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Metamorphosis

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What kind of person held a job interview at a rundown diner in the middle of the night? This had bad news written all over it, but as it stands, I was desperate for money. I couldn’t just walk away from this, not when Isabel had gone out on a limb for me. She wasn’t even close with her older brother, yet she’d dropped everything to contact him, so it was safe to assume that throwing this opportunity away would be a huge waste. According to her, there was quite a bit of money to be made if Eren hired me on. I had to keep that in mind.

            Taking a deep breath in an attempt to calm my frayed nerves, I strode into the diner and scanned the booths. I’d never met Eren before today, but if he looked anything like Izzy, he’d be easy to spot. Plus, there weren’t a lot of people here at this hour. The ones that were here were sitting at the counter, talking to the waitress on shift as they drank down their coffee. I felt exposed while I stood there clutching onto the strap of my messenger bag, like if anyone turned their attention to me, they’d be able to tell that I had no idea what I was doing.

            As I considered my options, someone burst through the front entrance, startling me enough to make me whirl around on the spot. I came face to face with a tall brunette that was sporting a crooked smile that should’ve been illegal. He regarded me with stunning eyes, the right iris the same shade as a Paraiba Tourmaline stone, while the left iris was a deep honey color. Oh, jeez, he was hot. I prayed that this wasn’t Eren, because I couldn’t utter one word.

            “Levi?” he questioned. His voice could only be described as smooth and sensual, making my name sound delicious.

            Snapping out of it, I blurted, “U-um, how do you know my name?” This couldn’t really be Izzy’s older brother, right?

            The man slipped his hand into his front pocket and produced his cell phone. He messed around with it for a bit before he turned the screen in my direction. He’d opened up a picture of me standing next to Izzy, our cheeks smashed together. We’d taken that over a month ago. “Isabel wanted to make sure that I found you, so she sent me this earlier today.”

            Okay, so there was no doubt about it now: This—this gorgeous man that kept eye contact with me like it was his mission in life—was Eren. I needed to stop acting like a complete moron and introduce myself properly. If I was incapable of that, then how could I expect him to hire me?

            Nervous and embarrassed by my reaction, I thrust my hand out. “N-nice to meet you,” I stammered, hoping he hadn’t noticed. “I’m Levi Ackerman. Thank you for meeting with me on such short notice.”

            Instead of shaking my hand, he leaned forward and tapped the side of my glasses. “That’s cute. You weren’t wearing glasses in the picture.”

            Cute?!

            With great effort on my part, I remained calm. I needed to stay professional, to show him that I could be professional, even under these circumstances. “Um, thank you. Would you like to take a seat, so we can begin the interview?”

            “So polite,” Eren said in a playful tone, flashing me a breathtaking smile. He gestured to the front counter. “Pick a seat.”

            I reacted without thought, jerking forward to practically lunge at the first available stool in front of me. As I settled in my seat, I kept my eyes glued to the floor, refusing to meet Eren’s gaze as he sat in the empty stool next to mine. I had an exceptional view of his blue jeans and black leather boots.

            “You don’t have to be so nervous,” he assured.

            Before I could respond, the waitress came over to take our order. “Well, I haven’t seen your mug around here in a while, Eren. How’ve you been?”

            I looked up in time to watch Eren pull out a pack of cigarettes from his back pocket. He tapped a cigarette out. “I’ve been just fine,” he said, “but I’ll be even better if you let me smoke in here.” The waitress raised an eyebrow. “C’mon, Sasha, I’ll leave a very generous tip.”

            She put her hand on her hip, but I could already tell that she was going to give in. “Fine, but at least order something.”

            “I’ll take the usual cup of coffee.” He slid the clove cigarette he held between his lips while he patted down his pockets in search of a lighter. “Want anything, Levi?”

            “Uh, I’ll have a cup of coffee, as well.”

            “Two cups of coffee coming right up,” Sasha said, smacking her hand down on the counter before she whipped around and walked to the coffee machine.

            With his cigarette lit, Eren turned to me. “This won’t take long at all. In fact, we probably just ordered those cups of coffee for nothing, because I only have two questions for you.” He tilted his head back and blew out a puff of smoke that drifted up toward a vent above us. “The first question is: How do you feel about fighting?”

            My eyebrows pinched together, because that didn’t make any sense to me whatsoever. What did that have to do with anything? Did the job I was interviewing for require fighting? If it did, I got myself into something I wasn’t prepared to do. “I don’t understand,” I said, the words leaving my mouth slowly. “Does this job require me to fight?”

