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Memories to Live By

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A small, blond, blue-eyed boy sits, constructing a castle of wooden blocks, pausing only to look up when another boy of equally blond hair sits on the floor next to him. He looks across the room to where a woman is turning away, speaking with the teacher, then back to the other boy now sitting at his side. The boy leans over and sniffs him, then sits back, rubbing his nose with his hand. 

“You smell nice.” 

He blinks. “You’re weird.” He says it with the typical frankness of a small child, though he knows it’s a word he shouldn’t say (he’s been told it’s mean).

The other boy just shrugs, watching him. 

Finally, he holds out the block in his hand. “Wanna help?” The other boy nods, accepting the block, careful for four years old. 

“My name’s Erwin. What’s yours?” 

The other boy blinks, then smiles. “I’m Mike.” 

Erwin holds out his hand, because he’s seen his father do it. “Wanna be friends?” 

Mike stares back, then does the same. "Okay.” 

They shake on it with clumsy, awkward hands, fingers still chubby with baby fat, then return to the construction of their castle. 

-- 

The bell is shrill as it rings, making him wince, scowling. He settles into his chair, fully prepared for another biology class of being annoyed by the immaturity of his classmates and their inability to discuss basic human anatomy and functions without giggling awkwardly like a bunch of five-year-olds, when someone drops into the chair next to him. He tenses – he doesn’t want a lab partner, and no one wants to be his, no one ever talks to him, not since he moved here last year, but when he looks over to glare at the person, something makes him pause. 

A gangly girl with brown hair and thick glasses fumbles with her notebooks, dropping a pen with an “Oh, dangit!” and reaching to pick it up. When she straightens again, she finally seems to notice him, and a wide grin spreads over her face. “Hi there!” 

He frowns, saying nothing, but she doesn’t seem to mind. “Sorry, can I sit here? Everywhere else seems to be taken, I just changed schools this week, my name’s Hanji!” 

It’s strange, the way his lips move to tell her no, she can’t, go away, but what comes out is: “I’m—Levi.” 

“Nice to meet you! Guess we'll be lab partners then, huh? Do you like biology?” 

“Not—really.” 

“That’s okay, it’s not for everyone!” 

She’s too happy, too eager, and Levi wants nothing to do with her, he thinks, and yet— 

The teacher raps on the board, and class begins. 

A week later, they dissect frogs, the stench making him retch and go clammy all over. Hanji handles most of it, her cuts even and precise, pinning skin and tissue and labeling organs on their diagram with a natural ease. 

They get an A on the project, and Hanji stands with him in the boy’s bathroom as he washes his hands and rinses out his mouth over and over, paler than usual as he grips the sink with white-knuckled fingers. 

“Get out of here, freak, this is the boy’s bathroom!” 

They look at the offending boy as a unit, Levi’s gaze a dark warning and Hanji’s grin a bit too wide, almost manic, and the boy pales slightly and hurries out. 

They stand there in silence for a few moments before Hanji turns back to him, her eyes overly bright. “So!” she says, too happy, too normal, and he catches the way her chin wobbles. “Feeling any better?” 

Her expression falters under his gaze when he doesn’t reply. “It’s—nothing, I get called that a lot. Well, at least, at my old school.” She looks away, smile falling flat. 

A strange sort of defensiveness fills his chest. 

“So what.” 

She looks to him, the fake brightness sliding from her face slowly. He scowls at the sink. 

“So what if they think you’re weird, or a freak, or abnormal. Who the hell wants to be normal anyways. Normal is boring. Shitty, normal, boring teenagers with their shitty, normal lives.” 

When he finally looks up at the mirror, she’s smiling at him, a real, genuine smile, quiet and soft and open, then she turns to the paper towel dispenser and pulls out a few, holding them out to him. 

He accepts them, drying his hands and wiping his mouth, and they exit the bathroom without another word. 

-- 

“Alright class, today we have a new student joining us! Everyone, please say hello to—” 

In the back of the room, a blond boy looks over at his best friend, who has started shaking. “What’s—?” 

