Eren can fill the bathtub with his blood twice before he passes out.
When he wakes up it’s with a gasp, his heartbeat thundering too loud in his ears and his body scrambling, mindlessly, to kick the razor blades under the standalone claw foot tub as he hears footsteps approach the door. He only has a few seconds; Eren tugs his sleeves down his arms, covering the sickening purple scars that will be gone come evening, rips open the can of bleach beside him and pours a little into the tub, still with an inch of his blood inside it that just isn’t draining fast enough.
Dropping to his knees and reaching for the bucket filled with soapy water beside him, he starts to scrub just as Petra bursts in, smiling in that warm, false way of hers that doesn’t quit cover the edge of brutality Eren sees in her eyes when she looks at him.
“Hey Eren,” she chirps, barely glancing over what he’s doing before her eyes focus on a point above his head.
None of them look at him much.
“It’s time for lunch; Levi sent me to get you,” Petra reports dutifully, characteristic cheerfulness bright enough that Eren can’t see what she’s like beneath it.
“M’not hungry,” Eren mumbles. It’s not a lie, what he said – he feels woozy and half-drunk from the blood loss, nothing like hunger in his belly – but more than that he doesn’t want to spend an hour sitting at a table with people who twitch like their hands are grasping for blades whenever he takes a sip of tea.
Armin and Mikasa’s hands would twitch like they were reaching for his, even after they found out what he was.
Behind him, Petra snorts. “You’re fifteen years old and you’ve just been working for hours. You want food.”
She starts tapping her foot impatiently, cocking her hip in a way that makes it clear she’s waiting for Eren to leave the room so she can, and the rhythm itches its way under his skin, curlicuing its way to where the tight, red-hot ball of anger sits in him and waking it up, making it spread along his bones. The thing with Eren and his anger is that it feels like it isn’t part of him– more like it’s a hurricane that dressed itself up in Eren’s skin for whatever reason, too big and violent to be human. It’s physical, his anger, nearly uncontrollable if he doesn’t get away from the stimulus, and Petra’s tapping echoes in his skull.
“I said I’m not fucking hungry,” he spits, and he knows this reaction is overboard, knows that Petra has done precisely fuck-all to merit it aside from following orders, but that’s all they’re all doing, is following orders, and Eren used to be around people who cared –
Only they wouldn’t anymore, would they?
Eren grits his teeth and brushes by Petra in quick, stiff steps. She is about to reach out for him – and even seeing the hand coming close to him makes his skin tingle; Eren is more tactile than verbal, and he’s felt touch-starved for ages – before her hand shakes, and she draws it back to her side. Without quite meaning to, Eren snorts, knows the sound is ugly.
He heads back to his prison cell for lack of anything else to do, and it’s only after he closes his eyes that he realizes what a shitty idea this was, if he didn’t want to think about things that hurt to think about.
It used to be that he and Armin would have to curl up together for either of them to fall asleep.
Eren wonders who Armin nestles with now, and then, while trying to convince himself he doesn’t feel pathetic, holds his own hand till he falls asleep.
The sound of a tray being slammed forcefully onto the table that was moved into his cell is what wakes Eren up, and he snorts, startling and falling off the bed.
“Very graceful, Jaeger,” Levi drones, and Eren flushes.
Levi makes Eren feel vaguely ashamed of himself for no reason he can yet identify, and Eren is constantly trying to work his way into whatever the equivalent of good graces Levi has, but. Well.
He’d been pretty mean to Petra earlier, and everyone and their great-uncle knows that Petra is Levi’s favourite.
Eren’s probably fucked. “Sorry,” he mutters, keeps his eyes on the floor and on how his dirty bare feet curl over one another.
His dirty bare feet abruptly feel shameful.
“What time is it?” he asks, and Levi gives him a long, steady look. It makes Eren’s skin prickle, a wavering, unsure emptiness start under the flare of his ribs. Eren is the one to break the gaze.
“It’s eight o’clock,” Levi states. Blinking, Eren doesn’t stop his features from crumpling into a frown of surprise.
“Um,” he starts cautiously, wondering exactly how he might go about apologizing for sleeping a third of the working day away, wondering exactly how many levels of dead Levi will kill him to.
“Petra said you needed the sleep, so you can stop looking like I’m about to rip your dick off,” Levi says gracefully, gesturing to the tray. It turns out to be supper, a bowl of soup still just barely steaming with a mug of tea and a hardened chunk of bread. “Eat the food.”
His last phrase is an order, and Eren hesitantly walks to where the tray is. The path he has to take brings him too close to Levi, close enough for Eren to feel his body heat and ache with loneliness. He keeps his eyes to the ground. “What else did Petra say?” Eren mumbles as he spoons in a mouthful of soup. There are enough spices that the taste lingers on his tongue, almost acrid in the cooks’ desperation to cover how little they had of the ever-expensive salt.
