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As With Summer, so the Sun Wanes

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Summer is Eren’s most cherished time of year. The best day is the first. 

   When spring heats and evolves, the landscape explodes, and everything is suddenly greener and brighter and more vibrant. As though yesterday, the world was still lazing in bed half asleep, listening to the far away sounds of the tea kettle whistling and the shuffling of drowsy feet. 

   But then, the sun whispers to the flowers, clouds, and insects it is time to awaken; the hour is late. 

   And now is the hour for retreat, and retreat Eren did, to one of his most treasured spots to be. No one else visits the natural garth of stillness and silent sound except him and Levi.

   He’s lounging under the willow; their favorite tree, patches of sunlight slipping between its swaying branches and young leaves, painting warm spots on his arms and face. Here, the air is fresher. The bees kinder. The willow’s roots cradle him with rough affinity, and the trunk against his back is stout and sturdy. It smells like peace and comfort and solace and childhood. 

   He closes his eyes, opens his ears, and soaks up the lilting tunes of the birds above, their kin soaring from tree to tree, and those hiding amongst the weeds and brush. Levi’s taking his time today, but like this, Eren can and will wait as patiently as he’s able. With reeds of grass like soft, bendable blades pricking against his callousless palms. 

   It’s gorgeous. Eren could loaf here all day, but his legs are restless, his eyelids fight against him, attempting to open, and there’s a pull beneath his ribs. He looks in the direction of HQ, dragging his gaze down the worn path carved from their steps, and huffs, wishing Levi would hurry. 

   He imagines him walking with his late afternoon limp through grass long enough to cover the ankles of his boots. The casual tug at his cravat as he draws ever closer. The relaxed slump of his shoulders. The wind in his perfect inky hair. 

   Tilting his head, Eren notes the sun’s location and chews on his lip. There’s a half-healed rough spot there. He left it on purpose, willing the catch of skin to remain. Levi clicked his tongue at him last week and told him it was becoming a bad habit. To compromise, he allowed the open crack to knit itself back together, though not fully mend. 

   His teeth dig in like a spade in wet soil.

   The distant droning chatter of free time washes over him; someone squealing, another hollering, Armin’s laugh, Sasha’s screech. A cold twisty stab spins in his stomach like a child’s top and spreads, chilling his warm fingers. Eren melts deeper into the grass, half wishing it might swallow him whole. 

   This may be his last season to be Eren Jäger. His final months to smile, and marvel at the sounds of nature, the grin on a loved one’s face, or the touch of Levi’s hand. 

   He’ll depart on the eve of autumn and travel across the sea, stripping himself of everything but a grain of him. Leaving his friends and family and Levi behind to save them.  

   He might be able to stop it. They may see victory, but if the world retaliates, everything will change.

   A shiver takes him, and he sinks lower, seeking the warmth of the earth. He’s about to turn the tide, and he’s not too daft to realize what he’s doing; he’s distancing himself, and other than Levi, no one will come here. As though it were tainted or too sacred. Which, Eren isn’t sure.

   Eren grumbles impatiently, tears out handfuls of grass, then crosses his arms, shuts out the sun, and goes back to pretending he’s asleep.

   He can see Levi in the darkness of his mind. Hanji is probably talking his ear off. He can hear him ‘tch-ing.’ Can envision his expression, the way his left brow twitches when he tries not to roll his eyes. Levi circling his shoulders and lounging back in that beaten brown corduroy chair in her office across from her desk with his right ankle propped on his left knee. 

   Eren shoos a fly from his cheek—or maybe, it was a ladybug—and groans. Time crawls when Levi takes forever. Similar to when Eren peers with his eye inches from the sandglass waiting for tea to brew, sure he can pick out each grain as it slips through and one minute slows and stretches into a thousand. 

   One grain of sand … if he’s lucky, four more first-days-of-summer … 

   His bare toes paw at the soft dandelions beneath them until the golden petals are scrunched and plastered to his skin; sticking and stuck. He tugs at dewy yellow weeds and tries not to think about his days running out. 

   

Something pokes at Eren’s toe, and he forces himself not to smirk.

   “I know you’re awake.”

   “I knew you were coming.” Eren felt Levi before he heard his steps. He can smell his aftershave and his soap, and leather and tea, and all the good Levi-things as he settles next to him and elbows his arm. Eren opens his eyes. “Where were you? With Hanji?”

