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Death is a Lie - Ereri Angst Weekend 2018 - Day 3: Goodbye

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Levi never thought he'd attend his own funeral.

Well, technically he skipped the funeral part, but he was at the burial. The procession was slowly rambling down the pebble road in the cemetery, and Eren was leaning heavily against Mikasa as they walked, wiping his tears and snot with the sleeve of his suit. Levi couldn't help a fond huff. Eren was the kind of person who didn't give a crap about appearances.

Levi had always loved that about him.

He hated that he was doing this to him. He hated that Eren had to go through this, had to feel this much pain without Levi there to comfort him. But Mikasa was there for him, and Armin, and the rest of his friends. He was strong and he'd be okay. Levi knew Eren better than anyone else, and while this would hurt him for a long time, he wouldn't let it stop him. Pain pushed Eren to strive more and live better and work harder. It forced him to make the most out of life, to make sure it was worth the pain.

Levi loved that about him too.

Erwin would be there for him, too, as well as Hanje. The two of them had never been very close to Eren, but he knew that they would take care of him, make sure he was okay. For Levi's sake. Levi hadn't really thought about what his 'death' would do to his friends. His only real thought was of Eren.

But Eren was why he was doing this. Eren was why he needed to take this mission, and the mission was why he needed to fake his death. There could be no ties between himself and the people he loved, because if there were, they would suffer even more than they were now, and there wouldn't be anything Levi could do about it.

Levi watched from behind a tree as the love of his life sagged into a chair in the front row on the grassy area in front of the grave – Levi's grave – and the service began. It was quiet and still, save for the pastor's droning voice, the birds chirping in the April air, and Eren's stifled sobs.

Levi's heart ached. He wanted to go to him, to hold him and tell him everything was going to be okay. He wanted to tell him to be strong. But he reminded himself that he'd already done that. When Nile, his superior officer, had asked him to take on this mission and he'd come to the realization that he'd have to fake his death, he wrote a letter. Most people in the military do that – write a letter to their loved ones in case something happens and give it to another soldier to pass it on if they die. The only difference here was that Levi wasn't really dead.

There was no body in the casket. Obviously, since Levi wasn't in it. He'd been declared MIA for a month before Nile decided it was time to declare him dead. Before Nile paid Eren a visit and told him there was no hope left.

Nile told him that Eren had refused, had argued and fought with him for an hour before Nile could get him calm enough and told him that the Army had already declared him KIA. "A funeral might help you, Mr. Ackerman. Might give you closure."

Eren had dragged his feet for two weeks before relenting.

Levi watched as Eren tried to stop the flow of his tears, and he had to remind himself of all the reasons why this was supposed to be worth it.

The mission... he had to do it, for Eren, for everyone. None of them were safe. Levi had to protect them. He had to protect Eren. Even if Eren's heart broke, even if he never got over Levi, even if he cried himself to sleep at night, at least he would be safe.

Levi turned away from the sight of his beloved's tears and trudged out of the cemetery. He'd already been there too long.

*****

Levi could hardly believe it was over. When Nile had asked him to help him save the world, he had thought it would take a little longer than three years. Don't get him wrong, he's perfectly happy that the world is safe again and it doesn't need him doing crazy things like jumping out of planes and pulling three all-nighters in a row anymore.

But if he'd known it was only going to take three years to save the world, he'd probably have gone about a couple things a little differently. Okay, one main thing he definitely would have done differently.

Faking your own death is not usually easy (if it is you should probably reevaluate your life choices), and Levi definitely hadn't wanted to. There's the obvious reason that pretty much everybody immediately thinks of, that your loved ones literally think you are dead and that's kind of a sucky thing to put the people you love through.

Eren was Levi's husband. Except not really, because same-sex marriage had been legalized while he was 'dead'. If he'd waiting a few more months to die, then Eren could have been treated like a proper military 'widow', which, while not being fun, would have at least given him certain benefits, both financial and otherwise. But instead Eren had lived thinking Levi had died in combat in Afghanistan – MIA, assumed KIA – and he'd lived through the legalization of their marriage rights mourning the loss of the man he wanted to marry.

Levi was definitely a good partner, can't you tell?

While he could rationalize what he did, remind himself of the hundreds of millions of lives that had been saved, including Eren's, and come to the logical conclusion that he objectively did the right thing, he still felt like a pretty crappy guy. Eren would have quipped with something like, "Well, yeah, but you're a pretty, crappy guy, so at least there's that."

