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With You in the Present

Chapter Text

 

Trost was said to be the town of fairytales. After being reconstructed two thousand years ago, following a heated battle against the titans, the town never changed. Even when all the cities all over the the Island opted for more modern structures over the centuries, Trost never did. It was like frozen in time.

For the romantics, it was the most coveted tourist destination yet to date. People came from all over Paradis and Marley to visit it.

Levi Ackerman, on the other hand, didn’t understand all the fussing over it. ‘It’s just a big ass city with some old ass buildings’ was his usual response to people who told him:

you live in Trost? Wow, Trost is so beautiful, you realize how lucky you are?! I wish I lived in Trost!’

It was undeniable that Trost was a city full of beauties, but after living in the town for over three years, the raven haired man stopped noticing them long ago. Not that he cared much to begin with.

He was now going over some document, containing all the information he had gathered about his next victim.

Surely when he started, he couldn’t have imagined his private detective work was going to consist in stalking unfaithful spouses sixty percent of the time. He sure hoped Farlan and Isabel had something more exciting in their hands to work on these days.

Without paying attention to the road ahead of himself, he inevitably bumped into someone. Papers and textbooks scattered on the ground, as well as the person in front of him. Levi however, remained with his feet well seated in the ground. He might have been shorter, but he was better built and definitely stronger than an average high school student.

“Damn, my paperwork!”

“I-I’m so sorry sir!” The boy stammered and started collecting Levi’s documents hurriedly, while keeping his look down. Levi just stared at him for a brief moment, something in that messy brown hair felt familiar. Then he kneeled and started collecting the high schooler’s textbook.

“Ah, my fault kid, I wasn’t looking where I was goi…” Levi remained speechless as their eyes met. He knew those eyes. They were different now; the left one was green and the right one amber, but he knew those eyes. Even if they looked docile and ashamed right now, he had no doubt they belonged to Eren Jäger.

“I’m sorry sir, do my eyes creep you out?” the boy said, while lowering his gaze.

“No, no.” Levi got up, and offered him a hand. The boy took it reluctantly.

“Not at all.” What creeps me out is the lack of the fire they once had, was the sentence he left unspoken.

“I think these belongs to you, sir.” He handed him the papers, still looking down.

“And I believe these are yours.” Levi handed him the textbooks, Eren took them hastily, and with a Thank you, sir he was gone.

Was that really you, Eren? Levi was left wondering as he stared at the boy’s slightly hunched back, running away like a scared puppy.

 

***

 

“You’ve met Eren?! Really? Where? How is he? Does he remember? Is he still the same age? Does he have any birthmarks?” The eccentric chemist’s ability to shoot out questions faster than a machine gun was giving the young detective a headache.

“Easy Hanji, I’ve only seen him for like a minute.” he said, then sipped on his black tea. With his friends working elsewhere and his family in another town, these tea dates with Hanji in her office were one of the few likeable social interaction he had these days.

Hanji was the only person he knew from his past life that remembered. She was the only one he could talk to, about things he couldn’t talk to anyone about. He just wished she wasn’t so enthustiastic about it.

“How is it that I lived in this town way longer than you and you still managed to meet him first?”

“The town is big, And for all we know he could’ve moved here just recently. He’s from Shiganshina, remember?”

“Ah, right. I can’t wait to see him again! I hope he remembers too, imagine all the experiments I could do, I mean he was a titan shifter right? It must have affected him in this life too, don’t you think?”

“I hope not.”

“I hope yes! So where does he live?” she asked, glee and expectation in her eyes.

“Why would I know?”

“At least did you find out what school he attends?”

“No.”

Hanji threw her arms in the air, exasperated, “What kind of detective are you?!”

“I’m not stalking the kid, four eyes!”

***

 

It was already past midnight when Levi came back to his apartment. Its roominess came in handy when his family came to visit, or when Isabel and Farlan were in town and decided to stay over. But now that he was on his own, it just felt empty. His solitude felt infinite. And solitude was a thing he despised with all his being.

As soon as he let his weight fall dead on the soft mattress, his cellphone ringed. Reading the name Farlan put a smile on his tired face.

“Hello?”

“Hey Levi, what’s good?”

“I just got home. How ‘bout you?”

“I’m headed to a town in the south of Maria right now.”

Now that the Walls didn't exist anymore, the territories that were once outlined by them still beared their names. Region Maria, Region Rose, and Region Sina. Paradis was the only country in the world who had concentric, circular regions. It was a peculiarity it was known for.

"That's pretty far. Traveling by train?"

"Ah..."

"Farlan." Levi's ominous tone demanded answers.

"Car..." He replied, after a brief moment of hesitation.

There was a brief moment of silence, in which Farlan could feel Levi's death glare reaching to him, even over the phone.

“…I do hope you’re using earbuds right now.” He said, in a stern tone.

“Yeah, yeah, of course I am, dad.” Farlan joked, trying to lighten up the mood, but Levi was not at all pleased.

“I’m not fucking joking, you moron.”

“I know, I swear I put you on the speaker!”

“Then that’s good," Levi said, relieved, "got an interesting case?”

“A cold one… I don’t think I’ll be able to find out too much.”

“Homicide?”

“No, a missing person. Happened more than ten years ago, last seen in a place they call…" Farlan wondered what Levi would have said, had the latter known he had taken his eyes off the road to read the name from his documents, "The Valley of the Wolves, I think?" 

“Then they became wolf’s shit long ago. You’ll be lucky if you can find their bones by now. Unless it’s just someone who doesn’t want to be found.” Levi suggested.

“Yeah, I doubt that. It was a child.”

“Ouch. Then I hope you do find the bones. At least the family will have something to bury.”

“Hope so too. Well, gotta go now. Bye.”

As soon as Farlan hung up, Levi dialed Isabel’s number. It didn’t take long before she picked up.

“Big bro!” She exclaimed, enthusiastically.

“Hey, Isabel. Did you make it to Orvud safe?”

“No, I died a few times.” Levi laughed softly. He found himself smiling and laughing more often than back in the days, when the titans still roamed on Paradis Island.  But still, that green eyed brat was one of the few people who was able to make him laugh genuienly.

“You brat.” He still used to call her that affectionately, but Isabel was so not a brat anymore. Being able to see her grown into a smart, beautiful young woman was a blessing Levi could never stop being grateful for.

“How ‘bout you, big bro? Got anything interesting on your hands?”

“No, same old boring shit.”

“Ah, sorry about that. Well, I gotta go now. I’ll call you tomorrow, sleep well!”

“You too. Bye.”

Sleep. It was a word that rolled so smoothly on one’s tongue. But to Levi, it felt as sharp as knives. He eyed the sleeping pills resting on his bedside table. The farmacist said not to take them everyday, just when you need it, he said. Too bad Levi needed it everyday. Without those pills enveloping him in darkness, sleep was just a continuation of his day. His dreams never felt like dreams.

Every single night was always the same. He laid his head on  his pillow, closed his eyes, and as soon as morpheus took him, he was there again.

There, on the battlefield. The stench of blood filling his nostrils, chilling screams ringing in his ears. He could feel the ground beneath him shake, or his body flying through the air. He felt Eren’s sticky body in his arms, after taking him out of the mouth of the female titan. He felt Eren’s hot skin against his own while pulling him out of his own titan. He saw Eren crumbling to the ground, a hand stained with the blood that was gushing from his nose.

 

Eren.

 

It wasn’t time for sleep yet. Raising himself to a sitting position, he took his laptop and started doing some not work related researches.

Chapter Text

 

 

He told Hanji he wasn’t stalking the kid. He told her so. He wasn’t going to stalk someone he knew. But he may however have made a research to find all the high schools in close proximity to the place they met the other day. And, as he had expected, he found only one:

Liberty High.

He may also be parked near the entrance of Liberty High right now. Close enough to see who got in or out, but far enough to go unnoticed.

He wasn’t stalking anyone. He just wanted to check on Eren.

For what, he did not know. Maybe to make sure he was indeed the same Eren he knew literally a lifetime ago. Maybe to see with his own eyes if life had been generous enough to give him the happy, peaceful life he deserves, like it had done with Levi himself.

He had always been a man of action, and this time too he had let his insticts lead his actions. Levi didn’t really give it much thought, as to why he was doing what he was doing.

But if there was something he couldn’t stop thinking about, was the look in Eren’s eyes. So docile. So meek. Even innocent, he’d dare say.

Was this the product of a peaceful life? With no titans, nothing to fight for, and most of all with freedom in hands right from the start, did Eren’s fire never have a reason to be born?

And then he saw him, running just like he had the other day.

“Ereeen! You hopeless sleepyhead! We’re gonna be late!” A girl he recognized to be Historia shouted from the school gates, where she and Armin were waiting.

“Sorry guys,” He apologize, not even catching his breath, as soon as he arrived in front of them. “I missed the bus. Again.”

“Why doesn’t that surprise me.” Armin teased, though affectionately.

Eren wrapped each of his arms around each of his two best friends, and the trio walked in.

So he’s friend with Armin in this life too. Levi though, feeling relieved for some reason. And it looks like Historia took Mikasa’s place? What happened with her?

He decided he had gathered enough information for one day, and left.

 

***

The three friends were walking along the corridor side by side, talking about idle things. Until the moment Historia's speech stopped, and she gasped slightly while looking at Eren, as if she noticed something she didn't before.

“What?” He asked, seeing the blonde smile with glee in her dilated pupils.

“Eren, your eyes…” she didn’t need to say another word for Eren to understand.

“Oh shit, I forgot my contacts again, didn't I?” The brunet searched frantically in his backpack for the spare pair he always carried around.

“C’mon, you know you don’t need ‘em.” Armin said, but he knew it was useless. Eren had already pulled his spare pair out of his backpack, and was on his way to the bathrooms when he suddenly stopped.

“Shit!” He immediately turned around.

“Eren…?” Historia and Armin both had a puzzled expression.

“I’ll use the bathroom on the second floor.” The brunet’s explanation was not enough for the blonde pair, who took a look in the opposite direction. All their queries dissipated when they saw Jean standing near the bathroom door.

“You can’t avoid him forever, you know…”

“Go to class without me, guys, I’ll join you when I’m done.” He said and took off, completely ignoring Armin’s comment.

Historia sighed, as they watched him walking away with his head down, which caused him to bump into several people.

 

***

Class had started for more than half an hour when Eren finally showed up. The teacher berated him, but took no further action, and Eren could go take his place at the desk between Sasha and Historia. On the way there, he heard a few people whispering about the teacher making favouritism. He couldn’t do anything but sigh. He was used to it after all, considering who is father was. And besides, he couldn’t start a fight right there.

“What took you so long?” Historia asked, as he took his seat.

“One of my contacts fell off and I couldn’t find it.”

Meanwhile, Sasha was busy arranging her pencil case and her book on her desk, in a way that would make the book stand up by itself. Her tongue was sticking out, her forehead wrinkling in concentration. Once she managed to find a balance, and her ‘fort’ looked stable enough, she took out all of her snacks from her bag and poured them on her desk. From the seat in front of Eren, Armin looked at her with apprehension.

“Sasha, you’re gonna get in trouble again…” Armin whispered to her, but the girl waved her hand dismissively.

“There’s no way the teacher can catch me this time.” She whispered back, overconfident.

But their old literature teacher was far way too used to her antics, and noticed something was off right away.

“Hiding something behind there, miss Braus?” She asked, while walking toward her desk.

“N-Nothing!”

“Really? Then I guess you’ll have no problem putting your book down, will you?”

“I won’t,” Sasha bluffled, “but why should I? It looks fine where it is, and plus I like reading like this.”

“Braus. Take that book down, right now.” The teacher ordered, and the teen had no other choice but to put the book away, revealing her rich loot that consisted of candies, potato chips and other snacks.

“Mmh, what do we have here? Lots of junk food, how surprising,” She said before picking them up one by one. “These are confiscated. You’ll have them back when it’s time to go home.”

“What!” Sasha voiced her malcontent, but there was nothing she could do, so she slammed her face on her desk, whimpering silently, “But what am I supposed to eat until then?” she whined.

Once the teacher had her back to them, Eren stealthily took a chocolate bar from his backpack and slipped it in Sasha’s bag. When the girl noticed, her face lightened up, honey eyes shining as she blew a couple of kisses in his direction, to which he replied with a small smile.

 *** 

It was time to go home. Eren was walking along the corridor by himself, since Armin was busy with club activities and Historia was on a date with Ymir. He on the other hand, had to get to his workplace.

He had almost done it to the exit when he saw Jean talking to Marco. Lowering his head, he accelerated his pacing as he walked past them, in the hope that Jean would not notice him.

“Hold on a sec. Eren!” Dammit! Eren thought, hearing the taller boy’s footsteps approacching.

“Eren! Eren, can I talk to you for a second?”

“Sorry, I have my shift at the shop, I need to go.” He said, without stopping, and never lifting his gaze from the ground.

“It’ll be just a minute, please.”

“I really can’t.”

“Oh, c’mon! Dina won’t get mad if you get there 5 minutes later.”

Eren just kept walking, and that was the last straw. Jean grabbed him by the arm, forcing him to stop. And even then, the boy refused to look at him in the eyes.

“For fuck’s sake, Eren! Look at me! Talk to me!” He forcefully pulled him closer, the action was so sudden and rapid that it almost made Eren lose his balance.

“I'M SO SICK OF YOU IGNORING ME!” He yelled, and the room fell suddenly quiet. "HOW LONG WILL YOU KEEP DOING THIS TO ME?!” Eren’s head was hanging low, shoulder raised in a vain attempt to protect himself from the yelling. His hand was on Jean’s, trying to free himself from his grasp. Once a single tear rolled down his cheek, Jean’s eyebrows raised in realization. His pupils constricted, mouth left ajar. Blinded by his own rage, the boy hadn’t realized how vehement he had been, and what it meant for Eren. Finally, he loosened his grip on the shorter boy’s arm.

And it was then that the brunet finally looked at him into the eyes. And what Jean saw behind the counterfeit blue of his eyes was confusion, followed by fear, and most of all, betrayal.

“He makes me sick…” Someone among the crowd whispered, and it was only then that he noticed that several eyes were set on them both.

“The fuck are you all looking at, huh?!” Jean burst out, directing his rage at the crowd instead. The brunet didn’t waste this opportunity and fled.

“Eren no, wait!” Before he could go after him, he heard someone clearing his throat behind him.

“Care to explain what’s going on here, Kirschtein?” The boy turned around to see a tall, blonde man with his arms crossed, looking at him with a grim expression.

“P-Principal Smith!” He stammered out.

“Maybe we should talk about it in my office.”

“But I-”

“Now, Kirschtein.”

He reluctantly followed the headmaster into his office. He could feel the people in the corridor still staring at him. And having their judging eyes on him felt like a thousand needles piercing his skin.

Chapter Text

 

“Have a seat, Kirschtein.” The Principal said and Jean took his seat, as casually as it had been the sofa of his own home.