   “Who the fuck else would keep me that long?” Levi holds out an offering. A square package wrapped in egg-brown waxed parchment. “You’re hungry. Eat.”

   “What is it?”

   “Sandwiches,” Levi says, lips curling when Eren snatches it. “Cheese and apple.”

   His stomach rumbles, cheeks flushing with warmth when Levi glances at his belly. He’s already starving, and dinner isn’t for two more hours. He shouldn’t have skipped lunch and told Sasha to take his share, but he won’t say anything to Levi about that. It will make his brow furrow into his worry-frown, which is Eren’s least favorite of the menagerie of Levi’s frowns. It never fails to make his chest hurt and the inside of his cheek catch between his teeth. 

   “Did you make them?” Eren asks, digging into the package with a carelessness that brings out one of his most loved Levi-expressions. He smiles at his narrowed, yet glinting eyes then brushes his thumb over Levi’s hand where it sits between them. 

   It’s almost too small a movement to notice, but Eren feels Levi’s fingertip stretch to his palm. It’s so soft and gentle, almost not there at all. There’s never a time when it doesn’t make him wonder if Levi’s kisses would be as feathery and light.  

   “They had no apples in the mess,” Levi says as the contact dwindles, then fades to almost nothing with a quirk of his head as their eyes meet. “I went to my room.”

   Shoulders slumping as the icy pang of loss settles in the tips of his fingers, Eren focuses on eating instead of lamenting the physical boundary it is too late to push.  

   It’s unspoken, but holding hands seems forbidden except when they’re in the privacy of either of their quarters. 

   “Thanks.” Nearing the point where it aches, Eren pulls his hand back. 

   Levi stares at Eren. Scrutinizing him, brows raised in a silent question he hasn’t yet asked. “You skipped lunch.”

   Staring at his little sandwich, Eren chews his lip. Levi’s probably going to tell him to stop. “I didn’t want to deal with everyone’s bullshit. It’s all they’d want to talk about.”

   “They’re bored.” Levi reaches up to swipe at a willow branch. “The only excitement they have is gossip about stable shenanigans.”

   Wrinkling his nose, Eren recalls two evenings before. Strolling with Levi to the stables to give Vaka and Eurus sugar cubes and finding three people in various states of undress on a bale of hay doing Maria knows what. Levi tossed the mouthiest one out on his bare arse before chasing the other male and female recruit off. Then he spent the better part of an hour muttering, disgusting, like fucking rabbits, never heard of a handkerchief, I think she was on the rag while frowning as he investigated, certain the entire stable had been tainted with filthy jism. 

   Eren shivers and shakes away the images. “They’re addicted to gossip.”

   “They’ll want a detailed description.”

   “I didn’t catch much, but it was more than I ever wanted to see,” Eren says, scratching his wrist. “There was an arse and lots of skin.” He thinks for a moment. “Maybe two naked arses.”

   “There were two naked arses,” Levi says, “and two dicks, four balls. A pussy too and a set of tits.”

   “Gross.”

   “The one set was a bit too hairy.”

   “The tits?” Eren asks.

   “Idiot.” Levi rolls his eyes but huffs out a little wheeze. “They might have been hairy too.”

   Eren laughs. “That’s repulsive.”

   “I’ve seen worse.” Levi’s toes tap the side of Eren’s calf. “Hanji wouldn’t shut up about it. Asked me to illustrate the scene.”

   Not surprising, but Levi can’t draw for shit.

   “Is that what took you so long?” Eren asks and then takes a bite. Setting free his momentary worries and the lingering disgust, he groans at the juicy-sweet apples contrasting with the sharp cheese. 

   Levi reaches into his bag. “I told her to fuck off.” he says, adding, “Oolong,” and hands over his flask. 

   Eren smiles. It’s not really for tea. It’s made for whiskey, but of course, Levi doesn’t use it for that. This is far better. It’s bound with sturdy, yet supple leather, embossed with simple scrolling encircling the top and base, and its color is a warm brown which reminds Eren of chestnuts. It doesn’t hold much, but it’s the perfect amount for them; two servings of fragrant, flowery, flawlessly brewed tea. 

