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Fractured Identity

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'I am not scared of showers. Showers are not scary.'

That's what he kept telling himself for the past ten minutes as he stood outside the shower booth.

'I'm a big boy. Showers don't scare me.'

That's what 10-year-old Levi Ackerman wanted to believe.

And it worked. For a grand total of five seconds when he took a bold step forward, yet was suddenly on the other side of the bathroom the next instant.

"I'm not scared. I'm not scared. I'm not scared." He kept repeating to himself like a mantra as he curled up on himself with his head buried on his knees, and shaking hands holding each side as if it could keep himself grounded.

It didn't. He could feel himself floating somehow; being dragged out of his own body. Everything was slowly starting to feel distant, and it was like he couldn't really feel like himself. Although, it was a welcome distraction compared to the pounding in his chest.

That was how his 7-year-old cousin, Mikasa, found him.

"Mom. Mom. Levi is on the bathroom floor again." She tugged innocently on her mother's dress.

"Is he? Okay, stay here, alright? I'll go get him." Her mother smiled sweetly at her, despite the inner worry that was tugging on her chest.

Because for some reason, her nephew seemed to have a phobia with showers. Levi never really stayed with them for long periods of time, but he does stay with them frequently. It was due to Kenny's work, so whenever he has to go out-of-town or overseas when duty calls, Levi needed someone to look after him.

The Ackerman's were more than happy to take him in whenever Kenny drops him on their front door. They only have one child, Mikasa, and Levi's presence made her feel like she has a big brother that she had always bugged them about.

Levi was generally a good kid. For a child, he was atypically calm and composed when dealing with other children like Mikasa, and he had always acted responsibly with her. However, as a mother, Mrs. Ackerman could pick up some nervous habits the raven has, but would always struggle to conceal. She could see how he would tense up and be very wary when meeting new people, especially grown-ups. She could notice some OC tendencies he might have with regards to cleanliness. And the thing about the showers had become pretty apparent from his frequent stays at the house.

She knocked lightly on the bathroom door, despite it already wide open, to alert the kid of her presence.

However, she didn't find him on the floor like what Mikasa had told her. In fact, he was actually inside the shower booth already.

"Yes, auntie?" He poked his head out of the booth door, completely relaxed and no sign of anxiety on his demeanor.

Mrs. Ackerman was dumbfounded by this. She had been pretty sure the raven was terribly scared of showers. He had always preferred baths for this very reason.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Mikasa told me you were in the bathroom. I just thought you needed help in running a bath." She tried to play it off with a smile.

"Thank you, but I'm good with a shower for now." He responded accordingly, hair still dripping wet.

"I see. Well... just call out if you need anything, alright?" She offered, trying to mask down the hesitation in her tone.

"I will. Thanks." was his only reply as he went back in the booth.

Mrs. Ackerman lingered at the door for a while longer, trying to determine if the kid really was fine, or if he was forcing himself to get over his irrational fears. When minutes passed and she couldn't sense anything wrong as her nephew was inside the booth, she deemed it to be the former.

But the how's and why's remain a complete mystery to her.

 


 

One day, Levi was dragged out by his cousin to the park to play. Unable to deny his little cousin's request, he found himself currently sitting on the bench while keeping a close watch on the little girl as she played in the sand box. Mikasa was never allowed outside without supervision, which was one of the reasons why she really liked Levi since he was easy to drag out.

Levi, on the other hand, had never really been into playing despite his age. You could never find him playing with toys or with other kids, but you would always catch him getting lost in his own thoughts from time-to-time. This was what earned him the usual comments of being "that peculiar little boy who doesn't have any friends".

However, he does have friends, you see. They were inside his head. And he really didn't understand why other people don't get that.

Sure, he was starting to think he was weird after listening to the countless murmurs of other people who think they were being subtle around him. But then again, outside people make him anxious. The people in his head doesn't.

He snapped out of his thoughts just in time to see his cousin wipe the back of her sand-covered hand on the side of her face, near where her mouth was.

"Mika, don't get sand in your mouth." He called out, not moving from his spot on the bench.

He knew Mikasa liked to imitate him in his "I don't need any help" attitude. So he let her shake her hands off and wipe them on the sides of her shirt, before proceeding to wipe around her mouth again. If there was any reason why Levi took a liking on her despite not easily being able to with the other kids, it was because she was easy to handle like that.

"Hey, mind if I sit here?" Somebody spoke up beside him.

Levi instantly whipped his head towards the source of the sound to see another kid, most probably around his age, with sandy blond hair.

It could be the abruptness of the other kid's presence, it could be the fact that he was a complete stranger, it could be both, or it could be for a whole different reason. However, bottomline is, Levi's anxiety instantly spiked up. Words evaded him, and he could only nod dumbly to give his reluctant consent.

The other kid didn't seem to mind it that much as he simply sat down beside him with all smiles on his face.

"Are you alone?" The blond tried to initiate the conversation.

Levi shook his head and meekly pointed at the ravenette playing on the sand box. "That's my cousin." He informed briefly.

"Wow, you look really alike. You sure she's not your sister?"

The raven merely nodded at this, intent to keep his eyes on his cousin to try and keep his focus. The blond didn't mind his lack of words and just launched into further topics instead.

The fact that the other was easygoing made him more apprehensive somehow. He has the tendency to be scared shitless of other people. Nonetheless, he wanted to have friends. He already felt out-of-place as he already is all the time, and having another kid aside from his cousin might be a way to fix that.

'Present yourself properly. Act properly. Be normal.' He kept echoing inside his head.

Little did he know he was already spacing out as he was doing so.

"Hey, you okay?"

The raven snapped out of his thoughts and started blinking rapidly.

