It was easy for Eren to divide his life into two halves--before he had turned into a Titan, and after.
What hadn’t been easy was getting used to the changes. People treated him differently. He felt different. And then there was Hanji. It was unnerving how she would appear (almost out of thin air) to pepper him with questions, but after a while he’d gotten used to it. Now he could be helping to mend a wooden gate, or hauling clean clothes up from the laundry, or brushing his teeth in the evening and he thought nothing of it when he heard her voice asking--
“Eren, when you--”
“Eren, what happens when--”
“Eren, have you tried--”
He was so used to her sudden appearances now that he barely noticed them--he’d do his best to answer her while the activity of the Corp hummed along around them. She’d ask him how it felt to do certain things and what he remembered about the transformations, and if anything had changed before and after. Hanji was thorough, you had to give her that.
But there was one thing she never asked about, probably because it never occurred to her. That was a relief but it made him feel slightly guilty. But seriously, no, he wasn’t going to talk about that, and definitely not to Hanji.
When they had started experimenting in earnest he was always exhausted afterward--and it was never comfortable to wake up to find Mikasa staring at him with sad hangdog eyes. He couldn’t fault his friends for being concerned, but he would have preferred a little more privacy.
Over time the transformations were wearing him out less. Though after one particularly harrowing week Armin had to shake him awake for morning training.
“Ugh,” he said groggily, pushing himself up. They were in the cramped boys’ room in the cabin, beds stacked awkwardly close together, but somehow he’d slept through everyone else waking up and getting ready.
“Are you okay?” Armin asked in concern. “Do you want me to tell the Captain you’re not well?”
“No, I’m fine,” he said, giving Armin a wan smile. He stood up to pull his uniform on, wishing it wasn’t so hot.
An hour later he was swinging through the trees on the 3DM with the rest of the squad--and then suddenly the world went brown and fuzzy at the edges.
When he woke up the others were staring down at him, with expressions ranging from annoyance to concern.
Oh god, he thought in alarm, what now?
“All right,” Levi’s voice, impatient. It was then that he realized that he was lying on the ground, half in the Captain’s lap. Oh, god!
“Give him some space. Run through the maneuvers on your own.”
“But--” Mikasa protested.
“Mikasa,” Levi said sharply, and she pouted as the others hauled her off.
Levi was gently pulling him to a sitting position (he’d find out later, in humiliating detail, how he’d nearly swung smack into a tree after fainting--fainting!--in mid-air, and Levi had snatched him and brought him safely to the ground), and he heard footsteps approaching.
Hanji sank down on her haunches beside them, holding a mug and some sweet biscuits.
“I’m okay,” he protested weakly. They ignored him; Levi crouched behind him, supporting his back, and Hanji brought the mug to his lips. It was cold apple cider, and he sipped it gratefully.
When he’d drained it she gave him the biscuits, and after he’d eaten two they helped him to his feet.
“Did you eat anything this morning, Eren?” Hanji asked him gently.
He flushed. “I wasn’t feeling well…” he muttered. He hadn’t been able to stomach another bowl of porridge; Sasha had eaten his.
Neither of them said anything else as they brought him inside, and Eren began to really worry.
The cabin they were staying in wasn’t large. Inside, they stopped at a tiny bedroom that faced the back of the house. Being on the western side it was cooler, and Hanji always left her windows open.
“Squad Leader!” he protested as they sat him down on the bed. “This is your room--”
“You can rest in here for the afternoon, Eren,” she said kindly.
“You need to tell us when you’re feeling unwell,” Levi said, and Eren squirmed. “That’s an order Eren, do you hear me?”
“I’m sorry…” he said faintly.
“You’re not in trouble,” Hanji said reassuringly. “Just tell us what happened. Did you sleep well last night? Did you eat enough at dinner?”
“I slept fine,” he said, feeling childish and pathetic. He’d trained hard this week, wanting so badly to do well and be accepted and it had all backfired...he’d just made things worse by showing he couldn’t take care of himself.
“He’s not eating enough,” Levi said, decisively. “Are you?” he asked, when Eren turned his green eyes up in surprise. “He probably needs more food to recover from the transformations. You should have thought of that, Four-Eyes.”
“You’re right!” Hanji said, smacking her forehead. “I should have realized! I’m sorry, Eren, do you feel hungrier after you turn back? Do you--” and they were off again, and he had to do his best to answer a dozen questions while Levi slipped out of the room. He came back a few minutes later, while Hanji wondered aloud if the hunger the Titans felt was the same as what humans did.
“That’s enough for now, Hanji,” Levi said, and Hanji left reluctantly, mumbling to herself about how to go about testing differences in Titan hunger as she closed the door.
Levi sat on the bed next to him, putting a tray between them.
“Eat that,” he said mildly. “Am I right?”
Eren shrugged, embarrassed. Food wasn’t something you complained about, not if you’d lived through almost starving to death in the camps. In the Survey Corp everyone groused good naturedly about wishing there was more variety or just more, but they weren’t going hungry, not really. Asking for extra food would have put him above the other soldiers...he wasn’t worthier or more deserving. It would just create more of a difference between them...and more resentment toward him.
“Eren,” Levi said. “You need to take care of yourself to do your job. You don’t need to feel guilty about that.”
“Okay,” Eren said, not knowing what else to say.
Levi stood up and left him, and Eren pulled the napkin off of the bowl. It was bean and vegetable soup, with sausage sliced into it, and bread. He ate all of it before falling sound asleep in Hanji’s bed, and he stayed there until Armin came and woke him up for dinner.
The next day Levi gave them different duties; in the afternoon he had tea alone with Levi while everyone else was off doing chores.