            “No. It just requires you to watch over people fighting.”

            “Well, I could do that.” If you paid me, that is.

            “Sure about that?” he asked. “Strictly speaking, it’s not legal.”

            I stared at him for a long time, confused about this entire thing. Isabel had told me that there was money to be made at this job, but she never once mentioned that it would involve illegal activity. What in the hell was she thinking? Sure, I was in desperate need of money, but I wasn’t willing to get my ass thrown in jail for it. I would rather take out another loan with the bank before I had anything to do with this.

            Out of nowhere, Eren laughed. When my eyes flicked in his direction, he asked, in a business-like tone, “Tell me, do you always follow the rules, Mr. Ackerman?”

            Now he was making fun of me?

            Angry, I said, “For your information, I don’t feel like going to jail any time soon. So, if you’ll excuse me—”

            “What if I told you that you could make sixteen hundred dollars tonight?”

            I faltered. Sixteen hundred dollars was a good amount of money to make in one night. That would also pay my rent, which was due in two weeks.

            Sensing my hesitation, he added, “I have connections with the police. Trust me when I say that you won’t go to jail, not tonight or any other night.”

            No matter how you looked at it, this was a bad idea, but I couldn’t afford to pass it up. Since I’d lost my job last month, money had been tight, and bills were beginning to pile up. If there were any other options other than this one, I would gladly take it, because I’d never broken the law before. Like Eren had assumed earlier, I followed the rules without question.

            “Sixteen hundred dollars,” I murmured before I looked up at him. “Is that guaranteed?”

            Eren smiled around his cigarette. “Nice to know you can bite back. Also, yes, that’s guaranteed. I never lose a fight.”

            “Wait, hold on, you’re fighting?”

            At that exact moment, Sasha came back with our cups of coffee. She put them down in front of us with a spark in her eyes. “Oh, you’ve never seen Eren fight before? You’re in for a real treat then. He’s the best of the best.”

            “You flatter me,” Eren said, winking. He stood up after that, pinning me down with those astounding eyes of his. “You in? I have to be at the warehouse in twenty.”

            “Before I go,” I sputtered out in a rush, “how exactly will I make sixteen hundred dollars? Watching over the fight doesn’t seem like much.”

            “It’s more important than you think. We need someone with unbiased views to watch over the fights. If one of the other guys were to do it, they’d side with the person they bet on.”

            That made sense. So, technically speaking here, all I had to do to earn sixteen hundred dollars was stand around and watch a couple of guys duke it out. That didn’t sound too bad. Other than the fact that it was illegal, it was an easy way to earn some quick cash. Now I just had to convince myself that this was worth the risk, because going to jail didn’t sound appealing. Even when Eren assured me that that wouldn’t happen, I had my doubts.

            While I was mulling it over, Eren slipped a fifty-dollar bill beside the saucer. “Coming?” he asked. Before I could change my mind, which I was ten seconds away from doing, I stood up and nodded. “Okay, let’s head out. Since I need to hurry, I’ll drive us there. I don’t have time to give you directions.”

            “Okay.” That was for the best. Otherwise I’d wind up convincing myself to drive straight home.

            “See you around, Sasha!” Eren called as he walked to the front entrance. I was quick to follow after him, already feeling like I’d committed a crime. This proved that I was a straitlaced guy. Maybe this was what I needed right now. After all, you were only twenty once, right? You had to live it up while you still could. At least that’s what I would continue to tell myself in order to not back down from this.

            Out in the parking lot, I kept to myself until Eren stopped in front of a sleek black motorcycle. Then I looked from him to the bike several times, but nothing changed. Was he really expecting me to just hop right on? I didn’t even know him.

            As if he were reading my mind, Eren patted the seat. When I didn’t budge an inch, he leaned up against the bike, folding his arms over his chest. “Are you this conservative about everything?”

            “Is there something wrong with that?”

            “Yes,” he responded right away. “It’s boring.”

            This guy had some nerve. It didn’t surprise me any, seeing as his sister was just as unpredictable. But I wasn’t going to let him have the last laugh. I’d prove that I could get on the back of a motorcycle. “Move aside,” I said, swinging my leg over the seat while I pretended that my heart wasn’t thumping wildly in my chest. I could handle this. Nothing bad was going to happen.