Jean wasn’t a stranger to Erwin Smith’s office. The laquered furniture and the black and white decor felt familiar to him. What felt unfamiliar, was the emptiness in the chair next to his. He always used to get in trouble with Eren, not because of Eren. Well, Jean did use to put the blame on him every single time, but they both knew they were in it together.

Erwin pondered on the words to use for a second, while taking his seat on his black leather chair, “So, I guess you’re aware of the, er… rumours, going around.”

Jean clenched his jaw, then he said through gritted teeths, “Rumours that are baseless and ridiculous.”

“Are they? Because from what I’ve witnessed today, they looked anything but baseless.”

“You caught us at a bad time, I swear it wasn’t what it looked like!” Jean was going to add you can ask Eren, but the Principal didn’t gave him the time to continue.

“So you mean to tell me you weren’t yelling at him and yanking him around.” The Principal spoke like he had already decided the boy was guilty.

Jean cursed himself in his head. Of course the old man was going to think that, after that clichè answer of his. It wasn’t what it looked like. Damn, what was I thinking?!

Looking in the Principal’s judgemental eyes, Jean wondered; did he ever had a real chance to explain himself to begin with? Maybe, admitting his own mistakes and apologizing could be a first step in making the Principal change his mind. The boy figured it was worth it to give it a try.

“I admit that I was mad and I went a little overboard, but I didn’t want to hurt Eren.”

Erwin pinched the bridge of his nose, “I want to believe you, Kirschtein, I really want to.”

Like hell you do, you old bastard. Jean mentally cursed him.

“But for now, I have no other choice than to prohibit you from coming near your classmate while on school’s ground.”

“But we’re in the same club!” Jean protested. Staying away from Eren wasn’t going to be such a hard task, the latter did everything he could to avoid him anyway. However, there were certain times when not even Eren himself could avoid their proximity to each others.

“You will be seated at least 4 seats away from him and you will not engage in any conversation with him. Art club’s activities only take place twice a week, so I’m positive you won’t have any trouble complying to my request.”

Four seats away. Eren had already complied to that a month ago. He once seated right next to him, but then, he asked to be moved to the desk in the back row, as far away from him as possible. Five weeks that Eren started avoiding him. Five weeks that everytime their eyes met in the corridor, the brunet turned his eyes away. Five weeks where Jean saw that one weekly hour of club activity as the sole chance to have an interaction, any kind of interaction, with him. However small it could be. But Eren never looked at him. His eyes were always looking down, trying to mask the pain Jean knew he was hiding behind fake blue eyes. Every one of Jean’s gesture Eren ignored, every attempt to make an eye contact that he refused, was a punch in Jean’s stomach. He almost missed those times in middle school, when they used to fight and bicker all the time. He would’ve gladly taken a real punch from Eren over the brunet ignoring him.

The tall boy couldn’t believed that art, which used to be his favorite subject, had turned into that painful nightmare. Next class would’ve been the following day.

That was another opportunity he couldn’t let go to waste.

“And what if I don’t?” Jean said, crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair. He allowed himself to be haughty, feeling like he didn’t have anything to loose.

“In that case, there will be consequences. And don’t even think you can do anything without me knowing. I have eyes everywhere in this school.”

“Great. Can I go now?” He asked, trying to mask his irritation.

“Of course, you’re dismissed,” the Principal said and the boy didn’t esitate one second to hop out of his chair. But before he could make a single step toward the exit, Erwin recalled his attention once again, “But Jean, let me tell you one last thing.”

It took all the boy’s self control to not let out an irritated groan. He didn’t sit back, just stood on his feet with his arms crossed, waiting for whatever else the Principal had to say.

“I know I only have authority on schoolground, so consider this a personal favor. Please, don’t try to approacch him outside of school. Leave that boy alone. He’s having enough problems as it is.”

That was the last straw. The wary looks, the defaming rumours, and now this. He couldn’t take it anymore.

“I am NOT part of Eren’s problems!” He shouted, “I’m the only one in this fucking school who’s tried to help him!”

“I suggest you calm down before I suspend you.”

“I am not gonna calm down! I bet the entire faculty knows about what’s really going on with him! Why won’t you do shit to help him?!”

“Watch your language.” He warned, but Jean continued yelling, not listening to him in his blind rage.

“All because you’re scared of the Distric Attorney!”

“That’s enough, you’re suspended for a week.”

“You can’t handle the truth, can you?” Jean wasn’t yelling anymore, he stated it as a simple fact. But that sentence made a dark shadow befall on the Principal’s eyes.

“Do you want to turn the suspension into an expulsion, Kirschtein?” The Principal said calmly, but those words spoke so softly made Jean’s skin crawl. The man wasn’t really calm, he was just compressing his seething rage.

The boy wanted to keep screaming at him. He wanted to spew all the truth, all that he’s kept bottled up for months. But he couldn’t just ignore the Principal’s threats. He fell silent, clenching his first and lowering his gaze. He had been defeated.

“That’s what I thought. Now get out of my office!”

 

***

 

Once outside, Jean was tempted to slam the office door as hard as he could. He thanked his self control, that restrained him from doing that. In the waiting room just outside the office, all the chairs were empty except one, where a familiar freckled face was sitting, looking concerned.

“… Jean?” He called with apprehension. The light brown birthmark that completely covered the left side of the boy’s face, looked darker than usual.

“Marco? What are you doing here?”

“I was waiting for you,” He said as he walked up to his friend, “I’d ask how did it go, but I could hear you screaming from here…”

“I got my dumb ass suspended for that.” Jean admitted.

“Gosh, I’m so sorry Jean… What happened? Why did you get so mad at the principal?”

“He told me I need to stay away from Eren. He believes those fucking rumors!”

Marco could do nothing but giving him his warmest hug and his shoulder to lean on.

“I’m just…! I’m so sick of everyone thinking I’m a monster! Nobody believes me!” He said, barely containing his tears, while burying his face deep in Marco’s shoulder.

“It’s okay, Jean. I do believe you.” He said, rubbing his back soothingly.

“I know Marco, I know…”

 

Both boys were unaware of the person who was overhearing them from around the corner.

 

***

Levi was busily dusting the surface of the higher shelves in his house. It was in moments like this that he wished he was just a few inches taller. No Eren to help him reach the shelf either, he had to settle for the stool. But the damn thing still didn’t grant him enough height to reach the shelf comfortably.

“Which ones of the brats did you say you were bringing along?” Levi asked his mother, with whom he was talking to on the phone.

“Just Alice and Jonas. Imre also wanted to come, but he’s too busy with school.”

“Yeah, I can’t believe he’s 17 already.”

Imre was the third of his siblings. In this time Kuchel, Levi’s beloved mother, never had to perish in the underground. Never had to live in such a dirty and awful place at all. Even so, the first seven years of Levi’s life hadn’t been easy for either of them. Kuchel was a young single mother who had to work overtime to feed her beloved son, and Levi had learned to take care of himself from a young age. With his memories, it only came natural to him. And even if back in those days little Levi still didn’t understand the meaning behind his dreams, he was grateful that in his reality his mother was alive, healthy and loving, and not dead in some dark, filthy place. Having his mother by his side was everything he wanted from life.

Still, life had decided to be extra generous with him, and she gifted him with the best step-father in the whole world, who together with Kuchel, gifted him with five younger siblings.

Levi sometimes looked at them and couldn’t believe he once had a life where they didn’t exists.

“I’m still sorry I’ve told you on such short notice, dear.” Kuchel apologized. She had only informed of their arrival that same morning, but their surprise was warmly welcomed by Levi, who took his day off from work to prepare everything.

“No big deal, mom. I’ve already cleaned the guest room.”

“Oh honey, life isn’t just about working and cleaning, you know?”

“I’m not letting you and my brothers sleep in a dirty room, mom.”

“I know, but you should really take some time for yourself and have fun once in a while.”

“I have lots of fun.” His mother giggled at his response. The activities her son considered fun were cleaning, reading books and having tea with his few friends. Hardly considered fun by anyone except Levi, but she knew he was content just with that. And accepted it.

“Sure, dear. I can’t wait to see you.”

“Me too, mom. Have a safe trip.”

“Thanks, I’ll see you soon. Bye.”

Mmh, let’s see. The kitchen is clean, the rooms are clean, the bathroom is clean… I went groceries shopping this morning…what else do I have to do? He asked himself.

The house was pristine, but Levi felt like there was something missing. His mother loved having fresh flowers in the house, they released their sweet scents and rekindled the household. That’s why she gifted him with the flower vase he always kept on his living room’s table. The vase was made of exquisite white ceramic, very elegant and refined. His mother knew his tastes well. But he never really put it to use.

He didn’t see the point in keeping cut flowers in the house. They would eventually wither and decay. They reminded him too much of all those nameless flowers he had to see perish on the battlefield. Flowers were so much better left off in the meadow, where they would bloom and eventually wither and die when their own time came.

However, he didn’t want his mother to think he didn’t appreciate her gift. Maybe buying some magnolia flowers just for once, couldn’t have been so bad.

Then, he remember there was this flower shop Isabel told him about, she said they had the prettiest flowers in all of Trost. The downside was, it was a little far from Levi’s apartment.

One quick glance at the clock, he decided he had enough time before having to go pick up his family at the station, so he grabbed his keys.

Chapter Text

Levi couldn't believe it. He had driven for 30 minutes to get to this damned flowershop, and for what? Only to discover the florist was one of the most disgusting people he had the displeasure to meet in his previous life.

Perhaps he wasn't so much of a bad person in this life, but the raven honestly didn't care about finding it out. He had been in a good mood all day, and just the sight of Zeke Jäger's face had been enough to ruin it all.

Levi was about to start the car again and leave when he heard the insufferable man speak, voicing loudly his relief and annoyance.

"About goddamn time, Eren."

Levi froze, hand hovering over his car keys. How could he not have thought about that? Where there was a Jäger brother, there had to be the other. His hatred for the blond man had clouded his thoughts so much,he didn't make that simple connection.

Now that Eren was here, perhaps he could gather new informations. He remained to observe the Jäger brothers from his car mirror, Eren was showing his back to him and looked just like he had the other day: hunched and docile.

Their conversation was just indistinct noises, but Levi could tell from Eren's body language that he was trying to justify his tardiness. The older brother however, wasn't having any of it.

With a huff, he untied the green apron he was wearing to hand it to Eren. It was then that something in Zeke's expression changed, any sign of anger gone. Eren crossed his arms defensively, eyes looking anywhere but at his brother.

Levi thought that whatever Zeke said next couldn't have been anything good. Not only because, well, it was from Zeke, but for what happened next.

"Zeke! You be nice!" A woman - Dina Jäger, Levi presumed - yelled from inside the shop. The blond ignored her and kept talking to his younger brother. Eren was shaking his head while tying his apron, and Levi distinctively heard him say, "please don't do that."

What did that bearded asshole do this time? Most importantly, why wasn't Eren fighting back? Why wasn't he yelling and throwing punches?

Zeke patted the younger boy on the shoulder, before getting on his way.

Levi waited until the ape was gone to get out of his car. Putting on his black leather jacket, he walked towards Eren who was watering some amaryllis flowers. His head was hanging low, and Levi heard him sniff slightly.

Is he crying? Is it because of what that asshole said?!

"Good evening." Levi said, to draw his attention.

"Good evening," when the brunet turned around to face him, Levi noticed his eyes where no longer of those pretty green and amber colours, but they widened slightly in surprise, "Oh, hi sir." He said, smiling politely.

Eren seemed to have recognized him from their previous encounter, and he also looked pleasantly surprised to see him again. Levi would've been thrilled, if it wasn't for a small detail in Eren's eyes.

The boy definitely looked like he had been crying. Maybe the culprit were those blue contacts he was obviously wearing, but even if that would explain the redness, it wouldn't explain the swelling. That was a clear sign he had been crying for a long time, and it was probably the reason he arrived late at work. His cheeks too were red and damp from the tears.

I swear to god, if I ever cross roads with Zeke I'll scratch his eyeballs out!

"You alright? Your eyes are red."

"Yeah, it's just... My contacts..." He said, drying the corners of his eyes. Those were just lies, and Eren had no clue Levi could see right through him.

"What can I help you with, sir?" Eren's question suddenly reminded him why he was there in the first place.

"I need a bouquet of magnolias."

"Sure, we have white, pink and yellow." He said, gesturing for Levi to follow him inside.

"I'll take the white ones."

After they had talked about the size and a few other minor details, Eren collected the flowers from the vases and started working on the bouquet. For a little while, Levi just observed him working. He wasn't talkative like most florists he knew, he just had his eyes fixated on his work. This actually brought him back, of thousands of years. It was true that some things never changed, whether it was killing titans or composing flowers bouquets, Eren dedicated himself completely.

And if his soft humming was anything to go by, he really enjoyed doing his job. Unlike Levi, who nowadays seemed to question his career choice every other day. He wondered what it would be like, to have a quiet, peaceful job like this. Then it occurred to him: he had no people skills.

"I'm Levi, by the way." He said, realising they hadn't told each other their names yet. Eren raised his eyes from his work, and with a polite smile he said, "Eren."

Levi, of course, already knew his name. But to his great relief, everything suggested that Eren didn't retain his memories from their previous life. The boy had suffered to much in those days, and the burden of those memories wasn't his to bear. Not anymore.

Looking at the boy going back to his work, Levi wondered how to word a question that had been on his mind ever since he saw Eren's marvelous eyes concealed by those hideous coloured contacts. He hated that fake blue already. Beating around the bush wasn't in his style, so without thinking about it too much, he went straight to the point.

"Eren, why do you hide your true eye colours?" Levi cringed inwardly. Why did he have to say it like that? It was too direct, too indiscreet. For a moment, the raven had completely forgotten that they weren't as close as they used to be, that he was just a stranger to Eren now. He had spoken to him like they were still a mentor and his protégé, talking in front of a cup of tea in the military headquarters. But this was another life, and they were a client and a teenager who worked as a part time florist, nothing more. It was sad to think about it.

Eren was staring at him with wide eyes and parted lips, taken aback by his bluntness. Before Levi could apologize for his rudeness, Eren answered politely, "To be normal, I guess..."

If he hated that fake blue before, now he abhorred it completely. He felt the urge to climb on the table, reach to Eren and take those bloody things out of his eyes.

To be normal, he said. Be normal? Eren? The same Eren who stood out from the crowd and took pride in it? Something was definitely off. A part of him couldn't blame the boy, though. He knew how cruel the world could be, perhaps he had been bullied for his heterochromia in the past. It was only natural that he wanted to be normal. Even in their previous life, Levi could tell that deep inside, there was nothing Eren wanted more. To live a normal life, to not be treated like a monster. The look he had in his eyes right now... it was the same he had when Levi's own squad raised their swords against him. 

It seemed that no matter what time they were in, Eren Jäger was always cursed with gifts not everyone understood.