“That’s—” The brown-haired boy is pale and sweating. 

The blond looks back to the front of the class, makes a distressed noise, then turns and throws up. 

The sudden commotion draws the attention of the rest of the room, including the blonde girl in the midst of being introduced to the class. She goes still when she lays eyes on them— 

Then collapses at the feet of the teacher. 

“Annie!” 

-- 

A blonde teen hides in the bathroom at school and cries, hating the world that could do something like this. 

A girl with brown hair knocks carefully before pushing the door open. 

“Um… Hello?” 

-- 

“Eren, slow down.” 

“You know how the lunch room gets, if we don’t hurry, we’ll—” 

The pair passes another hallway when Eren stops, perking up like a dog hearing a whistle. Mikasa nearly runs into him, stepping back and frowning, mouth opening to chastise him, when she hears it too. 

“Leave me alone!” 

Eren suddenly takes off running down the hall, shoving people to the side, uncaring. 

Mikasa is frozen. 

Move.  

Her eyes follow Eren as he clears a path with elbows and shoulders and arms, then past him, where two juniors have someone crowded up against a locker, and she remembers. 

You’ve seen this before

Move.  

Fight. 

Lightning sparks along her nerves, and she’s off, overtaking Eren, surpassing him, sneakers skidding across the linoleum, voice not even raising in a warning before her hand finds the boy’s shirt and yanks him to one side, her other hand balling into a fist and jabbing forward against his nose. He stumbles back, stunned, and she looks over he shoulder and the boy— 

He stares back, wide-eyed, but then his expression shifts: “Watch out!” 

She acts on instinct, dodging slightly and turning to fend off and take out the first bully’s friend. Soon he joins the first on the ground, and the hallway goes silent. 

Mikassa turns back. 

Armin.” 

-- 

“I’ll be right back. Restroom.” Rene nods and watches Nanaba go before turning back to her menu, pushing down the ever-present thread of concern. Nanaba knows how to take care of herself. 

(Across the room, a man swears softly. 

“Wow, that woman over there…” 

“What about her?” his friend asks, not bothering to look. 

“Dunno…” 

His friend snorts. 

“I’m gonna go talk to her.” 

“Alright, good luck.”) 

Rene looks at her menu for a few moments, though it’s mostly for lack of anything better to do – she and Nanaba have been coming to this restaurant at least once a month for the past year and a half. 

“Hey.” 

She looks up, and there’s a man with fluffy, bright blond hair standing there, a glass of amber liquid in one hand. 

The faint grin on his face widens as their eyes meet. 

“This, ah… this seat taken?” It’s strangely not off-putting in the least, and Rene smiles, before it turns apologetic. 

“Sorry, my friend’s just in the restroom.” 

“Oh, no worries at all, figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask.” 

They smile at each other, then Rene tilts her head slightly. “What’s your name?” 

His grin widens. “Gerger. And you’re…?” but as he says it, he looks up past her shoulder and goes still, the smile slipping from his face. 

Rene frowns slightly. “Uh, I’m…” 

“Nanaba,” Gerger breathes. Rene barely gets the “What?” out of her mouth, twisting in her chair to look behind her, when the glass slips from Gerger’s fingers and shatters on the floor, making her jump and yelp with surprise. 

“What’s going on?” Nanaba gets back to the table, tone suspicious and guarded as she frowns at the man who is still staring at her, pale, mouth working. 

He looks back down at Rene, and says her name with the same reverence, his voice cracking. 

At Rene’s somewhat more concerned “What??” he suddenly looks back over his shoulder, voice rising with a note of panic. “Henning?!” 

“Henning?” Nanaba repeats. The two women glance at each other, equally put-off and confused. 

Nanaba looks away, towards the blond man (Gerger, was it?), and Rene does the same. He’s shaking, looking at the two of them, then he looks back over his shoulder again, and Rene follows his gaze and hears herself gasp, and the world slows down for an instant. There’s a man approaching them from behind Gerger, and his gaze slides from Nanaba to her and his face goes pale as he stops mid-stride. 