            With a sinful smirk on his face, Eren handed me a matte black helmet. “Put that on.” As I took my glasses off, he climbed on the bike and I slid forward with the momentum, my front pressing against his back. I didn’t even have time to feel embarrassed about it before he said, “Hold on,” and started up the motorcycle. I quickly shoved my glasses into my messenger bag and slid on the helmet. Then we were moving forward.

            Needless to say, I tried to avoid holding onto him. I really did. But when he picked up speed, I all but strangled his waist with my arms. We were going way too fast, buildings and cars flashing by us in an eruption of colors and sounds that the helmet couldn’t muffle. I tried to distract myself from it, but every sensation and sound was heightened. I was hyperaware of the feel of Eren’s hard stomach beneath my hands, his warm back pressed to my chest. It was all I could think about.

            For the rest of the ride, I focused on Eren and Eren alone. It made things a little easier for me. So I wasn’t even aware when we stopped. It took him giving my side a few pats to bring me back to the here and now.

            “Oh,” I said in surprise, releasing my hold on him like the contact was burning me.

            “We need to get inside. If I’m late, they’ll count that as a forfeit.”

            In response, I hurried off the bike, tripping over my own feet in the process. Eren caught me before I could fall on my face. He didn’t let go until I regained my balance. “Sorry,” I mumbled under my breath.

            “Don’t worry about it.” He put his hands on either side of the helmet and slipped it off my head. “Let’s go. I’ll explain the rules once we’re inside.”

            When he’d said warehouse earlier, I pictured something out of a movie, but all that lied ahead of us was a red brick building that was smaller than your average grocery store. It didn’t look very impressive. Then again, when I thought about it that was probably done on purpose, to not draw any unwanted attention. It put me at ease. If a cop decided to drive by here, they wouldn’t suspect a thing.

            After Eren hung his helmet on one of the handlebars of his motorcycle, he started walking. I hurried to catch up, having to speed walk in order to keep in pace with him. He had this faraway look in his eyes and there was something frightening about it. Sasha, the waitress back at the diner, had said that he was the best of the best when it came to fighting. But what had he done to earn that title?

            “You know,” said Eren as we reached the side door, “Isabel doesn’t approve of me doing this. I’m surprised that she’s willing to get one of her best friend’s involved.”

            I swallowed, nervous again. “Um, well, I’m pretty low on funds right now.” Really low on funds. Otherwise I’d be at home with a cup of tea in hand.

            “So I’ve heard.” He opened the door and gestured for me to go in first. “Stick with me and that’ll be a problem of the past.”

            Once again, he gave me no time to react, urging me inside with a hand pressed to the small of my back. I stepped into a dim entryway, Eren close behind. I didn’t know where to go from here, so I waited for him to squeeze by me and take the lead. When he didn’t, I opened my mouth to ask where to go, but before I could utter a word, he leaned in close and whispered, “Go to the left. Follow the hallway.”

            Fumbling forward, I attempted to forget the way his warm breath on my ear had sent a fierce shiver through my spine. That wasn’t hard to do, considering the hallway I was walking down was dark enough to make me question my rash decision to accept this sketchy job. This could end in murder and I had no one to blame but myself. And Isabel. She led me to believe that this was a safe option to earn money.

            When I reached the end of the hallway, Eren snaked his arm around me to open up a door in front of us. It revealed a staircase that led down to a dark room. Okay, this was my cue to head back the other way. I was not about to end up on the ten o’clock news.

            “It’s an underground warehouse,” Eren said from behind me, sensing my uncertainty. “Haven’t you ever seen the movie Fight Club?

            “No.”

            “Yeah, well, it’s what inspired me to start this thing up.”

            I grabbed onto the strap of my messenger bag that rested against my chest and took the first step. I’d already come this far. There was no point in turning back now. I needed to see this through to the end.

            The closer we got to the warehouse, the louder it became. I could hear shouting and the stomping of feet, could feel the vibrations from the uproar. Though I was heading toward the unknown, something inside of me welled up. Was this excitement? Or fear? I couldn’t tell anymore, but I wanted to see what was down there, wanted to know why Eren was called the best of the best.

            The first thing I saw when I made it to the main floor was a large group of men, all shirtless and sweaty. They didn’t notice us come in until Eren shouted, “MEN!” then they all turned around at once, their eyes honing in on me. “This is Levi. He’s going to be our new referee. Don’t give him any problems.”

            The men bombarded me with greetings after that.

            Feeling the need to respond somehow, I raised my hand in an awkward wave. “Hi,” I said.

            A tall blonde called out, “The new meat is cute.”

