When he came back with one arm, no one made a fuss. They’d taken him somewhere and seared off the ragged flesh left at his shoulder socket, doused the stump in alcohol and stitched it together again. Levi didn’t see him until it was clean and bandaged. He doesn’t even know if he was conscious or not when they did all that. There was too much else going on, other matters that required his attention, so when he did see Erwin, several days had passed, and he was upright in bed, talking next steps with Pixis, one arm down but still alive, and that’s all Levi cared about, really, so they adapted and adjusted and spoke no more of it.
He’s been watching pieces get torn off his comrades for years now. He’s used to it. They move on.
He stares now. An empty shirt sleeve, a backwards salute, a smudged signature; it didn’t matter at all in the grand scheme of things, but now the arm is back, he can’t stop looking at it.
They have a meeting this afternoon with the Premier and Pixis and the Queen. Everyone of any importance within the Walls gathered in a courtroom. They must discuss what they found in that cellar. They must decide where to go from here, now they know the truth. The walls peel back and the world unfolds before Levi, and he thinks of how far he’s come, and how far he has to go.
Levi wonders what Eren will do when he sees him. He wonders if he’ll ever follow his orders again.
The arm shifts under his pinning gaze. Strong, unmarred, capable. Levi considers what it must be like to have a stretch of skin that large without a single scar. He stares so long and so intently he half-fools himself into thinking he can see the pulse beating away under the veins at the wrist.
“How is Hange?” Erwin asks. His voice is low and rough. He is on his last morning of mandated bedrest, but he looks near perfect, straight-backed and upright in bed. His insides were shredded, his ribcage crushed. He was torn open and drained dry, and now he doesn’t even look tired. Well, his eyes are tired, but if you didn’t look closely you’d be forgiven for thinking he was in fine health.
“Devastated but enduring it.” Levi says flatly. “They haven’t left their lab since we got back. I’m not sure they’ve slept at all.”
Erwin bows his head - could be a nod? Levi feels a gaping emptiness in his chest, a sensation that’s familiar to him by now, but instead of standing on the edge as usual, he feels like he’s falling into it…
“And your squad?”
Levi looks from his arm to his eyes. Tired eyes. Deep-set and lined, blue like the sky, their usual hunger smothered, their usual focus compromised. Completed, perhaps.
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen them. I assume they hate me more than Braun and Hoover, right now.”
Erwin doesn’t reply, doesn’t move to reassure or comfort him, and Levi is grateful for it. Erwin knows not to waste time attempting to soothe his guilty conscience. He knows that Levi would take the empty words as an insult: they both know what he has done, and what it has cost them.
“At least I shouldn't have much trouble justifying it in front of the brass. I suppose the Queen could have me executed; he was her friend too.”
“The chain of command must be respected.” Erwin says, with a little less conviction than usual. Levi feels a jolt in his gut. If Erwin is even a modicum less committed than he was before this expedition, it will have all been a waste. Brutal and brilliant; that is what they need. You fight wars with swords, not flowers. Efficiency over empathy. As if Levi believes the lie of Erwin’s apathy. As if he hadn’t known that Armin Arlert was capable of being cruel.
“Do you think I’ll need to argue my case?”
“No. I would hope by now they trust my judgement. And I trust yours.” Erwin looks down at his own hand, his new one, and Levi looks too. “Chain of command.” He mutters once more, watching the bones move under his skin as he curls his fingers.
“Are you alright?” Levi asks. Again. He has only asked twice, but it feels like two times more than he normally would. It feels unnatural, exposing, like there is something in the words that people could prod and poke and find him out.
Erwin nods. “I had just grown used to things…” He lifts his arm up, touches the inside of his forearm with his other hand, like he is curious. “And now I shall have to readjust once more.”
Levi swallows, sets his jaw, scowls, drags his gaze from Erwin to the street outside the window, but it isn’t good enough, he can’t hold the question back.
“How does it feel?”
“The power. The serum. How does it feel? Do you feel different?” He speaks to the window. He hears the rustle of sheets as Erwin stirs where he sits.
“At first I felt drunk; reckless and off-kilter, begging for a fight to prove that I still had it in me. Then it turned to a simmer, like the prickle in your blood before lightning. Then I…” He trails off.
