The school was pretty quiet inside as Erwin Smith made his way through the hallways to his daughter’s class. This was the first time he had actually been called to Annie’s school in the middle of the day. Until now Erwin had no reason to be overly concerned about his four year old daughter but, when her Kindergarten teacher had telephoned and requested his presence as soon as possible, Erwin’s brain had been racing.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” he announced, opening the door to the classroom.
It was deserted, the sound of children playing outside in the sun, but Annie’s teacher Ms Brzenska was sitting at her desk, and a man Erwin had never seen before sat opposite her, an empty chair beside him. Ms Brzenska was a small woman, built more like an athlete than a kindergarten teacher, with short, pale blonde hair and Erwin had heard many tales from Annie about how she was very kind but also firm and stood for no nonsense in her classroom.
The man sitting opposite, Erwin guessed, must have been another parent. He was evidently tall and quite broad, looking uncomfortable in the orange plastic chair, a curtain of straw-blond hair obscuring his eyes.
Ms Brzenska looked up and smiled at him.
“It’s quite alright, Mr Smith. Please take a seat.”
Erwin straightened his tie and crossed the floor, sliding into the empty seat across the desk and glancing at the man now sitting next to him. It wasn’t often that Erwin Smith met a man who was bigger than he was, but this man seemed not only taller – his shoulder reaching a few inches above Erwin’s – but also broader, with shoulders that seemed to strain against the soft worn fabric of his sky blue shirt. Erwin gave him a cursory nod.
Ms Brzenska placed her hands on the desk before her and took a deep breath.
“Mr Smith, this is Mr Zacharias – his son Armin and your daughter, Annie, are both in my class.”
“Has there been some sort of problem?”
Ms Brzenska sighed.
“I’m afraid there has been some difficulty with Annie and Armin of late,” she replied carefully. “It resulted in a physical altercation this morning.”
Beside him, Erwin saw Mr Zacharias stiffen from the corner of his eye.
“The kids aren’t hurt, are they?” the man asked.
His voice was quiet, almost rough.
“No,” Ms Brzenska replied. “Not really, but...”
She looked at Erwin, hesitant to complete her sentence. Erwin, with a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, knew why.
“Did Annie start it?”
The look on her face confirmed the answer to his question. Erwin sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose between his fingers.
“I honestly can’t apologise enough, sir,” Erwin said wearily, turning to the man sitting next to him. “I would like to sit here and tell you that my daughter would never do such a thing but if that was true, neither of us would be sitting here would we?”
Zacharias raised an eyebrow, peering at Erwin through his curtain of hair. After a second he nodded.
“No, we wouldn’t,” he replied.
“That’s not to say,” added Erwin quietly, “that I can’t quite get my head around it. Annie has always been a quiet girl – she keeps to herself mostly, and she’s never been all that sociable but I can’t understand why she would lash out.”
Ms Brzenska shifted uncomfortably in her seat.
“I think it may have just been a touch of zealousness on Armin’s part,” she murmured.
Mr Zacharias straightened in his chair.
“Armin was bothering her?”
“No, I wouldn’t say that,” the kindergarten teacher replied hastily. She looked between Erwin and the boy’s father. “Armin is a nice boy – he’s very sweet and very friendly. I truly believe he was just trying his hardest to include Annie and didn’t realise that she might not have wanted that.”
Beside Erwin, Mr Zacharias let out a small noise of amusement.
“Yeah, that sounds a lot like my kid,” he replied.
“I see,” murmured Erwin. “I’ll talk to Annie after school and see what can be done about her behaviour.”
“I’ll talk to Armin too,” added Zacharias. “He might need to lower his enthusiasm about trying to make new friends.”
Erwin smiled. Not that he’d been to a lot of this sort of meeting, but he had a feeling that they could go terribly if both sets of parents refused to admit that there was an issue. On the other side of the desk, Ms Brzenska nodded with satisfaction, relief plain on her face. Obviously, she was used to meetings like this ending badly.
“I just wanted to make you both aware of the issue,” she replied. “I’ll do everything I can to keep things civil at this end, but I would appreciate if you could both try to get to the bottom of this – there’s only so much the kids tell me, so I really rely heavily on any information parents can give me to make this easier for everybody.
The two fathers nodded and moments later, they were shaking hands with the kindergarten teacher and walking back out into the hallway, keeping in step with each other as they made their way to the door. Erwin was lost in thought as he walked – Annie had never been the type of kid to start fights. Sure, she knew how to stick up for herself but she’d always been quiet and a loner. Erwin started to wonder if this whole situation was his fault for working too much and not encouraging her to get involved with kids her own age.
The voice cut through his thoughts and Erwin looked up to find Mr Zacharias looking at him with mild concern, leaning against the open school doors to prevent them from closing on Erwin’s face.
“Are you okay there?” the guy asked him.
“Yeah,” replied Erwin with a brief smile. “I’m sorry, I just...”
He trailed off and shook his head in disbelief. Zacharias gave him a small grin.
“Its okay – it’s my first time being called into the school too.”
Erwin looked at up at him – a novel experience for a man who stood at six-feet-two-inches – and let out a light chuckle as he smiled back.
“At least I’m not the only one here,” he replied. “I never thought I’d ever get called in over Annie. She’s never been one to draw any attention to herself...”
Erwin trailed off and sighed. He didn’t even know how he was going to approach the subject when Annie got home from school that evening.
Zacharias tilted his head to the side, studying Erwin closely. His eyes had been partially obscured by his hair through the whole meeting but now that Erwin was standing looking up at him, he could see them clearly for the first time – colourless, like water running over a stone. The larger man held out a hand.
“I’m Miké,” he said.
Erwin smiled gently and took the hand in his own, noticing its warmth and the roughness of the palm, his handshake firm.
“Erwin,” he replied.
Miké Zacharias gave him a lop-sided grin.
“Well Erwin, if you’re free for the next half hour or so, maybe I could buy you a coffee and we could discuss how to deal with these pesky kids?”
Erwin felt his own smile grow.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “I think that could be a good plan.”
Miké of course didn’t mention that the place they’d ventured into for coffee was his own. He’d opened his own small independent restaurant the year before Armin had been born after a lot of hard work, and thankfully it was thriving. His job was mostly behind the scenes, making new menus for the season and creating fresh dishes, as well as the general everyday management of the place – not working in the restaurant itself left him more time to spend with his son, and he was grateful to his small army of hardworking staff for giving him the opportunity. Miké left the general running of things to his long-term friend Hange Zoe, who he was currently trying to ignore as they wiggled their eyebrows at him from across the room.
Miké pointedly looked at Erwin Smith, neat as a new pin in the seat across from him at the table by the window – thirty two, single, attorney, and driving Miké Zacharias to distraction.
“I know how tough it is being a single parent,” he said after clearing his throat a little.
Erwin looked up from his coffee cup, continuing to run his forefinger gently across the white ceramic handle as he gave Miké a brief smile.
“I just have to keep telling myself that I’m doing the right thing, you know?” Erwin replied.
“If you don’t, you’ll just drive yourself crazy.”
“It’s just that...I’ve never really encouraged Annie to get involved, if you know what I mean?” Erwin continued. “She’s always really been on her own and I’ve never questioned it. I’m starting to wonder if I’ve caused the problem.”
Miké shook his head.
“Don’t think like that,” he replied. “It might just be a little overwhelming for her to be around a lot of kids at a time. Have you tried maybe setting up a few play dates with one on one?”
Erwin Smith looked lost.
“I never thought of that,” he confessed, thick blond brows knitting together. “If I’m honest, I don’t really know where I would start with something like that. I don’t know any of the other parents.”
“You know me,” Miké said, his mouth quirking up at the corner.
Erwin smiled at him.
The unfortunate thing about this entire situation was that Erwin Smith was exactly Miké’s type – tall and fair and tidy, with shoulders to die for restrained inside that neat black suit. What made it all worse was the fact that Erwin Smith smelled just as gorgeous as he looked.
Miké’s sense of smell was incredibly acute and had been his secret weapon during culinary school, helping him to literally sniff out the best ingredients to use and to work out the most favourable combinations to put in his dishes.
Right now, his nose was deconstructing the scent of Erwin Smith - the sandalwood and spicy black pepper in Erwin's cologne, the faint scent of cigar smoke that suggested he didn't partake himself but spend time amongst people who did. Miké could smell paper and old leather and ink, and honestly was quite intoxicating. He had to fight himself to come back to the room.
“Can I maybe make a suggestion?” Miké asked, taking a deep breath and pushing his hair back from his face.
Erwin’s icy blue eyes lit up.
“I’m all ears.”
“Why don’t you bring Annie over to my place at the weekend and she can spend some time getting to know Armin?”
“Do you think that’s a good idea?” Erwin asked, one thick eyebrow arching gracefully.
“I don’t see why not,” Miké replied with a smirk. “Armin is a really sweet kid – he’s not boisterous or mean and he’s already showed an interest in being friends with your daughter. We can always see if they’ll get along, just the two of them, and if they don’t then we can just chalk it up to experience.”
Erwin Smith looked at him, a smile playing across his lips.
“Alright,” he said. “I guess we have nothing to lose.”
“Great,” Miké replied, fighting desperately to keep his voice even.
“Why don’t you give me your number and I’ll talk it over with Annie tonight. If she says yes, then we’re on.”
Five minutes later and Erwin Smith was leaving with Miké’s number stored in his phone and the faintest blush on his cheeks from Miké’s insistence that he put his wallet away when he’d tried to pay for coffee. Miké couldn’t be sure, but Erwin may even have glanced over his shoulder on his way out.
Miké was screwed.
“He. Was. GORGEOUS!” enthused Hange as Miké wandered over, hands deep in his pockets. “You need to marry him and have his tall, blond, beautiful babies.”
“But he was BEAUTIFUL!” Hange insisted, bouncing on tip toes, hazel eyes bright.
“He’s the dad of a kid Armin got into a fight with at kindergarten,” replied Miké.
Hange instantly looked horrified.
“Armin got into a fight? What kind of demon child does Mr Eyebrows have that would beat up my sweet little daffodil?”
Miké laughed. Hange was eccentric, but also the sweetest human being Miké had ever known.
“Honestly, I think the kid is just shy and reserved...that is if she’s anything like her father,” he replied. “I suggested they come over at the weekend so the kids could play together in a more controlled environment.”
“So you didn’t exchange numbers to arrange a grown-up date?” murmured Hange, sounding disappointed.
“Unfortunately not,” Miké replied with a rueful grin.
Hange grinned back, hazel eyes gleaming wickedly.
“Maybe the grown up date can come later? Make him that salted caramel cheesecake on Saturday – you’ll have Mr Eyebrows eating out of your hand in zero time, trust me.”
This time, Miké laughed loudly, startling a couple of nearby customers.
“I’ll bear that in mind Hange, thank you.”
It had been an afternoon filled with distractions to the point where Erwin’s law team had told him to go the hell home until his head was sorted out. Admittedly, his head had mostly been filled with thoughts of how he’d talk to Annie when they got home that evening and how she’d take the idea of a playdate with Armin, but then his mind would wander to the boy’s father.
Miké Zacharias had been...something else. Erwin hadn’t at all been expecting to meet somebody like him when he’d got out of bed that morning, so quiet and calm despite his three-day scruff and curtain of hair that hid his eyes until he tipped his head back...
Erwin didn’t even know why he kept thinking about it. It wasn’t as though he had time for anything outside of work and Annie, but then again, he was doing this for Annie’s sake. It surely couldn’t harm anything for Erwin to associate with an incredibly nice guy while his daughter got a new friend, could it? All he had to do was run the idea past his four year old.
He waited until dinner time, doling out noodles and sweet and sour chicken from paper cartons as Annie stared quietly at her plate. Annie had inherited Erwin’s complexion, his light hair, blue eyes and stoic demeanour, but she had her mother’s height and her tiny feet dangled adorably a sizeable distance from the floor when she sat in her chair.
“So,” began Erwin, keeping his tone light, “I had a meeting with Ms Brzenska today. She said that you got into a fight today with a boy at school.”
“It wasn’t a fight,” said Annie quietly, picking up her fork. “I only pushed him away, but it might have been too hard. He fell over.”
“I see,” replied Erwin. “Can I ask why you pushed him?”
Annie stared pointedly at her plate and stayed silent. Erwin sighed and put the carton of Chinese food down.
“Annie,” he said gently, “It’s not a bad thing to have friends, you know. Even if you don’t have lots of them, it’s nice to have one or two that you can play with.”
“I don’t like any of the kids at kindergarten,” his daughter replied.
“You mean you’ve tried playing with every child in your class and found them all lacking?”
Annie prodded her noodles dejectedly.
“I guess not,” she whispered.
Erwin bit his lip. Annie was just so quiet, so shy. He couldn’t believe he’d gone for so long without realising that something might be wrong.
“Listen,” he replied, “I had a talk with Armin’s dad today and he suggested that you and I go over to their home at the weekend. Apparently he has a garden with a fish pond and a swing hanging from a tree branch. It sounds really nice. What do you say we go, and if you don’t like it we don’t have to go again? Give it a chance?”
Annie finally looked up from her plate, pale blue eyes studying Erwin’s face for any hint of deception. After a moment, she nodded.
“Okay,” she replied, and skewered a piece of chicken expertly.
Erwin breathed a sigh of relief.
“Okay,” he repeated.
There had been a good chance that Annie would have fought against him, in which case Erwin would have had no choice but to call Miké Zacharias and politely decline his invitation. Fortunately for him, his astute four year old had agreed, and Erwin felt a small tug of delight at the thought of seeing Mr Tall, Blond, and Ruggedly Handsome again.
Erwin had no idea why he was so nervous. It was just a phone call, and Erwin made dozens of those every day. Christ, he even stood up in front of judges and juries and fought for people in the courtroom, but never had Erwin felt so jittery at the thought of talking to somebody before. Erwin Smith didn’t get nervous, so he couldn’t understand why his stomach felt like it was full of butterflies.
It wasn’t even as though he’d spoken to Mike Zacharias for very long either the previous day. They had spent exactly half an hour together, drinking coffee and discussing the predicament between their children – certainly not enough time to develop…anything. Yet, Erwin had spent the entire night tossing and turning in his sleep, trying to chase away the visions of floppy straw-blond hair, light eyes, and that vaguely dirty half-smirk.
Sitting at his desk in his office, Erwin shook his head and scolded himself as he picked up the phone again and dialed Mike’s number. He was doing this for Annie, not for himself. Drumming his fingertips on the edge of his desk, Erwin listened to the low ringing turn into a faint click as the call was picked up. At the sound of the quietly gruff voice on the other end, the butterflies in Erwin Smith’s stomach decided to kick up a storm.
“Hello, Mike?” he said, fighting to keep his voice even. “It’s Erwin…Smith.”
“Heeeeey!” Mike replied, sounding pleased to hear from him at least.
Erwin let out a relieved sigh.
“Hey…” he murmured. “I, er…I talked to Annie last night and I think she’s very interested in a one-on-one play date with Armin. That is if the offer is still open.”
“Of course it is,” Mike replied. “Do you think I’d go through the trouble of making it and giving you my number if I wasn’t serious?”
“I suppose not,” Erwin said, smiling slightly. “So, what’s your proposal?”
“Well, I thought maybe the two of you could come over to our house on Saturday. The garden at my place is pretty big and the weather is rumoured to be nice at the weekend so they can play outside and I’ll cook dinner…”
“You cook?” Erwin asked, surprised.
“Yeah, it’s kind of my life,” Mike replied with amusement. “The place where we got coffee yesterday? That’s my restaurant.”
“Well, I must compliment your restaurant’s coffee,” Erwin said.
Mike laughed. Erwin’s butterflies started up again – it was ridiculous how much he liked that soft, gravelly sound.
“Thank you, but I can’t really take credit if I didn’t roast the coffee beans myself,” answered Mike.
“Alright then – Saturday, your place.”
“Great,” Mike said. “I’ll text you the address.”
Erwin ended the phone call with a smile. He couldn’t possibly imagine why he’d been nervous in the first place.
“What the hell are you smiling about?”
Erwin jumped slightly at the familiar voice coming from the doorway and glanced over to find Levi Ackerman, his Paralegal, holding his usual teacup and frowning at him. Not that it was unusual for Levi to be frowning – it was pretty much his default expression and everyone was used to it.
“Nothing,” Erwin replied, ducking his head slightly in an attempt to hide it.
“Oh really?” Levi countered, thin dark brows arching upwards. “Could have fooled me. I don’t think I’ve actually seen you smile a real smile since we won the Historia Reiss case.”
“I don’t think I’ve seen you smile a real smile ever,” Erwin retorted.
“Touché,” replied Levi with a shrug. “I’m smiling on the inside.”
Erwin laughed at him. It was true that Levi barely ever shifted from his usual neutral expression, but he was the best Paralegal he’d ever worked with. Levi hadn’t always been that way of course – he’d actually been quite the criminal when Erwin had met him, having been in and out of the system since childhood and possessing a legal knowledge to rival most attorneys. Erwin Smith was, at his core, a bleeding heart and believed that everyone deserved another chance. It seemed a waste not to take advantage of Levi’s intelligence, resourcefulness, and tenacity, and had helped Levi’s defense attorney cut a deal leading to Erwin arranging Levi’s formal training in matters of the law.
Levi Ackerman was barely five-foot-three and slight-framed, but he took nobody’s bullshit and got things done fast and efficiently. He was pretty rough around the edges, but Levi had a good heart and steadfast integrity, making him Erwin’s most valuable asset. He was also Erwin’s best friend in the whole world.
“Actually,” Erwin confessed to him, “I’ve just been talking to the parent of one of the kids from Annie’s kindergarten. We’re organising something for the kids at the weekend.”
“Huh,” mused Levi. “Am I not good enough for you any more or something?”
Erwin shook his head at Levi’s joke, his lips still pulled up into a smirk.
“Annie is having difficulty making friends with other kids,” he explained. “I had to meet with her kindergarten teacher yesterday because she got in a fight with a boy.”
“Ah, I see,” replied Levi, leaning on the doorframe. “So that’s where you disappeared to. I take it you’ve arranged a play date with the kid’s parents then.”
“Parent,” Erwin corrected him.
“Oh,” said Levi, his thin eyebrows arching upwards again, his voice amused. “Another single parent, huh?”
“What?” Levi replied with a shrug, the tiniest of smiles playing across his lips. “I’m not implying anything, I swear.”
“I hope not,” Erwin replied, although he was still smiling. “Now get back to work.”
Levi huffed gently and took a leisurely sip from his teacup before pushing up from the doorframe.
“Yes, sir,” he murmured sarcastically.
Erwin shook his head with amusement at Levi’s retreating figure. His friend had been trying to get Erwin to take a step into the dating world for years now. He was actually surprised that Levi hadn’t strong-armed him into blind dates yet. Either way, Mike Zacharias wasn’t a date, and Erwin shouldn’t have even been entertaining the notion of it. He was just another single father with a kid Annie’s age, helping another single father out. The fact that the man was interesting, good looking, and pleasant to talk to didn’t mean that he’d consider going on a non-child centric date with a quiet, reserved human rights lawyer like Erwin.
Mike had almost been sure that Erwin wasn’t going to call. In all honestly, he’d stayed up much later the night before, hoping that Erwin would discuss the proposition with his daughter and then call Mike back immediately, but as it crept towards eleven at night, Mike realized that nobody in their right mind would call back at that time.
He had been disappointed and no mistake about that. Not only had Mike wanted to tell Armin on the way to kindergarten that morning and found that he couldn’t, but he’d also found himself almost desperate to hear Erwin Smith’s deep, resonating voice again. Mike already knew he was screwed, right from the moment the man had sat down next to him in the teacher’s office. Erwin was far too attractive for his own good and Mike was going to have to keep himself seriously in check around him.
Mike had been right in the middle of making honey crust pastry, his fingers covered in sticky dough and flour when his phone rang mid-morning and he’d had to dust them off swiftly on his apron before answering. His heart may have lurched directly into his throat when he heard the voice, smooth as caramel on the other end – Erwin Smith.
