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Yesterday

Chapter Text

Levi lay slouched at his desk chair, staring at the clock at the opposite wall. Each time the big hand moved to another second, he gazed unwaveringly at the vibration of it before it moved on again. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. He felt as though he could watch it for hours on end-he probably already had-and he knew exactly why. It was something heavy that trudged unpleasantly in his chest, weighing him further over his grand desk.

Business was quiet tonight. The lights weren’t on in the room, so it was thrown over with shadow as the sun went down-hours ago, it must have been. The only light was from the hallway outside; ominous clouds collected before the moon, and then let loose a relentless storm that had been forecasted as being one of the worst nights of the year for a week, now. Their batteries charged against the windows with a smack and a crack of thunder every so often rattled the sky. Rain trailed down the windows. Not slowly as they usually would, but in quick, unrelenting streaks that began afresh as soon as one zipped from view.

The day had been a long one, Levi decided. Usually he would be able to fight off fatigue as if he were swatting a fly. Nothing much to it. He would continue working late into the night immersed in the plot and characters, before finishing up by checking any emails and replying to them. He would get home for about two in the morning. There, he would hang his coat on the pegs beside the door, try to take off his boots whilst trying to evade the dog’s attacks, then trudge into the living room. Here, he would be greeted by a warm smile and an even warmer voice.

“You finally decided to come home?”

Suddenly, Levi’s breath constricted. He quickly sat up in his chair and rested his head in his hands, trying to combat this wave of feeling. It completely consumed him and he didn’t know what to do with it. Punch a wall? Might diffuse a little of it. Throw himself into the wall? Might make him feel a little better. But he knew, with terrible anxiety, that this was something that wouldn’t go away anytime soon. At present, it felt permanent; it was a ghost that pursued him with a sole intention of making his life a living hell.

“Fuck,” he groaned. Fidgeting, he finally dived into his draw. He clawed around in there for a few moments with desperation. He felt his eyes bulge in their sockets. There! Leaving the drawer open, he unscrewed the top and drank heavily from the bottle. The cold liquid burned his throat, and he quickly tore it from his mouth, panting heavily. A new wave of feeling accompanied by an overwhelmed stomach made him crash to his knees. The desk chair crashed into the bookcase behind.

“Fuck!” He yelled into the silence-the silence didn’t respond. The rain only grew louder and angrier, throwing punches and entire arms of the frigid bullets against the windows. “Fuck,” he said more quietly, his voice raw. Dragging himself to the desk, he leaned his back at the front of it,
slouching; the drink was still in his left hand, some of the contents having spilled to the floor, and his clothes rumpled. Even his hair was unkempt. Everything in the office was a mess, and Levi was surprised that he wasn’t even bothered by that.

It was that moment that there was a knock at the door.

“Mr Ackerman?” a voice squeaked.

He could just stay on that floor-he certainly felt like doing that. But he dragged himself to his feet somehow, and went over to the door. Not without stumbling into a bookcase and almost tripping over, beforehand. When he grabbed the handle, he peered merely through a crack of the door.

He snorted.

“Fuck off. Work’s done today.”

The boy stuttered. “S-sorry, sir. I was told to give this to you.”

“Then give it to me tomorrow. I’m busy.”

“The sender said it was urgent-“

“Tomorrow,” Levi growled, but the boy didn’t move. Huffing, Levi snatched it from the boy. “Happy? Now fuck off.” The door was slammed shut before he could say any more.

A letter? Didn’t they know technology existed? Emailing? Somehow it astounded Levi at the stupidity of some people…but he was like that, wasn’t he? Only a few years ago he was still sending letters like that, feeling proud that in some way he was defying the newer things that he deemed ‘lazy’.

Annoyance sparked in him and he turned to throw it in the bin-then he stopped. He saw the writing. Cursive, curly, crisp.

“Mikasa?” he wondered. Dropping onto the floor, he put down the drink and tore the letter open. Fumbling, he took out the yellow paper and read with frantic eyes. By the time he was done reading, he found that he read it another hundred-probably many, many more-times. His brain didn’t seem to keep up with the letters on the page. But when they did, the wave suddenly crested and crashed down upon him. A scream tore through his chest and into the open, spilling red onto the floor as he slammed his fist into it. That was all that could be heard in the room. The alcohol discarded and the letter trembling in the man’s hand.

"Levi, I don’t know if you’ll read this, being from me. And I honestly think you’ll find out from the town before this letter. I couldn’t come by person either because of the front desk. I’m not going to rant at you anymore about that. There’s no point. I thought that you should hear this from me before anyone else, though. Eren would have wanted that.

Eren died, Levi. There was an accident. I hope that you feel something from this and that you hurt. You should hurt. I’ll get into contact with you soon, but don’t come to our house. Not ever. And don’t go to his funeral, either. It’s too much for anyone and you being there would only make it worse. Eren’s lived a tough life but if he was alive, he wouldn’t want people to fight over his grave.

I hope you understand this and that his death wasn’t just in vain,

Mikasa"

Chapter Text

“How long is this going to take? We’ve been travelling for hours.”

“Fuck off, it’s only been five minutes.”

“You’ve just been counting this walk or whatever the hell it is. The car ride just about ended me.”

“Tch, stop being dramatic, brat. I’ve got a bloody watch, it’s been ten minutes. We’re here, anyway, so keep your eyes closed.”

“Sure, sure.”

Levi quickly went over to the trees around him and turned on switches, scanning the set-up-once, twice-he breathed a strained sigh. He wasn’t usually someone that did this; soppy, gooey, lovey-dovey things were what Eren did and tried to drag him into. Levi would put up a strong fight, but he’d inevitably end up joining his boyfriend, reluctantly, on whatever it was that he planned. Most often it was a night at home with some rom-com flickering on the screen, a sea of Pepsi, and-Eren’s favourites-chocolate eclairs.

This was slightly different.

“Right, open your eyes.”

And he did. Levi watched Eren nervously, hiding his fidgeting hands behind his back. Eren slowly walked over to the leafy canopy, eyes wide and reflecting the tens of little fairy lights that draped the trees’ branches. He stepped into the small, enclosed space of light with feather touches to the ground, careful as if he was afraid of disturbing something. On the ground in the middle of it all was a frayed blue blanket from their closet with a basket on top, partially open to reveal the mountain of sugary food glinting in their wrappers. And to the side of that, a bottle of red wine and two wine glasses, glinting.

Eren closed his eyes, sighing.

Of course, Levi panicked.

“Yeah, well, we don’t have to do this here, if you don’t want to. I know it’s filthy sitting on the floor and there are probably ten-legged shits crawling all over-“

“You thought of this?”

Levi paused, staring dumbfounded. His boyfriend was still looking over the picnic, hair its usual mess and clothes that looked as if they were slept in from the night before. Perhaps two, three nights before. Though his eyes were wistfully glazed.

Taking it that he might not be upset, he shrugged uncertainly. “Sort of. I came up with the idea, but your mum was the one who refined them.”

“Ah right, that explains it,” Eren hummed, nodding in amusement. “I could tell.”

“What? You could? How? Tell me.”

“Calm down, Levi. I’m not complaining. Believe me, I love it. All of it,” Eren quickly waved his hands assuredly towards a pale-faced Levi, if he could get any paler. “It’s just that my mum talks about this stuff all the time, you know, from her books and all that. I figured that she’d give you a few pointers if she ever knew you were taking me out.”

“You don’t say. She looked like she’d outright hunt me down if I told her no,” Levi hid a grin behind his hand when Eren laughed knowingly. It still gave Levi shudders whenever he thought back to his visit with Carla Yeagar, the perfect picture of innocence and motherly love until he brought
up his plan. The woman pounced on the opportunity savagely, ripping every morsel of an idea up into shreds and reconstructing them into her stereotypical yet romantic date.

“This is the most important moment of your life, boy. Do you hear me? You mess this up, one little, itty bitty detail, and you better count that I’ll be there.”

“Carla, you’re making me nervous-“

Her blue eyes, identical to Eren’s, bore deathly into his. “Good.”

Eren shook his head, absently nudging his boot into the dirt. “Well, that’s mum for you. But even if soppy isn’t your thing…” he tilted his head, smiling brightly. “You did great. Thanks, Levi.”

Shit. Feelings.

“No problem. Should we sit?” Levi said, fully aware that he was slightly breathless.

“Lead the way!”

Once they were sat down, Levi immediately went to the wine, twisting the screw cap off and set to pouring careful amounts in each glass; he was thankful his hands weren’t shaking. How was it that those fancy fuckers did it in those posh restaurants? Usually, he saw them with a white cloth draped over one arm, taking the bottle from a bucket of ice or a some useless basket, then gently pouring the cooled beverage with admirable finesse. That was what he saw in the movies, anyway. But grace wasn’t something Levi was particularly known for. He glared into the glasses as the red liquid sloshed disgustingly to the bottom of them.

He put his glass to the side for now, cautiously glancing to his right. Eren didn’t notice. He was already diving into the basket, fishing out with a predatory eye the eclairs that were inevitably there.

“Aha! Found them! See, you know me so well, Levi. What did I do to deserve a boyfriend like you?”

“Oh, I’m not sure ‘deserve’ is the right word. You did stab me with a brolly, push me into a stream and then leave me there when we first met,” Levi offered Eren his wine and he took it, sending a curious look to him.

But Eren grinned at the memory regardless, throwing an éclair in his mouth. His eyes glowed at the sweet taste. “What did you expect? I was walking Bean peacefully until a crazy man with a stick up his ass insulted my dog. You deserved it. Poor Bean almost had a heart attack!”

She had a heart attack? Come on. Take one look at her face and tell me she’s not an ugly little shit.”

“Just because she’s a chihuahua it doesn’t mean she’s ugly, Levi. Whatever you have against them excludes our daughter. She’s cute.”

“She’s a drowned rat.”

“Take that back,” he gasped in shock.

Levi smirked, but his pride didn’t last long before Eren rugby tackled him to the ground. A surprised huff of air was crushed from his lungs and he momentarily wondered whether the wine was spilled. But Levi was used to Eren’s silly attacks like these, now. Levi saw Eren’s glass put safely put to the side next to his.

The brat was quick.

Sucking a breath back in, he flipped them over until Eren was beneath him.

How the tables have turned.

“Hey!” Eren pushed playfully at Levi’s shoulders, quickly realising that it was a futile fight. The muscle hidden beneath that shirt could lift a car and not break a sweat. “This isn’t fair. You know I can’t move you!”

There was a prompt prod to his side, making Eren squeal.

“Then why don’t you go to the gym? Maybe then you’ll get a chance to top. But just know, you’ll have to work for it. I won’t let that shit up easy.”

Eren huffed, flopping his arms to either side. “Fine. You’ve won. Happy?”

“Very.”

Moments like these always brought Levi back to some sort of reality check. The youthful rush of red that dashed across his lover’s skin, the eyes that could still smile without lines crinkling in the corners like tissue paper. The way his legs could wrap around his waist from their position on the floor, and there wouldn’t be an ache grinding in his bones for days afterwards. His youthfulness was contagious, and it was this that Levi had thought originally attracted him to Eren as much as it repelled him. And though now he hardly ever thought about it, the times that he did he couldn’t help but wonder…

A confused frown meshed Eren’s brows.

“Do you need to shit a log or something? That’s a pretty funny frown right there.”

Eren seemed to contemplate for a moment before deciding to place his hands on the sides of Levi’s face. A gentle touch that sent electric waves humming through his body. “Levi, what’s this all about? Really. You never do things like this. And by never, I mean, like, never ever in a billion years and not even for the most amazing, glorious tea in the entire freaking universe.”

“Well, I don’t know about that. Maybe the tea…” Levi stopped at his pointed look. He lay himself at Eren’s side, instead, taking his hand. “What? I can’t treat my boyfriend?”

“I don’t know,” Eren said suspiciously. “You just don’t really like gifts. Giving or being given. Even when it’s Christmas, you only get me soap, a few pairs of socks and a can of deodorant. Oh, and this year there was even a special note: ‘here are some things to use in the shower. You would smell better’.”

“You would.”

“So you’re saying I smell?”

“I’m saying that you’d smell better. Not that you smell. Do you think I’d date you if you did?” he huffed, flicking Eren’s forehead.

“I suppose…” Eren nodded in defeat, but then paused. “Wait, hold on a sec… Ahh, now I see.”