“Then?” Levi looks at him again, brow cocked.
“Then the energy left me, and I felt exhausted. I dreamt...I suppose I saw the memories of the others. I saw the fall of Wall Maria from sixty meters in the air. I could smell gunpowder. I was surrounded by my own blood. I could hear screaming. It...frightened me. I was scared of it then.”
Scared?! When had Levi ever seen him scared? Never? He can imagine him, past his prime, tangled in his bedsheets, growing his arm back, terrified of the world behind his eyes. Erwin Smith, the hope for humanity, who dedicated his heart and his soul, now not-quite-human, cowering from the power of the gods in his veins.
The very thing they’d been fighting lives in him now. The titan and the man keep each other alive. It thrums potent and powerful between them.
“I am humbled.”
“You better put it to good use. I pissed off a lot of people. We lost someone very valuable.”
Incredibly valuable. A promising mind. Kind, too - impossibly kind in the face of what he’d seen. It was remarkable how he managed to keep his hope alive where those around him failed. But it doesn’t matter now. Erwin is more valuable. Intelligence isn’t enough. Application is key. They needed Erwin’s experience, his strategy, his ability to do what needs to be done because he is not impossibly kind.
Levi tells himself this again.
Levi believes him now, his anxiety dissipating a little. Erwin’s brow is set, his gaze pointing forward once more, his new hand a fist at his side, his head high. He looks a little more like himself.
“Are you alright, Levi?” Erwin asks.
Levi scoffs, grinding his teeth together.
He and Erwin made a promise. It was convoluted, indirect and blood-stained, but it stuck fast in Levi’s heart. They would never regret. They would move forward, make their choices, and look back only for strength, for courage, and to remind themselves that they are human. The past cannot be altered. Those lost cannot suddenly be saved. There is no point dwelling on mistakes made, because who can say, with absolute certainty, that they were mistakes?
He’s been looking at Erwin with his teeth gritted, following this line of thinking. Remarkably, Erwin looks like he understands.
“It appears you have thirteen years left. You better not die until then. Until we feed you to someone else.”
Thirteen years. It doesn’t seem right. In his mind, Erwin is eternal. In his mind, Erwin is already dead. His conviction doesn’t fit in this limbo.
A knock at the door: Erwin calls them in. The door opens on Sasha Blouse. She lacks her usual energy. She manages a salute, nevertheless.
“Commander. Captain. Section Commander Hange sent me to remind you that the meeting will be held in the East boardroom in an hour. If you are unable to attend, Commander, you can tell me, and I will tell the Section Commander.”
Erwin nods. “Thank you, soldier. We will both be there.”
Sasha salutes again before she leaves. She didn’t look pissed, but she could barely look at Levi. He feels a twinge of sadness at the thought of his squad treating him with disdain. They are good kids. He was growing fond of them, even though he knows that is dangerous.
“I suppose I should get properly dressed.”
“You sure you’re well enough?”
“Even if I wasn’t, I would still go. We can’t have them thinking you gave the Colossal Titan to an old man.”
There is a flicker of amusement across Erwin’s face. It makes something slowly unfurl in Levi’s stomach. He swallows stubbornly.
Erwin moves to stand up. He’s looked human, vulnerable, a lot less than the devil he’s said to be these last few days, confined to his bed. It is easier to be honest with him, easier to just... talk to him, when he’s at Levi’s eye level, out of uniform. Levi realises he is in the process of extracting something from his chest, via his throat, and this is the best chance he’s got.
“Could you just...stay put for a second?” He stands from his chair and forces the request out with enough drive to make it sound like an order. He thinks for a moment that Erwin might refuse him, but he just blinks at Levi and leans back against the headboard, the tilt of his chin inquiring.
“I need you to promise me something.”
Erwin nods. “Go ahead.”
Levi feels his shoulders tense, his tongue prickle.
“I need you to promise me that you will never tell me if I made the right choice or not.”
Erwin looks at him for a long moment. It’s almost too much to bear; his uninterrupted scrutiny, but Levi holds the gaze, of course, like he always has. He’s not afraid of Erwin. He has never been afraid of Erwin.
“I couldn’t even if I wanted to.”
