Everything had happened so fast.
One minute he was standing on the deck, watching the horizon, the next fragments of wood were flying everywhere and he was thrown into the ocean by the strength of a cannon shot. He remembered being immersed in the cold salty water, fighting against the current which was trying to take him further into the depths of the ocean. He remembered seeing only dark as his eyes had been forced shut, the blue of the sky reflecting around him as he opened them, and then orange coming from the uninterrupted explosions. He remembered seeing people falling into the water, some fighting like him, others just sinking, probably knocked unconscious by the impact, or worse.
He did his best moving his arms and legs despite the pain pulsing through his entire body, swimming towards the surface to access oxygen. Once his head was out of the water, he first coughed up the liquid he had swallowed during his fall. The salt burned his throat and made his first lungful of air even more painful, but the next ones helped clear his head. However, once he turned around to see what had happened, his mind went blank once again.
A ship, much bigger than the small carrack he had been standing on minutes before, was boarding and attacking, canons firing at every part of the small ship, turning it into shreds, cries echoing into his ears. And the last thing he saw before passing out, holding on to a piece of wood large enough to keep him afloat, was a black and white flag, fluttering in the wind, on top of the enemy’s ship.
When he slowly regained consciousness, he could feel warmth and soft fabrics enveloping his body. He tried moving his arms and legs, without opening his eyes, but he immediately felt a sharp pain flashing through his muscles and let out a groan. He suddenly heard movement on his right and opened his eyes in a haste, panic rising inside his chest.
The first thing he saw was darkness. He tried blinking a few times, to make sure his eyes were indeed open, and after squinting a bit, he finally noticed in a corner of the room he was currently in a small orange hue, which he quickly identified as a flame.
Where was he? First, he could obviously say that he wasn’t in the ocean anymore. His body was dry but his hair was still a bit damp. Then, he felt as if the bed he was lying on was moving underneath him, and he immediately understood it wasn’t the furniture nor him, but it was the swaying of waves.
He was on a ship. But whose ship?
He heard again movement beside him, and when he looked to his right, he saw a man approaching him quietly. His eyes had adapted to the darkness and he could now see shapes and shadows better than when he had first woken up, but it wasn’t enough for him to see clearly the features of the person from this distance. He could only see that the man was dressed in a light button-up, possibly white, the first two buttons open and the sleeves rolled up until his elbow. His shirt was tucked in a dark pants which was high on his waist and skin-tight, hold by a belt made of leather and metal. His eyes darted up to his face once he was close enough, and he could now clearly see the scowl on his face as he looked down at him. His hair went as far as his ears, with a few lose strands on his temple and forehead.
Maybe it was the fear the man inspired him or the fact he had woken up in an unknown room with a stranger after witnessing his ship being attacked, but he let out a loud squeal and tried to get the further away from the man while still lying on the bed. It wasn’t in his nature to run away, but in that moment, he was feeling very vulnerable and in danger.
“Calm down, you’re gonna hurt yourself!” The voice was low and deep, and the harshness in it made him flinch even more. “You’re alright now, you’re safe. I’m not going to hurt you.”
He didn’t know why he did, maybe it was something he had heard in his tone which had been softer, maybe it had been the words he had used, but he instantly relaxed. The man in front of him relaxed a bit too, and then sat down next to him on a chair.
“What’s your name, kid?”
He tried to answer but no sound came out of his mouth when he opened it. His throat hurt as much as the rest of his body. The man noticed it and handed him almost immediately a small cup filled with water, which he had probably already prepared for when he would wake up. He gulped it in one go once in a position allowing him to drink, not caring when a few drops went down his chin and fell on the sheets.
“Easy there! Don’t you know how to drink normally?” The man sighed and then tried again to ask for his name, after giving him a few more minutes to recover.
“E… Eren…” It had hurt getting those two syllables out, but he was happy he had succeeded.
“Well, Eren, aren’t you a lucky fellow.”