I'm so sorry you have to go through this bullshit again, Eren...

"Listen, Eren. We don't know each others, and I have no right to give you advice, but I don't think you should hide it. You should be proud of your uniqueness."

A surprised expression spread on the boy's face, while a rosy colour tinted his cheeks. A blushing Eren was such a rare sight back in the days, and Levi wanted to savour every second of it. In front of such an adorable sight, Levi couldn't refrain a little smirk from forming on his lips.

"Ah... I... Thanks, sir..." Eren stammered out, becoming even redder. He cleared his throat and quickly changed the subject.

"Y-Your bouquet is ready. How do you like it?"

"I like it very much."

After paying and saying his goodbye to a still blushing Eren, Levi left with a promise to himself. From that day on, he would've went flower shopping more often.

Chapter Text

Levi was nervously tapping his pen on the living room table. Hunched on his notebook, he stared at everything he had scribbled down so far.

At the center of the page, there was a poorly drawn Liberty High, with Eren, Armin and Historia’s names next to it. At the left, a drawing of the flower shop with Dina and Zeke’s names. Lastly, at the right side, a drawing of what was supposed to be Eren’s house with three questions marks, one right next to Mikasa’s name.

Laying back in his chair, Levi pinched the bridge of his nose. Why was he treating this like another one of his cases? What is necessary? Or even a proper thing to do?

Eren wasn’t a stranger. Neither were Historia, Armin or Mikasa for that matter. Well, at least not to Levi.

He just couldn’t stop thinking about Eren. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong with that boy. Those eyes once burning with the fury and determination of a wild beast, now bashful and withdrawn like the ones of a doe. It almost looked like they belonged to a different person.

However, Levi couldn’t be fooled that easily. He knew those eyes. It didn’t matter if now one of them was of a different color, it didn’t matter how docile they looked, the blue that hid them or how many centuries had passed.

Somehow, Levi knew that those beautiful eyes belonged to that pure monster with perfect, fearsome beauty Levi once knew. That person who had been Levi’s hope, and the hope of all the Eldian race. That boy who had been shouldered with an atrocious cross.

What happened to his Eren? What was it this time, that tamed the small fire in his eyes? Because it wasn’t extinguished, no. It slept, deep within those pupils filled with mystery.

Levi started scribbling again, this time under the drawing of Eren’s house. He started listing all the possible causes of Eren’s malcontent. With the few elements he had in his hands, the possibilities were down to two: it was either bullying or domestic abuse. In both cases, Zeke was at the top of his suspects list.

Deep in thought, he started tapping his pen on the table again. Was bullying really a valid option? With the few information he had, he didn’t feel like excluding it. But Eren being bullied didn’t sound very believable. Eren wasn’t the type who bullies usually targeted. He was the kind of guy that would defend people from them. Still, he didn’t fight back the other day, after whatever his brother told him.

Levi shook his head. He reminded himself that he didn’t hear their conversation, and that was a detail he needed to keep in mind. It was easy to interpret things wrongly when taken out of context. It was a dangerous thing to do. Well, so was making theories with so little facts at hand, but he couldn’t help it. He needed to help Eren.

The raven haired closed his notebook and started rubbing his temples. What if he was just overthinking this whole situation? What if Eren had appeared sad in the last few days because of normal teenage problems? Maybe he broke up with his sweetheart or failed a test.

For Eren’s sake, he sincerely hoped it was so. However, his gut feeling rarely failed him.

Then there was the Mikasa incognita. One of the many mysteries of this new life. Chances were, her parents never had to perish in this lifetime, thus she and Eren never became adopted siblings. But for them not to be friends at all? That was weird. Maybe she was living in another city, that was the most logical explanation. Or else he would’ve seen her following Eren around, mothering him and smothering him like she used to.

If only Mikasa had been around, maybe Eren wouldn’t be in whatever situation he was currently in.

Ruefully, Levi realized he never even thought about Mikasa right until now. Why did he never look for her? After all, she was probably related to him. They never cared about finding out exactly what kind of familiar bond they shared in their previous life, since they had more important matters to attend.

But in this life? He should’ve looked for her. He never even asked his mother if they had cousins or aunts and uncles. He never really cared about his family outside of his siblings and parents. He didn’t even see his uncle Kenny that often, the only relative his mother kept in touch with after getting married.

Levi mentally noted to himself to have a chat with his mother about this.

“Lee Lee! Lee Lee!” his thoughts were interrupted by his sibling’s joyful cheers, who just stormed into the living room in their pajamas and bed hair. Levi opened his arms to welcome both his little sister and brother, who showered him with their morning hugs.

“Up so early, you little devils?” He said ruffling both of their hair. His sister, Alice, was blonde like their father, but had the same piercing blue eyes as her half-brother and their mother. Her twin Jonas had black hair like their mother, but shared the same hazel green eyes of their father. Kuchel entered the living room shortly after them.

“Good morning, Lee Lee.” She said, placing a kiss on the top of his head.

“Morning, mom.” It didn’t matter how old Levi got, every time his mother came to visit, and kissed him like this while calling him ‘Lee Lee’, he felt like a little kid again. He felt warm, and secure and protected, and like his memories from the underground were just a bad, distant dream. Did Eren have something like this too now? Did Mikasa?

He prayed it was so.

“Lee Lee, these flowers look and smell wonderful!” His mother’s silvery voice distracted him from his thoughts.

“You have to show me this flower shop you talked to me about!” She chanted, enthusiastically.

“Sure. I’ll bring you there later today.” Levi couldn’t refrain a smirk from forming on his face.

Now he had the perfect excuse to go see Eren again.

 


 

  

Somewhere in the rich neighborhood of Trost, Eren was sitting at his desk, finishing up his homework before heading to school.

“Done! Just in time!” He said triumphantly as he put down his pen. He started stuffing everything in his backpack when he heard a light tapping on his window.

“Yuna!” The brunet exclaimed happily, as he opened the window to let a bushy white cat inside his bedroom. Said cat immediately jumped on the boy’s lap, purring contentedly. Eren caressed her soft, cottony fur.

“Good morning, beautiful girl.” The cat had eyes just like him: heterochromatic. The only difference was that hers were blue and green, instead of green and gold. The two had found each other years ago, and easily became best friends.

“You know, I’ve meet him again,” he told her, “that guy I bumped into, do you remember? He came at the shop. His name is Levi, he’s not creeped out by eyes like ours. It’s weird… I’ve only seen him twice but I feel like I’ve known him for a lifetime.”

“EREEEN!” Shouts from down below made Yuna jump from Eren’s lap and snapped the latter out of his thoughts. Hurriedly, he started packing the remaining things in his backpack. Surely, he didn’t want to leave his homework at home after all the effort he put into finishing them.

“You’re gonna miss the bus again!” the blond shouted again from under Eren’s window.

“I’m coming, Armin!” He shouted back. Grabbing his backpack, he leaped out of his room when he saw Yuna with the corner of his eye, cozily sprawled on his bed.

“Yuna, no!” Eren quickly picked her up, much to her protesting, and carried her away.

 “I’m sorry, but my father will kill me if he finds you in the house!” He said, while putting her down on a branch outside of his window, the same she had used to get inside. He promised himself to make it up to her once he got back home, and then finally left.

As soon as he joined Armin down on the street, the blond boy grabbed him from his wrist and they started running to the bus stop like their lives depended on it. When they finally made it, the bus had just arrived.

“Fuck yes! Just in time!” Eren rejoiced as he pulled Armin in for a quick hug. The blond wanted to protest, to say that if they kept wasting time like this the bus was going to leave without them, but Eren’s hugs were so warm that he smiled and rolled his eyes instead. As they pulled away, Armin saw something in Eren he hadn’t noticed before, and ended up staring unintentionally.

“What is it?”

“Huh, nothing,” Armin said, snapping out of his trance, “Let’s go!”

 

When they took their usual seats on the school bus, they noticed Historia wasn’t there waiting for them like she usually was. Eren looked like a lost kitten in search of his mom.

“Where’s Historia?”

“I guess Ymir’s bringing her to school today.”

“You think so?”

“I don’t think she missed the bus, it isn’t like her. That’s your job.”

“Gee, thanks.” They both started chuckling and giving friendly pushes to each other, until they were interrupted by the obnoxious voice of the guy seated behind them.

“It seems like now that she’s got a girlfriend, your mom friend has forgotten everything about you two.”

Eren closed his eyes and inhaled deeply from his nose. Armin touched his arm and murmured to him, “Let’s just ignore him, maybe he’ll stop.”

Unfortunately, it didn’t work. The boy ran his finger through his red hair, believing he look dashing but he simply looked ridiculous.

 “So Eren, now that you’re single, I was wondering…” he began, but before he could even think of how to continue, he was interrupted by Eren’s early reply.

“No, Floch.” He said, loud and clear, without even looking in his direction. People started laughing, but Floch still wasn’t willing to give up.

“But I just wanted to-”

“No.”

More laughs followed. Armin pushed back his glasses with a smirk, then he stuck his tongue out at the redhead. Floch could do nothing but accept his annihilation.

 


 

 

Once they arrived in class, Eren went to sit on his usual spot. He noted with unease that the desks at both of his sides were empty, and they weren’t the only ones.

“Historia still isn’t here.”

“Neither are Sasha and Connie.” Armin said, taking his usual seat at the desk in front of Eren’s. It was peculiar than as mush as three of their classmates were absent, and they possibility that all three of them fell sick was unlikely. Were they skipping class? But if so, why wouldn’t they tell Armin and Eren?

“Do you think something happened?” the worried brunet asked to the blonde. Armin was about to reply when they were interrupted by the arrival of their math professor, Keith Shadis.

“So, it appeared that Reiss, Braus and Springer are all absent without notice.” The bald man said, grumpily.

Once they had the confirmation that Historia and the others were absent, Armin took his backpack and went to sit next to Eren.

“Does any of you know anything?”

At their professor’s inquiry, Mina, a small girl with raven pigtails, raised her hand, “I know, professor. They’re protesting.”

“Protesting what?”

“Jean Kirschtein’s suspension.” Silence befall the class. Delivering the message to the class had been like placing a pebble on a tombstone. Before anyone could utter a single word, Eren’s brittle voice raised.

“Jean was suspended…?”

Everyone in class turned around to stare at him, wide eyed, some with open mouths, others with eyebrows raised in questioning and confusion. Armin casted him a worried look.

“Professor, may I be excused?" He asked, then stormed out of the classroom as soon as he was given permission.  

Armin hastily raised his hand, “Professor, may I be excused too?”

The poor teacher reluctantly nodded for him to go, and the blond followed his best friend outside of class.

“What are you going to do?” He asked once he caught up with him in the corridor.

“I’ll set this right.” He said, with determination shining in his eyes.

His unconcealed, mismatched eyes.

Chapter Text

“Are you guys really gonna skip a whole week?”

“Yes.” They all said in unison, annoyed that they had to answer the same question for the umpteenth time. Marco, Ymir, Historia, Sasha and Connie were all sitting on the benches in the park near the school, and since they were all still wearing their school uniforms, they attracted the curiosity and the questions of a lot of people who were walking by. Out of all of them, Jean was the only one wearing his casual clothes. He was hanging around in the park that morning, not having anything better to do given his suspension, when these guys showed up, saying they were skipping school to protest his unjust treatment. Jean insisted it was just a straw he got in his eyes, when he started crying.

“You know you don’t have to.” He said, earning some exasperated sighs from the others.

“Don’t even start, Jean. This is our decision.” Connie said.

“What about you, Sasha? Your grades are bad as it is. Do you really want to repeat another year?”

“I can still go to summer school.” Sasha said, like she was trying to convince the others that she didn’t mind being stuck all summer studying, when in truth, she was only trying to convince herself.

The situations the others were in, weren’t much better than hers. Connie’s grades were just as bad as Sasha’s if not worse, and they were all going to get in trouble with their respective parents once they got home.

But it didn’t matter to any of them, not when a friend needed their help. All of them wanted to show him their support.

“I know it seemed like we were siding with Eren,” Ymir said, “dude’s got it rough, but we’ve got your back too.”

“But Eren will think you’re siding with me now. You guys know he needs your support more than me.”

Historia bolted upright, “Guys, there are no sides! There’s only one person who’s at fault in all of this!”

 

***

 

Principal Smith was skimming over some documents when he heard a resolute knock on the door.

“Come in.” He said, without removing his sight from the computer screen. When Eren entered and saw him working so intently, he had a moment of hesitation.

“Sir? Are you busy? Should I come back later?” At the sound of his voice, the Principal immediately got his eyes off the screen.

“Oh, Eren. Take a sit.” He said, gesturing to the chair in front of the desk.

Eren wondered if the Principal was this polite and helpful with all the students or just with him. Did he not care that Eren was supposed to be in class at this hour? He guessed being his father’s son, if he could call himself that, had his perks after all. He sat on his usual seat, next to the one that was so dreadfully empty. But it gave him the strength and motivation to go forward.

“What can I help you with?” He asked, wearing a friendly smile.

“It’s about Jean.”

That friendly smile started to fade, “What about Jean?”

“He… I don’t think his suspension was fair, sir.”

The Principal exhaled deeply, like someone who thought he just fixed a problem but the problems just came back multiplied, “I thought you would be relieved about that.”

Relief? What part of Jean’s suspension was supposed to be relieving? Ever since he had learned about it, this constricting sensation in his chest wouldn’t go away.

“Well, I’m not. And he didn’t do anything wrong, he just lost his patience and raised his voice. I don’t think he should be punished for that.”

With skepticism, the blond man asked, “Is that all that happened yesterday?”

“Yes, sir. That was all.”

“So, you mean to tell me he didn’t use violence in that instance? Or ever?”

“No sir, never.” The boy confirmed, unyielding.

Erwin eyed him in disbelief, “I did see him grabbing you by the arm.”

Eren exhaled shortly through his nose, with one side of his mouth curled in bitter amusement. Looking away, he shook his head lightly.

“If you consider that violence, sir…”

The Principal was appalled by his answer.

“What do you mean by that?”

Eren’s eyes immediately turned back on the Principal, and while doing his best to keep his voice down, he said, “What I mean is that this school is full of bullies, but you can’t see them because you’re all too busy going after the wrong person!”

Just like the calm after the storm, silence fell on the room after the boy’s outburst. Eerie instants that seemed frozen in time.

Cautiously, Erwin broke the silence, “I think you should talk to the student counselor.”

Eren wasn’t surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised. Why did he even hope that bringing that up would lead to anything? Adults just avoided the subject of bullying like the plague. And when they did address it, it was always in the wrong way.

“I don’t need to.”

“Eren, if you have any problem, you can and you have to talk to an adult. We’re here for that.”

There it was. That moment when adults think they understand you so well, and they know everything about your struggle and problems, when in truth they know absolutely nothing. They patronizingly act like they’re the only ones who can solve all of your problems, when in truth they only make matters worse. Eren’s jaws clenched, wishing he could’ve kept his thoughts to himself.