“What?”

“You’ve been trying to persuade me to use that new shower lotion all along!”

“You’re completely off-“

“That’s why you’ve been getting all the shower and bath supplies from the same brand. And don’t-don’t...say…wait, what? Say that again.”

“You’re completely off. Honestly, your brain is such a weird fucking place, sometimes.”

“Then why? It’s very un-Levi. Are there aliens controlling your brain right now and that’s why you’re acting up? Hello?” He virtually burst Levi’s eardrums, knocking against his head as if he were a door. “Aliens? Please can you imprison my boyfriend in there forever? Then I can have unlimited supplies of eclairs.”

Levi stared unamused. “So glad to know you would leave me with aliens for eclairs.”

Eren nodded seriously. “Don’t you regret giving me one two years ago? I bet you do. You have very tough competition now…hey, what’s up? You look constipated. Did you eat those funny mushrooms in the fridge? Oh, or God’s sake, Levi. I told you not to, you moron! They went out of date three days ago.”

It was silent for a moment. A few seconds. Twenty seconds. Levi felt his hands shake profusely and a sweat accumulated in his palms. Eren frowned again. “Really. You can tell me anything.”

Levi carefully extracted himself from his boyfriend, turning on his knees to face him. Confused, he took Levi’s offered hand.

“What are you doing?”

“Close your eyes.”

Surprisingly, he complied with only a dissatisfied huff. “This better be good. But no dodgy stuff!”

“So bratty.” Levi fumbled in his pocket for a few moments before he found it, staring at it for a moment. If this didn’t go well, then he’d have a hell of a lot of explaining to do to Carla. Suddenly spurred with confidence at the thought, he said, “You can open them now.”

Opening his eyes to this wasn’t what Eren expected in the slightest. Not at least for another few years. There, with a light blush to his cheeks but the most determined gaze he’d ever seen from the man, was Levi, holding towards Eren a velvet box with something gold in it. After a few seconds of inspection, Eren concluded that this was with utmost certainty a ring.

A ring.

Levi gulped nervously-he still looked constipated to Eren. “Umm…you see…” He was silent for a few more moments, but suddenly found that his entirely rehearsed speech flew from his mind. His eyes widened. No. Fucking. Way. He’d been practicing that for the past two months! More angrily and less romantic than intended in every way, he growled, “Yes or no?”

He cringed at himself; he’d just royally screwed up. And holy shit, God save him from Carla. He could already feel her death glare burning holes into his soul. There was no escaping this. For all he knew, the woman could have broken out again, stolen a car, and preparing to splat Levi into a tree like a fucking bug-

Levi stopped at the laughter bubbling from the brat’s throat. Eren had to resort to holding his sides for support.

“Wh-what was that?” he cried out, dropping to the floor. Levi glowed red, which wasn’t helpful at all with Eren tripling over in even more laughter.

“Hey, this was the best I could do, you ungrateful shit. Who do you think I’m proposing to? The Queen of fucking England?”

Levi closed his eyes and released a slow breath. This was not how he imagined it in the slightest. He would take Eren here, ‘woo’ him as Carla so put it earlier, get a decent conversation flowing, then propose to him with a fully rehearsed and ‘heartfelt proclamation’ of sincere love.

Fucking hell.

“Yes.”

And just like that, he was snapped from his thoughts.

“Yes?”

“Yes,” Eren shuffled closer to Levi, again placing both hands on either side of his face, staring into his eyes. “Yes,” he repeated determinedly. “Why wouldn’t I? I’d never I thought that I’d ever get with anyone because, I’ll just admit it, there’s nothing really all that special about me. I’m literally just a bar-to-bar musician trying to promote my lame-ass music. But you still listen to it and tell me it’s worth something.”

“Tch, don’t say that. I love your music.”

“And that’s exactly why I’m saying yes. You put up with that and everything else; my sarcasm, my random comments, my sadness, my anger. Heck, you had the balls to meet my mum. But most importantly, you make me feel like the happiest person in the world. And god, you were definitely not what I had in mind for a boyfriend,” he shook his head, quickly wiping away the tears that began to fall. Levi gently moved his hands, doing it for him. He gulped. “I used to think I wanted someone easy going and could do rom-com marathons with me. But instead I got a grumpy, gorgeous man who sneaks into the kitchen to drink millk in the middle of the night because he thought it would make him grow taller. I got a man that goes shopping at five AM just to get all the ‘best’ cleaning supplies before anyone else does. And I got the strangest man who is downright terrified by pigeons.”

“This is a little biased, don’t you think? So we aren’t gonna bring up your nightly meditation rituals? What the fuck’s with that? You literally look like a glitter-showered flamingo in that get-up.”

“That’s not important. What is is that you don’t care either way. You are better than I ever hoped for, you know? You’re not what I expected, but I suppose that’s for the best. And for as long as you put up with me, I’ll put up with you. Why wouldn’t I want to be your husband?”

Levi was gobsmacked and wiped at Eren’s tears. “You made my speech sound like a cat shit on it.”

“You had a speech?” Eren cocked his head.

“You think I would make one?” Levi retorted, but he was smiling. More confident now, he took the ring from the box. Eren was already waiting, jittering excitedly. “When I put his ring on your finger, you do realise you’re stuck with me, right? And if you do, if you really do want to, I promise, Eren, that I will give you everything. Anything you want, I’ll give it to you. But the consequence is putting up with me for who knows how long. Are you sure want that?”

Eren didn’t hesitate. Leaning forward, he pressed his lips softly against Levi’s. Not rough like how they usually did, grappling at each other frantically like they were afraid the other was going to somehow disappear. It was a long, gentle kiss that sealed it. They separated for a moment for Levi to slide the ring onto Eren’s finger, and then leaned back in, smiling into the kiss. This wouldn’t be a moment that they would soon or ever forget; beneath the light of tens of flickering fairy lights, the soothing sound of the stream bubbling somewhere nearby, and the sweet taste of red wine and eclairs on Eren’s tongue.

In that moment, everything was perfect, kept safe in a reserved area of their minds.

“So,” Eren said, breathless and flushed despite the calm kiss. He held up his hand that displayed a glistening gold ring. “Fiancé, huh? I don’t think I’m going to get used to this.”

“Don’t. It’s only until our wedding. Then it’ll be husband.”

“Husband! That sounds even better!” Eren giggled, falling against the blanket. Levi followed suit with a small smile that Eren knew meant Levi was happy. Very happy. Eren settled his head in the crook of Levi’s neck, the other pulling him close. “Even though you forgot your speech, I think this is the best day ever.”

“As it bloody well should be. I spent a good hour getting those light things up. Shitty bird fuckers wouldn’t leave me alone.

“Aww, my poor Levi! Whatever was he going to do against a bird? The horror!” Eren giggled, squealing when Levi flicked his forehead. Again.

“I’m superior to those feathered shits. I have no fear.”

Eren smiled up at him, kissing Levi on the cheek before nestling his head back against his neck. Home.

“I love you, you know?”

Levi lay still, and though Eren couldn’t see his face, he knew that Levi was smiling when he said, “I know. Love you too, brat.”

Chapter Text

“Hey, Levi. What the fuck do you think you’re doing? You can’t just ignore my calls, dipshit. You’ve been ditching work for a week now and who the fuck do you think’s covering for you, eh? Excuses don’t just fall from the sky. I can’t keep it up for another week, so either get your ass in or Erwin’s gonna end up storming your apartment and beating your ass. Gotta go.”

There was a beep and then silence.

A shift beneath sheets. A groan as light seared hanging eyes. A huff as the man turned over in the bed covers, throwing them over his head and burying himself further away from everything. He thought that hiding here made the outside word pull up short of their attacks. Like when you’re a kid and you don’t want to stick your foot outside in case a demon drags you away. He felt a bit like that. If so much as a tendril of hair were to touch the cool air, then he would be dragged from his bed, across the hardwood floor, flesh burning, and thrown beneath a microscope for the whole world to see.

He curled further into a ball, hugging his knees to his chest. Every so often, he would dig his nails into his arms, legs, sides, his hair, pulling the greasy strands at the roots to ease the pain pooling in his chest. It never did. A distraction was what he needed-but the alcohol was on the bedside cabinet. Exposed to the open. He considered, for a moment, peering through a small gap in the material. Just a tiny fraction of sight permitted to stare, starved, as the sun would bounce through the glass, highlighting what was left of the clear liquid that sat cold and resolute on its stand; in every way was it what Levi needed.

Then he would suddenly shrivel away from the idea, curling into himself once again like he’d tasted something sour. Like he was a decaying plum. Even though he knew the apartment to be private and that absolutely no one at all could record him, see him-there was something so vulnerable about revealing himself. His eye? The snap of a thousand hungry cameras would instantaneously burn into the back of his skull-he’d go back to no longer seeing anything. He would smile to the photographers, the press, the avid crowds of reporters and journalists and ravenous fans. Though, he now envisioned them in an entirely different way. He saw them as blubbery faces hanging with the weight of thousands of plastic smiles, eyes red and tortured, make-up and gold dripping down their faces like something molten.

They were the demons that would snatch at his feet, dragging him away again before he could react.

Levi gasped as his heart thawed at his chest. Hurt. He clawed at it, grappling at his chest as it bloomed across his body. Stabbed through his veins. Shot like bullets through his chest. His arms. His legs. His head. His lungs. His heart-

He couldn’t breathe…

He couldn’t breathe!

With a strangled shout, he ripped himself from the bed and felt the tear of it like a plaster.

“No, no, no, no!”

And all he could do was fling himself into the corner of the room, clinging to the wall as if he were part of it. Yes, if he was a wall, he wouldn’t feel this. There wouldn’t be the impending feeling of drowning filling his chest, slowly and painfully rising until it frothed from his throat in a vile stream of senseless fear. If he was a wall, he could never move. He would not feel. Light would not burn his eyes. Dark wouldn’t matter anymore.

If he was a wall, nothing and no one would ever look at him again.

So he stayed there, breathing ragged, pretending that he was the wall.

……….

Levi forgot where he was when he woke up. He couldn’t recall what day it was. How long had it been? The immediate concern hit a wall. He knew something, a sound-no, two voices-woke him up.

Maybe it was just a dream. A very bad, awful dream.

“You think he’s alive?” A yelp. “Hey, what the heck was that for?”

“Don’t act like he’s dead! He isn’t, okay? He’s just lying on the floor because he’s tired, that’s all. He-he’s always staying up late, so I wouldn’t put it past him.”

“Oi, if you keep panicking then we’ll have two unconscious bodies on the floor and then what are we gonna do, eh?”

“I’m not panicking!”

“There! Right there, you stupid bitch! I swear down, females are like fucking roller coasters with their emotions. ‘Omigod, I lost my frickin’ eyeliner. I’m so frickin ugly I’m never gonna leave this house again!’ Fucking children, honestly!”

An intake of breath. “How dare you? Stop taking the piss when Levi’s lying there naked in a pool of his own sick and…oh. O-omigod, it’s disgusting.”

“No fucking way. Sick smells like fucking strawberries, doesn’t it?”

“Geez, Oluo. You can’t be serious for a moment, can you?”

“Are you really asking me that? And that’s another thing. Who’s waking him up?”

“Don’t look at me. I’m not going anywhere near him when he’s like that. You do it.”

“You serious? I thought you did this shit on a daily basis.”

A scoff. “As if. You know how he is. It’ll be even worse with his apartment in this state.“

“You know what? Fine. I’ll get the midget up. But I hope you know I’m using you as a shield if he goes batshit crazy.“

“Whatever. Just do it.”

All of this seemed strange to Levi. The voices sounded so close and real, but they couldn’t have been. He knew that he was awake. He could feel the cool pool of sick touching his skin and the smooth, cold floor beneath him. He was awake, for sure.

Then why did he feel a boot nudge his shoulder?

“Don’t kick him!”

“I’m not kicking him, woman! If you think you can do it better, then you fucking do it,” her silence made the man snort, and another nudge, harder than the last met his shoulder. “Heeeyy, Levi? Buddy? You awake?”

Levi’s eyes snapped open.

“Shit!” Oluo immediately fell back, tripping over his feet as he crashed into Petra. They both fell down with a shriek and into a puddle of limbs. But they didn’t move. They watched with wide eyes as Levi slowly peeled himself from the floor, using the wall as support.