When he had furrowed his brows in a silent question, still not fully awake yet and his mind a mess, the man told him what had happened. His ship had been attacked by pirates and, by the time he and his crew had found the carrack, it had only been just a wreck and Eren had been the only survivor they had found. Everybody else had either been killed or had drown.
As Eren had listened to him, his eyes had started to get watery, and by the end of his narrative, his face was filled with tears he couldn’t hold back. Tears of sadness because of what had happened to him, to the people he knew, to his family, and tears of rage because of the people who had done this to him.
“I’m gonna kill them…” His voice was very low, almost like a whisper, but then he looked at his savior and his eyes were mirroring the determination rising inside his gut at the same time as his hatred. “I’m gonna kill every last one of them! I’m gonna kill all the pirates!!”
His mind hadn’t been in the right place but for a second he thought he had seen the eyes of the man lightened with interest and curiosity. But then a hand had suddenly gripped his forehead, blocking his sight and pinning his head to the bed.
“I told you to calm down, brat!”
Eren might have fallen asleep then, because the next time he opened his eyes, a new light was filtering through the windows around him and he could finally see what the room he was in looked like.
It was quite spacious, much larger than any cabin he had been in before. There was a wooden desk in a corner, with books and papers scattered on it, and also a large table in the center of the room, with a huge map spread on it. There seemed to have a lot of measuring instruments as well as a compass, but also a gun, and Eren had to suppressed a shiver.
He remembered his discussion with the man, but he realized apart from the fact he had rescued him, he had no idea who he was and where he was. As if he had heard his thoughts, the said man entered the cabin and walked towards him. Eren could see him much more clearly now, and noticed his hair was black and actually cut in a neat undercut, and his eyes were as sharp as a sword. He stopped near the bed and gave him a once-over before sitting on the chair exactly like the day before.
“You feel better now?” The man crossed his legs and put one elbow on the backrest, in a nonchalant manner which calmed Eren a bit.
“Hmm?” The raven looked at him with slight interest and Eren had to clear his throat a few times before talking again.
“Where am I?”
“What does it look like to you? A house?” The man scoffed.
“I know we’re on a ship, that’s not what I meant!” The silver eyes of the man met his emerald ones, and he seemed to ponder something in his head.
“Have you heard of the Wings of Freedom, kid?”
Eren’s eyes widen at the name. He had grown up with stories of the legendary ship and of her fierce captain. The frigate had been one of the most powerful warships sailing under the king’s banner, taking down ship after ship of the enemy of the crown. But most of all, her fame had been due to the kind of ships she was fighting against: pirates. But after one incident, the captain had been banished from the realm and was considered as a traitor. No one had seen him nor the Wings of Freedom ever since, but some claimed that the frigate still chased after pirates, the captain continuing his duty even after his banishment.
“Are you…” Eren’s voice was a bit strangled by the surprise and the emotion of meeting his childhood hero. “Are you the captain Levi Ackerman?”
The dark-haired man first seemed taken aback by the sudden question, but then his expression softened and Eren saw a hint of a smirk on his lips, his eyes shining with pride and malice.
“That I am, kid. Welcome aboard the Wings of Freedom.”
Once Eren had recovered enough, he moved to the crew’s quarters and got his own hammock. He felt guilty because he had been using the captain’s bed all this time, but he also felt grateful. The raven didn’t really seem as fierce as he had heard in his bedtime stories. He also felt extremely lucky to be able to walk on the deck of one of the most famous – or rather infamous – frigates of the kingdom.
His impressions about the captain changed completely once he presented him to the crew as a scrawny little kid who wouldn’t be able to survive a month out in the ocean if he didn’t get some meat on his bones. It was as if his personality had drastically changed, and he didn’t even look his way afterwards. He was assigned under one of his officers, with promises of learning how to live and especially how to survive aboard a ship. But also, how to earn his keep, because food had to be earned through hard work, and being a sixteen-year-old teenager wouldn’t make him an exception.