   “Thanks.” Eren wipes the sweat from his forehead. “Two hours stuck talking to Hanji about dicks …”  

   “Mostly that,” Levi says, frowning. His teeth drag across his bottom lip. “We also decided to take you off infrastructure.”

   Eren frowns. “Why?” he asks, and then sips, fingers clenching around the flask as his thumb searches for the texture beneath it. “We’re almost done. I want to help.”

   “So we are,” Levi says, “but it’ll be complete in a month even without you.” Levi puts his hand back out for the tea, takes a swig, and sighs. “You need a break. We’re on stable duty for the summer.”

   Eren shrugs. He doesn’t enjoy breaking his back in the blazing sun so much in his human form, but his titan has sped the process by years. Then again, stable duty with Levi makes his heartbeat feel like it’s on his skin, and his lips pull until his cheeks hurt. Sure, they’ll be mucking the stalls, but shoveling shit isn’t so awful with Levi for company. “Which stable?” Eren asks.

   “Two,” Levi says, eyes twinkling as much as Levi’s eyes can twinkle.

   An entire summer with Levi in the solitude of the stables, with their horses, Vaka and Eurus. Eren tries to hold his grin, but it fades, and his sandwich falls to the crisp vellum in his lap as a gentle woe surrounds his heart. The truth sits dark and malignant like a shadow in his mind. An impending ache that’s beginning to tear. 

   His last peaceful summer. 

   He shrugs when Levi tilts his head in an unsaid question. “It’s perfect,” Eren says, knowing it sounds hollow as soon as it leaves his mouth. He swallows, has another bite of a sandwich which tastes like halcyon ease and everything he’ll soon leave behind, and chews through a tightening jaw.

   Levi’s looking at him funny. As if he can see the storm looming in Eren’s chest. There’s a crease in his brow, and his lips are a tight thin line. He doesn’t blink when the breeze blows, parting the branches, and sun speckles flit over his face, shining in his eyes. “You look like you’re holding in gas.”

   Eren scoffs. “I do not.”

   “Bullshit, you do.” Leaning closer, Levi rests his shoulder against Eren’s arm, though his brows are raised in a dichotomously silent, tell me.

    Levi’s scent is something he will miss almost as much as he will miss Levi when he leaves. He inhales it until his lungs burn and then closes his eyes. “Really, it’s nothing.”

  “Mm. You’ve been restless this week.” Levi’s knuckles brush the side of Eren’s leg as he hands over the tea. “You’re working yourself too hard.”

   “No, it’s not the training, I swear,” he says, rubbing his forehead, recalling his empty bed and a needling dismalness at pre-slumber thoughts of his infiltration plans. He pushes a lock of hair behind his ear. “I’m just tired. I didn’t sleep well.” 

   How he hates the deflection and lying. He despises lying to all of them, but with Levi, it’s an unabating wave of anguish. Like a storm driving the tide into a shore he can’t crawl fast enough from. 

   He could tell him …  

   At the end of the summer, I have to leave for Liberio. I’ll have to be heartless and cruel and murderous, and I don’t want you to see me like that. 

   Levi would probably punch him in the face and throw him into a wall, but that’s not what keeps Eren’s secret trapped behind his lips.

   You can’t come with me. I have to protect you from me.

   Levi huffs. “Nightmares?” he asks, seeming reluctantly placated. “You’ve been tossing and turning. Screwing up the sheets.”

   “I always have nightmares.”

   “Migraines then?”

   “No, I would’ve told you,” Eren says, and then shifts the subject before Levi can fret too much. “We start tomorrow?”

   “Before the arse-crack of dawn,” Levi says in a cadence only an insomniac can possess in the face of giving up two or three precious hours of darkness. 

   Halting a grumble, Eren glares. It’s a challenge to maintain as he watches Levi finally bite his sandwich. How his small, slender fingers wrap around the bread. How the muscles in his jaw work with each chew. How his Adam’s apple bobs in his pale throat when he swallows. Eren wishes the circumstances were different and he could kiss him right there. The skin looks even softer than it is where he puts his lips on his nape when they sleep. 

   He bites his lip when he notices soft pink on Levi’s cheeks before he side-eyes him and tells him to finish his “fucking sandwich.”

   “Right.” With a warm tickle of contentment breaking through the melancholy, Eren smirks to himself and goes back to his snack. 

   Levi made it for him after all.