“Said that there was an alarming amount of what looked like human blood in the bathtub you were…cleaning.” Levi’s voice is close to Eren’s ear, and Eren curves his shoulders forward, hiding so that he doesn’t do something stupid like try to hug Humanity’s Strongest Weapon. “Let me see your wrists, Eren.”
“No,” Eren yelps, on automatic. The cuts were deep, and he had to re-open them a lot till his body finally short-circuited and knocked him out long enough for the wounds to close. He’s not sure if the marks will have faded yet.
Levi is quick, though; both of Eren’s wrists have steel-strong grips on them, pulling them away from how they crossed over his body, protective. Eren, a roar in his ears, goes limp, swaying to lean against the table and locking his knees to keep from falling. No one knew about this, Eren made sure not even Armin and Mikasa knew how sometimes Eren had to feel hurt to just to feel alive.
And now to feel human.
His breath comes in as a sob when Levi works his sleeves back, revealing pinkish vertical lines tripping down his forearms. Levi’s breath catches, and he draws a single finger down the middle of one. Eren hates how that makes him shudder and lean closer. “What did you have to do for the scars to last so long?” Levi mouths, almost silent.
Blinking furiously, Eren wishes he had his hands free to scrape away the tears. “I don’t wanna –” and he sounds, he thinks, utterly sickening with himself, like a petulant child.
“Eren, what did you have to do,” Levi says, flat with his edges wavering with a kind of cold anger Eren learned to fear in the ghettos. He cringes, and Levi sighs, abruptly, stepping back and holding his hands out, palms up.
Eren hates how he steps away. He hates how cold he feels when Levi steps away.
“I had to re-open them a lot,” Eren whispers, clasping his hands in front of himself tightly, tipping his chin down to wait for his tongue-lashing.
Or his beating. He wonders, sort of, whether this merits it in Levi’s mind.
He hears a long, slow inhale. “…why did you do it,” Levi states, sounding very…tight. Controlled.
This, Eren learned, probably prophesizes something he should be afraid of.
“Sorry,” he breathes, “I’m really sorry –”
“I’m not –” Levi starts, pitch sharp, before he cuts himself off, breathing in deep again. “I’m not angry with you, Eren. I just want to know why you did it.”
Eren doesn’t respond, and Levi, after a few stiff moments, steps forward again, putting his hand on Eren’s shoulder gingerly.
Always gingerly around the monster.
“Eren?” Levi asks softly, squeezing. The contact – horrified, Eren realizes that the contact has made him start to cry, which is just – that isn’t –
He stumbles backward, away from Levi’s hand. “Sorry,” he mutters again, humiliated as he bring his hands up to cover his face. “Sorry, sorry, fuck, I won’t – can we just –”
Sitting heavily on his bed, Eren wraps the blanket around himself, only half-able to feel his body now. As he curls up on his side, hugging himself and drawing the blanket over his head, he feels Levi sit on the bedside, and Eren curls himself up tighter. A hand is placed on his ribs.
“I’ll wait until you’re ready to answer,” Levi says, “But I won’t leave until you do.”
“You don’t even care,” Eren whines, “None of you even care, what does it matter what I do, I can still – it doesn’t affect how I shift.”
“For Christ’s sake, that’s not why I’m asking!” Levi snaps. “Get this into your thick skull: you are part of my squad, right now, which means your well being – mental as well as physical, dumbshit – is my fucking responsibility. A fifteen year old repeatedly carving open his forearms, shockingly, doesn’t scream to me ‘healthy and balanced mind’. It’s a bit of a concern, actually.”
“…I just needed to feel human,” Eren sighs, very tired suddenly. Levi goes still. “And I wouldn’t even be here if I was.”
“...who told you weren’t human,” Levi snarls, barely sounding the word himself. “What is one of my people?”
“No one needed to,” Eren replies, distantly and sort of floating in the strange grey cloud that wraps itself around his mind. “I kind of figured it out on my own.”
He falls asleep again after that, and Levi’s hand is still on his rib as he does.
The next day, he cannot shift into a Titan when Levi asks him to, but he can to pick up a goddamn spoon.
Eren watches with horrified eyes at the arm that is swallowed up by steaming red muscle, not because of how terrifying it is but how terrifying it isn’t, how it feels like his anger has room to move in that arm.
It feels horrifically, terribly natural, the extension of his limb, and he hears Hanji yelling at him enthusiastically, hears Levi talking down his squad but sound and air seem to warp, twist themselves around each other in his head and the ringing in his ears swallows them up. His breath rattles in his chest, his eyes continue to track the arm over again and again until he can’t seem to focus them anymore. They fix onto a point that doesn’t exist, somewhere in the far-off distance, and Eren feels his throat buzz with something he realizes too late is a loud, continuous scream he can’t swallow back.