He should have known those two would come here. He mentally cursed himself for allowing them to have spare keys. Petra, red-haired and shaking, prim and proper in her expensive pantsuit. Oluo, in baggy clothes and a gold necklace, seeming on the verge of fainting.

Tutting, he shuffled past them, rolling his eyes when they quickly shifted away from the doorway to his bedroom. Either, as Petra said, him being covered in sick was disgusting, or it was that he was covered in sick and naked. Nosy sods, he thought to himself as he wiped himself down with a tea towel. He held back the groan at the headache stabbing his skull, tiny little pinpricks of pain, and the sick slithering in his gut. He instead focused on making tea for one and putting on a pair of joggers he found by his feet.

It took only a few moments before the rapid sound of angry feet flooded the kitchen.

“What the fuck are you two doing here? I thought I called in sick.”

Oluo narrowed his eyes, leaning against the doorway. Petra hovered uncertainly beside him.

“Oh, you know. We were just passing by when we remembered, ‘oh yeah, hasn’t Levi been missing for the past three weeks? I wonder how he’s doing?’ And so here we are, checking up on you like the good ol’ pals we are,” he said pointedly, staring holes into Levi, who was pouring scolding water to his cup. He shifted, moving closer to the counter. “So, uh, I don’t suppose you’ll tell us why you look like shit, eh?” He wrinkled his nose. “Smell like shit, too.”

Levi absently stirred the tea and squeezed the tea bag. “I gave you your excuse. You should be happy.”

“Happy? Yeah, that’s fucking funny. No, Levi. I’m not happy. Especially when you’ve gone incognito and no one knows what the fuck’s been going on. It’s bad enough with the press-“

“Don’t. Don’t talk to me about the press.”

“Fine. Then Petra, your secretary and one of your best friends, has been going out of her mind worrying about your punk ass.”

Petra touched Oluo’s arm. “Olly, come on. I thought we came here for Levi. Let’s not bring that up-“

“And why shouldn’t we? It’s his fault you’ve not been sleeping, working extra hours and dealing with all his shitty problems. Why shouldn’t he hear it? Don’t you deserve some fucking hint?” He glared down at Petra. They stared at each other for a moment. Levi sipped tenderly at his tea.

Petra huffed, looking away. “Fine.”

Oluo turned back to Levi, pointing. “Now, you’re gonna give us some answers here and now-“

“Get your shitty finger out my face before I break it.”

Slowly, he put his finger down, but made up for it by taking another step closer. Oluo was tall, much taller than Levi, and more built. Although that wasn’t a very big feat in itself, if he was towering over any other person but Levi, they would be shitting their pants.

He tried again. “One chance. I’ll give you this one chance to explain before I call Erwin and tell him you’re not sick. Just drunk off your ass.”

“You’d go that low?”

“Were you expecting me to say something else?”

Levi paused, swirling the tea in his cup. He could make out a few specks of crushed tea leaves collecting at the bottom through the yellow water. Lemon and chamomile, it was. A drink that always used to make him feel warmer.

“Levi?” This time, he looked up, past Oluo, and into the face of Petra. Not her eyes, though. He didn’t want to look at those. “I know Olly didn’t do a good job of saying it,” she said pointedly to the said man, “But we’re here for you. If anything bad has happened, then don’t feel that it’s weak to admit to anything. We-we know you like your private life and everything, but if you can’t tell us, then we can’t help you.”

“Help? Listen, I get that you want to do good or some shit, but just let it go. Leave me alone. Give me a few more weeks and I’ll be fine. That’s how it always is, right?”

She shook her head, and Levi could feel the weight of her eyes, scanning him head-to-toe as if she could see right through him.

“There’s always something that can be done. There’s never an impossible situation,” Petra smiled encouragingly. “Whatever’s gotten you like this, we’ll make it through. Together. Like always?” She held up her pinkie finger, holding it out towards him. Levi glanced at Oluo, who was looking to him expectantly.

What exactly did they want him to do?

Levi turned away, pouring his almost-full cup into the sink. He heard Oluo scoff.

“Right, okay. Let’s go, Petra.”

“But-“

“Just leave him alone. He clearly doesn’t want company. We’re just wasting our time trying to help him,” Levi could feel the glare on his back. “You’re gonna end up alone one day with the way you’re going, Levi. You might think you have everything, but it will happen. And when it does, don’t expect shit from us.”

The pounding of Oluo’s heavy boots on the hardwood bounded through the darkened apartment. Through the large rooms where the windows were covered, down the hallways lavished in art, large mirrors, and draping velvet. It was a place of luxury and the high life, sitting at the top of the Rose Luxury Apartments in a penthouse with the most magnificent view. Stretching for miles would be the sprawling streets and soaring skyscrapers, whose windows would glaze over imperiously with the wash of the sun. The night offered a more beautiful world; neon lights that draped the buildings, humming down the city centre and glowing in electric hues that bled into the night.

It was what he used to find beautiful. That was why they chose the apartment.

But Levi couldn’t wonder about that. He still felt the presence of his secretary behind him. Watching him. He sighed.

“Honestly, I just want to be left alone.”

“Do you really want that?”

“I wouldn’t say it if I wasn’t sure.”

“You say things you don’t mean all the time, Levi. I don’t know what you want anymore.”

“Splendid. Welcome to the club.”

“Levi!” A grip on his arm flung him around, a forceful grip on his chin making him turn to meet her eyes. He immediately smacked it away, quickly sticking his gaze on the ceiling. “Why won’t you look at me? Why can’t you tell me anything? Was it something I did? Was it? Tell me Levi, please, because I don’t know what the hell I should do!”

“Leave me alone.”

“How on earth can you expect me to do that, Levi? You’re literally torturing yourself. I’ve watched you slowly tear away at yourself, bit by bit. I had to stand back and watch as you put yourself down. Every time. And what? You-you tell me to leave you alone?”

“I’ll tell you once more. Leave me alone-”

“Make me leave. I dare you.”

“Petra-“

“It’s either you force me out that door or I’m staying right here.”

“I swear-“

“Stop it with your empty threats, Levi. We both know you’re always just scared of something. If it’s not your life here then it’s something else, and that’s a place I’ve never been able to reach. Tell me what it is, Levi. If you tell me, then I’ll go... Is it the reporters? Erwin? Or…is it someone else?”

Snap.

“Just get the fuck out of my apartment and leave me the fuck alone!”

A gasp. Her presence suddenly disappeared, as if she reached out to pick up a small frog, only for it to turn around and have pointed, elongated teeth, glinting and deadly.

A step back.

“Leave?”

He continued staring at the ceiling, setting his jaw. “And don’t come back.”

“You don’t actually mean that,” she scoffed, but it was softer. Her voice cracked.

“If you don’t think I mean it, then you clearly don’t know shit about me.”

……….

Again, time had become a foreign thing. The concept of the world revolving around two hands and a numbered face sealed behind fogged glass all but seemed to fall like flakes to the floor. Snowflakes from winter, perhaps. It could be winter, and for all he cared, there could be a hole in the ceiling that allowed a flurry of them to drift into his room. Or time could have gone by so quick that flakes of paint now peeled from withered walls, littering the floor around his existing form.

Perhaps they were flakes of himself.

Levi fumbled through the near-empty bar in the back, one that was grand with a sleek black top, and behind, a glowing red wall, a case for expensive brands of alcohol. He snatched one at random, cradling the cold bottle to his cheek-as one would with a baby-as he made his way back to his room. This had become his nightly routine. Daytime consisted of nothing but lounging around the house, curtains drawn and blinds securely shut, drinking and throwing up, and drinking then throwing up again.

Night was no different.

“Alexa…play, ‘Chasing Cars’.”

“…Sure. Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol, playing on Amazon Music.”

It was a funny feeling. The feeling that he got from music. It was now more prominent than before, and even more so with this song as it rang through the halls. Empty space became slightly filled sound, colourful sound, and a voice that sang something to him.

He couldn’t comprehend the words. They were lost on him, and he didn’t want to try to understand them. The song was familiar in itself though he didn’t particularly like it. If he had the urge to be humorous, he would snort and say it was almost as depressing as a hedonist in church; music was never an interest, for him. Productivity would be wasted in listening to something that would have no effect on his life or earn him any money. He couldn’t play an instrument-he never wanted to play an instrument. He had never tried to sing-he will never try to sing, going by how stoic he sounds on a daily basis.

And yet, it sounded familiar. Instead of the singer’s voice, he could hear another that still sounded clearly through his brain despite his fatigue and drunkenness. Soft, strong, reaching, clawing. It was a voice that he hadn’t heard in person in what felt like so long. It sang to him every night with this song. Granted, it was frayed at the edges, sometimes fading at parts like an old film. But it would return, surely, once again.

And if he closed his eyes as he lay down on the bed, sinking through the mattress, the duvet, the pillows, the sheets-he would fall into a place. A place devoid of time or any coherent answer. All that he felt was the sensation of gentle fingers threading through his hair as he lay back against a warm body. Above his head would be the man with the voice, singing to him a lullaby that would send him into a good sleep. The touch seemed so real and so warm. A pulse that still beat against his chest and breath that still tickled his skin.

He wanted to open his eyes and see for himself that face again. Not shrouded in that knowing grief, but as it used to be.

But every time he did, he awoke to a cold existence and in the arms of nothing.

Chapter Text

Everywhere was bright, sterile, and smelled of antibacterial hand gel. The cluttered hallways were a maze of passages and people, flitting somewhere or the other in blue scrubs and their hair, if long, tied back into a tight up-do. Some were in normal, everyday clothes, as Levi and Eren were; they were also visitors, and they smiled in familiarity as Eren greeted them, waving to a few nurses at the reception desk and some that were just passing by.

Eren, with his non-existent bags beneath his eyes. Eren, that woke up with the energy of a firecracker at five in the morning and decided to drag Levi out with him.

Eren, with that stupid fucking grin on his face, four hours later, in Shiganshina Hospital.

“I actually can’t wait to see her! Look at my arms, they’ve literally got goose bumps I’m so excited,” Eren whisper-shouted, shoving his arms in his disgruntled fiancé’s face. They passed by rooms of still-sleeping patients or ones that had just woken up. Levi also knew there were the few that generally hated people, especially loud people. He understood this from an older man in the ward that threw a slipper at Eren’s face the first time Levi went there with him.

“Eren, calm the fuck down. You’ve been talking to her every day. You’re fine.”

“Through the phone, Levi. It’s not as if I can reach out and hug her even if I wanted to,” Eren deadpanned, dodging an elderly woman in a wheelchair. He sighed. “It’s not the same. Just because you can call someone it doesn’t mean that you won’t miss them.”

“What about that video call shit? Can’t you see her then? Or if you’re smart, you’d send letters with photographs, not ones with those weird sparkly things on people’s faces.” Levi was attacked by this sudden revelation in technology a few years ago when Eren wanted to take a selfie. It had forever scarred him and left him with resolute defiance of social media.

He glared when Eren smacked his forehead in disappointment. As if he was the stupid one.

“What?”

“First of all,” he held up one finger, “they’re called filters. They’re cute and funny as fuck which, strangely enough, would be very convenient for a soul-sucking demon like you,” Eren held up a second finger before Levi could hiss a response. “Secondly, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m literally marrying an old man,” Eren giggled, only to be suddenly cut off when Levi snatched his wrist and dragged him out the way of a food cart. The elderly male worker, who barely looked like he could stand let alone walk, crinkled an appreciative smile. They watched him shuffle down the hallway for a few moments before Levi turned to Eren in mock triumph.

He raised a brow. “Now that’s what you call old. I’m thirty-two, brat. Not a fucking dinosaur.”

“You know I meant in spirit. And for the record, I totally dig that,” Eren grinned, patting Levi’s chest reassuringly as they continued walking. Levi changed his grip to grasp his hand.

“Oh, and speaking of old things,” Levi shut his eyes-he could tell where this was going. “I heard that you let mum make you into one of her models.”

“Was that what she said?”

“Yup. You know, that was so nice of you Levi!”

“Nice, my ass.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean the bitch and her fucking nurse trolls forced me into it! I shit you not, they pinned me to a chair like they were Carla’s little cronies.” Levi wanted Eren to feel the excruciating pain known as charcoal facemasks and wax strips, as well as an equally sufferable yet different kind of pain: tweezers.

Fucking bastards.

“But I was under the impression you volunteered.”