There was another separate meal for him again. Levi just drank his tea.
“Stop it,” Levi said.
“I can hear you thinking from over here,” Levi said, and Eren felt himself blushing. “If you’re too weak to fight for us you’re worse than useless. Your job is to take care of yourself, so that you can fight, do you understand?”
“Then eat,” Levi said, and Eren did.
The extra meals continued, even after they left the cabin. If there wasn’t time during the day then Levi would call him into his office at the end of the night, and keep him company while he ate. It was mostly leftovers from the officers’ meals when they were at the barracks with the rest of the Corp, but sometimes if they got extra milk or eggs and then it would be custard or bread pudding.
Levi would usually have some then, and though Eren tried to hide it Levi caught him smiling.
“What are you laughing about?”
“Nothing. It’s just nice to see you enjoying something besides tea,” Eren said, letting a teasing note slip into his voice.
Faintly, Levi returned the smile. “We didn’t have things like this when I was growing up,” was all he said.
Eventually Eren got used to the extra food. It was another thing that set him apart, but easier to endure than most of his strangeness. And he liked being able to spend the extra time with Levi; unless he had duties elsewhere he made it a point to stay with Eren and take tea with him while he ate. The others had asked him at first what he was doing, but ‘extra training’ was always a reasonable excuse when it came to the Captain, so after a while it was just another unremarkable part of their lives.
They were back at another cabin, only this one was even smaller. He and Jean and Armin and Connie were sleeping in the hayloft in the barn, and half of Hanji’s squad were in tents outside. The lack of privacy was...making things difficult.
Eren hadn’t known it was possible to miss the barracks this much.
Now that he wasn’t light-headed from hunger all the time it made his other problem more uncomfortable. If he could just deal with it he’d be fine, but it had been a week and the only time he had more than five minutes alone was when he went to the privy and...no. Just no.
It didn’t help that almost every day this week Levi had taken him along to hike to the top of a nearby hill; they ate lunch up there (Levi bringing extra food for Eren). Eren knew the lack of privacy grated on Levi as well. He ought to have been pleased that Levi thought well enough of him that he brought him along. And he was gratified, but...that was part of the problem.
When they were alone up there, the breeze blowing up and drying the sweat from the back of his neck, sitting close enough that he could smell the warm soapy oiled leather smell that was Levi, overlooking the green valley below...he was having thoughts. Thoughts that would have been a lot more pleasant if he could have gone away and dealt with them in private.
He wasn’t allowed to be alone; that was the problem. They were too afraid of him being kidnapped again, and so from morning to night he was always with someone, and forget about the hayloft--he could barely sleep up there with Connie bumping against him on one side, and Armin on the other.
Finally at the end of the week he couldn’t take it anymore; he told himself that if he snuck out for a half hour no one would notice. Then he could survive another week--probably. But if he didn’t take care of this, he was going to lose it during a transformation, or worse. He’d be up at the top of that hill, and Levi would ask him why he had a mysterious wet spot on the front of his pants. Augh! No.
He waited until after midnight--only when he was sure the other boys were sleeping did he quietly slip out of his bedroll and climb over to the window--there were enough handholds going down that he didn’t need to use the creaky ladder. Near the bottom he dropped silently to the ground, holding a thin blanket around his shoulders, and then he crept to the woods nearby.
He wouldn’t go far--he’d be in shouting distance the whole time, just in case anybody did try to kidnap him.
He found a big tree with heavy exposed roots lying above the ground, and he sank down into the y-shaped alcove they made. He leaned his back against the bark, and listened for a minute just to be sure no one was coming after him. It was quiet. He could hear the crickets, and a distant owl somewhere, and the breeze running through the leaves overhead--that was all.
He sighed in relief. From here he could see the scarred white chunks in the trees that their maneuver gear left behind, the pulp of fresh wood exposed wherever a grapple had bit in.
He undid the front of his pants, and pulled his cock into his hand. He was hard already, but that wasn’t unusual; it felt like he’d been hard most of the week. What he’d never told Hanji (or anyone else) was that after that first time he’d transformed his sex drive had gone crazy. He figured he’d always been pretty normal before that, but afterwards he needed to jerk off just to feel like he wasn’t dying.
It wasn’t even fun. It was just a need--like hunger--that bit into him and made him weak when he didn’t take care of it. He figured it was another side effect--like his hotter body temperature, and his hunger, and his rapid healing--of the Titan abilities. Hanji probably would have had some theory about it--but he’d rather die than tell her.
He put both of his hands around his cock, stroking up and down, his breath already quick and short. It had been so long he knew he wasn’t even going to need the full half hour he’d alotted. He gave himself the luxury of slowness, at least at first. He let one of those flashes he’d had fill his mind, and then there he was at the top of the hill, with Levi only a few inches away, leaning into him…
“Eren,” Levi said, “what are you doing?”
He bent forward, hunching himself up protectively.
“Oh,” Levi said then, in a completely different tone. And then again, “Oh...I’m sorry.”
Eren kept his head down, not looking at him. “Can’t I--” he said, his voice breaking on a sob, aching with humiliation, “Just have five minutes of privacy?”
Perfect. Here he was--humiliated again, in front of the one person whose opinion of him he really cared about.
He was too miserable and horrified to look up. He sat there, waiting for Levi to come and grab him by the neck and throw him back into the barn. At least he wouldn’t tell everybody. This would just sit between the two of them--Levi would probably never bring it up again, so Eren would just think of it privately and be mortified every time he saw him. Forever. He forced himself to stay still, but all he wanted to do was sob again, and sink into the ground, and disappear.
