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Hazard in the Hallway

Chapter Text

Sitting at the head of the long conference table, Erwin couldn’t help but notice the bumps and bruises that were visible on the faces of the officers looking back at him. It was nothing new, of course. During his years as a squad leader he’d become aware that many of his fellow soldiers were strangely clumsy at times. Since he became Commander, however, the problem seemed epidemic. Nearly every soldier present showed some sign of injury. Their last expedition had been weeks ago, providing plenty of time to heal. Erwin knew these marks were recent.

Looking at their flushed faces, Erwin realized that commenting on the situation would cause them embarrassment. He instead decided to investigate the matter privately. The well-being of his soldiers was always paramount in his mind.

On a typical day, Erwin would hurry through the halls of the abandoned castle that served as their headquarters, unwilling to waste even a second of the day on anything other than work, but during the investigation Erwin slowed down. Rather than rushing through the hallways, he’d saunter. He’d make purposeful contact with the soldiers he passed, greeting them with casual confidence while allowing his eyes to roam their bodies, scanning for injuries that might provide clues.

Walking away, he’d drag his long fingers along the walls to check for protruding nails or other hazards. He’d also taken to “accidentally” dropping his pen as an excuse to bend low and inspect the uneven stone floor. Another trick in his arsenal was to feign a yawn. He’d stretch upwards languidly, touching the beams above his head to determine their height and ensure they were high enough to avoid causing damage to the taller men and women who served under him.

Erwin saw nothing unusual during the time of his secret inspection, yet a report from the infirmary indicated that concussions and falls had increased nearly 30% during the same period. Erwin silently cursed and wondered if better lighting might improve the situation.

The next evening, while the majority of the base congregated in the dining room, Erwin found himself in a dim hallway, reaching up to secure an additional lamp to the wall. His shirt had come untucked and he felt the cool of the evening on an exposed strip of skin across his back. The sound of a plate shattering jolted him from his activity.

He looked up and noticed a young female cadet lying supine on the floor, the remains of her dinner scattered across her. As Erwin rushed to help, he glanced suspiciously at the doorway she’d been attempting to enter. He determined to take a closer look before the budget meeting the following afternoon.

......

Erwin finished the last of his correspondence with 20 minutes to spare – enough time to grease the hinge of the offending door and check it for irregularities. He grabbed the oil he used for his harness as he exited his office.

Reaching the door, Erwin removed his jacket and dropped it to the floor beside him. He then rolled up his shirt sleeves, baring his forearms. He greased the hinges and checked the width of the door to make sure it was regulation-sized. He then swung it gently a few times to check that its motions were smooth. Satisfied, he hurried to the meeting.

Erwin sat down, feeling confident that his efforts to improve the safety of the base had been a success. He allowed his chest to swell with pride for just a moment. The green bolo tie glittered with the movement. Erwin’s smile quickly faded, however, as he noticed the signs of a hastily cleaned nosebleed on Levi’s face. The danger was clearly still out there and it seemed that even his normally graceful Captain was not immune to whatever unknown hazard lurked in the halls.

New wisps of thought quickly formed into solid ideas. If the danger was not in the hallway, perhaps it was in their personal quarters. Erwin did a quick calculation. The majority of the soldiers lived in barracks that could easily be inspected, but the officers resided alone. It would take time to build friendships close enough to merit an invitation into their private rooms. He set his gaze on Levi and decided to begin right away.

Chapter Text

“Captain. A moment.”

Levi halted mid-step to pivot and glare at the Commander. He’d attempted to bolt from the room as soon as the meeting adjourned.

“Erwin, look,” he motioned to the spot of blood on his sleeve. “If I don’t get this into cold water it’s going to be permanent.”

Erwin had hoped to start a friendly conversation with Levi, but was quick to recognize the opportunity that presented itself. He’d never imagined he’d find an excuse to examine Levi’s personal quarters so quickly. He wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass.

“That’s not a problem, Levi. I‘ll walk with you.” As he rose from his position at the head of the table, Erwin scrambled to think of a reason for the intrusion. “Your report on the new recruits was… damaged. I thought rather than have you rewrite it, we could perhaps just discuss your findings.”

“Damaged.” Levi deadpanned, quirking an eyebrow.

Erwin thought he was well beyond the days of worrying that Levi would slit his throat but he didn’t want to push it. He arranged his face into something he hoped looked sheepish and apologetic. He held his hands up in defeat. “It was late. I knocked my tea onto the paper.”