Your choice is my choice - that’s what he’s saying. Erwin has no right to an opinion. He forfeited that when he gave Levi control of the syringe. Trust is heady and familiar. It soothes the itching worry at the base of Levi’s skull.
Levi nods. It’s as good as a promise. He can count on Erwin’s ability to see through him; something he always resented but something he needs now. If Erwin disagrees with his choice, it will break him. If Erwin agrees with his choice, it will reveal an untouched, undiscovered something that Levi knows is buried at the core of this. It will force it into the open.
Levi thinks about the day they spent on top of Wall Maria, staring down into the ruins of Shiganshina, the living and the dead separated by a few crates of supplies, lying with their fallen comrades, bleeding and broken and recovering, waiting for Erwin to wake up because Levi would not give the order to go to Eren’s basement without him. He remembers the dead, defeated look in Eren’s eyes as he led them to his house, Erwin in a trance, Hange saying nothing, Mikasa almost visibly trembling with the effort of not killing Levi when he turned his back to her. He doesn’t remember much about the actual basement; just the look in Erwin’s eyes when they’d found those three books that blew their world open. It wasn’t quite triumph, wasn’t quite happiness; more like desperate grief, muted terror and blessed relief. Levi knew then that if he had made the wrong decision, he would be able to live with it.
“Levi, we will need you in the fight to come. You are our most valuable asset now that we understand, now that we have titans of our own. You mustn’t be burdened by your choices. You must look forward with us. If you regret, you will stumble. If you regret, we are finished.”
“I know.” Levi says, irate, not looking at him anymore.
“I am sorry for putting the burden on you. Again.” He laughs lightly to himself. It sounds breathy and bitter. “You shouldered the guilt of sending me to my death, and then added to it the guilt of bringing me back.”
“I did what I had to. You have always been more important than me.”
“That is not true.”
He looks at Erwin now. His strong brow lowers over his eyes. He isn’t saying it to be kind; he is saying it because he believes it. They think this about each other, heels in the ground, with no chance of being persuaded otherwise.
Levi had wanted to kill him, once. He had sworn that he would. Well, he has fulfilled that promise now, he supposes. He would never have had the strength to kill him twice. That old anger feels like a different world, buried in a different brain, despising a different man.
He had hated him. That hatred was enough to get him to ride into the mouth of hell. He can’t summon even a ghost of the feeling now. After all these years, he hasn’t just mellowed into Erwin, hasn’t just tired of the resentment, he has run in the other direction. He gave the order to charge to save Erwin’s soul. He pushed himself to the brink of sanity, slicing through the flesh of the Beast Titan, because he promised Erwin he would. His loyalty to Erwin is so entrenched, so certain, that he has relied on it for years for strength and sanity as everyone else fell around him.
He let a kid die - a brilliant, promising, compassionate kid. Did he have more to offer? A heart full of hope, unburdened by guilt and time - would he have led them onward unjaded?
He let him die because he convinced himself that Erwin was the better option for humanity’s future, the brighter hope, the stronger weapon. Perhaps he was right. He’ll never know.
He let him die because he’d sent Erwin to his death for Erwin’s sake, but he was tired of being selfless. He let him die because…
I’m weak. I’m the same as those kids were, screaming on a rooftop, blind with rage, clinging to a fucking corpse. I think I’m better than them because I convinced myself I used my head and not my heart...my fucking heart…
Erwin looks steadfast and collected, even in bed, even after everything, like an anchor to reason, a foothold in an impossible climb. Levi told himself a long time ago that he wouldn’t rely on others; he would trust where he needed to but ultimately would stand alone, because he knew that in the end it would be him and only him left standing. Better to have nothing than lose everything.
He is fickle and human, he sees that now. He cannot help it, because no human can live alone.
He’s moving over to Erwin before he’s aware of deciding to do so. He wraps his grip around Erwin’s wrist and lifts his arm. Erwin lets him, only a brief flash of confusion on his face. Levi stares at the lines on his palm, the smooth skin pulled taut over muscle, the hair on his forearm. He touches his fingers to Erwin’s, marvelling in humiliating wonder at how they twitch against his own. As if in a trance, he commits Erwin’s right arm to memory. If he cuts it off now, it will just grow back. He will replenish and regenerate. He is almost invincible. The thought is thrilling. Erwin’s fingers curl around Levi’s while he is preoccupied, stuck in his own head, so that he only notices once he emerges a few minutes later, and they are pretty much just holding hands.