Levi was walking towards him. He made himself rigid and still. He wanted to say something--maybe “I wish I was dead.” But Levi didn’t like drama--anything like that would make things worse.
Levi slipped in behind him, and then his legs were around Eren’s, and his arms were circling Eren’s waist.
“Wh-what?” Eren said. Stunned he looked down to see the warm glow of Levi’s hands in the darkness. They brushed over Eren’s shirt, his ribcage. Lower.
Both his hands reached down to grasp Eren’s cock, and Eren moaned out loud. He was painfully hard and Levi squeezed him--sensing it, maybe. Eren couldn’t take it. He was sobbing, in pleasure this time, heady, full-blown, seeing-every-color-at-once pleasure.
Levi was pulling and stroking him--he was pushing back into that strong hold, out of his mind with how good it was. His heart was going to pound out of his chest. Then Levi turned his head and licked the spot between his neck and shoulder, he sucked the skin there and bit, and that was it, Eren was done. Hot semen splashed out from between Levi’s fingers onto the ground. It was the best and longest orgasm of his life, going on and on, and Levi hadn’t let him go. He kept stroking him through it, milking him dry, as Eren moaned and arched back.
Afterward Levi pulled him to his feet and led him back to the barn without speaking, as if he’d merely sleepwalked away. Up the ladder (he could have given a fuck about the creaks at this point) he climbed, stepping over the other boys and collapsing onto his bedroll. Then he slept, facedown, his arms out at his sides.
Levi didn’t say anything to him at breakfast the next morning. Eren kept his eyes on his porridge--determined. To do what, he didn’t know, but he was definitely determined.
They spent the morning training, then they broke for lunch in the shade of the trees. Levi hadn’t said anything to him about hiking up the hill today; Eren guessed they weren’t doing that anymore. He tried not to have any feelings about it, one way or another, though Jean said silkily under his breath, “What’d you do to piss him off? I thought you were his favorite,” and Eren threw a crumpled napkin in his face, the most he could do without getting into trouble. After lunch Levi gave them all chores, to a collective (though subvocal) groan. Eren was the last one to get his assignment.
Levi put a satchel in his lap-- “You can clean the hayloft,” he said, pointedly, before walking away. Eren sighed. He tried to tell himself that there were worse things than being sent off to masturbate by his commanding officer to keep him out of trouble, but he couldn’t think of many.
It was definitely not fun. Especially compared to yesterday. But he got through it and had a perfunctory orgasm before flopping over in defeat. He let himself wallow for five minutes before getting up--by god, the hayloft was going to sparkle when he was done.
Every day there was some excuse for Eren to be alone for a few minutes, and then they moved again, to another cabin, closer to Survey Corp HQ.
Levi wasn’t exactly avoiding him, but he’d stopped spending any time alone with him. Eren accepted this with resignation, eating his extra meals in solitude. He didn’t jerk off every day--he couldn’t summon up the desire for it even though there was opportunity now. The boys had their own room with actual beds so it was easier. But then Jean had to get the flu, and he was bedridden for a week, coughing and moaning (theatrically, Eren thought with annoyance).
Levi avoided them all then, wearing a handkerchief around his mouth most of the time. With Jean hacking and coughing and the cramped quarters of the cabin there was no privacy anymore, and what had been an unimportant need was rapidly growing more urgent.
He started making mistakes during training, and after one particularly difficult morning Levi took him to task. He was giving him a knowing, impatient look. Eren squirmed.
“Jean’s there all the time,” he protested in a low murmur, before Levi could speak.
Levi sighed in exasperation. “Is this a thing with you?” he demanded. “Like the food?”
Eren shrugged--then, reluctantly, nodded. He kept his eyes firmly on his shoes.
“God damn it Eren,” Levi said. “Why didn’t you say something?”
“Please don’t tell Hanji,” he begged, his heart sinking. That was the only conceivable way things could get worse.
“Fine,” Levi said britlle-voiced. “But the next time, you fucking tell me what’s going on with you, I don’t care how embarrassing it is.”
“Okay,” he said, hoping he sounded convincing.
“Use my room,” Levi said in resignation.
“But--!” Eren said, jerking his head up. Levi glared at him, and Eren instantly regretted it. “Okay,” he said weakly, and turned rapidly on his heel. God, what was going to happen next? Was he ever going to reach rock bottom, or was he just going to keep looking worse and worse in front of Levi?
He’ll catch me having sex with a horse, or something, Eren thought, depressed. He’d never had any amorous feelings towards horses (Jean included). Somehow though he thought it was going to happen. Or something worse.
In Levi’s room he looked around, feeling lost. There was a bed, and an upholstered chair, and a small rag rug; that was about it for furnishings. He sighed. The bed was neatly made up, but no, he couldn’t. He lay down on his back on the floor, but that was no good either, and then he sat in the chair, and holy fuck it smelled like Levi. He shuddered, going from soft to rock hard almost instantly, and he pulled himself carefully out of his pants. He kept his handkerchief crumpled in his hand--shooting back and forth between embarrassment and deep arousal as he stroked himself--imagining Levi here, behind him, the way he had been before.
He had tried, vainly, to think of things besides Levi that were sexy. Anything that would wean him off his infatuation, and that one night in particular. It hadn’t worked. If he thought about guys, they turned into Levi. If he thought about girls they...also turned into Levi.
Now, though, with Levi’s heavenly scent all around him he was having a hard time remembering why any of this was a terrible idea. He held his cock tight, making a fist and thrusting into it. He came thinking of Levi, remembering how it had felt to be held in his arms. Protected. Safe. Loved.
