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Ephemeral

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In sweeps of colors the world passes Eren by.
His skull is being rattled as it rests against the car window while being transported over uneven roads at high speed. Though his eyes barely take in the sight of trees and houses flashing by, his mind pays great attention to the conversation he can pick up coming from the front seats. 

They’re speaking about work, about personal problems, about colleagues, their tones hushed as if Eren would be hurt any more knowing life goes on with anyone else but him. 
Eren’s world had stopped two months earlier. Along with both of his parents’ lives being snuffed out, a great part of him had passed away along with them. With him having moved from his grand-mother to his best friend’s parents; Eren quickly figured out that he’s undesired company, a burden to others no matter them having the boy’s best interest in mind. 

No one can handle him. 

And everyone moves on. Everyone but him. 

It’s a peculiar sensation to be rejected by various adults after both your parents are dead. For starters, no one’s supposed to care more for you than your own blood and hence, when being tossed aside by others that were supposed to substitute as guardians, your value of self disintegrates rapidly. 

Along with the loss of faith in himself comes anger. 

Incredible amounts of frustration at what has happened to him. 
Agitation at the absurdity of life. 
Fear at the lack of solidity, at knowing the rug can be pulled out from underneath him at any given time. 

Just like that. 

Eren blinks when hearing his name called, glancing at the two strangers in the front of the car though he doesn’t move his head from the window. 
The image of the woman who’s turned around to address him is distorted by the rattling of the glass, making his sight tremble. 

“There’s a lot of youth camps in this area. Have you ever been in the scouts?” She smiles and Eren knows she’s trying to cheer him up, foolishly so. But his anger at being driven to a place miles and miles away from a home he no longer inhabits prevents him from curling up his lips or even reply to her in the first place. 
He looks back outside. 

And she gives up, leaves him alone. 

Like everyone has done and will continue to do. 

The way to the place he’ll be residing in is hours away and if it hadn’t been for his empty stomach, Eren would’ve gotten car-sick by now. Instead, his stomach gnaws at him, urging him to eat even though he has nothing at his disposal. Not that he’d even consider taking a bite of anything if presented to him. 

He hasn’t been hungry for months, eats only to not pass out or when his stomach-pains get severe enough so he can no longer laze about and ignore the signs. 
Placing the differences between low blood pressure, low sugar levels or anxiety has become easy after months of suffering through all three of them. 

None of them seem to bother him today. 

Not even at the mere fact he’s being moved to live with a distant family-friend he’s never heard of, in a place he doesn’t know, by two social workers he’s seen maybe three times. Not even this causes him anxiety. He’s just numb today. After countless of sleepless nights, Eren lacks the energy to put up a fight or start to panic. 

Regardless, his stomach clenches when the guy behind the wheel murmurs ‘we’re here’ when turning a corner on a calm street only to enter a road leading into a forest. 

Great. The damn woods. What more ideal place to get murdered by a distant relative is there? Eren despises nature. He hadn’t always, not as a child, but at this very moment he finds the energy to snarl to himself at the presence of trees surrounding him. 
The purity of chirping birds, the bright patches of sunlight peeking through tree-branches, the scent of petrichor after last night’s rain reaching through the old car’s ventilation system. It’s all so ironic and unenjoyable. It just rubs in Eren’s face that the entire planet is rotating, living and dying and rebirthing without him. 

As the tires roll slowly over gravel, Eren lifts his head, clasping his hands together only to squeeze hard enough to hurt his fingers.  

He doesn’t want this. 
Never wanted this.  

Didn’t want to lose his parents, didn’t want to be rejected by his own grandmother, didn’t want to get kicked out by his friend Mikasa’s parents who’d always been nothing but nice to him in the ten years he’d known their daughter. 
But then when times get rough, when his attitude changes for the worse; he’s dumped like a bag of dirt. 

It takes five more minutes before they reach a single, cabin-styled house placed in the middle of an open patch surrounded by an amount of trees so grand and dense Eren can’t see a single thing past the third row of them.  
The building itself is small –humble-, a cliché with flower pots on window-sills and curtains swooped aside in arched shapes. Leading up to the wooden door is a path, framed with bushes that sprout red roses. Regardless of the romantic scenery, Eren takes note of details hidden behind the misleading picture; a crack in one of the upstairs windows, the roof missing some tiles, flaking paint behind ivy crawling up the walls and the droopy state of earlier mentioned roses. 
The man living here doesn’t take care of this place much, unless he enjoys the ancient feel to it. 

When stepping out of the vehicle, rucksack swung onto his back, Eren glances up at the sky above; the sun beaming at him. Summer is a season that once belonged to him; the heat, the comfort, the excitement of teased freedom. 
This is no longer the case as the current weather just reminds Eren of how grim he himself has become. What use is there to the sun when he’s got no one to enjoy it with any longer? No more barbeques, no more garden-parties, no more gatherings of his friends which are left behind where he used to live. No more late summer-night dinners outside with his parents. 
None of that. 

