Levi wakes, as he does often, to the sight of Erwin’s office warmed by the waning light of an oil lamp. He wakes easily, with steady breaths and slow blinks. He is safe here.
The noise that wakes him is far less familiar. And the warmth at his side even less so.
Erwin’s snoring is louder than the half-whispers he’d typically use to rouse Levi on those nights—far too often for Levi’s taste—that he might happen to pass out in his office. While his tolerance for those late nights dwindled over the years, they seemed to have the opposite effect on Erwin. It was either paperwork or insomnia—scratching quills or the clank of a glass—that outlasted Levi and lulled him to sleep.
He forgets which it was tonight, but the sleeping man next to him on the couch makes Levi feel relieved that at least Erwin didn’t fall asleep hunched over death notices with nightmares bleeding off the page in splotches.
Levi turns his head slowly while Erwin snores on. His jacket is off, gear gone and sleeves rolled up. He is slouched in the seat, and his head is tilted back, throat bared, in an attempt to rest it on the sofa back.
Snoring isn’t quite Levi’s idea of peacefulness but that's the word that comes to him. He doesn’t want to wake him, but Levi’s shoulder twinges in sympathy just looking at the pull of muscles in Erwin’s neck.
His eyes search for a place to nudge, to touch. He supposes he could just stand, see if that movement alone would stir Erwin into waking. But his hands itch with unspent movement, and, at his very core, he knows he will reach out anyway; he just wants to.
He always wants.
He will never have.
For as close as his commander is, he is just as far from Levi’s grasp. Erwin needs his captain and the corps needs its chain of command to avoid crumbling from a selfish misstep. Levi would never allow himself to be the one to make that move.
So this is as close as he gets. At Erwin’s side on the battlefield. Across the table at meals. On his couch and in his office. Arm’s length.
But everything feels closer, now, in the muted light, and it isn’t hard for Levi to place his hand on Erwin’s exposed forearm. He opens his mouth to speak Erwin’s name, but the sound dies in his throat in a heavy breath, more afraid of disturbing the silence of the room than his commander’s slumber, though both feel sacred.
The skin is strikingly warm under Levi’s hand, but he isn’t surprised. He’s almost ashamed that he’s thought about it enough to expect the feverish touch. The shame subsides and the want wins out and Levi stays there, still, foregoing a courteous nudge in favor of selfishness. He soaks in the warmth, steals the sun from the tan of his skin, borrowing it for when he’s alone and without another to warm him. He knows he will never again experience this—the closeness, the warmth. It will only ever exist on the edges of the orbit Levi has established for them both.
He presses a finger gently into the soft underside of Erwin’s wrist, and the pulse there beats strong and slow against his fingertip. Erwin still does not move, and Levi wonders, not for the first time, how any soldier can sleep so soundly. Levi closes his eyes too, lulled back into the comfort of their proximity. The corners of his lips ease, upturn the slightest at the proof of life pulsing beneath his finger. Alive, alive, alive, it says.
Sometimes that’s enough. Sometimes that’s all Levi wants.
He squints his eyes shut tight, wills away the pang in his chest, and stands.
Erwin grabs his wrist before he can take a step.
The touch startles Levi, but Erwin doesn’t let go. They just stand there, quietly regarding each other in the silence.
“I’m gonna go,” Levi interrupts, trying in vain to wriggle discreetly out of Erwin’s grasp. “Go back to sleep.”
“Levi,” Erwin says again. He sits up on the couch, and even seated he’s still barely shorter than Levi. He brings his other hand up to hold Levi’s.
He stops trying to get away then.
“You don’t have to go,” Erwin continues.
Levi tries to scoff at him, but he has no breath to do it.
“Shut up,” be barely whispers instead. He flicks his wrist, but Erwin’s hands don’t budge; they’re engulfing. He wonders if Erwin can feel his pulse beating under his fingers, or hear it bursting through his chest. “Go to bed.”
Erwin just shakes his head wearily and tugs Levi closer. “Let me rephrase.” He slides his hand down Levi’s arm, cradles his hand in both of his own. “I’d like you to stay.”
The fingers beneath Levi’s palm are so gentle they nearly tickle, but Erwin applies the slightest pressure just before Levi feels like he might fall apart. It only takes a second for his hand to reach Erwin’s mouth, and it takes a painstakingly long breath against his knuckles before Erwin’s lips meet them.
Levi would pull away—he knows he should—but he’s never felt so helpless. His muscles tingle and both of his knees are weak even though he’s never injured one of them. And Erwin looks comfortable, at peace, relieved, all the words that Levi has never truthfully been able to use to describe Erwin but are the only ones apt to explain the absence of the crease in his brow and the disappearance of the tension in his shoulders.
He has never looked like this kissing the hands of the women at the capital. Levi should know. He’d seen it enough.
Levi would be a fool to disturb him.
But as he raises his lips from Levi’s skin, Erwin drags him into unmapped territory. He has never eased over a noblewoman’s hand or run his thumbs over the meat of their palm, as he does now.
And when Erwin looks at him, Levi is helpless again. And when he kisses him there too, he shivers.
“Erwin…” Levi’s voice is a touch too quiet to carry the warning he intends.
He pulls away to look up at Levi. “Do you want me to stop?” he asks, but his hands continue, his thumbs massaging the calloused muscle beneath. “What do you want?”
Erwin’s pull is too strong for him to keep away now. The second he breathed onto Levi’s skin, laid his lips so intimately into his palm, the boundary walls were breached irreparably by the man himself.
Levi has always wanted.
So Levi touches back. He plants his knee on the sofa between Erwin’s legs and moves his hand to his face in a fluid motion. He weaves his fingers between Erwin’s and runs the others through the man’s hair. Everything is softer than he’s imagined. And he has imagined.
Erwin hums when Levi presses his lips to his forehead, and he breathes a chuckle onto Levi’s skin when he ruffles the short hair on Erwin’s neck.
He places a hand on the sofa behind Erwin’s shoulder, breathes in the smile that crosses Erwin’s lips when he hovers above him, then kisses him. It’s slow, new and fresh and sweeter than Levi pictured he would be if ever got Erwin under him. But it’s a content, relieved thing, and Erwin hums again—deeper this time, satisfied—when Levi passes his tongue against Erwin’s lips before he pulls away.
He presses another kiss to Erwin’s forehead with wet lips; now that he’s had a taste of his skin he has no hope to pull against its magnetism any longer.
Levi falls back into the cushions next to Erwin, and it only takes him a moment to adjust to the weight of the man’s arm against his shoulders and settle into his side seamlessly.
“Come on, old man,” Levi mumbles into his chest. “Let’s get some rest.”