“Oh, you fucking idiot,” he muttered to himself, coming into the handkerchief, shaking with the best orgasm he’d had since that night in the woods. “Eren, you fucking idiot.”
He’d known he was a little bit in love with Levi for a while. He’d been able to admit that much to himself. Apparently it was a lot worse than that.
Now he was hoping (unethically) for anything to delay Jean’s recovery, but after a few more days he was up and tottering around (still theatrically, in Eren’s opinion) and Eren’s invitation to use Levi’s room was at an end.
But the damage had been done--before he could sort of get off vaguely thinking of other things. Now he was kind of desperately wondering if there was any way he could steal one of Levi’s dirty cravats. He was disgusted with himself, but that didn’t stop him from stalking the dirty laundry piles hopefully.
Then he and Historia were kidnapped (again), and in the cavern Levi was looking at him, saying, “Eren...I’m sorry for always making you choose…”
They escaped, and he had a new ability. He could harden. He could make the material that formed the walls, he could fill the breach. He worked hard with Hanji on the experiments. He was useful. There was plenty of food for everyone, and he had his own room now at the castle.
Levi was the only one who hadn’t hugged him after their escape. Even Erwin had hugged him. Even Jean.
He told himself it didn’t matter--Levi wasn’t a hugger, and his interest in him was totally unwholesome and pervy anyway, and Levi had been really nice and gentle with him ever since they’d gotten back. And none of it mattered, because he wanted that hug damn it! And he was too much of a coward to initiate it himself, and then it was too late. And he felt cheated.
At the end of each day he was usually too exhausted to abuse himself, and the times he wasn’t he’d wake up twelve hours later with one hand in his shorts, unable to remember if he’d actually come the night before, still too tired to bother.
When he started coughing blood on top of the wall one day Levi had something to say about it. And he didn’t even care because Levi’s hands were on him. And no, it wasn’t a hug, and Levi being afraid he was going to keel over and die was a pretty far cry from romance but he didn’t care. Levi was touching him and he leaned into it--to his surprise, wanting it for its own sake.
Afterward Levi brought him back to his room, having forbidden any more experiments for at least a day. Eren put up a token protest, but he was a little relieved. He could hardly remember ever feeling so tired.
When they were in Eren’s room Levi crossed his arms and looked at him.
“Now what?” he said.
“I’ve just...been pushing myself too hard,” Eren said. “Like you said.”
“I got you your own room,” Levi said reproachfully, and Eren sighed.
“I’m just tired,” he mumbled.
“Too tired to jerk off?” Levi said skeptically.
“I try but I fall asleep,” he said, feeling small and pathetic. “I’m gonna sit down,” only then he was falling, slowly, and Levi was hugging him after all.
When he woke up he was in his own bed, and Levi was sitting on the edge, frowning at him.
“If you don’t take care of yourself--”
“I know, I know,” he muttered, covering his face with his hands. “Please, I don’t want to have this conversation,” he said, because he was afraid of what Levi would say next. If he said, What do you need? Eren was going to say, You. Or Levi would just see it on his face.
“Neither do I,” Levi said darkly. And Eren hoped that would be the end of it, but then Levi said, “Can’t you just find someone…?”
Eren snorted. “You make it sound easy.”
Levi didn’t say anything for a long time. They both sat there in a silence that seemed to stretch on forever. Then Levi slipped into the bed behind him, apparently having made up his mind, and Eren’s breath caught in his throat. He wanted to say something--he wanted to say, No, you’re just going to make it worse.
He wanted to have enough self-respect to say he didn’t need another pity fuck. He didn’t say either of those things--his traitorous body did the talking for him, and Levi’s arms were around him, and it was all he’d ever wanted. Levi reached down, tugging at Eren’s pants, pulling them down so his groin was exposed to the cool air of the room and he shivered.
It felt just as good this time. Nicer maybe. Levi’s hands were calloused and scarred and deadly, and feeling them restrained to gentleness was a powerful turn-on.
It was probably kind of fucked up to want a lover who could beat the crap out of you, (not that he wanted to be beaten, but the dangerous potential was definitely attractive) but then he’d always been a fucked up person.
When Levi started in on his neck again he shuddered. He thrust into Levi’s hands, and Levi held him tighter, stroked him rougher, and then he was coming everywhere, hot and sticky all over the sheets.
Levi left without saying anything. Eren didn’t call him back. He was thinking. Once was a fluke, but twice...twice meant it could happen again.
And it did. It wasn’t common or reciprocal but it happened. Eren had half-heartedly given some thought as to how he could manipulate things into making it more likely, but in the end it seemed to follow some formula only Levi could see.
What he wanted was for Levi to be impressed by him--to be proud of him. To want him because he was powerful, and strong, and noble. What he got was Levi taking care of him when he was at his worst. And pathetically, he was weak enough to take what he could get.
He knew Levi didn’t love him, or even desire him. But Levi felt responsible for him, and Levi felt affection for him (that, he didn’t doubt). That would have to be enough, at least until he outgrew this (or lost his mind).
Much as he would have liked the outcome where Levi fell in love with him, and they had some kind of life together he was too much of a realist to believe that was possible.
Then Erwin made the announcement that they were retaking Shinganshina.
Everyone pretty much lost their minds then--you could barely turn around without accidentally walking in on a threesome or someone getting boinked in a supply closet (and there were fewer things that irritated Levi more than people having sex in the same room as the cleaning supplies).
Eren told himself that it was unfair--really and truly unfair--that he might be going to die a (technical) virgin when there was at least one person who didn’t find him totally repulsive. He didn’t wait until the last night; he knew his friends would be looking for him then. But another night…
Levi opened the door to his room. He didn’t even ask Eren what he was doing there.