Levi turns his head to meet Erwin’s gaze. It is steady, warm without being soft, and just a little knowing. It makes Levi feel like an idiot. He can hear his deep, even breathing from where he stands next to the bed.
It’s as if thinking of him breathing, drawing in air and exhaling it again, ignites some dormant awareness in Levi, because he feels suddenly cut loose. His chest caves in around the emptiness. His legs, so reliable and strong, feel shaky underneath him. He bites down on the inside of his lip hard enough to draw blood.
Despite this, he moves with his trademark speed and grace, climbing onto Erwin’s bed, straddling him. Erwin looks taken aback for once, unsure of where to put his hands. Levi feels no such confusion. He wraps his arms around Erwin’s neck, feels the hair at the base of his skull, the reassuring warmth of his skin, and presses their bodies together, tucking his chin over Erwin’s broad shoulder. He hears Erwin’s quiet intake of breath. He clamps his arms around him tighter, probably a little painfully, so it is less of an embrace and more of a chokehold.
If Erwin says anything, Levi doesn’t hear it. His blood is roaring in his ears like he’s standing under a waterfall. He’s half mad at the contact, pressing his face into the juncture of Erwin’s neck, smelling him clean and clinical and alive. They’ve never hugged before, barely even touched aside from holding a blade to each other’s throats, pulling each other from the mouths of titans or occasionally patting each other on the back. Levi never realised. It isn’t that surprising; they’re not affectionate men, made even less so by their duty, and Levi isn’t sure when he stopped hating Erwin and started liking him. Because it’s more than respect. He sees that now. He has set himself alight by just touching him. The pulse point under Levi’s nose fills him with strength as well as something akin to terror. Perhaps this is what Erwin felt when he woke up; trembling in the presence of a god that’s as precious and familiar to you as your own heartbeat.
Erwin returns the embrace after a few moments of surprised stalling. He wraps his arms - both of Erwin’s arms - around Levi’s waist, holding him there. His hands feel big on the small of Levi’s back. Rage and grief and joy flare hot and hungry under Levi’s skin. One hand moves from Erwin’s hair to his throat, ripping open the top two buttons of his shirt then moving under the fabric to press insistently against his collarbone. It’s as if hearing him speak, feeling him breathe, isn’t enough. It’s as if he needs to check every place where there is a pulse to make sure he’s still here.
“Levi, I’m sorry - “ He murmurs, close and soft, into Levi’s ear. Levi shudders, grits his teeth against the onslaught of unwelcome emotion, against the fucking tidal wave of feeling that rises and swells unfettered, crashing through his carefully constructed boundaries without a backward glance.
“Shut up.” He snaps.
This is your fault. You made me feel this way. Is my life not enough? You must have my heart too?
He moves his grip from Erwin’s throat to the side of his face, blindly tracing his brow, the dent of his temple, the sharp line of his cheekbone. The warmth of Erwin’s body is overwhelming. He feels huge. Levi clings to him, turning to press his nose more completely against Erwin’s neck. He feels Erwin’s face against his hair. He hears him breath in deeply, like he is smelling Levi too.
Levi pulls back, sits up, moves his hands to hold Erwin’s face and looks down into his eyes. It’s a strange vantage point. Erwin’s hands are on his hips now, his cheeks are soft under Levi’s palms, and his breathing is deeper but just as even. Levi remembers vaguely that they’re expected in the East boardroom soon.
Levi thinks he must look a state. He feels strung out, ripped open, wrecked against the rocks. His heart is tired and aching and Erwin looks solemn and sympathetic. Levi knows he’d try to shoulder some of this pain if Levi could voice what was wrong. He’d try to take some of it from him. Levi doesn’t want him to. It is his. It is raw and it hurts but it is his. I am human.
Erwin doesn’t look like he’s waiting for anything, but Levi feels like he is. There is a tugging in his stomach that nudges him towards Erwin. He’s acting on instinct, wading into uncharted waters, leaning down to bring their faces close together. It is a slow process - Levi examining the bubbling feeling in his chest and feeling Erwin breathe deeply beneath him. About an inch away, he sees that Erwin has closed his eyes. He has given himself up to Levi’s whims, granted him permission to take what he wants. Does he feel the same pull or is this Levi’s reward? Levi doesn’t know what he wants yet, but he’s pushed forward yet again by some long-ignored and much-neglected drive. He sighs shakily and presses their lips together.