“Henning…” 

(She doesn’t even register Nanaba saying “What?” again this time.) 

Rene stands, uncaring of the shattered glass on the floor, the way a waiter is hovering, trying to get their attention, the way the eyes of over half the restaurant are watching. She simply steps forward, wrapping an arm around Gerger and reaching for Henning, who comes to her in an instant, embracing her as well. 

“You guys…” she breathes, shaking (or maybe it’s one of them, or both, or all three) “Oh my god…” 

They push back, their hands running over each others shoulders, grasping at arms as they all try to talk at once. 

“Shit, I didn’t—” 

“Where have you—” 

“We were—”

Then something clicks, and she pulls away to look back at Nanaba. They all look up as a unit, and Rene breathes in, about to speak, but— 

Nanaba 

Nanaba stares back at the three of them, a heavy furrow between her eyebrows as she frowns, confusion written across her face. 

“What is going on?” 

-- 

He nods as she chatters away, the pair of them stepping onto the bus. As it jolts to a start again, they file towards the back, when Gunter narrowly avoids crashing into the smaller woman. 

“Woah, what—” But he cuts himself off at the sight of her expression, open-mouthed and wide-eyed as she stares out the window. “Petra?” 

He follows her gaze, and the breath is driven from him all at once. 

He’s frozen, but she suddenly jerks forward, reaching over the woman sitting in the seat to smack her palms against the window. “Hey! Hey!!” 

It’s a miracle, he’ll think later, that they look up. The pair stops, both men’s eyes widening with shock. 

The four all stand, watching each other as the bus passes by, then it turns a corner. 

Gunter watches their expressions go to ones of panic, mouths opening to yell in protest. He and Petra do the same. 

“H-hey!” 

“Stop the—stop—!!” 

Petra reaches out, fingers fumbling as she tries to press the button for the bus to stop at the next opportunity. It takes a few tries for her to get it, the chime alerting the bus to the impending stop in a few blocks, and together they force their way to the back door of the bus. 

It’s an eternity before the bus stops, and they’re out the door before it even fully opens, running back to where they came from as one, needing no confirmation from the other. 

Petra is quicker than he is, despite his longer legs, feet slapping against the sidewalk, and ahead down the street there are two figures running towards them and Petra lifts her arm in a wave with a yell, joyous laughter bubbling from her lips. 

“Guys!!” 

She tackles both of them, and he is close behind, all four of them a sudden overjoyed, laughing tangle of arms grasping for each other. 

It takes several minutes for them to pull apart, and Gunter glances at Petra and there are tears running down her face. 

He looks to the other two (his friends) and Auruo is trying to surreptitiously wipe his eyes and runny nose, and Eld’s grin is so wide, spread across his face, it looks as if it’s about to crack.

“You guys…” 

-- 

Surely there must be some sort of limit to the number of books needed for a class, but she’s trying not to complain, because she is actually looking forward to Intro to Modern Literature. She puts as many of them into her bag as she can manage, hoists it on one shoulder, then gathers the rest in her arms as she adjusts her scarf and hat. 

“Oh, hey, you dropped this—” 

She glances back over her shoulder at the voice, and stops, blinking. “Oh!” 

A broad-shouldered boy with short-cropped blond hair is holding out a book to her, staring at her with wide, amber eyes. 

“Thank you!” She smiles, shifting the load in her arms to tuck a strand of hair behind one ear and accept the book. She looks back up at him (he certainly is tall), but when he says nothing further, she gives him another smile and makes to turn away. 

“U-um, are you—do you need help? That’s—a lot of books, you probably didn’t need to bring them all,” he says quickly before she can walk away, and he moves to fall in step beside her. 

“Oh, I know, but it’s the first day of class, I figure you don’t know what you’ll need, so it’s a good idea to be prepared!” 