He started by helping the cook, peeling and chopping potatoes, and by cleaning the decks when asked to. After a few weeks, and when he had become accustomed to living on the ship, he learned how to make different knots, how to hoist sail, trim; everything that was needed to keep the ship moving forward. Every day made him more of a seaman than the day before. He was a fast leaner.
His officer noticed that and, soon, he was authorized to start learning how to fight and use weaponry. First, he learned how to defend himself and dodge. Then, he learned how to attack. He was taught how to handle a knife, then a sword, before he was taught how to use a gun. He rapidly gained more muscles, and as he continued his growth, a few inches too.
He didn’t interact much with the captain in his first years aboard the Wings of Freedom.
The raven was always very busy and often locked up in his quarter, looking over his maps and discussing tactics with his officers and first mate. Sometimes he could see him on the stern, holding the helm while looking with utter concentration at the horizon, or on the bow, looking absentmindedly at the ocean. But nevertheless, the captain seemed to know his accomplishments, because every time their eyes met, he could see for a split of a second a hint of a smirk on his lips, steel eyes piercing right through him. Eren had no idea if it was meant as an encouragement, but that was how he took it every time, spurring him on to do better in order to be a valuable asset for the man.
Though he had learned how to fight, he wasn’t authorized to participate in battles, and had to stay hidden with the rest of the non-fighter recruits during attacks. Everyone on the ship had to know how to defend themselves to increase their chances of survival, even if they didn’t actively participate in battles. Meaning all the people he had to stay locked in with had a sword in case of necessity, including him.
The Wings of Freedom was one of the fastest ships across the ocean, which added to her fame, and was one of her best assets when fighting pirates’ ships – or to escape the royal Navy. The battles were most than often very quick, the frigate surprising the pirates with her speed and destroying their ship in matter of seconds with her firepower, leaving them with too little retaliation time. But some other time, the pirates were waiting for them, and eventually boarding them was the only option to win the battle. It was in those cases Eren and the others had to hide and wait for it to be over, and also be ready to defend their position if needed.
He had never had to use what he had been taught until one time, two years after his rescue.
They were attacking quite a big pirates’ ship and round-shots hadn’t been enough, so the captain and the crew boarded the enemy’s ship to gain victory. As Eren was waiting, a sword in his right hand, ready to defend himself and the others, they were discovered by a lone pirate. He should have succeeded in passing through the crew or had secretly boarded the ship to steal things from them, and eventually came across them.
As soon as they were spotted, the pirate darted towards them, screaming and drawing his cutlass in front of him. Eren didn’t think more than half a second before moving forward to intercept him, dead set on protecting the others and stopping the enemy. It was his first fight and it was completely different from his training, the pirate trying to use tricks to hurt and kill him. Adrenaline was shooting throughout his entire body and his ears were buzzing during the entire fight, probably deafened by his increasing heartbeat. But eventually, the brunet administrated the final blow, slicing the man’s carotid, leaving him bleeding to death at his feet.
It was his first kill and one of the most painful roller-coasters of emotions he had had to go through in years. His eyes were set on the livid face of the man on the floor, his hand tightened around the hilt of his sword, his jaw clenched in the same painful way and his mind blank. He had some bruises and scratches here and there on his body but couldn’t even feel them, his system still functioning on the high of the fight, leaving him numb to any physical pain, but not to psychological one.
The feeling of a hand on his shoulder brought him back to his senses, and then he was staring into deep grey eyes, looking back at him with satisfaction and understanding. The sword was taken away from his hand, and soon his body started to relax and let go of all the tension he had accumulated when he had been fighting for his own life and those of others.
“You did good, kid.”
The acknowledgment of his captain was what made him come to terms with what had just happened and made him realize he had just saved both his and his comrades’ life, becoming officially a pirate killer like the rest of the crew. It had been somewhat his baptism of fire and what made him become a real fighter from then one.
He was officially part of the captain’s soldiers.
His training then started to get more intense and harder on both his body and mind. There was no place for hesitation during a fight, or it would cost him his life, so he had to become better and stronger as soon as possible.