Levi huffed in disapproval but softened. All the officers were aware of Erwin’s long hours, but only Levi seemed especially troubled by them. He often appeared in Erwin’s office after the final bell to chide him into stopping for the evening. When those efforts failed, Levi would help Erwin finish his tasks.

He motioned for Erwin to follow.

The short walk to the officer’s quarters was made shorter by Levi’s rush to care for his garment. Erwin struggled with conversation as Levi set a rapid pace. He opted instead for silence until they reached Levi’s room.

Levi opened the door and with a wordless wave of his hand, granted Erwin permission to enter. He moved to a bureau positioned on the far wall and loosened the chest strap of his harness. He shrugged off the shoulder straps and let them fall to his hips. He then turned his back to Erwin to make quick work of the buttons on his shirt.

With Levi distracted, Erwin took the opportunity to scan the small room. It was completely unremarkable; similar to the one Erwin had as squad leader. There was a small bed neatly made and a simple upholstered chair. Levi stood by a wooden bureau with a basin and pitcher resting on top of it. Erwin saw him pour water into the basin and place his damaged shirt inside.

Erwin walked to the chair, scanning the walls and floor as he went. He sensed nothing unusual. The small window looked out over the training grounds and seemed to provide adequate light and ventilation.

“I don’t know what the hell Shadis is doing but it isn’t training these kids,” Levi shook his head with frustration. “Dirk isn’t ready. He’ll die on the next mission. I won’t be able to protect him. I think we should allow him to be in support until his riding improves. Let him work in the kitchen for a few weeks.”

Erwin moved to the bed and sat carefully on the corner. He bounced imperceptibly to check the springs.

“I’m pretty sure Marlene was head butted a few too many times. She can’t remember even the most basic commands. Still, she’s not the worst we’ve gotten.” Levi momentarily stopped scrubbing to cast an eye back on Erwin. “Place her with the relay team.”

Erwin returned the eye contact and nodded. Levi focused again on his shirt. It provided Erwin a perfect opportunity to scan Levi’s body for any additional injuries.

Modesty was a never a concern in the military. Communal showers rendered nudity commonplace. Tending to injured soldiers on the field gave Erwin exposure to the bodies of countless men and women. He now scanned the ridges and planes of Levi’s back and arms with the same clinical care.

Erwin suddenly became aware of the temperature in the room rising.

He watched as Levi took a short break to roll his shoulders and neck. Levi used his forearm to wipe a bead of sweat from his temple before he began scrubbing again.

Erwin’s pulse jumped. He struggled to focus on Levi’s words.

“Heinrich has potential. He can fly, that’s for sure. His landings are still rough but I think we can use him. Place him with me the first time out.” Levi inspected the sleeve and looked pleased. He added clean water to the basin and swirled the shirt slowly.

The scent of lavender mixing with the faint musk of sweat assaulted Erwin. He felt his throat go dry. He tried to form words that wouldn’t come. He made a choked noise. Hazily he became cognizant of Levi staring at him. Words. More words. He could barely hear them over the pounding of his heart. Levi rushed to his side and crouched on the floor in front of him.

“Erwin. What the hell Erwin!” Erwin’s eyes locked onto Levi’s bare chest. He noticed a red line where the chest strap had been fastened. The buckle had left a slight indentation just above where Levi's heart would be. Erwin felt the urge to reach out and touch it. The thought was interrupted when Levi placed his hand on Erwin's knee. It felt like fire.

“Erwin, you have 10 seconds before I yell for Hange! I swear to god I will let her dissect you! Erwin! Snap out of it! What the hell!” Levi grabbed Erwin’s chin and forced his attention to his face.

Erwin swallowed and slowed his breathing. He held a hand up to Levi in an indication to wait. The delirium began to pass.

“I… ah… I’m sorry Levi.” He shook his head to further dispel whatever demon force had possessed him. “I have no idea what came over me. I’m fine! I assure you.” It was Erwin’s turn to wipe sweat from his brow. The scent of lavender again became apparent and Erwin’s eyes opened wide in stunned realization. He’d been such a fool! Of course the hazard wasn’t the floor or furniture! It was Levi’s’ soap! He turned to Levi with urgency.

“Your soap, Levi! It’s not regulation! Where do you get it? You need to stop using it! I believe it’s a danger!”