"Yeah. Sorry. That happens... a lot. I'm sorry. I'm weird." He muttered out as he dry washed his face with his palms.

"That's fine. I just thought you were getting annoyed by me." The other scratched his head.

"I'm not. It's just... I'm not used to meeting new people." He admitted.

"I see. Well, like I said, I'm kind of new in this area. So you'd be like the first kid I've really talked to."

"I'm sorry you're having a terrible start with your socializing."

The blond laughed genuinely at this, which put the raven's nerves a little at ease.

"You're different. I like it." He admitted. "I'm Farlan, by the way. Farlan Church. And you are?"

"Riv---" The raven trailed off as a series of voices suddenly echoed in his head.

'Levi. Levi. Levi. I'm Levi. Levi Ackerman.'

"Yes?" Farlan prompted when the other failed to respond for a while.

The raven slightly shook his head as he rubbed at his temples.

"Sorry. Happens a lot." He muttered out, trying to get back his focus again.

When the voices finally settled down in his head, he took it as his cue to face the other once more.

"Rivaille. My name's Rivaille." He smiled.

Chapter Text

Their initial meeting was followed by another, then another. Everyday of the week they would have at least an hour to "hang out" with each other. And it was always in the same park, on the same bench. Safe to say, Farlan and Levi grew close with each other as each day passed by.

Well... Farlan and Rivaille would be the right term.

It was quite convenient that Mikasa often feels cooped up being in the house all day and would decide to drag Levi out regularly. With it being the middle of summer, it also meant she doesn't have school to keep her occupied. Then again, she has her cousin.

Her cousin who – contrary to his usual subdued and blank expression – is actually experiencing some sort of... internal crisis.

Young as he is, he knows – he absolutely knows how other people make him anxious.

"Strangers are dangerous."

That's a seed that has been planted in his brain for as long as he could remember. Which is why he's very much confused about the sudden bouts of courage he's been getting lately.

Everyone has at least once experienced a moment where they feel like not themselves. It's something like that.

It's something more than that.

Levi just feels like he's a completely different person. Nothing unusual when you put it like that. But a complete 180 of his personality, that seems to happen in a snap of a finger, was something he wouldn't be learning is actually not normal until much, much later on in his life.

For now, it was something he was grateful of.

Perhaps what was unusual for him was remembering going to the park with Mikasa, but then vaguely recall what exactly they did there. He remembers talking to some other kid, but he couldn't quite make out what exactly they talked about. Not even the details of how this kid looked like. Weird.

Then again, at the end of the day, he blames it for being an airhead most of the time.


"Wait, you're leaving tomorrow?" The raven – Rivaille – gaped as Farlan dropped the bombshell when they met at the park once again. "You haven't even been here for long."

"Sorry. I would've told you sooner if I had known about it myself." Farlan sighed. "But the main reason why we're here in the first place was because my parents wanted to visit some of their friends who live around here."

"I see." Rivaille responded dejectedly. It was really a bummer that the only other kid he managed to be friends with would have to go so soon.

"What about you?" The blond suddenly asked.

"What about me?" Rivaille repeated in confusion.

"You were also staying with Mikasa's family, right? When are you going back?"

At the mention of the name, Rivaille checked up on Mikasa and was relieved to see she was still sort of playing house by the slide. Thoughts about her completely evaded him for a moment, so Farlan's reminder was a huge help.

"When Kenny picks us up again." He shrugged casually.

"Who's Kenny?" Farlan couldn't help asking.

"Levi's uncle."

"Uncle? Where are your parents?"

"I don't exactly have parents."

"Oh." The blond felt a bit sheepish at that, though the other had said it so casually and without a care. "So, who's Levi?" He asked instead.

The raven stiffened at this. Answers about other people seem to come naturally to him. But when it comes to Levi, it was very complicated to explain.

"Oh, and you said 'us', right? Who's 'us'? Is he picking up your cousin, too?" Farlan fired off before the other could even answer the previous question.

"No. It's me and Levi."

"So... who's Levi?"

Again, the raven lagged for an answer. His head was also starting to get muddled all of a sudden.

"He's with me."

 


 

Just a couple of days after Farlan's departure, Kenny had popped up again to pick Levi up. At first, Mikasa wouldn't let him go – clinging on his arm and refusing to let him take a single step out the door – since she'll have no one else to play with once he goes. It took a lot of coaxing and promises that Levi will come back again soon before she finally, yet still with very much reluctance, let him go.

Fortunately, Levi was able to hold on to his promise since Kenny was once again called out for duty.

"I'm really sorry. I don't mean to bother you so much." Kenny apologized, scratching the back of his head as he dropped by the Ackerman residence once again.

"Oh, hush. Having Levi here is never a bother for us. I'm sure you've seen how Mikasa practically flew out the door to drag him in." Mrs. Ackerman chuckled, shaking her head fondly.

Just then, a few thuds and muffled voices could be heard from upstairs.

"Kids! Don't go tearing the house down now, okay?" She called out from her place by the entrance door.

A chorus of muffled, "'Kay!" could be heard, followed by more inaudible voices and a few thuds.

"You have guests?"

"Just a couple of kids, really. The Arlert's have moved in the neighborhood just hours after you left last time. And the Jaeger's followed just a couple days ago. Good folks, really. And I'm quite glad Mikasa finally has other friends her age to play with. Even though it's more boys, but I'm not complaining." She shrugged good-naturedly.

"I see." was the only response Kenny could come up with before sparing a glance at where the noises came from.

He briefly wondered if his nephew could handle taking care of additional brats, but the kid's gotta start getting used to it, anyways.

"I better be going now. Thanks again for looking out for Levi while I'm gone." He finally bade.

"Don't worry about it. Have a safe trip, okay?" She smiled warmly in return.