Except that Eren was basically the only person who thought Levi was pretty. With his general RBF and tendency to worsen it by actually being a bitch, it's a miracle Eren ever actually talked to him, the way Levi saw it. Levi knew Eren deserved better, but he'd rationalized occupying space in Eren's life by telling himself that Eren also deserved to get what he wanted, and apparently that had been Levi.

Had been .

Levi hated those words. They made him think of the second reason why faking your death was so hard.

It's permanent.

Levi had faked his death. Eren didn't know it was fake. Death isn't something you can really take back, and despite Nile's assurances that everything would be okay, Levi didn't really feel very confident. He was allowed to un-die, but now the question had to be posed. Should I stay dead anyway?

Why would Eren want him back? After the hell he'd put that man through, before he faked his own death, why would Eren want to find out he's still alive, that he mourned for three years for nothing, that Levi had prioritized something else above him and had decided to put Eren through so much pain to accomplish it? Why would Eren open his arms and let Levi come home after what Levi did?

Faking your death didn't technically have to be permanent, but that didn't mean it shouldn't be.

Because the reality is that just because he can come home now, that doesn't mean Eren would want him to. And even if Eren does want him to, that doesn't mean that it would work. No matter how happy to see him Eren would be, he'd still be furious. And hurt. Mostly furious, because anger is low-key Eren's default reaction to most things, but still hurt. And just because he let him come home doesn't mean they could recover from this. It doesn't mean that they could just pick up from where they left off before Levi died and Eren mourned. It sure as hell doesn't mean Eren would want to try to recover in the first place.

Remind him to never fake his death again. He had a headache. And he might've thrown up a minute ago in the bushes.

The bushes outside the house where Eren lived. Where Levi used to live with Eren.

Because he'd been told he could go home, that his mission was complete and he was relieved of the weight of duty, and no matter how scary going home was, no matter how little he deserved it, no matter how hard it would be, no matter how much it would hurt him and Eren, he couldn't stay away. He couldn't pass up the chance to come home to Eren, no matter what it cost him.

Levi swallowed down the bile rising in his throat and rang the doorbell.

The bored expression on Eren's face when he opened the door just kind of sat there for a second. Eren blinked at him, once, twice, then his eyes went wide as he finally took in what he was seeing. "Levi, is that-" He shook his head, blinking repeatedly as if to restart his eyes into working again. When Levi didn't magically disappear, he swallowed thickly. "Is that really you?"

Levi nodded. "Yeah, Eren, it's me. I'm," he cleared his throat, "I'm alive and, um-"

It's probably fine that Levi couldn't think of what to say next because Eren chose that moment to deck him across the face. He nodded, stretching his jaw and mentally assessing how badly it would bruise. (Badly. Eren may not have been military but he was no wuss.) "Yeah... I totally deserved that."

But then his arms were full and Eren was hugging him and crying and Levi felt like his brain got whiplash, but he didn't care at all, because Eren was hugging him so hard he was squeezing the life out of him and this was home.

But, despite the hug, Levi knew it wouldn't be that easy.

Eren buried his face in Levi's shoulder. "You were gone! We had a fucking funeral, Levi!"

Levi nodded, a quiet sigh of resignation leaving his lips as he wrapped his arms tighter around Eren, one hand coming up to run soothingly through Eren's (much longer) hair. "I know. I know, I'm so sorry."

Eren ripped himself out of Levi's arms, reeling back and away from him too fast for Levi to really process until he was left hugging air. " You know? What does that even mean, 'you know'? Where the hell have you been for three years?"

Levi opened his mouth to answer, but then he saw a neighbor in his peripheral (different neighbor than when he had lived there – it had been a while) getting his newspaper and his mouth snapped shut. "Um, can we have that discussion somewhere more private?"

Eren glared at him, never looking away from his eyes as he slammed open the door and mock-politely gestured him into the house. The one that had beentheirs. The one he had to be invited into now. Because it wasn't theirs anymore. It was just Eren's.

They both walk into the house, and as soon as the door was shut behind them Eren was stomping off to the kitchen, a muttered, "I need alcohol for this conversation," tossed over his shoulder.