“I’m not using that oily shit they issue. I buy this with my own funds. Seriously, Erwin, what is your problem?” Worry bled through the strong lines of Levi’s face. “This isn’t normal--even for you, Erwin! Please tell me what the hell is going on.”

Erwin dropped his shoulders. He realized he was wrong to try to fool Levi. Erwin thought perhaps he was wronger still to take on the mission alone. He knew Levi could be trusted and his sharp eyes would be helpful in uncovering whatever was causing his soldiers to be so accident-prone. Having just experienced the sensation himself, he realized he could no longer be objective.

“I didn’t come here to talk about the recruits.” Erwin admitted, staring at his hands. “I’ve recently noticed how clumsy my soldiers are. I see the bruises, Levi. The clinic has informed me that accidents are up 30% since I became Commander!”

Erwin explained in detail the efforts he’d made to uncover the cause and the steps he’d already taken to remedy the situation. He added new information to his findings.

“I now have reason to believe your soap may cause delusions and psychotic episodes. If what I just experienced has happened to anyone else, perhaps it’s another of the factors causing injury. ”

Levi’s eyes narrowed. “And what exactly did you just experience?”

Erwin listed the symptoms the soap had brought on – rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, a feeling of heat, the inability to focus. He looked at Levi, willing him to understand.

“Even now, Levi, I feel it. I haven’t fully recovered.” Erwin’s eyes fell to Levi’s hand where it still rested on his knee. The warmth was still distracting. His attention moved up Levi’s torso and paused on his lips. Erwin noticed that Levi was inexplicably smirking. He waited for Levi to respond.

Levi stood from where he was crouched by Erwin’s feet. He walked to the bureau, opened a drawer and pulled out a clean shirt. He quietly dressed, never breaking eye contact. Erwin appreciated Levi’s obvious concern but felt it was a bit unnecessary. He made an attempt to stand but still felt shaky from his ordeal. He decided to remain seated while Levi tucked in his shirt and reattached his harness.

“So, hazards in the hallway, huh? Lynn was in the infirmary yesterday because she ran into a faulty door.” Erwin thought he sensed a hint of sarcasm in Levi’s words but ignored it. “Hange’s black eye was poor lighting. You think Mike’s sprain last week after sparring with you was because of uneven flooring.” Levi shook his head before continuing. ”And my nosebleed at the meeting today prompted this sham visit?”

Erwin nodded.

Levi walked back to Erwin, eyes glinting. He gave a rare and brilliant smile. “Of course I’ll help you.” Erwin hadn’t known Levi was capable of such an expression. Levi stopped in front of the bed and extended his hand to help Erwin rise. ”But,” he said, raising his eyebrows to impress his point, “ I’m not giving up my soap.”

Erwin breathed a sigh of relief. He accepted Levi’s offer, even with the stipulation. Perhaps with time and togetherness, he would become acclimated to the scent and it wouldn’t affect him so severely.

It would be good to have help, Erwin decided. Levi had even suggested they begin that evening with a slow and formulaic walk through the training grounds after dinner. Erwin was grateful that Levi saw the same urgency in the task. While Erwin had failed alone, he felt new confidence that together they would uncover the hazards no matter where they were hidden.

Chapter Text

“OUCH!! DAMMIT!”

The sound of wood colliding with skull echoed in the narrow space Erwin found himself wedged. He took a steadying breath before carefully attempting to extricate himself a second time; one shoulder first, then the other. He kept his chin carefully tucked to his chest as he wriggled out of the opening. Once free, he rested back on his heels and wiped his forehead with the back of the hand that was holding the wrench.

“This would be so much easier for you.” Erwin looked up at Levi grimacing. “I understand division of labor, but you’d fit into these access panels so much more easily than I do.”

Levi appeared unswayed from where he stood, no leaned, casually against the doorframe with his arms crossed. If Erwin didn’t know better, he’d say Levi was enjoying this. “We’ve allotted 15 minutes to inspect each drainage port. Do you really think I could see all the shit in there and be out in 15 minutes? We made an agreement -- you do the inspections, I’ll make any repairs.”

It was Hange who first suggested that underground gases could seep through openings in the earth. She based her theory in part on the stench emitted by evaporating titans after a kill. She’d speculated that the gas could possibly have an organic source.

Several days after reading her report, Levi added the inspection of the drainage pipes to their list of potential hazards. The base had four such drainage systems that took wastewater from the kitchens and baths and deposited them deep into the earth. They’d been installed long before the abandoned castle had become their headquarters.