“What shitty hole did you crawl out from? I swear down, the month you’ve been away made everyone go mental. In what fucking world would I willingly let a middle-aged woman make me their Barbie doll?” Levi glowered. He knew for a fact that Eren was simply being a twat for no good reason other than to see him irritated.

“I mean, I’ve been away for a month. Who knows what could’ve changed?”

“Eren? Is that you?”

Both men looked up to find a round nurse closing a door with a motherly smile. That was all she seemed to be: motherly. She radiated it, with the large, warm eyes, the shoulder-length brown hair, and her generally soft yet stern tone of voice. She directed a gaze both smug and warm at Levi as Eren jumped into her arms. She squealed at him to put her down when her feet left the ground.

“Linda! It’s so good to see you! How have you been?” he immediately asked the moment he put her back on her feet. She wobbled a little, but understood his antics enough to know that was just the way he was.

“Good, good. And you?”

“Good, as well. Actually, better than that. I can’t put it into words.”

“Ah, I see,” she smiled when she caught sight of the ring. She directed a knowing look at a glowering Levi before turning back to
Eren. “Congratulations, by the way. I already told Levi, but I didn’t have chance to say it to you in person. I thought you’d come by the hospital before you left on tour.”

“Well, apparently the band wanted to leave that very night instead of the next. I don’t know why, though. I didn’t even get to get used to the idea that I’m even engaged before I left. But I’m here now and,” he held up the small bag of treats and gave the bag a small shake. “I’ve got these for mum.”

Levi rolled his eyes at Eren’s enthusiasm, remembering the painful journey of socialness he had to endure in the early hours of that morning. They immediately skipped by most sections and found themselves in a more secluded corner of the supermarket. In fact, there were no other people scouring that isle, which was fine by Levi. All of the dairy-free and vegan stuff, stocked up and their prices just about making Levi’s bank account shiver in fear, was no match for Eren’s uncanny ability-and predominant weakness-of draining his bank account dry within twenty minutes.

The bag of treats Eren now held in his hand could have gotten Levi that fancy pen he wanted.

He sniffed.

“Eeh, just be careful with how much you give your mum. She’s going crazy for those,” she tutted, moving away from the door. She looked between the two kindly. “Wey, it’s best I get going. Got things to do and not all day to dawdle.”

“Wait, is she awake?”

Linda chuckled. “You know her. She’s been awake for hours. Go on in. I’m sure she’ll be happy to see you and the treats. I’ll see you later, Eren. You too, Levi.”

“See you later!” Eren waved, turning to open the door when she was out of site.

Levi snorted.

“Good riddance.”

Eren smacked his arm. “Levi!”

“She was the main henchman. I couldn’t give two shits.”

Eren looked after the woman thoughtfully, as if trying to decide whether or not such an innocent-seeming woman could be capable of such a thing.

Levi could say, from the very bottom of his shallow heart, that she was a demon.

Just not as much of one as Carla.

As per Carla’s ‘civilised persona’, her room was orderly and bright. It was somehow also warm with the pictures and drawings that she’d pinned to a corkboard on the wall opposite her bed; most were of Carla, Mikasa and Eren on holidays somewhere; museums, theme parks, campsites. Sun shining over a vast green field and snow covering a small garden. Eren and Mikasa in Harry Potter outfits, all of the group on the beach last summer, faces glowing and happy.

He looked at himself in it for a moment. He was standing on the edge of the huddle with an arm pinning Eren to his side, glaring at something that wasn’t actually the camera for once.

Other than that, there weren’t many of Levi, and the ones that were pinned up were mugshots.

And sitting on the edge of the bed, jittering, was the very devil herself.

Carla was admittedly a very beautiful woman. If she was ten years younger, she and Eren could easily have been mistaken as twins. Even through the weight loss, which she covered with joggers and a long-sleeved baggy shirt, there was still life dancing in those eyes that were identical to Eren’s.

Perhaps ‘dancing’ was being too nice. More like ‘spitting’ or ‘hissing’.

Eren dropped the bag and shot over to her in an instant. Levi rolled his eyes as they started jumping up and down on the spot, squealing. He picked up the bag and sat himself down in his usual seat-the one furthest away from the bed.

“Ahhh! I’ve missed you so much! Like, you don’t even know!”

“Of course I know, you idiot. I’m your mum. I missed you more than you missed me!”

“That’s not true!”

A prompt clip to the ear had Eren pouting hopelessly to Levi, to which he just shrugged as if to say it’s your mum, you deal with it.

A hacking cough suddenly tore through her lips, and Eren immediately went to pat her back. She waved him off, raising one finger.

After a few moments, a smile was back on her face as she straightened herself back out.

She looked Eren up and her smile quickly turned down in worry. “Oh dear, what have they been feeding you? You look all skin and bones!”

“That’s the first thing you ask me?” Eren monotoned. “Not, ‘Eren, did you have a good time?’ or ‘Eren, you looked so cool in the pictures you sent me. I’m so jealous’?”

“I was getting there. A mother worries, is all,” she said, moving away from Eren to sit cross-legged on the bed. It still wasn’t made and a few books lay scattered near the end. “You leaving so suddenly was a big surprise so I didn’t know what to think.”

Eren slouched into the chair next to Levi. “Everyone’s saying that. But I already said there wasn’t really anything I could do. If I said no, I’d be kicked out. I’m only the warm-up, after all. They’ll probably have tonnes of people waiting for that to happen.”

“I’m sorry to hear about that, honey. I really am,” she leaned forward, patting his knee. “You’d think that after working with them for a year they’d be better, but some people are just like that. Besides, it was supposed to be your’s and Levi’s enga-“

Silence. She suddenly cut herself off, staring between the two men like a fish. She blinked.

“What was that about Levi?”

“Wh-what Levi? Levi who?”

“You know, my fiancé?” he emphasised, flashing his ring. He patted Levi’s hand. “Sorry, Levi. It looks like mum’s forgotten you.”

“I’m not complaining, brat.”

Carla looked between the two for a moment before it clicked. “Levi…did he figure it out?”

“Straight away, actually. You’re not as smart as you think your are,” Levi smirked. As Carla’s head fell into her hands with a groan, Levi threw the bag onto the bed. She looked up curiously to him. He gestured to to his right. “Eren got them. He figured you’d be snack deprived.”

She muttered a thanks and took the bag. She flipped it over and the entire contents fell into a mountain of shining wrappers. Glancing up from scanning his nails, Levi could only compare Carla to a five year old. Eyes glittering with the possibility of so much chocolate.

“Your first visit back from tour and you get me this much. You’re my kid, alright.”

“For sure. But this is a one-time thing. Levi said you were crankier than usual, so I thought this might help.”

Carla snorted, waving her hand. “A person can only hope, but it’s fine. This lot can last me for a month,” she stated, not noticing the shared look of incredulity between the two. She riffled through the litter until an odd look crossed her face. She picked something up. A frown almost comical made Levi smirk.

Holding it up, pointedly towards Levi. “What is this?”

“Well, I do believe that is a book containing one hundred pages of Sudoku. A game of logic. I saw it in the supermarket and thought you’d like it. Do you want me to explain how to play?“

“Don’t even bother,” she threw the book to the table across the room, and flopped back. “Even looking at numbers makes my head hurt.”

Levi, amused, squeezed Eren’s hand. He nodded to Carla. “Hey, Eren. I think I know where you get it from now.”

Eren looked at him curiously for a moment. “Wha-“

“Nevermind, you were going to find out eventually. But you honestly don’t know how happy I am to see the two of you. I don’t know if I could handle talking to Maggie next door anymore,” Carla sniffed, interrupting them.

Levi had noticed over three years of knowing the woman that she tended to go off on tangents.

“Awh, give the woman a break. It’s not as if she has anyone else to talk to,” Eren said. “Actually, I’m surprised I haven’t run into her yet. What’s she been up to?”

“The usual. Coming into my room, talking my ear off for an hour about her smart-ass kid going to Oxford next year, her neurosurgeon husband, her lawyer brothers and sisters. Anything to boost her ego.”

“Sounds like her. I still don’t know why you won’t tell her to just leave you alone. Won’t that just solve everything?”

“I was going to, but she’d think I was having a laugh. Even so, she told me that her son-in-law was going to start visiting her on Saturdays.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow,” Eren huffed. “Her own kids don’t even see her.”

“Not all do, brat,” Levi noted. “And to be fair, she’s a bit of a dick.”

“Well, I know that. It’s just I’ve literally never seen her have any visitors. Like, ever.”

Carla was nodding in agreement the whole time, sitting back up with a heave. “Neither have I. I mean, she’s shown me pictures of family and all that, but that’s the extent of it. So when this son-in-law comes round for a chat, I asked her if I could, well, have a little snoop.”

Eren suddenly sat up in his chair, gawking at Carla. “And she said yes?”

“The woman’s like a dog digging for bones, Eren. Of course she did.”

“Mum, you’re actually mental. You don’t even need to tell my why. I already know.”

“He’s the CEO of a modelling agency down in Rose City. A pretty famous one. And apparently he earns millions a year, has ten different vacation homes, lives in a mansion, and has an amazing sense of style. He would, obviously, but still…” she grinned, a dreamy look crossing her face.

“Wait, but shouldn’t Maggie be going to a better hospital if he’s a millionaire? What’s the point of just leaving her here?”

Carla shrugged without a care. “I don’t know. I’m just happy he is, otherwise I’d never tick ‘marry a millionaire’ off my bucket list.”

“Sorry to burst your bubble, mum, but he’s her son-in-law,” he nodded. Carla stared at him in confusion. He sighed throwing his hands up. “He’s already married! Levi, tell her she can’t can’t go after Maggie’s son-in-law,” Eren pressed his fingers to his temples. “I think I’m getting a headache.

They both turned to Levi, who shrugged. He knew that it was better to just leave them to their bickering; it would eventually die out, anyway.

“Come on, Eren. It’s not as if I’m getting any younger. And I don’t have anything else to do when I’m here except read and watch tv.”

Eren pointed to the table where the book lay. “Well, it seems luck’s on your side today. Sudoku will an aging woman busy for decades.”

“I’ll pretend you didn’t just say that. Besides, I heard the nurses talking about him. I heard that he’s dashing.”

Irritated, Levi’s usual glare settled on his face as he observed the scene.

First error of the day: waking up early.

Second error of the day: shopping.

Third error of the day: lack of coffee.

Fourth error of the day: listening to Carla wanting to date a married man.

“Right,” Levi stated, breaking up to heating dispute. He stood up from his chair and straightened out the non-existent creases in his jumper and coat. “I think that’s my queue to leave.”

“Already? We just got here,” Eren tugged at his hand gently. Carla watched, perplexed.

He squeezed it before letting go. “I’m starting my shift in a bit, so it’s best I think to head there early. If you want a bit more time, I’ll meet you in the lobby-“

“Actually, can Eren wait in the lobby?” Carla interjected. Levi frowned in confusion, as did Eren, as the women fidgeted on her bed.

She looked between the two. “Just for a moment. I promise it won’t take long.”

“Is everything okay?” Eren asked, but slowly stood up anyway, grabbing his coat.

“Yeah, yeah. Everything’s fine. I just wanted to talk to Levi about something.”

“And it won’t take long?”

“Yes, I promise you’ll have your smurf back in five minutes. Now go! Shoo!”

Seeming assured but all the more confused, Eren leaned down to kiss Carla’s cheek, saying something to her with a smile. He turned around to kiss Levi on the cheek with a strange look before he left, the door seeming to slam shut behind him.

Levi suddenly felt nervous. It was heightened by the tense silence that suddenly shrouded the room. He felt out of place, awkwardly standing and clearly leaning towards the exit.

“Don’t just stand there. Take a seat,” she said, though it seemed more flat. He did as he was told, sitting back into his low chair and fiddling with his fingers. He couldn’t understand what she wanted from him. If she did, then she would have told him during the month Eren was away.

He cleared his throat. “What did you want to talk to me about?”

He watched the woman as she fiddled with the ring on her finger. An almost sad cloud seemed to hover over her, but she still smiled, looking up to Levi.

“We don’t get along very well, do we?” She said, laughing to herself when Levi simply stared at her. “But it’s all in good nature, right?”

“If you call tearing off my face and plucking my eyebrows ‘good nature’ then I think you need a dictionary,” Levi said, but he was wary. It was pretty obvious they weren’t too keen on each other, somehow always having alternate opinions about anything and everything. It was evident.

