It was then, in a little tea shop just off the main street, that Eren saw him once again. Face like that of a ghost from the past, dug up from within the deepest confines of Eren's dust filled chest.
A man who he'd never expected to see, with his dark eyes and furrowed brow. Eren watches him handle a small glass teapot with the utmost care, fills a dainty china cup to the brim with deep green liquid. He picks up a book from the table he sits at and gazes at it, a pair of silvery wire frames perched upon his straight nose.
He looks just the same, but so different. He looks alive... Not like back then, all those years ago. When Eren was freshly parentless and trying to find himself. And Levi, then freshly alone and trying to cope from day to day. Eren would never know why Levi's partner had left, but at the time it didn't matter to him and the other man would never speak of him much anyway.
After losing his everything Eren had gone rogue, just twenty and alone in the world. He used some money he had stashed away and took a train to nowhere in particular, and then another, before finally deciding upon a tiny little town of no importance or great beauty… Close to the sea and a little shabby, but it was enough.
Eren had quickly gone looking for lodgings but with little to no money he couldn't afford rent at all. He spent his fair share of bitter nights on the streets, moving around listless until he found a little cottage, quiet and standing alone. The porch had looked so inviting… Eren was sure he could very easily slip in and rest, hidden away from the howling winds. Just for the night, and then he could clear out in the morning.
Levi hadn't cared much, when he had opened his back door the next day to call on his wayward cat, to find the orphan passed out in his porch. He had woken Eren, invited him and his pitiful backpack of possessions into his home - It was decided quickly, as long as Eren fed himself he could stay; As long as Eren didn't touch Levi's belongings he could share the dwelling. It was as simple as that.
He thinks of the first days together, the ones they would spend shut away behind curtains and swaddled in the comfort of darkness. Eren would lay on the couch, and at times he would cry until there was nothing left within him. Other days he would lie quietly, taking in the sounds around him. The whistling of the winter wind outside, the creaking of the old and uneasy building.
Even from the living room, if he listened very hard, Eren could hear Levi clicking away at his desk, writing… Something. Another thing he would never say much about. Eren had always assumed it was poetry, like the books Levi would leave scattered around the apartment - dog-eared and well adored.
It was a strange way to live, back then, both Eren and Levi were consumed by the gnawing feeling some would call grief. But it felt so much more, the stirring melancholy in their chest incomparable to a pain so commonly experienced. One willingly left behind, the other left without choice. Their pain was shared, quietly so, silently understood.
Depression crept into every corner of their home, dark and dismal. Christmas and New Years Eve were just days the same as any other... Levi's thirtieth birthday passed unnoticed, and then Eren's twenty-first came without any celebration. There was sorrow to be felt and nothing else mattered, not really. It went this way until Eren could no longer take it.
One day, sunlight shone in a golden slither from beneath the curtains, it crept across the room and warmed Eren's toes right to the bone. It was an unfamiliar feeling, one long forgotten due to the harshest Winter the boy had experienced. But it wasn't unwelcome, his skin tingled with hope, the emotion greeted him like an old friend he had missed so dearly for months.
He got up, bones creaking from neglect and disuse, and he threw aside the drapes. His eyes stung as he took in the view, so bright and bathed in the most inviting sunlight. Eren was sure he saw the coming of Spring right there before him - It had felt like the first day of his life…
Eren started to move away from the couch after that, he went outside and breathed in the crisp air greedily, he made his way into town and begged for jobs. The Spring was here and with it Eren would start over, he was determined. Too stubborn to let the blackness in his body permeate his spirit - He would fight this.
Eren would try and get Levi outside too, encourage him to see what was waiting for him. The grass was creeping up from the cracks in the sidewalk, the dandelions were bursting open with hope in their overgrown backyard. But he was like a weathered tree, unmoving and so deeply rooted into the wooden flooring of his bedroom.
Eren can remember the energy of that room so well, maybe in the past it had been somewhere that was filled with love and happiness, domestic bliss. But in the time that Eren lived there, the feeling only got worse. Stagnation, despair. It brought tears to his eyes when he took it all in, Levi's small form curled over at his desk as he wrote in that room, filled with dead air and memories of something better.