It was supposed to be simple. Look inside, smell for mold, check to make sure the fittings were tight. In and out. Easy peasy.

Erwin cast one last pleading glance at Levi, who simply twirled his finger in the universal gesture to indicate that Erwin needed to turn around and get back to work.

Erwin sighed dramatically but got back on all fours and attempted to squeeze through the opening once again. He knew he looked ridiculous so he tried instead to focus on the reasons for this humiliating situation. He was doing this for the soldiers that served under him. He would do his utmost to ensure the base was safe for them.

There was some consolation for Erwin knowing that no one else would see him in such an embarrassing position. Levi was standing by the door to make certain of that. It was something Erwin was grateful for.

Despite the discomfort of the moment, Erwin never regretted confiding in Levi about his hunt for hazards. As expected, Levi had proven himself to be the perfect companion for the task. He’d completely taken over compiling the list of potential hazards. Despite their busy schedules, Levi managed to carve out time each week for he and Erwin to spend alone together in the various tasks.

The previous week, for instance, Levi had suggested they look for dangers in the communal kitchens. Erwin stood on a chair and passed the pantry items down to Levi one by one. Levi would inspect and wipe each container before passing them back up to Erwin. Aside from the occasional “Tch. Filthy!” they worked in silence, enjoying the simple monotony of the task.

Their reverie was broken when a group of noisy cadets burst into the pantry to get a snack. Levi protectively placed his hand on Erwin’s thigh and snapped at the group to get out. Erwin appreciated Levi’s worry about him falling but thought Levi’s concerns were unfounded. It had been weeks since Erwin had gotten dizzy in Levi’s presence. Sure, he ran into a chair once when they were walking together but that was only because it was in the wrong place and his attention was on Levi. He still had moments where he felt flush for no reason, and times where his stomach seemed to flip, but he’d already determined those were a reaction to Levi’s soap. He didn’t want to trouble Levi with that. Still, Levi only removed his hand once the group was gone and Erwin handed down the next item.

They located several food items that needed to be discarded. Levi was certain that had they been eaten, frequent trips to the toilet would be the only expedition the Survey Corps would be able to manage.


Erwin was normally too engrossed in his work to notice the sounds and voices from the training ground outside his office, but it was a beautiful day and Erwin finished his report earlier than expected. He was looking forward to his and Levi’s assignment later that evening. They were going to a local pub that the soldiers frequented. He’d never been, but Levi had suggested that they check the cleanliness of the establishment and the quality of their food and drink.

Erwin sat up in his chair and stretched his arms upwards, enjoying the release of tension from his shoulders. He decided he had enough time to walk to the training grounds to make sure their plans were still happening. He closed his ledger and stacked his reports neatly before heading out.

As Erwin made his way past a group of soldiers cleaning tack from the stables, he noticed some nervousness in their salute. Most made only the briefest eye contact before looking away. He had the same experience with those refilling the gas canisters. Before Erwin could think too deeply as to why, he heard Levi’s voice rising from where he stood addressing the most recent recruits.

“I fucking swear I will throw you into the mouth of the nearest titan if I catch you staring too long. I will personally disembowel you if I think you are entertaining even the tiniest thoughts of--”

“Levi!” Erwin shouted as he ran towards the smaller man, clapping him on the shoulder upon reaching him. Levi's focus remained solidly on the new recruits. He acknowledged Erwin’s presence by leaning back into the Commander, stopping only when his shoulders grazed Erwin’s chest.

“I apologize for the interruption, but I was passing by and thought I’d make sure we are still going to the pub together this evening.”

Erwin looked down and realized Levi appeared to be smirking rather than glaring at the recruits as he’d expected. The recruits, meanwhile, were shuffling nervously, looking anywhere except Levi and the Commander.

“Tch. Idiot. Be ready at 8,” Levi looked up at Erwin and nodded once before turning his full attention back to the recruits and resuming his instructions.

Erwin gave Levi complete autonomy with his training regime. While he didn’t approve of Levi threatening the recruits, he’d grown accustomed to the other man’s gruff and calloused speech. He was certain that whatever lecture Levi was delivering meant their lives. He gave Levi’s shoulder one final squeeze before walking away.


The Three Crowns was a modest brick building a thirty-minute walk from the base. Being thorough and detailed, Levi insisted they walk the same path the survey corps soldiers would. It was a beautiful evening and Erwin appreciated the suggestion. As they walked in step with each other, it was easy to forget they were on assignment.