Upstairs, Levi wasn't prepared to find unfamiliar faces in Mikasa's playroom. Even though they were just Mikasa's age, he still doesn't know much of what to do with more children. The blond one seemed relatively calm enough, but the brunet was like a crackling ball of energy.

He already feels drained just watching them trying to build a fort. Mikasa had briefly introduced them to each other earlier, though they were mostly occupied with their current task at hand.

"I... can't... reach it! Mikasa, do you have a stool?" The brunet, Eren, had asked, standing at the tips of his toes, trying to reach the hook on the far side of the wall to tie the rope they'll be using to hang the blankets on.

"Levi, could you do it?" Mikasa had padded towards the raven's place at the floor and tugged him by the sleeve to get him moving.

Levi acquiesced and took the rope from Eren, tying it securely in their desired place, and doing the same on the other end.

"It looks great!" The blond, Armin, had exclaimed as they took a look at their handiwork.

Mikasa just nodded her assent, and Levi was quite amused at how she seemed to be the most composed of the three. He wonders if she ever just acts collected when he's around since he knew Mikasa could also be loud when she wants to. She's still a kid, after all.

"Yeah, it looks like a castle!" Eren agreed. "That's it! Let's play castles! We could be kings and knights, and--- and Mikasa, you could be the princess!" He suggested with much enthusiasm.

The two immediately agreed with the idea, while Levi just sat back again and watched them play. They further planned on how they were going to set the scene, and just a moment later, Mikasa grabbed all the stuffed toys she could carry and dumped them all on the floor.

Something clicked inside Levi at the sight of assorted toys with various shapes and forms and colors and sizes. Before he even knew it, he was already spacing out.

"I wanna be the evil magician. Armin, you could be the dragon if you want." Eren further suggested.

"Okay, that sounds cool." Armin agreed. "But who's gonna save the princess?"

Eren gave it a moment of thought before his eyes landed on the raven. "Hey, Levi. Come join us! You could be the knight who'd save the princess." He called out.

The raven snapped out of his thoughts at the brunet's voice. "What?" He asked dumbly.

"Come on, let's play!" Eren coaxed. "Mikasa's the princess, Armin's the dragon guarding the princess' tower, and I'm the evil magician who locked up the princess. You'd be the knight who'd save her." He pointed out.

It must have been the way he said it, but the raven suddenly beamed up and nodded excitedly at the idea.

Thus, the scene was set up.

"Don't worry, princess. Gabi, the brave knight, is here to save you!" The raven declared, Mikasa's toy wand and a throw pillow on each hand to serve as the esteemed knight's sword and shield, before defeating the evil magician's minions (i.e., the stuffed toys).

The other three thought that Levi was just making up names for their play, so they also took on different identities.

Eren wanted to be called "Rogue", because he heard it once from a movie and thought it sounded so cool.

Armin, being the shortest one in the group, asked to be called "Colossal", considering also that his role was a dragon. Big word for a 7-year-old, really.

And Mikasa was... well, "Princess". Because why not?

Hearing all the ruckus the children were making, Mrs. Ackerman thought it better to check up on them and make sure they haven't completely upturned the room yet. Even though she was aware that Levi was there, she was still unsure how he's going to manage taking care of more than one kid on his own.

Yet when she took a peek by the doorway, she was surprised to discover that her nephew was one of the voices laughing and playing along with the rest.

"Give up, knight! Your sword is no match for my dragon." Eren laughed, linking his arms to the backs of Armin's shoulders who, in turn, has a blanket flowing down his back and who appears to be roaring (quite cutely).

"Save me, Gabi." Mikasa piped up from inside their self-made fort.

"Curse you, Rogue!" The raven had exclaimed after deflecting one of the stuffed toys hurled at him with his trusty sword-wand. "Don't worry, princess! I will not be defeated by an evil magic man."

Though Mrs. Ackerman was quite confused and a bit concerned, she couldn't deny that the sight was quite adorable to look at. It was nice to see her daughter and nephew getting along very well with other kids, and looking very much like they're enjoying themselves.

However, she didn't fail to notice that Levi seemed out-of-character today. Well that, or he's too in-character in whatever game they were playing... which was still very much unusual.

It would be the first that she's seen the raven actually playing with other kids like that. She also noticed how his voice seemed to be off at the moment. Perhaps a bit higher in pitch. Though he may only be doing that for the sake of the game.

Looking a bit closer though, he does seem a bit... too childlike, even for his age. Then again, that may only be because he was surrounded with kids younger than him.

She really shouldn't complain, though. It was quite relieving to find her nephew finally letting himself be a child for once.

Albeit, also a bit concerning.

Chapter Text

"So, are you Mikasa's brother?" The wide-eyed kid asked, looking up at him.

"I'm her cousin."

"Oh. But you live here with Mikasa?"

"Sometimes."

"Do you go to school?" The brunet diverted into a whole different route.

"Yeah."

"I'm going to go in the same school as Mikasa and Armin." He beamed. "Are you going to the same school as Mikasa and Armin?"

"Maybe."

"Cool! Will you sit beside me in school, then?"

"I can't. I'm older than you."

"Does that mean you're going to sit beside Mikasa?"

"No."

Mrs. Ackerman, along with the brunet's mom, Carla, couldn't help smiling as the ever-curious Eren kept pestering Levi with a barrage of questions here and there. Levi, bless his soul, had been so patient with the kid and never once even hinted he was getting annoyed with the nonstop interrogation.

Ever since they started playing, Eren seemed to take a liking to Levi a lot. This being proved in him usually sticking beside him whenever possible. And Levi didn't seem to mind the additional critter that had willingly clung to him.