Miraculously, Mike Zacharias had kept his cool and set up a play date for the kids that weekend. The only thing left to do now was to break it to Armin, which he did on the drive back from kindergarten that afternoon.
“How was your day, sweetheart?” he asked, glancing over at his son sitting in the passenger seat of the car.
Armin, who had been looking out of the window, turned his face towards Mike and smiled. Mike could never get over that smile – his son was so much like his mother it was uncanny, all big blue eyes and a mop of golden hair with the temperament of an angel to match his looks.
“It was really nice,” Armin replied softly. “We did a word game, and I played outside with Mikasa and Eren during breaktime.”
“That’s great,” Mike said with a smile. “Did you see Annie at all?”
Armin glanced down for a second.
“I asked her if she wanted to play but she said no. I don’t think she likes Mikasa and Eren.”
Mike nodded. His kid was just the sweetest thing – knocked to the ground by the girl but still not giving up hope that she might join in with his play.
“Do you think Annie might be more comfortable of it was just the two of you?” he asked.
Armin looked thoughtful.
Mike nodded slowly.
“I…uh…I talked to Annie’s dad yesterday and he thinks she might play if it was just the two of you,” he said. “I asked them to come over to our house on Saturday for lunch, if that’s alright with you?”
Armin smiled at him.
“Of course, dad! I’d really like that.”
Mike chuckled and reached across to gently ruffle Armin’s hair. He had no idea what he’d done right in his life to deserve such a great kid, but he thanked his stars every day for it.
Annie actually seemed excited, or at least, what passed for Annie’s own personal brand of excitement. She’d picked out her own outfit that morning – a pair of dark orange shorts and a white t-shirt with a sparkly goldfish on the front – and was sitting in the car next to him, her little feet swinging back and forth as her pale blue eyes gazed out at the scenery. Erwin didn’t think he’d ever seen Annie look so happy as when she saw Mike Zacharias’s home and garden, and he was more than a little impressed himself.
Erwin was a typical city lawyer – he lived and worked in the city, and spent one hundred percent of his time in small, enclosed rooms that were all painted the exact same shade of magnolia. It was mostly laziness on his own part, but he’d never seen much point in painting the walls of a small rented apartment when the most he did was sleep there. Annie’s room had a little more colour to it, but upon seeing Mike’s apple-green kitchen, sky blue bathroom, and the sitting room that was a homely and comforting mix of chocolate, mink, and cream, Erwin felt a little ashamed at his own sparse, colourless home.
The garden was even more beautiful than the house, if he could ever believe it possible, and smelled of herbs by the kitchen and honeysuckle that grew over the trellises by the patio. Fat bees buzzed happily around the flowers that lined the borders of the stepped lawn and around the vegetable patch before making their way past the gently clucking chickens in their hutch and back to the beehive at the bottom of the garden, shaded by a large apple tree. It was like being in a tiny Eden just outside of the city and he’d never seen Annie’s eyes light up quite as fast as the moment she spotted the fish pond that Armin immediately took her to see.
Mike was possibly the most delightful host Erwin had ever encountered, immediately setting out a pitcher of ice cold, home made elderflower cordial on the wooden table outside. He fit perfectly against the backdrop of the beautiful house and garden, the sleeves of his plaid shirt rolled up to his elbows to display toned, tanned forearms, his straw-blond hair falling forward into his face whenever he leaned over.
It wasn’t just the food that was making Erwin Smith’s mouth water that afternoon.
“I’ve never tasted anything quite like this,” he said, digging enthusiastically into a large slice of freshly baked chicken and asparagus pie with a gorgeous golden crust and a thick, creamy sauce.
Mike looked up from his plate and smirked.
“Is it really that bad?”
“Bad?” Erwin replied in horror. “Quite the contrary – it’s absolutely delicious!”
Mike smiled proudly, his cheeks turning slightly pink at Erwin’s glowing praise.
“Thank you. The asparagus is from my garden.”
“It’s wonderful,” Erwin repeated as Annie nodded enthusiastically, her mouth full of pie. “I’m afraid we never get to eat food this good at home.”
“What on earth do you live on?” asked Mike.
Erwin swallowed guiltily.
Mike laughed and shook his head.
“That’s not good. We need to get more decent, home cooked food inside you two.”
“Well, if it’s all like this, I’m afraid you might not be able to get rid of us. You’ll be feeding us both until we’re too full to move and we’re stuck here,” replied Erwin with a smile as he dug into the new potatoes with garlic and rosemary butter.
Mike looked at him with that delightful half-smirk of his.
“I’m pretty sure Armin and I wouldn’t mind that,” he murmured.
Erwin could feel his face grow warm and he ducked his head to hide his smile as he picked up his glass of elderflower cordial.
The kids excused themselves almost the moment the last bite of food was swallowed, with Armin telling Annie that he wanted to show her how to catch butterflies in the garden. It was amazing how much Annie was coming out of her shell already and Erwin smiled as he watched the two blond children disappear hand-in-hand into the garden.
As Mike cleared the plates away and returned them to the kitchen, Erwin couldn’t stop the wave of guilt that passed over him. Annie should have had something like this – a proper home and not just a bland apartment, a place with a garden where she could have fresh air and sunshine instead of being shut inside all the time.
“So, what’s your story?”
Mike’s voice startled him slightly and Erwin turned, heart beating fast as Mike slid back into his chair and picked up his glass of ice cold cordial. Erwin’s gaze lingered a second too long on Mike’s hands – large and tanned, long fingers wrapped gently around the glass – and for a moment he forgot what he’d been doing. Erwin cleared his throat hastily.
Mike smiled at him.
“Well, you’re a single dad right? Just like me. Divorced?”
“Uh…in a manner of speaking,” Erwin replied hesitantly. “I wasn’t married to Annie’s mother. We were together - had been for a few years but then…”
“She left?” Mike finished for him.
“Yes. For my best friend from college, Nile.”
Mike sucked in a breath and winced.
“Wow. That’s rough.”
Erwin let out a short laugh and shrugged.
“I’m not really so raw about it. We’d been having difficulties in our relationship for a while, but the impact on Annie far outweighed anything done to me.”
Mike’s eyes narrowed slightly as he glanced at the table and then back to Erwin.
“Can I ask what happened?”
Erwin looked at him steadily. He wasn’t really the type to share information about himself, but Mike was so open, everything about him feeling warm and empathetic and trustworthy. Erwin liked his eyes – you could tell a lot by a person by their eyes, and Mike’s were kind and fathomless. He took a deep breath and smiled on exhaling.
“I suspected that something had been going on with Marie and Nile for some time, but I didn’t want to address it. When Marie told me she was pregnant, I really hoped it was our chance to work everything out and things were better for a while, but when Annie was born it went down hill again very fast. Marie stayed for a week, and then I woke up to a note saying that we were better off without her and she’d gone to be with Nile. Neither of us have heard from her since.”
Mike’s brow furrowed gently as he peered at Erwin through his curtain of hair.
“I was wrong before,” he said softly. “THAT is rough. Poor Annie.”
“She’s tough,” replied Erwin quietly. “I just wish she didn’t have to be. You have no idea how awful it was to explain that her mother didn’t want her because she was mine…”
“I guess she makes sense to me now,” Mike murmured. “Not wanting to get too involved with anyone in case they leave her too.”
“I blame myself a lot for not encouraging her to make friends. I suppose I’m not very good at that myself…”
Erwin trailed off and looked down, studying his fingers closely. He’d suspected that Annie’s lack of social skills was closely tied to his own – they both tried not to let anyone get too close – and Annie had suffered for it. Perhaps this could be a step for them both.
Mike leaned forward, his hand gently brushing the sleeve of Erwin’s shirt as his mouth curled into the half-smile that made Erwin’s knees feel weak once again.
“Well, you’re both making an effort today,” Mike replied.
Erwin smiled softly, picking up his glass of elderflower cordial before taking a short sip.
“What about you?” he asked as he set the glass down again. “Do you have similarly tragic story?”
“Oh definitely,” replied Mike with a cheerful grin.
“Widowed, I’m afraid,” Mike replied, sighing gently.
Erwin blanched visibly. He could have kicked himself for being so flippant.
“I’m sorry. My question about it being tragic…that was insensitive…
“No, no, it’s fine,” Mike said, smiling. “I mean, it’s not fine that Armin’s mother died - that was pretty awful, but…you weren’t insensitive, it was humour.”
Erwin looked at the table, running his index finger across his glass.
“At least you both know she didn’t leave you both on purpose.”
“That is very true,” Mike replied with a small laugh. “You and Annie definitely had it harder.”
Erwin smiled at him.
“Either way, we’re now adults in charge of a couple of four year olds and no idea what we’re doing,” said Erwin.
“Speak for yourself,” laughed Mike, “I have it on very good authority that four year olds go nuts over salted caramel cheesecake, and it just so happens that I have one of those in my refrigerator at this very moment in time.”
Erwin’s mouth started to water the second it was mentioned. If the cheesecake was anything like the meal Mike had cooked for lunch, Erwin was going to end up desperately wanting more.
“Sounds wonderful!” he replied.
Mike grinned at him and pushed up out of his chair, heading for the kitchen. Erwin tried hard not to stare. He had no idea what was wrong with him – four years since Marie and he’d spent the whole time completely uninterested in forming any sort of relationship, but then Mike turned up and suddenly all the switches inside Erwin’s head were being flipped on again and all he could think about was that hair and that smirk and how Mike’s jeans fit him perfectly. Erwin was sure he was blushing furiously by the time Mike came back with plates and dessert
“My friend Hange tells me that this particular dessert is my speciality,” said Mike, digging his fork into the cheesecake.
“Well, I can’t wait to taste it,” Erwin replied with a smile.
Mike held the cheesecake-laden fork out to him, lips curved upwards. Erwin hesitated for a second, not usually the type of person to allow himself to be fed but realizing in that moment that he wanted nothing more than to have Mike put something sweet between his lips. Erwin leaned forward and opened his mouth invitingly.
Sweet, sticky caramel hit his tongue, mixed with the cool creamy soft cheese and crunchy base, and Erwin let out a soft moan as his eyes fluttered closed.
“Oh my god,” he murmured. “That is honestly the most delicious thing I have ever tasted.”
“You like it?” Mike asked, his voice soft and gravelly.
“I love it!” Erwin affirmed, opening his eyes and smiling. “Do you break this out for all the single dads?”
“Only the hot ones,” Mike replied
It had been said instinctively, out of his mouth before Mike had even thought about it and Erwin halted, mouth dropping open slightly in surprise and a light blush creeping over his cheeks. Mike bit his lip guiltily.
“I am so sorry,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “That just…slipped out. I shouldn’t have…”
“No,” Erwin replied quickly. “No, it’s okay. It’s actually…very okay.”
A blush to match Erwin’s own was quickly spreading over Mike’s face as he looked up sharply, eyes fixed on Erwin’s face.
“Really?” he asked
Erwin nodded. Mike smiled back at him.
“Okay,” he murmured.
“Okay,” Erwin repeated.
They looked at each other, both pink and smiling, and Erwin couldn’t ever remember feeling this giddy before in his life. He wasn’t sure if anyone had ever called him ‘hot’ before, at least not to his face, and the fact that it was Mike who had said it made it all the better. He glanced away just as the children came running towards them, Annie holding a jar and smiling.
“Daddy, look!” she said shyly, holding out the jar to him. “Armin taught me how to catch butterflies.”
“We’ll let them go again in a little while,” chipped in the little blond boy from beside her. “We just want to draw them first.”
Erwin smiled, his heart almost fit to burst. Never in his life had he seen Annie look so happy – her light blue eyes were bright and her cheeks flushed, lips curved upwards into a proud smile. He smoothed Annie’s hair back from her face tenderly.
“They are very beautiful. I’m so proud of you,” he murmured.
His daughter’s smile widened.
“Hey, do you both want some cheesecake?” Mike asked them, already setting out plates.
Both children nodded furiously and set aside their jar of butterflies, climbing up into their seats and eagerly awaiting their dessert. Mike glanced up from cutting the cheesecake, eyes partially hidden behind his curtain of straw-blond hair, his smirk causing colour to flood Erwin’s face again. Erwin glanced away, hiding his smile behind his glass of cordial before Annie saw it, wondering if he could blame his blush on the warm day instead of the incredibly attractive man dishing dessert up for his daughter.
Mike flopped onto his bed and ran both hands through his hair, pushing it back from his face as he let out a long, hard breath. That afternoon had not at all gone the way Mike had expected it to, but if he was honest, it had ended up better. Erwin Smith’s very presence drove Mike almost out of his mind and it wasn’t just the precision-ironed shirt that Mike wanted to wrinkle, or the perfectly styled blond hair that he wanted to get his hands in and mess up. Erwin was fascinating, hiding a lot behind walls that seemed miles high except when he accidentally dropped his guard and blushed or smiled for a split second. Mike wished he could tear those walls down entirely and get Erwin talking and smiling and blushing all the time. Along with his intoxicating scent, Mike was surprised he’d only fucked up mildly that day.
Now that Erwin and Annie had gone home and Armin was in bed, Mike felt strangely alone. Digging his phone from his pocket, Mike called the only person that could possibly counsel him through it.
“How did the totally-not-grown-up date go?” Hange asked immediately, without even saying hello.
“Surprisingly more like a grown up date than not,” he admitted.
Hange squealed joyfully down the phone at him.
“Details! I need details, Mike!”
He laughed and proceeded to tell Hange all about it – about the kids getting on like a house of fire, catching butterflies and chasing chickens, and about Erwin’s love for Mike’s salted caramel cheesecake.
“I told you that cheesecake was a winner,” cackled Hange, gleefully.
“Yeah, but I totally fucked up by accidentally telling him that he was hot,” Mike groaned, digging the heel of his hand against his eye.
“Oh my sweet cinnamon bun, what did he say to that?”
“That it was, and I quote, ‘very okay’ and he blushed a very nice shade of rose pink,” Mike chuckled.
“That’s good!” replied Hange. “So, he likes you too?”
“I’m not a hundred percent sure on that,” he admitted, “but it kinda seemed like he might.”
On the other end of the phone, he heard Hange sigh happily.
“This pleases me greatly. It’s about time you started seeing people again, Mike – it’s been far too long.”
“Well, don’t jump the gun yet, Hange,” Mike replied. “It’s been, like, one playdate. I don’t even know if we’re arranging another one for the kids…”
“Even if you don’t,” Hange interjected, “You need to call him up and ask him out regardless. He’s gorgeous, he’s single, and he likes you. This is an opportunity not to be wasted.”
“I’ll think about it,” he said, laughing.
It wasn’t as though Mike had anything to lose by asking Erwin out – he could only say yes or no, but if he did say no then he might not be comfortable bringing Annie back for another play date. Armin had talked non-stop all evening about how nice Annie actually was once she opened up and Mike would hate to jeopardise any progress she might be making. It might be better, he thought, to wait it out and see if Erwin called him again. After all, it was better to take things slow and test the waters instead of rushing in and ruining it all.
Mike was patient. He could wait.
Mike was making waffles when Armin came into the kitchen, feet bare on the cool tile and golden hair sticking up at all angles, rubbing sleep from his eyes as he padded quietly across the floor and climbed up onto his usual chair at the kitchen table. Mike couldn’t help but smile at his son, feet swinging gently above the ground as he reached for the pitcher of orange juice on the table and sloshed it into the waiting glass.
“Good morning,” Mike said, prising the waffles from the iron and shuffling them onto Armin’s plate. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, thank you,” Armin replied quietly, reaching for the small just of syrup.
Mike grinned, not at all surprised. Armin had spent the whole of the previous afternoon running around the garden with Annie Leonhart-Smith, showing the little girl how to climb the apple tree and how to catch butterflies in jars, pointing out the fish in the pond, and introducing her to the chickens that lived in the hutch. The kid had crashed out cold just after seven in the evening and Mike had carried him to bed, gently tucking the blankets in around him and smoothing back his golden-blond hair. Now, Armin looked bright and refreshed, enthusiastically tucking into his waffles with syrup and fresh fruit.
“What did you want to do today?” asked Mike as he pulled the green stalk off of a strawberry and popped it into his mouth. “Did you have anything particular in mind?”
Armin looked at him, chewing thoughtfully.
“Could we go to the zoo?” he asked.
“Sure we can!” Mike replied with a grin.
The zoo was one of Armin’s favourite places to go – he never got tired of all the different animals and birds, and Mike had yearly passes for them both because they went so often.
“Did you want just us to go, or was there somebody you wanted to invite?”
Armin blinked innocently at him as he cut another piece of waffle.
“I was wondering if we could ask Annie and Mr Erwin to come along,” the boy said softly, popping the waffle into his mouth.
Mike almost dropped his own fork.
Not that he didn’t want to see Erwin Smith again, because he really really did, but he’d told himself the night before that he wouldn’t push anything, that he’d be patient and let Erwin contact him if and when he was ready to. Now, Mike’s son was asking him to go against that immediately.
He cleared his throat.
“Are you sure?” he asked Armin as casually as he could manage. “You just saw Annie yesterday – are you sure you don’t want to ask Eren? Or Mikasa?”
Armin shook his head.
“Annie said yesterday that she’d never been to the zoo before,” he replied. “I think she’d like it a lot.”
Mike stared at Armin, jaw dropped slightly. At four years old, the sweet-natured, kind-hearted blond angel was already deceptively smart, observant, and crafty. He had orchestrated the entire conversation with the goal of seeing Annie right from the second he’d sat down. Mike couldn’t help but laugh as he reached out to ruffle Armin’s hair.
“Okay,” he said. “I can’t promise that they’ll say yes, but I’ll call Annie’s dad and ask.”
Armin beamed at him before turning his attention back to the plate of waffles. Mike shook his head in disbelief – Armin hadn’t even given Mike the chance to recover his cool, and now the thought of spending a day with the incredibly good looking Erwin Smith was making Mike’s heart race before he’d even picked up the phone.
Mike was definitely screwed.
“Do you actually own anything casual at all?” asked Levi, standing at Erwin’s front door, holding coffee and bagels, and looking his friend up and down. “It’s Sunday morning and you’re in Chinos. Don’t you have any jeans? Sweats? Tiny little lycra cycling shorts?”
Erwin’s lips quirked upwards in a half-smile as he stood aside to let Levi into his apartment.
“What’s the matter with what I’m wearing?”
“Nothing at all,” Levi replied, carrying straight through to the kitchen ahead of his friend. “It’s just that you look like a single dad who really needs to get laid.”
“But I am,” Erwin said simply.
“Yes, but you don’t have to look it,” Levi retorted.
Exchanges such as his were part of Erwin and Levi’s usual Sunday morning ritual. Levi only lived on the next floor down in an equally bland apartment, and took it upon himself to bring Erwin and Annie breakfast at the weekend, mostly so they had something to eat other than dry Frosties from the packet.
“Surely,” Erwin continued, leaning against the kitchen bench as Levi immediately searched the cupboards for the apartment’s only teacup so that he could pour his tea into it, “if I dress like I’m desperate to get laid, there should be more chance of it happening?”
Levi gave a derisive snort.
“Don’t kid yourself,” he replied.
Erwin chuckled, straightening up as Annie padded into the kitchen, already dressed with her pale blonde hair combed and tucked behind her ears.
“Good Morning, Annie,” Levi greeted her, digging into the paper bag he’d brought and handing her a bagel, along with a mini pot of cream cheese. “Did you enjoy your play date yesterday?”
Annie nodded, slipping onto a chair by the counter and ripping the lid from her cream cheese.
“Yes, thank you,” she replied quietly.
Levi raised his eyebrows and looked at Erwin as he handed over the paper cup full of rich Kenyan coffee.
“What about you?” he continued.