Eren saw something flash over his face--distress? sorrow?--and then he said, “Eren...this isn’t a good idea.”
Which wasn’t a no.
“Please,” he said, and a part of him hated himself. A bigger part of him was terrified and excited.
Levi looked at him for a long moment, gray eyes unreadable, and then he let him in.
He reached for Levi first, and kissed him, and for a moment he was rapturously happy. Levi kissed him back, but even in his delight he could tell Levi was holding back.
That’s enough, he told himself. Oddly enough it was. “I’m sorry,” he said, gently letting Levi go. “I’ll go, if you want. It’s okay.”
Levi looked away from him, tugging at his cravat which had come loose. He dropped it on his desk. “You can stay, if you want to,” was all he said.
His whole body was tight and drawn with desire. Levi was facing away from him, and he pulled the jacket off from behind, tugging it loose. Levi let him. He unbuttoned Levi’s shirt, and his own, and when he went to touch the waistband of Levi’s pants Levi stilled his hands and pushed them away.
Well. That was okay. He tried not to be disappointed.
They were in the bed, kissing again, still with that restraint on Levi’s part. Levi touched him through his pants, and Eren pulled them down. Levi’s hands were on him, familiar now, and he sighed in pleasure. But when he went to touch Levi again he was pushed away.
He stopped to lean away, pushing himself up on his forearms.
“Please,” he said, quietly, the word loud in the room.
Levi swallowed and looked away. “What do you want?” he asked.
It hurt to hear that. But I want you to want me, that wasn’t a reasonable request was it? He traced the lines on Levi’s skin, the ones that had marked him from years of using the maneuver gear.
“Can’t we just…” he said running his hand along Levi’s stomach, tracing the hard planes. “For tonight?”
“All right,” Levi said, almost inaudible, and this time when Eren went to touch him he didn’t push away. He was more relieved than he could say to find that Levi was hard; if he hadn’t been, he wouldn’t have been able to stomach any more of this.
But Levi was hard, and the length of his cock (thicker than Eren, almost as long, and that was interesting) felt good in his hand. And when he squeezed Levi made a noise of involuntary pleasure and closed his eyes, and he tightened his grasp on Eren’s shoulder.
Eren had gone into this with high hopes, but he quickly realized he was going to have to temper his expectations. There was no way Levi was going to fuck him tonight, not willingly. And he’d demanded and insisted and bullied as much as he could--his moral compass just wasn’t that flexible. Feeling a sudden stab of conscience he pulled back a little. They were kneeling on the bed--facing each other. He could feel Levi’s cock on his thigh; it was incredibly distracting.
“Is this...okay?” he asked. He wasn’t brave enough to ask again if Levi wanted him to go. He was too afraid Levi would say yes.
Levi quirked a smile at him. “Yeah,” he said. “It’s fine.”
“Are you sure,” Eren asked, fingers finding their way back to the grooves in Levi’s skin.
Levi brought his fingers to his lips and kissed them. Then he leaned back on the bed, pulling Eren along with him so that he was lying on top.
Oh thank god, Eren thought, and he started kissing Levi again, again, again.
Eren stayed most of the night, but as dawn came Levi prodded him awake.
“You need to go back now,” he said, “before Mikasa starts hunting for you.” He was only half joking.
“Okay,” Eren said reluctantly, rising to dress. He wanted to kiss Levi again, but he sensed that the moment had passed. When he was dressed he sat on the edge of the bed and kissed Levi anyway.
This is the last time Eren thought, suddenly depressed. One way or another.
At some point each one of them realizes, independently and separately, that whatever secrets they discover in the basement won’t be worth the losses they’ve suffered.
Afterwards Eren watched as Hanji helped Levi clean and bandage his wounds. He can see even from a distance that that the two of them are exhausted, and that they’ve lost more than the rest of them can comprehend.
When Hanji finished Levi leaned his head forward so that it rested on her shoulder almost as if by accident. She pressed her head against his. They stayed there for a long, long time.
Eren was right about it being the last time. No matter how kind Levi is to him, no matter how much Eren loves him, there’s an enormous gulf between them.
He had tried to convince Levi to save Armin, tried to make him understand why it was the right choice.
Only later did he think about how Levi always let him choose.
And later he thought of all the things that Levi had given him. Food and privacy and sex and affection. Whenever he’d seen that Eren had been lacking something he’d done his best to provide it. Eren had never thought to wonder what it might have cost him.
Seeing Hanji and Levi alone in their private hell, while the rest of them have survived more or less intact, he wondered how much of Levi’s decision had been motivated by making the right choice...and how much by giving Eren yet another thing he had selfishly insisted that he needed.
He didn’t regret Armin’s survival over Erwin’s. He still believed in his heart that it was the right thing. But that wasn’t enough to save him from the guilt.
A few weeks after their return from Shinganshina they were all still putting things back together. In spite of their staggering losses there were a lot of people interested in joining the SC again, and Hanji, as the new leader of the Corp, was busy from the moment she woke up until the moment she went to bed.
One day Eren walked passed her office--what had once been Erwin’s office--and he heard quiet sobs coming from inside. He stopped, and then he made himself knock.
“Come in,” she said right away. He did, closing the door behind him. She was standing next to a desk full of papers and a bottle of wine, and she smiled at him through her tears.
He didn’t say anything, just crossed the room and pulled her into his arms. She leaned into him and cried as though her heart was breaking.
An hour later they had finished the bottle of wine, and Hanji was opening another one.
“Did you hear about when we did a midnight raid on the MP?” she asked.
“No,” he said, grinning widely.