Heartache and longing were Levi's downfall, maybe his best and only friends. Eren had never seen a man so wrecked… But some days Levi would change. Eren would return from work to a man who looked different, his eyes brighter and his energy like that of a busy hive; He would come to Eren as bees flocked to the brightest flowers.
Eren recalls each of those nights as if they were yesterday, all vivid colours and soaring hearts. Levi would assure him excitedly that “Tonight is the night! I can feel it in my bones…”
And Eren would take his word for it, he would follow him anywhere. Levi would take Eren by the wrist, his hands cold and slender fingers soft against his skin. Eren loved these nights, they filled him with the most unadulterated sense of excitement. His heart would beat like never before and he felt convinced that the world belonged to him and Levi only.
Some nights would start at the local convenience store, they'd buy spirits or shitty beer. Levi always looked stunning with a little alcohol in his veins, his angular eyes would reflect the stars, his skin tinted rose and luminous in the moonlight.
Other times they would remain sober, but either way, Levi would leave his troubles locked away in that bedroom and Eren could ask for nothing more. The energy that exuded from Levi's being was enough of a substitute for alcohol, Eren would drink it in as if he hadn't tasted anything so decadent his whole life.
They could go anywhere on those nights, an abandoned children's play park where they would lay and giggle into the darkness; Or they could wander down to the quay where they would watch the stars sparkling their light in the undulating water.
The ocean wind was always a beautiful feeling, the way it nipped at his cheeks and filled his nose with a salty tang. It was pure contentment… And Levi's voice would complete the picture, his words tumbling from his lips as he spoke more than Eren would hear from him in months. It was as if on these nights, Levi would say so much, and act in such a way that he would spend the rest of his time recovering; Recharging in the dim light of his bedroom until he was ready to experience the world again.
Eren would fill himself to bursting with information about this vivid version of Levi before he was gone, hold onto him and keep him away from home for as long as possible. It wasn't hard, Levi never seemed to grow tired. More than not, they would be out until the small hours of the morning, even if Eren had engagements the next day - They always paled in comparison to the moments he was living then and there, Levi at his side.
Rarer nights were the ones where they would take the train out of town, walk up the highest hill that overlooks the little settlement they called a home. The trek was impressive, but Eren was happy for the burning in his calves as they worked, it made him feel alive. From up on the hilltop you could see everything.
Some days the town would look pretty to Eren, a delicate spider's web of lights and roads, the ocean a glowing mirror. It was the place he had made himself into someone, it had taken him in when he had felt so lost. It was the place he had found Levi…
Other days it looked like a ball and chain, dull and unremarkable. The boy couldn't help but feel he was made for someplace else… He would study the boats moored at the quay below and wonder if he could just hop onboard one and end up somewhere so brilliant, this place seemed but a distant memory.
But then he would look beside him at this man… The only constant he had experienced for so long. How long had it really been? Two years, maybe.. Eren could not face the idea of leaving Levi behind. If he so much as entertained the idea, panic would rise in his chest and make him practically nauseous. How had he come to this? So deeply attached to someone he would only truly know a few brilliant nights a month.
One evening, everything changed. To the present day, the night haunts Eren - He remembers it is one of the worst nights of his life. They had been up there, him and Levi, observing the sleepy town from under the cover of stars and velvet skies. Eren recalls his fingers running along the pulse point of Levi's arm, an unconscious gesture of affection.
Touches frequently passed between them, a brush of knuckles as they walked, hands wandering as they sat side by side to find the heat of any available skin. Long fingers wrapped around a wrist, or hooked into belt loops. A head laid in the other's lap, or resting upon a shoulder. Soft hair passing between those same digits, nails bitten down to the bed.
There was never any sex, not even a kiss. It was only Eren who yearned for such a thing, only Eren found himself thinking about the feeling of Levi's lips against his, his taste. He wanted Levi so close, his scent would be the only thing he could smell.