Erwin sighed and rolled his eyes gently. Ever since Levi had discovered that Mike was a single parent too, he had been very unsubtle about how Erwin should, to quote his friend, tap that. Having spent an afternoon being cooked for and hand-fed the most delicious cheesecake in the world, Erwin was definitely wishing that he could indeed tap Mike Zacharias, but he wasn’t about to voice that in front of his four year old daughter.
“It was pleasant,” Erwin replied after a short pause. “We actually got to eat real food for a change.”
Annie giggled and looked up from her bagel, eyes bright.
“It was delicious,” she told Levi, who looked surprised.
Erwin wondered if Levi had ever even heard Annie laugh until that moment. As much as he enjoyed Levi’s company, Erwin couldn’t help but feel bad for the influence they both had on his daughter – spending all of her time with two emotionally constipated males couldn’t have done her development much good at all.
It had been wonderful to watch her at Mike’s home the previous day, seeing the usually quiet and reserved little Annie slowly come out of her shell as she took in the colourful house and the amazing garden. She had returned home a completely different little girl, all flushed and excited and talkative, and Erwin had known he’d made the right decision to take up Mike’s offer.
He was about to agree with his daughter about the food when his left trouser pocket began to buzz, his phone suddenly letting out it’s shrill, tinny ring which always made Erwin fish it out as swiftly as possible to put an end to the noise. His heart leapt straight into his throat when he saw the name of the display.
“Hello?” he answered, his voice catching slightly and coming out as a croak, which caused Levi’s steel-grey eyes to snap immediately to him.
“Hi, Erwin? It’s Mike,” came the reply, in a voice that was so gently rough around the edges that it made Erwin’s knees turn to jelly.
Erwin hastily cleared his throat and turned away from the kitchen bench, feeling Levi’s gaze following him and wishing it wasn’t.
“Hi,” he said. “How are you?”
“Pretty good, thanks,” Mike replied with a small laugh. “I’m sorry for calling you so early...”
“No, don’t apologise,” Erwin told him. He would have happily answered the phone for Mike Zacharias at two in the morning if he was honest. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Mike chuckled softly and Erwin could feel fluttering slightly further south of his stomach. It should not have sounded as dirty as it did.
“Listen, I know that the kids were only together yesterday, but Armin was asking if Annie and yourself would like to accompany us to the zoo today. That is,” Mike added hastily, “if you’re not otherwise engaged.”
“Hold on and I’ll ask,” Erwin replied.
Moving the phone slightly away from his face, Erwin turned to find Annie sitting up straight in her chair, light blue eyes wide and expectant.
“Armin’s dad is on the phone,” Erwin said, pointedly ignoring the look Levi was giving him. “They’d like to know if we want to go to the zoo today.”
Annie nodded furiously and Erwin couldn’t help but smile at her enthusiasm. He turned his attention back to the phone.
“That’s a yes from us.”
“Great,” Mike enthused. “Can you make it for about eleven?”
“Of course,” Erwin replied.
“Okay. We’ll meet you there.”
Erwin ended the call feeling slightly light-headed as he turned back to the bench and leaned heavily on it.
“Good to see I’m being dumped again,” Levi muttered over the rim of his tea cup.
Erwin groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose. In his own excitement, he’d forgotten about the usual Sunday hang-out with Levi. Not that they ever did much in the way of things that were exciting for Annie – Erwin honestly had no idea how to properly parent, regardless of how hard he tried – but he still felt bad for abandoning his friend the moment a gorgeous chef loomed into view.
“I’m sorry,” Erwin murmured. “I’m pretty sure nobody would mind if you came along too...”
Levi cut him off with an amused snort.
“Are you kidding me? I wouldn’t dream of it,” he replied. “Not only am I not the kind of man to trail around the zoo all day, but there is no way I’m going to subject myself to hours of watching low-key, awkward flirting.”
Erwin’s lips curved upwards slightly.
“You honestly don’t mind?”
Levi drained his tea and shook his head.
“No. Besides, it’s about time you two got out and did...stuff.”
“You’re a good friend, Levi,” Erwin said, his smile expanding.
Levi’s eyes narrowed as he reached into the paper bag for a bagel.
“Shut up,” he grumbled. “Somebody will hear you and my reputation will be ruined.”
The more time that Mike spent with Erwin Smith, the more he was beginning to realise the he wasn’t just screwed – he was utterly fucked.
He’d known it from the second that Erwin got out of his car, helping Annie out of the passenger seat like she was a visiting princess and ushering her towards the Zoo entrance. Erwin looked impeccably tidy once again, not a hair out of place or a single wrinkle in his shirt or those precision-ironed pants. He looked like the walking embodiment of ‘don’t fucking touch me’ until he smiled, those ice-blue eyes crinkling at the corners, his features softening and turning to pure sunshine.
In comparison, Mike felt like a scruff – he only bought clothes that didn’t need to be ironed and everything he owned had to be older than Armin was, washed so many times that the fabric held no shape and the colours were slightly faded. He felt like his hair needed cut and that he should have shaved, but then he caught the way Erwin’s ears turned pink when he said that Mike looked good and those thoughts were forgotten.
The kids had ran off ahead of them almost immediately, two adorable little blonds holding hands as they dashed towards the meerkats, leaving their dads trailing behind with their hands deep in their pockets, shoulders brushing on occasion when they walked. Erwin’s scent was curling around Mike’s brain again, fogging up everything as he breathed in old leather and paper and ink and fresh coffee. He smelled so delicious that Mike could have pounced on him right there next to the flamingos.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen Annie look this...happy,” Erwin murmured, cutting through Mike’s thoughts.
He followed Erwin’s gaze to where the kids were leaning over the railing in an attempt to pet the pygmy hippos, both of them giggling as their hands brushed against smooth hide. Mike grinned.
“I’m really glad that she’s having a good time,” he said, giving Erwin’s shoulder a slight nudge.
Erwin’s soft smile gave him butterflies, blue eyes looking at him from under dark eyelashes.
“I am too,” Erwin replied softly. “I feel like I’ve failed terribly as a father – I never think to take her places like this.”
“Hey, that’s not your fault,” Mike told him, leaning back on the railing. “You’ve raised a smart, sweet little girl – you should be proud of that.”
“Thank you,” murmured Erwin, glancing down. “I guess I’m just not a natural at this kind of thing - I’ve always been too wrapped up in work. I don’t know how you’ve managed.”
“Oh Christ,” he chuckled. “I’m really just a giant kid myself. I like theme parks and chocolate cake and building sandcastles on the beach. I’m pretty much just dragging my kid around all the stuff I like to do.”
“Well then, you are infinitely more fun than I am,” said Erwin with a wry smile.
“You just need practice.”
“Yeah!” Mike enthused. “I’m entirely positive that you’re a whole lot of fun once you loosen up a bit...”
Erwin Smith blushed an incredibly pretty shade on pink, looking away to hide the smile that was spreading across his face. Mike inwardly kicked himself.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I keep doing that – being completely inappropriate...I didn’t quite mean it like that.”
Erwin let out a short laugh.
“No, it’s okay,” Erwin replied, his eyes lowered demurely.
“Are you sure?” asked Mike as he rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t want to overstep my mark or embarrass you.”
“You’re not,” Erwin said softly, looking at Mike again as he tucked an errant strand of hair behind his ear with a smile. “Actually, it’s nice...refreshing.”
Mike raised his eyebrows as he studied Erwin’s face. Gosh but the man was positively beautiful – Mike was practically amazed that Erwin was even single, never mind used to positive attention. Slowly, he let out a breath.
“I’m really out of practice with this kind of thing,” Mike mumbled. “I’m trying like hell to stay low-key here but I keep putting my foot in it.”
Erwin chuckled, the sound soft and low in his throat.
“I’m out of practice too,” he admitted. “I guess...we could re-learn all of this together?”
Mike stared at him. He wished to Hell that he wasn’t such an idiot and that he could just outright tell Erwin how gorgeous he thought he was, how incredibly sweet and smart he was instead of just skirting around it like this. It was probable that Erwin only saw Mike as a potential new friend, in which case this entire situation was fucked up.
“Okay,” he managed to reply.
Mike was saved from any further embarrassment by his son, who thankfully ran up asking for ice cream. He was more than happy to comply.
Five minutes later, Mike was back to being a hot mess as he watched Erwin pass Annie a chocolate ice cream cone and proceed to lick the drips from the side of his hand. He probably would have been alright if it wasn’t for the fact that Erwin Smith made such an innocent action look completely debauched without even meaning to.
It was the way those blue eyes closed, dark eyelashes fanning out over flushed high cheekbones, the tilt of his head as his mouth closed around the side of his hand and slowly sucked off the drip of chocolate ice cream, tongue flickering delicately between his fingers as he reached the top, and then his pure as sunshine smile as he passed Annie a napkin like he had no idea that all the blood from Mike's head had rushed south just from watching that.
The smile turned to a concerned frown as he looked at Mike again, staring open mouthed and most likely beet red.
“Are you okay?” Erwin asked.
“Uh huh,” Mike managed to reply, attempting to hide his embarrassment by taking a lick of Armin’s ice cream before handing it to his son, the cone wrapped up in a layer of napkins.
As he looked back up, Erwin started to laugh.
“You have ice cream...” Erwin said, touching his chin lightly with a finger.
Mike swiped his hand across his face.
Erwin smiled at him and shook his head.
“Here, let me,” he replied gently, stepping up close and taking a spare napkin from his pocket.
Mike stood still, Erwin’s scent taking hold of him once more as the other man carefully dabbed the ice cream from the scruff on Mike’s chin. Erwin was only three inches shorter than he was, soft blond hair brushing against Mike’s nose – it could have been so damn easy for Mike to slip a finger under Erwin’s chin and tilt his face upwards, to close that three inch gap and kiss him. Erwin seemed to be taking his own sweet time, standing a little closer than necessary and Mike could feel the heat radiating from Erwin’s body through his clothing. Mike probably would have taken the chance if the kids hadn’t have been three feet away.
“There,” Erwin finally murmured. “All clean.”
“Thank you,” Mike replied.
His heart was thumping hard in his chest as Erwin stepped back slightly, looking up at Mike with his big blue eyes. It almost stopped when Erwin pressed the softest, lightest kiss to Mike’s cheek.
“You’re welcome,” he said.
Erwin backed up, cheeks pink and an almost bashful smile on his face that Mike returned as they started walking again, hands buried deep in their pockets and glancing at each other occasionally, new smiled forming every time they made eye contact.
Mike could have been sixteen again, and he was loving every second of it.
“I think my dad likes your dad,” Armin said thoughtfully as he walked next to Annie, out of earshot of their parents.
Annie looked at him and frowned slightly, giving her ice cream an contemplative lick before answering.
“Like, as in a friend, or...like?”
“As in a boyfriend,” replied Armin simply.
Annie’s pale blue eyes went wide.
“Can dads like each other that way?” she asked.
“I think so,” he murmured.
Annie cast a brief glance over her shoulder to the two adults walking together a few feet behind. Armin did seem to be correct – the way that her dad looked at Armin’s dad was completely different to the way he looked around his friend Levi. Not that her dad didn’t like Levi, because they were best friends, but he didn’t look flushed around Levi and his eyes weren’t as bright.
“My dad smiles a lot when he’s around your dad,” she said quietly. “I really like it when he smiles – he doesn’t really do it much.”
Armin glanced over his shoulder too and smiled.
“My dad seems really happy around your dad too.”
“I think it’s nice,” Annie said decisively.
“Me too,” replied Armin. “Should we go see the giraffes?”
Annie’s eyes lit up and she beamed at him.
It was not the nature of four year olds to linger on the romantic inclinations of their parents, and the two thought no more of it that day as they raced off to discover all kinds of animals together, leaving their dads to wander after them in their own little bubble.
Erwin was still in a mild state of shock come Monday morning as he wandered through the office, forgetting to say hello to his intern, Petra, as he made his way to his desk in a haze.
Sunday had been wonderful. Not only had Annie had the time of her life at the zoo with Armin, but Erwin had absolutely enjoyed himself with Mike. It was ridiculous how much Erwin liked him, from the soft, almost gravelly voice to the dark blond hair that fell in a curtain over his honey-coloured eyes.
Erwin hadn’t been able to stop himself from kissing that adorable man – just a small one on the cheek, completely out of character for Erwin but he couldn’t help it. Mike was just so sweet and open, falling over himself when certain things came out of his mouth before he could think about them. Erwin had been pretty sure that Mike was trying to say that he liked him, so Erwin had taken the chance. He was really glad that he did.
“Oh my god,” Levi said from the doorway, his monotone drawl disturbing Erwin from his reverie. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you like this before Erwin. You’re actually giddy. It’s disgusting.”
Erwin huffed out a soft laugh and ran a hand over his hair self-consciously.
“Sorry,” he murmured.
“Don’t be,” Levi replied simply. “Fuck, it’s good to actually see you happy for once in your damn life. I take it the trip to the zoo went pretty well?”
Erwin looked at his friend and took a deep breath, feeling colour rise to his cheeks.
“I think I really like him, Levi,” he admitted. “He’s incredibly easy to talk to, and he’s very sweet, and just...refreshing to be around. I think I like him a lot.”
If Levi Ackerman ever smiled, he probably would have done so. As it was, the most that occurred as a softening of the permanent crease in his brow.
“Good. Like I say, it’s about time you got out into the world again. It’s been too long.”
Erwin smiled at him. Despite his abrasive shell, Levi was honestly kind and soft-hearted to his core.
“Thank you Levi,” he murmured.
Levi made a soft noise of acknowledgement and looked at his shoes.
“So...when are you guys getting together again? Any adult dates planned for the future?”
“Not yet,” Erwin replied, “but you’ll be the first to know.”
“Get on it, boss,” Levi said to him, one thin eyebrow gracefully arched.
“What are you? My mother?”
“I might as well be,” Levi muttered, pushing himself up from the doorframe. “It’s not like you take care of yourself, so I’m determined to find somebody who can take on the job.”
Erwin chuckled lightly as Levi left the office. His friend was right – Erwin should probably get on to organising something else with Mike. He wasn’t sure if he was quite ready for a grown up date without the kids, but he still wanted very much to see Mike again.
Mike was halfway through writing a text message, leaning against the counter at the restaurant when Hange took him by surprise, popping up behind him out of nowhere.
“Who’re you texting?”
He jumped, thumb slipping on the keypad and typing a row of ‘x’s by accident. For a moment, he thought about lying but there honestly wasn’t any point to it. Hange would find out somehow anyway.
“Erwin,” Mike replied simply, turning back to his phone to delete the accidental letters.
Hange squealed loudly, bouncing up and down excitedly on the balls of their feet and causing Mike to laugh.
“Don’t lose your head,” he said. “It isn’t anything really.”
Mike hadn’t been able to stop thinking about that kiss on Sunday. It hadn’t really even been a proper kiss – just a gentle brush of Erwin’s lips against Mike’s stubbled cheek, lasting just over a second. Barely anything at all and yet it was the only thing that filled Mike’s head. He had wanted so badly to reel Erwin back in and kiss him properly, to cup that handsome face in his hands and press his lips to Erwin’s, to taste the remnants of chocolate ice cream on his tongue and allow himself to drown in Erwin’s heady scent.
He had been more than pleasantly surprised to receive the first text message from Erwin on Monday morning – nothing more than thanking Mike for the lovely afternoon at the zoo – and since then they had been batting messages back and forth. They’d kept the conversation vague, mostly centred around the kids and how much they enjoyed spending time with each other, and how they had to all get together again soon. Mike had not mentioned just how much Erwin Smith was occupying his thoughts these days.
Sighing, he looked and Hange and smiled. His friend was looking at him thoughtfully, twisting a lock of dark brown hair around a finger.
“You should tell him,” Hange said, decisively.
“Tell him what?” asked Mike with a raised eyebrow.
Hange rolled their eyes.
“That you like him! Come on Mike, it’s obvious that you two have chemistry. I could see that as plain as day when you both sat down to coffee by the window last week. Grab the bull by the balls and tell him.”
“Yessssss!” Hange enthused. “He kissed you, Mike. He kissed you and blushed all pretty, and then you spent the rest of the day not-so-accidentally brushing up against each other, so I think it’s safe to say that he likes you too. Just ask him out.”
Mike leaned back against the counter and chewed on his lower lip.
“What if I’m wrong?” he murmured.
“What if you’re right?” Hange replied, grabbing Mike’s arms and shaking him slightly. “If you tell Erwin that you’re incredibly into him and for some absolutely dumb and utterly unlikely reason he says he’s not into you, then you move on. However, I highly doubt that you’re wrong on this. Trust Hange! Hange is good at this kind of thing!”
Mike snorted and brushed his hair back from his eyes.
“Hange hasn’t been in a proper relationship for the entire time I’ve known them.”
Hange waved a hand dismissively.
“Minor details, Zacharias. Do as I say, not as I do. Now...do I have to call Erwin, or are you going to do it?”
“Fuck, you’re pushy,” Mike grumbled, but he grinned as he took his phone out again and brought up Erwin’s number.
He paused, staring at the screen and trying to figure out what he was going to say. It had been an eternity since Mike had asked somebody out and from his memory, he was exceptionally bad at it. That, and the fact that he just went to pieces around Erwin Smith and his ice-blue eyes and his neat, side-swept hair that Mike was dying to get his fingers into, those broad shoulders, that rare smile that was like sunshine appearing from behind a cloud. Mike could feel his heart beat faster just by thinking of it. He took a deep breath and looked helplessly at Hange.
“Just ask him if he wants to go for coffee,” his friend said gently. “Nothing grand, nothing overwhelming – just simple coffee.”
Mike nodded and took another deep breath to calm his nerves before hitting the call button. The phone rang three agonising times before Erwin picked up, his greeting deep and resonating and leaving Mike’s knees weak and his stomach full of butterflies as Erwin said his name.
“Erwin...hi,” Mike replied, a little breathlessly.
“It’s nice to hear from you,” Erwin said, sounding genuinely pleased.
It made Mike’s butterflies kick up a storm.
“You too,” replied Mike without thinking. He mentally kicked himself for sounding like a twit and hastily moved on. “I was just wondering if you were busy at lunchtime today?”
“Uh...no, no I’m not,” Erwin murmured.
“Do you want to maybe go for coffee?”
Hange grinned and gave Mike double thumbs up. Mike felt himself blush and shooed his friend away.
“Yeah, okay,” Erwin replied after a few seconds. “Coffee would be good.”
“Yeah?” said Mike, trying not to sound surprised. “Okay...see you soon?”
“Sure,” Erwin responded quietly.
After deciding on a meeting place, Mike hung up the call and let out a long, shaky breath before glancing back at Hange through his curtain of hair. Hange chuckled at him.
“See? It wasn’t that hard now, was it?”
Mike stuffed his phone back in his pocket and sighed.
“Unfortunately, I think that was the easy bit. Hard part will be me trying to get through coffee without putting my foot in it.”
“I should do this more often.”
“What? Drink coffee?”
“No,” Erwin laughed, face lighting up like sunshine.
They were sitting on a wood bench in the park, directly underneath a cherry tree that rustled gently in the warm breeze. Apparently, they didn’t work all that far away from each other – about a ten minute walk – and Erwin had immediately known the exact park that Mike had suggested. The location was wonderful, sprawling green grass right down to a lake where a group of ducks swam happily in circles, but the coffee left a lot to be desired. The beans had been roasted for too long and the liquid was slightly bitter and almost oily. It didn’t matter to Mike though, not when he was sitting next to the most beautiful man he’d ever seen in his life, showing up Mike’s scruffy brown leather jacket with his pristine black suit. Erwin Smith was honestly so beautiful when he smiled.
“I mean get out of the office more,” Erwin continued. “I seem to spend my life confined within four walls and I never realised how much it’s been suffocating me. I spend my life fighting for other people’s rights and freedoms, and I didn’t realise that I’ve been putting myself in a prison all this time.”
Mike stared at him.
“You’re not thinking of quitting, are you?”
Erwin turned to face him and smiled.