"I'm done." Mikasa declared, and both mothers had to redirect their attention again from the boys conversing in the living area to the young ravenette who volunteered to be their helper in the kitchen.

"Wow, Mikasa. You're quite good at this." Carla praised while inspecting the batch of cookie mixture the young girl had prepared.

"You've gotten a lot better," Her mom agreed hopefully.

Mikasa smiled and hopped off the chair she used as leverage to reach the counter and ran towards the oven to check on the previous batch of cookies currently being baked in the single rack oven. As soon as the dinging sound alerted them, her mom promptly reminded her to be careful in touching the appliance.

"Wow, that smells so good!" Eren's voice drifted from the other room.

Soon enough, he was padding towards the kitchen, unable to resist following the enticing aroma wafting throughout the house.

"Mikasa, did you make these?" He asked after Mrs. Ackerman had transferred the delicacies to a plate.

"I helped." The ravenette answered honestly.

"Cool!" The brunet beamed nonetheless.

"Eren, no touching, okay? You have to wait." His own mom told him.

However, it seemed like the kid had other plans as, in a flash, he was running toward the living area once again.

"Levi, Levi! Look! They made cookies!" He announced, as if the raven didn't know it for himself.

It wasn't long before the brunet reappeared in the kitchen, dragging the older behind him. Eren made him sit on one of the chairs by the dining table and promptly took the seat beside him. The raven didn't make any objections as he wordlessly complied with what was asked of him. Mikasa does the same to him, really.

Speaking of, Mikasa seemed to be torn, watching the two boys at the table. She didn't know if she should tell Eren to move so she could sit beside her cousin like she wanted to; or just let her friend sit there.

Just for now, at least, she thought.

However, when Levi noticed her just standing and staring at the brunet's back with a conflicted expression on her features, Mikasa was saved from her small dilemma.

"Mika." The raven called out, shifting her sights from Eren's back to him. "I know you're already such a big girl. But, do you want to sit here?" He patted on his lap.

The young ravenette beamed, though it took her another second to nod and rush off to her cousin's lap. By the time Levi helped her get settled, Eren was handing them each a cookie, making Mikasa completely forget her worries from just a moment ago.

The mothers couldn't help the fondness that gripped their hearts as they observed the three. Carla also couldn't help noticing how Levi seemed to be pretty good with handling kids younger than him.

"So, Eren. Is Armin coming over?" Mrs. Ackerman initiated, taking a seat across from them. She already knew the Jaeger's had stopped by the blonde’s house before coming here.

"No. His mom said they'll be visiting his grandpa today." The young boy responded over a mouthful of cookie.

"Sorry. Table etiquette's one of his worst enemies." Carla apologized for her son's behavior. Though truthfully, she’s still amused by his antics more often than not.

Levi wiped off the crumbs that had gathered around Mikasa's mouth before she was allowed to reach another cookie. And upon seeing the action, the brunet tugged at the raven's arm for attention.

"Me too, me too!" He demanded, presenting his crumb-filled cheeks and chin to the older kid.

"Alright, alright." Levi complied, feigning exasperation.

Mrs. Ackerman regarded the interaction and even noticed the small, soft smile playing on her nephew's lips as he swiped the brunet's cheeks clean. But then, in the next slow second, his smile faded like it wasn't even there, palm almost stilling on the younger’s nose.

She wondered what thoughts we're currently going through the child's head at the moment. Why would his expression change in the middle of doing the action?

Maybe she's just overthinking things.

"There." Levi announced the moment he was done.

"Thank you!" Eren beamed before reaching out for his second cookie.

Seeing as his small arm's tried to grab the plate, Levi took initiative and just handed him one on his own.

"Thank you!" The brunet beamed again.

Both Eren and Mikasa (and even Armin) didn't have siblings of their own. So Levi's presence might have given them a taste of what it was like, and may be why they were easily so attached to him. Even Levi, himself, didn't have any siblings. But ever since Kenny took him in when he was barely four years old, he had been frequently exposed to Mikasa over the years.

Maybe Eren's presence would somehow hone his sense of responsibility more.

A moment later, Mikasa and Eren were playing on their seats, trying to reach for each other's delicacy and giggling as they did so. Levi didn't think much of his cousin squirming on his lap at first. But when the action continued, he started feeling... strange.

His heartbeat started to pick up and suddenly, he felt restrained. Like he was being held down by someone or something bigger, heavier than the little girl on his lap.

"Hold on." He suddenly blurted out and almost shoved Mikasa off him in his haste to get out of there.

"Levi, where are you going?" His aunt asked before he could round the corner.

But Levi couldn't even spare a response as the feeling started to get overwhelming. He entered he first door his hand had latched on to and didn't even process he was inside the supply closet. All he could focus on was how he could feel ghost hands on his arms and shoulders pinning him in place. Even the weight on his thighs was still there even though Mikasa was no longer sitting on his lap.

For his young mind, the only emotion he could process at the moment was fear.

He couldn't understand what was happening. Was it a ghost sensation that's just in his mind? Was he being possessed? Just the thought of it was already terrifying, it could paralyze him before he could answer his own questions.

However, before everything got too overwhelming, he started to hear a soothing voice inside his head. A tender voice of a woman who was gently trying to convince him to calm down, that things will soon pass. The way she did it was not unlike that of a mother soothing her upset child.

And he held on to that. He held on to that voice until he could no longer feel those ghostly limbs on his body.

Until he could no longer feel being connected to his own body.

He felt like floating again. Like everything was being pushed to the background. Or maybe it was him that was being dragged away. Whichever it was, he couldn't tell. He didn't even have enough time to mull about it as everything suddenly went black.

 

"Levi? Where'd you go to?" His aunt asked as soon as the raven stepped into view again.

