Huddled on the stable floor, Eren was finally safe from the rain. His body sickly from lack of food, and his clothes far too small, and in tatters from living on the streets. It hadn't always been that way, but since the end of the last Great War with Marley, poverty had run rampant through the small island nation of Eldia. Resources and taxes were at an all-time high, as citizen moral was at an all-time low. In the time of noble King Smith's rule, thousands of men had defended Eldia's shores, and not just from Marley, but from the kingdom of Draecia that lay along the long peninsula to the north of the island. The dragons and their riders had long abandoned the ways of war, having entered a peace treaty of sorts that promised to stay clear of both Eldia and Marley on the provision both nations extended them the same courtesy. For the most part, the treaty had been kept, though, in every generation, there were those who would seek to destroy the uneasy peace, on both sides of the borders. Dragon blood and scales could fetch a high price, by those less pure of heart. Bones were often used by magic casters of Marley and Eldia, and having their supply cut had seen in an increase in illegal dragon hunting and culls. Of course, none of this mattered to the wasting form of Eren. Knowing this wouldn't put food in his starving belly, nor would it give him a warm and safe place to sleep... something he hadn't in last two years.
Things hadn't always been this way. He'd once had a loving mother, and absent, though caring father. He'd had an adoptive sister, Mikasa, who'd always been there to baby him and to prevent him reaching his full potential. He'd had a best friend named Armin, who lightning fast intellect... but when Marley had used captured dragons to destroy the southern side of the kingdoms outer wall, everything had gone to shit in a heartbeat. His father had deserted him. His mother was crushed underfoot by a dragon so large, the sky had turned black above him. Some days he sorely wished he'd died with her, instead of being rescued by a royal guard. He was alive, but not for much longer. Mikasa and Armin had both found paths in the aftermath of devastation, where Eren hadn't. Mikasa was training to be a knight, her commander had never seen such a naturally skilled soldier. While Armin was training to be a royal diplomat, both now residing in the Royal keep... who's stables in which, Eren was currently hiding. It'd hurt to leave his friends, to lie and say he'd found a modest job at a small butcher shop. He'd done no such thing. No one wanting to be responsible for a rat with such a fiery temper, or that's was what they said. It'd been fine, to begin with. Living on the streets had been like some kind of adventure until it hadn't been.
In all the known kingdoms, omegas were the only ones capable of using magic. Upon presentation, they were sent to sanctuaries to train in the ways of attending in a royal court. Never before had a magic user come along, that hadn't presented an omega... and yet... only weeks before his home had fallen, Eren had. It started with a crackling sensation, like pins and needles in his fingers. From there it spread to small white sparks flaring from his fingers and wrapping around his hands. Terrified, he'd run to his mother for help. His mother just as mortified as she wrapped his tender hands, which had seemed to contain his newly forming magic. From there, the power had spread through his whole body. His senses growing so sharp that he could hear the neighbours down the road fighting, or taste an incoming storm in the wind, hours before it finally rolled in. For days he'd fevered, even bringing snowfall down on his bed, but before his mother could consult with his father, everything had gone to hell. Eldia had signed it's stupid treaty with Marley, and he'd become just another nameless face in those whose lives had been ruined by the upheaval. He couldn't tell anyone about his powers, lest the send him away from Armin and Mikasa, but he also couldn't hold down a job either. He hadn't even presented and yet, there he was. Likely to start a fire completely by accident, if the wrong word should be said in his direction.
The stables had been his last safe haven. With Mikasa so distinguished, he'd been granted limited access to the keep, in order to meet with his sister. The guards at the gatehouse knew as well as he did, that Mikasa was off training in the countries north, but he supposed they taken pity on him given the fact he looked as if to die and the weather wasn't easing up. Mikasa and Armin never knew of his true condition. He'd stolen clothes each time he'd come to visit them, before washing and return them to the line in which he'd taken them. It'd been tempting as hell to keep them, but each time he couldn't. Everyone was working so hard to survive, it wasn't fair to cost them any more. If he'd had control of his powers, he liked to believe he could have found a real job, until he turned 15, which was the accepted age of entrance into the kingdoms military branches. In equal parts, it annoyed him and impressed him that Mikasa was the youngest soldier to enter at the age of 10 and that everyone expected big things of her... but he couldn't understand, why that couldn't have been him. Coughing, sparks danced around his body, as blood dribbled down from the corner of his mouth. He'd been sick for so long, he didn't remember what it was to be well. Drawing his thin legs to his chest, he coughed into his knees, his lungs rattled as he tried to draw breath between the wet coughs. If he knew magic, he could help himself. If he knew how to control his magic, he could build himself a fire, and wouldn't have to freeze in his soaked clothes. But the stable was the warmest place he'd had in days. The smell didn't matter, nor did the dampness of they hay around him... and while it'd been nice to pretend he'd see Mikasa again... he'd really just been looking for somewhere safe to die.