“But I’m fine.” He said through gritted teeth.

“I still think you should have a chat with Mr. Pixis. I’ll schedule an appointment for you next week.”

“I don’t need to talk to him!” He said, his tone of voice a little higher than he had intended.

“You’re fifteen, you don’t know what you need.”

“I…!” Eren clenched his fists, his rage consuming too much of his being for him to be able to formulate coherent sentences.

“Go back to class now. I think you’ve already missed too much of today’s lesson.”

“Wait Sir, what about Jean? Will he be able to come back to school?” He said, with a hope he knew was futile. And yet, he still hoped. His own problems didn’t matter. His frustration, his rage for his own situation didn’t matter. None of that mattered. All it mattered was getting Jean out of the trouble he got him into. Was wishing with all of his might for an affirmative answer good enough? Because that was all he had.

“It’s admirable that you stood up for him, but Jean got suspended for his own insubordination.”

“Insubordination?” Eren repeated, confused.

“I called him into my office to reprimand him after what happened yesterday, he got mad and stepped out of line. He brought this upon himself.”

“Sir, I mean no disrespect but anyone would get mad if accused with something they didn’t do! He shouldn’t be suspended for that!”

“I’m the one who decides that.”

“But-”

“This conversation is over, Eren. Go back to class.” Once he had said that, Principal Smith went back to work on his computer, indicating that he wasn’t willing to grant him any more of his precious time. Reluctantly, Eren got up from his chair and headed out of the office. Angered, disappointed and frustrated, he slammed the door behind him as he got out.

“Eren!” Armin called in a reproachful tone.

The brunet crossed his arms, “What, you think the Principal will get mad? He’s way too far up my father’s ass.”

The other boy still thought he shouldn’t have done that. But it was no use pushing the matter, so he changed the subject, “So, how did it go?”

“Bad. I couldn’t convince him. And I think those stupid rumors have reached the school faculty too.”

“That’s bad...” When those rumors started spreading, they had hoped that after Eren and Jean’s break up, they were going to eventually die down. Instead, students just started whispering and slandering even more than before. So much that now even the faculty learned about them.

“What do I do now, Armin? He was suspended because of me. And I couldn’t even fix this damned shit!”

“It wasn’t your fault, Eren. You tried your best.”

“My best clearly isn’t enough! It’s never enough!” Eren said, on the verge of tears. Before they could fall, the blond threw his arms around him, holding him as tight as he could. Warm droplets fell on Armin’s shoulder. Like they had many times before.

“I wanna smash something…!” Eren clung on Armin like his life depended on it, letting his frustrations out through his tears, like he always did when he couldn’t vent his anger properly.

It took him a good ten minutes to calm down, then he pulled away.

“Let’s go back. Class is almost over.” He said in a feeble, grainy voice.

“Are you sure you want to go back? Don’t you want some water, or get a snack first?”

“Let’s just go back. No use in delaying the inevitable.”

Eren was walking with his gaze casted low, hopelessness painted on his face. Armin took Eren’s hand in his own, and with a gentle squeeze he tried to instill calm in him. Just like when they were little and the blond got bullied, Eren always used to rush to his aid and then hold his hand. It made Armin feel so loved and secured.

When people saw the two walking along the corridor hand in hand, they predictably stared and whispered. Eren was used to people murmuring about him, even before the whole ordeal with Jean. But he didn’t want to put Armin in the same position as him.

“Are you sure you’re okay with this? People are staring…”

“Let them stare, I don’t care.”

The small boy remembered to his chagrin, that there was one more thing he needed to tell his best friend. One more thing to make him sad.

“Eren…” He started, trying to find the right words, “While you were in the office, I heard some teachers saying that four students from the second and third classes are absent too.”

“Four students? I guess Marco and Ymir, but who are the other two?”

“Reiner and Bertholdt.”

“Reiner? Why would Reiner stand up for Jean?”

 

***

 

The bulky blond boy was pacing furiously across the park. A breathless Bertholdt was following right behind him, struggling to keep up with him.

“Reiner, wait up…!”

But he wasn’t going to. After searching for so long, he had finally spotted his prey, “There you are, horse face!”

Jean didn’t even bother getting up from where he was sitting.

“What did you just call me?” He said, apathetic. Reiner walked up to him, looking down on him like he was a pest. Little did he know, Jean was thinking the same of him in that moment.

“What did you do to Eren?!” He demanded. It was in that moment that Jean started reacting, he got up to look at the older boy eye to eye.

“I didn’t do jackshit to him, you moron.” He said through gritted teeth.

“Oh yeah? Then why did I see him leaving school crying yesterday? People said you attacked him in the corridor!”

Jean would never admit it, how profoundly hurt he was by his accusations. The mere thought of someone accusing him of hurting Eren, who had been his boyfriend and someone he still cared deeply for, was already a shot to the heart. But coming from Reiner, who had been like the older brother he never had, hurt two times as much. He opened his mouth to reply but before he could say anything, Ymir intervened.

“Maybe you shouldn’t believe everything you hear.” She said with a snarl.

Historia intervened too, “Exactly! Only Jean and Eren know the truth!”

Reiner clicked his tongue, “Like I’d believe anything he says when it comes to Eren!”

“What exactly do you think you’ll accomplish by playing the Knight in shining armor, Reiner?” Jean asked, calmly, with his arms crossed.

“Huh?”

“Hate to break it to you, but just because Eren broke up with me, it doesn’t mean he will go for you.”

Reiner bared his teeth, giving Jean a push that made him stumble and almost fall, “You didn’t deserve him!”

Jean pushed him back, “Oh, you think you do?!”

The blond delivered a punch to Jean’s eye, which was going to leave a nasty bruise.

“I’d surely treat him better than you! You didn’t lose any time in finding a replacement!”

“HEY!”, A punch to Reiner’s mouth left him with a split lip, “Leave Marco out of this, you asshole!”

Before things could get worse, Marco and Bertholdt intervened to separate them.

“Just cut it out, Reiner!” Connie rebuked him. Both boys were trying to free themselves from their respective friends’ grasps, so they could go at each other’s throats again.

“Fighting won’t solve anything!” Marco chided, “It doesn’t help you, and it certainly won’t help Eren!” His sermon had resonated deeply with both of them, who slowly started to give up.

“Listen to him Reiner, you know he’s right.” Bertholdt said, and even though the anger of the blond hadn’t completely subdued, he eventually gave in.

“This doesn’t end here.” He warned, before leaving the park with Bertholdt following right after.

 

***

 

The sun was almost setting on this incredibly long day, the sky was no longer blue but lilac, mellifluously turning into soft shades of pink and orange. The moment Levi had been waiting for all day had finally come. He and his mom were visiting the flower shop, where Eren worked part time. This time, the one watering the flowers in the exterior of the shop was Dina, which meant Eren was working inside. Probably working on one of those bouquet he was so good at creating.

While entering, they passed by a man who was exiting the shop with a rose bouquet in his hands. They had arrived at a good time; it was Friday, the shop was soon going to be crowded with people who just like that man, were going to buy flowers for their beloved.

Once inside the shop, Kuchel started looking around and smelling all the flower she saw. Levi smiled; so typical of his mom. He on the other hand, began scanning the place in search of the object of his affection.

The last thing he wanted, was for Zeke to appear and talk to them. And obviously, that was exactly what happened.

“May I help you, guys?” He asked, politely. No. Fuck off, was Levi’s first thought. Instead of voicing it, he asked right away, “Where’s Eren?”

The raven haired could feel his mother’s gaze shifting on him. He knew he had just condemned himself to an endless series of questions from her later on, but he truly couldn’t help but ask.

“It’s his day off. I know he’s cuter, but you’ll have to make do with me for today.”

Daggers. Ice daggers were shot to Levi’s heart. That dashing smile Zeke had used to say that… he wished he could’ve smashed all those perfect white teeth, one by one.

“Whaaat? What do you mean it’s his day off? Isn’t it on Monday?” The complaint came from a tall girl who had just stepped inside the shop. She apparently knew Eren, but Levi didn’t recognize her.

“Don’t worry Ymir, I know how to make Historia’s favorite bouquet too.” Now, that was a name he recognized. He had heard Ymir’s name a lot back in their previous life. Named after the founder Ymir, holder of the jaw titan, and most of all, he knew she was a girl Historia loved and lost. It made him sincerely happy, learning the two found each other again in this life, even if they were completely oblivious to the suffering of their previous one. And after all, wasn’t it for the best?

From Ymir’s grumbles, he could tell he was as unhappy as him to be served from Zeke instead of Eren. Thankfully, his mother started asking him about plants. Because Levi surely wasn’t in the mood to do any talking.

 

***

 

“Reiner really did that?” Eren asked, while brushing Historia’s hair. He and Armin were both at Historia’s house, helping her get ready for her dinner with Ymir. Or to better say, Eren was helping her get ready, while Armin just gave moral support.

“Yeah, luckily Marco and Bertholdt were there to stop them, otherwise they would both be missing some teeth by now.” She said while applying her eyeshadow.

Armin wanted to say that with Reiner being the double of Jean’s size, only the latter was risking major injuries. But voicing his thoughts was not only pointless, it was also going to make Eren feel even more guilty about the whole situation.

“I can’t believe Reiner believes those rumor, he of all people…” Eren knew they were on bad terms lately. He just couldn’t imagine it was this bad.

“Oh, I don’t think he does. He’s just… being jealous, you know. Bohemian Rose or Dusty Pink?” She said, holding two lipsticks close to her face.

“Bohemian Rose. Jealous, what do you mean by that?”

The blondes groaned in frustration.

“Oh god, Eren! Don’t tell me you don’t get it?”

“Get what?” He said, genuinely confused.

“That Reiner is madly in love with you.” Armin said, matter-of-factly.

Eren furrowed his eyebrows, squinting his eyes at Armin ever so slightly. Historia rolled her eyes. She knew it was useless to try and convince Eren on this one. He was so painfully unaware of how cute he looked and how charming he was, half of the people in their school swooned for him. He left the hearts of so many girls broken when he came out as gay. Any remaining heart was broken the day he and Jean got together.

Including Reiner’s.

“You guys are on crack.” The brunet laughed it off, as expected.

“Whatever,” Historia dismissed the whole discussion, “Have you guys seen my perfume?”

All three of them started looking around, but it didn’t take long for the girl to find it.

“Seriously? Who put it up there?” she whined. The little transparent bottle of pink liquid stood on the highest shelf, the one where Historia kept her dolls and plushies and other stuff she only used for decoration.

“Must’ve been Frieda last time she was here.” Her half-sister was dear and dearest, but she tended to forget way to often that Historia didn’t inherit only her blue eyes from their father, but also her unlucky shortness.

“I’ll get it.” Eren volunteered. Not that there were many other options; he was the only one in the room who was over five foot five. Historia took advantage of Eren being temporary out of hearing range to get close to Armin and whispering to him.

“Armin, did you notice he’s not…?”

“I know, don’t say anything…! I don’t think he noticed…!”

“What are you two murmuring about?” Eren asked, back to them with the perfume in his hands.

“N-Nothing important, Eren!” Armin’s high-pitched voice was a dead give-away that he was lying.

“Thanks for getting this for me!” Historia took the perfume from his hands, to try and change the subject.

“A lady can’t go to a romantic dinner without smelling of flowers, can she?” She said, spraying the perfume on herself and creating a cloud that enveloped all three of them.

“Isn’t that a bit too much?”

“It’s an eau fraiche, if I put on any less the smell won’t last more than five minutes.”

Eren however, wasn’t distracted by the idle chatting. He went to sit on the bed, letting out a deep sight.

“If it’s about Jean, you guys can just say it to my face.” He said, downcast and slightly annoyed.

Armin and Historia looked at each other in the eyes, wondering if they were supposed to tell him the truth or just let him believe that Jean was what they were talking about. A few exchanges of looks and they both reached to the conclusion they had to come up with something else completely, and it had to be quick. But before they could, Eren spoke again.

“You guys think I should just tell the truth, don’t you?”

“What?”, Historia yelped, sitting on the bed right next to him, “Oh god Eren, no!”

Armin crouched in front of him, resting his hands on the brunet’s knees. Then, in a soft voice, he said, “We’ll find another way to help Jean, you don’t have to worry about that, okay?”

“Then what were you talking about?” He asked again, inflexible, displaying one of his usual pouts. The two blondes exchanged glances. Don’t say anything! Armin said to her loud and clear with his eyes.

“We, uhm… we just… ah…” With each of Armin’s stutters, Eren’s pout became more and more obvious. His eyes were reducing to slits, his eyebrows were almost touching and Historia couldn’t take it anymore, she rolled her eyes exasperated before blurting out, “You forgot your contacts!”

Armin looked at her open mouthed, feeling betrayed, while Eren’s expression relaxed. He raised his eyebrows slightly, and his cheeks even turned pink.

“Oh, I didn’t forget them…” He said, looking away timidly.

“Wait, you mean to tell me that you knew the whole time?” Armin asked, baffled, trying to make some sense of the whole situation.

“Yes…” Eren replied, meekly. Historia had a smile that went from ear to ear, while Armin was a whirlpool of emotions. He had spent the whole day praying to all the gods that Eren wouldn’t notice he forgot his contacts. When they went to Historia’s house, he had damned her mirror in his mind, sweating from the nervousness and hoping Eren wouldn’t pay too much attention to his own reflection. When it seemed like he didn’t, Armin thought he had just been too busy working on Historia’s hair. But it now turned out he knew the whole time. He felt relieved and almost mad at the same time.

“So, you’re not gonna wear them anymore?!” Historia clapped her hands, excitedly.

“No. I flushed them down the toilet.”

“I’ve gotta say, I respect you a little more now.” A voice belonging to a fourth party member said.

“Ymir!” Historia exclaimed happily, throwing herself into the arms of her girlfriend who was standing at the door, with a bouquet of freesias and lilies in her hands.

“Hey babe. You look stunning tonight.” She said, touching the shorter girl’s chin with her free hand.

“You look like a goddess!” She said, before getting on her toes to kiss her. Even like this, Ymir had to bend down a lot for their lips to touch. The scene looked a bit silly when seen from the outside, but the two lovers couldn’t care less. There was nobody else in the world for them in moments like this.

Before Eren and Armin could start to become uncomfortable, the two girls separated.

“Honey, have you seen Eren without his contacts? Doesn’t he look good?”

“I don’t know babe, he’s not really my type.” She quipped, “Just kidding. I’m glad you stopped being afraid.”

“Thanks, I guess?”

Ymir had always been adamantly against Eren wearing contacts. All his friends were, but she was more than anyone. The brunette would always tease him, telling him to stop trying to hide his true self.

I’m just being considerate of others, Ymir.’ He would say, ‘I don’t want people to be creeped out’.

To which Ymir would usually retort with ‘If they get creeped out by that, they don’t deserve any consideration’.