Just him, here, left behind, dumped at the doorstep of a stranger. 

“This place looks lovely, doesn’t it?” The woman says to Eren when she appears next to him with his trolley suitcase. Her hand presses gently against his elbow, nudging it as if it’d push him into gear to show some emotions. 

Once more the teenager doesn’t bother replying, instead grabbing his luggage and dragging it behind him as he follows the male social worker towards the front door. 
Regardless of him being distant towards the both of them, the lady still pats his shoulder as she passes him by to stand next to her colleague who rings the bell after sharing a glance with her. 

Long moments follow, fleeting seconds of rustling leaves and synchronized chirping of nearby crickets. The sun beats down on the crown of Eren's head and it only serves to dampen his mood further.  

“Maybe knock?” The female hints in a whisper. 
As the man agrees and acts upon her suggestion, Eren bitterly imagines being left out here with no one coming to the door. Just the thought –the possibility- of even this stranger leaving him aside before meeting him is as masochistically amusing as it’s dreadful. 

About to word his inappropriate assumption, the door in front of them opens slowly, hinges creaking, revealing the beginnings of a pitch-black gaping hole to substitute a possible hallway. 
Even the social workers in front of him take a step back, apprehensive at the oddity of being met by an eerie inside to the serene surroundings. 

However, a tall figure creeps into the sunlight, revealing blond hair and perfect teeth displayed not in a hungry snarl but a welcoming smile.  
Eren watches the blue-eyed man greet the workers, shaking hands, introducing himself and communicating in pleasant fashion. Though not bothering to listen to whatever it is he is saying, the warmth and depth to his voice are as homey as the scent of freshly baked bread that’s begun to escape from the opened entrance. 

“Mr. Ackerman, is it?” The woman asks after their pleasantries. 

The tall man straightens up, shrinking the hallway behind him with his impressive posture, before he throws back a question himself. 

“Depends who’s asking?” 

A swift silence follows and though even Eren caught the joke, the pair in front of him stir momentarily. 

“I’m kidding. Yes, I am Levi Ackerman. The one and only.”  

The laughter that follows is awkward though carries relief along with it. Eren decides these two are hopeless. 

“Please, come on in.” Levi says and has to take a step outside to allow enough space for everyone to enter through the small doorway. 

The boy’s shoulders pull up subconsciously as he passes him by, ignoring the ‘Nice to meet you, Eren.’ which he murmurs to him. 

“It’s straight ahead.” Levi assures after closing the front door, as he notices the trio stuck in the hallway, unsure of where to head. 

“This house seems incredibly small for you.” The male worker jokes over his shoulder while Eren tries not to jump out of his skin having Levi at his heels. 

“Oh yes, I still bump my head against door-posts daily. I don’t get used to it.” 

“You’ve been living here for nearly a decade though, haven’t you?” The woman adds on, likely remembering details from Levi’s file to deem him suited to take care of Eren until he’s eighteen. 

Three more years of depending on a stranger’s kindness. Three years of trying to not get kicked out again. 
Three years of trying to get his life in order and walk out of this place a confident adult. 

“That’s right.” Levi’s answer is short as they continue through the dark hallway which seems to go on forever. There’s plenty of doors to both of Eren’s sides, though all of them are shut. 

“My head would be better off if I’d at least fix the lights in the hallway but apparently I enjoy the murky atmosphere of it.” 

Eren frowns at the odd joke, the bitter tone to it –sarcastic-. 
Though he’s too deep in his own hell to try and see himself connect with this man whatsoever, Eren assumes he’ll be tolerable to his adolescent- and trauma-induced irritation. As long as he cuts down on the awkward jokes, that is. 

When entering a rather spacious kitchen and offered to take seats at the dining table, Eren makes sure to sit down at the end of the furniture; his vision able to watch everything occur before him rather than have him turn his head every other minute to follow a conversation he’s already dreading. 
Sure enough, Levi sits down at one side, the social workers across of him, granting Eren a perfect view of the trio in front of him. 

As papers and files are brought up, the only sound is that of a nearby clock ticking, and the scuffle of documents being placed on the wooden table-top. A pile of sheets is slid across to Levi, a pen on top of it and the following ten minutes consists of the three of them going through the contract that declares Eren Jäger to be taken care of by Levi Ackerman until his eighteenth birthday. 
It’s as boring as it is offensive, being written off like it’s an arranged marriage or the selling of live-stock. 