Riding into the castle keep, Levi was ignoring Erwin. His blond bear of a friend was an arsehole and the last of the royal bloodline. Though they'd met several extremely long years ago, Levi still wondered how he'd ended up living the lie of a prince. Right now, he was wondering what the ramifications of him killing his "bodyguard" would be.
Living on the streets, Levi's life hadn't been easy. Him, along with his two best friends, had been the most feared group of the city that resided under the royal capital. If anyone had been asked, Levi was a wild gutter rat, destined to live a life of petty crime and murder. Yet, there he was. Playing Prince Erwin, heir to the Kingdom of Eldia, in a game that made no sense to him. It'd all begun with the assassination of the former King and Queen, also know as Erwin's parents. It was a common practice for royal children to be sent away, to live as commoners and to live without even knowing the truth of their existence. Poisoned wine had been delivered, a gift from supposed allies, that caused the royal capital descended into chaos as the word went out. Rumours of a reward offered to those with information on the murder, but Levi had his eyes on a bigger prize. The young prince, that was Erwin. After all, if not for rumours, the underground would have been too boring for words. Sneaking above ground was easy, as was stealing horses. It was all laughably easy... only, it wasn't until he laid eyes on Erwin, that he found the young prince had expected something along such lines to happen. Erwin knew exactly who he was, and what Levi was there to do. Instead of ordering his execution, Erwin had proposed a simple deal. Levi to play him, and in reward, his two best friends would be given the right to live in the palace. It was a foolish scheme Levi had never thought would work, but the underground had grown boring. The daily murders no long elicited any sympathy from its inhabitants. Figuring he was going to die anyway, he'd accepted the prince's proposal... somehow, Erwin had managed to convince the royal court that Levi was, in fact, the best person to play the role of the orphaned prince. The royal court agreeing to prevent the death of the royal line... and that was how he became Prince Erwin to the outside world. Despite not resembling the royal line, in any other way than having dark hair like Erwin's mother had.
Dismounting his horse outside the stables, Levi scowled at Erwin who was still laughing. It was hardly his fault strange women proclaimed their love for him each time he set foot outside the castle keep. He didn't want a single one of them. He'd met hundreds of parents hoping he'd marry their offspring, yet, Levi didn't want to marry purely because of his position. He wasn't the "king-to-be", he was Erwin's bodyguard without an ounce of tact. The woman who'd professed her love today had learned that the hard way as Levi had ridden off the moment he'd seen the red rose in her hand
"Are you done with your shitty laughing?"
"Not quite, Prince Erwin. You really should be more refined, your highness"
"And you really should pluck those overgrown brows of yours. I have no idea how you even see past them"
"Leave my eyebrows alone. You're going to end up assassinated before you even ascend to the throne"
"I'd like to see them try. It'd make a nice change from dealing with you"
Leading his horse over, Erwin gathered up the reins of Levi's horse
"I'll have the stable hands deal with them"
"No. Those shitty arseholes are only good for shovelling shit. I'll clean my own tack"
"What's the point of having servants, if you don't make the most of them?"
"What's the point of having servants, if they're all useless?"
Erwin rolled his eyes, yet didn't vocalise his disagreement. The death caused by the man's parents had left everyone bowing and scraping as they tried to fill the chasm left. He and Erwin knew nothing about ruling a country, yet there they were. And now they were practically puppets to Marley. Tugging his reins back, Levi led his horse towards her stall. The hulking black beast was his pride and joy, and nothing like the prissy white stead Erwin had chosen for himself.
Left alone in the stables, Levi was curry combining down his stead, when the smell of burning hay caught his attention. There was no reason for the hay to be alight. Thanks to the magic of the court, all the lights within the castle grounds were powered by shining stones. Patting his horse, he abandoned her grooming, in favour of solving the mystery of the burning hay. Checking stall after stall, it wasn't until he reached the one closest to the stable entrance that he found the source. A small child curled into a ball, admits a blackened circle of hay. The child clearly didn't belong there, dressed in rags and stinking to high hell. Slipping into the stall, he prayed the kid wasn't dead. He didn't particularly feel like explaining that one. With his nose wrinkled in disgust, he poked the kid in the side with the tip of his boot. The child coughing so hard, that Levi momentarily felt a spark of pity
"Oi, brat. What the fuck is going on here?"