Occasionally Eren would push gently, to see how far he could get - Curious to know what Levi would accept and what the man would decline. But soon, the way Levi would turn his head away at the first sign of a kiss stung too much, his reluctance to reciprocate led to Eren giving up before he had really started.
The need to find reassurance in warmth fueled Levi, simply a craving for a body next to his. Maybe to pretend it was the man he had lost all that time ago, still here with him. A constant he had been robbed of. Eren was always aware that it meant little to nothing to Levi, and God, did it hurt. But it didn't make the contact he was allowed any less thrilling, at the smallest touch, warmth would spread through his body like a memory of that Spring morning so long ago.
He supposes that feeling was what made him so naive in that moment, when he opened his mouth without thinking and popped the little bubble he and Levi had lived out their days within.
“We could leave, you know? The two of us… Maybe we could follow the coastline and find somewhere new. Somewhere better,” Eren's voice came out hushed between them, like a child sharing a secret to never be repeated.
His heart pounded against his chest. Maybe with anxieties, or maybe it was just the wonderlust pulsing through his bloodstream at the time.
It was miniscule but Eren sensed the difference in Levi immediately, he felt his body tense against him, and apprehension flooded his thoughts. He had never broached this topic before, it felt dangerous, and judging by the man beside him, it wasn't welcomed.
Eren remembers how he felt Levi's energy quickly waning, just as the moon loses its brightness come morning.
Levi didn't move his eyes away from the town below them, his voice just as quiet as Eren's he asked, “What's wrong with here?”
Eren frowned deeply, already irritated with Levi's response, but he considered his next words as carefully as he could, “That house, Levi… It's killing you.”
Levi had tried to pull his arm away then, and Eren recalls tightening his fingers over the bones that had protruded from the other man's skin. Levi had been thin when the two met, but as he had fallen even deeper into himself, his useless hours of pining and eating nothing had gotten worse.
Restraint completely forgotten to frustration, Eren's voice had risen then, insistent and panicked, “His memory is suffocating you! How can you not see?”
“Don't speak about him,” Levi's voice was quiet, dangerous.
Eren shouldn't have talked back, he shouldn't have pushed against Levi, so steady and stuck in his ways. But the tension had been building under his skin since Eren had become a part of Levi's life, it was finally too much and he snapped.
“I'm only saying what's true!” Eren scolded, voice scratching and sharp within the confines of his throat. “You need to stop torturing yourself! What's it good for? Your poetry?” Eren's laugh was bitter when it fell from his lips, its darkness leaving behind a bad taste on his tongue. “I'm so sorry to interrupt your pity party, but it's enough!”
Levi had ripped his hand away fully after that, his face contorted in rage. Eren remembers so well, thinking to himself that this was the first time he had ever seen Levi angry. All that time together, never once had the boy witnessed this look upon the face of a man he would have trusted with his life.
The older had stood from where his coat was laid out on the grass and he didn't even bother to throw it back on, just left it there to grow cold as he stepped away from Eren. The venom dripping from Levi's lips as he spoke had surely penetrated Eren's chest, leaving him feeling sick to his core, “If you hate it here so much, then you can leave. You don't have to stay! I'm not keeping you here.”
“But you do keep me here!” Eren screamed, and finally his tears poured forth.
As he felt the hot liquid against his skin, the boy just wanted to go back home. Eren wanted to take this all back and lie on that threadbare couch where he had sobbed so many times before, his nose filled with the now familiar smell of home. He wished so deeply to hear Levi's distant typing from within his bedroom, he wanted to stroke their grumpy old cat and feel its soft fur between his fingers.
Eren wanted nothing more than to experience the comfort he had learned anew in that little cottage. His chest ached with the longing, his thoughts only making him cry all the more.
Voice weak from his closing throat, Eren finally spoke his heart's innermost yearnings aloud, “Levi, I'm in love with you!”
The rage had quickly drained from Levi, at Eren's words his face dropped into pity, his eyes glossy and lips turning downwards in sadness. Eren hated that look, he despised the affirmation spoken quietly through Levi's eyes. The boy was already aware of it, yes, he was pitiful - He knew it well, and now so did Levi.