It’s a short, perfunctory kiss; softer and wetter than Levi had expected, and its effect is instant: a spasm of tangled heat at the base of his stomach, an articulate ‘yes’ from his body to his brain. Erwin blinks his eyes open when Levi moves away. There is pain there now where there wasn’t before. It is such a rare emotion on him that Levi feels it rise in his own face; mimicking, sympathetic, a direct result. He wants to cast it away, bury it down. He’s spent his life trying to cut himself loose from emotions, and he always feels them anyway.
He kisses Erwin again, parting his lips a little, kissing the seam of Erwins’, which are pliant and willing beneath him. He figures he will take to kissing as he takes to everything else he does with his body; quickly, efficiently, learning as he goes and with his own take on it. He never understood the appeal before, thought it stupid and unsanitary, something kids did instead of just fucking, but he sort of gets it now. Erwin takes Levi’s bottom lip between his own and sucks it into his mouth. The sensation is strange, and sends a sharp burst of pleasure down his spine. He mimics the gesture, slowly but with commitment. Erwin tastes clean, like the tea he just drank. Levi relaxes into him a little, holding his jaw instead of grabbing it, brushing his thumb along Erwin’s cheek. Erwin sighs, like Levi just rubbed balm over a burn on his flesh. It makes Levi’s chest feel tight.
It feels very natural to kiss Erwin, but also like Levi’s kicked down a door that’s always been locked. He feels hopelessly lost, surprised at himself and alive with new possibilities, but at the same time like he’s on the home stretch, like he’s seconds away from his legs giving out underneath him.
He pulls his mouth away. The air is cool against his lips. He puts enough space between them to get a proper look at Erwin. He releases his hold on his face and drops his hands to his shoulders.
Erwin’s eyes glitter. He seems to be both relieved and on the brink of breaking. Levi feels a twinge of recognition. Joy and misery. Pleasure and pain. Happy but sad. He feels the same.
He understands. It’s been six fucking years and he finally understands. He feels his eyes go wide, something akin to horror creeping into his bloodstream.
“How long have you known?” He asks, choked. His grip on Erwin's shoulders is more a threat than a caress.
Erwin swallows. Levi watches his throat move. His expression is perfectly schooled, not giving anything away.
“A year. Maybe a bit more.”
The air leaves Levi in a rush. He feels like he’s been punched.
“Why didn’t you tell me?!” He can feel his heart rate speeding up. He’s going to fucking faint. He is so so tired.
“I would never do that to you.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?!” He snarls, grip back on Erwin’s jaw, forcing his chin up, thrilling at the power he feels, looking down on him as he exposes himself like this.
“What good would it have done? It would have held us back. You know as well as I do that there is no place for that here. It is a...byproduct. An unfortunate fault in my will. I wouldn’t impose that on you.”
“But I…” He’s holding Erwin now like he might lose him, like he might lose him again, begging with his eyes.
“I wasn’t sure. It may well have just been me. That would be even worse. I would not impose that burden upon you when it was entirely my problem.”
“Problem…” Levi echoes, feeling distant, unaware of how he knots his fingers in the hair at Erwin’s temples, how he can’t stop touching him now he’s started, “A…'byproduct’..?”
“I’m sorry, Levi. I’m so sorry.” He’s using his sincere tone of voice, but it’s the tone he uses for the families of the fallen. Levi recognises it and bristles.
“You gave me the syringe. You...you gave me the power of resurrection, you trusted me with that choice, and you didn’t think we’d need to address this first?! You don’t think it was important for me to know this when I accepted?!”
“Like I said; I wasn’t sure if I was alone in it or not. Better to say nothing. Better to stay focused. Better not to dwell on what could have been and work towards our goal. Besides, it seems I was right. You have only just realised now, have you not?”
Is he that transparent? Or can Erwin just read him like a book at this point? He trembles where he kneels, a leg on either side of Erwin, his hands in his hair, his taste in his mouth.