Levi kind of just stood there. In the entryway. Watching Eren down two beers in the time it used to take him to drink half of one ( what else has changed since I've been gone?). Levi knew he should probably move somewhere or sit down or follow Eren or something, but he wasn't sure what exactly he was supposed to do. What he was allowed to do. This wasn't his home anymore. Was he still welcome to his chair in the living room? Or the one at the dining room table? Did Eren keep Levi's coffee mug or his favorite souvenir cup from that amusement park? What side of the bed did Eren sleep on now? Or did he sleep in the middle (honestly, if that's the case not much would have changed there, but you didn't hear that from him)? What if he didn't even have a bed anymore and he got one of those futons Eren had always joked would be more practical but never purchased because, "Well it's not more practical for two people, Levi."

( Levi had given him a small smile, still something so foreign to him when they had first moved in together (Eren had taught him to smile, to smile more freely), and pulled him in close. "Well then, I guess you'll never get to have one, will you?"

Eren had laughed – really it was a giggle, but Levi would never say that to his face, Eren didn't like to be cute – and leaned his forehead on Levi's. "Oh, the sacrifices I make for love." )

Levi's uncertainty – and reminiscence – was cut short by Eren's annoyed drawl. "Well, sit down." Levi obediently shuffled into the living room, and, after a short little crisis about which seat to take, chose a seat at the end of the couch. That way, Eren could choose how close or far away he wanted to sit. It put all the power in Eren's hands. Not that it wasn't already, in Levi's mind, but Eren might not feel that way, and this was a practical way of communicating it to him.

Sure enough, Eren came in and, after handing Levi his own beer, took the chair as far away from Levi as he could get, diagonally across the coffee table and fairly deep into the corner of the room. Levi tried to ignore that pang in his chest, tried to remind himself of all the reasons this was difficult for Eren – more so than for him – and why even if he does come around it will likely take a long time to heal. But the pain was still there.

After a minute or two of Levi awkwardly sipping his beer and Eren half-glaring at him through narrowed puffy, red eyes, Eren sighed harshly. "Go on. Explain."

Levi swallowed thickly. "I, um, faked my death to save the world?" Great, that was a really confident summary, Levi, way to go. Much impressive, very wow.

Eren blinked at him for a second, trying to process that very... interesting piece of new information. Eventually, he just kind of gave up and shook his head free of whatever train of thought he'd managed to get to. "Elaborate."

Levi obliged. He started from the beginning, from someone in the military asking him to help save the world to the process of actually saving it. He left out some of the minor, tedious details and focused on the big picture, making sure Eren knew as much as Levi could tell in one sitting.

It took a long time, and Eren mostly just sat there quietly. The only indication Levi had as to his thoughts on any matter was his facial expressions, which Eren notoriously sucked at hiding. Eren looking appalled when Levi was describing moments of more extreme, eminent danger was very encouraging. At one point, Eren had switched out their beers for coffee (yes, Eren had kept his mug), and Levi just kept talking. A part of his brain must have hoped that the more Eren knew, the more Eren understood the factors that lead to his decisions, knew why this danger needed to be faced and why it had to be Levi who faced it, then maybe he'd be able to accept Levi's choice. Maybe if Eren understood that he did it for him in the first place, Eren wouldn't hate him for sacrificing three years of their life together.

Hours later, after he'd given Eren as much pertinent information as he could pack into one conversation, Levi felt like he was kind of wrapping up. He'd given the info, he'd explained as best as he could. Now all that was left was the verdict. Levi didn't think he was ready for it, didn't know what to expect.

Levi cleared his throat for what felt like the millionth time. "I- Eren, it was the hardest thing I've ever done, choosing to leave. I just- I had to. It was the only real option. It was the only way to protect you and help people, and I couldn't just turn my back on this, not once I knew. And it was," Levi shifted in his seat and looked away from Eren's eyes to stare at the floor. "It was too dangerous, to be yours and to be out there at the same time. It was too dangerous to come home to you and show them the best way to hurt me – by hurting you. I couldn't do that."

Levi tore his eyes away from the floor when Eren spoke, for the first time in hours. "Bullshit."

Levi blinked. "...What?"

Eren huffed. "That's bullshit. When I married you – when we had that ceremony in the backyard of this fucking house, and all our friends came and Erwin officiated, and we made a commitment to each other, maybe not a legal one, but still – when I chose you, I did so knowing that you had a dangerous life in the military. That you might get hurt. That I might be in danger at some point because of your job. I accepted that."

"I know, Eren-"

"And when you married me," Eren interrupted, volume rising with his anger, "you promised forever. For richer or poorer, sickness and health, all of it. For better or for worse. And you broke that promise. Without warning and of your own volition, you just rescinded our forever. You took that away."