In his youth, Erwin had been a regular at the inns and pubs closest to his base, After becoming Squad Leader, he’d almost completely abandoned that form of recreation. If he was being honest, he missed it, but as Squad Leader, and now Commander, his duties came first. How ironic that going to the pub tonight was his duty.

The bar was loud and spilling over with patrons when they arrived. Levi took Erwin’s elbow and led him to a booth at the edge of the seating area. He then went to the counter and returned with two beers and a look of disgust. He motioned for Erwin to scoot over so they could sit on the same side since it would give them the best view of the establishment.

“We should try to swipe the barman’s washrag as a gift for Hange.” Levi glared at the portly man pouring the drinks. “There are probably life forms hidden in the filth.” Erwin chuckled at Levi’s concern.

“So, what do you think?”, Erwin asked conspiratorially, smelling the beer for any strange odors and looking carefully around the room.

The hush that had settled with Erwin’s arrival had been short lived. The fellow soldiers seemed to quickly forget he and Levi were present and soon returned to their boisterous conversations.

“I think”, Levi began, “We should play billiards.” He stood up, grabbing both of their beers, clearly expecting Erwin to follow.

“But our assignment?” Erwin asked confused.

“Cover.” Levi raised one thin eyebrow and looked at Erwin knowingly.

Erwin then realized that to fully check for hazards, they’d need to participate in the activities common to the bar scene. They’d need to behave exactly as the other patrons. If that meant playing a game of billiards, who was he to argue?

One game turned into six, and darts soon followed. There may have been singing as well. As Erwin stumbled home, cheeks flushed and an arm slung carelessly around Levi, it hardly mattered.

Erwin awoke to aspirin and a glass of water on his bedside table. He sat up and took both with grateful urgency. He could hear the beginnings of the day around the base but allowed himself a few moments of quiet. He noticed the journal that he and Levi used to record their hazard hunting activities and upon picking it up saw that Levi had made a new entry:


May 5, 845 21:00-01:00

The Three Crowns
Local Bar frequented by Survey Corps soldiers.

No signs of obvious hazards unless you count the piss beer and filth the barman was passing off as a dishrag. I can’t rule out possible hallucinatory effects in massive beer consumption since Smith asked me to dance. While no hazards were found on this visit, I suggest a recheck in several weeks.

- LA

Erwin chuckled at the memory. He was certain the captain could dance yet he’d turned several shades of red at the suggestion. Erwin would need to be more insistent during their follow up visit since surely the dance floor was worth inspecting as well! Levi had suggested cover, after all. They needed to act like regular patrons.

Erwin got up to begin his day. He shaved and dressed with his normal efficiency. As he strode to his office he caught himself humming the tune he’d heard in the pub. He realized his good mood was likely because it was the last day of the month and all personnel reports, including those from the infirmary would be on his desk.

He smiled and picked up the pace.

Chapter Text

“Hey Erwin! Got a sec? I just need a few --”

Erwin’s expression stopped Hange mid-sentence. He was seated at his desk smiling, reading the most recent report from the infirmary when Hange burst into his office.

Levi had personally delivered it, along with a light breakfast. If Levi had looked at the report, he didn’t tell Erwin. Instead he’d been adamant that regardless of any progress, they should continue their hunt for hazards.

He’d even proposed their next assignment. It was a ramshackle outbuilding on the far edge of the base, a popular destination apparently. “Picturesque or some shit” was how Levi explained it. Levi made the practical suggestion of taking their lunch when they went to inspect the structure to better optimize their time.

“Is that the paperwork for the checkpoint? Did we get our funding?” Hange looked at him optimistically.

“No, not yet.” Erwin replied. “The paperwork is still with Zackly but I’m confident it will be approved. Actually, I was just looking over the personnel reports.” He paused while he considered letting Hange know about his and Levi’s efforts to make the base safer. He just as quickly decided against it. “I’m pleased that accidents on base are down.”

“Well of course they are with Levi threatening a painful death for anyone who looks your way. He’s a great soldier, but a real fun killer. Accidents may be down, but so is our morale. He’s gotta let us live a little.” Hange sighed and perched on the corner of Erwin’s desk. They began thumbing through the stack of papers there.

Erwin stared at Hange in confusion.

“Oh, come on, Erwin. You must know this.” Erwin certainly did not know this. He shook his head no. “The accidents on base? They are because of you. You’re hot, ok? Sometimes that can be a distraction.”