During the first attacks he joined, he was part of the last groups to enter the battle in order to minimize the number of opponents he would have to face. But as the years passed and the number of veterans diminished, he soon found himself in the first wave, alongside the officers and the captain.
It wasn’t difficult to climb the ladder, especially after bloody and brutal battles. Pirates showed no mercy, and mortality rates during such encounters were pretty high. No one could expect coming back from them completely unharmed, and the survivors always celebrated their survival while honoring the dead.
Even the captain wasn’t an exception. Even though he always made it back and had a pretty good survival rate, he had his share of scars and injuries, mapping his body as proof of all the hardships he had been through and the battles he had survived.
Once Eren became an officer, he grew closer to the captain.
They would train together, share meals, talk silently at night on the stern while looking at the stars. They also quickly developed a mutual trust in each other as well as a good understanding which helped them more than once during sword fights, saving each other from injuries more than often. Levi trusted Eren’s instincts and skills, and Eren had stopped idolizing the man as he had come to know him better.
Five years after the sinking of Eren’s ship, the brunet had become a tall and strong man. His hair had grown so much he had started to tie it either in a ponytail or in a bun, refusing to cut it, a green bandana the same color of his eyes tightly tied in it. His skin was a perfect shade of golden after hours spent under the sun, marked with scars of his own battles in which he found pride as a warrior and survivor. He was rarely seen without the company of the captain, and Eren couldn’t say he minded, on the contrary. Rumors were that he would be the next first mate, some wondering why he hadn’t been given the title yet.
His promotion eventually came, but there was no celebration.
They had been attacked by surprise by one of the fiercest pirates’ ship and, even though they had won, it had been a close call. The casualties had been far too high, starting with Levi’s former first mate, hence Eren’s new title, and dozens of other persons from the crew. Some veterans as well as new recruits, some they had been close to as well as others they hadn’t been. They had lost too many people and hence why there were no festivities for their victory.
After mooring for a few days at a port not far from their position to restock foods and medical supplies, they had dropped the anchor near an island they often used when they needed some time to rest after intense battles and heal their injuries. Eren and Levi weren’t badly hurt, their wounds were more emotional than physical, but this kind of wounds also required time.
Levi had locked himself up in his quarters and had barely gotten out over the last few days, and everyday Eren would knock on his door to bring him food, water, and he hoped, comfort. They didn’t talk during the few minutes they were in each other’s company, except for one evening.
After the sun had set but the sky was still painted with shades of pink and orange, Eren eventually broke the silence.
“Captain, why do you–” He hardly got the time to start speaking before he was interrupted.
“Don’t call me that.”
“Huh?” Eren turned his head to look at his captain who was facing one of the windows, his back turned to him. He couldn’t see his expression, but his voice sounded strained and a bit hoarse, surely from the lack of use.
“Don’t call me captain.”
“Oh.” It surprised the brunet as it had always been the way he addressed him, and never had he expressed any complaints about it, until now. “Then… Levi?” As he got no answer, either from approval or disapproval, he chose to continue. “Why do you still fight pirates after how the king treated you? Shouldn’t you fight the Navy ships to get your revenge?”
Levi turned slowly to look at him, eyeing him through narrowed eyes, his face reflecting his exhaustion and possibly his annoyance towards him.
“You haven’t learned anything in all those years, have you.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement. Disappointment was apparent both on his features and in his voice, and Eren’s shoulders tensed at the blame.
“Eren…” He heaved a big sigh before crossing his arms in front of his chest. “If I attacked the Navy, I would be no better than the pirates I’m fighting against. Yes, the king betrayed me, but I don’t want to betray myself. I can’t forgive people who go and steal others for their own benefits. I can’t forgive them for killing innocent people. They don’t only attack the Navy, but also – and mostly – merchant ships. Civilians. Hard working people.”
As he had been talking, he had crossed the room to stand a few feet away from Eren, and the brunet could see his fists tightened because of anger, frustration, powerlessness. A shiver ran through his own body at the mention of pirates assaulting ships, having went through that experience firsthand.
