It isn’t until later, when the battle has wound itself down and the end of the world is no more, that Erlin is given time to process everything that has happened.
He’s sitting with Bev, curled into his side as he tries unsuccessfully to doze off, when everything catches up to him. The fact that he died, that his god died and Erlin was imprisoned by his murderer, all in quick succession, that he had spent weeks trapped inside that gem, trying desperately not to completely lose himself, clinging to memories of his Scout Masters, his sister, Beverly, just to hold onto something.
That no matter how hard he tried, it always came back to this: Erlin was not competent on his own, just like always.
He starts shaking without really even realizing it, hands trembling even through clenched fists. “Erlin?” Bev asks quietly, and that one utterance is enough to make him fully break. Tears start running down his face rapidly, quiet sobs that he’s helpless to stop.
“Hey,” Beverly says quietly, gently pushing Erlin off of his shoulder so he can sit up and face him. “Hey, what’s up, dude?”
And it’s so similar to the last time they were like this, at that fucking altar after he was revived and Pelor was killed, Erlin can’t bear it. He brings his knees up to his chest and buries his face in them, shaking his head slightly. Beverly, to his credit, doesn’t push, just puts a gentle hand on his back. It’s almost too much, even the gentlest touch claustrophobic now, but his body settles into it after the initial spike of panic.
He’s not sure how long they stay like that, Bev’s hand on his back the only thing grounding him to the present, reminding him that he’s free, he’s not trapped or being used or whatever, anymore. He’s safe, for whatever it’s worth.
As much as he wants it to be a comfort, it isn’t, not fully. Because a small, loud part of Erlin’s brain is saying that of course this is how it was going to go, with Bev strong and Erlin weak. Even in the aftermath, Erlin isn’t able to hold his own; even now, he relies on Beverly to keep him from falling apart.
He sits up with a sniffle, subtly pushing Bev’s hand off of his back. He doesn’t meet Bev’s eye, his gaze trained firmly on the ground. He knows, logically, that he’s mostly projecting: Bev doesn’t look down on him for not being as powerful as him - and how could he, when Bev is damn near a god? But he can’t stop the fear that he’ll look up and see a flicker of resentment, of pity, in Bev’s eyes.
“Erlin?” Beverly asks again, somehow even softer than before. He doesn’t say anything else, which is a blessing in itself for Erlin, a testament to how well Bev knows him. Erlin sniffles, swiping his hand under his eyes to catch the tears that still fall.
“Sorry,” Erlin mumbles, voice hoarse and thick with tears, a sound he cringes at. “It’s been a long couple of weeks,” he settles on, trying for a joke. It does not land.
Silence falls between them, Beverly clearly giving Erlin the space he needs to collect his thoughts. Erlin knows that now, he’s only delaying the inevitable, so he takes a deep breath, saying, “Being trapped like that, dude - it was a lot. Too much. I kinda thought I was gonna lose myself in there, if I was in there any longer.”
Erlin finally chances a glance up at Bev, and he’s thoroughly surprised by what he sees. There’s no resentment or pity like he thought, but instead - he just looks so, so sad. “Erlin, I’m so sorry,” he says, dripping in sincerity, and Erlin feels his stomach drop.
“Dude, no, it’s not your fault,” Erlin says quickly, but Bev shakes his head, tears brimming in his eyes, a sight that cleaves Erlin’s heart in two.
“It is, though. If I hadn’t let you get trapped -” Beverly cuts himself off, but even with that half sentence, something finally slots into place for Erlin: Bev has just as much self-loathing as he does.
Which maybe isn’t a huge revelation. But for Erlin, who for as much as he cares for Bev and knows Bev cares for him feels like he’s always in Bev’s shadow, it’s huge. It puts them on equal footing. Erlin’s not lesser than Bev for not having played as big a part in saving the world, because at the end of the day, they’re both the same nerdy, optimistic Green Teens that they’ve always been. Just now, they’ve been through a lot more.
“Bev,” Erlin says, taking Bev’s hands in his own. Beverly looks up at him, eyes wide through tear-damp eyelashes, and Erlin hopes his face conveys just how much he loves him. By the small smile that appears on Bev’s face, even through his tears, he thinks it works. “It’s not your fault.” He pauses, swallowing thickly before continuing, quieter, It’s not my fault either.”
Bev nods, and keeps nodding, like he’s contemplating something. Erlin quickly finds out what it is when Bev leans up to kiss him.
It’s a messy kiss; both of them have been crying, and Erlin’s still exhausted from the battle, but he wouldn’t have it any other way, as long as it’s with Bev. Erlin sighs into the kiss and moves his hands to frame Beverly’s face delicately, and he can feel Bev smile into the kiss. After a bit, he reluctantly pulls back but keeps his hands resting on Beverly’s face. “I love you,” he says, delighting in the way Bev’s face lights up at the words.
“I love you, too,” he says easily back, and Erlin’s mouth upturns in a matching smile.
Erlin settles back into Bev’s side, and nothing’s fixed; Erlin knows that trauma like what he’s experienced doesn’t disappear over one night. But for now, he can close his eyes and, in the arms of the boy he loves, he lets his eyes fall closed into a restful sleep.