Armin linked his arm with Eren’s, prompting him to follow him out of the room.

“Okay, we’re leaving now. You two have fun!”

 

***

 

Eren had insisted on accompanying Armin to his house, before going back to his own home.

“Don’t you have your curfew…?” The blond asked with concern.

“Father left on a business trip after lunch, he’ll be out for three days.” He explained shortly. And besides, Gudrun always left him a spare key inside one of the pots of the plants outside. Their housekeeper was a sweet old lady, who was much more permissive with Eren than his folks were. She never hesitated to help him sneak out of the house, when he wanted to go out with his friends or boyfriend. Quite the contrary, she did it gladly.

Eren had been awfully quiet during all the walk to Armin’s home. The latter couldn’t take it anymore.

“Are you okay, Eren?” he asked, bluntly. Eren’s eyes watered at the question. Armin wanted to take him by the hand again, but the brunet had been walking with his hands in his pockets the whole time.

“I’m ruining everything…” He breathed.

“What do you mean?”

“We all used to be such close friends… And now Reiner and Jean had a fight, and we’re all falling apart and it’s all my fault…!” His voice became brittle towards the end. Armin jumped in front of him, preventing him from walking any further, and then put his hands on the other boy’s shoulders.

“No, we won’t fall apart! Yes, things are complicated right now, but our group cannot be torn apart by something like that! This is just a moment, it will pass.”

Armin’s reassurances got him thinking, but Eren didn’t trust himself to have hope. Not just yet.

“What if it doesn’t?” He asked.

“It will,” Armin answered, confidently, “I swear it will! We’re a family, Eren. We are here, and we’re alive, that’s what matters! There's nothing that can’t be fixed.”

“I wish I had your optimism…” He said, granting the blonde the faintest hint of a smile.

“Hey, do you want to stay over?” Armin proposed, realizing they had stopped to talk right in front of his house.

“I can lend you one of my pajamas, although the sleeves might be a little short on you.”

“Thank you for the offer, but I think I’d only be a killjoy tonight.”

The small boy couldn’t let his best friend go with that beaten puppy face. He just couldn’t.

“I don’t mind, really! I just… I want to cheer you up a bit.”

“I’ll be fine. I just need some time to myself.”

All of Armin’s protests were vain. In the end he had to let his best friend go, watching him leave with the lingering feeling of guilt, of I could have done more.

 

***

 

Kuchel walked into the kitchen with a tired but content expression. She had just finished putting the twins to bed and could now relax a little bit with her oldest son, before going to sleep.

“I made you chamomile tea.” Levi said, putting two mugs on the table.

“Thank you, sweetheart.”

“Alice and Jonas are already asleep?”

“Yes, they fell asleep rather quickly. They had so much fun today with their big brother! It left them exhausted, but happy.”

For a few minutes, they just sipped on their chamomile teas in silence. But with Kuchel, silence never lasted too long. Levi could feel what was about to come…. His mother was looking at him with a wide grin. He knew that look. There it was, the time for never ending questions about his love life.

“What it is, mom?” He asked, dreading already what she was going to say.

“Well, I had my suspicions, but now I think I have a confirmation.”

Levi refrained himself from rolling his eyes.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“So… who’s Eren?”

“Mom, please…”

“Lee Lee, I know you. You don’t like flowers! Why else would you go to a flower shop, if not for the cute florist?”

“If I asked for him, it’s just because he’s good with flower compositions. I don’t trust that Zeke guy.” With flowers and everything else, he added in his mind.

“You can’t fool me, Lee Lee. I saw how your face brightened when I asked you to bring me to the flower shop.”

Was he really that obvious? He mentally berates himself. He needed to remember to keep his emotions in check next time.

“Mom, really, he’s just good at his job. That girl asked for him too, remember?” His logic wasn’t flawed, but Kuchel let out an amused, fruity laugh.

“Oh, Lee Lee. There’s really no chance at winning with you, is there?”

Levi stayed silent, sipping on his chamomile. He looked away before his mother could read the emotions painted in his eyes.

“I see. I guess you’ll talk to me about Eren when you’re ready. I’m going to sleep, sweetie. Goodnight.”

“Night mom.”

And after placing a kiss on his forehead, she was gone.

Levi took another sip of his chamomile tea and wrinkled his nose, “This won’t do…”

He was never a chamomile type. He only kept it in the house for his mom. Getting up from his chair, he walked toward the sink, and then spilled in it any remaining content from his cup.

He needed something stronger. The only thing that would wash away his disappointment was a good cup of hot black tea. He reached for the cabined where he kept his precious herbs, took the tin then lifted the lid with anticipation and…

“Fuck.”

He was out of tea.

 

***

 

It was dark outside and the streets were packed with cars. Levi decided to leave his own vehicle behind and take a walk to his favorite coffee shop instead, his need for tea was too strong and his patience too thin to deal with the traffic. Walking wasn’t going to take less time, but at least not having to pay attention to the road left him the time to think about stuff. And to pay attention to the people walking by. So many lovers taking romantic walks down the street, hand in hand, while looking at each other with enamored eyes. And among all those couples, one lonely boy, just like Levi himself, stood out. But unlike Levi, he looked forlorn, lost. And very familiar. 

“Eren?” He was suddenly very happy to have opted for a walk instead of the car.

The boy, who was walking with his hands in his pocket and his head down, looked up to see who was calling him. His face brightened, “Mr. Levi! Hi…”

“Mr.? Please, way to make me feel old. Just call me Levi.”

“Oh, okay. S-Sorry, Levi…” Eren said, scratching the back of his head. Levi hadn’t meant to make him nervous. It made him feel like they were back at square one, when he had just joined his squad and was always so nervous and tense around him.

Well, after all, they really were back at square one. Death had played the reset button on them.

It didn’t matter. He didn’t care if he had to start everything over in making Eren relax around him. It was a blessing they had that chance to begin with, and Levi was not going to let it go to waste.

“So, what are you doing alone at this time of the night? Shouldn’t you be out partying with your friends?” He asked, as a way to do some small talk, but also to satisfy his own curiosity. Where were Armin, Historia and the others? Why wasn’t he with them? And Mikasa? Where was Mikasa?

Eren bit his lower lip, before giving an answer that saddened Levi beyond measure.

“I’d just be a killjoy tonight, they’re better off without me.”

“I’m sure that’s bullshit.” They’re not better off without you, Eren. They’re so not.

“Well, what are you doing out here alone?”

“I was headed for the coffee shop. Wanna join me? My treat, as an apology for bumping into you the other day.”

A timid smile appeared on the boy’s face.

“Sure, why not.”

They started walking side by side, and Levi noticed Eren smelled of sweet fruits, and flowers. Lilies and freesias, if his nose wasn’t wrong. The same flowers Ymir had bought.

He also looked calmer than before. He still had that slight aura of hopelessness around him, but it he had smiled at Levi, and that was already a start.

Chapter Text

The thing Levi loved most about this coffee shop, was how quiet it became at this time of the night. No loudmouths, no chattering or irritating noises. Just quiet artists, with their drawing pads or notebooks, and student struggling to finish their assignment in time.

“You didn’t have to…” Eren said timidly, looking at all the delicious pastries on their table. Levi had ordered two cups of black tea and to go with it, madeleines, beignet, eclairs and churros.

“Don’t fuss about it, eat. Go ahead and help yourself.”

“You felt that bad for bumping into me?”

“No,” he admitted. On the contrary, he felt quite happy about it. “But you look like you need a serotonin rush.”

Eren let out a resigned sigh, “Is it that obvious?”

“No offense, but you have the face of someone whose cat just died.”

Eren brought a hand to his chest, “Oh god, not Yuna!”

“You actually do have a cat.” He said, pleasantly surprised. He didn’t seem to have any hairs on him, so that meant that even in this life, he kept his sense of cleanliness.

“Yes, and she very healthy, thank you very much.”

“Good for her.”

Eren scratched the back of his head, “Well, she’s not really my cat. She lives near my house, and I domesticated her, but my father doesn’t want animals in the house.”

Why does he keep Zeke inside, then. Levi said in his mind, trying not to laugh or smirk. The one who let out a small giggle was Eren, when he added more to the story.

“He actually doesn’t know anything about her.” He said with a proud smirk. The smirk of a teenager who kept secrets from his parents, finding excitement in it. Levi was never that teen. He was an overachiever, always trying to live up as the perfect son, the one every parent would want. He was the apple of his parent’s eyes, but he did not do it for them, as much as he told himself otherwise. Deep down, he knew he just wanted to be the opposite of the man he saw in his memories, the thug, the criminal. Now that he was in his early thirties, he kind of regretted not being rebellious like the other teens. Surely getting drunk and disobeying rules once in a while wouldn’t have turned him into a criminal.

But he was glad Eren was getting to experience that.

“Thanks for letting me in on this secret, then.” He smiled fondly, and Eren giggled. He then took one of the madeleines and started eating it contentedly.

“These are my favorites.”

Madeleines, huh? I’ll keep that in mind.

“I can order some more, if you want.” Levi offered, but his words made Eren turn shy again.

“N-No, it’s fine, really.”

Levi realized he had made a mistake. He was too used to spoil his younger siblings rotten, buying them all the sweets and toys they wanted. They didn’t even thank him most of the time, their parents had to remind them to. The fact that Eren felt so embarrassed told Levi that, unlike them, he wasn’t used to being fussed over.

Just like back then, huh? Well, he was fussed over back then. But for the wrong reasons. For the first time in a long time, Levi felt like crying. Eren didn’t think he deserved to be treated sweets, did he? In that case, the raven haired took a decision. He was going to continue pampering him until the point where he, just like his siblings, will get so used to it that he’ll forget to say thanks.

“You stopped wearing those hideous contacts.” He said, noticing his unshielded irises for the first time that night.

“Y-Yeah.”

“Good. I’m glad.”

“I know my eyes are not the prettiest, but-”

“I think your eyes are pretty.” Levi interrupted him. There truly weren’t many things he considered pretty, but when he looked at or thought about Eren’s eyes, pretty was the first word to come to mind. May they both be green or grey or different colors, may they have titan marks under them or not… it wouldn’t change their essence. Their sweet roundness, their expressiveness, the way he batted his eyelashes when he was confused… all served as a lovely frame for the pure soul behind those black pupils.

In truth, pretty wasn’t really the best word to describe them. Mesmerizing, that’s what Eren’s eyes were.

“Ah, t-thanks…” He diverted his multi-colored eyes, biting his lip. This time, Eren didn’t just blush. His face practically caught on fire. If he was still a titan shifter, Levi had no doubt steam would be coming out of his cheeks.

He wasn’t diminishing Eren’s embarrassment at all, but it was a good thing; the more he complimented the brunet, the faster he was going to get used to it.

“My mom really loved your bouquet.” He continued.

“I-I’m glad s-she did.” Eren stammered. Levi felt a bit cruel, so he decided to stop for now and use another trick up his sleeve.

“It’s easy to tell you’re an artist. You draw as well, don’t you?”

Eren’s lips were parted, eyebrows raised in amazement, “Yes, drawing is like, my biggest passion, but… how did you know?”

“I also know that you’re ambidextrous. And that before coming here, you were with a female friend of yours.”

Eren giggled, but those giggles seemed to hide a bit of concern, “Have you been stalking me?”

No, I haven’t!

“I’m just very observant. Want to know how I know?”

Eren nodded, and Levi took his hand, stroking his thumb against his index finger. He didn’t need to look at the brunet’s face to know he was as red as a tomato. The sweatiness of his palm was already telling.

“You have calluses on your hands. They call them the writer’s callus, caused by the pressure of a pen or pencil against the skin. You have them on both hands, which means you’re ambidextrous.”

“Wow…” No other words were able to leave the brunet’s mouth.

“About your friend, you smell flowery, sweet. Which means your friend’s perfume latched onto you. Unless you like wearing women’s cologne, might be, I won’t judge. But you seem more like the spicy type.”

He kind of cheated on that last statement. He remembered the spicy, musky cologne Eren used to wear back then. Curtesy of Historia, who started gifting his friends all kind of things after becoming Queen, not knowing what to do with all of her sudden wealth. Eren only used it during official meetings, much to his own displeasure since he stayed close to the boy all the time. It’s not that it was a bad fragrance, Eren just used to put on too much. Also, he had recognized Historia’s own perfume. Freesias and lilies, her favorite flowers.

 “That’s… impressive…” His reaction told Levi he still liked that kind of fragrances.

“I hope I didn’t creep you out, kid. I’m a private detective.”

“No, I think that’s really cool!” He said with a wide smile that slowly died down as his eyes sparkled with realization.

“Hold on…” He eyed Levi with suspect before asking his question, “You weren’t hired to spy on me, were you?”

Levi laughed softly, “It’s not like I could tell you if I was. But no, I wasn’t.”

“Should I believe you, mister detective?” Eren asked, playfully. If he didn’t know any better, he’d think the brunet was flirting with him.

“You’re completely free not to believe me. But who would send a private detective to spy on a kid? Your jealous ex?”

Eren’s lips pressed in a pout, “Stop calling me a kid.”

“You are a kid.” Levi said, matter-of-factly.

Eren grinned mischievously, crossing his arms and laying back on his chair, “Alright, mister Levi, sir.”

Levi chuckled, admitting his defeat, “Okay, fair enough.”

The two laughed and ate and drank tea to their hearts content. Everything was going smoothly, but there was one thing Levi still wanted to ask. Pushing back his nervousness to the back to his heart, he went ahead.

“Eren… can I ask you one thing?”

Eren’s cheeks flushed. His eyes were wide and his lips pressed hard together. Just, what did he think Levi was going to ask him?

“Y-Yeah, sure!”

“Yesterday at the shop… It wasn’t your contacts, you were crying, right?”

The boy seemed disappointed.

“Well… yeah. It’s just… I just saw my boyfriend… Well, ex-boyfriend, kissing someone else.” Eren had opened up, without Levi even asking him if he wanted to talk about it. It was quite telling of how lonely he felt, and of how much he needed a listening ear. And Levi was there, ready to give his own.

“Oh… I’m sorry.” Levi made his best to look compassionate, like he was truly sad for him. Truth was, he was relieved to hear that. He was so happy to hear that Eren had to deal with normal teenage problems, instead of wars and betrayals and deaths. Heartbreaks were hard to deal with at that age, but he was going to be just fine, eventually.

Not that Levi knew much about heartbreaks…

He was only ever in one relationship. His first and only girlfriend was Petra Ral, when they were sixteen years old. For some weird whim of destiny, the two ended up being the same age in this lifetime. And not only that, they also ended up going to the same schools, from kindergarten to high schools. Their paths separated after graduation, when they went to study in different colleges in different cities.

And so, he and his teen years’ sweetheart both decided to put an end to the relationship, remaining however on good terms.

“Would you still be sorry if I told you I was the one to break up with him?” Eren asked, going back to wear that sad expression Levi had worked so hard to eliminate.