Carla still fiddled with the ring on her finger when she said, “I’m glad Eren has you.” It was silent for a moment-a stunned silence-before she continued. “You’re shocked, I know. It’s strange to hear that from me, of all people, but it’s true. I can’t help but see how he is now and feel extremely grateful. Smiling. Talking. Having friends. You being there really changed him.”

“Well, I wouldn’t say it was just me. He changed a lot on his own,” Levi scratched his undercut awkwardly.

“Maybe, but you triggered it. I noticed it right off the bat, from the very first time you met. He came to visit me, like he always did, with flowers and things. Before, he would just sit there and ask how my day had been. What I’d been up to. What had been going on in my tv dramas. But whenever I asked him about what he’s been up to, he’d shrug it off, and if I’m being honest? I used to hate his visits,” she paused as if waiting for backlash. Levi just waited, still. “I sound like a terrible mother, saying that about her own child. What kind of mother would hate seeing their kid, you know? But it wasn’t because I hated him. It was because I hated seeing what I did to him.”

“Carla, I think you’ve got it completely wrong. Eren has never blamed you for anything.”

“No, he hasn’t. He wouldn’t. But assurance doesn’t always work. You know how he used to be, don’t you?”

He did. Not in its entirety-he was told Eren was worse before he met him. When Eren talked to him about it before, he said that he wasn’t the nicest person. He heard things from the town gossip-it seemed that Eren was always the topic of their discussion when people gathered to have tea in the café or pints in the pub-that was the extent of it.

He nodded. Carla smiled grimly.

“Then you know how much he’s changed, and that’s all been since he met you,” she held up a hand when Levi opened his mouth.

“You might not want to take credit for it, Levi, but a mother notices these things. And I could tell instantly, from that first day that he met you, that he’d changed. And for the first time in a year, I felt like I could-I could breathe. Ironic, I know, considering the circumstances, but I mean it.”

“It wasn’t just him that changed. He changed me. We really helped each other.”

“I know,” Carla laughed, leaning back in her bed with a sigh. “Does the town still hold a grudge against you?”

Levi frowned. “I think they tolerate me. I wouldn’t say we’re chummy, but I doubt that’s going to change.”

“You? Chummy? I can’t imagine.”

“Tch, tell me about it.”

A bit of the tension had faded away, and Levi had forgotten why he felt so anxious in the first place. From times, the woman could be a rampaging demon that breathed fire, but then she could be as she was now. Smiling and looking at Levi with something, Levi wanted to believe, as akin to pride.

“I wanted to talk to you because I felt like I needed to say thank you. If you hadn’t been there, I would have felt like I’d failed him as a mother. He would have gotten himself put in prison after I’d gone, and I don’t know how I would have coped with that.”

This time, Levi leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Stop saying that, Carla. Eren’s an idiot, a moron who still watches the Tellytubbies, for goodness sake. I doubt he would have gotten himself jailed.”

She tilted her head with a small smile. “He definitely would have. But that’s why I’m thanking you. Not only for that, but for becoming part of the family,” she laughed when Levi froze, staring at her wide-eyed. “What? Haven’t you noticed?”

“Noticed what?”

“Everyone’s already accepted you as family eons ago.”

“…family?”

An exasperated sigh drawled from Carla, and she gestured for him to move closer. He did, the urge to smack her hand away when she placed it on his own being pushed down.

She nodded to him. “You are family, Levi. The marriage might make you my son-in-law, but you’ve always been like a son to me, which is funny because we never get along. And now that I think about it, sounds a bit weird with Eren being my son and-crap, I’ve just made this awkward-“

“Thank you,” she paused. Levi, reluctantly but with a strange surge of warmth, patted her hand. It was such a foreign thought. Family. He knew that he was close with Eren’s sister as well as his mismatched group of friends. The barbaric yet cheery drunk Reiner and his quiet yet kind husband Bertolt. Then there was the extremely intelligent yet mushroom looking teacher Armin. But he never thought of them as being family.

Was that how they thought of him?

Carla coughed, releasing his hand. “I suppose you should go back to your fiancé now. Knowing Eren, he’ll be going bankrupt at the vending machines downstairs.”

“Right,” he agreed, again standing from his chair, bowing his head to Carla, before moving to the door. “See you later, then.”

“See you soon. Oh, and tell Eren to bring me some skittles next time! Chocolate’s good, but skittles are better.”

Levi smirked, moving out the door. “Will do,” he said before closing it behind him.

Back out in the hallway, it seemed to be busier and more active. Nurses passed by him, staring at him for a moment before quickly looking away. But he ignored them. He had a strange feeling now sitting in his chest and he didn’t know what it was. It still lingered as navigated almost subconsciously through the hospital’s long, winding hallways and staircases all to the downstairs lobby where, surely enough, Eren was at the vending machines. Packets of sweets and crisps were stuffed into his pockets. Two bottles of Lucozade were on a table beside him.

“Oi, Eren.”

He immediately whipped around, a chocolate bar already stuffed in his mouth.

“Oh, hi evi!” he said through the mushed food. No, it wasn’t even food. It was a blob of cocoa and additives.

Repulsive shit.

Frowning in disgust, Levi gestures towards the exit. “You ready to go or do you want to eat the bloody vending machine while you’re at it?”

“But it’s so good. You’d know if you tried it.”

He once again grimaced at Eren’s face. “I’d rather not.” He headed for the exit. Levi let a small smile of victory slip when he heard
Eren gasp, choke, then his trainers hitting off the floor as he raced to catch up to Levi, heaving.

“I think I just saw my life flash before my eyes,” he wheezed.

“What shitty luck. Aren’t we going out tonight?”

As if suddenly realising he actually had something to do, Eren, suddenly more awake, smacked his forehead.

“You forgot, didn’t you?”

“No I didn’t.”

“Yeah, try telling me that without shit in your mouth. Manners, brat,” he said, rolling his eyes in silent amusement. Levi grasped Eren’s hand that wasn’t covered in chocolate, and Eren kept close as they wandered through the car park.

He sometimes wondered whether he was marrying a childish man.

They reached Levi’s car after five minutes. It was ‘Levi’s’ car because Eren hadn’t learned how to drive, yet. Even so, although it technically belonged to Levi, Eren still treated it as his second home. As soon as they got in and closed the doors, Eren took off his shoes and coat, curling his feet beneath him and using the coat as a blanket.

Well, at least the brat knew better than to get dirt on the seats.

Within five minutes, they were free from the constraints of the hospital and on the road.

……….

The Wall wasn’t very packed that night. The pub was a small and cosy place with a filter red light setting over faces. Some were in booths after a hard day of work, sweat shrouding the air around them as they chugged their beers and nudged one another as they stayed glued to the old television. One of those box ones with the dials and antenna. Some sat at the bar, conversing amicably with the old bar tender and owner of the place, Pixis. The dance floor was clear, but the lights were on, flashing perpetually in a hypnotic array of blues, greens, and pinks.

Levi slouched in the corner, twiddling with the straw in his Pepsi. He didn’t very much like alcohol. Wine was alright, but the strong stuff made him feel sick. And no matter how much Reiner pestered him or sloshed a beer dangerously close to his face, he continued staring at the bar. Bertolt smacked his drunkard husband on the arm whenever he did that, exasperated and clearly wishing Armin was there to share a look of disapproval with. Mikasa was texting on her phone.

They were all dressed casually, as per Eren's request. He hated dressing up and avoided it as much as possible.

It was only a few moments later that Eren returned with his own drink, a concoction of some kind.

“Sorry if I was taking too long. There are tonnes of people here tonight.” Eren sat next to Levi, and Levi subconsciously rested his arm on the back of the booth behind Eren.

“It’s fine,” Levi said, but internally agreed. As it was only a few days from Halloween, not to mention a Friday, the Wall was unusually cramped and swarmed with people. Many Levi didn’t recognise. There were inevitably visitors, family and friends, from outside who decided to spend some time there.

“What time did Armin say he’d get here, again?”

“Eight, and it’s…ten to, so I’d say any second now.”

Eren smiled knowingly. “Of course.”

Reiner chugged his frothy yellow drink, rivulets running down the side of his mouth. In a surprising matter of seconds, he had finished it, slamming it back on the table. He belted out a victorious laugh. His husband simply shook his head.

“Hey, Reiner. Why don’t you ease up on the booze?” Eren teased. “You’ll be flat out in a toilet in the next hour.”

“Eh, who cares? What’s life if you don’t live it spontaneously?”

Berthold eyed him disapprovingly. “Excuse me, I care. I’ll be the one hauling your behind back in the house when Levi drops us back off. And how does ending up in a toilet sound in any way ‘spontaneous’?”

“If it’s Elton John’s toilet, it’s a win.”

Levi grimaced in disgust at the thought. “You’re fucking disgusting, you know that? Some shitty officer you are.”

Despite what he was saying, he thought Reiner to be a genuinely good policeman. He was a town favourite. With his exuberant and completely carefree personality, he was virtually a saint amongst the community. Even his husband, Berthold, was revered, working alongside Armin as a teacher at the local college and volunteering for charity events.

The man took no offence to it. “It’s a goal I will accomplish one day. Speaking of which, shouldn’t you be the one drinking tonight?”

“And why is that?”

“You proposed!”

“And that means I have to get shitfaced? What about Eren? He’ll do it.”

“Nope. Eren’s got a liver of steel. And it’s tradition that the one who proposed needs a drink!”

“And who said that?”

“Ehh, someone, but that’s not important. They gave words of wisdom and it’s my duty to carry them out.”

“Ugh, Reiner. Stop it,” Bertold scolded, smacking his husband’s arm for the hundredth time that night. “If Levi doesn’t want to
drink, then he doesn’t want to drink.”

Eren nodded, smiling at Levi as he ran his fingers through his undercut. “I’m sorry, Reiner, but I agree. Levi’s more of a wine-person,” he took a sip of his drink. “And he’ll miss my performance if he does.”

Of course, Levi wouldn’t miss Eren’s performance for the sake of petrol-smelling, headache-inducing liquid that looked like piss in a glass. As if to prove a point, he took a long drag of Pepsi.

“Okay, okay. Fine. But I’m gonna go ahead anyway and say congratulations to you both,” he said. Levi looked away from his glass, the feeling warming his chest again. He was reminded of what Carla told him in the hospital.

“Everyone’s already accepted you as family eons ago.”

Reiner leaned on the table, monstrous muscles bulging. “I’m not gonna lie and say I didn’t have my doubts at first. Even you boys have to admit you’re completely different.”

“Not to mention the age difference,” Berthold added.

“We were kinda worried about how it would play out, but now we see how much you complement each other. It’s really weird, but now you’ve been together for, what, three years? I’d say it’s about bloody time you tied the knot,” he said and raised his glass that was somehow already refilled.

When the fuck did that happen?

Holding it out to the couple, he grinned in all his drunken glory. “To Eren and Levi, my best mates and brothers, and the people who deserve every bit of happiness thrown their way. Congratulations.”

“Now that,” Levi said as everyone raised their own. “Is something I can drink to.”

“Wait? You’re drinking?!”

“Pepsi, shit stain. Pepsi.”

A laugh chorused around the table as they clinked glasses, Mikasa briefly raising her water before putting it back down.

A warm conversation settled and flowed.

Somehow, they had gotten onto the topic of muscles and Reiner felt the need to take his shirt off. No words could describe the blush that overtook Bertold when he had to drag a half-naked Reiner away from a traumatised group of elderly women; he was apparently trying to regain some masculinity after Levi damaged it over an arm-wrestle. Eren was particularly proud of that, his tipsy state becoming more and more prominent with every sloppy kiss he planted on Levi’s cheek.

Eventually, after some time had passed, Bertolt had managed to occupy Reiner with a children’s colouring book from his satchel. Everything became more settled. Relaxed. Levi turned to Eren, about to comment on Eren’s own colouring books at home, when he stopped.

“Hey,” he nudged Eren, who jumped in surprise.

“Y-yeah?”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. What makes you think something’s wrong?” Eren stuttered, face flushed and body fidgeting. That, for Levi, was an immediate tell-tale.

“If giving Pixis the stink-eye for the past ten minutes is anything to go by, then I’d say there is,” he said, smirking when Pixis raised an intimidating brow from across the bar to a cowering Eren. He clicked his tongue. “If there’s anything that’s got you worried tonight, then I think I already know: is this about Armin being late?”

