When Erwin is carried home red and mangled, Levi draws back into himself. He hovers around the infirmary for hours until the medics push him out. He accedes to Hange's requests for help, but he does the work silent and stormy-faced, and hardly anyone dares approach him. His chest feels like it's made of paper; ghosts press in on his temples, whispering his failures. For a few days, he stops sleeping altogether. Eventually the worst of the danger passes, and he's allowed to sit by Erwin's bed into the small hours. The fever keeps him under, but Levi reports everything to him anyway. He would want to know.
He notices the bolo one night, laid out on the nightstand. You'd have a fit if they threw this out, he says to the sleeping man. He pockets it.
When Erwin is arrested, Levi is silent. Jaeger and the others take this to mean he has a plan. Hange is the one who talks him out of slaughtering the MP in the streets. Starting a war with them won't help him, or us, she pleads. He doesn't think so, but for her sake he agrees to follow her lead. The fire tearing through him doesn't ebb; he forces barriers up around it, like city walls. Hange tries to soothe him. Her hand on his arm seeks connection, trust, but his skin feels jagged. She has doubts, and he fears them.
He puts the bolo on when it becomes clear they'll have to run. He tucks it under his cravat, where it rests like a thumbprint against his throat.
When Erwin is released, Levi takes him to headquarters himself. They don't speak during the carriage ride, instead looking at the cloudy sky out opposite windows. Levi knows the feeling yanking on his nerves - it's what always comes after a close call. He hates that feeling more than anything. Getting the commander to his rooms when they arrive is a nightmare. Thankfully, the eager-eyed troops that crowd them back off pretty quickly when they see the look on his face. He helps Erwin out of the carriage, up the stairs and over the threshold, though his body scorches where it touches him. Then he turns to go, to flee.
"Please stay, Levi."
His voice is splintered, and the unguarded strain in his tone shocks the smaller man. He's never heard it before. Even more confusing is the war in his head between contempt and relief. Still, he avoids his eyes and spits his reply out like razors. "Why? I'm not going to talk work with you now."
"I know. I'd just like company for a little while."
He knows he can't argue.
He lights a fire and makes tea while Erwin bathes. His shoulders crack every time he reaches for something, and the low static in his ears won't go away. The fire feels oppressive as soon as he gets close, but once he settles into the armchair, he can't make himself move. The rooms feel alien now, like a poorly-drawn illustration.
Erwin takes long enough that Levi finishes his tea alone. He emerges wearing only trousers, a towel slung over his chest. Levi doesn't want to think of how long it takes him to dress now. He sits in the other armchair and reaches for his own cup. Levi curls his fingers and stares at the mantle. "It's cold."
He drinks anyway. "It's not. Thank you." His hand is shaky. Levi curses himself for not thinking, and quickly says, "When did you last eat?"
"This morning. I'm just a little unstable, still." There's the hint of a smile in his voice. It makes Levi's stomach churn. "Oh. Then you should get some sleep."
"Is everyone alright?"
I said I wouldn't talk work. He knows he'll just get some bullshit about semantics if he tries that, so he sighs and runs down the list in his head. "Jaeger and Reiss are safe, for the moment. They all seem to listen to Kirstein pretty well, so I've unofficially put him in charge. They're safe, for now."
Erwin sighs. "It was too sudden. If she gets too overwhelmed..." He looks so troubled by the thought that Levi blurts out, "She won't." He snaps his mouth shut immediately, but Erwin's face softens. "You're right. I trust her. I just worry about the toll it will take." They sit in silence for a few moments, Levi growing increasingly uncomfortable. He's nearly ready to insist he leave when Erwin looks up at him unexpectedly. Once those eyes catch him, there's no chance he can break away.
"I'm sorry," he says simply.
Levi blinks. His knee-jerk response is thin with indifference. "What the hell for?"
"For leaving you to deal with this alone."
Heat rises in Levi's cheeks. "Don't say shit like that," he snaps. "You didn't leave us. You didn't have a choice. And Hange pulled everything off anyway-"
"You know that's not what I mean."
He's seething now, but Erwin just looks tired. "I know you're angry," he promises softly. "Tell me why."
Levi wants to hit him. He wants to dig his fingers into the broken flesh of his arm, to make him feel what he's been bottling up for weeks. A part of him that he despises wants to break down completely. Instead he holds his tongue and tries to mold his feelings into words. Tell me why. Erwin has always asked that of him, from the very beginning. Part of his campaign to turn a wild dog into a respectable person.
"As soon as I heard what happened-" the sentiment dances out of reach, and pauses stretch out as he tries to pin it down. "I knew it was just dumb luck you came back. You don't give your own survival a second thought. I hate that about you."
Erwin's eyes flicker. "I'm not what matters, Levi. I'm expendable."