“Feelings for someone don’t go away overnight, Eren. I may not know the reason you broke up with him, but I can imagine it would still hurt seeing him with someone else.”

He was so curious, though. Who could Eren’s boyfriend possibly be? His best bet would’ve been on Armin. They used to be so close in the past, before the cruel world destroyed their bond like it destroys everything that’s pure and beautiful. It wasn’t hard to believe a love would blossom between them. If it wasn’t for the fact that it appeared Eren and his boyfriend didn’t end the relationship on good terms, and he had seen him laughing with Armin and Historia the other day.

Other than the little blond, he had no idea who the object of Eren’s affection could be, based on his relationships in their past life. Maybe a comrade who had died in Trost? Or perhaps someone completely new, who had nothing to do with their past life?

Levi didn’t need to know. But man, wasn’t he curious.

“I guess… I just… I don’t think I have the right to cry over it now.” Eren said, looking like a beaten puppy. Levi wished he knew more about the situation, so he could give him better advices.

“Don’t feel guilty about it, Eren. You made your choice. And it’s only natural to wonder whether it was the right choice, so don’t feel guilty about it. Don’t ever feel guilty about how you’re feeling.”

“Thank you…” Eren said with a sad smile. He really needed to hear those words. Of course they weren’t going to wash away his pain, but they helped. Levi put his hand on top of his, giving him a reassuring squeeze and a soft smile.

 


 

Shockingly enough, when Levi offered to walk Eren home that night, they found out they didn’t live much far from each other. Three years, three damn years he had lived in Trost, with Eren so close to him, and he only met him by chance a few days ago. Wasn’t fate a bitch?

Eren lived in Trost’s richest neighborhood, which didn’t surprise Levi considering his father was probably a doctor in this life too. Levi himself lived in the neighborhood right next to his. He was well off, but he still couldn’t afford to live in that same area as Eren. Now he wished he had followed his stepfather’s advice and became a lawyer, maybe by now he would’ve been able to live closer to Eren. But no, law is boring! He wanted adventures. As if. Being a private detective had turned out to be just as boring as being a lawyer would’ve been.

“My father wouldn’t be happy to know I ate all those sweets tonight!” Eren beamed on their way back home, “But he’s not going to know, hehe…”

Eren was always my father this, my father that… He never talked about his mother. Or his brother. Also, the way a fifteen-years old kept calling his old man father left him quite perplexed. It made him feel like he was not that close to his parent. Even Levi himself still called his stepfather dad. It was weird, but he decided not to think too much about it.

“Me and my mom went to the flower shop earlier today. She’s going back to Stohess on Monday, so we bought a few plants for my dad. I thought I’d see you, but we found your brother instead.”

“My brother? Oh!” After his initial confusion, Eren laughed. It was a short but full laugh, that reached his beautiful eyes. Levi’s lips parted slightly, his cheeks turning the faintest tone of pink. Never had he heard a more pleasing sound in his life. Did Eren ever laugh in their previous life? He couldn’t recall. Certainly, the times he chuckled at Levi’s lame jokes didn’t count. He knew it was forced and out of politeness.

Never had Levi heard him laugh so wholly like he was doing now. He couldn’t help but feel mesmerized, and when that angelic sound stopped, he felt like the sun went out right before his eyes.

“You mean Zeke!”

It was Levi’s turn to be confused. Of course he meant Zeke, who else could he mean? Did Eren perhaps have other siblings, like Levi himself did in this life?

“He’s not my brother. Well, it’s like he is, but we’re not related.” He said with fondness, and the tiniest hint of melancholy.

“You’re… not?”

“No, unfortunately. You think we look alike?” He asked with a radiant, expectant smile.

No, you don’t! At all! Levi wanted to scream those words at the top of his lungs. But he may be damned if he let that smile go away.

“Y-Yeah, the eyes mostly. It’s a rare shade of green you two have. Also, the mannerism, I guess.”

“You think so?! I’m so flattered you think that! Zeke’s my hero!”

Oh, dear god, why. How did Zeke become the center of their talk? He wanted to bring the conversation elsewhere, and as quickly as possible.

But of course, that didn’t happen.

Well, at least Eren is happy. He thought, looking fondly at the boy going on about how cool his, unknowingly to him, older brother was.

Eren kept going about it until they made it to the small park near Eren’s house. The temperature was cool, but they didn’t really start to feel it until the wind started blowing.

“It’s starting to get a little windy.” Levi observed.

“Y-Yeah, it is…” The wind blew gently, through raven and brown hair, through the trees and their leaves, producing a swooshing sound.

Eren froze.

Dark.

Cold.

Damp soil against his cheek.

A navy sky without moon or stars.

And the sound of the wind through the leaves.

Levi stopped walking when he realized Eren had remained a few steps behind. His eyes were wide, and he was trembling. It seemed like the boy’s mind was anywhere but there, with him.

Alarmed, Levi gently touched his arm, “Hey, are you okay? Are you cold?” He asked.

His light touch seemed to have brought Eren back to the present.

“N-No, I… I-I’m fine.” He said, not even vaguely sounding sincere.

“Are you sure? Here, take this.” Levi took out his black leather jacket to wrap it around Eren’s shoulders.

“No, I’m fine, really.” He tried to protest meekly.

“Just take it. Tch, going out without a jacket, no shit you’re cold, silly kid.” Levi tried to lighten up the mood, but both of them knew it wasn’t the cold that had caused Eren’s tremors.

“Thanks…” This time, he didn’t even protest being called a kid. It was like, he didn’t have the energies to do it. So he just took whatever comfort Levi was giving without thinking twice. A few minutes later, they arrived in front of Eren’s house.

“Thanks for the jacket,” He said, handing it back to him, “And for the sweets!”

“Thank you for your company.”

“I had a lot of fun tonight.”

“Me too.”

“Then I guess… I’ll see you around?”

“Yes. See you, Eren.”

“See you, Levi.”

 


 

Levi was laying on his bed with his notebook. He was tapping the pen against his bedside table, while looking at his list of suspects so intensely he could’ve made a hole in the pages.

Eren seemed to adore his older brother. The boy was starry eyes every time he talked about him. But did that make Zeke any less suspicious? Could he really be cleared of any suspect?

Levi circled his name three times.

For the time being, he decided to leave him at the top of his list. After all, Stockholm syndrome wasn’t rare in cases of domestic abuse, especially if it came from family members. But Zeke wasn’t his brother, or so Eren told him. Or to better say it, they didn’t know they were.

 The possibilities were two: either Grisha Jäger cheated on Dina with Eren’s mother, or he had a relationship with Dina before and didn’t know anything about Zeke. Or maybe Eren was the one he didn’t know anything about. Or maybe he knew but kept one family a secret from the other. The nuances of possibilities were several.

Either way, one of the brothers’ last name wasn’t Jäger, and discovering which one would eventually lead to the truth. If only he had known that before going to the flower shop, he saw Dina there! He could’ve payed attention whether she was wearing a ring or not.

Whichever the case, it was unlikely that the two lived together. Logically speaking, Zeke could be ruled out.

But Levi’s head was harder than the rocks Zeke used to throw at people in his titan form.

 


 

The following day, Zeke and Eren were alone at the flower shop, watering the flowers before opening. The latter was softly humming a jovial tune.

“You seem cheerier than the other day,” Zeke observed with glee, “Did something happen?”

Eren chuckled. To think that only two days ago he had spent hours crying his eyes out. And then, Levi came into his life like a hurricane. He had brought Eren over the rainbow, in a dream that yes, he knew it was only temporary. He knew it wasn’t going to take away his problems, but that dream swept away the clouds, even if just for a little while. And for the first time, he finally saw a ray of hope amongst all the despair.

“You know that new regular we’ve got? That cool guy with the leather jacket and the piercing blue eyes?”

“Oh, you mean that short guy?”

“Yeah, him.”

“What about him? Don’t tell me you like that grumpy dwarf?”

Eren gave him a dirty look. No matter the circumstances, Zeke found it hard to take Eren seriously when he pouted like that. He looked like an angry kitten, a cat one wanted to pat and cuddle. And just like a cat, doing so was only going to peeve him more.

“Sorry, sorry. Go on.” He said, chuckling softly.

“Well, I ran into him the other night…” Whatever Eren had wanted to say, it got lost somewhere in his thoughts. How much did he actually want to reveal to Zeke? Should he tell him about the tea date? Could the thing that they had even be considered a date? Eren wasn’t sure.

“He said… he thought you and I were brothers. And I just… I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”

“Eren…”

“I just… I wonder what it’d be like, if you were my brother…” Eren’s voice became brittle. Without hesitation, Zeke dropped his watering can and hurried to wrap his arms around the boy.

“I’m fine! I’m fine Zeke, really…!” Eren kept insisting, but silent tears were already cascading down his cheeks.

“Hey, it’s okay Eren… I’m here, Dina’s here, we’ll always be here for you. You know I’ve got your back.”

“I know… thanks, Zeke.”

“You’ll always be like a little brother to me.”

“You too…!” Zeke let the boy cry on his chest for a little while, resting his chin on the brunet’s head. After he had calmed down, Zeke pulled away, brushing away Eren’s tears.

“C’mon, dry those pretty eyes now.”

Eren laughed softly, and the blond planted a kiss on his forehead.

“I will never abandon you, Eren. And my offer is still valid. Just say one word, and I’ll smash Jean’s face with a rock.”

Eren rolled his eyes. He knew Zeke had the best intentions, and he only wanted to protecting him, but he was a little excessive at times.

“I told you not to do that,” he said, “Jean didn’t do anything to me.” Those words were like a mantra he had to repeat over and over these days. But nobody ever seemed to believe him.

“I won’t believe that until you tell me why you were crying.”

He supposed that was fair. But could he really tell him the truth, knowing how excessive Zeke was?

That day, Eren had sneaked back into the school by the window, to see with his own eyes that Jean didn’t end up in trouble for the earlier misunderstanding. At least, that was his hope. When he tiptoed to the Principal’s Office, he saw a distraught Jean being held by Marco. Eren was tempted to leave. But he couldn’t, not before knowing what happened in that office.

“I’m just…! I’m so sick of everyone thinking I’m a monster!”

Eren’s heart stopped. It couldn’t be. Did the Principal actually blame Jean for what happened? Did he know about the rumors? He needed to stay, he needed to learn more.

The scene that unfolded before his eyes cracked his resolve. Marco moved with a gentle passion, pressing his mouth on those same lips that Eren himself used to kiss, not very long ago. His legs moved on his own. He dashed through the empty corridors, tears clouding his vision. He had arrived at the school’s entrance when he passed by someone, who called for him with worry clear in his voice.

“Hey Eren! What’s wrong?!” The voice vaguely sounded like Reiner’s.

Eren couldn’t care. Sobs shaking his whole body with ferociousness as he ran. He didn’t think about it, just ran. Like if running could put distance between him and everything that had happened. Like he could escape from his own grief. But it doesn’t matter how fast you ran, how far away you think you’re throwing your heart. Like a boomerang, it will always come back into your chest. And it will hurt.

Why was he even crying? What right did he have to do that? Jean had every right to move on. To find someone who was much better suited for him than Eren himself ever was. And who could be better than Marco Bodt, a literal angel descended from heaven? Marco wouldn’t break up with him over the phone. He wouldn’t avoid him like the plague to avoid a confrontation. He wouldn’t stand back and watch him getting slandered by stupid rumors without doing anything.

That day, he arrived at work two hours late. Splashing his face with cold water hadn’t been enough to reduce the swelling of his puffy eyes, and Zeke still noticed. All his anger over his delay was gone, in the moment he noticed.

“I… failed a test I studied really hard for.”

“Is that really it?”

“Yeah… I know it’s a dumb reason to cry.”

“Aw, Eren… It’s not. I know things like that may seem like the end of the world at that age, but trust me, you’re a smart kid. You’ll catch up in no time.”

“I guess…”

Eren couldn’t explain to himself why he hadn’t been able to tell the truth to Zeke. He was like a brother. The closest thing to an older brother he will ever have. And yet, confiding his secrets to a person he had just met, had been so much easier.

Maybe it was only out of the fear that Zeke was going to put the blame on Jean anyway, but… Eren felt like he was lying to himself.

“We need to find you a new boyfriend.” Zeke’s absurd proposal snapped him out of his thoughts. But surely not as absurd as what he was about to say next.

“What about Reiner? I think he would be a good guy for you.”

Eren cringed.

“Not you too, please…! Armin and Historia seem to be under the impression he’s in love with me…”

“He’s not in love with you,” Zeke asserted. Eren was about to thank him, when he continued, “He’s absolutely in love with you.”

The brunet closed his eyes and rubbed his temple, sighing deeply.

“I like Reiner, but… as a friend.” He admitted.

“Ouch. You’re quite the heartbreaker, aren’t you?” Zeke said, giving him a pat on the back proudly.

Eren rolled his eyes, “You say that like it’s a good thing…”

 

 

Chapter Text

It was a sunny Monday morning and Eren was slothfully dragging his feet along the street. He had once again missed the bus and had no eagerness to get to school on time. Instead, he was almost tempted to go back home. His father had still to come back from his business trip, he was only going to see him the next morning. Which meant it would have taken another day for him to find out about Eren skipping school. He had a whole day of freedom before having to deal with his father’s rage. Or, a whole day of dreading the inevitable.

The thought of going back to his room, to slip in his pajama again, to snuggle up in bed with his cat Yuna, to walk freely around the kitchen and eat whatever he wanted like he had done all Sunday… It was so, so tempting.

Did he really want to do it, though? Eren didn’t know. He didn’t want to deal with his father when he came back. He didn’t want to deal with people whispering at school. He didn’t want to deal with seeing Jean again. The only thing he was willing to deal with, were his intrusive thoughts about those icy blue eyes of a person he barely knew, and yet couldn’t stop thinking about. The mere thought of Levi, made him smile like an idiot on the middle of the road. And still, he didn’t mind.

The rumbling of a motorbike approaching made him conscious of his surroundings again. After a while, the motorbike stopped right next to him, catching his attention.

“Eren! Missed the bus again?” The driver was a friendly blond face.

“Yeah, I think I’ve beaten my monthly record.” Eren joked. But being around Reiner felt a bit awkward, after hearing about what happened between him and Jean. He was trying so hard not to take notice of the blond’s busted lip. Seeing it made him feel a tremendous guilt.

“Do you want a lift?” He proposed. But Eren barely registered his question, his eyebrows were furrowed, and his eyes were focused on the cut on his friend’s mouth.

“Is your lip okay?” He asked.

Reiner started panicking internally. What was he supposed to do? Should he act cool, saying it was nothing? But then again, if he told Eren that his injury hurt, maybe the brunet would’ve reserved him some of his special attentions. His brain froze, the only words that were able to come out of his mouth were “uhm” and “uh.”