We are in love with each other.
How the fuck could he have missed that?! He’d pushed aside the resentment and the guilt and fallen into step beside Erwin all those years ago because he’d needed someone to follow, but despite everything he’d gone and fallen in love with him as well. And he hadn't even noticed. Fucking typical.
Levi feels the threads of his sanity snapping. He thought he made a measured choice for the good of humanity, thought he did his fucking job, he even berated the brats for running off with their emotions instead of using their heads…
And he’s shivering in Erwin’s lap because he’s touching him, and his body knew before his brain did that he wants Erwin’s touch, everywhere and all day, tethering him to reality, guiding him forward, picking up the broken bits of him after the smoke has cleared. He is selfish, and he abused his power and Erwin’s trust in his judgement to fulfill his own needs, because the whole fucking regiment, the whole world could have been against him, arguing for Armin, and he still would have chosen Erwin. Of course he would always choose Erwin. He is strong for him and he is weak for him. He adores him and he hates himself for it.
Erwin’s hand against his cheek brings him back to the present. He soothes the hard lines in Levi’s furrowed brow with his thumb, breathing deeply, looking serene and serious and understanding. He probably knows exactly what Levi is thinking, and the new implication of this ability scares Levi.
“I am sorry, Levi.” He says again, and Levi understands what he means now. He is sorry for making him choose, but more than that he is sorry that he knew what Levi would choose to do and did nothing.
Because he’s selfish too. They give and give and give everything to their cause, and then, when it matters most, they take, with both hands. With passion and with desperation, they cling to what they want.
Maybe, if he is being nice, he could convince himself they deserve it.
Erwin presses his forehead against Levi’s chest, right over his heart. It’s a break in him that Levi hadn’t expected, has never seen the likes of before. He holds him by the waist once more, cocooning himself in the strong curve of Levi’s body. Levi feels protected and protective, touching Erwin’s shoulder blades, the firm planes of his back, the notches of muscle over his ribs, feeling entirely new, like a teenager, elated and embarrassed and enthralled all at once. He can feel Erwin’s sigh brush across his stomach, even through his shirt. Something delicate and stubborn flowers in his lungs, and he’s worried he’ll choke on it.
If he’s going to be a slave to his emotions, then he will do it on his own terms. If he is going to feel weak and dizzy, he’ll take the reins and make it worthwhile. He tilts Erwin’s head up and kisses him again, and Erwin is much more receptive this time, his famous self control slipping, his desire spilling out, clashing against Levi’s own inhibitions. He touches his tongue against Levi’s and Levi is repulsed for a second, and then immediately wants more, the whiplash of arousal thrumming in his pelvis. He chases Erwin’s tongue, captures it, fuses their lips together, fizzing like forged steel on a blacksmith’s anvil, craving pressure, impact, the release of submersion.
Levi knows how his body works, knows how other people’s bodies work, knows how to move in unison with others to achieve a manoeuvre as quickly and efficiently as possible, but nothing like this. Never has he been so acutely aware of muscle under skin, the heat of a grip, the power of the slightest pressure. He tries to think back to when he has looked at Erwin in the past: did he feel interest? Curiosity? He can’t remember. Erwin is objectively handsome. Levi has never cared about that sort of thing but he isn’t blind. He is strong, admirable - noble, even - and dignified. He is tall and broad and well-groomed. He is clean, and imposing without overdoing it, naturally charismatic without talking too much - he commands attention with his presence, but it never feels overwhelming. He draws the eye. He draws Levi’s eye because he went from thinking about killing him every day, to being slightly concerned that Erwin might kill him, to looking to him for orders because he was the only person he respected enough to obey without question.
So. Respect, admiration, trust, concern - sure. Lust? That’s not so easy to pinpoint.
He feels it now. In droves. It stirs his hips, compels him to press himself closer to Erwin and put his hands on as much of his skin as possible. It’s inappropriate for a hospital room when they’re both needed downstairs in ten minutes, having just lost their entire regiment.
For a moment he’s petrified that he’ll start crying. He squeezes his eyes shut against the barrage of feeling as it hits him full force that Erwin is alive again, here with him, and he very nearly wasn’t. He nearly let him die without knowing...he watched him ride to his death without realising the depth and color of his own feelings...but they get a second chance. He was selfish, and Erwin turned a blind eye, and now they have a second chance.