“We were never caught,” she said, her eyes sparkling behind her glasses, “So don’t repeat this. But one night one of us got the idea to go and raid their larder. Someone had left a set of keys behind in a tavern, and one of us found them--”
“And didn’t return them?”
“Of course not! So Mike and Levi and I and a couple of others went over there and robbed them blind.” She laughed. “We ate well that winter. They were furious, but there was no sign of a break in--we had the keys, after all.”
“They didn’t suspect you?” Eren asked, grinning, imagining them--especially Levi--flying over rooftops, laden with hams and lamb legs and wheels of cheese.
“If they did, I never heard about it. Erwin knew of course, but he didn’t say a word.” She smiled reminiscently. “I don’t want to forget them,” she added quietly. “It’s painful to remember. But I don’t want to forget.” She shook her head. “To tell you the truth, I feel like I just joined a week ago. And now I’m the Commander of the Survey Corp. It’s like a dream. I’m half-hoping I’ll wake up in my bed, and still just be one of the new recruits again.” She drained her wine glass and reached out a hand to Eren, and he obligingly pulled her to her feet.
“You’re getting taller,” she told him. “Pretty soon it’s going to be one of you.”
“Hanji--” he protested.
“Probably Armin,” she mused. “Though Jean has potential as well. Don’t look at me like that, Eren. We all have to think about our legacy. And I have to get back to this mountain,” she said, waving at the papers on the desk.
He nodded, saluting her, and he turned to go.
“Eren,” she said, without turning. “Thank you. For letting me remember.”
With their ranks swollen again with the newly enlisted Historia offered to have a banquet for them. To celebrate their victory, and to remember the dead. It felt strange to Eren to be celebrating at all when they’ve lost so much--especially with so many new faces. These people--most of them didn’t know the ones who’d gone. They hadn’t been there. Eren told himself that it wasn’t their fault but still--he couldn’t help feeling there was something awful about it.
As if they were feasting on the bones of their friends.
The guilt he felt hadn’t diminished; if anything it had increased. His initial joy at getting Armin back had faded. It wasn’t a choice he regretted, but what he felt for Levi made it impossible for him to think of the situation without pain.
He kept dropping by Hanji’s office to talk to her. Sometimes she cried on his shoulder and sometimes they talked. Sometimes they didn’t even do that--he’d just sit nearby while she worked, offer to sort papers or make tea, and she’d smile at him with gratitude. He could understand her grief. But Levi--Levi was like a language that he’d forgotten how to speak.
The hall in the palace was filled with long tables and fine food, decorated with flowers and swathes of white fabric. After the speeches were done Eren slipped away unnoticed, climbing the stairs to the gallery.
He rested his head against the railing up there, looking down at his friends. Mikasa was already looking around vaguely for him, like a mother duck who’d misplaced her duckling, and he smiled and shook his head--for once feeling tenderness towards her instead of impatience. Hanji had a smile plastered across her face that he saw right through; the others had drifted apart and were starting to mingle, not without a little constraint, with the new recruits.
I wish… Eren thought. Erwin, and Hanji’s Squad, and everyone they’ve lost were there in his mind, pale ghosts mingling with the living.
Levi was talking to a pretty woman down below. He said something to her; she laughed. He looked startled. Good, Eren thought vaguely. Good. That’s good then.
“I don’t like it either,” a voice said nearby.
He turned in surprise. “Historia--”
She came and took his face in her hands, and then she kissed him.
He didn’t fight her; after a moment he put his arms around her and held her small body to his. He’d always liked her--all the boys in their group had, but after she’d changed (like him) into someone else, he’d liked her better. They’d understood each other.
“Come with me,” she said, pulling away.
A flicker of surprise passed over his face--he thought of the letter. “I’m not her,” he said.
“And I’m not him,” she agreed, smiling back.
That did surprise him. “Am I that obvious?”
She shrugged, lacing her fingers through his. He let her lead him away.
“I don’t want to remember right now,” she told him.
Could you lose your virginity to two different people? Eren wondered. They were in an anteroom, with a table pushed up against the door. He was thrusting into her, up against the wall while she cried out in pleasure.
Her hands were on his shoulders and he felt her shudder, her body tightening and clenching around his. He thrust once more and then shivered himself, holding back.
“It’s okay,” she said. “You can finish. I have something.”
So he did, a few more quick pulses and he was there, shuddering inside of her.
They collapsed onto a settee, and Eren looked over at her ballgown. It was big enough and stiff enough to almost stand up on its own, and the sight of it made him smile faintly.
“I don’t know how we’re going to get you back into that thing,” he admitted.
“It’ll be fine,” she told him, stretching out her legs and laying them over his. “I’ve done it before.”
“What, this?” he asked, startled.
She laughed at him, not unkindly. “You didn’t think I was pining away for you, did you?” she asked, pinching his cheek. “Sorry to disappoint you.”
“That’s not what I meant--” he said, embarrassed.
She didn’t respond, directly, just leaned back and smiled. “Though if you wanted to repeat it, I wouldn’t be opposed.”
“I don’t know,” he said, surprising himself. He had given in to a sudden impulse when he’d acquiesced--he’d wanted something to chase the grief away, like she had. But to repeat the experience, to plan it?
When he was sure he didn’t love Historia.
“I’m sorry,” he said, but she was just looking at him kindly, legs still draped across his thighs.
“There’s nothing to apologize for. Do you have something with him?”
“I don’t know,” Eren admitted quietly. “It’s complicated. I--”
“Listen, Eren,” she said, interrupting him. “If I could go back and do anything differently I’d run away with Ymir. I’d make myself a damn fool over her. I wouldn’t give up as long as I thought I had the slightest chance.” She stood up and with impressive speed and skill she slipped back into her underthings and her gown.