The beefy blond would’ve died of embarrassment, if it wasn’t for the fact that Eren wasn’t listening to any of his ramblings. Instead, the younger boy was all focused into searching something in his backpack. When he seemed to have found it, he took out a small metal tin.

“This ointment will help it heal faster.” Eren took a small amount with his fingers and reached for Reiner’s face.

“Ah, t-thanks.” He stammered, feeling his temperature rising. He couldn’t believe his luck. He was getting pampered by Eren without him even having to ask. What was he surprised for, after all? That was just how Eren was. But there was a little part of him, who wanted to believe he was doing it just for him.

When Eren started applying the ointment, with his face so close to Reiner’s, the latter couldn’t help but admire the colors of his beautiful eyes. He thought that they were too precious for being filled with so much sadness all the time. Reiner hated that.

“I like your natural eyes.” He said, as Eren was done with the ointment. A small smile appeared to light up his worried face.

“Thanks.” He said. All of his close friends never liked his contacts. He wasn’t sure how everyone at his school would react to them, he had only stopped wearing them for one single day of school. And that day, people were too busy gossiping about him, Jean and Armin to care or even notice his eyes. What was going to happen once people started noticing? And why did he even care? After encountering Levi, he found that he really didn’t. The people who were most important to him didn’t care one bit about his heterochromia, so why should he? On the contrary, most of them found it fascinating.

“Thank you for the ointment. But this is nothing, really. You should’ve seen Jean.” Reiner bragged, but Eren’s eyes darkened again.

“Reiner… You and Jean are friends. Why are you fighting?”

“We were friends.” Reiner specified, putting a lot of emphasis on the past tense.

“I can’t be friend with him anymore. Not after he hurt you so much.”

Eren thought that it was so not fair. It’s not like Jean wasn’t suffering after Eren broke up with him, it’s just that he didn’t let it show. Unlike Eren, who always vented his pain and frustration through tears, Jean had other ways of dealing with his grief. People though he got over it too fast, just because he was with Marco now. But Eren didn’t see it like that. In his mind, the freckled boy deserved to be with Jean far more than him. And he was happy that Jean found someone else, someone who could make him truly happy. Even though Eren knew that his ex-boyfriend was still suffering for what he did to him.

“I hurt him more than he ever hurt me. But that’s between Jean and me.”

Reiner didn’t seem convinced, as he pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.

“Look, I’m not just going to stand back and watch.”

“I appreciate your concern, Reiner. You’re a real friend.” He said, with a small but sincere smile. He couldn’t understand why Reiner looked so downcast after he told him that.

“But I don’t want you to fight my battles,” he continued, “I’m really not worth it.”

“Of course you are! That asshole made you cry, he had it coming!”

That’s what it was all about? When Reiner saw Eren cry the other day, he thought Jean did something to him?

“What? No…! I wasn’t crying because of Jean…”

Eren wasn’t going to tell him the real reason behind his tears that day. If the blond knew he was crying because he saw Marco kiss Jean, Reiner was going to blame it on the latter anyway. But before he could think of what to say, he heard Reiner sigh deeply as he put a hand on his shoulder.

“Eren, I know it’s hard. But you don’t have to defend him. I want you to know, that whenever you’ll be ready to tell me the truth, I’ll be here to listen.”

No. He wasn’t doing this. He couldn’t be doing this!

“Reiner… You don’t believe those rumors, do you?” Eren asked. A dreadful feeling was rising from the pit of his stomach. The older boy looked away, and his silence was more telling than a thousand words.

Eren was dumbstruck, but he forced the words out, “You know Jean! He would never hurt me like that!”

“Sometimes the people we trust the most are the ones that hurt us. And we don’t even realize it.”

It’s not like what he said wasn’t wise. It was almost too wise to come out of Reiner’s mouth. He, just like so many others, was just directing his animosity towards the wrong person.

Reiner didn’t believe him. Eren could tell from his eyes that he didn’t believe him. So he decided to just drop it. After all, he was used to it. He spent his whole life being unsaid, unheard.

And he was tired.

He was just so tired of screaming, of fighting for his voice to be heard when the more he yelled, the more it was like he never said anything.

His watery eyes made Reiner even more convinced of his own beliefs.

“Yeah, maybe you’re right…” He had given up.

“So, do you want that lift?”

It’s not like Eren didn’t hear him the first time he asked. The conversation he had with Historia and Armin kept popping up in his mind. Was Reiner really in love with him, like they seemed to believe? Like even Zeke seemed to believe?

The last thing Eren wanted, was to give him any false hopes. If, he believed the senseless theories of his friends, which he didn’t. And even if they were right, how was riding to school with Reiner something wrong? He didn’t see any harm in it. Reiner used to give rides to Ymir and Bertholdt all the time, as friends. It was just what friends do. Nothing more to it.

“Yeah, thank you.” He said, before hopping on. He didn’t see Reiner’s joyful smile when he did it. He didn’t see his cheeks heat up when he encircled his arms around his waist.

Eren was painfully blind to a lot of things. Especially to how in the past month, many suitors were crawling from under their rocks to try and win their prey.

And Reiner was no exception.

 

*

 

When they made it to the school’s entrance, only Armin was there to wait for him. Historia, like the others, was still protesting against Jean’s suspension. The little blond sighed in relief when he saw his best friend coming together with Reiner.

“Thank you for bringing him to school safe and sound, Reiner.” He told the other blond, as the two joined him inside the school’s building.

“Really, man? I’m not a child.” Eren complained, with his usual pout, but it seemed like he was ignored by both blondes.

“Just doing my duty!” Reiner said, patting both of the younger boys on the shoulder, “I’ll see you guys later.”

With that, he left for his own classroom. Being two years their senior, his class was on the third floor. Both Eren and Armin lamented that they couldn’t spend more time with him and Bertholdt. They didn’t have much time together at school, but they used to see each other so often outside, especially in their secret hideout.

However, ever since Jean and Eren broke up, their group started drifting apart. Eren stopped coming to their usual spot after school, and so did Armin and Historia. Consequentially, Ymir stopped too. Reiner stopped not long after that, and so did Bertholdt, since everywhere he went, Bert followed.

It was all a domino effect. And Eren couldn’t stop blaming himself for that. Was he ever going to set this right?

“Hey Armin?”

“Yeah?”

“When was the last time you went to the usual spot?”

“Uhm… now that I think about it… somewhere around two weeks ago, I think. Why are you asking?”

“I just… I wanted you to know, that you shouldn’t feel obliged to stop going there just because of me.” Of course, the same counted for Historia too. Eren had actually already told her about that, but she was adamant. She wasn’t going to leave him alone. She wouldn’t even go out with Ymir if Armin wasn’t there to keep Eren company.

“Eren… you know how I feel about that. I’m not going to just go and have fun with the others, knowing that you’re alone and sad.”

Eren was grateful to have friends like them, he really was. But he couldn’t help but feel suffocated by their attentions, and it only fueled his guilt and self-hatred. Luckily, they seemed to have understood that, and gave him a little bit of alone time that weekend. They both took time for themselves; Historia spent time with her girlfriend while Armin remained home with his beloved books. And Eren could spent a wonderful evening with his new friend, Levi. Even the sunday spent alone at home hadn't been so bad.

But it was nothing more than a break. Now that the weekend was over, the blond duo was back with their incessant smothering. At least Historia decided to take part in that protest.

“I mean it Armin, just go if you want. I’ll be fine.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I’ll be fine Armin, really. And it’s not like I’ll be alone. You know Historia will be glued to me in any case.”

It was a little lie. He would’ve tried to push Historia to go on her on way too, even if he knew she was going to be way harder to convince than Armin.

What he truly wanted, was to be left alone. So he could try and spent some more time with Levi. He was the only one who made him forget about everything that was going on both at school and at home. And he barely knew him. Some people probably wouldn't even have considered him a friend, but that's what he was to Eren, now. A friendly face among a sea of despair. Deep down, he felt like he had known him for a lifetime.

“Then I guess… maybe today I’ll go for a while.” Armin said, after thinking about it for a while.

Eren could tell he had been wanting to go. And now that he had finally released him from that burden, he felt his own guilt alleviating, even just the slightest bit.

“I’m glad.” He said, relieved. Then, he let out a chuckle. “Geez, sometimes it feels like you two are my parents or something…”

“That’s because you’re a big child.” Armin chuckled with him and linked their arms together.

“Also, if you want to join the others in their protest, please do.”

Armin’s lips parted, eyes widening the slightest bit.

“I… Honestly I’ve always thought this protest was a stupid idea. It won’t solve anything, and missing school days will only be damaging in the end.”

Eren should’ve known. But it made him happy, knowing he wasn’t avoiding the protest because of him.

“Well, thanks for your brutal honesty.”

“C’mon Eren, you know I’m always by your side.”

While they were strolling around the halls arm in arm, people started whispering. And not so sneakily as they thought they were, because Armin and especially Eren could distinctly hear every single word that was being said, especially the ones of two boys in particular. Their carefree laughters slowly died down because of the venom of the snakes hissing behind them.

“He’s with that little nerd now?”

“It didn’t take much time for him to recover it seems.”

“Neither did Jean, I’ve heard he’s going out with Marco.”

“You mean Marco Bodt? I thought that half-faced freak was smarter than that.”

Armin felt Eren tensing up. His jaws clenched, his body started slightly shaking in rage. He pulled him along, inciting him to go forward and just ignore those assholes, but it was too late. Eren turned around to face them, his rage exploding as he shouted.

“What the fuck did you call Marco?!” his veins were popping out on his forehead.

“Eren, please…!” Armin was desperately pulling at his arm, but the little blond had no chance against his taller and stronger friend.

One of the two bullies, if Eren remember correctly his name was Gerald, stepped forward, acting haughty.

“I called him a half-faced freak, got a problem with that?”

“Yes I do!”

Ever since elementary school, Marco had always been the object of derision to their classmates, because of the birthmark that covered half of his face. Eren never hesitated to throw hands with whoever dared to ridicule him for it. He hated people that were superficial like that. A true friend doesn’t care what face you wear. Friendship was so much deeper than that. It was about your hearts, about the pieces of yourself you were willing to share with others. His close friends were like a family to him.

He loved each one of them so much, he couldn’t stand people messing with any of his friends. He was ready to bare his teeth and prepare his fist to defend them.

But none of the two bullies didn’t seem intimidated by the rage consumed boy.

“Well, too bad, ‘cause I’m not gonna stop just because you’re annoyed by it.” Gerald kept provoking him. Eren’s rage blinded him as he pushed the other boy against a locker.

“What the fuck is your problem?!” The brunet yelled.

“What is my problem? Why are you defending him? Why are you defending Jean? Do you have Stockholm syndrome or something?”

The bully started rambling, shouting question after question to mask his growing fear. Eren looked like a wild beast; his eyes were bloodshot, his teeth bared, his face was red with rage and his veins were popping out. All witnesses around them were scared. They had never seen him like that.

When Eren’s fist collided with the other boy’s eye, the whole corridor erupted in chaos. Some people went to call for a teacher, other started cheering while filming with their cellphones.

“Shut the fuck up!” Eren shouted as he kept beating the other boy. The latter wasn’t just standing there and taking it, he was able to land some good punches in his stomach, but there was no doubt Eren was stronger, and he would’ve reduced him to a pulp if Reiner hadn’t intervened to separate them. It was all thanks to Armin, who went to search for him as soon as Eren started talking back to those bullies.

“Eren! Eren, it’s okay, calm down!” He said as he held the brunet by encircling his arms around his waist, while the latter was thrashing and trying to free himself, so he could keep tormenting his prey.

“What the hell is going on here?!” Everything went silent as their school counselor showed up on the ‘crime scene’. No one uttered a word, but with one student laying on the floor with a bloodied face and another one being held back by a third, it was clear as day what had just happened there.

“You, in my office. Right now.” He said, pointing to Eren. Reiner released his hold, and Eren turned around with pleading eyes, to look at both him and Armin for help. It was incredulous how he looked like a scared puppy now, when only a few moments ago he had the rage of a beast in his eyes. Armin and Reiner wanted to help, but as Eren himself knew, there was nothing his friends could have done for him, this time. With a heavy heart, he followed the counselor, Dot Pixis, to his office. His walk along the corridor felt like a walk of shame.

That was what he felt: tremendous shame. He regretted giving into his instincts. Not that the bully didn’t deserve every single one of his punches, but he had just acted like an animal in front of everyone. He should’ve known better. He should’ve been better than those bullies he despised so much.

And to think that earlier that morning, he was worried about how others would react to his natural eyes. Well, now he had given them something way worse to talk about, that they could use against him.

School days. Huh. Weren’t they lovely?

Chapter Text

Eren knew he was going to end up in Dot Pixis’s office sooner or later that week. The Principal had been so adamant about him needing counseling, he took an appointment for him with a blatant disregard for the boy’s own personal say in the matter.
He knew it was inevitable. Surely, he didn’t want to end up there any sooner than he needed to. Especially not for being caught beating another student up.

“Have a seat, Eren.”

He did as he was told, even if all his body was screaming, begging to get away. Suddenly, even attending class appeared to be less stressful to Eren than this. He could not begin to tell how much he regretted leaving his bed that morning. He should’ve turned back home, when he was feeling like it. When he still had the chance to. He should’ve asked Reiner to take him back home when he offered him a ride. Why didn’t he think of that before?

“I’m glad to see you’ve calmed down.”

“It’s not like I had any choice…”

“What’s gotten into you? You’re a well-behaved kid, usually.”

It wasn’t the first time Eren picked fights with bullies. However he was smart enough not to start fights on school grounds, in the past. He hadn’t fought one of them in a long time, now that he was thinking about it. Everything used to be so different when they were kids. Now that they were teenagers, and his classmates knew how rich and powerful Eren’s father was, they knew better than to mess with him or any of his friends. Maybe that bully thought Marco wasn’t his friend anymore, after everything that happened with Jean? Or to better say, everything they thought happened.

“That guy just made me mad!”

“You need to learn how to confront people with dialogue, you can’t rely on violence to fix things.”

“I know that, but it’s not my fault! They were insulting my friends!”

“Like I said, you need to settle things with dialogue, not with violence.”

“I tried, but it was like talking to a wall!”

“Then you should’ve just walked away. It’s not worth it.”

At least there was one thing they could both agree on. It was so not worth it. But, there was no way in hell he could ever just walk away. He could never, ever just ignore those comments filled with venom. Not when his friends were the ones being attacked. That wasn’t happening. Not now, not ever.

“I’ll try.” He wished he could’ve told to himself that it was a lie, but with everything that was a stake, he really needed to try and control himself. He couldn’t guarantee he could’ve done it, but he needed to at least try. His father wasn’t going to be happy to know he was going around beating people up. He could already hear him and his aunt, lecturing him and telling him how he had dishonored the name of their family.