With each cough, small plumes of smoke would rise from the hay. Levi finally putting two and two together. The kid was an omega. The whole world knew that only omegas could use magic... Just fucking great. Squatting down, he was glad he'd left his gloves on as he shook the filthy mess by the shoulder
"Oi. Brat, are you alright?"
The kid definitely wasn't alright. He could feel how thin the child was. Coughing, the boy tried to shy from his touch
"You can't sleep here"
"... didn't come here to sleep..."
So he could talk?
"Then get up. You're stinking up the stables"
Coughing as the kid tried to rise, red blood splattered with watery vomit onto the burnt hay. Whimpering, the kid collapsed face first into his own mess
Wheezing, the child was fading before his eyes. Struck by unwanted thoughts of the underground, Levi acted before his brain could stop him. As if made of glass, he took the child into his arms. He was so, stupidly light... and his smell... so very sweet, despite being hidden beneath the stench of poverty
"Alright. You're not dying in my castle keep"
In his arms, the child's eyelashes fluttered, Levi, leaving the stable gate open as he began towards the castle. The omega whining softly as his eyes opened. Levi momentarily left shocked at the greenest eyes he'd ever seen. Inside of him, a whirlwind of emotions was stirred into life. At 22ish, he was late to present, but then again, Erwin hadn't yet either and the man was twice his size... but all it took was one look at those pained eyes, and he was filled with a need to help and protect the kid
"Are you an angel? Come to collect me? I hardly deserve it..."
If he was an angel, it was an angel of death and destruction
"I'm not leaving you to die or to burn my stables down. What's your name?"
In his arms, the kid's eyes slipped closed before he could reply. The space between them filling with the sound of harsh breathing, which was way too uncomfortably close to a death rattle. Levi's stride hastening as he marched across the still wet courtyard, not caring how many shitty puddled he stepped in on the way. He couldn't understand what he was feeling, only that he had absolutely had to help the frail life in his hold.
Kicking in the door to the infirmary may have been overkill, yet Levi couldn't exactly open it with his arms filled with an unconscious child
"We need a healer!"
"Yes, my lord"
Laying the kid down on the first available bed, small sparks crackled and danced as Levi broke his hold
"He's an omega! We need someone here to restrain his powers!"
Levi didn't like the sound of that, he was even less impressed as the head matron took him by the arm
"Sir, you cannot be in here. We do not know what this child is afflicted with"
"I don't give a damn"
"Sir, he could be contagious. You must go wash, then burn your clothes. We cannot lose another member of the royal family"
"You must go. I will send a healer to find you in your chambers. Please reframe from allowing anyone in until you've been seen to"
He didn't want to fucking go. The kid all but melted into the thin hospital mattress, and as he watched a healer stripping away the kid's shirt, he felt himself since at the sight. For the first time in his life, he turned away. Unable to bear the sight of bruised and torn skin, nor the clearly infected bites across it. Wherever the omega was from, he'd had a hard life. But now, he'd be taken into a sanctuary... unless he'd run from one as it was. Omegas stayed in sanctuaries until their first heat. That was when they made the trip to the capital city, where they swore their allegiance to the crown. He'd never seen the ceremonies, as he'd never been interested, but monthly reports from the various regions had made there was across Erwin's desk... his desk... their desk. Erwin filling him on the details of anything actually important. Confused and annoyed, he departed the infirmary. The child was just a brat, so why was he so caught up in him? He'd seen many a child like that below ground... that must have been it. An ugly ghost of his childhood rearing its ugly head and making him confused... Once declared uninfected, Erwin would scold him, and he'd forget the child. Their lives would fall back into a normal routine, and the kid would... the kid would be sent to a sanctuary until he came of age. That was the only thing for the child, and the best offer Levi could give.