He watched her beautiful body covered up with surprisingly little regret. He was thinking about Levi. Running his fingers over the indents in his skin, long after Levi had fallen asleep.
“Don’t stay away too long,” she said, nudging the table aside to open the door. “Someone’s liable to come looking for you, and catch you in an indiscretion.”
He smiled in acknowledgement and made himself get dressed. Historia was gone by the time he’d finished, and he made his way back to the party. Mikasa pounced on him right away.
“Where were you?” she demanded.
“I’m sorry,” he told her. “I needed some fresh air.”
She studied him closely and nodded. “I know what you mean,” she sighed. “Historia was here a little while ago, looking for you,” she said.
Eren had to bite his cheek to keep from smiling--that was definitely one way to cast off suspicions.
“She apologized for the ghoulishness of all this,” Mikasa said, making a face. “I don’t think anyone’s happy to be here except the new recruits.”
“I feel kind of ghoulish too,” he admitted.
“What do you mean?”
“If it hadn’t been for us Erwin would still be here.”
“I’m not saying we should have done things differently,” he said. “I just don’t know how much we really have to celebrate.”
She was looking at him thoughtfully. “Erwin was happy to die having retaken Shinganshina,” she said. “He would think that was worthy of celebrating.”
“I--hadn’t thought of it like that,” he said. But of course, she was right--they’d fought so hard, and sacrificed so much. As awful as it had been, the Commander would have done it all again, Eren realized with a pang. To him the sacrifice would have been worth it.
Mikasa touched his arm, and behind her Eren saw Historia strolling up.
“How are you, Eren?” she asked him, as if they were only meeting now.
Mikasa, after some internal struggle nodded to them both rigidly and excused herself to cross the room.
The smile Historia gave him then was genuine. “She doesn’t know I’m not her competition, does she?”
Eren flushed; “It’s not like that at all,” he said.
If he’d had any feelings for Historia it would have been absurdly easy to fall into an affair with her. She’d left the door wide open for him. Especially with Levi apparently taking an interest in Mialla; she’d been a Squad Leader in the Garrison, and she was older than most of the new recruits. In her early thirties, at least.
Not that he had noticed anything besides them speaking to each other at mealtimes, but even that was significant when it came to Levi.
He thought a lot about what Historia had said, but he’d decided reluctantly that it wasn’t the same for him. Ymir had loved Historia.
Levi gave Eren things because he needed them. Not because he loved him. And Eren knew he couldn’t take anymore--knowing what he had taken already was more guilt than he could stand most days.
He spent a lot of time running errands for Hanji--they were getting ready to leave the city, and head to Survey Corp HQ. Hanji said they’d put it off long enough; it was time for Armin to start training with Eren, and time for them to put away their ghosts.
The idea of so many rooms being reassigned, so many belongings packed up and returned to the families of the ones they’ve lost is painful, even now. The Survey Corp had been turned inside out again, with only the scantiest skeleton crew to preserve the past.
If he’d had any idea that the people he’d known a year ago would all be dead…!
He didn’t know why that thought stuck with him. It kept him awake some nights, but there was something comforting about it too. As if it were a lock, or a key to something. As if he could puzzle it out he could figure out what to do.
He’d turned down Historia’s offer, with apologies. She’d given him an expensive watch as a parting gift and told him there was nothing to forgive--with a knowing smile. He hadn’t wanted to disappoint her.
Then one day he saw Mialla slipping upstairs--to the men’s barracks. Not the officers’ quarters where Levi’s room was.
Seething with indignation (and ignoring whatever legitimate reason she might have for doing such a thing) he turned up in Hanji’s office to complain.
“But Eren,” she said gently, interrupting him. “Mialla and Levi weren’t together.”
“Oh,” Eren said. “Are you sure?”
“I was there when he turned her down.”
“Oh. I’m sorry for bothering you, Commander,” Eren said, and he slunk away, pretending not to see the amused smile on her face and remembering the bad old days when he’d made a fool of himself on a weekly basis.
If he’d know then...if he’d just known…
Later on he somehow ended up outside of Levi’s room.
The door opened and Levi stood there, watching him warily. When they’d first gotten back training had been suspended while Levi and the others healed. Everyone was on the mend now, but they were waiting to resume until they’d retrenched to HQ. They’d all been kept busy, helping Hanji with the million tasks she had, but it had also made it easy to avoid Levi. Or for Levi to avoid him. Whatever it was they had been doing.
“I brought you this,” Eren said clumsily when the silence had gone on too long. He’d pawned the watch Historia had given him. He handed Levi three bricks of good quality tea--the best he’d been able to find, actually, dense, dark colored, and smoky.
Levi took the package with a surprised smile. “Should I make it?” he asked, stepping back.
Eren realized then he’d led with the wrong thing; this was only going to open a conversation full of endless small talk. He’d retreat in cowardice and--
“Levi, do you love me?” he asked suddenly.
The look Levi gave him then was one of supreme annoyance. So, hardly different from how he usually looked.
“That’s the stupidest question you’ve ever asked me,” he said. “Of course I do.”
Eren pulled him into his arms, ignoring Levi’s protest and attempts to protect the tea. He kissed Levi, and to his utter, utter amazement Levi melted into him.
The tea lay forgotten while they held each other on the floor. At some point one of them had sunk down, and the other had followed.
“I’m sorry,” Eren said. “I should have come to you before. Right away. I thought you wouldn’t want me.”
“Eren,” Levi said softly. “This isn’t a good idea.”