“No,” he replied softly. “But meeting you has made me realise that I need to make some changes in my life – both for my sake and for Annie’s.”
Mike could feel the colour rising to his face and he turned his face away to look at the lid of his coffee cup. Hange had definitely had a point – the signs were there. The way Erwin sat close to him with his shoulder brushing gently against Mike’s, the way he glanced at Mike through those long dark eyelashes, the manner in which his sentences were worded.
“I know what you mean,” he murmured.
“You do?” asked Erwin, head tilting to the side as he regarded Mike.
“Yeah. It’s like you think you’ve been doing fine on your own, but then somebody new walks into your life and suddenly you realise that you’ve just been going through the motions all this time.”
Erwin smiled at him, the corners of his mouth slowly rising upwards, making his cheeks dimple slightly.
“Exactly,” he replied.
Mike watched him from the corner of his eye as Erwin took a tiny sip of bitter coffee and didn’t even grimace. This was it – the point where he had to just come out and say it or keep quiet forever, and Mike liked Erwin too much to just let it slide. He had more to lose if he didn’t tell Erwin than if he did. Mike took a deep breath.
“You know,” he said hesitantly, “when we were at the zoo with the kids on Sunday...I didn’t do a very good job of it, but I was trying to tell you that I like you.”
Mike really was awful at this – it made him feel like an awkward, gawky teenager again, which was an era of his life better best forgotten. However, he’d asked Erwin for coffee in the first place so he could get this out in the open – he’d already managed to get this far without majorly fucking up, so he might as well say the rest. Mike took a deep breath and glanced at Erwin out of the corner of his eye – the tidy lawyer was watching him expectantly.
“I like you...and not entirely in a strictly platonic way.”
“Ah,” Erwin murmured, his fair skin developing the sweetest pink tinge as he glanced away and to the side, smiling slightly.
Mike cringed. He didn’t really know what he’d expected when he announced that – he’d wanted Erwin to immediately return the sentiment, but he’d not expected it. Maybe he had hoped for something a little more articulate than ‘ah’. Sighing heavily, he rubbed the back of his neck nervously.
“Crap,” Mike muttered. “I’m not good at this. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” murmured Erwin, small smile still playing on his lips.
Erwin was probably trying to stop himself laughing at Mike’s blatant awkwardness.
“I don’t usually do this,” Mike added hastily. “I don’t come on to single parents of my son’s friends, it’s just that...oh fuck...”
Mike’s coffee rested abandoned between his knees as he buried his head in his hands and groaned in frustration as Erwin huffed out a soft laugh. So much for not making a complete tit of himself.
“I’m so bad at this,” he muttered under his breath.
It had been ten years at least since Mike had ever tried to ask anyone out, and even then, he hadn’t really the one doing the asking. He’d met Nanaba at culinary school – tall, blonde, and athletic, her scent fruity and summery, and Mike had been in a similar state as he currently was when he’d tried to ask her out. He didn’t really get the chance, as Nani had asked him if he liked French food and promptly invited him to accompany her to a restaurant that evening. They’d been married two years later and Mike hadn’t looked at anyone else the way he’d looked at her...until he’d seen Erwin Smith walking into that kindergarten classroom a week and a half ago – tall, blond, and athletic, and just Mike’s type.
Taking another deep breath he removed his hands from his face, knowing that his cheeks were bright red and giving off more heat than the sun, only to feel his heated skin covered by large, cool hands and soft lips suddenly pressed against his.
It was a sure and confident kiss, deliberate, with Erwin cupping Mike’s jaw with his hand, turning Mike’s face towards him as he tilted his own, taking Mike completely by surprise. It didn’t last long – just a single kiss pressed gently to his lips before Erwin pulled back, blue eyes opening slowly to look at Mike from beneath his long dark eyelashes.
Erwin’s tongue flickered gently between his lips, his eyes darting to Mike’s mouth as he slowly drew away, cheeks pink. His mouth curled up as he glanced away, smile almost splitting his face in two as he touched his lips gently with the fingers that had cupped Mike’s jaw. Mike swallowed hard, hands shaking as his brain fought to register what had just happened.
“Soooo…uhm…I er…” Mike stammered.
“I kissed you,” murmured Erwin, His eyes averted but still smiling.
“Yeah, I noticed that,” Mike replied softly.
Erwin laughed, the sound light and giddy.
“I haven’t done anything like that in a really long time,” Erwin said, still grinning at his coffee cup.
“I see,” Mike mumbled.
His lips were still tingling from the kiss, even though it had been brief. Erwin’s lips had been sure, this kiss very deliberate. Mike craved more of them, so desperately.
“So…was that a completely platonic kiss to try to get me to stop making an idiot of myself, or…?”
“No,” Erwin laughed again. “Not in the slightest.”
It was like the world had stopped and that Mike and Erwin were the only two people there in that park, Erwin still absently touching his lips as he tried to hide the pale pink flush that had spread to the tips of his ears and disappeared beneath the collar of his shirt. Erwin Smith liked him too, and the thought made him dizzy.
“In that case,” Mike murmured, eyes fixed on Erwin’s face, “can I kiss you again?”
Erwin’s eyes finally lifted from his now-empty coffee cup and looked at Mike, flushing an even deeper shade of pink.
“Yeah,” he murmured softly.
He was still smiling as Mike leaned back in, his own eyes fixed on ice-blue, watching Erwin watch him as their lips met again. Erwin’s hand gently grasped the collar of Mike’s old leather jacket, pulling him in as Mike finally got his hands in Erwin’s soft blond hair, his fingers feathering through the tendrils at the back and his stomach back flipping as Erwin made the softest, sweetest noise against Mike’s lips.
It was almost chaste – closed-mouthed and soft, each kiss lasting slightly longer than the last, and each one entirely perfect. For at least five minutes they sat there on the park bench, ignoring everybody and everything around them, too wrapped up in each other to care and too giddy to stop. Mike didn’t ever want to stop kissing Erwin Smith, not now he’d felt those lips on his and allowed himself to get lost in Erwin’s scent and melt into his touch. It was going to be torture to go back to work after this.
Petra Ral loved her job so much. She was a young woman of principle, horrified and disgusted by the sheer amount of her classmates who had been there for the money, chomping at the bit and climbing over each other just to get the best corporate internships, determined to make their marks so they could get the most money. Petra had been one of the highest scoring students in her class, so nobody had been able to understand her decision to apply for an internship at a small, poorly funded law firm when she would have been top pick for almost any firm in the country.
The reason was simple – Petra wanted to change the world, not by helping multi-billion companies wash over disasters and human rights violations in the struggle to keep their CEOs in their ridiculously high wages, but by helping the regular people who were discriminated against at work or living in squalor because landlords refused to fix problems. That was what the law meant to Petra, and she loved being at Smith and Co. It was a small team with a handful of excellent but eccentric lawyers and paralegals all working under Erwin Smith, a truly brilliant attorney who was only thirty two and ran his own firm.
Erwin Smith was an excellent lawyer and a great teacher, involving Petra in a lot of the legal processes and she had learned so much in only a few short months. Her boss was nice, but he rarely smiled or laughed or joked, and according to Levi he’d been like that since his long-term partner left him four years earlier. Levi couldn’t really remember if Erwin had smiled much before that, but either way, the paralegal spent an awful lot of time covertly trying to find Erwin somebody compatible to spend time with him. Levi was a softie really, even if it was hidden under a lot of layers of sarcasm and snark.
It was strange that she was thinking about it at that moment as she filed away some of the paperwork in the large filing cabinets by the windows, because when she casually glanced up, she saw something that made her jaw drop.
“Oh my God, is that Erwin?” she said incredulously to nobody in particular, standing on her tip-toes to get a better view.
Standing just outside of the office was a man who, on the surface, looked exactly like her boss – the same suit he’d left the office in, the same hair, same height and build – except this version of Erwin Smith was smiling. Not just a small, marginal smile either. This was a full, happy beam, his lips stretched to their fullest and dimples in his cheeks, his blue eyes seemingly darker and wider. The most surprising thing however, was the thing causing this unexpected development.
Standing opposite Erwin with his back to Petra was a man who had to be at least six-foot-five because he was even taller than Erwin Smith’s six-foot-two, and shoulders that would barely fit through a doorway, hair that was too long and messy, and wearing a beaten up old leather jacket.
The way Erwin was looking at him reminded Petra of every romantic comedy she’d ever watched – of women with long fluttering eyelashes gazing adoringly at the strong male love interest, usually while it rained torrentially and they admitted all their pent-up feelings to each other. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky this time but all the same, Petra could barely believe her eyes.
Out of nowhere, Levi appeared just over her right shoulder, the usual tea cup in hand.
“Yep,” he deadpanned. “That’s Erwin alright.”
Petra stared at him for a second. Levi’s face never gave anything away except in the tiniest of expression changes, and today was no different. Slowly, she turned her gaze back to the two men on the street.
“Who is that with him?” she asked.
“I would hazard a guess at Mike,” replied Levi, his grey eyes calmly surveying to scene on the street.
“Mike?” Petra repeated.
“Single father, thirty four, chef, owns a house with a large garden and his own restaurant,” Levi rattled off as though he were reading a resume. “His kid is friends with Annie.”
“Huh...” replied Petra with surprise. “How long has that been going on?”
The corner of Levi’s mouth quirked upwards slightly.
“Probably about forty-five minutes,” he replied quietly before taking a sip of his teas.
Petra’s jaw dropped again and she turned her attention back to Erwin and his brand new man. He didn’t look anything like what Petra had expected Erwin’s type to be. Erwin was so neat and tidy, so reserved and proper, and Mike seemed so messy in comparison in his faded jeans and scuffed jacket, with hair that fell forwards into his eyes as he looked down at Erwin.
Their fingers were entwined – not all of them – just the middle and index fingers, gently wrapped around each other as they finished their conversation. Petra nearly fell over when Erwin closed the gap between them and kissed Mike softly on the mouth. She most definitely squealed.
“Oh my gooooooooood!” she hissed, hanging onto the sleeve of Levi’s shirt and shaking him excitedly. “This is real! It’s a real thing! He looks so cute and happy.”
“It’s about time,” Levi drawled, allowing himself to be jostled. “At least now there’s a pretty good chance of him getting laid.”
Petra let out a cry of dismay and let go of Levi’s sleeve to gently slap his arm.
“That’s so crude!” she said. “I know for a fact that you care about him and you’re just as pleased about his new romantic attachment as I am.”
Levi snorted into his teacup as he took a sip and turned away from the window.
“Don’t let him catch you watching.”
“Right,” replied Petra, lowering herself down and picking up her paperwork again, still smiling.
This had honestly been the best mood-lifter for the midweek slump.
Erwin felt like he was walking on air as he opened the door to his office, his entire body thrumming with excitement and something else he couldn’t yet identify. He stole one last look at Mike over his shoulder, smiling back at the vaguely dirty smirk on Mike’s face as he watched Erwin from the street. Tearing himself away, Erwin closed the door behind him and walked though the building. Most of his team were out to lunch but Petra was on the floor by the windows, engrossed in filing away paperwork as Levi aggressively hammered away at the keyboard as he typed up whatever document he was working on. It was as though nothing had changed in the short space of time he’d been out, except that it had.
He’d kissed Mike. Again. This time on the mouth.
Mike Zacharias had honestly just been the most adorable thing, falling over his own words once more as he’d stammered out that he liked Erwin in a not-so-platonic way. Erwin had never been happier to hear it. He felt different around Mike, less on guard and more open, willing to drop his defences. Mike made him laugh, made him feel relaxed, and adventurous, and Erwin hadn’t felt like that in a long, long time. Better still, Erwin loved the way Mike looked at him, that Mike couldn’t help but let slip that he found Erwin attractive and the adorable embarrassment that followed.
He hadn’t been able to stop himself from kissing Mike after that. It had been wonderful – soft kisses that made his pulse race and his heart hammer against his ribcage, Mike’s large, warm hands in Erwin’s hair and resting against the side of his neck, his touch leaving Erwin’s skin tingling. He loved the smell of Mike’s old jacket and the lingering scent of fresh bread in his hair – Erwin had just wanted to bury his face in it and breathe deeply – it smelled like home, rich and comforting.
They had walked down the street together, fingers gently entwined and shoulders bumping gently against each other, Erwin wishing that they’d never reach his office so they could stay that way all day. He was almost disappointed when they ground to a halt in front of his building; the only thing keeping him grounded was the feel of Mike’s hands wrapped around his own.
“So...” Mike had said, his voice soft but retaining it's roughness.
“So...” Erwin had repeated.
He seemed incapable of thinking straight and Mike had chuckled gently at him, the sound low and deep and perfect.
“I was wondering if you maybe wanted to do something with the kids this weekend,” Mike asked.
“Of course,” had been Erwin’s response. “Did you have anything in mind?”
“A picnic?” Mike suggested. “We’re not far from the country – I could make food, you could bring the drinks. We can sit on the picnic blanket in the sun while the kids run around, doing their thing?”
Erwin smiled at him.
“Well, I can never say no to your cooking,” he’d replied softly.
“I’m very glad about that,” Mike had murmured before leaning in to kiss Erwin again.
His lips were still tingling from that goodbye kiss, distracting Erwin enough that he walked into at least two desks and a chair on his way to his own office. He was still staring into space, grinning widely to himself when Levi’s voice pulled him from his reverie.
“I take it that the coffee date went well?” his friend asked, leaning against the door frame with a fresh steaming cup of tea in his hand, keen grey eyes studying Erwin’s face.
It must have been written all over his features.
“Yes, thank you Levi,” he replied quietly.
“Hmmm...” his friend murmured softly. “I can tell – your hair is still sticking up at the back.”
Immediately, Erwin’s hand flew to the back of his head only to find that Levi had been teasing him and his hair was still flat. He felt his cheeks grow warm as Levi’s lips turned upwards slightly in a triumphant smirk.
“Hilarious,” he said.
“I try my best,” Levi deadpanned. “So when are you seeing him again?”
Erwin looked pointedly at his desk as he smoothed out his jacket.
“Saturday. We’re taking the kids for a picnic.”
“How quaint,” Levi replied. “Any actually adult-centric dates planned yet?”
Erwin took a deep breath. As much as he would have absolutely loved to have spent more than just a lunchtime coffee break alone with Mike, they both had children that they needed to consider. As much as he wanted to arrange a proper date, he didn’t know how Annie would feel about somebody else vying for his attention. Maybe it was best that they all spend a little more time all together first.
“Not yet,” he told Levi.
Thankfully, Levi didn’t push the matter and just nodded.
“Just don’t leave it too long,” he replied.
“Are you trying to get rid of me or something?”
“Hell yes,” Levi said with amusement. “You can barely take care of yourself and I’m tired of cleaning your apartment. I need to marry you off as soon as possible to somebody capable.”
Erwin laughed at him.
“I’m sorry I’m such a bother.”
“You should be,” Levi replied with amusement as he pushed himself up off the door frame and walked out of Erwin’s office, leaving Erwin shaking his head with mirth.
Mike wasn’t entirely sure how he made it back to the restaurant after walking Erwin back to his office. It was almost like he was in a dream, feeling light-headed and dizzy, and he must have been standing at the restaurant counter in a daze for a few minutes before he noticed Hange waving a hand in front of his face.
“You look shell-shocked,” his friend said with mild concern. “Are you okay?”
Mike nodded slowly as he was finally able to move enough to peel off his jacket.
“So?” asked Hange, arms folded across their chest. “How did it go?”
Mike blinked a few times, not quite believing his own words when he replied.
“I think I have a boyfriend.”
Hange’s expression melted from worried to completely ecstatic, and they threw both arms around Mike’s neck with a loud, ear-piercing squeal.
“OH MY GOD, MIKE! That’s amazing! I told you that he liked you!”
Mike chuckled lightly as he almost had the life squeezed out of him. Hange looked pretty skinny by there was strength in her constrictor-like grip.
“When are you seeing him next?”
“We’re taking the kids for a picnic at the weekend,” Mike replied.
Hange’s face fell a little.
“What? No real grown-up date with just the two of you?”
“Maybe next time,” Mike said with a grin.
“Well, I’ll watch Armin any time you want to do proper grown up things,” Hange replied firmly. “Now, let me help you work though a menu for the picnic. You want to take your best game.”
“What would I do without you, Hange?” Mike asked, smiling as his friend bustled off to fetch a notepad and pencil.
“Crash and burn!” Hange called back.
They were right, of course.
I have absolutely no idea how chapter 5 posted twice! Sorry!
Erwin woke on Saturday morning to the sound of his phone buzzing softly on the bed-side unit next to his head. He prised open his eyes to pale sunlight filtering in through the curtains, casting a soft apricot tint to the magnolia walls of his bedroom, and he rolled over to check his messages. Erwin smiled when he saw Mike’s name on the screen.
- ‘Beautiful morning for a picnic.’
It seemed like the remainder of the week had crawled by since that lunchtime coffee in the park. Erwin had barely been able to concentrate on his paperwork, too busy thinking about Mike’s lips and how they felt against his own, of Mike’s hands in his hair. He knew that they wouldn’t be alone today, but still Erwin’s heart beat faster just knowing that he’d see Mike again.
- ‘Yes, it is. I’m really looking forward to it,’ Erwin typed in reply.
- ‘Looking forward to seeing me, or looking forward to having decent food in your stomach for the first time this week?’
Erwin chuckled as he ran his hand through his hair and typed a one-handed response.
- ‘Would you hate me if I said both?’
- ‘Absolutely not,’ replied Mike. ‘It’s actually very flattering that you enjoy my cooking.’
Not that Erwin had eaten a great deal of Mike’s food, but the pie and the cheesecake that he and Annie had been served the previous weekend had possibly been the best food he’d ever tasted, or at least the best that he remembered tasting. He’d left Mike’s home with a desire for much more.
- ‘So, do you have any delicious treats in store for me today?’ he asked.
- ‘Of course I do,’ was Mike’s typed response. ‘Only the best home cooked goods for you and Annie today, including my speciality strawberry cream sponge cake!’
Erwin’s smile widened.
- ‘That sounds absolutely delicious,’ he replied. ‘I can’t wait.’
He felt the bed shift and looked over to find Annie’s pale blue eyes watching him. Occasionally, his daughter climbed into bed with him in the early hours of the morning, sometimes after a bad dream or if she was just having difficulty sleeping. Erwin never minded.
He smiled at her.
“Good morning, Munchkin.”
“Morning, Daddy,” she replied, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Are you looking forward to a picnic today with Armin and Mike?” he asked.
Annie smiled and nodded, her little blond head rusting gently against the paisley pillowcase.
“Yes,” Annie replied quietly. “Are we going to their house?”
“Not today,” Erwin told her gently. “We’re going to the countryside.”
Annie looked mildly disappointed.
“Oh,” she murmured. “I wanted to say hello to the chickens.”
Erwin raised his eyebrows as he rolled over onto his side to look at her.
“At Armin’s house,” Annie clarified. “Helga, Ilse, and Traudl. They give cuddles.”
A slow smile spread over Erwin’s face as he remembered watching Annie and Armin gently following around three chickens in Mike’s back garden the previous weekend. He reached out and brushed back a stray lock of Annie’s soft blond hair.
“Maybe we can see the chickens next time,” he said. “The place we’re going to today had lots of space for you to run around in, and a play park through the woods. Also, Mike made strawberry cake.”
Annie’s eyes brightened at the mention of cake.
“Okay then,” she agreed. “Can I wear my dungaree shorts?”
“Of course,” Erwin replied with a smile as Annie slipped out of the bed and ran to her own room to get dressed.
Rolling onto his back again, Erwin stared at the ceiling and grinned. He was so very glad that his daughter was finally coming out of her shell and enjoying spending time with another kid her own age. He sent up a silent thank you to whatever power had dictated Erwin and Mike be called into the same room at the same time on that day. Erwin’s daughter had found a new friend and Erwin had found a connection with the sweetest man on the entire planet. It was still very early days for them all, but Erwin knew he was the happiest he’d been in a very long time.
