as he smiled, and he held a hand out to Levi. 

 

"Hey," Eren said, his smile never leaving his lips. "I know this is... probably a bit of a surprise, huh?"

 

Licking his lips and taking Eren's hand, Levi allowed the other man to bring him down the stairs. "Eren," he said unsurely. His head turned, and he glanced at everyone behind them. Mikasa was one, in particular, he was watching, as she pulled out her phone and held it up in front of her. Levi was so incredibly confused at that moment. He turned back to Eren and asked, "What's going on?"

 

"Um," Eren began, suddenly appearing bashful. He rubbed the back of his neck but kept Levi's hand firmly in his own. He rubbed his thumb soothingly over Levi's skin. "Okay..." he said after a moment, and he took a deep breath to ground himself. While they have been together for over a year and a half now, Levi had never seen Eren so flustered before. It wasn't like him at all. "Levi," he tried again, locking his green eyes with Levi's pale blue. "Phew, this is... harder than I thought it'd be."

 

Levi held Eren's gaze, tilting his head while Eren's grip tightened slightly. 

 

"You and I met by chance," he tried again. "I mean, really by chance. But the first time I saw you, it felt like someone had honest God struck me right through my chest. You were the most breathtaking person I had ever seen in my life, and I couldn't help but feel drawn to you. You probably thought I was some lunatic who was lusting after you, but I wasn't. I just... I just couldn't keep my eyes off of you. The way you moved, or the way you spoke... it was like getting hit in all different directions with the same feelings."

 

Levi listened intently, and he couldn't have torn his eyes away from Eren's if he tried. The snow around them began to thicken, and it was catching in Eren's hair and his long lashes. He blinked them away and continued.

 

"When we actually came together, I can't tell you how incredibly happy that made me. How much your trust meant to me. Anytime you were by my side; I can't think of a time I wasn't just so taken by you even if we fought. Even if I annoyed the shit out of you," Eren raised his eyes and glared when he heard Jean snort from the porch, but he shook his head and kept speaking. "I wouldn't change a single thing about what you and I share. You and Mikasa have become such an important part of my life, and all I want to do is help you raise her and keep both of you as close to me as possible."

 

The raven felt something warm collect in his eyes, and the cold no longer persisted. 

 

More lowly, Eren said, "With everything you and I have been through together, I wouldn't trade it for anything. Because you're my home too, Levi, and I want you to stay for good."

 

Levi knew the hidden meaning behind those words because they were once his own. Pulling back a bit, Eren's eyes roamed over to everyone behind Levi. "I wanted all of our friends and family here because I want them to see how much we love each other, and how much we've accomplished together. They're such an important part of both of our lives, and I want them to be a part of this."

 

As Eren said this, Levi's eyes widened with realization. His mouth parted in awe, and the only thing that grounded him to reality was Eren's piercing gaze and his soothing warm hand. "Levi," he said again, and the wetness inside of the raven's eyes began to fall freely. Eren smiled and wiped them away gently. "I want to wake up every day next to you. I want to share every experience with you, both good and bad. I want to watch Mikasa grow up with you. I don't want to take care of you, but work together and continue to create a life together."

 

Levi finally turned away and closed his eyes briefly. When he reopened them, Eren let go of his hand and slowly knelt onto one knee. The world around him faded, and Levi felt like he couldn't breathe anymore. He couldn't control the number of tears that continued to escape his eyes or the trembling of his hands. These tears were unlike any he had ever shed before, but at that moment, he couldn't find it in his heart to care. Even while surrounded by their friends and family, Levi knew it was just him and Eren at that moment.

 

Eren reached into his pocket and produced a velvet box, and Levi's knees nearly went weak when he opened it to reveal a stunning, silver band. "Levi Ackerman," he breathed, and the night air plumbed with his words. "Will you marry me?"

 

Levi felt stupified, and the snow began accumulating on the ground and coating the trees around the yard. He felt as though everything around him was suddenly surreal, and he couldn't believe this man... this warm soul, and firm yet gentle spirit, wanted to take him as his husband. In actuality, Levi had never considered marriage. Erwin had never given any indication that he wanted to marry Levi, so the raven assumed it just wasn't a part of his life's plan. He was starting to realize when it came to Mikasa and Eren, nothing was ever part of the script, and that's what made his life so fulfilling and thrilling now. 

 

Levi hadn't realized he was so lost in his thoughts, that Eren began to fidget on the ground. 

 

"For God's sake, short-stack, say something!" Hange called from behind them, and if it were any other time, Levi would have retorted. Instead, his eyes watched as Eren's began to fill with worry.