But what did he expect? What can Eren possibly expect after he set his grandmother’s kitchen on fire and stole the contents of Mikasa’s father’s safe? He can’t expect people to keep asking him how he’s doing. Especially since he never replies truthfully, instead optioning for a bland-spoken ‘fine’. 

How is he still expecting understanding and kindness when he’s done everything to make people despise him? 

Stupidity? Naivety? Whichever it is, Eren’s entitlement is only shoved aside by self-hatred until it elbows itself back into the picture. It’s an endless battle between self-pity and hatred towards the outside. A showdown of wanting to cry and wanting to fight. A loss of desiring to request help and yet slap away the hand that reaches out to him. 

Eren’s his own worst enemy. 
The excuse being that he’s lost his parents abruptly; hence he hasn’t been shoved in juvie yet. 

“So, Eren. Do you agree with the rules we’ve set for Mr. Ackerman and yourself?” 

Honestly, he hadn’t been listening but he’s aware they likely consist of ‘do not, under any circumstances, set the kitchen on fire’ amongst others. 
So, Eren nods, suppressing a shrug to avoid any suspicion of his disinterest. 

“We understand this is another very big step for you, Eren, and-” 

“It’s fine.” Eren interrupts the lady, wondering if she hates him yet. Yet, glancing up at her shows nothing but a worried frown as she presses her lips together in a tense line. Though it’s obvious she doesn’t believe him and he can see the questions bouncing around in her head, she nods and turns her attention back to Levi. 

She smiles, reaching out her hand. 

“Thank you, Mr. Ackerman. He’s a bright young man going through a rough patch, thank you for taking this upon yourself.” 

As Levi shakes her hand, meeting her smile with one of his own –though more reserved-, Eren holds back a scoff at him being perceived the hero. Like he’s doing the government a favor by keeping Eren out of juvenile and off the streets. Like he’s doing these social workers a favor by finalizing their mountain of paperwork on Eren. 

What a joke. 

Eren shakes both their hands when they get up to leave. However, he remains on his chair with one foot on the seat, resting his chin on his knee; watching them exit the kitchen together with Levi. 
Their voices become muffled the farther they get from him and Eren wonders if this is finally the last time he’ll be seeing the pair. Is this his last stop before getting on his own two feet? 
Doubtful but desirable. 
Even with this house appearing as if it’s been plucked from a Hanzel and Gretel horror novel –large, old-fashioned oven included-, even with it being located in the middle of fuck-knows-where, even so; Eren desires to have his own space somewhere again, to either wither or heal. 

The house is quiet. The thin windows allow some of the chirping of birds to reach his ears, but when Eren focuses on his nearest surroundings; all but the clock on the wall is silent. Focusing solely on his hearing, eyes closed, the teenager distantly takes note of car doors being slammed shut and soon after the hum of an engine starts up, then fades away. 
The front door clicks shut and footsteps become louder. 

Eren opens his eyes when Levi enters the kitchen once more. Their gazes meet and the boy doesn’t return his smile. 

“Let me show you your room.” He suggests and Eren’s eager to lock himself up in a space where no one can reach him for the next decade. 

Following Levi up a wooden staircase that creaks dramatically under their combined weight, Eren takes note of the lack of pictures or personal items throughout the place. No matter the old-fashioned style of the building –what with its abundance of wood and lack of light-, there’s a strange absence of personality all around. 
Odd, since Levi seems full of life and quite charismatic. 

However, the lack of knick-knacks and personal touches grants Eren a basic bedroom he can make his own quite easily throughout the upcoming years –or months- he'll be residing here. 
Except for a single bed, a night cabinet and a desk with chair, there’s nothing to fill up the space. 

“I’m sure you’ll be getting a closet soon enough.” Levi mumbles before handing a key over to him. 

Eren observes the bronze object, dumbly, before realizing it must belong to his bedroom.  

“There’s a bathroom to the right at the end of the hall. For now, just settle in and call me if you want anything.” 

After plucking the key from his hand gingerly, Eren watches Levi leave before making haste in closing the door and locking it. 
He exhales a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding for what seems like the past hour. 

With his head leaning against the wooden door, Eren asks himself what will be the first thing that goes wrong. Will Levi become pushy in wanting to form a bond or perhaps he’ll ignore him for three years? What will school be like in this area? How will he get there? Will he have to suffer through two awkward car-drives with this man every single week-day? Will Eren start a fight? With Levi, with classmates? Will Levi try to replace his father? Is he even married? Is there a wife who will force her mother-instincts onto him? 

Almost more than being abandoned, Eren fears to be swallowed, suffocated, by a new family. He’s frightened to end up stuck in a family that appears perfect on picture but is toxic between the walls of their home. Or, moreover, he worries that Levi and a possible wife will be so kind, so good to him, they’ll erase the memories of his parents. 