He was still smiling at the ceiling when Annie ran back into his room, now fully dressed with her hair brushed.
“Daddy!” she said, standing with her hands on her hips and a frown on her face. “You’re not even dressed yet! Hurry up!”
Erwin chuckled at her.
“Okay,” he murmured, throwing back his paisley duvet. “I’m up.”
Erwin thought that Annie was talking to him at first, her voice barely audible over the sound of the car radio as they drove out of the city and into the countryside. He was about to ask her to repeat herself when his ears caught the lyrics to the song that was playing coming out of Annie’s mouth. He almost rear-ended another car in surprise – he’d never heard his daughter sing before, and it was such a soft, sweet sound that Erwin wanted to cry with pride. It was yet another reason to be thankful for meeting Mike and getting the kids together.
He wondered if he should say something to her, to compliment Annie on her singing or to praise her, but he knew how shy his daughter could be, and passing comment may just have embarrassed her and she’d clam up. So he stayed quiet, smiling to himself as Annie sang one song after another to herself, bare legs swinging in time to the tune as she stared out of the window at the scenery.
It was only a twenty minute drive to the picnic spot, a picturesque lakeside meadow next to sprawling woodland, and Erwin noticed Mike’s car immediately as they pulled up. He was on the grass, a large picnic basket by his feet and laughing as Armin hung onto his arm, tiny feet dangling as he swung from it, giggling his tiny golden-blond head off. Erwin marvelled at how much the two seemed like good friends, passing the time away while they waited by playing a simple game. He wished that he was as comfortable with it as Mike was, that play came to him as easily. Mike seemed to be a natural parent whereas Erwin really had to work hard just to simply not suck.
“Hey!” Mike called to him, waving Erwin over with his free hand as Armin climbed all over him like a small golden monkey.
“Hi,” replied Erwin, his features relaxing into a smile as he retrieved the drinks from the back of the car and ushered Annie towards the grass.
Mike gently deposited Armin on the ground and beamed as Erwin and Annie approached, stepping forward to greet him. Erwin could have kicked himself for what he did next. Mike stepped in close, slipping an arm gently around Erwin’s waist and leaning slightly to the side, evidently coming in to kiss Erwin’s left cheek. At the exact same time, Erwin extended his arm for a handshake, blocking Mike’s body and causing them both to pause, confused.
Erwin had no idea why he’d gone in for a formal handshake, like Mike was a client and not the man he’d spent the best part of a lunch hour kissing earlier in the week. For a second, Mike looked horribly panicked, as though terrified that he’d got it all wrong, a light pink blush spreading over his cheeks. Erwin could feel his own blush as he quickly pulled Mike in for the briefest, most awkward embrace ever.
“Uh...sorry,” Erwin mumbled, backing away, hand rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment. “That kind of did not go entirely the way I’d wanted it to.”
Mike laughed nervously, hands stuffed in his pockets as he peered at Erwin through his hair.
“Yeah...same,” he replied. “I probably should have checked beforehand to check that you were comfortable with it...”
“No, no,” Erwin cut in, waving away the suggestion. “Entirely my fault – I’m an idiot.”
“No, you’re not,” Mike said softly, smiling at him gently.
They looked at each other for a few seconds, pink-cheeked and smiling until they noticed the kids staring at them, eyebrows raised and looking at their parents like they were the dumbest two people on the planet. Erwin would have agreed with them both at that moment.
“Uh...should we get on with this picnic?” he suggested.
“Good idea,” Mike agreed swiftly, stooping to retrieve the picnic basket.
They set down under the shade of a large oak tree, spreading out a feast of cold quiche laden with thick cut bacon and orange cheese, creamy potato salad, golden homemade bread with pumpkin seeds, all complemented by the lemonade that Erwin had brought with him. It was all amazing, and even the kids had second helpings of the food. As the waistband of his chinos grew tighter, Erwin wondered if he would ever get tired of Mike’s cooking.
“How do you do it?” Erwin asked as he picked up his third slice of quiche. “How do you keep making the best food I’ve ever had?”
Mike grinned at him.
“Ever think it might just be the fact that you live on substandard takeout food, so my cooking tastes so much better?”
“Not a chance,” replied Erwin. “I mean yes, the weekly diet is much to be desired, but I’ve still never tasted anything as good as the food you cook.”
Mike flushed with pride.
“It’s the fresh ingredients,” he replied softly. “I dug the potatoes up yesterday, baked the bread last night, and collected the eggs for the quiche this morning from my chickens.”
Annie looked up from her plate and Erwin smiled at her.
“Ah yes, Annie was just talking about your chickens this morning,” he said. “What were they called again?”
“Helga, Ilse, and Traudl,” Annie and Armin said together.
Mike laughed and Erwin’s pulse picked up at the sound, low and gravelly and full of happiness.
“That’s right,” he continued. “I think she was a little disappointed that we weren’t going to see them today.”
“I’m sorry, Annie,” Mike told her. “You can see them next time, I promise.”
Annie beamed happily and Erwin’s heart all but melted at the sight. Mike looked at him and grinned, reaching out to give Erwin’s leg a brief rub. It was the first contact they’d had since the awkward hug at the start, Mike’s large hand warm and heavy over Erwin’s chinos, and suddenly he really wished that he wasn’t wearing so many clothes.
Ten minutes later, they were all stuffed to bursting point and the kids wandered off lazily to make chains of daisies and buttercups in the grass. Erwin and Mike were left alone, stretched out opposite each other on the plaid blanket as the sun began to creep around and the shade disappeared.
Erwin was really feeling incredibly overdressed for a country picnic in the early summer. He had never thought that his clothes were a problem – during the week he was professional in a three-piece suit and at the weekends he remained smartly dressed down. However, sitting on the wide picnic blanket opposite Mike, Erwin was starting to think it was about time he re-evaluated his opinion of casual.
Mike looked cool in the early summer sunshine, long tanned legs spread out in front of him in loose board shorts, his arms extended behind him, propping him up as he lifted his face to feel the warmth of the golden rays. His dark t-shirt was so thin that Erwin could see the outline of the muscles on Mike’s chest and stomach through the fabric, making his mouth water. He looked comfortable in his clothes, comfortable in his own skin, a small smile playing about his lips. In comparison, Erwin felt hot and ridiculous.
He pulled at the collar of his button-down shirt and took a sip of lemonade from a plastic cup to cover his slight fluster. He wasn’t entirely sure if it was his clothing, the sunshine, or Mike’s attire that was making him feel so warm.
“Why don’t you pop a couple of buttons?” Mike asked, a small laugh in his voice as he eyed Erwin tugging at his collar. “It’s too nice a day to be all covered up like that.”
“Easy for you to say,” replied Erwin with a wry smile. “Sitting there all tanned – if the sun gets to my skin, I just look like a lobster.”
“A very cute lobster.”
Erwin ducked his head to hide a smile as Mike sat up, leaning forward slightly and raising a finger to the second button on Erwin’s shirt, pausing and looking up, waiting for permission.
This was a long way from their awkward, bumbling embrace of earlier. Mike wasn’t even touching him and Erwin was breathing too hard, his heart beating too fast just at the proximity. He nodded shakily, his eyes dropping to watch Mike’s long fingers gently unfasten the button, slowly pushing the small white button through the opening, the plastic making a tiny indent in Mike’s thick thumb. Erwin swallowed hard.
“There,” Mike said softly, the roughness in his voice cutting a delicious path through Erwin’s belly. “You shouldn’t be so hot now, especially if you roll your sleeves up.”
Erwin nodded slowly, raising his eyes from Mike’s hands to his face, studying the curve of his thin lips, the long line of Mike’s nose, the honey-coloured eyes partially hidden by straw-blond hair. He was practically beautiful close up, and Erwin’s heart skipped a beat when he realised that Mike was watching him too, fingers still gently toying with the fabric of Erwin’s shirt and lightly brushing against the skin of his chest.
“Thanks,” Erwin whispered.
Christ, but Mike smelled delicious – all summer sunshine and herbs from cooking – making Erwin’s mouth water as they gravitated towards each other, eyes focussed on each other’s mouths, slightly parted, barely daring to breathe as they leaned in. Erwin’s eyes fluttered shut, his hand closing gently around Mike’s wrist as he anticipated the kiss, warm breath sweet on his lips.
Armin’s shout caused them to leap apart as though they’d been electrified, leaning away from each other and putting as much distance between their bodies as possible as their children came running up to them, covered in grass and wildflowers. Erwin ducked his head to cover the furious rose flush spreading down his neck and up to the tips of his ears, and Mike pushed his hair back from his face, fixing a bright smile into position as he turned to his son.
“Yeah, sweetheart?” he asked as Armin flopped onto the blanket, Annie collapsing gracefully next to him.
“Is it time for cake yet?”
Erwin sighed softly, feeling his limbs go weak as the kids stared at Mike with wide blue eyes. He had really wanted that kiss – he’d wanted it ever since Mike had left him on the step of his office earlier that week, had thought about it almost every available hour he’d had since and he’d been so close. He collapsed on his back with a groan, unable to begrudge cake but wishing that Annie and Armin had just waited five minutes longer to ask for it. He heard Mike laugh, a large warm hand petting Erwin’s leg once again.
“Sure,” Mike told them. “What about you, Erwin?”
Erwin raised his head slightly to look at them all.
“I’d love some,” he replied softly.
Mike couldn’t quite remember being so sexually frustrated in his entire life.
They had come so close to kissing, Mike’s fingers trailing across the smooth skin of Erwin’s chest just above the shirt button he’d deftly unfastened, lips almost touching when they had been rudely interrupted by the kids asking for cake. The frustration was made worse not five minutes later when Mike pointed out a spot of whipped cream from the sponge cake that had caught on Erwin’s lip.
He probably had no idea of the effect it had on Mike, watching Erwin swipe the cream from the corner of his mouth with his thumb, popping it between his lips and sucking it off gently, his gorgeous ice-blue eyes fluttering closed just like they had that time at the zoo when Erwin had licked chocolate ice cream from his hand. Mike had bit his lip so hard to prevent any wanton sounds from escaping, taking an extra large bite of his cake to cover the fact that he so flustered.
Dessert over with, they had all agreed on taking a short trek through the woods to the play park on the other side, Armin and Annie running ahead, stopping every so often to pick up smooth stones and pretty leaves, playing peek-a-boo through the trees. Mike couldn’t concentrate on them though, not when he was walking three paces behind Erwin Smith and being awarded the loveliest view of broad shoulders straining against the fabric of his shirt as he walked, of the delightful spot at the nape of Erwin’s neck where the pale blond of his hair met the darker blond of his undercut in an almost perfect point, slipping gracefully just beneath his shirt collar.
He wondered what the skin there would taste like if he put his mouth on it, what it might smell like if he buried his nose into Erwin’s soft hair and breathed him in. The thoughts were so distracting that he almost tripped twice over tree roots as he followed Erwin though the woods, the sound of the kids’ laughter echoing through the trees.
Mike seemed to move in slow motion, his eyes drinking in every detail of the man in front of him, his breath hitching as Erwin reached behind him, searching for Mike’s hand as he cast a small, almost coy smile over his shoulder. Mike couldn’t take it any longer – the brush of Erwin’s fingers against his taking him to breaking point.
Reeling Erwin in, Mike spun him about and backed him up against the nearest tree, his knees almost buckling as Erwin seemed to read his mind and wasted no time in getting his hands in Mike’s hair, long slender fingers burrowing into long straw-blond strands. Mike couldn’t stop himself from wrapping both arms tightly around Erwin’s slender waist, drawing him close as their lips finally met. The sound Erwin made – a low whine at the back of his throat – sent a flash of heat through Mike’s belly and he couldn’t suppress his groan in response.
It only lasted a few seconds, fast and messy before they had to tear themselves away from each other, chests heaving and breathing harsh. Ahead of them, the kids were still playing and giggling, blissfully unaware of their parents’ antics. Erwin kept firm hold of Mike’s hand as he pushed up from the tree and continued walking, pulling Mike along behind him.
He caught the scent of Erwin’s hair, faintly citrus and mint in the woody summer breeze and Mike’s mouth watered. He closed in, the tip of his nose brushing against soft strands.
“God, I’ve been wanting to do that all day,” he murmured against the shell of Erwin’s ear.
“Yeah?” Erwin murmured in response. “I’ve been wanting to do that all week.”
He tugged Mike’s hand, pulling him behind a large chestnut tree and putting his back against it, hands back in Mike’s hair as they kissed again. It wasn’t like the first time they’d kissed – on the wooden bench in the park, all tentative and nervous. This time it was passionate, almost desperate as they tried to get as much of each other as they could in short, frantic bursts.
Whatever they could get in those stolen seconds, shielded from view by the thick tree trunks, was never enough. They had to stop, had to pull apart and carry on walking after their oblivious children, only to get a few paces and be overcome by the need to reach for each other again. Erwin became more rumpled every time, his neat hair pulled into messy tufts as Mike failed to overcome his need to get his hands in it, his tidy shirt untucked with Mike’s desire to feel the skin underneath.
Not that Mike escaped unscathed – Erwin’s hands dipped underneath the hem of Mike’s t-shirt and his nails scraped down Mike’s spine, fingertips tracing the outline of the muscles in his back.
“Shit,” he moaned breathlessly against Erwin’s lips. “I don’t want to stop this.”
“Me neither,” Erwin whispered in reply before sinking his teeth into Mike’s bottom lip and pulling at it gently.
Mike didn’t know how he was still standing upright – Erwin’s body was muscular and strong against his own, his hands and his mouth pretty damn sure of what they were doing and turning Mike’s legs to jelly. It was torture when Erwin slipped away from him again, ducking under Mike’s arm and continuing along the woodland trail. God only knows what Mike would have done if they hadn’t have had the kids with them – possibly something that would’ve got them both arrested for public indecency.
There was a joyful shout ahead of them as Armin and Annie found the play park, situated in a clearing on the other side of the trees. Armin waved at him and Mike waved back, watching as his golden-haired son began to climb the large wooden frame in the middle of the bark-strewn playground. Any second now and the trees would be gone – he had to kiss Erwin just one more time before then.
Reaching out, he wrapped and arm around Erwin’s middle and pulled him in, placing his hands on either side of Erwin’s face and kissing him for all he was worth. This time it was softer, less hurried and desperate as Erwin’s arms draped around Mike’s neck, their bodies drawing close as Erwin was pushed back against the tree trunk by Mike’s weight.
“Do we have to stop?” murmured Erwin, drawing back just a fraction to speak before kissing him again.
“Kids,” he managed to reply between kisses.
“Hmmm...” Erwin agreed.
Still, it took them at least a minute longer before they managed to disentangle and attempt to straighten themselves up. Erwin was a hot mess, his perfect hair sticking up at all angles, shirt half hanging out of his chinos, his lips kiss-swollen and pink, skin flushed. Mike wanted to see him this way a lot more often.
“Daddy, what happened to you?” Annie asked, her pale blue eyes wide with shock as they both emerged from behind the tree and she saw the state of her father.
Erwin cast a swift glance at Mike before answering, rubbing the back of his neck nervously.
“I...uh...I fell over, that’s all,” he replied.
Mike almost burst a gut laughing.
Armin’s head rested gently on Mike’s shoulder as he carried his son back to the car. Both kids were exhausted after a full afternoon of good food and energetic play, and they were now drained and sleepy. Beside him Erwin carried Annie, her little legs wrapped around his waist and her blue eyes closed as she dozed on him.
“Well, it’s been quite a day,” Mike murmured, being careful not to disturb Armin.
Erwin smiled at him.
“Yeah,” he agreed softly. “You could say that.”
Their shoulders brushed as they walked, carefully stepping over roots and rocks and tufts of grass as they made their way through the trees again. They were calmer now, their lust for each other sated for the time being after their earlier heated exchange. Mike still couldn’t believe just how much he’d wanted Erwin, how much he’d needed to be close to him, to taste his skin and breathe him in. It had been an unbelievable summer’s day and now it was coming to an end.
“I kind of wish you didn’t have to go home,” Mike told him. “I know Armin would absolutely love having Annie stay over.”
Erwin glanced at him from the corner of his eye, brow softly creasing as he considered it.
“She’s not really awake enough for me not ask,” Erwin replied with regret. “I wouldn’t want to get her all the way to your place only for her to get upset that she’s not at home.”
“I can understand that,” murmured Mike, disappointed but trying not to let it show.
It would have been more than perfect to end the day with Erwin, drinking chilled elderflower wine as they watched the sun go down, pulling Erwin into bed with him when it went dark...
Maybe next time, Mike thought as he fished his car keys from his pocket. He’d only known Erwin for two weeks and he didn’t want to move anything along too fast, even if he was already completely head over heels for the man.
Carefully, he placed a sleeping Armin into the car, buckled him in, and straightened up as Erwin finished doing the same with Annie. Smiling, Mike reached over and brushed Erwin’s hair back gently, loving the way Erwin’s eyes fluttered closed just for a second at his touch.
“I guess this is goodbye for now,” he said.
Erwin sighed and smiled back.
“Hopefully not for too long,” he replied, closing whatever gap remained between them and kissing Mike softly.
“I’ll call you,” Mike murmured as Erwin pulled back.
“You’d better,” he replied with a grin.
Like Mike could ever not call Erwin after a day like this. He was going to have some pretty pleasant dreams. Chuckling, he watched as Erwin climbed gracefully into his car and pulled out of the parking spot, giving Mike a small wave and a smile as he drove away.
Mike sighed happily, running his hands over his face and through his hair before opening his own car door and climbing in. He was going to have to text Hange the moment he got home and seek advice on how to proceed with courting the delightful Erwin Smith. After all, his friend had been spot-on so far.
It wasn’t all that often that Levi had to use his key to get into Erwin’s apartment, and it irked him that he had to balance three drinks and a bag of bagels just so that he could fish his keys from his pocket and fiddle with the lock. It was strange that the door was locked – Levi brought breakfast over every single Sunday morning and the only other time that he’s had to unlock it himself was when Erwin and Annie had both been bed-ridden with the ‘flu a couple of years before. He frowned, concern playing at the edge of his irritation as he pushed open the door and entered the sparse apartment.
It was immediately evident that Erwin hadn’t been up – the curtains were still drawn and the only light in the whole apartment was coming from a table lamp next to the couch, where Levi’s four year old goddaughter was sitting in Lion King pyjamas and colouring in an animal colouring book with crayon. She barely glanced up as Levi walked in and frowned at the near-silent, dark apartment.
“Hey, Brat,” he greeted her. “Where’s the Asshole?”
Annie selected an orange crayon from the pack at her side and began to delicately colour in a hippo, not even raising her eyes from the page.
“He’s still asleep,” she murmured.
“The Hell?” Levi replied, his frown deepening.
Erwin Smith, in the five years that Levi had known him, had never slept in. The man didn’t exactly bounce out of bed at the crack of dawn, but he never lingered when he had things to do and people to see. This was just something that never happened.
Passing Annie her usual plain bagel, pot of cream cheese, and small bottle of orange juice, Levi crossed to the kitchen to hunt out his usual tea cup before going to find Erwin. The lack of decent crockery in this apartment irked Levi too – his friend lived on disposable paper plates and plastic cups, but Levi couldn’t abide the taste of tea from a disposable cup. He’d brought his own porcelain tea cup to keep in Erwin’s kitchen so he had something decent to drink from. Pouring the tea into it, Levi balanced the bag of bagels and his friend’s coffee, and carried them through to the bedroom.
Erwin was lying on his back, his face slightly red from sunburn that stretched below his white t-shirt, and his ugly-ass paisley cover was on the floor, giving Levi an unnecessary view of Erwin’s underwear. Levi had never come across sheets this awful before: purple and green paisley on a cream background. He was pretty sure that these covers were possessed by a demon. Levi could have built a pyre, doused them in gasoline, set them on fire and scattered the ashes to the wind, and he would turn up the next day to see the ugly monstrosities back on the bed, in perfect condition, and silently mocking him.