His legs shake, his chest heaves and he doesn’t think his lungs are working, doesn’t think they’re getting air like they should because he can’t breathe, he’s clutching at his shirt and trying to claw his chest open like that’ll work because he can’t breathe –
“—look at all this goddamn air, for fuckssake, bullshit you can’t breath. You can breath just fuckin’ fine, just stop panicking, God.” Levi’s breath is hot on his ear, and Eren shivers ‘cause he likes it too much, not even – in that he want to fuck the Corporal but loneliness is a tangible sensation to him, one that can stand strong in a room full of people unless some of those people hold his hand, brush his shoulder, and push the loneliness back again. And he isn’t allowed that from the Corporal, isn’t allowed that from anyone here so he drops at his knees, bending away from the touch because it’ll hurt more later if he has it too long now.
“I’m fine,” Eren screeches, sounding mildly hysterical as he throws his arms over his head and –
And instinctually covers the nape of his neck in a way that no one misses.
Eren sort of realizes he’s doing nothing but digging his own grave, and he bites his lip as he feels – feels, but cannot stop – the way he disengages, mind checking out of his body for a time to caterwaul around this thoughtless, painless place he hasn’t been to since after the Fall.
Distantly, he hears his arm begin to steam away.
“So you have a few days off,” Levi begins without preamble when Eren blinks his way back to consciousness. He’s on a bedroll outside, still, late afternoon sunshine barely reaching the wind-sheltered corner Eren’s in.
“I don’t need it,” Eren says automatically, because free time is thinking time and thinking time generally ends with Eren finding out another method of suicide that won’t work with his healing capabilities.
“That’s awesome,” Levi grunts. “You’re getting it anyway.”
“I don’t want it!” Eren’s voice breaks, alarmed. Levi pushes him back down to something more horizontal when Eren tries to sit up.
“Too fucking bad,” Levi states bluntly. “You were lost inside your own head for hours, today. Freaked everyone the fuck out.”
“No, I think the spoon thing freaked everyone out,” Eren bites.
Levi just…looks at him, until Eren has to look away. “Do I need to order you not to self-harm?”
Eren flinches, and Levi keeps talking. “Because I get the feeling you care more about following orders than yourself, so. I will use that if necessary.”
“Why do you –”
“I explained that already, brat, the answer hasn’t changed in the past twenty-four hours.”
“You had bullshit reasons!” Eren snarls, and he can feel control slipping away. He bites his lip, hard enough to break skin as he swallows angry words down.
“Yeah?” Levi asks, and his tone – is challenging, a bit, pushing back against Eren’s anger and then Eren is screaming, he isn’t sure about what, but he’s yelling and swearing and spitting in Levi’s face, standing up to push at the Corporal like a street thug. Levi takes the push, steps back with it, and that makes Eren angrier, because he’s the only one that can push back, the only one that will but like everyone else he just watches Eren through this glass in his eyes that makes Eren less than he wants to be –
When he punches Levi, Levi just rolls with it, re-adjusting his weight so he doesn’t drop. He doesn’t hit Eren back and Eren howls at him, howls louder when Levi meets his eyes and speaks.
“You can hit me if you need to.”
So Eren does. And again, and again, until Levi hits back and the burn of injured skin almost makes the cold parts in him alive again.
“I disapprove of your method of dealing with this, just so we’re all on the same page,” Hanji demurs as Levi carries Eren, half-way conscious and mostly incoherent, into his cell, sets him down on the bed and slides down to start working the boots of the kid’s feet.
“Well, at least I’m dealing with it,” Levi mutters through a swollen jaw. “A bit late, but.”
He’s trying to wrestle Eren under the covers when Hanji steps into the vicinity as well, walking toward the dresser in the corner and opening a drawer with a neat snap of their wrists.
“Hey,” Levi snaps, “That’s Jaeger’s shit, Hanji.”
Living in the military for so long had stripped him of most of his street instincts, but one that stays strong is the possessiveness he feels towards the few belongings he has, something he assumes in others and respects assiduously.
“I thought, after today, that I should probably check the meds,” Hanji carries on conversationally, as if Levi hasn’t said a word, which isn’t surprising but is very aggravating.
He already has the taste of utter, complete failure on his tongue, irritation is another layer that he doesn’t need.
“And I did, which is good, because about three bottles of sleep aid that could double as goddamn horse tranquilizer is missing,” Hanji finishes, continuing their thorough search of Eren’s things.
Grudgingly, Levi can admit this trespass against the hallowed rules of ‘Shit That Isn’t Mine’ can be justified.
“Fuck,” he mutters again, looking at Eren and wondering how the fuck he missed this, how he let this get so far.
The scars on Eren’s forearms flash behind his eyes for a moment, and Levi closes them, pinches his nose and wills away the very unprofessional, vaguely skeezy amount of fear the image gives him, even now.