He grins. “Can’t argue with that, I suppose.” A beat, and then: “Here, let me help with that,” and he carefully takes the books from her arms. 

“Oh, thank you, you don’t have to—” 

“It’s my pleasure, where are you headed?” 

“I was going to grab some lunch, would you like to join me?” 

His grin hesitates before widening. “Sure.” 

She smiles back. “What’s your name?” 

Another pause, then: “Reiner.” 

“Nice to meet you Reiner, my name’s Christa!” 

-- 

One day in May there’s a knock on the door, and Mike looks up from his laptop screen, brow furrowing slightly before he sets his computer aside to stand and answer it. 

A woman with brown hair and glasses grins up at him. 

“Hiya! You Erwin Smith?” In her hand she holds a small stack of letters. 

“No, that’s my roommate.” There’s something familiar about her that he can’t place. 

“Ah, great! These got put in our mailbox, here ya go!” She holds out the envelopes, and when he accepts them with a quiet “Thank you,” she grins once more. “No prob! Seeya!” 

-- 

“Hm.” 

“What is it?” 

“Mailman mixed up the boxes again. Gonna go run these downstairs.” 

“We should probably just invite them over for coffee or something, this is what, the third time this has happened? Fourth?” 

“Something like that, yeah.”

 “Want me to do it this time?” 

“It’s fine, I don’t mind.” 

-- 

“Hold the elevator!” It’s the brown haired woman who lives in 7B, and she hurries on, looking back over her shoulder to laugh at her roommate as he follows, scowling. 

What happens next is something Mike doesn’t fully understand. He hears a thump of something hitting the floor beside him, and when he turns his head he sees Erwin, leaning back, bracing himself against the wall of the elevator. He’s dropped his briefcase. When Mike glances at his face, he is utterly taken aback by the look of shock there, a rare expression on Erwin’s face is there ever was one, but this time around it's even deeper, somehow. 

Then the woman turns back, takes one look at Erwin and promptly bursts into tears. 

Her companion has stopped dead in his tracks, a foot before the elevator doors, and is staring at Erwin with impossibly wide eyes. 

He looks lost. The thought flits through Mike’s mind, then the elevator doors begin to close. Mike reacts instantly, without thinking, shoving out a hand to catch the door, stumbling slightly from the sudden, unplanned movement, pressing his hand against the metal above the elevator buttons to steady himself. 

The brown haired woman sobs out Erwin’s name, reaching for him, and Erwin almost absentmindedly wraps his left arm around her shoulders, moving as if in a dream. He looks down at her, briefly, blinking rapidly, and then he looks up at the man in front of the elevator, who still hasn’t moved. 

“Levi,” he murmurs, voice laced with something like wonder, and Mike is startled to realize Erwin’s eyes are damp. Then Erwin glances at him and blanches, and Mike watches, amazed, as tears begin to drip slowly down his face. 

Suddenly there’s a loud, shrill alarm, and the door presses against Mike’s arm, attempting to close. Again he moves without conscious thought, reaching out of the elevator and grabbing the dark-haired man’s (Levi?) arm, yanking him on before the door forces itself shut behind him. 

Levi stumbles slightly before regaining his balance, glancing up at Mike and blinking rapidly, scowl deepening. He seems offended, almost, by the way Mike stares back at him, but then looks back to Erwin, who has lifted his right hand to his face, gently touching at the wetness there and staring at his fingers. 

“Levi,” Erwin says again, voice tighter, more insistent as he looks back to him. 

“What the fuck,” Levi whispers, trembling as he stares at Erwin, lip curled into a snarl. “What the fuck.”

Chapter Text

Mike manages to get them all off the elevator on the 8th floor, somehow, calling Erwin back to himself with his name until Erwin looks up at him again, nodding once, gently trying guide the brown-haired woman, who hasn’t stopped crying, though she’s not clinging to Erwin the way she was anymore, at least. Levi won’t go any closer than four feet to Erwin, so Mike takes it on himself to carefully coax the smaller man down the hallway to his and Erwin’s apartment. Levi alternates between staring at Erwin, glaring up at Mike with an offended look, and looking ahead, though Mike suspects he’s not really seeing where he’s going. 