Eren knew where Levi was going with this, and to get him off of it he said with a certainty he no longer felt, “I know. You blame me for Erwin. I’m sorry--” and he started to pull away.
“No!” Levi said sharply, holding on to him, and Eren had to use all his self-control not to signal his triumph.
“He made his choice,” Levi said more quietly. “So did I.”
“You didn’t save Armin for me?” Eren asked, meeting his eyes. That was the part he hadn’t been sure of.
“For you, and for me, and for Erwin, and for Hanji. For all of us.” Levi said it sadly, but it had the ring of truth. “Erwin was never honest with me,” he continued. “His vision was incomplete. He couldn’t see past uncovering the truth, but you--you and your friends, you see a future. You’re part of the future; we’re all just part of the past.”
“No,” now it was Eren’s turn to protest. “You’re part of it too.”
Levi was shaking his head, and Eren kissed him savagely, knowing that he would respond. He did, and when Eren pushed him Levi pushed back, knocking him to the floor, one arm coming up to block Eren’s throat.
“Some old man you are,” Eren said drily, and Levi backed off looking annoyed.
“I am too old for you,” he said. “You don’t know how young you are.”
Eren sat up. “You don’t know how young you are,” Eren retorted. “You’ve lost more people than anyone ever should,” here his voice softened. “You feel old, but inside I know you’re not any older than me.”
Levi snorted, and Eren ignored this, continuing, “One thing I realized is I haven’t been good at knowing when I’m happy. I don’t realize until later. When I first joined the Survey Corp I was so nervous. More than anything I just wanted you to like me. I wanted you to be proud of me. You, and the rest of the squad. I wanted to be a part of what you were part of.
“Every day it felt like I was screwing up somehow, like I didn’t fit in, like I wasn’t doing enough, and--” here his voice caught. “You were the one who brought me back and I didn’t even realize until later, how good you were to me. I was so happy then, and I didn’t even know it until we lost them.
“I thought you’d blame me then, too, but you didn’t. You were so good to me, always, and I didn’t even realize it. I screwed it up. I took advantage of you--” he had to force the words out. “And I’m sorry. I knew you wouldn’t say no to me if I came that night. You never say no to me. So I’m not asking you now. I’m just saying maybe we’re happy right now, and we don’t even know it yet. Maybe,” and he had to force himself to keep going, but oh it was hard. “Maybe we won’t know until it’s too late again.”
He looked up then, and he was shocked to see Levi’s face open as he’d rarely seen it. There were tears on his cheeks, looking like they belonged to someone else. Levi looked young and vulnerable, almost a stranger, but he nodded. Eren took him into his arms, as if he were the adult and Levi was the child. There were a million things he could have said, but one of the things that Levi had taught him was when to be quiet, and he was quiet now.
They made the tea, and although Eren would have liked it better if they’d taken their clothes off first he could see it was having a restorative effect on Levi so he tried to be patient.
In spite of his emotional outburst (at least two or three tears streaming down his face! No one would ever believe it if he told) Levi wasn’t done arguing yet. Eren didn’t mind. It felt like he’d won, and he was ready to give Levi whatever reassurances he needed.
“There’s a word for older men who go around with teenagers,” Levi said stubbornly.
Eren sighed. “Levi, I manipulated you into having sex with me. If anyone’s a predator it’s me.”
“I wanted to, though,” Levi said softly.
“Thank god for that,” Eren muttered, and Levi glanced at him with amusement.
“We’re both sort of messed up,” Eren said, after a while.
“So I don’t think the age difference is so important, considering that.”
Levi laughed, and Eren gave him a surprised look that quickly turned sly. “Does that mean I win? Can we go to bed now?”
“Let me finish my tea,” Levi said, and he made a show of resisting when Eren pulled him in close to kiss him.
It was so much better now without Levi worrying about whether he should be enjoying it. That in mind Eren didn’t hold back this time. They were a little rough with each other. Not careful. If Levi didn’t have a bruise or two tomorrow Eren was going to be surprised, and it wasn’t because he was trying to leave marks.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” Levi said, after a while. There was more there, under the surface, and Eren held him close.
“You haven’t so far,” he said. He kissed Levi. “I’ll probably hurt you,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’m kind of an idiot.”
“I guess I’ll keep that in mind.”
Levi sounded like himself again; Eren couldn’t decide if he was relieved or disappointed.
He pushed the shirt off Levi’s shoulders and his own clothes followed.
“I love you.”
“That’s not what you’re supposed to say,” Eren said reproachfully.
“Hanji said you turned down Historia for me, so you’re crazy.”
“How did Hanji know about that?” Eren asked, annoyed.
“Hanji knows everything now.”
“Why were you talking to Hanji about that anyway!” Eren said suddenly.
“Why do you think?” Levi asked drily. At Eren’s baffled look Levi shook his head.
“No,” Eren said, with sudden terrible foreboding. “I’m not answering any questions about sex.”
“She has two of you now,” Levi said, “So one of you gets to be the control.”
Eren made a noise of inarticulate outrage while Levi laughed at him silently. He pushed Levi down to the bed and Levi gripped him in his arms with his full strength, and in rapturous joy Eren forgot to be angry.
Later, much later, when they finally see the ocean and they venture in, wading cautiously, or like Hanji jumping in all at once (“Ya-hoo!”) and Eren feels the waves pick him up and hold him all that power, holding him at its center, the vast endless sky above and the inky green depths stretching down below, forever...
His friends ask him afterwards on the beach as they’re drying off, ‘Wasn’t it strange?’ he agrees, having to lie and say he’s never felt it before. But when he looks over at Levi he sees him smiling knowingly back.