He continued to stare at her dumbly. Hange huffed in frustration.

“Let me put it this way. If Levi is a snack, you’re like a full course meal. Seriously, Erwin, have you looked in a mirror? Ever?”

Erwin had, every morning in fact, but that clarified nothing in his mind.

“And that thing,” Hange leaned forward to poke his bolo tie, “Has made things worse. Like we needed another reason to stare at your chest!”

Erwin trusted Hange on almost everything. Their insights had proven invaluable. Hange’s natural curiosity led to brilliant insights and extended to all things, including their fellow soldiers. While not a gossip, Hange was always aware of the mood and conversations around the base. So while Erwin couldn’t make sense of their words, he knew it would be wrong to be dismissive of them.

“The accidents are because of me?” Erwin tried to process the thought. He reflected on recent incidents. “Lynn’s concussion?”

“She walked into a wall watching you bend to pick up a pencil.”

“Gelgar’s broken arm?”

“You mean the time he fell off the sentry tower when you arrived with your shirt soaked through?” Hange wagged a finger at him. “You really should wear an undershirt.”

“Your black eye?”

“Ha! After that sparring demonstration with you and Mike? While I’m interested in neither of you sexually, I am not completely immune to hormonal affectations--”

Erwin quickly raised a hand to stop them. He’d heard enough. He struggled to fit this information into a form he could process. He stared down at the neat rows of names and dates on the medical report hoping their structure would bring sense to what he was hearing.

One name caught his attention, allowing Erwin’s mind to coalesce on a single point. That one name cut through the chaos and took center stage. Erwin put his hands on his desk and straightened up. He walked to the window and looked out briefly on the training grounds before turning to stare directly at Hange.

“Levi’s bloody nose at the senior officer meeting last month.” This time it wasn’t a question. The words had weight.

“Well,” Hange shrugged, “I’d have never guessed it, but it turns out your guy has a forearm kink. You should think about rolling up your sleeves more often.” Hange waggled their eyebrows at Erwin suggestively.

Erwin once again felt unmoored.

“If he knew, why would he…” Erwin thought back to their weeks of activity together--the long walks around the base, the quiet moments in the kitchen checking supplies, the late night safety check of the communal showers--

“Oh my God!” Erwin’s eyes opened wide, his eyebrows raised. “Oh my god.” He repeated again more quietly. “I feel like such a fool. How could I not have realized this sooner?”

Hange appeared pleased that Erwin had finally connected the dots.

“Levi used me because he needed a cleaning buddy!”

Hange exhaled so violently it rustled the papers on Erwin’s desk. They snatched them up and started thumbing through them with purpose. “Erwin, you really are an idiot.” They located the paper they were looking for, tugged it from the stack and placed it in front of Erwin’s chair. “Do you really believe a cleaning buddy is what he was looking for?”

He wasn’t sure. He couldn’t believe that Levi of all people would use him like this. If Levi had simply asked, Erwin would have been glad to help with cleaning tasks. It was the least he could do for the man who’d followed him so loyally and given him so much.

Erwin walked back to his desk and glanced down at the paper Hange had placed there. It was the receipt from their evening at The Three Crowns. Erwin stared at the paper, and then looked up at Hange.

Oh. So maybe it wasn’t a cleaning buddy Levi was looking for.

If Hange was correct, Erwin was the hazard in the hallway. He was the reason his soldiers were accident prone. And Levi had known this. What’s more, Hange suggested that Levi was also affected. Erwin shook his head to dispel the thought.

But what if?

Erwin looked down at his forearms, covered in broad cloth sleeves and a twill jacket. He ran his finger along the cuff.

What if.

Erwin had no choice but to test Hange’s theory.

Chapter Text

Levi had never been a liar. This was likely due more to his brusk nature than any moral compulsion. In truth, he rarely had reason to lie. He had nothing to hide, little to fear, and no one's feelings to protect. These days when his opinions were asked, it was for things that mattered--the recruits, expeditions, fundraising--topics he couldn't imagine giving anything less than total honesty.

He wasn't sure how to classify his current situation with the Commander. If he thought about it, withholding the truth from Erwin made him uneasy but he persisted because he knew it was for the best.