It was the same look he received on that first morning Levi had heard of his parent's deaths, and the memory made him feel the worst he had in a long time.
The shame that Eren had felt.. It was all encompassing, he wanted to run from those eyes that were always so fucking haunted and tragic. Eren hated Levi's stubbornness, he despised the way Levi carried so much pain on his shoulders yet he would never unload it. Eren hated the man before him so much in that moment, he felt breathless with it.
“Say something then!” The demand rang out in the quiet of that hilltop. He was being loud. Much too loud for the time of night but he was angry, he was fuming and he couldn't care less about his volume.
Just maybe, if he was loud enough, the whole town would hear and wake to see Eren's world crashing down around him. It was a small town, its occupants gossiped constantly behind their hands, maybe this would finally give them something good to talk about.
Eren watched as Levi's arms came up around his torso and he cradled himself, he looked terrible… Lost and helpless. His dark circles looked more prominent suddenly, his skin gray and cheeks much too hollow. His lips barely moved as he forced out one word, “Eren…”
Eren scoffed, glared at Levi with a shake of his head. His voice sounded harsh, as unforgiving as the ocean during a storm, “Forget it! I'll be gone tomorrow, don't worry.”
And with that Eren had gone. The end of all he knew had come from that one night. That evening Levi didn't come home after Eren, and he was glad of it. He didn't want to see Levi's face.
The next morning Levi still didn't return to the cottage, it was just Eren and the cat. It strolled around the living room, speaking to Eren in those drawn out mews and reassuring purrs. It rubbed its head against Eren's legs with all the affection it could muster.
Eren waited for Levi that day… He would never admit it, but he sat on that old couch for hours, a purring cat in his lap. He recalls smelling the pillows, rubbing his cheek upon the soft throw that he had slept under for so long.
His mind ran in circles of regret and acceptance, hurt and anger. He had been too harsh… He shouldn't have lashed out to that degree. Eren could always apologise, but then what would it change? He had spent too much of his time waiting for Levi, and he was tired. Eren was exhausted.
So, eventually Eren packed. All that he had was folded and stuffed into that same backpack he had arrived with. He would make it, somewhere - He was sure of it. This was to be the next chapter of his life, and he would thrive. That same stubbornness and determination he had felt that Spring morning, now so long ago, was running through his veins once again.
He left late in the afternoon, the sky turning pink with the sunset and with tears in his eyes Eren locked the front door, slipped his key into the letter box for Levi to collect later. This was the end, but also a new beginning.
A year after his departure, Eren discovered that Levi had published works out in the world. Books with his name written across the front and his thoughts mapped within. Like the most forbidden fruits of Eden they tempted him from bookstore windows, yet Eren never had the guts to indulge his curiosity.
He couldn't stand the thought of dredging up feelings long bottled away… It was better to leave it be, he would keep the fluttering bird of his heart caged away, no matter how insistent its demands to be freed became.
It didn't stop Eren from looking into him a little... From the reviews Levi was quite the poet, some even claimed he was one of the best in modern times, people truly loved him. He was spoken of frequently and held in great regard, a quiet man with a marvelous brain.
And there he was, right in front of Eren, with meat on his bones and his dark circles mere shadows of his past. Levi looked so well, sipping on a cup of green tea with a book in his strong looking hands. Eren's Levi; His first love.
Eren's breath catches in his throat, when those eyes leave the pages of his book. His gaze meets Eren's across the room and the melancholy that had settled within Levi all those years ago was gone, he looked beautiful. Levi looked happy…
Shock registers on Levi's face, raised eyebrows and bright eyes wide. But ever so quickly the expression softens, disbelief making way for recognition. Eren feels hot tears prick at the back of his eyes as Levi's lips curve into that rare and subtle smile he had assumed he would never see again.
The man speaks that same word from all those years ago, the last thing Eren ever heard pass his lips. But this time it isn't sad, it isn't spoken into the stagnant air of a Summer's evening.
Levi's voice is comforting, warm and honeyed as he says a name through a smile, “Eren…”
And of course, his face breaking into a smile of his own, his chest feeling so close to bursting, Eren replies, “Levi.”