Levi blinked and looked back at the way he came from. "Um... bathroom?" He answered with a hint of confusion.

"Does your stomach hurt? You've been gone for a while." She asked in concern.

"I'm fine. I just... uhh... needed to pee." He gave a small smile before approaching the table again.

Mikasa instantly made room for him and repeatedly patted at the space she freed up for him to sit in. Levi smiled fondly and acquiesced with the unvoiced request, pulling his cousin back into his lap.

"Eren, careful." The brunet's mom reminded him when Eren reached for the place again to offer Levi another cookie.

"Here you go." He beamed at the raven, not heeding his mom's words. He almost knocked the plate off the table had Levi not been quick enough to stop it from falling.

"Goodness! This child." Carla cried out from the mini heart attack her little boy just caused them. "I'm really sorry. Eren can be quite a handful." She apologized to the homeowner again.

"You say that but we both wouldn't want any of them to grow up too fast." Mrs. Ackerman pointed out, to which, Carla wholly agreed.

After a while, Levi started stroking Mikasa's head, running his fingers through the tangles of her ink black hair. His aunt had noticed the fond look on his features as he was doing so. Even the small smile she noticed earlier was back.

And when her nephew leaned over to wipe the crumbs off the brunet's cheeks with his other hand, that fond smile didn't disappear this time. If anything, it only became more prominent.

"Oh, Levi. You're such a sweetheart. I wish Eren also had a cousin like you." Carla couldn't help musing out loud.

"He's been nothing but a darling to Mikasa ever since they met." Mrs. Ackerman threw in with a subtle prideful tone.

"I sure hope he'll rub off on my Eren." Carla giggled. "How are you so patient, dear?" She decided to ask the young boy. At the back of her mind, she thought the raven's tolerance was quite admirable for his age.

"I like kids." Was the raven's simple answer.

It was the first that his aunt directly heard that from him. But with how he had been treating his cousin and the other kids who moved into the neighborhood, she supposed what he said could only be true.

 


 

By the time school was about to start again, Levi ended up enrolling in the same school as the younger fledglings. It was mostly due to his aunt insisting she take care of his educational requirements since Kenny had been too busy with his job. In fact, the raven had stayed at his cousin's abode the night before the first day of classes were about to start.

Which is why he never expected to wake up to a certain brunet beaming down at him.

"You're awake!" He cheered the moment the raven opened his eyes.

Blinking the sleep away, it didn't take long for him to notice that he had quite an audience while he was asleep, and he hurried to jump up and assess the situation in silent inquisition.

"It worked." The blond marveled.

"See? I told you." The taller one puffed proudly. What they were talking about, Levi had no clue.

Rubbing his eyes with a yawn to fully break free from the spell of slumber, Levi stretched before proceeding to sit up and lean on the side of the bed, feet dangling down.

"What're you doing here?" He croaked out; voice still husky from sleep.

"Mom sent us to wake you. We start school today." Mikasa took initiative in answering.

"I mean, what're they doing here?" He amended, looking to the other pair present in the room.

"You didn't know? We're going to school together. Mikasa's dad is going to drive us." Eren answered this time, already so energetic first thing in the morning. And no, Levi did not know about that at all.

"Tomorrow, Eren's mom is driving us, and then the next day my parents will. They'll be taking turns in driving us to school." Armin supplied helpfully.

As if on cue, Mrs. Ackerman started calling them down for breakfast and the two boys automatically raced to the table, leaving the cousins behind.

"Let's go." Mikasa started to pull the older raven to get him moving, to which Levi just yielded, even though he really should be showering first, but whatever.

"How exactly did you wake me up?" He blurted out as soon as he remembered their conversation.

"Eren kept kissing you all over your face. He said that's what his mom does to him." His cousin shrugged.

Well, that explains the sloppy feeling he got while transitioning into consciousness.

"Are you going to wake me up like that from now on then?" He asked the little girl absently.

"No. It only works when Eren does it."

"What do you mean?"

"Me and Armin also tried kissing you, but you didn't wake up."

Had Levi been more older than he currently is, he might've found the information disgusting at worst. It was at the very least, flustering. But right now in his young, naive age, he really didn't mind it that much. He actually thought it was quite nice to be woken up with kisses.

 


 

As anyone who truly knew Levi would expect, first day of school was a nightmare for the poor raven. His anxiety had been so high it was all he could focus on as the day went by. He couldn't even clearly remember the majority of what happened.

The last thing he could vaguely recall was finding his cousin and the two boys during recess. Armin had borrowed an encyclopedia from their teacher and was then asking him random questions he really didn't know the answer to. But he found that the more he stares at the book, the more his vision starts to blur.

The next thing he knew was waiting to be picked up by Mikasa's parents.

However, this was something he had long since deemed to be normal. Something that has happened so many times over the course of the lifetime he has memories of, and therefore, shouldn't really be anything of concern.

What does spike a bit of worry in him was how the little blond boasted to the ravenette's parents of how he had effortlessly answered his questions with regards to that big book he had borrowed.

"Effortlessly"? He's not sure if he could consider it that. Hell, had he even answered a single question?

"We also played a lot! Levi's very good at the monkey bars!" Eren added in.

"He also tickled me a lot when I tried to climb up." Mikasa pouted.

"You almost died laughing." Eren seconded that with a laugh, before the three of them burst out laughing at the memory.

What? Had he done that? Levi had thought about tickling Mikasa every now and then, but he hadn't really put it into action. At least not that he could remember. And he's kind of a worrywart, so if he did tickle his cousin, he would've done it "moderately" instead of overdoing it to the point she could hardly breathe.

"Levi, dear. Have you made any new friends at school today?" His aunt decided to ask, since as usual, he's yet to contribute his fair share.