Eren seemed to be in thought for a moment, but relented. “Armin said he’d be here thirty minutes ago and he’s never late for anything. I’m worried.”

“Well, stop worrying and have another drink,” Levi pushed Eren’s drink closer to him. “Everyone knows the mushroom’s a workaholic, so he’s either in his office or he’s stuck in traffic.”

“Armin’s working? On Halloween?” Berthold asked. At some point, Reiner and Berthold had finally turned their attention away from the colouring book on the table. “Not even Reiner’s at work and believe me, it’s been crazy. But then again, he was forced to have the night off. He’s been overworking himself and passed out the other day.”

This seemed to peak Eren’s interest, who leaned forward curiously. “It’s been that busy?”

Reiner, despite his drunken state, talked almost professionally. “You have no idea. I’ve barely even had time with Bertold because of it.”

“But isn’t Halloween always busy, anyway?”

“Yeah, it usually is. But things are just going from bad to worse every year. It’s mostly the younger ones with shoplifting, vandalising, fraud, identity theft so they can get all the over twenty-one stuff in shops and on the internet. Or clubbing. That’s popular. But really, it’s just kids being kids.”

“I see… I just wouldn’t have expected all of that. It’s a shame. Shiganshina has always been so nice.”

“Yeah, me neither,” Berthold agreed. “That’s why my family moved here in the first place. My dad wanted to find a good, quiet town to settle down in. He always wanted to move to England ever since he was a kid. This place was the one recommended to him by his co-worker in Germany.”

“Honestly, I still thought it was a good town. It’s strange, though, really,” Eren wondered. “I haven’t noticed anything, and I’ve been living here since I was ten. Thirteen years, and you’d think I’d catch onto something.”

Levi patted Eren’s hand, taking another sip of his drink. “Teenagers are like ants, brat. They’re a silent infestation. Just look at your sister,” Levi nodded. Mikasa slowly looked up from her phone, eyes twitching and glaring. “She’s technology’s bitch. It’s only a matter of time before she raids Apple for phone accessories.”

A withering glare settled on her face, which only grew stronger at Reiner’s belting laugh. Not even Berthold stopped him, giggling and desperately covering his face when Mikasa turned her glare to him then back to Levi.

“Haha, fucking funny, tick tack. Say that again when you actually reach manhood.”

“Mika!”

“WHOOOAH! SHE KILLS!” Reiner slammed his fists on the table repeatedly, wheezing and trying to catch his breath. Whilst Eren berated Mikasa for swearing, Levi took another sip of his Pepsi. He regretted, in many, many ways, teaching his extended list of vocabulary to a sixteen-year-old. Never did he think they’d be used against him.

Mikasa leaned back in her booth, seeming triumphant, turning right back to her texting.

He smirked into his glass.

“Hey, don’t you go looking all smug, Levi,” Eren sighed, shaking his head as he took a long drink. “It’s your fault her brain’s contaminated.”

“Contaminated?” He smiled.

“Nevermind. I’ll just let this go because Reiner was in the middle of saying something and I want to know what it is,” Eren smacked his cheeks and took a deep breath. “Okay, you can continue.”

“Right, right, just give us a sec,” Reiner heaved, beating his chest. He smacked his cheeks and breathed a sigh. “Okay, I think I’m okay now. What was I saying?”

“Teenage crime,” Berthold prompted, wiping tears from his eyes.

“Okay, back to topic. Well, things are moving on up, now,” Reiner said, chugging the remnants of his beer. He wiped his mouth across his bare arm. Levi winced. “Bear in mind I’m only telling you two this because I’m wanting you to be on the look-out. Telling anyone else would stir panic, so don’t go around saying anything. Your lips are sealed, alright?” He looked between Eren and Levi for confirmation, who bobbed their heads in agreement. Eren pretended to zip his lips.

“There’s been apparently been a lot more gang activity in the area. Not big-time ones or anything. For the moment, they’re not even worth worrying over. It’s just what we’ve been getting at the office through calls and routine patrols. Stuff like that. But I have a feeling it’s getting big and teenagers are getting drawn in, especially.”

A momentary silence collapsed on the table. Mikasa glanced up from her phone, quickly sticking her focus to her screen again when she saw Levi notice. Eren gasped, leaning further over the table. Levi listened in silence.

“Wait, hold up. I’m tipsy and having a brain fart,” he breathed. “Are you saying,” he paused, lowering his voice. “Are you saying there’s a teenage gang in Shiganshina?”

“We don’t know the extent of it yet, so we can’t say for sure. But if there is, they aren’t a pretty bunch, I’ll tell you that.”

Levi snorted. “No gang’s pretty, Reiner. They don’t exactly go around with the peace symbol smacked on their foreheads, do they?”

“That’s not what I’m saying. I’m talking about their brutality.”

“How bad?”

Reiner thought over it for a moment, his brain clearly working overtime through the alcohol. Eventually, he sighed. “Pretty bad.”

“But you don’t know if they’re true. As you said, they’re just rumours,” Eren said.

Reiner nodded, but a grim look crossed over his eyes. Levi felt a strike of something bolt in his chest. “Wey, all rumours start from somewhere, right?”

Before anyone else could speak, everyone turned at the high-pitched voice that rang through the bar.

“Omigod, I’m so sorry I’m late!” Armin panted, planting himself in the booth with a huff. His nose and cheeks were tinged red by the cold, and his hair became a static mushroom the moment he popped his woollen hat off.

“Heeey, there he is!” Erwin slurred drunkenly, punching Armin’s shoulder. Any remnant of expression that he had prior all but vanished beneath a drunken haze as he leaned across the table. Armin smiled feebly. “Where’ve you been?”

“I swear, I didn’t mean to fall asleep. By the time I’d woken up, it was already eight and then I had to get in my car but there was traffic and I-“

“Armin?” Eren interrupted Armin’s mantra. Shaking his head, he slid his drink over the table. “I think you need this more than I do.”

Armin looked around the table as he shrugged off his coat. “Are you sure? I can go to the bar and get myself one. I have the money.”

Eren shook his head, pushing the glass further across the table. “No, it’s fine. I’m feeling a bit lightheaded anyway.”

Armin smiled gratefully. “Thanks, Eren. Oh, and congratulations!”

Time passed and, the further into the night they got, the more conversation seemed to dim. The drunken drabble of Reiner and Bertolt debating about something or the other, Armin laughing and saying something.

But what?

Levi wasn’t too fussed anymore. Being around people really wore him out. He long ago abandoned the Pepsi in favour of the water Mikasa was drinking. She had left about an hour ago. All he really focused on was the feeling of Eren’s fingers running through his hair, across the nape of his neck and back. The tingle across his skin that he swore left scorch marks. At least, he was until Eren was called up for his performance.

They all watched and bantered as Eren took his guitar from onstage in its usual holder. The bar seemed to grow quieter at Eren’s presence. Eren was a favourite for busking that everyone enjoyed.

Armin sighed, resting his chin on his hand. “Eren’s always been such a great performer, you know. I’ve known him pretty much since he first came here and all he ever ends up talking about is music,” he said to Levi, quietly enough so that Reiner and Bertolt, who were talking about something or the other, couldn’t pick up on it. “I just hope it works out for him, in the end. He deserves it.”

“Yeah, he does,” Levi said eventually.

Eren looked over the crowd towards their booth, smiling when he saw Levi. It widened at Levi’s small wave.

But then a great oaf rattled the table as he stumbled up. “Whoo hoo! Go on Eren, lad!”

A chorus of laughter filled the pub as Bertold dragged Reiner back into his seat, embarrassment and amusement making him blush fiercely.

Eren laughed into the microphone. “Well, I suppose that’s one way to start off a night,” the crowd laughed again, raising their glasses. “It’s always great to be back here, performing. And I need to say this before I start: I promise I’m not always this drunk, I swear,” he waves his hands. “Anyway, I’ve been all over with a band at the moment, not a big one, but I’ve seen a lot of their fans and, in all honesty? Not one of them can compete with our Reiner, over there.”

Everyone cheered for Reiner, who raised his hand cordially, nodding his head.

Eren continued talking as he fiddled with the tuning pegs. “So, I’m not doing an original tonight for you tonight. It’s for the reason that I don’t think any of them fit at the moment. Recent events have really made me appreciate this song all the more.”

He finally strummed the strings in a perfect chord, and leaned over his guitar. “Okay, so this is my cover of Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol. I hope you like it.”

Levi forgot about everything as soon as Eren started to play.

Chapter Text

There were only two people in that room. ‘Room’ never sounded quite right, though. More like a den burrowed hundreds of metres beneath the ground. A small nook in a large rabbit warren to which the walls were a clump of crumbling dirt and the ceiling a weight that threatened to fall at any moment, the cracks long and jagged and puffing dust with every pounding step overhead. There were also no windows. The only source of light omitted was the flickering candle that sat atop a feeble wooden table in the corner of the room. At this table was a man, sitting on an equally old chair and scratching into its surface with the fiery tip of a blade.

Even though the man had yet to turn, Levi could imagine the scowl that he had frozen on his face and that large mane of a scraggly, grey beard.

“What?”

He paused, halfway leaning out the door. Then he took the final step into the room and gently closed the door behind him. The old man looked up briefly, a squint crinkling around his eyes. Eventually, he shifted his attention back to the table.

“No need tellin’ us, boy. I know what yeh here for. ‘First is worst’, as they say down ‘ere,” His voice was cracked and parched, yet held an undercurrent of the wisdom that came with age. What wisdom the man ever had, Levi didn’t know.

Suddenly, the blade glinted before it struck the wood. The blade reverberated for a moment, its shadow creeping up the wall.

Leaning back in his chair, the man stared, unimpressed, at Levi. “I hope you ain’t wanting comfort ‘cause you’ll find none of that ‘ere.”

Levi knew that. “No.”

A faint nod signalled that he heard him. “Whatcha know? The midget’s learned somethin’ afterall,” he coughed, a raspy sound that rattled from tar-choked lungs. He hacked up the phlegm and spat into a wooden bucket to the side of the table. “So if yeh not ‘ere for that, then yeh mam’s bitchin’. Yeah?”

Levi nodded in response. He slowly pulled something bundled in fabric from his waistcoat pocket, holding it gently in his hands as he spoke. “Mum doesn’t say anything about me, but she talks about the others.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. She doesn’t want me getting involved, saying it’s bad.”

His nose shrivelled. “Bad? Yeh mum’s a fucking whore, boy. She don’t know fuck all.”

“Right.” Levi turned his attention to his toes.

A sudden explosion of shouting and barbaric laughter shot through the door from down the hallway. Inevitably, from the distant commentary, Levi guessed the men’s favourite team had just scored. The man turned in his chair. He was now facing Levi with vague interest, or with as much interest as those cloudy eyes could hold.

“Go on then, smartass. Yer in the cocky spirit today, may as well test yeh luck. What is it?”

Levi’s grip tightened on the bundle. “I know you’ve done it tonnes of times, so I was wondering…do you feel bad sometimes? ”

There was an immediate response. “Nope. Can’t say I do, and if I ever did, I done a damn good job of snubbing it,” he said, mostly to himself. He pointed a gnarled, yellow-stained finger at Levi. The strong stench of smoke stuck to the sweat in his palm. “But not everyone’s as thick-skinned. A lot can’t stomach what needs to be done and then they end up dying. Feelin’ bad is bein’ weak. If you don’ do it first, then they’re goin’ to get you.”

“How did you do it, then?”

“What?”

“You know-“

“No I don’t. Tell me straight, don’t hedge.”

“How did you…‘snub’ it?”

“You really wan’ to know?” Levi couldn’t find it in himself to shrug, much less speak. Seemingly fed-up, he held out a hand.

Hesitantly, Levi moved forward and placed the bundle in his palm. The man began picking at it, unravelling it with the finesse and expertise of one that had done the action innumerable times before. He probably had. When he did, he held it up, admiring it with a nulled glow in his eye.

Pride?

No, Levi wouldn’t think so.