 

"It's... okay, you know if you don't want to right now--" Eren's words became muffled, and he let out a surprised hmph when Levi landed on his knees in front of him, his hands fisting into his chestnut locks while dragging him to his lips. Levi massaged his lips against Eren's urgently, and they almost toppled over with how desperately Levi was pressing into him. Eren wrapped his arms around Levi and kissed him earnestly. As Levi drew back, his eyes were brilliant.

 

"Yes," he said against Eren's mouth. Kissing the other man again, Levi continued to say, "Yes, yes, yes," against his lips over and over again. Eren laughed, and it felt a bit strange against his mouth, but Levi found it hard to pay it any mind. Eren peppered Levi's face with affection while smiling broadly. 

 

"I'm assuming it's a yes?" Carla called from behind them, and she hid a smile behind her hand. Her eyes were filled with glee and Eren raised his head.

 

"He said yes!" he replied, unable to contain his disbelief. When he met Levi's gaze once more, he took his hand and slipped the band onto his left ring finger. Levi's eyes studied it carefully, and everyone behind them cheered and began to clap. Levi didn't know if his heart could take it, and he closed his eyes while opening them again. He thought that perhaps if he had attempted it several times, this would reveal itself as a dream. Instead, Eren was helping the two of them off of the ground and dusting the snow off of Levi's coat.

 

"Probably a bad idea to do this outside, huh?"

 

Levi shook his head, and he raised his hand to stare at the engagement band that was now there. "No..." he murmured, unable to trust his voice. "It was perfect, Eren. Everything is perfect."

 

And it really was. 

 

The night fell into a long bout of celebration. Hange had been gracious enough to supply champagne, and they all gathered inside and sat in the living room. They marveled at the new engagement and spoke about many other topics, such as Levi's self-defense sessions and Eren's plan to perhaps expand his horizons and teach at a different school. In Levi's heart, he knew the possibilities were endless. Especially with Eren by his side. He sat next to Eren on the couch and couldn't stop his fingers from absently tracing the new addition on his hand. It felt like a piece of him had just been returned, and all of those sensations that only Eren was capable of making him feel were gushing through him full force. Eren's love for him was so rich and pure, and it taught Levi was it meant to truly love in return. 

 

"I'm sending the video to Annie," Mikasa said as she sat up, excitedly running onto the back porch. Levi rolled his eyes, and Eren chuckled. 

 

"It's sort of cute she runs out every time she wants to talk to her," Eren commented.

 

"I have a feeling those two are just going to continue growing on each other," Levi remarked, though his voice sounded whimsical. He hoped he'd have another few years before he worried about the dating portion of Mikasa's life.

 

"So," Grisha asked as he sipped casually on his glass. "Any idea when the big day would be?"

 

"Ah..." Eren rubbed the back of his neck while glancing up at the ceiling, "I'm not sure. I guess we're going to have to brainstorm on that."

 

"Not a winter wedding," Levi said quickly. "Please. Our first kiss was in the snow. You proposed in the snow. Let's not make this a pattern," he teased, and Eren bumped his forehead against his. 

 

"Summer wedding, then?" 

 

Levi hummed while smiling. "Sounds like a plan to me."

 

"Okay," Jean said while standing up. "I can only handle so much affection before my stomach starts to hurt."

 

"Jean," Armin hissed, reaching up and pinching him. "Don't be such a jerk. Maybe you can learn a thing or two."

 

Levi arched a brow while saying, "Yeah, Jean, maybe you can learn a thing or two."

 

Jean gawked at Armin, sputtering with a response. The room filled with quiet laughter, but it was decided that it was indeed time to let the newly engaged couple have some time for themselves. Their schedules were always full and busy, so to have the next few days without anything to tie them down was a rarity. Everyone worked together to gather all of the forgotten candles, (Levi couldn't help but wonder how they had managed to light all of them) and they helped put away any refreshments or food that was leftover. Through a heavy bout of congratulations, hugs, and hearty pats on the shoulder, everyone poured out of their house and headed to their own homes. Once the house was quiet, Levi turned around and glanced at Eren in the kitchen.

 

"I can't believe this all just happened," Levi blurted, and Eren almost doubled over.

 

"Caught you off guard, huh?"

 

"You sure as hell did. Jesus, Eren, I was not expecting this at all."

 

"Oh, come on. You know I'm a romantic at heart. Did you honestly believe I didn't want to be your husband?"

 

"It isn't that," Levi said as he pushed on of the chairs from the living room back into the dining room. "I just... I guess with how long I was with Erwin; I was expecting the same sort of partnership. Not everyone looks at marriage as something sacred. To him, it was just a piece of paper." Levi paused for a moment before adding, "Sometimes I have to remind myself that this is my life, and the fact that it's been damn near perfect can be unsettling sometimes."