"I guess." He answered vaguely.

He doesn't really remember.

"Did you have fun?" She inquired further from the passenger seat.

"We did!" The three echoed, jumping on their seats from all the excess energy, completely oblivious of the fact that the question wasn't directed at them.

Levi didn't know how the trio could have so much energy even after everything they did throughout the day. Yet for some reason, it seemed to have an impact on him; in the sense that he's also starting to feel some sort of excitement deep within him.

He didn't even notice he was already blinking rapidly.

"Levi?" His aunt prompted.

"Huh?" He asked dumbly, all the while fighting the sensation of spacing out.

"Did you have fun at school today?" She clarified.

He started to rub his eyes, finding his vision starting to get blurry once again, and a smile crept its way to his lips as he did so.

"Yeah." He answered with a grin.

 


 

Time passed and Levi somehow managed to make it through every day alive. He soon – much too soon, that it could be argued if it even took a second – learned how to blend into the background as a means of coping in school. When other kids found him weird, he couldn't even bring himself to be surprised; much less offended. It had always been like that, after all.

However, his aunt couldn't help but suggest to Kenny if maybe he could take the kid to an ophthalmologist. There just seemed to be times when the raven could hardly see anything clearly. He even missed the car handle, repeatedly, while reaching for it that one time, and had to ask where a thing was when it was just laying right in front of him on other times.

Levi never really complained about his eyesight though, and what's weirder is that that one doctor they checked-up with didn't find anything to be of concern. But it could never hurt to have a second opinion.

"Levi may just be keeping that problem with his eyes to himself, but maybe try asking him if you ever notice something of the sort." His aunt had advised.

That was how Levi eventually found himself owning a pair of thick-rimmed glasses, he never really knew what for. Sure there were times when his eyesight would go hazy out of nowhere, but it has never really been much of a problem to him. Maybe all the rubbing he does caused it

If anything, he found the problem with his ears more disturbing. There just have been times when his hearing would peter down next to nothing. But since it hasn't happened that much, he figured maybe it wasn't really a problem.


More time passed, and before they knew it, Levi was already advancing into high school. It felt like everything went by in a blur for him... which isn't really much of an exaggeration.

They celebrated at a local restaurant. Nothing grand, and was only limited to the five Ackerman's themselves, but Levi wouldn't have it any other way. He even spent the majority of his summer at his cousin's home which was to Mikasa's delight, as well as the two other boys who have gotten very attached to him.

Almost every single day, the four of them would always find time to spend with each other. If they weren't found playing, then they would just be talking animatedly with each other, or settle with watching a movie or two.

Sometimes, the raven would join the younger three in their games. Oftentimes, he was content with just watching over them.

Despite being the only child in their own respective families, the four could easily be mistaken for siblings, what with all the time they spent together. Levi had been like a big brother for the trio; someone they look up to and depend on. They've always demanded he stay in the same school as them, and the raven had to gently explain how the school doesn't offer high school education.

"How about when you grow older, you go to the same school I do?" He haggled instead.

"We could do that?" Eren asked in awe.

"Of course. That way, we'll be together the same way we always used to." He shrugged, absently brushing Mikasa's hair as per her request, while Armin waited, patiently squirming by his side for his turn.

"In that case, we'll just have to grow up faster! Right, Armin?" The brunet beamed.

"Huh? Uhh... right! Let's do that." The blond agreed, albeit, with a bit of hesitation. With his mind, he may have been able to tell they technically do not really have control over that. However, with his heart, he was also too kind to let such things dampen his best friend's enthusiasm.

"You too, Mikasa, right?"

"Mhm." The ravenette just hummed her affirmation.

"Okay, done." Levi suddenly announced as he finished brushing those ink locks that were as dark as his own. "Your turn." He gestured to the little blond mushroom.

"Maybe I should grow out my hair too." Eren wondered out loud after a few moments of silence.

"Why?" Mikasa spoke first; the question on everyone's mind.

"So Levi could brush my hair too." He pouted.

"I could still brush your hair like that." The raven pointed out.

"Really?" Teal eyes immediately shone.

"If you wait like a good boy, I will."

Eren cheered and immediately proceeded to plop down on the other side of the raven. It didn't even take a minute before he was starting another conversation once again, but at least he wasn't moving from his spot. Once it was his turn, Mikasa grabbed another brush and started grooming her cousin's hair in return, as Armin had pointed out Levi's hair was still unbrushed.

By the time the mothers of the two neighbors popped in to fetch their boys, they found the four of them huddled up inside Mikasa's playroom, fast asleep. Apparently, Levi had become the main pillow as Armin was found curled up and clutching the raven's head, Mikasa was snug lying on his chest, and Eren was sprawled on his stomach all the way down that he had to spread his legs to make the position comfortable for the brunet.

The moms took their time swooning over the sight and snapping a hundred photos for keepsakes. Soon enough, they mutually decided to let the kids have their nap and just wait for them to wake up as neither of them had the heart to ruin the moment.

"Your nephew's a real sweetheart. Armin has always been talking about how Levi always looks out for them at school that none of their classmates would want to get in trouble with them." Armin's mom had remarked as the three of them proceeded to chat over tea instead.

"Oh, Eren talks nonstop about him. I feel like I have two sons already." Eren's mom added in. "Where will he be studying high school, by the way?"

"I'm not sure yet. Kenny might have already made plans and preparations as we speak." Mikasa's mom told them.

"Is he at least spending the entire summer here this year?" Carla followed-up, knowing full-well that high school would bring about a lot of changes.

"That's what his uncle said. Well, at least until the last week since he'll have to prepare for school again. I just hope that even as he grows older, he'll continue to drop by here as often as he can. He's practically our son already." She sighed.