“I do this for myself, Eren, not because of some mission I had under the king’s orders. And I’m the only one who has been banished. Every man aboard this ship chose to be here, because they either have a score to settle with pirates or because they share my vision. I let the ones who wanted to leave go. I’m not keeping anyone hostage. Everyone is free to leave or to stay.”
They were now facing each other. Levi’s arms were down by his sides but his hands were still clenched into fists. He was looking Eren deep in the eye, not looking away for an instant, and the brunet could sense he was conflicted.
“You are free to leave or stay.”
It had been said in such a low and small voice that for an instant Eren thought he had imagined it. But as he could see incertitude in those silver eyes he had looked into so many times, he understood he hadn’t.
“You think I want to leave…?” His voice was barely a whisper too. He sounded broken but didn’t really care in that moment.
“What? No! Of course not!” His heart, which had almost stopped because of his previous implication, was now hammering in his chest and ears, and in his outburst of emotions, Eren took Levi by the shoulders. “Levi, you saved my life! You gave me a place to stay when I had lost everything! There’s nothing for me out there! No one waiting for me! You’re everything that I have! And I… I care about you. A lot.”
He knew his face was a whirlwind of emotions, but he hoped it at least helped the raven understand where he was getting at. Levi looked at him for a few seconds, scrutinizing every inch of his face, before breaking free of his grip.
“You only feel that way because I’m your savior. You feel indebted to me. Don’t mix the admiration you have for me with something more than it will ever be. You only have a stupid hero crush, it’ll go away.”
Levi almost sounded disgusted as he said the last part and started to turn away from Eren before he grabbed his arm, determined to get his point across.
“No! That’s not what I feel! Don’t decide for me!” He was both desperate and filled with anger at the idea Levi could belittle his feelings.
“Then tell me, Eren.”
“I care about you!” Levi was facing him again, but he couldn’t control the volume of his voice.
“You already said that.”
“I care about you.” Eren said again very slowly, accentuating each word. Both of his hands were on his arms now, desperate for Levi to understand and believe what he was saying. “First, yeah, I might have seen you like a hero. I’ve heard stories about you and your ship since I was a kid. But my hero is not you, it’s the captain Ackerman. But I care about you, Levi.”
“It’s the same thing.” He was looking at him, bewildered, as if he was spouting the most stupid thing he had ever heard.
“It’s not! You’re not the same person you want others to believe you are! Outside this door, you act like a fierce, proud captain. But right now, right here, the one I’m looking at, is Levi. Just Levi.”
He had moved his hands to hold Levi’s, and hadn’t broken eye contact for even a second, barely blinking.
“A man who got betrayed by the people he trusted the most and had offered his heart to. A man who cares about his comrades so much he wouldn’t hesitate a second to die for any of them. A man who never gives up and searches wrecks in the hope of finding survivors. A man who doesn’t care being seen as a bad person if it means saving others. A man who got his heart broken so many times he is now hiding it behind walls to protect it from further harm. That’s the man I came to know and love.”
The last words had been said with such a tender and soft tone that Eren hoped it hadn’t gone unnoticed after his long and passionate tirade. Levi looked a bit puzzled, in denial, but he hadn’t backed away from Eren’s touch.
“You’re not making any sense and you’re confused.” He looked down at their intertwined hands as if he had only noticed them. “I can’t give you anything, Eren. I don’t have anything left to offer.”
“But I do. And I’m ready to give you everything I have if it means I can stay by your side.”
Eren offered him a soft and loving smile, staying as calm as he could considering the fact his heart was bare in the open for Levi to either take or crush. He used one of his hand to put a strand of black hair behind his ear, and he left it there, cupping one of his cheeks, feeling the warmth of his face underneath his fingertips.
“You’ll offer your heart to me without anything in return?”
“I will. I already have.”
“That’s just bullshit, everyone wants something in return! No one is that selfless!” Levi finally backed away from Eren’s touch, his eyebrows drawn together and his lips closed in a stubborn line. He was still in denial, but Eren could see a hint of fear in his eyes.