 

I'm afraid of losing it. Like I'll wake up, and this will all be a distant dream.

 

Eren understood, and he strode over to Levi, and he rested his forehead against the others. "I know," he murmured. "Trust me; sometimes it's surreal to me too. I can't tell you how grateful I am that we're here now, and how proud I am of you. I..." Eren bit his lip. "I love you, Levi. I can't picture my life without you now."

 

Brushing his lips against Eren's, Levi said, "Well, I don't think that will be a problem. As I recall, you and I are supposed to get married this summer. So, it looks like you're stuck with me."

 

Chuckling, Eren said, "And I couldn't be happier."

 

It was quiet for several minutes, and all Levi could focus on was the sound of Eren's breathing and the tracing of his fingers against his engagement band. 

 

"Let me get Mikasa inside, and then we'll spend the rest of the night watching old, crappy sitcoms. Sound good?"

 

"It sounds perfect," Eren said softly, kissing Levi one last time before parting from him and stepping away. Eren retreated into their bedroom to shower and change, and Levi finished cleaning up a bit before Levi going out onto the back porch. 

 

Mikasa was standing quietly and gazing up to the sky, her phone forgotten on the banister. Levi rubbed his arms and shivered visibly. "Shit," he said. "It's fucking cold out here. Why the hell are you still standing out here?"

 

Mikasa regarded him and shrugged. "It's so pretty," she stated. She turned back around and continued to gaze outward. "I just wanted to watch it fall for a little while."

 

Scoffing, Levi said, "You're crazy. Another minute, okay? You're going to get sick as hell if you stay out here any longer."

 

Nodding her head with a soft smile, Mikasa said, "Okay."

 

Levi walked over and leaned against the railing, his eyes searching out alongside his cousins. Mikasa had a bright aura surrounding her, and Levi could feel it in the air. "So," he began. "I'm assuming you were in on this?"

 

"Who do you think lit all of those candles?"

 

Levi whistled. "That must have been a pain in the ass," he replied. 

 

Mikasa appeared thoughtful. "Worth it. You have no idea how nervous Eren was getting everything ready. He was a mess."

 

Levi tried to picture Eren stumbling around while trying to make everything as pristine and perfect as possible. The image warmed Levi's heart. "I would've loved to have seen that on video. He..." Levi lifted his head. "He surprised me, that's for sure."

 

"Are you happy?" the younger Ackerman asked.

 

Levi licked his lips and his breath fogged in the air. "Yeah," he said after a moment. "I'm happy. Happiest I've ever been in my life."

 

Mikasa beamed, and Levi continued, "It's not only because of Eren, you know." He reached out and ran a loving hand over Mikasa's head. "He's not the only little shit who wormed his way into my heart."

 

Mikasa caught Levi's hand, and her expression was stunned.

 

"Don't look at me like that. We both know if it weren't for you, none of this would have been possible. Leave it to my kid cousin to light a fire under my ass. Like I told Erwin the night of the fight, I would do it a second time."

 

Mikasa knew what Levi meant, and she bit her lip and closed her eyes. Levi knew she wanted to cry, and he reached over and hugged her small body to his. "Thank you," he said while kissing the top of her head lightly. "For everything, Mikasa."

 

Mikasa buried her face into Levi's shirt and mumbled something against it, but Levi couldn't hear it. They remained like that as the snow continued to fall around him. His Uncle must have done something right in his life to have been blessed with this little girl, and this little girl changed his entire world. As those thoughts surfaced, he heard the back door open. Levi and Mikasa lifted their heads in unison and saw Eren leaning against the doorway with a warm expression crossing his features. 

 

Mikasa glanced up at Levi with a tearful gaze, laughing lightly while wiping her eyes. Levi helped her, and when she held out her hand, Levi took it without hesitation. Eren moved aside to let the two of them pass, and he set to the task of helping Mikasa shake the snow out of her hair. The sight would forever be imprinted in Levi's memory because these two had become the most important people to enter his life.

 

With a fond smile and a full heart, Levi closed the door behind them. They would spend the rest of their night watching poorly rated shows on the television while sharing cups of tea or cocoa. They'd all become tired and retire to their rooms for the night. Eren would make love to him, and they'd fall asleep in each other's arms. They'd all rise the next day and more than likely get dragged out into the cold again because Mikasa couldn't resist the peace and clarity of the snowfalls in Shiganshina. Levi would pour drinks at the bar, continue to teach self-defense, and Eren would educate and nurture each child that crossed his path. Mikasa would continue to grow and branch out into the world a day at a time while Levi guided her as best as he could. Life would continue, and he'd move forward.

 

With his future stretched out ahead, Levi knew now he was not bent nor was he ever broken.

 

He was whole.