“Ding, ding, ding!” Hanji cheers as they unearth one bottle, shoving it into the bag at their hip.
“Tha’s the only one lef’” Eren mumbles into his pillow. “Tried twice and –” his breath catches, “and –”
“Hey, okay, that’s fine, that’s totally fine,” Hanji says in this warm and soothing tone Levi would sacrifice a goat to get if he thought it would help any. Stumbling over in a way that belays their balance, Hanji crouches near the bed, scratches at Eren’s scalp.
And there it is; his muscles tense like piano strings, his breathing goes shaky and he turns his head into the pillow, hiding. It reminds Levi of the way girls where he used to live would flinch away from strong men’s palms, reminds him, sort of, of the sticky fear he felt as a Titan’s jaw closed around him till he cut himself out.
“Hanji,” he says warningly. The kid spent at least a few of his years in the ghettoes built near the landfills; the number of terrible things that could have happened to him that would make him avoid touch is staggering.
“You’re also misreading that,” Hanji comments, words absentminded as most of their focus is on petting Eren. “It’s ‘cause he wants to be touched, but thinks he isn’t allowed to. I get it, I’m like that too. He’s touch-starved.”
Then, in an affectionate move that is bewilderingly out of character, Hanji leans forward and kisses Eren’s forehead.
“I think I love you,” they says, and Eren shudders away from the words, leans into Hanji’s touch in a startling contradiction. “You’re like the enthusiastically angry little brother I never got.”
Then they swing themself onto the bed, spooning Eren from behind and patting the place in front of Eren enthusiastically.
“No,” Levi replies, resolute. He does not cuddle.
(He wants to, the traitorous, largely amoral part of his mind whispers. Levi reminds himself that the kid is 15. The largely amoral part of his mind replies tartly that he doesn’t know how old he is aside from ‘probably not as old as Erwin’, so he can’t validate the use of that argument.)
Hanji replies by doubling the speed of their pats. Eren groans, stirring from the half-sleep he drifted into, and Levi snarls, kicking off his boots and lifting up the blanket to slide in beside Eren stiffly, more awkward with his body outside of 3DMG than most think possible of Humanity’s Strongest Weapon.
A fist in the neckline of his shirt pulls him closer, Hanji throwing one leg over Eren’s waist to tuck a foot behind Levi’s ass and drag him steadily into what he cannot deny is a hug.
“He’s fifteen,” Levi mutters. Hanji shrugs.
“You’re the one that wants to tap that ass, not me.”
Levi is very grateful for Eren’s lack of lucidity.
Levi can feel the exact moment Eren wakes up.
So can Hanji, probably, but they’re the best sort of person when Levi doesn’t feel like stabbing them on principle, so they pretend to keep sleeping.
Very shittily, he might add, but Eren can be thick sometimes so he doesn’t think that the kid will be able to tell.
“I,” Eren starts, swallows thickly three times. “Um. Your face –”
Levi touches the tips of his fingers to his swollen features, shrugging as he’s reminded of them. “I said you could. Still mean it.”
Making a noise like he’s wounded, Eren shifts. “Why?”
Levi takes a long, slow breath in and out. The amount of psychological damage this little shit has, he reminds himself bracingly, is immense. “I told you.”
Eren mutters something into the pillow, something that sounds suspiciously like ‘I don’t believe you’.
“For fuck’s sake,” Levi growls, exhausted with the situation. “Do you need me to climb a mountaintop and yodel it to the heavens? Carve it into my fucking forehead? You matter, dumbass, that’s why.”
And because Levi can see where Eren’s thoughts have gone, he adds: “You matter, not your ability to shift. Well,” he pauses, unwilling to lie, “That’s also important, but the point here is you, as in Eren Jaeger, matter to me, so it would be fuckin’ peachy if you’d stop trying to goddamn off yourself.”
And Eren’s eyes are caught wide and bright and very, very green, Levi reviewing what he said and then blanching.
There is a large difference between ‘you matter’ and ‘you matter to me’.
Levi doesn’t have long to suffer internally over his mistakes because his arms are suddenly full of Jaeger, Eren’s mouth hard and hot and utterly clueless against his.
He doesn’t have any clue what he’s doing, is Levi’s first thought. Oh fuck, this is first kiss, is the second. Carefully, he cants his chin up, parts his lips and uses enough pressure that Eren’s part with his. Eren pauses where he’s balanced over Levi, trembling and so, so warm, and then Levi cups the back of his head, touching the tip of his tongue to Eren’s.
Eren gasps, fingers clenching on Levi’s shoulders.
“mmmmmmmstillhereguys,” Hanji sort of slurs as they grunt then roll over. “justsoweknow.”
And then Eren – laughs, sort of, and the taste is beautiful on Levi’s tongue.