When Erwin first confided in Levi about his hunt for hazards, Levi was incredulous. It had amused him to know that Erwin Smith, the man with plans from A to Z and irons in every fire, could have a blind spot the size of Wall Sina. That amusement soon faded into something like worry. He was certain that if Erwin knew that he was the reason for the injuries, he'd blame himself. Being attractive would become yet another unsolvable problem on Erwin's already full plate. Levi knew he’d try to fix it with the same dogged earnestness that he approached everything else.

But could Erwin change his aura? Could he dial back the things that made him majestic? Levi didn't think so. Too many times he’d seen Erwin covered in mud and viscera with his hair sweat slicked and matted to his forehead and he was still the most attractive person Levi had ever seen. It wasn't just his physical appearance that caused Levi to quickly move from wanting to kill the man to now being willing to lay down his life for him. Erwin's vision, his essence, his very soul was just as compelling and Levi was like a moth to the flame, powerless to ignore it.

No, Erwin couldn't fix this. No one could. But Levi could at least try. He could make the Commander appear off limits. He could threaten the new recruits within an inch of their lives so they wouldn’t be distracted. He could help them avoid the dangers of focusing too much on Erwin and not the titan infested terrain.

All that was required was that he continue to spend time with the Commander, something Levi certainly didn’t mind doing.

It wasn’t just the recruits who were benefitting from the charade. Erwin was better too--happier, more relaxed, and more focused than before. The time away from his desk was good for him. Levi wasn’t the only one who’d noticed this. Hange made their approval almost painfully obvious.

There was no way Hange could know the exact reason Levi and Erwin were spending time alone together, but they were eager for it to continue. While Levi had an endless array of cleaning tasks he could involve Erwin in, Hange was far more creative. It was Hange who suggested the evening at The Three Crowns. It was Hange who just days before had burst into Levi’s quarters and pushed the map he was now holding into his hands.

“You have to take him!” they singsonged, “Pack a lunch and make an afternoon of it.”

The fiercest of glares couldn’t push Hange from the room. It’s only when Levi acquiesced and accepted the map that they turned to leave. “He’s going to loooove it! You will too!”

This is why Levi was standing at the stable waiting for Erwin with a picnic lunch and two horses brushed and gleaming and ready to go.

The weather was perfect for a ride, with a morning cool that promised to dissipate once the sun rose higher. The chill in the air, however, wasn’t the reason Levi froze when Erwin appeared with his jacket slung casually over his shoulder and his shirtsleeves rolled up. It was rare to see Erwin in anything less than the most orderly military attire so any deviation caused Levi’s brain to sputter to a halt. Thankfully the last several weeks of working closely with Erwin had helped Levi’s recovery time improve.

“Are you planning on cleaning latrines today or riding out?” Levi groused.

“I was trying a new look.” Erwin seemed almost crestfallen by Levi’s outburst.

“Well don’t.” he hissed, more harshly than he intended. He tossed the reins to Erwin. “Get dressed and let’s go.”

Erwin quickly reassembled his attire, mounted his horse and began riding away. Levi had to rush to catch up.

A mile into their journey and Levi noticed that Erwin’s mood hadn’t improved. Erwin was often silent when they were together, but this felt different. The easiness from the previous weeks was gone and replaced with something awkward and uncomfortable. When Levi chanced a glance at the Commander, he could practically see the thoughts warring in the man’s head. Levi hoped the ride would allow the time Erwin needed to settle them, but Hange’s directions were excellent and within 30 minutes the pair arrived at their destination.

It was an abandoned shepherds hut by the looks of it. A cascade of ivy had long ago pulled away the door and crumbled the stones around the entranceway. Signs of recent habitation were evident though. Utensils and plates were lined neatly on the windowsill and a few folded Survey Corps issue blankets were visible nearby. Levi tutted at the waste, and also at the sneaking suspicion that the items had been placed there by Hange.

Adjoining the hut was a low walled enclosure that had once no doubt been useful for corralling livestock. Now it would be an ideal place to let their horses graze. Completing the landscape was a lively creek that fed a nearby pond.

Erwin let out a low whistle as he surveyed the scene.

“I can see why this is a popular destination. The only hazard I can imagine is not wanting to return to base.”

Levi nodded in agreement.

Erwin removed his jacket and was again rolling up his sleeves. Levi tried not to notice.

“So where do we begin?” He looked to Levi who had dismounted and was unhooking the saddlebags containing the food items.

Levi silenced the part of him that wanted to suggest a swim followed by making good use of those blankets. He instead cleared his throat and pointed to a crate up against the outside wall of the hut. “Lunch first and then we survey the surroundings.” Erwin nodded as Levi handed him a canteen and a few parcels to carry.