“Trying won’t be enough. You’ll have to assure me you won’t do it anymore, Eren. Or else I’ll have to choice but to call your father so-”

“No, please! Don’t call my father!” Eren begged, “I swear I won’t do it anymore! Give me detention, give me any punishment, make me clean the bathrooms for a month, I don’t care! Please don’t call him!”

“Even if I don’t tell him, your father will learn about this sooner or later.”

“I know...” He should’ve stayed home that day. None of this would’ve happened. The trouble he was going to get into for skipping one day of school was nothing compared to the hell his father was going to unleash once he learned about his.

“You just have to hope you haven’t broken anything on your schoolmate’s face. His parents may press charges against you.”

Eren knew he busted his eyebrow, but the other hits were aimed at the body. He didn’t remember feeling anything breaking under his knuckles, so that asshole was probably fine. A bit bloodied, but fine.

“I didn’t hurt him that badly. Reiner stopped me in time.”

“His parents may still decide to take action against you.”

“I’ll deal with him later. I’ll find a way to resolve this quietly.” He knew exactly how to buy that guy’s silence. Pixis seemed to be weirdly amused by Eren’s confidence in his own statement.
Eren wished he could punch the old man the face too.

“I’m sure you will, you are the son of a politician after all.” He said, with a soft laugh. But his playful demeanor was soon replaced by a more serious one.

“Perhaps… you want to talk about what’s going on at home?”

Eren crossed his arms, as if to raise an invisible shield.

“Nothing’s going on at home.” He said, brusquely.

“I know you’re father’s been rarely home lately. It must be hard, being a kid and not having parents around. It grants you a lot of freedom, but a lot of loneliness too.”

Eren couldn’t believe he was serious. He knew Pixis was a professional, but how was he was supposed to open up to him? How could anyone expect Eren to tell his sorrows and pains to someone, who basically a stranger? Pixis wasn’t his friend. He never did anything to gain his trust. How was he supposed to confide in him? The boy thought that both him and the Principal must’ve been touched in the head.

“I’m not lonely. I’m fine.”

Lonely. It was absurd to even suggest such a thing. He had his friends, he had Yuna. And now he also had Levi. He might have been sad, he might’ve had a ton of other problems, but lonely wasn’t a word that belonged to him.

“Eren, I’m trying to help you, but this will require an effort on both parts.”

He meant well, Eren knew he did. But he couldn’t help but feel anger and resentment growing inside his guts. How could that old man expect him to take an effort, when the boy didn’t even want to be there in the first place?

“What do you want me to say? That my father doesn’t pay attention to me, so I’m taking my rage out on my schoolmates?”

Pixis sighed. Eren was hoping the old man’s patience had been pushed to the limit, and that he was going to tell him to get out of his office.

“Eren, this impertinent attitude of yours won’t bring us anywhere. I want to help, but you have to open up to me.”

His insistence on being patient and understanding made the brunet be the one who was starting to lose his patience.

“Why would I believe you give a shit about me? About any of us?!”

“I do Eren. I know teenage years can be very troubling, and I want to help all of you kids through that.”

“And still, you do nothing against bullies. Do you know how many times they’ve been harassing my friends? None of you teachers ever intervened! You never did anything!” Eren's voice cracked at the end. He felt so frustrated and mad at himself. He couldn't cry. Not there, not in that moment.

Pixis knew Eren wasn’t in the wrong there. His eyes saddened, but he wasn’t going to admit all of their faults.

“I know there’s a bullying problem at this school, and believe me, we’re doing everything we can to eradicate it.”

Eren exhaled shortly from his nose, “Sure you are…” he said quietly, without being heard.

“But that’s not what we were talking about right now.”

The brunet wasn’t having any of it.

“Can I go now?” He asked, trying to sound as polite as possible, but all the self-control in his whole body wasn’t enough to mask his irritation.

“Not yet. There is one more thing we need to talk about. As I’m sure you already know, the Principal had scheduled an appointment for you this week. I was supposed to see you on Wednesday, but since you’re here, we can hit two birds with a rock. I was hoping you would be willing to talk to me.”

“I think I’ve already made it clear that I don’t want to talk about it.” He said, not understanding why he was even bothering in wasting his breath, when it was clear that no one gave a damn about what he wanted.

“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to take an effort. It will only do you good in the end.”

Eren took a deep breath, trying to swallow down his seething rage.

“Yes, my father is often away for work. Yes, it makes me sad. Is that what you wanted to hear?”

“You haven’t lost that attitude, but I guess that’s a start.”

Pixis was a fool if he believed he was going to get anything else out of him. No way he was sharing all his personal feelings with him. No way.

“How does that make you feel?”

“Sad?” Like I just fucking told you five minutes ago? He added in his mind what he knew he couldn’t say out loud.

“Can you elaborate on that?”

“It makes me very sad…?” Just what else did he want him to say? What did all those people want from him?

“What about your father? What does it make you feel toward him?”

Towards his father? How was he supposed to feel towards his father? Eren didn't understand what Pixis wanted from him.

"I love my father." He said, almost offended, as if Pixis had insinuated the contrary.

"I don't doubt you do. But surely you must feel some anger, or resentment towards him. It's totally okay to feel like that, Eren. Doesn't mean you love him any less."

Eren scratched the back of his head, “Can I please go now?”

“No, you can’t. I’m keeping you here all morning if that’s what it takes.”

When were they all going to understand that chaining him down wasn’t going to help? That the more they pressured him into opening up, the more he was going to shut everybody out?
His jaws clenched. He sank into the chair, holding his crossed arms even closer to his body.

“Okay, I see you don’t want to talk about your father.”

“Oh, you think so?” Eren lips curled in a one-sided, bitter smile. It took the old man long enough to realize.

“Maybe we should change the subject. Do you perhaps want to talk about… Jean?”

Eren scoffed at that, “Pff what? You’re a couple counselor now?”

He hoped he was joking, but the old man seemed serious, “Sometimes, when we’re lonely, we feel the need to compensate that. We become fragile, and we let in the worst people that we possibly can.”

Eren was starting to get upset. Where was he trying to get at?

“What do you mean?”

“What I mean is… that when people are desperate for affection, they fall for the first person who’s willing to give it to them. But most of the time, these kind of people, they’re just exploiting those weaknesses.”

It was just as he had feared.

The rumors had reached the faculty. And they believed them.

Eren let out a bitter laugh, his hands began almost trembling in rage as he brought a hand on his face, “I don’t believe this. I do not fucking believe this!”

“Eren, calm down-”

“I AM NOT gonna calm down! You think Jean-!” He stopped, when he realized he was screaming. He didn’t need people to hear this.

“You actually think Jean used to hit me…! Those rumors are just fucking lies! I can’t believe the school faculty would listen to those dumb student gossips!”

“I know it must be hard, you were in love with him. But everyone has seen you coming to school with bruises when he was still your boyfriend.”

“And so what?! How can you know he was the cause?!”

“You stopped having them as soon as you two broke up.”

Eren got up from his seat, kicking the chair down as he did so, “That’s just a coincidence!”

Seeing him so agitated, Pixis got out of his chair to walk up to him, putting his hands on the boy’s shoulder on an attempt to calm him down.

“A coincidence? Eren, people who hurt us don’t love us. You have no reason to defend him. Just tell me everything, and we can take action against him.”

It was then that Eren finally snapped.

“DON’T TOUCH ME!” He got out of Pixis’ hold as if he had been touched by fire, “Just leave me alone!” He cried as he stormed out of the office.

 

*


It was a lovely day at the park. But since it was a school day, the only people present were Jean and the others. Their situation though, wasn’t as rosy as the weather that day.

“My folks threatened to send me to boarding school this summer if I really skip a whole week.” Sasha in a feeble voice.

“Whoa, that’s rough,” Connie said, “All my mom did was take away my gaming console. So far, at least.”

They had all gotten into trouble with their parents for this. And it was just their second day protesting. It didn’t sit well with Jean at all.

“Guys, you’re still in time to step back,” He intervened. Seriously, you don’t have to do this for me.”

“We’ve talked about it a million times already, Jean. We’re not going to give up on this.” Marco said.

“Yeah, the Principal can’t turn a blind eye on this for too long! Just another couple of days and I’m sure he’ll rethink your suspension.” Historia said. Her outlook was way too optimistic, and Jean knew he wasn’t the only one there to think that. Those guys really only wanted to do this to show him their support.

“What if he doesn’t?”

“Then we’ll make our voices even louder! We’ll think of something else.” She replied.

“No. This will never work. It ends here!”

Connie rolled his eyes, “Oh c’mon Jean, don’t be so tragic.”

“There’s just too much at stake! And it’s not like Mister Eyebrows is gonna change his mind. I want all of you guys to go back to school tomorrow.”

“Where are you going, now?”

“I’m going home, and so should you!”

“Wait Jean!”

The boy stopped, “I’m serious guys, this is not worth it!”

Jean hadn’t realized he stopped right in the middle of the sidewalk, and a passerby, who was walking at a fast pace, crashed right into him. And still, he had the nerves of being the one who got mad.

“Hey, watch where you’re going!”

“Jean…?”

His whole body froze when his eyes met a pair of emerald and amber eyes, that he hadn’t seen in the longest time.

“Eren?”

For the first time in he didn’t know how long, Eren was finally looking at him in the eyes, with his bloodshot, glossy ones. For how sad those eyes were, Jean couldn’t even rejoice for the fact that they were once again of his beautiful natural colors. Still, there was something so sweet in seeing those eyes full of raw emotions, with no shields, no barriers for the first time in weeks. Even if those emotions weren’t positive ones.

“Your eye…” Eren’s voice cracked. Seeing the purple and blue hues of the bruise around Jean’s eye made his heart sank into his stomach. The last ounce of control he had over himself was lost, as tears once started flowing from his pained eyes. Eren couldn’t hold eye contact anymore. He looked down, closing his eyes as he put a hand on his mouth, sobbing uncontrollably into it.

“Hey, it’s okay…” Jean encircled his arms around him, and Eren let him do it. Jean held him close to his chest, gently cradling his head, while rubbing the brunet’s back with the other hand. Eren was crying hysterically, with his face buried deep into the taller boy’s shoulder, wrapping his arms around him and holding onto him like his life depended on it.

"Eren...” Historia was almost on the edge of crying. It hurt her heart so much to see her best friend cry, she just wanted to go over to him and join the hug. But she would never interrupt that moment; those two needed it. It was a long time coming. Ymir put her hands on the shorter girl’s shoulder, to give her some comfort.

“We should leave them alone.” She said, and all the others seemed to agree. While they were leaving, Marco was the only one to turn back, to take one quick glance at the two.
His mind told him that it was necessary for Jean and Eren to talk. He had wanted that to happen, only god knew how much he had wanted them to finally talk and clear things up. But there was a tiny part of him, who couldn’t help but be jealous. There was a small, small part of him, that was afraid. What if they realized they were still in love with each other? What if they decided to get back together? He mentally reprimanded himself for having such thoughts. But Jealousy was a part of human nature, there was nothing he could really do.
Just one moment. One quick look, and then he was gone, together with the others.


*


Eren had cried his tears to the last one, when they sat down on one of the park’s benches. They were sitting not too far from each other, but not especially close either. They always used to be joined at the hip, all the time. Even before they got together, they always used to be all over each other. Sasha used to tease them relentlessly for that.
To think that only a few moments earlier he was holding the brunet so close… and now they were back to being distant. At the very least, Eren wasn’t running away from him. Jean guessed that was a good start. Long silences were never a pleasurable thing, so Jean started thinking of something to say to him. Maybe apologizing for what happened the other day was a good start.

“I’m sorry you got suspended because of me.” Eren, to Jean’s surprise, spoke first.

“No, I’m sorry. For grabbing you. I really shouldn’t have done that.”

Another few instants of silence passed. Jean’s eyes fell on Eren’s school backpack. What was he even doing out there at that time? Where was he running to?

“Are you late for school or…?”

“No, I bailed. Everyone was pissing me off.”

Eren had gone back to avoiding his gaze. Well, at least he was talking to him, and for that, Jean was immensely grateful. But soon, Eren turned around to look at him, with an apologetic, forlorn look in his bright eyes.

“I have a balm for that. Do you want me to…?”
It took Jean a few instants to realize what he was talking about.

“Oh, sure. Thank you.”

They remained in silence while Eren started searching in his backpack for one of his many healing creams. He read the instructions on the back carefully, to decide which one was better to use in the case of a black eye. Jean knew he could’ve chosen it with his eyes closed, but apparently this time he wanted to be extra careful.
He liked how attentive Eren was while taking care of him. It wasn’t the first time he treated his injuries, he used to do it all the time for him, and for any other friend who ever got hurt. Although, after they became boyfriends, Jean had needed to take care of Eren far more times than Eren had ever needed to take care of him. When it came to treating sores and injuries, Jean knew he wasn’t nearly as skilled as Eren was. He didn’t have his same delicate touch. Jean had always thought that he would’ve made a really good doctor.

“I’m sorry for what happened with Reiner.”  Eren said, as he gently applied the balm to the sore area around Jean’s eye.

“Not your fault he’s a dick.”

“You used to think he was the coolest.”

“I used to think I’d never fall for you either.” He said with a hint of a nostalgic smile. A sentiment that wasn't reciprocated by Eren. All he saw in those gems was regret.

“Maybe you should never have.”

“Eren-”

“No, I mean it!” Eren cut in, before Jean could tell him it wasn’t true, “I only ever brought you trouble. Those stupid rumors started circulating only because I’m too selfish to tell the truth.”

Jean could tell he was being sincere. He hadn’t broken eye contact even once since they started talking. The fact that he really thought that about himself made a lump form in his throat.

“Eren, I don’t want you to tell the truth! I just want you to talk to me. You just broke up with me one day, without an explanation. I just want to know why!” He said, looking at him with eyes that were desperate for answers.

“What does it matter? You’re with Marco now. Be happy with him. And just forget about me.”

“You can’t ask me to do that!” Jean put his hands on Eren’s shoulder, “We’ve been friends since we were kids! I’m always going to care about you, you stupid blockhead.”

“Why do you even care about a stupid blockhead like me?”

“I do ask myself that, sometimes.” He jested, hoping it would cheer Eren up a little. But judging from his forlorn expression, he seemed to have taken it by heart.

“Hey, you know I was joking, right?”

“I’m not in the mood for jokes. I’m sorry Jean, I’m going home.” He said, as he took his backpack and started leaving.

“Eren, we’re not done talking. Please…!” Jean reached out to him, wanting to grasp him, to make him stay. But when he thought about what happened the other day, he froze.

“I’m sorry.” Eren said, not adding anything else. He knew that if he did, his voice would’ve cracked. Jean watched Eren’s back as he walked away. He opened his mouth to say something, and for an instant he hesitated. But he couldn’t let him walk away without letting him know one thing.

“I don’t regret falling for you.”

Eren stopped.

“I never will.”

Long instants passed, before Eren started walking again. This time, Jean didn’t say anything to stop him.