“And yet, you are.”
“Selfless.” Eren took one step to close the gap Levi had created between them, and this time cupped both of his cheeks with his hands, tilting his head back so he could look him in the eye. “Levi, you’re the most selfless person I’ve ever met. You always give without expecting anything in return. So, for once, let me be the one giving.”
“You’re… You are…” He put his hands atop of his, but didn’t show any sign of pushing them away. “You are more of an idiot than I thought.”
“Maybe” Eren couldn’t help but grin at the statement and as he saw the last barriers Levi had erected going down one by one.
“I can’t change the way I am.”
“I’m not asking you to.”
“I… There’s not much left of my heart…”
“I’ll take anything you’ll give me, even if it’s nothing.”
“Are you out of excuses already? Because now I’d like to kiss you.”
Levi looked at him as if he had just slapped him in the face, his mouth wide open, as well as his eyes. But seconds later they turned fierce, and Eren only had time to see them gleamed with resolution before he was yanked down to Levi’s level, a hand holding the back of his neck and another fisted in his shirt. He heard the raven murmured “You little shit” and he closed his eyes painfully, expecting to be headbutted and waiting for the pain.
But the pain never came.
Instead, he felt a pression on his lips, strong and forceful, which soon became soft and gentle. Before he realized what had happened, realized the fact that Levi was actually kissing him, his lips were gone and his forehead was leaning against his own, silver eyes staring into teal ones. They were full of want, desperation, but also affection and tenderness.
Once the realization of what his actions implied sunk in, Eren gave him the brightest smile he could make, his own eyes reflecting the feelings he had tried to keep hidden for so many years. And then, more slowly this time, their lips met once again, moving against each other, the both of them relishing in the feeling of finally.
It was only soft and gentle kisses at first, but as their hands started exploring the other’s body, they became more heated. Eren nipped and licked Levi’s lower lip, trying to gain access to his mouth, his heart beating faster by the second. Once it was granted, they lost no time trying to map every corner of each other’s mouth, fighting for dominance until Levi let Eren take control over their kisses.
A harsh tug at his dark locks made Levi moan inside of the brunet’s mouth, and his hands also found their way into his hair, throwing away the bandana he always wore to feel his brown locks better under his fingers, tilting his head to find a better angle. Eren moaned in return and couldn’t stop himself from devouring his mouth, trying to pull as different noises as he could out of Levi, wanting to hear more of them. And as Levi kept on touching his hair with one hand, his other on the nape of his neck to keep him from backing away too far, Eren brought the raven’s body against his own by his hips in order to feel him closer and closer.
They had both waited too long for this, both refraining themselves for different reasons, but now that they were finally able to touch the other as they had dreamed of, they couldn’t stop, didn’t want to stop.
Eren nudged Levi back until the back of his knees touched the edge of the bed and he fell backwards on it, Eren on top of him, their hands never leaving the other’s body. Levi positioned himself better on the bed and dragged Eren by the collar to smash their lips together once more.
Their kisses turned gentler again, unhurried, as if they finally realized they had all the time in the world to touch and feel the other. Eventually, they stopped to look at each other in the eye, a bit short of breath.
Levi used his thumb to brush away a tear that had formed at the corner of his emerald eyes, and Eren realized he was crying. There were just too many emotions overwhelming him all at once. Relief. Happiness. Tenderness. Love. And as he saw the same emotions reflecting in his lover’s eyes, he knew everything would be okay.
They were okay.
They had both survived another day. They had both survived long enough to nurture and confess the feelings they had for each other, even if not with words.
But they didn’t need to use any.
Their bodies were conveying their feelings much better than words would ever be able to. Like the scars across Levi’s face were more telling of the battles he had seen than a thousand stories. And Eren kissed them all, one by one, on every inch of Levi’s face and body, celebrating the fact he was alive and here with him, celebrating the hardships he had gone through, the ones they had experienced together.
Levi was a survivor, they both were. And they were going to keep on surviving for each other.