“Yeh need to become a man on yeh own. As I said, this ain’t no comfortin’. If I coddled yeh-if anyone coddled yeh-tellin’ yeh everythin’, yeh won’ learn. All yeh’d ever end up doin’ is waitin’ for someone else to do what yeh need to do yehself. Smother yeh like a useless baby when yeh too scared to get shit done. An’ when it gets to a point where yer alone, ‘cause it happens to everyone, yeh’ll run away when yeh need to put a dog down, leavin’ yehself a nice, easy target for the same dog to tear into. Yeh see where I’m goin’ with this?”

The man held the object in front of Levi’s face now, waving it like a pendulum. Levi stared at the detached finger. A stub with a red bottom, like thick, dark gel, and the sharp point of a white bone that pierced through like a needle. It also had a broken, yellow nail with dirt caked beneath it. So close was it to his face that the strange thing almost skimmed across his nose.

Pale, shrivelled, and disgusting.

“Now look. This ‘ere is a trophy. It don’t matter who yeh took it from. Taking a man’s fingers will get yeh status down ‘ere, an’ the more yeh get, the better off yeh’ll be. As long as yeh don’ lose any yerself, yeh’ll live long enough.”

“But I killed him. That’s not what we’re supposed to do, and mum said-“

“Another word of that whore an’ I’ll put yeh in the Pit, yeh hear me?” His glare now struck a chord in Levi. Ice cold fear. It burned into his skull and curdled his stomach. Levi flinched when he heard the chair creak, the man’s stench of sweat warming the air around him as he leaned closer. “Men don’ take word from that kind. An’ raisin’ yeh voice to me like tha’? Jus’ be lucky yeh got yeh fiancé’s finger, or I woulda thrown both you and yeh mam in the Pit.”

Wait…what?

All the air was sucked from the room like a vacuum. There was no longer the distant cheering that belted from drunken voices.

The vivacious commentary, fast-speaking and full of firecracker-energy. It was silent. Strangely silent...

A crash pounded the door. He heard it and flinched, but couldn’t bear to look up.

Levi swallowed thickly.

“This isn’t real. You’re just in my head. You’re not real.”

The voice sighed. No, it sounded different. Less gravelly and old, and instead smooth and almost melodic. “But I was, wasn’t I?” It leaned closer. “And I’d still be here if it wasn’t for you.”

It was a different voice a different voice a different voice-

Everything in Levi tensed when a hand slowly appeared, waving a detached finger beneath his nose. But it wasn’t the same as before. It was fresh, dripping blood, a fountain of it cascading to his feet. A finger, pink and toned. But there was something that made his stomach convulse, quickly slapping a hand over his mouth before he could throw up.

The gold of a familiar band.

The pounding of the door now increased, the hinges squeaking in protest.

A touch, different to the last, grazed his chin. Soft and gentle. It was with this realisation that Levi noticed that the smell had gone, too. Instead, there hovered familiarity; strawberries. His strawberry shampoo…

The hand slowly guided his gaze upward, dragging across a painfully familiar body like knives. And when he met the blue eyes, the friendly grin now pulled into a mournful frown, and messy hair of his deceased fiancé, he began to shiver. Violently. Because in his left hand, Eren held the pulsing finger. In that same hand, his ring finger was missing.

The frown tilted crookedly. His skin suddenly flushed pale and crawled with ants and beady-eyed insects. Patches of skin and flesh were missing, revealing bone and old blood that oozed from the gashes.

He stared with eyes brimming with accusation. Betrayal. And all the while, Levi couldn’t move. He wanted to patch Eren up though he knew he couldn’t. He wanted to tear that frown from his face-it didn’t belong on the perpetually smiling face. But all he could do was bear the pain Eren forced in waves.

“You took my finger, Levi. Why did you take it?.”

..........

A cry tore from his throat the moment his eyes flew open. Sweating and heaving on the bed, he felt his muscles stiffen. His hair, now longer, matted thickly to his forehead and the nape of his neck. Levi choked on his breath. That dream, again.

A flash of the finger crossed his mind. The bloodied band stuck on it.

Levi slowly dragged his knees to his chest. His legs seemed heavier and unwilling to move, rigid in shock. But he forced them, resting his forehead on his knees as he began to rock back and forth. He no longer tried to soothe himself through faint whispers in an empty room. He just let it wash over himself and would wait for it to pass. Or more accurately, for the feeling to be simmered down.

It wasn’t bearable. He still felt sick. Although, that could also have been the aftereffect of how much he drank the previous night.

The memory of just how much remained uncertain, and trying to encouraged a splintering headache. Then, it could have also spurred the violent dream-

“Oi!” a sudden banging at the door shocked Levi into focus. He glanced to the clock on the nightstand, his hand immediately slipping beneath his pillow for his pocketknife. He vaguely registered it read twenty-three minutes past two.

In the morning.

The banging didn’t cease. It only grew louder as Levi crept closer to the door, as quietly as he could despite tripping over his feet and slamming into a cabinet. He could feel the pain of it pulling at his side with every step-he knew it was going to bruise. When he reached the door, he stood to the side of it, his sweaty fingers flexing over the blade. And then he pushed the button for the speaker.

“Who is it?”

It stopped.

“Mikasa, so open up.”

He almost dropped the knife. If there was one person he didn’t want to face, above all others, it was her. In that moment, he felt a cold dread curdle his stomach. He really didn’t want to open the door. In fact, Levi was half tempted to stay silent until she finally went away. After she’d left, he knew that he would never have another chance to speak to her or see her, though the same couldn’t be said for her. She would see him again, as would everyone else, but only through talk shows or magazines that had his ass on the cover.

Levi couldn’t remember doing a shoot like that, but he certainly could have done. Did he even want to do anything like that again?

“You there?”

He hesitated. A sigh followed.

“I drove an hour to get here, so either open the door or come outside. I’m not hanging about.”

“You don’t have to,” Levi pressed his back against the wall. The sweat on his body had turned his now cold skin sticky. “I already know. I read your letter, so go home.”

“You read the letter?” she questioned, but it was laced with incredulity. Levi replied in silence. “Good. So you know we need to talk.
I’ll be waiting in the carpark. If you’re not down in five, I’m going.”

That was that. The footsteps, heavy and inevitably booted, disappeared down the hall. Then the familiar ding of the lift sounded, and she was gone.

It was silent once again.

But Levi couldn’t stop his hands from shaking. The sweat in his palms made the handle of the blade slippery, and he turned it over in thought; not only had it been months since they’d last seen each other-the last time was not a fond memory-or the fact that she no longer just swept into his apartment as if she owned the place, flopping down onto the sofa and throwing her sleepover bag to the floor. She would already be flicking through movies and ordering a takeaway within the span of two minutes. No, it was the fact that there was so much empty space between them that fizzed and cracked with tension.

He felt guilt. It clogged his throat like the hair in a drainage pipe.

Shakily, he pressed a hand to his forehead, trying frantically to think of what he should do. Five minutes. He had five minutes. He should go. He needed to do it as a duty-a spear of fear shot through his gut: what if the paparazzi were there? The fear that had germinated in his brain for however long and the very reason he didn’t want to leave the safety of the apartment. For all he knew, they could be crouched in the shadowed corners of the underground car park, waiting still and silent behind cars, behind walls, in narrow hallways, and the moment he stepped a toe out into the dim light hanging overhead…

He tugged at his hair. Stupid, stupid, stupid. She hated him, without a doubt. Probably wished she could hurt him in every possible way. String him up by his ankles and humiliate him.

Levi pushed back those thoughts, but just barely.

He helped Eren raise Mikasa when Carla was ill. For her, what he did was worse than betrayal. With that piled with all her other worries and the fact that she just lost her brother-her best friend…

Whatever she decided to do, he would have to go through with it.

Speeding around the apartment wasn’t easy when he was hungover, sleep-deprived and riddled with anxiety. Especially so when everything had been torn down and laying in heaps randomly dotted around like landmines. In his mess of a wardrobe, he flung on whatever was in reach. Levi didn’t know what he looked like, only knowing that if how he smelled was anything to go by, then probably terrible. He raced to the door.

Then he stopped. Breathing in, he grasped the handle. Breathing out, he turned it.

One.

Two.

Breathing in…

Exhaling a storm…

Go.

Door left wide open behind him, he barrelled into the elevator and punched the button. Five seconds, a minute, somewhere around there it must have been before the doors sluggishly slid open and, before they could completely, threw himself in and slammed the button for the carpark. The doors closed and then he was moving.

At one in the morning, no one was ever in the hallways. Levi knew people were probably awake. Most were in that building. Workaholics, they were, as he was. Pulling their hair at their desks and accompanied by a warm glass of bourbon with ice, all the while feeling the fingers of fatigue attempting to lull them to sleep.

Eren used to grumble about that.

“Aren’t, like, all the people here under forty? Sheesh, they’re all old hags. They’re millionaires. They should be crashing every party in the city and shopping till they shit diamonds.”

“Hold on a second. I’m one of these ‘old hags’, brat. What are you trying to say?””

Eren scratched his chin teasingly. “I think you’ve found your crowd, old man.”

Therefore, no one other than Levi remained in the lift, classical music shrieking as the box plummeted.

“Destination reached.”

The golden light of the lift bled out onto the shadowed pavement. The cold seeped in through the thin coat he wore and he felt a shiver roll down his spine. Cautiously, he crawled to his feet. Even though his feet resisted, planting themselves firmly, he willed them to move. After a few moments of struggle, he hesitantly took his first step out of the lift. Exposed from every side, he felt his eyes bulge as they scanned everything they could; skeletal cars with sleek, hollowed faces, lights dangling like snakes from the high ceiling, the exit in the distance to which there dimly flickered a bright light.

It didn’t surprise Levi that his eyes, shielded from light for so long, had begun to water.

And there, ten metres away from where he stood shivering, was easily the worst car in the entire city. An old, faded red tin. Without looking through the window, he could remember the interior, with the tacky leather seats and ugly fluffy green steering wheel. He flinched when the door was thrown open and the hand retracted back into the belly of the vehicle, his heart beating faster in his chest.

Gritting his teeth, he quickly climbed the stone steps a few paces from the lift and into the car, slamming the door shut. Before he could lean further down in his seat, he felt a glare pinning him in place.

“Seatbelt on, not a word.”

He couldn’t nod, only complying before the car shot forward, the gate barely rising as the they pierced through into the outside.
Rose City was where everything ever was. It was the country’s capital. The queen bee’s personal residence above all the workers and everyday people.

Where everyone wanted to be.

Glassy buildings towered with no end in sight and glowed with vivid neon colours; the faster they drove, the more kaleidoscopic they became. Wide roads were shot through with sleek, new cars and scantily-dressed women on the hoods, party-goers spilling in endless streams from nightclubs that hushed a pink and red blush over the road and over his face. There were many of those kinds of establishments.

Billboards with beautiful faces and beautiful bodies were also smacked on the faces of some buildings. Flawless skin and, from their perches on the buildings’ sides, almost celestial. Most of them, however, primarily showcased one man: dressed devilishly in a black suit with his hair gelled back. In another, his naked torso blossomed with swirling ink that curled around his ribs, his arms, and up one side of his neck, snaking all the way down to his fingertips; they were floral. Grey-shaded flowers with their stems and roots twined around his body.

One was an advert. The strange man was dancing with a woman with a stunning pixie face, golden-glittered and radiant, before the product, cologne, faded over.

No matter which way he turned or trained his stare, there would always be the same face. The shadow of its light would even stain the inside of the car.

Levi couldn’t guess where they were going. As the buildings became more sparse and grassy fields overtook-they must have been travelling for thirty minutes, at the least-he grew more and more nervous. He knew that they were out of the city. But whereas he had the cover of the nightclub music from the city to soothe his panic before-he couldn’t stand complete silence-everything snapped quiet. His breathing became amplified in his own ears. Could she hear him? He couldn’t see anything from his peripheral vision that would suggest so.

They turned onto a patch of mud.

For the entire journey, he couldn’t risk looking at her. He knew full well that she had been actively avoiding even glancing at him. Then again, Levi wasn’t any different. He was pushed up as close to the door as he could get and slouched so low his body seemed to have become cooked spaghetti.

Yet, as ever, the feeling was reciprocated.

“Wh-“

Her eyes flashed. “Not a word.”

She didn’t wait for a response as she quickly got out of the car, slamming the door shut and marching away. A moment later, she disappeared past a clump of trees. Though confused, Levi unbuckled his belt. He didn’t want to give himself time to back out. He threw open the door and followed where Mikasa had went. Offhandedly, he noticed that it was much colder. The end of October, or perhaps a bit later as he didn’t know the date, went by quicker than he thought. The scent of salt clung to the back of his throat.