Sighing heavily, he gently placed his tea cup on the dresser, picked up the cover, and dropped it non-too-gently on top of Erwin’s crotch.
“What the fuck, Eyebrows?” he drawled as Erwin startled awake, blue eyes snapping open in shock. “It’s Sunday morning! You have shit to do! Why the fuck is your lazy ass still in bed?”
Erwin groaned, hands covering his face as Levi picked his cup back up and crawled gracefully into the empty space beside Erwin on the bed.
“Jesus, Levi,” he muttered. “Do you have to wake me up so unceremoniously?”
“Obviously, yes,” replied Levi as he dumped the bag of bagels on Erwin’s chest. “You should have been awake hours ago. Your daughter is up and being incredibly productive, colouring a hippo in orange crayon, and you’re snoring your fat head off instead of getting your home in order. What gives?”
Erwin sighed and pushed himself up into a sitting position, catching the bag of bagels that slid down into his lap.
“I didn’t really sleep too well last night,” Erwin replied quietly.
“Uh oh,” muttered Levi as he reached over and dug out a cinnamon bagel from the bag. “Was yesterday’s picnic a total disaster?”
Erwin gave him a sideways glance and grinned.
“Actually, it was great.”
Levi’s thin eyebrows shot up.
“Alright, I’m confused,” he said. “It was a great picnic, but you slept pretty badly afterwards? How does that even work? I mean, I can understand it if you embarrassed the fuck out of yourself and Mike never wanted to see you again, but...explain.”
The paper bagel bag rustled as Erwin rummaged around inside of it, his hand emerging triumphant with a poppy seed one.
“Things got a little, um, heated,” Erwin mumbled around a mouthful of bagel.
Levi’s brows dropped and his steel-gray eyes narrowed curiously.
“Heated, how?” he asked.
Erwin’s slightly sunburned face was getting more pink by the second as he shifted awkwardly.
“Well, I...” Erwin began, setting his bagel down. He swallowed visibly and glanced at Levi from the corner of his eye before shaking his head. “Nope, I can’t tell you this.”
Erwin picked up his coffee and took an extra loud slurp. Levi snorted in amusement.
“Okay, now you have to tell me. Don’t keep secrets Blondie, it’s not nice.”
Erwin glared at him, although there wasn’t much heat behind it.
“Fine…’ he sighed.
Erwin was awkward as all hell as he haltingly told Levi about the events of the picnic between bites of bagel and sips of coffee. Levi had to admit he was quite impressed: Erwin didn’t give off the 'I’m going ravage you up against a tree’ vibe but it was nice to know he had it in him. He was usually so very stoic and reserved. Erwin was the man who owned disgusting paisley sheets and dressed like a grandpa. The fact that he was capable of practically ripping another man’s clothes off in a heavily wooded area with kids around was quite a revelation.
“You’re a couple of old perverts,” Levi muttered dryly over the rim on his teacup. “Getting up to that kind of filth with innocent children around.”
Erwin laughed at him.
“Oh come on, Levi! It’s not like we were having sex up against those trees.”
“You would have if you could have,” Levi replied with a flash of amusement as Erwin flushed pink again and hid his face behind his disposable coffee cup. “You know,” Levi continued, “I’m sure there’s a pun about wood somewhere in this story but...it’s just not coming.”
Erwin almost spat his coffee all over his god-awful sheets as he started laughing again.
“Oh my god. Why am I friends with you again?”
“Because I’m a fucking delight,” replied Levi, one side of his mouth curving up slightly.
“Is that it?” Erwin said with a grin.
“Of course it is. And as your friend, I desperately recommend you get rid of these fucking horrible sheets, otherwise you’re never going to have sex. It’s a good job you’re pretty, because I think Mike might turn and run the second he sees these things...”
Levi was lucky he’d finished all of his tea, otherwise it would have spilled all over him as he was hit in the face with an ugly paisley pillow before he’d finished his sentence.
Bees droned softly as they buzzed around the array of friendly plants in Mike’s garden, collecting pollen so that Mike could bottle the fresh honeycomb that Hange loved to spread on toast in the mornings. It was almost a lullaby for them as they lay on the springy grass in shorts and t-shirts, soaking up the warm sunshine.
Mike had dropped off Armin with his little friends Eren and Mikasa earlier in the morning, freeing up the time that Sunday to tell Hange all about his picnic with the delectable Erwin Smith. However, Hange had been there an hour and Mike was yet to say a single word about it.
“Okay,” Hange huffed, pulling up into a seated position and glaring at Mike. “I usually pride myself on being a patient person, but I need to ask – are you ever going to tell me how the picnic went yesterday?”
Mike opened one eye and looked at his friend.
“It was...good,” he replied carefully.
Hange’s eyebrows arched upwards. It wasn’t at all like Mike to be so quiet about things, especially about Erwin Smith. Hange had heard absolutely everything about him so far, Mike usually spilling all the second he saw his best friend.
“Good? Really? Are you sure?” Hange asked.
Mike chuckled lightly and rolled onto his stomach, propping himself up on his elbows.
“Yeah, it was. I mean...I didn’t really expect things to get so heated, so I guess I’m still recovering a little from that...”
“Hold on,” Hange interrupted. “Heated? What do you mean? What did you guys do?”
They watched as Mike’s cheeks flushed pink and he ducked his head to hide his smile.
“I went to kiss him and...it was like we just couldn’t stop. I don’t know if it was just the heat of the day or if it was the effect of being with him but...” Mike sighed softly. “Once I had him there, I didn’t want to let go. He’s got the smoothest skin, the softest hair...and Christ, when he dragged his fingernails down my back...”
Hange’s eyes doubled in size, mouth dropping open in surprise.
“He what?” Hange exclaimed. “No! This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be! You’re not supposed to be jumping each other’s bones on a family picnic! What happened to romance, Mike?”
Their friend laughed at their rebuke.
“What?” Mike replied. “You’re the one who told me the day I met him that we needed to get married and have babies.”
“Yes, but I hoped you’d at least go on at least one actual proper date before you got all handsy. You’re supposed to woo him, Zacharias! Is romance dead?”
Mike smiled at Hange and shook his head.
“Romance is definitely not dead, but Erwin Smith IS gorgeous and if he throws himself at me, there isn’t a chance in hell I’m going to turn that down.”
Hange sighed irritably. This wasn’t at all going the way they had planned it. Mike Zacharias had been one of Hange’s best friends for a good number of years. Hange was godparent to Armin for goodness sake, and had seen both of them through losing Nanaba. It had been a rough time for everybody, and despite all the best efforts over the last couple of years, Hange couldn’t get Mike interested in even entertaining the idea of dating again.
That was until the day Mike had walked through the door of the restaurant with a beautiful tall blond in a crisp suit. Just the way they had sat, both leaning towards each other, hands on the table and open, the way they had smiled and blushed had told Hange everything: Mike was finally ready to move on and this was the guy he’d been waiting to meet.
Since then, Hange Zoe and been working as hard as humanly possible to see that their friend made the best of his opportunities. Hange had envisioned an epic romance with wining and dining and kisses by the riverside as they slowly grew closer together, but Hange had not at all anticipated just how strong the attraction between the two would be. It was all moving faster than they had expected. It was time to kick this up a notch.
“Alright,” said Hange after a deep breath. “If you two are wanting to rut against each other like animals then we’re just going to have to set up a date as quickly as possible. Why don’t you arrange something for mid-week?” they suggested. “I can take care of the kids for the night and take them to school the next day so you don’t have to worry about getting disturbed. That way you’re both free to do what you like all night – as long as you have dinner first.”
Mike laughed and pushed his hair back from his face.
“I think that sounds decent,” he replied. “I’d actually really love to cook for him again.”
“Perfect!” Hange enthused. “If I’m honest, a cook of your calibre would be doing him an injustice if you took him for dinner at a regular old restaurant.”
Mike smiled at them.
“I knew there was a good reason why you were my friend,” he said.
Hange beamed at him.
“Just promise me you’ll be romantic. Sex is all well and good I’m sure, but we all need a little romance in our lives Mike.”
“I promise,” Mike replied with a grin. “I’ll ask him for coffee tomorrow and see if he’s free for dinner during the week.”
Hange sighed happily.
It was all back on track.
Armin sat quietly in the front passenger seat as they drove back from Eren’s house. The playdate had been a success as always – Eren and Mikasa had been Armin’s best friends since before they could all string together coherent sentences, and Mike had never had any complaints about his son’s behaviour or manners from any of the kids’ parents. Armin was pretty much an angel, always being the one to talk his friends out of hot water and never one to get them into hit.
Mike smiled as he glanced over at his son’s golden-blond head, bent over a large geographical encyclopaedia and studying it’s shiny pages with large blue eyes.
“So, you had a nice time with Eren and Mikasa?” he enquired.
Armin lifted his head and turned, smiling at his dad.
“Yeah, it was fun,” he replied softly. “We had ice cream after lunch, and Mrs Jaeger made cookies.”
“Did she?” Mike asked. “What kind?”
“Chocolate chip, but they weren’t as good as Hange’s.”
“Nobody’s cookies are as good as Hange’s,” he agreed. “I hope you didn’t say that to Mrs Jaeger though.”
“Of course not!” Armin replied, scandalised. “I said they were delicious.”
Mike grinned at him and reached over to ruffle Armin’s soft, fluffy hair.
Armin beamed at him and turned back to his book. Mike let him alone for a few moments while he thought of a way to broach the subject of Erwin Smith. In the garden that morning, Hange had told Mike to just outright ask Armin his opinion but it was easier said than done. Mike had never dated anybody since Nanaba’s death and Armin had been too young to even remember her. He didn’t expect it to be easy for anybody, but Mike desperately liked Erwin Smith and they both owed it to themselves to see where their attraction to each other took them. Mike hadn’t felt this excited or happy in years. Taking a deep breath, he turned to Armin again.
“Hey, can I ask you a question?”
“Okay,” replied Armin, blond hair rising up from his encyclopaedia once again.
“Would you be okay if I asked Annie’s dad on a date?”
Armin’s fair eyebrows rose.
“Like a playdate?”
“Not quite,” Mike replied with a smile. “Like a grown up date, where I take him out for dinner or a movie or something. Usually you don’t bring your children on grown up dates.”
Armin looked at him thoughtfully, head tilted to the side like a puppy as he considered Mike’s words.
“So it would just be you and Mr Erwin?”
“What would Annie and I do?”
“Well,” replied Mike carefully, “I would ask Hange to come stay with you. You always have fun with Hange, right?”
“Can Annie come?”
The corner of Mike’s mouth quirked upwards.
“Well, we’d have to make sure that Erwin was okay with Hange, but if he says yes then I don’t see why not.”
Armin beamed, his smile like bright sunshine.
“Then I think that would be wonderful,” he replied. “You always seem really happy when Mr Erwin is around. I think it would be really nice for you to have dinner together.”
Mike felt like a weight had been lifted from his chest. Armin was honestly the best kid in the world, so sweet and understanding. He didn’t even know what he’d been so concerned about.
“Thank you,” Mike murmured, reaching out to ruffle Armin’s hair again.
His son just beamed and turned back to his book, leaving Mike to drive the rest of the way home with a smile on his face. All he needed to do now was ask Erwin out.
Monday morning at the sunburn from Saturday had just about gone down, leaving only a faint pink line on the tips of Erwin’s ears and along his hairline. One day he was going to learn to wear sunscreen. If only Erwin could have stopped himself from blushing and making the pink more distinctive every time his mind wandered back to kissing Mike Zacharias up against various trees about forty eight hours beforehand.
Levi thought it was hilarious – the little shit had spent most of Sunday teasing Erwin relentlessly about it, and now Petra the intern was more than a little curious as to why Erwin was forever trying to hide his flushed skin behind his paperwork. Erwin was just lucky he wasn’t in court today otherwise he would surely have lost his case, falling over his own words as images of Mike’s face, framed with straw-blond hair and his pale eyes darkened with blown pupils popped into his head.
By lunchtime, he’d mostly got hold of himself due to Levi having to leave the office for a couple of hours in order to chase up statements for a client. Petra had just brought him a fresh cup of coffee and a stack of papers to review, her neat strawberry-blonde hair disappearing from view as Erwin’s phone rang. He cringed and dug it out his pocket as the shrill, tinny ringtone shattered all peace and quiet in the office. Erwin’s cheeks immediately flushed bright pink again as he read the name on the display.
“Hey,” replied Mike in his gently rough voice that never failed to make Erwin’s stomach turn back flips. “How’s it going?”
Erwin took a deep breath, forcing himself to sound as cool and casual as possible while his insides carried on with their acrobatics.
“Oh, you know,” he sighed. “It’s a typical Monday morning, full of drudgery. How about you?”
Mike laughed, low and gravelly.
“It’s not bad actually – my friend Hange is keeping me entertained as always. That one is a laugh a minute. I’m kinda missing you though.”
Erwin’s heart skipped a beat.
“Yeah?” he asked, lowering his voice so that his legal team would find it harder to listen in through the open doorway.
“Yeah,” Mike affirmed. “I really enjoyed Saturday.”
Erwin laughed, rubbing the back of his heated neck.
“Me too,” he murmured. “With the exception of the sunburn I came away with, but even then I think it might have been worth it.”
“Awww,” Mike replied sympathetically. “You poor thing. Although I know what you mean in a way – I’ve got a few bruises on my back from all those trees...”
A nervous chuckle bubbled in Erwin’s throat.
“Sorry about that.”
“Don’t be,” replied Mike, cheerfully. “It was worth every bruise.”
Erwin’s face had never felt so hot. He probably looked like a tomato in a suit, but he was grinning from ear to ear.
“Anyway,” Mike continued. “I actually wanted to ask you a question.”
“What’s that?” asked Erwin.
He heard Mike inhale deeply before replying.
“Did you want to have dinner with me? Just the two of us. My friend Hange is an excellent babysitter and had volunteered to take both the kids for the night. I just...thought it would be nice to spend some time together without worrying about a couple of four year olds dogging our heels.”
Erwin was taken aback for a moment. Of course, he wanted more than anything to spend some time alone with Mike he just...hadn’t given much thought yet as to when or how they would achieve it. Dinner for two sounded wonderful. There was just one issue he had to address before he could accept.
“I would love to,” he said hesitantly, his brain trying to work fast to put the next part into the right words. “It’s just that...this is going to sound ridiculous...but I can’t say yes until I’ve spoken to Annie first.”
He rubbed the bridge of his nose between his finger and thumb and took a deep breath.
“It’s just that,” he continued, “I’ve never dated anybody since Marie left and Annie has never had to deal with having to share my time with somebody else. I don’t know how she’d take it if I just made this decision without involving her.”
Most people wouldn’t really take a four year old’s thoughts and feelings into account for such a decision about their own adult lives, but Annie was smart and Erwin had always believed it important to make his daughter believe that she had a say in the way they both lived. Thankfully, Mike didn’t think it was silly.
“I completely understand,” Mike replied. “I had a similar conversation with Armin yesterday.”
“You did?” Erwin said, surprised. “What did he say?”
He could hear the smile in Mike’s response.
“He said to for it and that it would be good for us to have dinner together.”
“Yes, he is,” Mike replied proudly. “Anyway, you talk this out with your daughter and get back to me on it?”
“Of course I will,” Erwin murmured. “I’ll ask her over dinner tonight.”
For a conversation this monumental, Erwin was going to have to push the boat out and take Annie to her favourite diner to sweeten the deal.
Annie looked at him suspiciously over the cheeseburgers, curly fries, and chocolate milkshakes Erwin had bought them for dinner. She knew something was up and Erwin didn’t think he’d ever been so nervous in his life as he was with Annie’s pale blue eyes boring into him as she snaked a curly fry through a puddle of ketchup.
“So, I wanted to talk to you about something,” he began, watching her deliberate movements as she transferred her fry from plate to mouth.
“I guessed,” Annie murmured.
Sometimes he wondered if Annie really was four and a half – she was often too astute and wise for her age.
“It’s nothing bad,” Erwin continued. “At least, I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but I wanted to get your input before I did it. I want to do it...very much actually...but it’s kind of a big thing and it affects you too so...”
“Dad,” Annie interrupted shortly, her pale blonde brows pulled together. “You’re rambling!”
Erwin inhaled slowly and nodded. He needed to get a grip on himself and get to the point quickly.
“You know that we’ve been spending a lot of time lately with Armin and his dad? Well, Armin’s dad and I...we like each other, and we’ve all had fun together on play dates but sometimes adults who like each other want to spend time together with just them, and that doesn’t mean that they don’t love their children anymore or spend time with them. We would still all do playdates together and you’d get to play at Armin’s house, but maybe you’d be alright with his dad and I...perhaps...not with the two of you around...”
Annie sighed impatiently.
“Oh my god, dad! Just get laid already, old man!”
Erwin’s jaw dropped as his daughter took an abnormally large bite of her cheeseburger.
“Jesus,” he muttered. “You’ve been spending far too much time with Levi. Do you even know what that means?”
“It means that you and Mr Mike should have a date,” she replied around her mouthful.
“Good answer,” replied Erwin.
He couldn’t quite believe his small daughter had just come out with that. He guessed it was his own fault for neglecting to bring anyone but Levi into her life for long periods of time. Erwin was going to have to have severe words with his friend.
“So...if Mr Mike had invited me to dinner one night this week, you’d be okay with that?”
“Yeah. I’ll stay with Levi, and Armin could stay with us too,” she replied.
“Okay...I think Armin might be staying with one of Mike’s friends...”
“They can come too,” Annie interrupted again. “Armin and the grown-up can come to Levi’s with me and you can go to dinner with Mr Mike.”
Erwin laughed at her as she took another bite of her burger.
“Alright then,” he replied. “I’ll put that idea out there.”
It was official – Erwin Smith and Mike Zacharias had a date.
Erwin must have gone through five different shirts before settling on pale blue. Levi had been absolutely no help as usual, lounging across Erwin’s bed with a glass of red wine precariously balanced in his hand as he shrugged at every outfit Erwin tried on and continued to voice his concerns over the babysitting arrangements for the night.
“So...are you quite sure this Hange person is safe? Like, they’re not a child murderer or anything?”
Erwin’s thick blond eyebrows arched upwards as he looked at Levi’s reflection in the bedroom mirror and reached for a set of sterling silver knot cufflinks.
“This is a question coming from a former gang member?”
“Hey, the thug life chose me, Eyebrows,” replied Levi dryly. “Besides, I dealt in goods, not human trafficking.”
“Hange is not a human trafficker,” Erwin assured him.
Not one to just let anybody take care of his only child, Erwin had met Hange Zoe over coffee with Mike the day before. A remarkably androgynous human being, Hange was cheerful and immediately likeable. Erwin wasn’t entirely sure he could manage their company in large doses but that wasn’t necessarily a bad reflection on Hange’s character.
“If you say so,” Levi muttered over the rim of his wine glass.
Erwin shook his head.
“Mike’s friend is perfectly nice, Levi. Perhaps a little eccentric but, well, I could say the same about you and I’ve let you take care of Annie plenty of times.”
“I’m not eccentric!”
Making sure his second cufflink was securely fastened; Erwin turned around and rolled his eyes at his friend.
“Levi, please. You wear cravats and black velvet to public functions, sneaking up on people with a glass of red wine in hand like some small, sarcastic vampire.”
Levi took a thoughtful sip of wine before responding.
“You have a point,” he said.
Erwin grinned as he picked up his shoes and sat on the bed, his weight causing Levi to bounce slightly on the mattress.
“I think you’re more concerned for yourself than for Annie.”
“I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Levi muttered.
Levi Ackerman had never been blessed with social graces. His perpetual scowl often detracted people from speaking to him in the first place, and those who dared to hold conversation quickly discovered that Levi was honest and blunt to the point of rudeness. He was an acquired taste, but his personality was what Erwin honestly liked most about him. Levi always told him the truth, gave him straight facts with no embellishment. He worked harder and longer than anyone else Erwin knew and he was loyal. Erwin really didn’t know what he’d do without Levi in his life, but not everybody felt the same. Levi knew that he was terrible with people and avoided making new acquaintances wherever possible. Erwin was quite sure that he’d only agreed to let Hange and Armin occupy his apartment because he was getting fed, and because Annie had told him outright that he had no choice.