Levi nodded and swallowed around the knot in his throat. "I know."

Levi hung his head in silence for a good minute, knowing this was not looking good for him (big surprise there).

"But the world is safe now? You saved it?"

Levi glanced up, surprised at the change in Eren's tone from angry accusations to quiet resignation. Levi wasn't sure what it meant. "Yeah. It's safe now. Or as safe as Earth is ever going to get with humans living on it, at least."

Eren nodded, slowly at first, then with a determination. "Okay."

Levi's eyebrows furrowed. "Okay?"

"Okay. You saved the world. I'm hurt, and I'm upset – very upset – but... I missed you. And, I mean, as far as excuses go, saving the world is fairly decent."

Levi's brain collapsed. Just stopped working. Levi.exe has encountered an error. Reboot needed. "You're not... mad?"

"Oh, I'm furious," Eren shot him a pointed look that just screamed ' you are not out of the dog house, mister', but he continued, "but you're my husband, and I didn't just stop loving you when someone knocked on the door to tell me you were dead. I'm going to be mad for a while, probably, but that's because it hurt. It hurt that you were gone. It hurts now that I know you chose to be gone. But I spent so much time wishing that you could come back to me and imagining what I would do if you did. Punching you never really made it into any of those dreams." Eren gave him an ironic grin, small but still there. Then the smile fell away and Levi saw all the sadness in his eyes. "Every time I imagined you coming home to me, I was so happy to see you. The army didn't recognize us as being married, but others did. I was still invited to a few of the grief meetings. None of them are getting their spouses back, Levi. But you're right here in front of me, and I can't-" Eren wiped away a tear and took a deep breath. "No matter how mad I am, I can't just forget that I love you, and I can't just forget that I spent the last three years praying you could come back to me."

Levi's jaw was hanging open and his eyes were wide and he just... stared at Eren for a few moments before managing to say, "You're... forgiving me?"

Eren narrowed his eyes, leveling a challenging glare that would have made a lesser man cower. "Are you going to do this to me again?"

Levi shook his head emphatically. "NO, never, I can not do that again, it was too hard. I barely made it through this time."

Eren nodded, more to himself than to Levi, like he was confirming a decision he'd made. "Then yes. I'm forgiving you. I'm still mad, but you're forgiven."

Eren stood up from the chair across the room and walked over to sit on the couch next to Levi. It took Levi everything he had to keep himself from leaning away. Not because he didn't want to be close to Eren, to touch Eren, to lean into his space and bask in Eren's presence in the way he hasn't been able to for three years. He was just so afraid he'd mess it up. Make Eren change his mind. He didn't know how welcome he was, and there was no way he was risking crossing a line he didn't know was there.

Eren must have realized what was holding Levi back. He snorted and rolled his eyes and pulled Levi into a fierce hug. It took Levi less than half a second to hug Eren back, because he was not going to pass up the chance to hold his husband. They sat there and held each other for a long time, and after what felt like forever and no time at all, Eren pulled away a little. Levi felt panic knife through him – what if Eren changed his mind – and tightened his arms around him, but Eren shook his head and smiled reassuringly before resting his forehead against Levi's. "I missed you. I missed this."

Levi sighed, happily, but still not quite at ease. "Yeah, me too."

"You were gone for three years."

"I know." Levi swallowed around the lump in his throat and his voice cracked as he continued. "I'm so sorry."

Eren rolled his eyes. "Yeah, well, I already forgave you, so stop apologizing."

Levi looked down and away, anywhere he could to escape those amazing green eyes, eyes still rimmed in puffy red that reminded him of how they got that way. "But I don't know what else to do."

Eren smirked. Levi saw it in his peripheral and looked up. "I can think of a few things I'd like a lot more than an apology."

Levi felt wary. Like, sooo wary. Still, he managed a small, secret smile. "Name it."

Eren pulled him into a kiss that lasted forever and sighed when they pull away for air. He didn't open his eyes, but he gave Levi the cutest Eskimo kiss ever (the cute part is a secret, shhh, Eren's sensitive). "I always hated goodbyes."

For the first time since coming back from the dead, Levi initiated. He pressed a firm, chaste kiss to Eren's lips. "I'll never make you say it again."

Eren snorted. "Obviously. You already got to be the one to die first. Next it's my turn, bitch."

Levi knew that would suck, if Eren gets to die first when they're 90, but he figured it's only fair.