Climbing through the shrubbery proved to be a slight challenge. With the dark crawling over the ground and large rocks and through thin trees, Levi tripped multiple times, hissing with every elbow he grazed and toe he stubbed, but eventually made it to the edge. He was a completely ungraceful sight in comparison to his photoshoots. His perfect skin was sullen and scratched.

When he looked up, he couldn’t understand why he didn’t recognise the place before.

“Still as ungraceful as ever, I see,” Mikasa said, just barely audible over the wind and the dark sea tumbling in small waves to her ankles. It stretched behind her, blending into the night sky. Her boots were discarded next to Levi. He knew from their times on holidays before, she only ever did this when she needed a distraction. The shock from the cold, she said, was comforting.

He had a strong urge to take off his own.

Resisting the impulse, he moved forward slightly so he could be heard better. “Yeah, it’ll take a miracle for that to change.”

“Surprising.”

Levi felt uncomfortable with the small-talk, but he knew she was making him uncomfortable deliberately. He folded his arms, shivering. “So, Founder’s Cove?”

“Yep. If you can still remember, it was where the group spent summer two years ago. Armin found it on one of his explorations and organised a surprise weekend here for the rest of us.”

“I remember. Was that why you brought me here?” he asked tentatively. “For memory’s sake?”

“No,” she paused as if in thought for a moment. “I mostly wanted to get the hell away from your dungeon. And the city. That place is like poison, what we’re talking about shouldn’t be discussed in a place like that. Not to mention no one ever comes here, so we can talk without being overheard.”

“Right.”

She finally looked up, standing still in the water. “We both know why I’m here, so how about we just hear what you have to say? And watch it, mind you. I don’t know how much patience I’ve got left.”

But Levi didn’t know what to say. He’s been steeping in so many of these inevitable scenarios that they just bombarded his brain.

He could see Mikasa was growing annoyed.

“You don’t have a single thing to say? At all?”

“What do you want to hear?”

“Well, you can start by apologising, for starters.”

“You know I can’t do that.”

At this, Mikasa scoffed, incredulous. “No, I don’t. You do realise that’s the last thing you should be saying, right now?”

“I know and I mean it. Tell everyone else the same back home.”

“What home? You know as well as I do your home is here now. You don’t belong in Shiganshina, anymore. You’ve lost what family you had. What you should be doing is grovelling on your knees begging for even the slightest bit of forgiveness.”

“I said I can’t.”

She raised a brow in challenge. “And why’s that?”

“Because that’s what people to do when they want forgiveness. I know I don’t deserve it. It doesn’t matter how much I apologise. It’s never done anything for anyone anyway, and it won’t take back what I’ve done.” It won’t bring Eren back. When she didn’t say anything, he continued, shoving his hands into the coat pocket.

“You want an apology, but it won’t change anything and it won’t make anyone feel better. So just be okay with knowing I won’t show my face to you again. Or if you really just want to get it out and hurt me, because I know that every fucker has it out for me-give everything away to the press. I wouldn’t stop you. If it makes you feel better, you can tell everyone what I’ve done. You can tattoo it on my forehead and make me go out looking like a crackhead pixie for all I care,” he said, not surprised in the slightest that his voice shook and cracked.

There wasn’t indecision on Mikasa’s face. Neither was there curiosity or anger or disappointment. Then again, she was always the better one at hiding how she felt.

Instead, she crouched down, skimming her hand across the water’s rippling surface. She dipped her fingers beneath the surface, scouring the sand. “So you’re saying you’ll let me do whatever I want with you?”

“Without resistance.” If there was one response that he was expecting to receive, perhaps her taking the opportunity to destroy his ‘precious’ public image, it wasn’t this.

“Anything?”

“Anything.”

“Oh boy, you’re just the same, scared little thing you’ve always been. Reiner was right. You haven’t changed.” Her voice lowered, darkened. “Eren’s death taught you nothing.”

Levi was good at putting a leash on most emotions, but there was just something about his anger that he couldn’t control. He was a dick, he knew that. But the mere implication that Eren being gone hadn’t done anything to change him was wrong on so many levels.

It pissed him off.

Nearing the edge of the waves but not close enough to reach his feet, he stopped, staring down at Mikasa, jaw clenched and firm.
She shot back with an impenetrable glare.

“What makes you think that nothing’s changed, huh? Look at me. Look.” He opened his arms wide. In his mind’s eye, he knew that he looked pathetic. His muscles felt shrivelled beneath the coat and his limbs like toothpicks. With every gust of wind, he fought to stay on his feet, but just barely. “Tell me again I’ve not changed.”

“What’s your point? I get it, you look like shit, but not everything’s about you, Levi. We all look like shit.”

“I get that, but what I’m trying to say is it taught me everything. I know I did wrong and I’ll have to pay for it for the rest of my life. I know. So unless there was a magic wand lying around that could somehow revive the dead, I can’t do shit. And believe me, if I could, I would.”

The wind was beginning to pick up. Freezing and tugging through Levi’s matted hair.

It was cut through with a soft snort.

“I’m not stupid. I know you feel like shit and feel guilty and whatever. As to that, all I can say is you should fucking suffer. And you are. I can tell.” She looked up for a moment, her eyes taking in his form. “Well, I bet Erwin’s taking a load from that. I heard he’s telling everyone you’re taking a break for ‘mental purposes’. You can guess how Reiner reacted.”

“Look, you didn’t come all this way to tell me something I already know. I get it. Everyone hates me.”

He actually didn’t know that. About Reiner, yes, though he wasn’t surprised in the slightest about Erwin. It was true that he had been wondering why Oluo’s threats of Erwin storming the apartment didn’t follow through, but he wasn’t shocked that Erwin could twist the situation.

“Well, I was gonna go into this speech about how you became the lapdog of Smith’s Modelling, and let them crush you into this thing that not even Eren recognised anymore, but I’ll just get straight to it.”

“Which is?”

He felt her glare burn. “The funeral’s over with, so you missed your chance. I won’t go into details, but the whole town basically turned up, paying their respects. They placed guitar picks on his coffin instead of flowers and all that. It was actually nice, except the rain.”

At that, Levi couldn’t breathe. The confirmation that Eren was beneath ground, that he couldn’t see his face again, those eyes, that smile-it hurt. He never had the chance to see him before he was buried under six feet of dirt.

He gulped, strained. “Why are you telling me this?”

She didn’t say anything for a moment, simply looking over him. Like Petra. Searching for confirmation. Of what, Levi could only guess. Then, she stood back up, stepping away from the water and took his hand-not careful in the slightest-and shoved the shell in his. Making sure he had it in his grip, she let go. He let it sit in his palm.

“Say goodbye to him.”

His gaze whipped upward in shock. “Wait, what? “

“Don’t get me wrong. Every part of me hates the fucking sight of you. This, what I’m doing, is not me forgiving you. I’ll never forgive you.”

“I don’t expect you to.”

“Then shut up and let me speak,” she hissed. He fell silent, clenching the shell. “No one knows about this expect me, Bertold, Armin and Hange. You have Hange to thank for this. She thought you’d probably try and visit on your own, so we agreed you can have five minutes to say shit or whatever it is you fucking do now, then get back in your car, and leave.”

“Hange?” The crazy shopkeeper with terrible fashion sense? Of all people. He could count on one hand the amount of times he had been unfortunate enough to converse with her. Yet, none of those were in contexts such as going to the bar, hanging out with friends or anything remotely close. Thirty second exchanges of ‘is that all’ and ‘yeah, thanks’ in the shop was all.

Since when was she in the picture?

“Yeah, so you better thank her when you see her.” Mikasa apparently didn’t notice his confusion.

“I will. Definitely,” he agreed. But then a thought occurred to him. “But what about Reiner?”

“What about him?”

“Doesn’t he know?”

“Hell no. If he did, your corpse would be buried in the woods somewhere and the rest of us will be put in prison for life,” she said.

Before, there was only one instance in which Levi had seen Reiner lose his shit. It was a chilling sight. Any trace of that jolly drunk disappeared beneath the cold rage that settled in his eyes. If Levi wasn’t there to hold him back…

He shoved the thought from his mind. Levi never imagined that rage would ever be directed towards him.

“You’re just going to aggravate him. If he finds out about this-“

“He won’t.” She rolled her eyes when Levi raised an incredulous brow. “It’s a five minute thing then you’re gone, never to return. And if you ever, ever try and step one little toe back in Shiganshina, I’ll fucking kill you myself. Understand?” Levi gritted his teeth.

Mikasa took a step closer, her voice almost animalistic. “I said, do you understand?”

“Yes.”

He stood still as she looked over his face. After a few moments, seeming assured, she snatched her boots from the sand and shoved her feet in them.

“Good,” she wiped her nose with her sleeve, and Levi risked looking up. She was now standing a bit away, her expressionless mask back in place. “Let’s go.”

“Now?” Levi didn’t expect to go to Shiganshina straight away. He wasn’t mentally prepared at all. Or physically, for that matter. He doubted that if any of the townspeople caught sight of him, he wouldn’t be able to defend himself.

Mikasa rolled her eyes. “No, dipshit. To your apartment.”

“I thought you’d make me walk back.”

“As much as I love the idea, if Hange doesn’t find you in your apartment tomorrow, she’ll go apeshit.”

“Why’s Hange coming round?”

“She’s got your things. She somehow convinced Eren when he was set on using all your stuff for a bonfire to store them in the back of her shop,” she said. “I don’t know why she’s doing this, but you better thank her. You owe her a lot.”

“Right.” Levi agreed. He didn’t know why she was doing this, either. He thought most of his belongings had been burned or given to Bean to be utterly destroyed. He remembered leaving thinking that some of his things Eren would surely not throw away, like the photo of the two of them with Bean at her fifth birthday party. He couldn’t understand why Eren wanted to throw a dog a birthday party at the time. What would be the point? It wasn’t as if Bean even knew it was his birthday. Yet, the pride on Eren’s face when Bean ate the entire cake he made him was unrivalled. Levi thought that picture at least would be saved.

Eren had sent a video of him burning his stuff, clearly drunk, and holding the picture to a lighter flame.

It didn’t survive.

But then there was one thing: why would Hange do this? As far as Levi was concerned, he never even knew the two had become close friends.

Well, Levi mocked himself bitterly. If you were there for him you’d know, wouldn’t you?

Mikasa didn’t wait for him to follow. By the time Levi snapped out from his thoughts, there was only a glimpse of her yellow coat and a rustle of bushes in the bordering forest. Quickly, he followed after her. And when he climbed back in the car, trying to conceal his heaving, they again refused to look at each other. Only when Levi was back in the half-destroyed apartment did a question occur to him. One he’d been terrified of asking but one he desperately needed to know.

So before she left, Levi pulled open the door again.

“Hey, Mikasa?”

He hated how weak he sounded. How nervous he was, wringing his hands. She turned to face him, raising a brow.

“What?”

“How did Eren go?”

The silence felt deafening at that point. The question hovered, a foreign entity that twisted around their throats and tightened its grip until the air turned thick. There still lay a moment of indecision in Mikasa’s eyes as she folded her arms.

Should she tell him? As if he deserved to know anything.

After a moment, she clicked her tongue.

“He shot himself.”

And then she was gone. Not a word more and she disappeared as though she’d never been there at all.

But Levi simply stood there for a few moments more. He blinked. Slowly, he turned back into the apartment and closed the door. He ghosted through the apartment, never stopping to sit down or rest. His limbs were burning. They continued to burn as night turned to day and his daily news report from the Alexa echoed from his room. He still held the shell in his hand, sand-crusted but now dry.

There was the click of a door opening. A crash sounded, followed by irritated curses before heels clicked closer.

“Helloooo? Anyone home-? Oh, snap. You’re right there. I should probably introduce myself. Right, because that’s the first thing anyone should do, obviously. Greetings! You may not remember me, but I’m Hange Zoe, proud corner shop owner in Shiganshina. Family-run business for over fifty years, you know. Keeping the business alive, know what I’m saying?… Hey, are you alright? You look terrible and-oh-oh shit! Your nose is bleeding! Here, let me get you some tissues! There you go, hang in there, tough guy. I’ll just get you some water. All rich guys have water bottles in their fridge an-hey, hey watch out! You-!”

It suddenly went dark.