“Who knows, Levi – you might actually have fun!”
Levi’s thin, dark brows shot up.
“You do know who you’re talking to, right?” Levi replied. “You’re not even letting me have more than two glasses of wine to see me through it.”
“You can’t be drunk in charge of a couple of four year olds,” Erwin told him as he fastened up his shoelaces.
Levi sighed heavily in response and took an extra large gulp from his glass to punctuate. He could really be a dramatic little shit at times.
Standing up again, Erwin studied his reflection in the mirror. It was honestly the same as it usually was: his hair was clean and combed back from his face; his shirt crisply ironed and trousers expertly creased by the dry cleaners; shoes all shiny, courtesy of Levi. He straightened his collar instinctively.
“How do I look?” he asked.
Levi’s steel grey eyes looked over Erwin’s body like he was surveying a racehorse, from his hair to his shoes and back again before nodding.
“If I was that way inclined, Eyebrows, I guess I’d fuck you.”
“Thanks, Levi...hearing that from you makes me feel ever so slightly uncomfortable, but I appreciate the sentiment.”
The corner of Levi’s mouth quirked upwards and he buried his smile behind his wine glass again. Levi pretty much lived to make people uncomfortable and his best friend was no exception to the rule. Erwin sighed and adjusted his collar again just as his phone began to ring. He practically dived onto the bed to pick it up.
“Hello?” he answered breathlessly.
“Hey, it’s me,” replied Mike in that low, gravelly voice that never failed to make Erwin Smith’s stomach turn backflips.
He leaned against the bedroom wall for support.
Erwin’s heart was thumping hard against his ribcage and he could already feel the flush rising to his face. He was so pathetic it was painful.
“Just a heads-up to let you know that we’re about ten minutes away,” Mike replied.
“Okay. I’ll meet you outside of the building?”
“Sounds good,” murmured Mike. “Can’t wait.”
Erwin’s hands may have been trembling slightly when he ended the call and slid his phone into his pocket. He drew a shaky breath and looked up to find Levi looking at him like he had three heads. Erwin groaned.
“I know,” he said desperately. “I know I’m absolutely pathetic.”
“It’s just weird,” replied Levi with a hint of amusement. “I’ve never seen you like this before. You’ve turned into a thirteen year old boy and it’s both hilarious and strangely endearing.”
Erwin let out a small huff of laughter.
“It’s just...” he murmured, “I don’t think I’ve ever felt so instantly comfortable with anybody before. I don’t feel ridiculous when I’m with him – I feel...”
“Happy?” Levi finished for him.
“Well, I’m not complaining,” Levi continued. “You’ve been fucking miserable since the day I met you, so I can forgive you for being pathetic. Being loved up kinda suits you, Eyebrows.”
Erwin chuckled gently.
“You’re going soft, Levi.”
“Fuck you, it’s the wine,” his friend retorted.
“Sure,” Erwin replied. “Now get your drunkard ass downstairs with my daughter, because my date and your house guests will be here in about five minutes.”
Levi was pretty sure Hange was some kind of witch. He’d been baffled from the moment he’d opened the door to this peculiar human with a small blond boy in tow and an armful of paper bags containing pizza ingredients. Immediately, Hurricane Hange had turned Levi’s apartment upside down, dumping things on his kitchen counter and covering it in flour and vegetables. Two sets of sticky fingers were in great danger of getting all over Levi’s highly polished and sanitary surfaces and there was already more food on the floor than anywhere else.
If it wasn’t for the fact that Annie seemed to be having the most fun Levi had ever seen her have in his life, he would have thrown the lot of them out. Instead, he bit his tongue and poured his third glass of wine in thirty minutes. Hange was a train wreck of a person, with unwashed brown hair pulled into a haphazard ponytail, smudges all over their glasses, and mismatched socks. For a professional cook, they didn’t at all seem concerned about the amount of mess being created.
Of course, Hange had to be a witch because Annie had taken an instant liking to them which, if Levi was honest, sparked off a little bit of jealousy in him. Levi had never been good with kids – not like Hange was anyway. Annie had always been quiet, preferring to sit on her own and scribble in colouring books for hours on end. Once in a while, Levi might put on a DVD for her to watch, but other than that he was pretty glad that she barely interacted with him.
However, she was now standing on one of Levi’s dining room chairs with a tea-towel tucked into her t-shirt to keep her clothes clean, giggling away as she cut out fat gingerbread shapes while Hange put precariously loaded home-made pizzas into Levi’s oven.
“Okay, so, what are we calling them?” Hange asked the kids as the fat biscuit-people began to pile up.
“They’re cookies,” Annie giggled. “You don’t give cookies names!”
Hange looked scandalised.
“Well, I don’t know who brought you up, but where I’m from we most definitely name our cookies.”
“This one is Bob,” announced Armin, lifting up a slightly bulbous, misshapen gingerbread person between his fingers.
“Bob’s arm is going to fall off,” Annie warned, seconds before the majority of the cookie broke off and landed with a splat onto the counter.
“So, he’s Armless Bob. He’ll live.”
From his vantage point on the couch, Levi took a deep breath and a gulp of wine. It was going to be a hell of a long night.
“So,” he piped up, clearing his throat more forcefully than he’d meant to and ending up with his eyes watering. “Is it customary for you mess up strangers’ kitchens when you cook?”
“Pretty much,” replied Hange in that ridiculously cheerful voice. “You can’t cook without making a bit of a mess.”
Levi’s thin brows arched up sharply.
“Levi doesn’t like mess,” Annie chipped in solemnly. “He cleans all the time.”
“Well then,” Hange replied with a grin. “I think that works out perfectly – Levi likes to clean and we like to make mess.”
“That doesn’t mean you have to throw more flour on my floor,” he muttered.
“Oh, lighten up Grumpy Pants,” replied Hange, causing both of the kids to start giggling again. “Kids need to be free to make a mess. It’s nothing that can’t be tidied up and cleaned off.”
“I’m guessing you never grew out of being messy,” Levi groused around the rim of his wine glass.
Hange just beamed at him in reply and began to load the fat gingerbread people onto a baking tray ready to go in the oven. Levi huffed and resigned himself to watching and hoped Erwin was having a better night.
“Have you known Mike long?” he asked, more out of boredom than curiosity.
“A few years,” they replied. “We did our training together.”
“Is he as untidy as you are?”
Hange laughed and dusted the flour from their hands with a tea towel before moving to the edge of the kitchen, leaving the kids to cut out endless gingerbread shapes.
“No,” Hange replied. “I mean, he’s not a super neat-freak either, but he’s pretty domesticated.”
“That’s something at least,” muttered Levi. “It’s more than Erwin is.”
“Is he totally hopeless?”
“Completely,” replied Levi, suddenly feeling a little less bitter. “He eats from paper plates and doesn’t know how to do laundry.”
Hange chuckled and leaned against the wall, arms folded over a very flat chest.
“Oh dear, that sounds dire.”
“He’s a loser,” confirmed Levi with a hint of fondness. “But he’s my friend, so I do what I can.”
“He’s cute,” replied Hange. “When Mike walked into the restaurant with him, I couldn’t stop staring! My best buddy is smitten with yours.”
Levi scoffed gently.
“Good, because I’ve been trying to pawn Erwin off on somebody for years but I’ve had no takers.”
“Well, I definitely think Mike might take him off your hands,” Hange said, grinning.
In the kitchen, the oven’s timer went off to signal that the pizzas were cooked. Hange gave Levi a friendly wink and moved to retrieve them.
“Hange...my tummy hurts,” said Armin, suddenly less happy than he had been moments before.
“You’re probably just hungry, my dear,” replied Hange gently. “Why don’t you two go wash your hands for dinner and I’ll serve these up?”
Both kids nodded and climbed down off their chairs, subdued as they trailed flour through Levi’s living room on their way to the bathroom. Levi resisted the strong urge to complain about it and drained his wine glass again, reaching for the almost-empty bottle for a refill.
“So why couldn’t we have ordered in again?” he asked as Hange carried in four plates of home-made veggie pizzas and expertly sent them down on the table.
“Because,” Hange replied serenely, “Annie lives on takeout food, and these are much healthier. Besides, kids love to get involved with making their own food. They’re more inclined to try something new if they’ve helped make it.”
“How do you know so much about kids?” Levi muttered with a frown.
“How do you know practically nothing?” countered Hange.
Levi was about to reply when there came an unsavoury choking sound from the bathroom and Annie came running back in, looking pale and clammy.
“Armin really isn’t feeling too well,” she announced as Hange got to their feet. “I don’t feel well either...”
Levi scrambled to his feet, hurrying after Hange just as poor Annie made a gurgling noise and promptly threw up all over Levi’s pristine cream carpet.
This was definitely the last time Levi was having children in his apartment.
Mike couldn’t remember what his last first date had been like, but he was pretty sure it hadn’t been as nice as this one.
After a little deliberation, he had decided not to cook for Erwin this time. Instead, he had suggested dinner in a sweet little French place, tucked down the side of a quiet street about ten minutes walk from where Erwin lived. The walk there had been delightful: Erwin damn near took Mike’s breath away when he appeared, bounding down the steps in a shirt that made his eyes look even more blue than usual, and Erwin had held Mike’s hand gently in his own as they walked down the street in the fading sunlight. He smelled of black pepper and sandalwood, fresh soap and citrus shampoo; the scent curling around Mike’s brain as their shoulders brushed. He could have stopped there and breathed Erwin in all night, his face buried into the crook of his neck. However, they had reservations.
This is how they came to be sitting outside on a little patio with overhanging jasmine, already down most of a bottle of merlot as candles flickered and fireflies danced around them. Erwin Smith was honestly the most beautiful thing Mike had ever seen, relaxed and smiling and playing gently with the tips of Mike’s fingers as they waited patiently for their food. Service was slow, but Mike was fucked if he cared.
They’d discovered that they hardly knew a thing about each other and were taking full advantage of the time alone without the kids interrupting them.
“So,” Mike asked, topping up Erwin’s wine glass with his free hand. “Did you always want to go into law?”
Erwin smiled. He was gorgeous by candlelight, his light blue eyes reflecting the orange glow and tinting them violet when he moved his head.
“No,” he replied softly. “I actually wanted to be a teacher.”
“Yeah,” Erwin nodded. “My dad was a teacher and I was always kind of bookish and academic. Everybody just assumed that I’d follow in his footsteps.”
“So what happened?” Mike asked.
Erwin’s blond eyebrows shot up.
“I’m terrible with children!”
Mike laughed gently.
“I can’t believe that,” he replied, curling the tips of his fingers around Erwin’s. “You’re perfectly lovely with Annie.”
“I’m perfectly awkward with Annie,” Erwin corrected with a smile. “She’s my own, so we’re used to each other but I see the way you are with Armin and I realise just how awful I really am at parenting. I’d likely be even worse with other people’s children.”
Mike smiled at him.
“I don’t think you’re awful at parenting,” he said softly.
Erwin squeezed Mike’s fingers briefly.
“What about you?” Erwin asked. “Did you always want to cook?”
“I honestly kinda fell into it,” Mike admitted with a smirk. “It was always the smell of cooking that drew me in; how the scents evolved with the mixing of ingredients. It just became the thing I did best, so I decided to do it professionally.”
Erwin’s smile widened.
“I’m very glad you did. I don’t think I’ve been so well fed than in the past couple of weeks.”
“I was going to cook for you tonight,” Mike replied wistfully. “Should I have done that?”
Erwin shook his head.
“No, this is nice. You’re not rushing back and forward to check on food...other people are doing the work so we can just sit here and talk. Besides, if I’d had to drive to your place and back, I’d never be drinking this excellent wine with you.”
“I guess you’re right. I can always cook for you another time.”
“Oh?” replied Erwin, raising a brow. “You planning on keeping me around?”
“Absolutely,” murmured Mike.
A pretty pink flush rose to Erwin’s cheeks, eyes flashing violet in the candlelight as he ducked his head.
“I’m not that great you know.”
“Are you kidding?” Mike replied seriously. “You’re the best thing that’s happened to me in a hell of a long time.”
Erwin’s blush and smile grew as he lifted his head again, his eyes meeting Mike’s and sending his heart racing.
“You’re the best thing that’s happened to me for a long time too.”
There was so much Mike wanted to say to him in that moment, about how much Erwin occupied his thoughts at all times of the day and night and how Mike’s clothes still held onto the scent of him for hours after they parted ways. He drove Mike crazy even when he wasn’t around and Mike could barely think straight when he was close. The way he looked right now, sitting against a backdrop of sweet evening jasmine with fireflies, flush-faced and smiling bashfully...Mike would have had him pinned up against the wall in a second if he could.
Erwin leaned forward slightly, his fingers sliding gracefully into the spaces between Mike’s so that they were linked, his thumb stroking the side of Mike’s hand softly. Mike felt dizzy, his heart was beating so fast.
“I...” Erwin began, but in that moment a waiter appeared with their meals, interrupting him with a small cough.
Mike nearly jumped out of his skin, but honestly, so did Erwin. Their hands slid apart too fast and Mike’s thumb crashed into the table. The waiter looked at them both like they were the biggest idiots she’d ever seen as she slid their plates onto the table and retreated quickly. Mike’s thumb throbbed painfully.
“Ow...” he said weakly as he shook it.
“You poor thing,” he said. “Let me see.”
Reaching over the table, Erwin took hold of Mike’s hand again, turning it over gently between his own before raising slightly from his seat, leaning over, and pressing the softest kiss to Mike’s thumb. His heart nearly stopped in his chest as light blue eyes met his, and suddenly Mike didn’t really want dinner anymore.
It was like slow motion, watching Erwin sit back down and pick up his fork with a hint of a smile. Was there any way this man knew what he did to Mike? How his insides could turn to butterflies with just a single look? Whether he did or not, both Erwin and Mike could feel the shift in the air, how it had gone from relaxed and romantic to electric the second Erwin had kissed his hand. It was just like Saturday afternoon in the woods.
Silently, they picked at their food, managing a few mouthfuls and a few more sips of wine each, the space between them sizzling with electricity as the minutes ticked by. Erwin’s foot brushed up against Mike’s leg and Mike almost dropped his fork at the touch. It was getting ridiculous.
“I, er...I don’t think I want to eat dessert here,” he said, pushing away his mostly-full plate and glancing at Erwin through a curtain of hair.
“Me neither,” Erwin murmured in reply. “You want to go somewhere else?”
Those light blue eyes were huge and dark in the soft orange light, lips pink and wet and Erwin worried the bottom one between his teeth.
“Yeah,” breathed Mike.
They split the bill, throwing a handful of notes each on the table as they scrambled to their feet, chairs scraping loudly over the paving, and headed fast for the exit. They were barely out of the door when Erwin reached for Mike’s hand, pulling him into the shadows. A cool hand slid around the back of Mike’s neck and then Erwin’s mouth was on his, lips soft and warm and confident.
Mike was gone. Just like on Saturday, he couldn’t resist the pull this man had on him, and he really didn’t want to. He drew Erwin in, his back flat against a cold brick wall as he wrapped his arms around Erwin’s body and held him close, feeling the heat of Erwin’s body against his own. Their kisses were soft, languid; Erwin’s fingers feathering lightly through Mike’s hair and Mike’s hands traced the curve of Erwin’s back, slipping his fingers below the waistband of Erwin’s pants, eliciting a soft groan from him. A soft smile pulled at Mike’s lips as the sound curled around him and tugged sharply at his insides. He wanted to pull that sound from Erwin Smith many more times.
“I’ve wanted to do that all night,” Erwin murmured as he drew away slightly.
“Me too,” Mike admitted, dipping his head to nuzzle softly at Erwin’s throat. “Just being near you drives me out of my damn mind.”
He felt the gentle vibrations of Erwin’s quiet laugh against his lips.
“I don’t know, but I feel the same about you,” whispered Erwin, his fingers finding their way back into Mike’s hair and pulling him into another kiss.
The evening had begun to turn chilly, but Mike felt like his entire body was on fire as he was pressed back into the cold brick wall with Erwin’s mouth on him and his own hands against Erwin’s neck, fingers dipping under his collar and feeling the smooth skin that lay beneath.
“Do you want to come home with me?” Erwin asked, breathless.
Mike nodded wordlessly, pulling Erwin back in for one last kiss. He wanted nothing more in that moment to go home with him, to pull aside that shirt and explore more of him, to taste him, to breathe him in. He didn’t even know how he was going to last the short walk back to Erwin’s apartment.
It took his lust-addles brain a long few seconds to register his phone going off in his jeans pocket, buzzing gently against his upper thigh. Mike would have completely ignored it if it hadn’t been for Erwin’s own phone suddenly start to emit its awful tinny ring. Sighing with frustration, they unwound from each other and fished out their phones, glancing at the call display.
“Hange...” Mike said.
“Levi...” Erwin replied.
They looked at each other, realising the same thing at the same time.
Erwin could barely believe it. They had been so close. It had been a free pass with Levi and Hange having custody of the kids for the entire night. Erwin and Mike could have done anything they’d wanted, and Erwin had been so close to having Mike stripped down to nothing and in his bed until Levi had put an end to that thought with his phone call. Such was the life of a single parent, and he and Mike had practically ran all the way to Levi’s apartment, leaving their romantic overtures behind in that alley.
The door was unlocked and they practically burst into the apartment, fully prepared for the worst. What they saw was Hange, hair a mess and looking exhausted sitting on the couch and supporting two sleeping blond four year olds wrapped in blankets. Levi was out of sight, but Erwin could hear furious scrubbing from behind the kitchen counter.
“I’m so sorry,” whined Hange quietly. “It was like a scene from The Exorcist – both of them just projectile vomiting everywhere. We dealt with it as best we could but...”
“We both thought it was best to call you,” Levi finished for her, his head and shoulders appearing above the countertop as he lowered the handkerchief he had tied around his mouth and began to take off his rubber gloves.
Erwin felt a huge stab of guilt.
“Thanks,” he murmured in response.
Mike was already crouching down beside the sofa, brow furrowed in concern as he pushed back golden blond hair from Armin’s fevered forehead.
“Was it something they ate?” he asked.
Hange shook her head.
“If it was, it’s nothing I cooked. I’d literally just taken the pizzas out of the oven when they both started throwing up.”
“They probably picked up a bug at school,” murmured Erwin.
He crossed the floor and placed the back of his hand to Annie’s brow. She was pale and clammy, and snuffled in distress through her light layer of sleep. The apartment smelled awful – they sickly sweet, cloying smell of vomit and cleaning products that lingered in the air, a far cry from the jasmine garden Erwin had been sitting in only half an hour earlier.
“We should probably take Armin home,” Mike announced.
Erwin could do nothing but nod as he watched Mike scoop Armin up in his arms as Hange scooted off the couch and hastily gathered their stuff together.
It felt like the entire night had been wasted. Mike had been perfectly gorgeous as always, the restaurant had been lovely, and what he’d eaten of the food had been delicious. He’d had a perfect opportunity to finally get more intimately acquainted with Mike Zacharias, the man he couldn’t get out of his head, and fate had once again cruelly intervened. Not only had his best ever date been spoiled, but his daughter was horribly ill and his best friend was incredibly upset about having his apartment vomited over by a couple of four year olds.
Leaving Annie asleep on the couch, he followed Mike and Hange to the door. Armin’s golden blond head rested heavily on Mike’s shoulder, his face as pale as Annie’s and in a fevered sleep. Mike gave Erwin an apologetic smile.
“Well,” he said quietly, “up until the part with the sick kids, this was an amazing date.”
Erwin huffed a laugh and smiled at him.
“Yeah, it was.”
“Maybe we could pick up where we left off sometime?”