Reaching his quarters, Levi shooed off the guards. He hated their constant hovering, and hated the way the knelt before him... and they always came back, no matter how many times he dismissed them. Stripping off his riding cloak, Levi had no issues with burning the horrible thing. The traditional colours of the Eldia empire had been a forest green, whose pigments were only found on Paradis island. Since Marley moved in, they'd been stripped of it. The kingdom colours now a silvery grey, deep navy, and white. Wearing Eldia green was now seen as treason by Marley... which, was in Levi's opinion, a total load of shit. Throwing the riding coat into the hearth, it was satisfying to see the ugly grey thing burn. Next came his grey tunic, then blue trousers, until he stood naked. His boots and belt the only thing to escape the flames. Rubbing his arms, he felt uncomfortably warm as he walked across his room and into his private bathroom. His bathroom was the only true place he could have a moment of peace to himself. The maids finally taking the hint after the hundredth time he'd told them he was taking a shit. Still, everything that came into his bathroom had to be checked, right down to the soap. He'd tried buying his own, but the maids had binned it... so then he'd hired the market stall holder to supply the whole castle. It was practically the only perk of being a prince.
By the time Levi had finished bathing, the healer had arrived, as had Erwin. Barely stuffed into his own pants, the fabric scratched against his skin. Someone had obviously failed at their job when it came to washing them. Normally he'd let it slide, but he was far too irritated too. Walking into his room, Erwin was poking at the fire in the hearth, with the healer frowning at his half-naked appearance
"Leave the fire alone, Levi"
God. It was hard to keep the lie up. He didn't know who knew what anymore, so with a witness, Erwin was now Levi
"I heard you picked up a stray?"
Moving to stand in the middle of the room, he nodded to the healer, to begin with his magic shit. He couldn't deny magic existed, but he wasn't particularly fond of it, given he'd grown up without it. Ignoring the woman, he sighed at Erwin
"I found a kid in the stables. It wasn't like I picked him up off the streets"
"I heard the infirmary caught fire"
"The kid can use magic. It happens"
"If you'd left him there, he would have died"
"And the stables would have burned down"
Fuck. He hated the feel of magic. It was as if his body was rejecting it with every fibre that it was made of. Humming, the woman looked him up and down, before lowering herself to one knee. Levi ignoring her, as Erwin continued
"Was that all there was to it?"
"You know magic users have trouble using their magic when ill"
"Which is exactly why you should have left him there. The kid is violently ill. Even with the help of healers, he'll be here for a week at least. His blood poisoned, caused by infected flea bite, and his heat has begun"
Levi perked up slightly at Erwin's words. The Omega would be here for a week?
"Erwin, you cannot afford to become attached"
"I am not attached. I just didn't want to lose the stables. Now. Healer, am I fine? Is that all?"
The woman rose
"Sir, you're rut is beginning. Your health, perfect. This is a joyous day for the kingdom. We'd feared you to be a beta, but the word must go through the castle at once. Our prince is an alpha!"
Great. Just... great. A rut. He knew exactly went on during a rut... and the palace soldiers were hardly covert at hiding theirs. Suppressants could be taken and were actually mandatory after signing with Marley, but as far as he knew, he couldn't start them until after his first rut had passed
"You may leave us. Make preparations for suppressants once the rut has passed"
"Very well, Sir"
Drawing up her long blue robes, the healer left them be. Almost every single omega born was female, males making up less than three percent, and most of them were barren. Groaning as he dragged himself to his bed, Levi flopped down stomach first
"An alpha? I thought it was too late for you to present"
"You're really going to give me shit over this, aren't you?"
"You're small and rather delicate. Your stature, at a glance, would be more than enough for people to think you omega"
"We can't all be huge arseholes like you"
"At least now I know why you've been in a rotten mood all day"
"I'm a fucking ray of sunshine. Now piss off"
"Once you tell me what is to become of the omega?"
"Send him to a sanctuary, once he's healed. He's not to be around alphas and the usual shit. If they want to be arses over it, tell them it's a royal decree"
"You won't be keeping him?"
He could hear the implications in Erwin's voice. He was an alpha in a rut, while Eren was an omega in heat... logically, they'd be thrown together, despite the kid's young age. It wasn't happening. The idea of sleeping with a prepubescent kid was absolutely revolting, and he was having nothing to do with it
"No. The kid will be sent to an omega sanctuary until it's time for him to pledge his allegiance to the kingdom"
"Very well. I'll pass your message on..."
"Good. Now go away. Apparently, I have a rut to deal with, and there's nothing about you that I find desirable..."
Erwin laughed, though listened. His steps moving towards the doorway
"I'll have you know I'm pretty desirable"
"I've heard more than I ever needed to about that"
"You're already an insufferable arsehole. Maybe this rut will mellow you out?"
"And maybe if you plucked your eyebrows, you'd hear me telling you to leave"
"Haha. Have fun!"
Levi liked to think there were a fair few things he knew, and one of them was that there was going to be nothing fun about this rut.