Carla and Grisha. His rocks, his angels, his life, his protectors and caretakers, his best friends. They’d been so good. All to be desired of parents. And more. 
So good. 

And now gone. 

Just like that. 

Irreplaceable.  

Naturally, Eren remains in his room for the rest of the day, assuring Levi he does not want dinner and being grateful when the man doesn’t push his reasoning to. 
Eren leaves only once, at nine in the evening to shower, before crawling in bed. 

The sheets smell clean, though their patterns are so old-fashioned Eren had expected them to have a scent similar to that of books shoved in the backs of libraries to never be rented out. Everything’s colored dull, brown and orange and more browns and it’d be depressing if it weren’t for the fact that Eren already feels like absolute shit as is. 

With his mind going a hundred miles an hour, Eren has no choice but to get up after hours of trying to catch sleep. It’s past midnight when he flicks on the night-lamp on the bedside-cabinet and sits down on the floor with his suitcase; unzipping it. 

He doesn’t have many things. Little clothes, little belongings.  
Picking up his only book, Eren strokes his fingers over the cover first, then the spine which is ruffled and starting to shred at the countless of times it’s been bent open and closed. 
It’s a collection of fairy-tales, many of which he remembers from his mother reading to him when he’d been much younger. Alongside paragraphs, old-fashioned drawings are displayed; detailed and refined beyond what one would expect from a book designed for children. 
Although, as he’d gotten older and skipped through the pages to look for his favorite drawings, Eren had caught words such as ‘sharp fangs’, ‘bloody prints’ and ‘despair’ amongst many more in its genre. Perhaps it’s not as child-friendly as his mother had portrayed it to be. 

Eren had never taken the time to check and when he feels his throat tighten at the memory of her voice, he places the book next to him. Disposing of it.  

For now. 

In the following minutes, the quiet pressing on his ears, Eren takes out his clothes, sliding his shirts into the night-stand before placing his book in the drawer of it. His pants remain in the suitcase, as well as his only stuffed animal.  
Too old to sleep with it, it has no use other than curse him with its sentimental value. 

The envelope with pictures of his parents and himself remains unopened as it’s been since the day he’d collected them two weeks after their deaths. It’s too painful, it chips away at his numb state just holding them, let alone seeing them. 
The envelope joins his book in the cabinet’s drawer before he slides it shut. 

And that’s that. 

The only thing left in front of him is a suitcase with two pairs of pants, five pairs of socks and a matching number in underwear. He doesn’t even have pajamas. 
Eren sits in his black T-shirt and grey underwear, staring out in front of him, his mind chewing on memories he’s been holding back. 

However, as a single recollection shoves itself to the forefront of his consciousness, he’s suddenly startled into distraction by the door-handle moving down. 
The first thing that comes to mind, when the bedroom door –that he’d left unlocked after his visit to the bathroom- swings open is that he’s about to get molested. 

That’s what is said, isn’t it? A stranger coming into your bedroom at one in the morning without knocking; that’s the key to a bad time. 

Regardless of how upset he already is, Eren’s breath stutters when not Levi but a stranger appears in the doorway. 

That’s even worse, though. 

They stare at each other, both frozen in place though Eren can hardly make out anything as the short male stands in a pitch-black hallway. 

His heart beats in his throat, his ears ring. It’s a burglar. It’s a fucking burglar and Eren has zero cash up his ass so he’s going to get beaten, raped and murdered. The guy probably already dealt with Levi, that’d explain the earlier murmurs downstairs. Why else would Levi allow this stranger to visit Eren at this hour? 

This is it. 

For once it’s not Eren’s fault that his life is going to get fucked up royally. 

The man enters slowly, stopping once inside and in the dim lighting of his bedroom; Eren lets his eyes observe the creature that will choke him to death within the next five minutes. 
The stranger is short, shorter than Eren himself, but he makes up for it not only with the subtle hints of muscles beneath black layers of clothes but moreover with the expression on his face.  
He appears as seething as he does dead. Furrowed brows and clenched jaws aside, the bags under his eyes, the light color of his pupils and paleness of his skin make Eren second-guess that vampires aren’t a real thing. 

Though still frozen in place, Eren finds his voice after the man’s been staring him in the eye like a wild animal for what feels like minutes. The eeriness has made place for awkwardness. 

“What...” Eren starts, making sure the man doesn’t move at the silence being broken. 

Except for a blink, the stranger remains still. 

“Who...” The teenager decides to change his question as it’s becoming clear that murder isn’t on his mind. Who would wait this long to kill someone? 

“-are you?” 

A moment follows before the stranger’s face loses its edge, expressing disbelief alongside a scoff. Eren exhales quietly when the man finally breaks their eye-contact, digging hands into his pockets before laying his gaze back on the boy. 

“I’m Levi.”