            “Touch him and I’ll break your fucking neck, Reiner,” Eren interjected, pointing at the man all the while. Then to the crowd, “He’s off limits for everyone!” I eyed him like he’d gone insane. He smiled at me when he noticed, resting his hand on the top of my head. “Trust me, it needed to be said. Some of these guys would eat you alive and I don’t think Isabel would appreciate that.”

            Well then.       

            “You were going to explain the rules to me?” I asked in an attempt to erase the image his latest sentence had conjured up.

            “It’s simple, really. Fighters aren’t allowed to hit anything below the waist; no biting; and if they yell out, ‘white,’ it’s an automatic forfeit.”

            “Okay,” I said, nodding. “I get it.”

            “Good.” Without warning, Eren grabbed the collar of his shirt and yanked it up and over his head. I was greeted with a six-pack that made my mouth water a little bit. Wow. Holy shit. “Mind holding this?” he asked, tossing the shirt to me before I could reply. That was all good and dandy, because I couldn’t speak anyway.

            “Eh, um, where do I stand when the fight starts?” I sputtered out. He had a black tribal tattoo that snaked up his well-defined bicep and wrapped around his shoulder, which was smooth and tan and perfect. God, Isabel could’ve told me that her older brother was sexy as hell. It would’ve been nice to know ahead of time.

            Eren smirked when my eyes finally met his after they had traveled up the length of his body. My face heated up in a millisecond, and I was forced to avert my gaze (for the sake of my sanity). “Right over there.” He pointed to an empty spot behind the men and I rushed over to it without saying another word, too embarrassed that I’d been caught staring. This whole thing was crazy, but I was still here to perform a job. I had to keep some semblance of professionalism.

            Once I was far enough away, I turned my eyes to the crowd. Everyone was gathering around Eren as he made his way to the center of the room, whooping and hollering loud enough to make me flinch back. He raised his arms up to quiet them down some, which stretched out his torso in a way that couldn’t be ignored.

            “So, who’s taking me on tonight?” Eren questioned after everyone settled down, smiling wide to egg on any challengers. “I know you guys decided already. Let me hear it.”

            The blonde from earlier (Reiner, was it?) stepped up. A barrage of yells and whistles assaulted my ears. I clung onto my bag, fishing out my glasses so I could see everything that went on during the fight. The rules were simple enough. If Reiner or Eren tried anything, I’d call them out on it. That’s all I had to do.

            “Reiner,” Eren said with a grin on his face. “Didn’t learn your lesson last time?”

            Reiner cracked his neck. “I’m winning tonight.”

            “We’ll see about that. You see, I promised Levi over there that he’d go home with sixteen hundred dollars cash. Do you really think I’m going to let him down?”

            Everyone turned to stare at me, putting me on the spot yet again. “U-um,” I stammered, unable to go on.

            “So cute,” Reiner said, giving me a wink.

            No. Please, no.

            Suddenly Eren’s playful expression melted away to a serious one. “Now I’m really going to hurt you.”

            Reiner raised his fists. “Oh? Did I hit a nerve? Don’t tell me you have the hots for the cutie over there?”

            I wanted to tell this Reiner guy that Eren was just trying to protect me for his sister’s sake, that he didn’t want to deal with her wrath if anything happened to me while I was here, but I couldn’t work up the nerve to say it aloud.

            “Levi!” Eren called.

            I jolted. “Y-yes?”

            “Come over here and start the fight.”

            “Come again?” I asked. I had no idea what he was talking about.

            Eren waved me over. “Come here.”

            Ignoring everyone’s stares as best I could, I made my way over to him. When I got to him, he put his hands on my shoulders, but before he could say anything, Reiner cooed, “Just say ‘fight’ and wave us on, cutie.” Someone in the crowd laughed, which pissed me off. This guy was getting on my nerves.

            I turned away from Eren to face this overgrown monkey. “You can stop that now. Seriously, it’s never going to happen.” I was shocked that I managed to say all that without stuttering. I felt incredibly proud of myself, and when I saw Eren grinning from ear to ear, I flashed him a smug smile. See, I can take care of myself.

            “Okay,” I said, raising my arm above my head and rejoicing in Reiner’s stunned expression. “Fight!” I brought my hand down and stepped back right away. The sound of knuckles meeting flesh was immediate. I didn’t see what happened, but when I looked up, I saw that Reiner’s nose was bleeding.

            So, Eren really was the best of the best. It wasn’t just talk. I was glad that I’d stuck around to see him in action.