Eren noticed the missing weight before he even registered he was awake.
“Key,” he rasped, trying to lurch upright. He was scrabbling at his throat, nails catching on unmarred skin, heart pounding as the world spun and spun and spun. His stomach was in on the show, rolling until he tasted bile in the back of his throat, and he swallowed against the sensation, fighting for control against his own body.
“Fucking shit,” Levi swore as he caught Eren, the warm steady weight of the captain’s body soothing as he curled an arm around Eren’s waist to keep him steady. “Stop moving, you idiot; you passed out again.”
Levi’s hand caught Eren’s, pulled it away from his bare-bare-bare throat. “Key,” Eren repeated, mind still muddled with panic and the dregs of unconsciousness. “Levi, the key’s-“
“On the table,” Levi interrupted. He curled his fingers carefully around Eren’s as he cradled his hand in his against Eren’s thigh. The man’s other hand smoothed a trail up Eren’s spine, the weight of it safe and soothing as he brushed his thumb just below the nape of Eren’s neck and then stroked back down. Eren shuddered with the touch, tension leaking out of him until he was bent with his forehead against Levi’s shoulder like a ragdoll.
“Did it fall off,” Eren asked quietly, after a few minutes of letting the pseudo backrub soothe him into full consciousness. Levi’s breath was a gentle ghost of a thing against his ear, making him shiver in a way that made Levi huff in response. He worried about the cord the key had been on, if it’d broken, how he would replace it until Levi shifted back, leaning so that he could draw his leg up on the bed and face Eren instead of perch on the edge. Eren drew back as well, head pounding faintly with the movement as he straightened so that even like this he towered above his captain.
“No, it didn’t fall,” Levi answered, abrupt and terse. Eren knew the man well enough to sense the exasperation in him, leaning back so that he could glance around Levi and toward the table. The key sat there, gleaming dully in the light from the nearby gas lamp, cord curled around it in a way that bespoke great care.
“Then how,” Eren began. A glance from Levi had him fall silent in a second.
“How long have you worn that key,” Levi asked, in lieu of an explanation. Eren studied the arch of Levi’s eyebrows, the familiar fire in his eyes, and felt his stomach turn with shame. He sighed.
“Ever since it was given to me,” Eren answered quietly. He licked his lips around the words, watching as Levi stared at him, flat, unimpressed. His lips were numb as he continued, “so about, uh, five years?”
One year before training, three years in training, and almost a year in the Survey Corps, he thought. He shifted his neck, rolling it to the side to try and ease tension that had been there for so long he couldn’t recall what it felt like otherwise. Levi watched this movement with a darkening glower, making a short noise of frustration in the back of his throat before sighing out of his nose.
“You’ve never taken it off, have you,” Levi asked. It was a rhetorical question, but Eren shook his head anyway, still rolling his stiff neck. The tension was part of the reason his skull pounded, though passing out from training –again – probably had not helped. Levi huffed at him, rolling his eyes so hard Eren’s head throbbed with sympathy. “You impossible fool.”
Eren could have defended himself, but he knew Levi’s words held no weight against him. Levi was worried about him, had been in an increasing fashion as the date of the expedition approached ever near. That shame in his belly grew, making him feel small for having become another burden on Levi’s shoulders.
“Sorry, sir,” he said, smiling wryly at the look Levi shot him. Eyes like the sky, like the tales of ice and fire-water in Armin’s books; his captain glowered at him with such venom that Eren had to laugh, shaky and small. “Sorry,” he repeated, ducking his head.
“Don’t be sorry,” Levi muttered. “Just- come here.”
Levi gestured for Eren to scoot, so he did, hands pressed against the bed as he inched toward the other man. When Levi rolled his wrist, flicking his fingers, Eren turned, shuffling against the blanket that had been draped over him until it pooled in his lap.
“Tall brat,” Levi muttered as he shifted behind him, the small scoff of exasperation in his throat making Eren smile wearily down at his lap. He jumped a little when he felt Levi’s hands curl carefully over his shoulders, but the touch was feather light and surprisingly warm. It took him a minute to realize what Levi was doing, thumb pressing slowly against the muscle to the side of his shoulder blade until the pressure was just hard enough to make his breath catch.
He went limp with the realization that Levi was trying to help him ease the tension in his neck. He bowed his head, slumping to give the man better access as strong hands slid down his back again. Unlike the light gentle touch before, when he awoke, this one pressed against him so hard he swayed with it, a little groan building in his throat every time Levi paused to press against a sore muscle. There was a flicker of guilt in Eren’s gut at the thought that the other deserved this more than he did, a chance to relax for once, but that feeling passed as Levi’s hands settled against the small of his back, kneading the muscles there as the other man leaned forward and pressed his forehead against the nape of Eren’s neck.
“Levi,” Eren asked quietly. He picked up his head, feeling the way the man pressed forward against him, hands drifting powerfully up and down the sides of his spine. He leaned his head back slowly, careful to be gentle as he rested the back of his head against the top of Levi’s.
Levi said nothing. He just sighed softly, his breath ghosting beneath the collar of Eren’s shirt and tickling his skin. Eren suppressed his shiver as best he could and was rewarded with the curve of Levi’s smile pressed against the crook of his shoulder.
“Relax,” Levi murmured quietly, tipping his head until Eren was forced to bow his head again. “I’ve got you, trust me.” Levi leaned back then, hands dragging against sore muscles until he could knead at Eren’s shoulders once more. Eren peeked at the other man over his shoulder as he cleared his throat around a noise of pain-pleasure, catching sight of the easy slump of Levi’s own shoulders. It was easier then to relax even more at the knowledge that Levi was lax and resting even though he wasn’t the one with strong, tender hands dragging carefully up his neck and applying just enough pressure to undo the tension there.
Eren let his head hang after that, content to lean back into the warm weight of Levi’s hands and let him take care of him. It was nice to not feel the weight of the key and all its expectations around his neck, he reflected later, after Levi had driven as much of the tension out of him as possible and then lay at Eren’s side, curled against his shoulder. Eren hummed quietly as sleep took him – actual sleep, not just the gut drop of unconsciousness – and thought hazily about waking up.
He could probably convince Levi to let him return the favor in the morning, to trust him to take care of him and help him relax, if they woke up early enough. And if they didn’t, there was always tomorrow night.
The thought made him smile and he received another curved smile kissed against his skin in return.