"No you're not," he insists, leaning forward. "You know what? You did leave us here. There was no reason for you to put yourself in a fucking noose, other than your warped idea of justice. You act like you're just a tool - as if you don't know there are people who care about you. That's bullshit. I'm not talking about the thousands of fucking people that think you're the sun. I'm talking about your friends, alive or otherwise. And - do you know what you'll do to them, getting yourself killed like this? Dancing in front of a firing squad - you're selfish."
It all comes out in a windfall, and his blood is still rushing when he stops. The only noise is the crackle of the fire. When his eyes refocus, though, Erwin looks so taken aback that it startles him. The commander's fingers fist on his knee, but he clearly doesn't know what to say. Levi swallows, then bares the last of himself. "I - I don't have anyone else any more. Not like I have you. I'm not cutting your wings off your fucking corpse out there if it's your fault. I won't do it."
He sees Erwin break. His mouth slackens and his shoulders drop, and suddenly he doesn't look like a commander, he looks like a man. "Levi," he says, very quietly. "I'm so sorry."
Levi swallows again. "Don't leave me here."
"I never meant - oh, Levi, come here."
He stands, and Levi closes the short distance between them, fighting the urge to freeze up. Erwin catches his face with his hand as soon as he can reach. "This fight is very complicated for me," he murmurs. "But I will not cast you aside, not ever. I won't take your trust for granted."
Levi tries to stifle the tremor in his hands, curling them tightly in Erwin's towel and staring at his chest. "You can't just say that. Prove it. Or next time I'll be right behind you."
He doesn't think he can look at him, but Erwin tips his chin up then. "You won't have to be." His smile is sad, and he kisses him like he wants to memorize the feeling. He tastes like black tea. When he pulls away, Levi feels a hundred pounds lighter. He leans forward and bumps his forehead against Erwin's collarbone. "Fine. I get it. Now stop talking like that and let me take you to bed."
He frets over the bandage at first, but Erwin kisses him again to take his mind off it. He didn't know how badly he missed this, but now he's melting into it, exploring with teeth and tongue and whatever else. He helps Erwin get a few pillows under his back, then straddles his lap, dragging his palms over the water still beaded on his chest. Erwin sighs into his mouth and sweeps Levi's hair out of his eyes. His movements are clunky and unrefined, but Levi couldn't care less. He hastens to undo his belt, then the buttons of his shirt, all while Erwin stares achingly up at him. Those ice-colored eyes rub him raw; he dives forward again to get them closed, haphazardly pulling his sleeves off behind his back. It's a scramble of heat and want, and he can't get enough, especially after so long. Erwin's fingers brush his throat as they curl around his cravat and tug it undone. Levi cranes his neck up, begging for marks he'll never be able to hide-
The cloth falls away, and Erwin stops. Levi huffs, impatient. Then he remembers. The bolo hangs off his neck, just low enough to tickle Erwin's collar. He glances down, and Erwin stares back up at him. "When did...", he falters. He looks so surprised that Levi feels weirdly embarrassed. "When they brought you back," he mumbles. "I figured you'd be livid if they lost it. And...it helped to have it, a little." He reaches back, tugging it up his neck, but Erwin snatches his wrist. "Keep it," he says breathlessly. "If it helps, you should keep it."
"No, idiot. The whole point is that it's yours." He gives up on taking it off, though.
The pause calms some of the frenzy clouding his brain, and he makes himself take his time. Erwin is megalithic in so many things, but in this, he is fragile. He needs care. Levi thinks for a moment, then decides to work his way down. The kiss he plants on Erwin's forehead makes the blond breathe a laugh. "I suppose it goes without saying, but I missed you," he says. "Missed you too," Levi mouths against his ear. Erwin's hand leaves his neck to curl around his own fingers, and for once he doesn't shy away.
By the time he's past his sternum, the big man's breathing is coming harsher, and sweat is shining off his skin. Levi doesn't have the heart to tease him. He glances up - Erwin's eyes are closed, brows drawn down, and he looks so vulnerable that Levi can't help making a strangled sound. He hurries to weave himself between solid thighs. He's dizzy with want, and an absurd desire to make up for everything that's happened, everything he can't fix. I want to take care of you sounds disgustingly cliche, but that is the idea.
He starts with his lips and his hand - teases the velvet of his foreskin down with his thumb and sucks lightly on the head. Erwin's whole body quivers, breath leaving him in a relieved sigh. Levi splays his left hand across his hipbone as an offering, which the blond takes immediately. His grip tightens as Levi takes more of him into his mouth. It's difficult after so long, but he's too stubborn to admit it. It's also ridiculous how this is the most comfortable he's felt in weeks. He pushes the implications of that away and focuses on Erwin's breathing above him. He sounds overwhelmed, frayed and rough and lovely. His fingers twitch against Levi's own. Levi curls his fist around the base of his dick, sighing through his nose, and gets moving.