It’s not enough to keep them here forever. Duty calls from the East boardroom and they are soldiers to their core now. Levi allows himself a minute or so of just holding him, their noses touching, breathing each other in. There’s an ache in his lower stomach that’s never been so persistent before. Levi wonders if giving up the fight and colliding into each other like this means they can never go back. In some ways he understands what Erwin meant when he said there is no place for ‘this’ here; it’s too soft and fragile for war. It would be a lot easier to go back to normal, and perhaps they could. They are strong enough and devoted enough that they could let this go for the greater good, suffocating any intimate attachment before it can grow into a liability. They’re worn down. Blunted. He wonders what it would have been like to meet Erwin in his youth, without the shadow of the titans. Does he only feel this way because Erwin’s nightmares are the same shape as his? Is this cultivated from blood-soaked soil?
Levi doesn’t want to go back to their old way of living, obviously. He wants to defend himself in the East boardroom and then come back here and kiss Erwin again until the good feelings outweigh the bad. Having him strong and sturdy beneath him now sends an assault of possibilities through Levi’s head, beating themselves against the inside of his eyelids. He’s been so blind in the face of his own desire that the thought of fucking Erwin, of peeling his clothes off and touching him, makes his face hot like a damn teenager. He lacks personal experience, but he’s not naive; he wonders idly if it will hurt, if it will feel better than when he’s on his own, if Erwin wants it too, wants it as much, as urgently. If he takes Erwin’s stature into consideration he’ll have to make sure he’s prepared.
He halts the absurd train of thought with a certain measure of disgust in himself. They’re in mourning. Their whole world view has been shattered and rebuilt in a single afternoon. There are new enemies everywhere and Levi has to justify to a room full of people who now hate him why he let their friend die so he could keep his commander. There is a foreign, terrifying, brutal power invading the very cells of Erwin’s body, changing him, taking time off his lifespan as they sit here, and all Levi can do is think about fucking him. Years of living and talking and fighting and surviving together and now is when it rears its ugly head?!
“Do you remember what I told you on your first expedition?”
Trust Erwin to read his mind. “You told me that I should never regret the decisions I make.”
“I told you that you should try not to regret. A life dominated by regret is a life with no direction, no drive, because you are focused on what could have been.” Erwin’s voice is a little strained, a little thin. He never wavers: Levi made him like this. Good. He’s glad. It should go both ways.
Levi opens his eyes. Grey meets blue. He glares down at Erwin.
I’m giving you this. You’d better take it. You’d better keep it forever. It’s too much for one man to bear, but perhaps with two, we could do it. And you have both hands now.
“I don’t regret it.” He says. It is difficult to say, because it is true. It tastes like bile on the back of his tongue, but once it is out, he feels lighter.
Erwin smiles, a small quirk of his lips. He looks proud of Levi. “Good. I trust you. You should trust yourself.”
Maybe they can salvage this. Maybe they can pull something good from the smouldering wreckage, even if it is just for themselves. There is no point in fighting for humanity when you have lost touch with what that means. And now that Erwin’s eyes have settled elsewhere, somewhere over the horizon, somewhere further and more foreign than a basement in Shiganshina, Levi has a feeling they won’t get many opportunities to be selfish again.
Levi sighs. Despite feeling like he’s taken on about five new emotions and dozens of new ideas in the last few minutes, he somehow feels lighter. He climbs off Erwin reluctantly. Erwin’s hands stay on him until the last possible moment.
“You’re gonna need to make yourself look presentable.” Levi says, indicating to Erwin’s hair and rumpled shirt with amusement.
“Mn. I told them bedrest wasn’t necessary. It won’t do to look like I can’t take care of myself.”
He stands and moves towards the chest of drawers where they put his uniform. Levi watches his sleep shirt pull tight over his shoulders as he bends over the drawer with undisguised interest. Erwin’s height comes to him now with a new thrill. It’s absurd.
“I’ll see you down there.” Levi says, crossing his arms and heading for the door.
Erwin nods at him. His expression is gentle, pensive and unusual. It catches on Levi’s skin and makes him shiver.
Later. After all, they have time.