The crate was shaded by the eaves of the building and provided a nice view of the pond. Erwin sat as Levi quickly arranged the food onto tin plates. It was a simple meal of bread and fruit. There was a small portion of dried meat to share.

Levi handed Erwin his plate and sat beside him. He held up his canteen in imitation of a toast.

“To uncovering hazards.” Levi said before taking a sip.

“Do you think I’m attractive?” Erwin asked in reply.

Levi choked and nearly fell off the crate.

“What the actual fuck, Erwin!” he managed between coughs.

“Do you find me attractive?” Erwin asked again more pointedly, looking down at his forearms.

Levi stared at Erwin aghast.

“I… uh… ”

“Hange told me, you know.” Erwin interrupted. “They said I was the reason for the accidents. I didn’t want to believe them.”

“Damn Shitty Glasses.” Levi mumbled in reply.

Erwin took it as confirmation and sighed heavily. He stared at the ground in front of them.

“I keep seeing them, Levi. All our injured comrades.” He raised his hand to the wall behind him. “I thought I could make a difference in the Corps. Everything I did was in hopes that someday I could make the world safer. But how many were hurt by my childish delusion? How many never returned? Was it my pride? Was it all hubris?”

Levi couldn’t stand to hear the despair in Erwin’s voice. Not coming from this man who worked so damned hard to give humanity a chance. Without hesitation he rose from the crate and moved to kneel in front of Erwin.

“Just stop it. Listen to me.” He looked for the words to make Erwin understand. ”The day Shadis turned the Survey Corps over to you was a victory for mankind. The long distance scouting formation was you. The use of flares to control the flow of soldiers away from titans was you. Dammit Erwin, you’ve made the Survey Corps safer and more efficient with each expedition.” He took a slow breath before continuing more quietly, “Yes, you’re attractive, you idiot. And yes, it’s a distraction at times. But Erwin, it’s only because of you that we’ve come this far.”

Erwin looked at Levi unconvinced. “But Levi I…”

“No!” Levi forcibly interrupted, “I will fix this. I will make you less of a hazard.”

“How? Should I let you continue to threaten the recruits?”

“If it means their lives? Yes. Already accidents are down, Erwin. It’s working. We just need to let them continue to think you are off the market. The recruits mostly believe we’re in a relationship anyway. And those who know better are just glad you aren’t glued to your damn desk.”

Erwin paused to consider. “You think making them believe…” he gestured awkwardly between them at a loss for words, “… us… will keep the soldiers safer?”

Levi nodded, “You saw the reports.”

“And how long would we need to pretend?”

Levi hoped his casual tone would mask both his embarrassment and the undeniable fondness threatening to spill from his heart. “Tch. Until you are less attractive, you dolt. When you get old and fat and all your hair falls out, we can probably stop.”

It was then that the realization hit Erwin that maybe Hange was right. Maybe it wasn’t a cleaning buddy Levi was looking for. Maybe it was him. And just as quickly Erwin realized that he wanted that too. He finally understood that the happiness he’d been feeling the last several weeks wasn’t just the incident reports but was due in large part to the man now kneeling before him. Erwin smiled knowing this time that his racing heart and the tightness in his chest had nothing to do with the scent of lavender soap and everything to do with what might come next. All he needed to do was let it happen.

Erwin could feel the unshed tears in his eyes as he said the only words that seemed good enough for this man who was promising him something like forever.

“Thank you, Levi.”

He stood and held out his hand, palm up in a clear invitation. Levi grasped it as he rose and returned to the crate.

Only Erwin didn’t release Levi’s hand once they were both sitting. Instead he laced their fingers together and looked to Levi for approval.

“For humanity?” he asked, giving Levi’s hand a squeeze.

“For always.” Levi didn’t try to hide his smile as he squeezed back.

They ate their meal while watching the songbirds busying themselves around the pond.

“You do know,” Levi announced between bites, “You’re still helping me with those storage closets next week.”

“Of course.” Erwin smirked. “And you’re dancing with me next time we go to The Three Crowns.” He bumped his shoulder into Levi’s.

Levi hummed in consideration. Hazards had been a part of his life for as long as he could remember. From the thugs of the underground, to the titans who threatened humanities existence. He supposed he could dance with the only hazard of his choosing -- the idiot oak tree of a Commander who’d long held his heart and now held his hand.

“We’ll see.”