Mike’s light eyes looked hopeful and Erwin’s smiled widened as he reached up to place a small kiss against Mike’s lips.
“Sooner rather than later, I’d say,” he whispered.
“I’ll call you,” Mike replied, grinning.
Erwin closed the door behind them all and sighed, leaning heavily against the door.
“And I bet after all of that, you didn’t even get laid,” Levi said dryly from behind him.
Turning, Erwin shrugged at his friend who was still wearing rubber gloved and a handkerchief around his neck.
“Not for the lack of trying, that’s for sure,” replied Erwin.
Levi scowled at him.
“Too bad,” he grumbled. “You owe me a new carpet.”
Erwin was, quite frankly, too exhausted to go into work the next day. He’d been awake almost the whole night, afraid to leave Annie alone as she continued to vomit at regular intervals into the bowl that Erwin kept ready at the side of the bed. He’d never seen Annie this sick before; not even when they’d both suffered from flu and Annie had been a tough little two year old who had managed to power through it better than Erwin had. Now she was lying on the other side or Erwin’s bed; her face pale and sickly against the purple paisley of the bedcovers; skin, clammy to the touch.
His heart almost broke clean in two when she’d burst into tears after a particularly horrible five minutes of sickness and looked at him miserably with dark circles under her pale blue eyes.
“I’m sorry I ruined your night with Mr Mike,” she had sobbed.
Setting the vomit bowl aside carefully, Erwin gathered his daughter into his arms and gently pulled the blankets up around her; patting a hand over her sweaty blonde hair.
“Oh, Munchkin...no. You didn’t ruin anything. Getting sick wasn’t your fault – it just happened.”
“But you were having a nice time and had to come home because of me,” Annie continued; her voice, small.
Erwin squeezed her gently.
“I came home because you’re the most important person in my life and you needed me,” he reassured her. “Mike was exactly the same with Armin – we both immediately stopped what we were doing and ran back for you. No nice time in the world is more important than our children.”
In his arms, Annie sniffled and rubbed her tears off on Erwin’s t-shirt.
“We made pizzas and gingerbread people with Hange...”
“You can make them all again when you both feel better,” Erwin murmured. “Nothing was disturbed that can’t be done again.”
It was encouraging to know that it was true.
Erwin was sure now about his feelings towards Mike, and even better, he was sure of Mike’s feelings towards him. Erwin had been more than ready and willing to drag Mike back home to his apartment; to get him naked and on top of him, possibly all night long and Mike had seemed more than happy to comply. Even though they’d had to cancel those plans in order to take care of their sick kids, Erwin was damn sure the opportunity to get Mike naked would arise again soon enough.
However, his priority now was Annie; and when Levi let himself into their apartment early the next morning, Erwin made his apologies.
“I won’t be coming into work today,” he said as his friend silently passed him a takeout cup of coffee and a bag of bagels.
Levi’s brow furrowed in concern as he looked at Annie sleeping fitfully in the usually-vacant spot of Erwin’s bed.
“She’s not doing any better, huh?”
Erwin shook his head as he took the lid from his coffee cup and set it aside.
“She’s been throwing up all night,” he confirmed. “Whatever she has, it’s nasty.”
Levi nodded slowly.
“I’m sorry if I snapped at you last night,” Levi said suddenly. “It’s not your fault or the kids’ fault they got sick. I just...you know what I’m like about my apartment...”
“It’s okay, Levi,” replied Erwin.
“And I’m sorry you didn’t get laid,” Levi added. “Fuck knows, your uptight ass needed it.”
Despite his exhaustion, Erwin grinned.
“Don’t worry about it. I’m positive it’ll happen soon enough.”
Levi’s thin eyebrows arched upwards and he blinked once.
“Well, that’s something at least,” he replied. “I’ll make your excuses at work and bring you dinner later. Let me know how Annie does.”
Erwin settled back against his pillows and sipped the hot coffee contentedly.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you, Levi.”
His friend shrugged as he turned to leave.
“Neither do I.”
Mike’s night had been much the same as Erwin’s, consisting of very little sleep and a constantly vomiting four year old. Luckily for him, Hange had efficiently delegated the day’s tasks to the restaurant staff and had taken the day off work to help with the childcare and make sure Mike got some rest. Hange cooked him bacon and eggs with buttermilk pancakes, and made him a strong pot of coffee before changing the linen on all of the beds and sending Mike back to his room as they moved a tired, sickly Armin to the couch with his blankets and teddy bear. Hange might have been a scattered, messy individual but they came through in a crisis with remarkable efficiency.
The sickly, cloying smell of sickness had permeated Mike’s clothes and stuck to his skin, so as soon as he’d finished breakfast he stripped off and climbed into the shower, allowing the hot water to wash his skin clean. Feeling refreshed, Mike turned off the water after a quick wash down and wrapped a towel around his waist before padding back through to the bedroom, running his fingers through his wet hair with a sigh.
Before he’d received the call from Hange, last night’s date had been going perfectly. Everything, from the jasmine-scented patio and candlelight at the restaurant to eventually abandoning dinner as the electricity between them sizzled; it was all imprinted in Mike’s brain. During the night’s quiet spells, where Armin had fallen into an exhausted slumber for half an hour, Mike had replayed the evening over and over in his head – of his back against the cool wall with Erwin Smith’s body heat pressing against his chest; those light blue eyes, huge and dark in the twilight; the feel of Erwin’s skin under his hands and Erwin’s fingers feathering through his hair.
There had been soft moans and sweet sighs, and all Mike had wanted to do was get Erwin to some place private so he could get more – more of those sounds; more of Erwin’s bare skin against his; more of Erwin’s taste in his mouth. Mike couldn’t remember ever wanting anybody so desperately in his life before.
And then Hange had called and Mike didn’t even remember to be disappointed about it all being cut short; Armin taking priority all night until Mike finally had the opportunity to relax. His son was in good hands with Hange and the sickness had eased up. Mike could sleep now, but first he really needed to call Erwin.
His stomach turned to butterflies when he heard that rich, deep voice on the other end; quiet and raspy from lack of sleep.
“I’m guessing your night was as good as mine,” Mike said with a smile, lying back against his pillows; one had holding the phone to his ear and the other pushing his wet hair back from his face.
Erwin chuckled softly.
“Yeah, it’s been eventful,” he replied. “How is Armin?”
“He’s okay,” Mike said. “He’s mostly just exhausted now. Hange has him on the couch watching cartoons while I get some sleep.”
“Take advantage of that opportunity,” Erwin murmured.
Mike bit his lip, guiltily. He’d completely forgotten that Erwin was completely alone with no respite. Not everybody was lucky enough to have a Hange.
“Do you want me to come over?” asked Mike. “It would give you a bit of a break...”
“Don’t you dare,” Erwin interrupted him. “You get some sleep. Don’t worry about me – I’m used to pulling all nighters and Annie’s sickness has slowed down a lot. I should be able to get some rest.”
“Well, if you’re sure...”
Mike could almost hear Erwin’s smile.
“Not that I wouldn’t love to have you here,” Erwin said quietly, “But I’d prefer to have you well-rested first.”
Feeling his face begin to heat up, Mike grinned.
“I guess that’s fair,” he replied. “If the kids are feeling better by the weekend then maybe we can give this another shot?”
“Well, we have to catch a break at some point,” Erwin joked. “Our luck can’t be this bad all the time.”
Mike laughed. God, but he already thoroughly adored Erwin Smith.
“Try to get some sleep, Erwin,” he murmured.
“I’ll do my best,” Erwin replied, softly.
Ending the call moments later, Mike smiled to himself. He would be seeing Erwin Smith again very soon, and he could hardly wait.
After a couple of days bundled up on the couch with her dad, Annelise Leonhart-Smith was indeed feeling a lot better. Her existence had been thoroughly miserable and though she had been comforted by her father’s warm, solid presence, Annie couldn’t help but feel responsible for spoiling his playdate with Mr Mike. No matter how many times over the last few days Erwin told her it wasn’t her fault, she still somehow felt as though it was.
All Annie wanted at this point was for her father to be happy. Up until a few weeks ago, she had rarely seen him laugh or smile but since meeting Mr Mike, he’d barely stopped. Annie had a new best friend and a feeling over overwhelming contentedness that her four year old brain could barely comprehend. She’d never felt as though she’d been missing out on anything in her life before, but one afternoon in the Zacharias house with it’s beautiful garden and the fish pond; the bees and chickens; and the delicious home-cooked food, Annie’s life felt as though it had been injected with warmth and colour. She had been happy and so had her dad – happy with other people around.
Pulling herself out of bed early on Saturday morning, Annie padded to her father’s room, crawled onto the bed, and gently shook him awake.
“Can we go to Armin’s house today?” she asked the moment his eyes focussed on her.
“Usually, you wait to be invited to somebody’s home, Annie,” he replied with a small smile.
“Don’t you want to see Mr Mike?”
Her father’s smile widened.
“Of course I do,” he replied.
“Then can you call him? I’m sure he won’t mind if we went over. He did promise I could see the chickens.”
Erwin Smith laughed and ran a hand over his pale blond hair.
“Alright,” he conceded. “I’ll call and ask if it’s okay for us to visit. Armin may still be feeling ill and I don’t want to disturb them if he’s not better yet.”
Annie nodded, satisfied with the response.
“That’s fair,” she murmured; tucking her pale hair behind her ear as she watched her dad reach for the phone.
She was sure that Armin would be better by now. Besides, she really needed to make up for the playdate her dad missed with Mr Mike. She wanted him to stay happy.
The weather was beautiful again and Mike’s garden was filled with the laughter of children; the soft clucking of chickens; and the gentle drone of the bees who flitted around the honeysuckle over the arbour. Mike didn’t think he’d ever felt happier in his whole life, sitting on his patio next to Erwin Smith as they watched their kids chase butterflies around the vegetable patch.
“Armin absolutely adores Annie,” he murmured; turning to look at Erwin.
Mike had found the man to be completely gorgeous from the moment he’d stepped into that kindergarten classroom a few weeks ago. He hadn’t thought it was possible for Erwin to be any more attractive until he’d turned up on Mike’s doorstop with Annie that morning; his face tanned from where he’d caught the sun the previous weekend; shirt sleeves already rolled to his elbows; several buttons undone; and the happiest smile on his face. It had taken all of his restraint not to kiss Erwin right there in front of the kids.
Erwin smiled at him.
“She adores him too,” he replied, softly. “I never thought she’d warm up so much to another kid but I’m glad she did. I’m even gladder that he’s your kid.”
Mike dropped his head and smiled at Erwin from under the safe curtain of his hair.
“You can’t be as glad as I am,” he murmured.
Reaching out, he wrapped his index and middle finger around Erwin’s; squeezing gently. His stomach backflipped when Erwin returned his smile, bashfully.
They hadn’t discussed their abandoned date or what would have happened had the kids not began vomiting all over Levi’s living room. Somehow, Mike didn’t feel that it needed to be talked about. It was already quite clear to both of them that there was a very strong attraction between them and an even stronger desire to get each other into bed. His son may have adored Annie, but Mike was sure he adored Erwin just as much. They hadn’t stopped talking since he’d arrived; conversations about everything and nothing at all; sharing their likes and dislikes with each other over lunch with good, light wine in their hands as their children played in the garden. It had been idyllic and Mike didn’t want the day to end.
Mike tore his eyes away from Erwin’s face as Armin came bounding up with Annie hot on his heels; both children beaming and breathless.
“What is it, sweetheart?” he asked as Armin ran into his outstretched arms.
“Daddy? Can Annie and I have a sleepover tonight?”
“A sleepover?” Mike repeated; looking at Erwin over the top of his son’s golden head.
“We can put all the covers on the floor and build a fort. I don’t mind sleeping on the floor if Annie sleeps in my bed.”
Mike couldn’t help but smile at his four-year-old’s gallantry and he glanced at Erwin again.
“Well, I think it’s up to Mr Erwin,” he told Armin as he tried to resist a grin.
Both kids immediately turned to look at Erwin.
“Please, dad?” Annie implored as she bounced on her toes.
Erwin glanced at Mike; his blue eyes holding a hint of mischief as he pretended to think about it.
“I don’t know,” he murmured. “We don’t have any pyjamas with us...”
“Annie can borrow some of mine!” said Armin immediately.
Mike hid his grin behind his hand as Erwin made a show of considering the suggestion.
“Hmm…well. I guess we could stay the night,” he replied.
The smile that lit up Annie’s face could have melted Mike’s heart. She looked so happy - big gardens with chickens and fish ponds obviously agreed with her and he hoped she’d have many more reasons to be this ecstatic.
As the kids ran off again to continue their play, Mike leaned over towards Erwin.
“You didn’t take too much convincing,” he murmured with a smirk.
Erwin turned to him and smiled; his eyes crinkling at the corners in a way that Mike already adored.
“Well, I have my own selfish reasons for wanting to stay,” Erwin replied, quietly.
“It’s because of my salted caramel cheesecake isn’t it?” Mike joked.
Erwin’s smile widened, turning slightly mischievous as he leaned closer to Mike; his spicy, sandalwood scent making Mike’s mouth water.
“It might not be entirely about the cheesecake,” Erwin replied; closing the gap between them.
The kiss was soft and brief; stolen while the kids’ backs were turned. It made Mike’s heart race and all he wanted was to pull Erwin in; to get his hands in that neat hair and mess it up completely. Erwin was staying the night and the thought of it thrilled Mike more than anything ever had. Their feelings and intentions towards each other were no longer a mystery – Erwin Smith had pushed Mike up against walls and trees and asked Mike to go to bed with him. Now he had agreed to stay the night and was biting his lip as he looked at Mike through his dark lashes; eyes dark and fingers entwining with his own as they sat together.
Mike couldn’t wait for the kids to go to bed.
Levi had been right all along – Erwin was smitten.
He smiled as he leaned against the door frame of Armin’s bedroom, watching as Mike read the kids a story. Erwin had spent most of the evening there, having proven himself completely useless when it came to making pillow forts. Admittedly, Erwin had never attempted to build a fort of any kind in his entire life and was severely lacking in the correct skills. Annie had relegated him to the doorway and had ordered that Mike take over as chief pillow fort engineer; a decision that Erwin had been more than happy with.
Mike was a natural with kids and it was clear that Annie adored him. He was everything a father was supposed to be – fun and patient and involved – and all the things that Erwin was deficient in.
It had taken a good hour for them to make the fort, with Annie and Armin both deciding to sleep on the floor and therefore requesting that all the covers be arranged at ground level, with a blanket canopy and soft, twinkling lights strung under it so it resembled glowing fireflies. One bath later and the kids were both dressed in clean pyjamas; giggling madly as they watched Mike act out the story with shadow puppets and character voices.
“You’re so good with them,” Erwin said after the kids were both tucked up to sleep; standing with a fresh glass of blackberry wine in Mike’s fragrant kitchen.
Mike laughed; pushing his hair back from his face.
“It’s nothing, really.”
“No, it’s something,” replied Erwin. “It never would have occurred to me to build forts or act out stories. Parenting isn’t a thing that comes naturally to me, but it seems like you were born to it.”
Reaching out, Mike wrapped his free hand around Erwin’s and gently squeezed.
“Stop doing that,” he murmured. “Stop putting yourself down – you are a great parent; it’s just that your methods are different to mine.”
Erwin looked down at their joined hands; flexing his fingers against Mike’s soft grip. It was incredible how comforting those large hands were; how safe Erwin felt when he was with him. He glanced up again to find Mike’s honey-coloured eyes on him; gentle and searching.
“Thank you,” Erwin murmured.
Mike looked at him for a second longer before placing his wine glass gently on the counter and taking another step towards Erwin and slipping his other hand behind Erwin’s neck; fingers feathering lightly through the shorter hairs of Erwin’s undercut.
“Annie adores you,” Mike murmured. “I adore you...”
The words made Erwin’s breath catch in his chest and made his knees go weak; almost dropping his wine glass as he hastily pushed it onto the kitchen bench so he could free up his hands and grab onto Mike’s t-shirt to steady himself. He wasn’t good at this; he never had been good at this – at telling people how he felt about them. It was probably how he’d lost Marie to Nile all those years ago; it was so hard to feel so much for somebody and be so afraid to make it real.
Erwin had avoided getting involved with anybody for so long and then Fate brought him to Mike Zacharias who made Erwin’s head spin and blood race. It had all happened so fast and he’d fallen so hard, and despite every part of his logical brain screaming at him to be careful; to slow down; Erwin’s heart was screaming at him to run with it.
“I adore you,” he whispered; fingers trembling slightly as he tugged Mike forward an inch further towards him.
Both of Mike’s hand pushed into Erwin’s hair as they kissed; fingers curling around pale blond strands as Erwin’s hands shamelessly slid under Mike’s t-shirt; nails raking softly through the trail of hair that lined the strip of stomach from his navel, downwards. Mike moaned softly against Erwin’s lips as Erwin turned them around and backed Mike up against the cool marble bench; tugging insistently at the bottom of his t-shirt until he finally pulled it off over Mike’s head.
“Will you take me to bed?” Erwin murmured softly as he dropped the cotton garment on the floor beside him.
“Gladly,” replied Mike.
It took longer to move through the house than it should have; unable to stop kissing each other as they made for Mike’s bedroom. Erwin’s shirt was lost on the stairs as he was pushed against the wall; Mike’s mouth, hot and wet as he left a trail of open-mouthed kisses across his neck and down his chest with every button he unfastened; Erwin’s hands entangled in Mike’s hair and nails grazing the back of his neck as Mike’s lips gently tugged against a nipple.
Erwin was surprised they even made it to the bedroom. It had taken almost every ounce of willpower he had not to push Mike down on those stairs and climb on top of him. Somehow, his brain had reminded him of the kids, and he’d managed to make it to the landing; pulling Mike behind him into the sanctuary of the bedroom.
The door was barely closed when Erwin reached for Mike again, wrapping his arms around Mike’s neck and pulling him in as Erwin backed up against the wall. Mike’s eyes were dark; his breathing heavy, but the hands that gripped Erwin’s waist were steady and sure; grounding him.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything like this,” Erwin murmured.
Mike leaned forward slightly; resting his forehead against Erwin’s as his hands ran slowly up Erwin’s sides.
“Me too,” Mike replied. “Are you sure...?”
“Of getting you into a bed right this instant?” Erwin whispered; a small huff of amusement escaping him. “I don’t think I’ve ever been surer of anything in my entire life.”
Smiling, Mike kissed him again; soft and slow and steady. His hands ran back down over the smooth skin of Erwin’s sides, around to the small of his back and over the firm roundness of his ass. Another small moan escaped Erwin’s lips as Mike’s fingers tightened briefly and then slipped down to the back of his thighs. Mike lifted Erwin as though he weighed no more than Armin or Annie, turning from the wall and carrying him the short distance to the bed.
Their remaining clothes melted away under slow-moving hands, kicked off the edge of the bed as Mike settled in the space between Erwin’s open thighs. Mike was so beautiful over him, his honey-coloured eyes dark and tanned skin flushed and dewy; his hair falling forward into Erwin’s face. Reaching up, Erwin pushed it slowly out of Mike’s eyes and watched as his eyelids fluttered closed at Erwin’s touch.
It had seemed like it had taken forever for them to get to this point but now they were here, with Mike’s weight over him and the heat building between them, Erwin realised that they had all the time in the world. This was real. He was in love with Mike in a way he’d never been in love with anybody else in his whole life and they were here now; together.
They had the whole night now, alone together in Mike’s king-sized bed with long, muscular limbs entwined and hands and mouths determined to explore every inch of skin they could reach. Erwin’s hand slid behind Mike’s neck and gently pulled him back down; lips parting as Mike kissed him soft and slow. He wanted to make this night last forever.
As if!? It's been 3 years since I updated this????
I was having so much trouble with the last scene and kept looking at it every few months to see if I could finish it. It seemed like the months turned into years, but it seems like I finally managed to get this chapter finished! Hopefully the next one won't take as long to write!