They kept chatting for a while longer, not paying attention to how much time had passed until they realized the kids were up again. After a few more moments, they said their farewells and parted ways for the day, fully intending on meeting again tomorrow. If not at Mikasa's house, then maybe Eren's, and if not there, then Armin's. They wanted to spend every moment they could with each other, knowing Levi would someday have to leave again for a period of time like he always does.


Little did they know they wouldn't be seeing him again for years to come.

Chapter Text

As soon as the knock was heard on the front door, Mikasa was up instantly and opening it in record time. However, her expression dropped when she took note that it was only the Jaeger's popping in for a visit again.

"Hi, Mikasa. Is your mom home?" Carla asked sweetly.

The ravenette just nodded sullenly and walked away, leaving the door open for them. She knew her mom was already approaching without even bothering to look over her shoulder. That was how it always was these days.

"Sorry about that. She's just been expecting someone else." Her mom, Kasa, apologized in her place, shooting the other woman a meaningful look, to which, Carla nodded, understanding. "Eren, would you go and talk to her?" She addressed the young brunet whom Mikasa either didn't notice, or just ignored altogether.

Eren simply nodded, almost as gloomy as Mikasa, and wordlessly stepped towards her room where he knew she'd be holed in.

"Is it always this bad?" Carla decided to ask as soon as she was sure they were alone.

"It could've been worse." Kasa shook her head. "If she didn't know you, I have no doubt she would've slammed the door in your face. I was really shocked the first time she did it to that poor delivery guy." She chuckled half-heartedly.

"So Levi's not coming over this summer break either?"

"We're not sure yet. We've tried keeping in touch with them as much as we could, but you know how it is." She sighed. "Kenny's still mostly occupied with work, and the fact that they're sharing an apartment with other people to split the rent, it's just a bit difficult to call every hour of every day and not think of how it'll be a bother for others."

"Doesn't Levi have a phone of his own?"

"Oh, he does. It's just that... well, I don't want to bother the poor kid too much when he might be busy with his own affairs. He answers the phone as often as he can, but there are really times when our calls would just ring out and upset Mikasa even more, thinking Levi was ignoring her. We told him he could call as often as he wanted to, but it's really been just a few and far between."

Not to mention the tantrums the girl had been throwing after realizing it had been a while since Levi had visited them. There were even one too many times when she declared she hated Levi and didn't want anything to do with him. But after every phone call (however few there are), her cloak of anger would always be lifted up to reveal the deep longing she had for her cousin.

"Eren hasn't really been peaches, himself, either." Carla started to share her side of things. "He really did like Levi too much that he even gets sulky just thinking about how Mikasa was lucky she could even call him at times."

"Ah, then I hope he wouldn't find out how Armin had also been stopping by frequently here after knowing Mikasa had been calling Levi. He got to talk with him for a while one time." Kasa stated, a bit sheepish at the late realization that she should've let the Jaeger's in on this idea.


Meanwhile, inside Mikasa's room, the two had hardly uttered two lines with each other. It wasn't always like that and they had managed to still bond together with just the three of them. However, when the absence of a certain raven was brought in the forefront of their attention, it always effectively dampened their mood in an instant.

"So... is Levi coming over today?" Eren asked absently, fully knowing the answer to his own question. Nonetheless, he still had that feeble hope that he was wrong.

Mikasa just kept mum, idly toying with the black plush bunny that Levi had won for her at the local fair. It had actually taken multiple tries and a lot of begging towards Mikasa's parents before they finally reaped the prize of the small bunny, which would've been a lot cheaper had they bought it directly from the store.

"Do you think maybe he'll be here next week? School's over, after all. Maybe he's already packing his things right—"

"He's never coming back, Eren." The ravenette cut him off, eyes not straying away from the toy in her hands.

"Why not?" The brunet asked despondently.

"I don't know." Mikasa grumbled. "He always tell me 'maybe next time', but it never happens. Mom says he's so far away that's why he can't just come here like before."

"Oh." was the only response Eren could utter, and another beat of silence draped over them.

"Did he say anything else?" He asked after a while, thinking of nothing else better to say.

Mikasa took her time answering, trying to recall the very few conversations she's had with her cousin for the past year. "He says that we shouldn't fight and that we should always look out and take care of each other while he's gone." She summarized.

Eren kept silent at that, letting the words sink into his young mind. He may be stubborn as a mule and may tend to let words go into one ear and out on the other, but hearing words from a person he looks up to and turns his eyes into stars, it was a different case.

"Do you think he's happy in his new school?"

Again, the ravenette lagged for a response.

"Maybe."

 


 

"You're a big boy now. You should be fine on your own now, right?"

He's a big boy. But he's still barely 13, in a place miles and oceans away from his comfort zone, his safe haven, his home.

Kenny had thought it'd be better if he could keep the raven close to him instead of always leaving him in the care of other relatives who also had their own children to look after. Which is how Levi ended up in a shared apartment with other grown men he had no desire to get close to.

Right. He's not exactly "on his own".

"Don't worry about them, they won't do anything to you as long as I'm here. Won't you, boys?"

Kenny was answered with a variety of no's and nah's from the other three men that they were going to live with in an indefinite amount of time. It should've put Levi at ease then. But it didn't.

What if Kenny wasn't there?

In order to somehow cope with this concern, Levi just tried his best to stay out of their way and avoid them for as much as possible. The fact that they didn't really give any interest towards him was a huge relief for him. Though, those mini heart attacks he got while they would attempt to greet him or talk to him at times could hardly be helped.