Erwin's skin is fresh from the bath, and his smell coils around Levi; it reminds him of warm stone, or the air right before a storm. The precome that rolls over his tongue might be the most satisfying thing he's ever tasted. The big man keeps remarkably still as Levi works his mouth, but his hand is tight as a vice, and thoughtless little sounds weave through his breathing. He's unguarded, and it bowls Levi over completely. He moans appreciatively around Erwin's length and quickens his pace without a second thought. His hand is slick now, and the loose little twists he's doing are much easier. He can't hold himself still after a few minutes - he grinds against the sheets in time with the movement of his head, letting the vibrations of his voice pulse around Erwin's cock. The throaty groan he gets in response is downright heavenly. "You're so beautiful," he hears Erwin choke out, somewhere above his head. "God, you're - ah-" Seems he can't help it anymore; his hips roll forward, forcing Levi's head back. Levi holds on, though, curling his tongue and hollowing his cheeks. If it was anyone else there'd be no way in hell he would let them fuck his face, but in this moment it's the hottest thing he's ever felt in his life. He tries to swear around the dick in his mouth, fails, and settles for breathing out hard through his nose. His hips rut against the mattress of their own accord. The heat in his belly is building, little jolts of pleasure coming like doses shot straight into his veins. Rational thought seems entirely unnecessary.
"Levi, oh - stop-"
He doesn't. Erwin comes hot against his tongue, hunched over and shuddering, crushing Levi's hand in his grip. Levi doesn't pull off until he's gone completely boneless; then he spits into the discarded towel, piled at the end of the bed. When he finally sits up to look at Erwin's face, he has to muffle a groan against his wrist. He's slumped back against the pillows, slack-jawed, cheeks cherry red and shining. His eyelids are so low Levi thinks he may have passed out. His breaths are still shaky, but he looks so fucking relieved, loose-limbed and glowing. Levi traces the line of his jaw with his eyes and slides his palm up his own cock. He's so focused on memorizing the picture that he doesn't see Erwin's eyes flutter back open, but his voice snaps him out of it. "No - come here." He sounds utterly exhausted, and for a second Levi just blinks at him. He reaches out, earnest, as if expecting Levi's hip to meet him. "Come on. Let me." His expression is flat-out pleading.
Levi can't help another pull, toes curling, but after that he clambers into Erwin's lap as asked. His brain is barely registering anything besides the fever in his groin. Erwin's annihilation of his hand doesn't occur to him until he tries to brace himself against the headboard. The blond looks mortified when he hisses in pain, but Levi just drapes it over his shoulder and mutters, "Make it up to me." They're much closer now, and Erwin can kiss him easily, which he is happy to allow. When a hand much larger than his own finally curls around his dick, he arches his back and whimpers right into Erwin's mouth. Pleasure comes in an immediate rush, crashing against his senses and reminding him how close he already was. Erwin smiles blissfully against Levi's lips as he strokes him. "Go on," he murmurs, "let me hear you."
Levi does. He throws his head back and moans like a virgin, canting his hips into Erwin's touch. Erwin doesn't tease, thank God; his rhythm is a little uneven, but the pace he sets is relentless. He laves his tongue against Levi's throat while the smaller man pulls his hair and swears at him. "Shit - shit, shit, God, I can't-" He's squeezing his eyes shut so hard that tears are forming at the corners. It's there, "fuck, there," he can feel it clawing its way through his core-
Erwin leans back to watch as he urges his orgasm out of him. For a few seconds, his body loses cohesion, and everything strains against itself in a fight to stay at the peak. His hips snap forward involuntarily, and he chokes out a sob, spilling cloudy and sweet across Erwin's fingers.
The next few seconds are a little foggy. His cheek hits a pillow, and the towel drags over his toes as Erwin reaches for it. His knees ache and it feels like a horse has bitten his hand, but the rest of him is blitzed out, nerves fried from pleasure. When his eyes finally clear, Erwin is standing - getting back into bed. He blinks slowly up at the commander, who smiles at him like he's a particularly vivid rainbow. "I put the fire out," he explains, pulling the covers up to Levi's chin and sliding under them himself. Levi's tongue feels like lead, and he can't help slurring when he says, "I'm supposed to be the one taking care of you."
Erwin reaches out, hooks his fingers around the strap of the bolo. "You'll suffocate," he coaxes. Levi can barely lift his head. Erwin drops the ornament somewhere behind him, then curls his arm back over, resting his index finger lightly under Levi's chin. His eyes rove over the small man, who, for once, doesn't complain. Instead he closes his eyes and mumbles, "You'd better not forget what I said earlier."
"Of course I won't."
"I mean...shit, what's the count here? At this rate the cadets will be the last ones standing. And the thought of shacking up with any of them is fucking revolting."
Erwin doesn't laugh, but when Levi cracks an eye open, he is smiling. It's the same one as before, though - tinged with sadness and chest-tightening love. "I won't leave you here," he says. "No matter what I have to do as this war goes on. I'll be here when this is over. Alright?"
God, he really believes it. Levi wants to more than anything. "Okay," he answers, voice sandy. "Okay."