After a while, he got used to it though. It really seemed like they were trying to make friends with him seeing as he's the only kid in the house. Kenny also encouraged him to communicate since he couldn't just hide behind his back forever. If anything, it could also mean he'll have additional adults to look after him so it all works in his favor, if he'll just talk and try to get to know them.

Yeah, right.

Not to mention his life at his new school. He didn't know why, but it seemed like the kids there have a knack for making fun of him. Ironically, the fact that he hardly likes to speak seemed to grab the attention of others.

"Why don't you talk much?" They always ask.

"Why do you talk too much?" A voice inside his head would scornfully bite back.

He was startled the first time he heard this, and had been worried if the others had heard it or if he had said this out loud himself. Thankfully, that wasn't the case.

It was something Kenny would definitely say, so he thought maybe his uncle was just rubbing off on him.

He was snapped back to attention when he noticed his phone ringing. He was about to answer it when it suddenly rang out. Huh.

Checking his phone, he actually already had two missed calls from his aunt, and the last call must've likely rang out. Which is weird since he just noticed the ringing. And now that he thought about it, when had he come back to the apartment? Wasn't he just outside?

He didn't have much time to dwell on this matter as his phone started ringing again.

"Hello?"

"Oh, Levi. I'm sorry, am I catching you at a bad time?" Kasa greeted on the other side of the line.

"No, it's okay. Sorry. I just noticed the ringing." Which is completely true.

They went on the now familiar routine of his aunt checking up on him, asking him about how his day was and how he's been doing. At this point, he had to wonder if his aunt would ever get tired of listening to his vague answers of , "It was okay", "Nothing much happened", "I'm fine."

All of which aren't exactly true.

But it's not like he could tell his aunt how the kids at school have developed a hobby of making fun of him when they're bored, which would, inevitably, result in her worrying (maybe a little too much), and in turn, result in Kenny worrying as well. He didn't know what his uncle would do, and he didn't want to know.

"Mikasa's been missing you very much. Think you could come over this summer, sweetheart?" His aunt asked delicately.
Here it goes again.

"I... I'm not sure. I'll ask Kenny when he comes back." He answered, as usual.

He could already hear his uncle's spiel of, "Sorry, kiddo. We're a bit tight on budget for now, and I have a job to keep. Maybe next time."

"That's okay, sweetie. I understand. Do you wanna talk to Mikasa?"

"Yes, please." He agreed softly, and he could hear the woman calling out her daughter from a distance. Talking to the ravenette was kind of a mixed emotions in his part. He is happy that they're still communicating somehow...

"Are you going to come here?" was how she greeted him on the other line.

... It's just that this matter in particular has been harder and harder to talk about with her.

"I'm not sure yet, Mika. I—"

"Are you ever going to come back here ever?" She cut him off.

"Of course. Someday, soon, but not now."

There was a lull in the line, none of them knowing what to say next. Levi would like to explain why he couldn't go there just yet, but Mikasa had probably memorized his reasons by the letter.

"Okay." Mikasa suddenly muttered out, followed by a dead air.
Levi sighed and was about to speak again, ask her about her day and the other kids maybe, when he was beaten off to it.

"Sorry, dear. Mikasa's just sulking 'coz she misses you too much." He heard his aunt spoke again.

"Oh." He hadn't even known the girl already left. "Does she hate me?" He decided to ask. 

He won't really be surprised if she does at this point. Nonetheless, it would still hurt him if that was truly the case.

"No. Of course not." She immediately denied. "I wouldn't say she hates you or that she's mad at you. She's just sad coz she misses you. You miss her too, don't you?"

He instinctively nodded at the question before realizing she couldn't see him.

"Yeah." He responded lowly.

"Don't worry, dear. I'm sure you'll see each other again soon. You aren't too lonely there, are you? Have you made any new friends lately?"

"I guess." His tone was filled with such reluctance from wondering to himself if that was a lie or not. He has seen some new faces, but not exactly people he'd see at school… or outside of his head in general.

"The kids aren't as nice here." He decided to add.

Which might've been a mistake since his aunt immediately went into high concern mode.

"Why? Are they bullying you? They're not hurting you, are they? Sweetheart, if they're doing bad things to you, you should report them to a teacher."

"It's fine, auntie. I'm okay."

Lies.

"Okay, if you don't like talking to a teacher, then at least tell your uncle, okay? Or you could always tell me if you're getting hurt."

"Yeah. Okay."

He won't.


"Was that your aunt again, kid? Always checking up on you, huh? She must really love yah." One of their housemates suddenly popped out of nowhere after the phone call, and caused the raven's hairs to stand on end.

He completely forgot he was just in the common area and not in the safety of his and Kenny's room. Why does he keep forgetting to stay out of their sights? Actually, no. He really doesn't think he's that forgetful. Absentminded, maybe. Then again, why did he stay here in the first place? He's always told himself not to linger here for as much as possible. Especially when Kenny's not around. Why does he keep finding himself in places he shouldn't be?

Levi just watched him with heightened caution, not answering either question. It had only been a year, but a lot had happened in the past year alone. 

A lot had happened in this house alone.

"Have you been telling her things, kid? Been telling her how it's boring being the only kid in this house? How your ol' housemates try to entertain yah?" He prodded, taking steps closer to the raven who was already on high alert.

"Surely you're not telling that uncle of yours anything, are yah?" He was now practically breathing the words down the poor kid's neck.

Levi frantically shook his head, trying to step back to get some sense of distance, but was denied by the wall behind him.

"You do remember to keep your pretty little mouth shut, right, kid? You wouldn't tell anyone about our little secret now, would yah?"

At this point, he had to strain his ears as he could barely hear the words spoken; muffled by his pounding heartbeat and a static noise that was ringing in his head. Nonetheless, he fortunately caught on to the words and shook his head in answer.

He won't.