Mike looks back to Erwin. 

“Erwin.” 

Erwin keeps lifting up his right hand, clenching it into a fist then spreading out his fingers wide, turning it this way and that and staring at it for a long moment before his attention (what’s left of it, anyways) is drawn back to Mike, the woman (Hanji, her name is Hanji, Mike hears Erwin murmur it once, and that’s right, all the mail he brought down to them, her name is Hanji), and walking down the hall. 

Finally the door of their apartment is shutting behind them. The sound seems to snap all three out of their reverie, and Mike locks the door, turning back to them. 

“Oh my god,” Hanji breathes, pulling off her glasses for a moment to wipe her face, then replacing them as she looks up at Erwin, then to Levi.

“Hanji.” Hearing Erwin say her name, voice stronger now, seems to strike a chord within her and she inhales shakily, chin wobbling as she tries to smile. She looks Erwin up and down, covering her mouth with one hand, as if to hide it, and reaching out with the other to run it over his arm. Erwin glances down at it again, frowning, as if confused. 

Hanji glances over at Mike and it’s like she’s seeing him for the first time. “Oh, Mike…” 

He says nothing, staring back at her, brow furrowed with concern. She peers at him, and appears crestfallen when he still makes no sign of recognition. 

“You should… sit down,” Mike finally says to the three of them. Erwin and Hanji both do so, all but collapsing onto the couch together, but Levi doesn’t move, glancing from Erwin, to Mike, to Hanji, then around the apartment, scowling. “I’ll get… tea? Coffee?” 

“Tea might be better,” Erwin says distantly, turning his gaze from Hanji back to Levi. 

Mike nods, and turns to go to the kitchen. 

-- 

“I’m not crazy, right?” 

Erwin and Hanji both look back to Levi. It’s the first thing he’s said since the elevator.

“I’m not going fucking insane right now, right? Like, this isn’t just fucking me, right? You two are—” He breaks off, mouth a bitter line.

“Levi,” Hanji says, imploring. “No, it’s—you’re not. It’s Erwin, he’s—” 

“I know who he fucking is, Hanji, just like I know the tall motherfucker in the kitchen making us tea right now. What I want to know is how the fuck this is happening,” he all but snarls. 

“I don’t know,” Erwin says, and he isn’t at all surprised by the way Levi’s gaze snaps to him, the way he seems to sit straighter, paying attention. He seems to notice it too, and it appears to piss him off even more. 

“What are we doing here…” he whispers. 

“I don’t know,” Erwin says again, and Levi’s face twitches at that, like Erwin’s offended him somehow. 

Perhaps I have, he thinks. “We are… ourselves. But we’re just now remembering. Because we’ve finally met each other.” 

“Yes, thanks for the memo, I had missed that bit,” Levi snaps. 

Then Mike returns from the kitchen, two mugs in one hand and a third in the other. He hands one to Hanji, then passes one of the mugs in his other hand to Erwin and the final to Levi. 

Erwin tracks him with his eyes the whole way, feeling cold. 

Mike… 

Levi finally sits in the armchair to the right of the couch, cradling the mug in his hands and glaring at it as if it is to blame for everything that is happening. Mike sits on the loveseat opposite him, watching the three of them intently, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. 

“So we’ve been reborn,” Hanji says, trying an air of false nonchalance as she smiles at all three men. “That’s… Well…” 

Erwin watches as Mike’s eyebrows furrow and the taller man looks to him, the question blatant in his eyes. 

What’s going on? 

“When I saw them, I was…” Erwin pauses, searching for the right word. “…overwhelmed with a rush of new memories. Things that don’t really make sense… but I remember them as if they happened… I mean… they did happen. I know that, somehow. Which makes… very little sense, saying it out loud…” 

Mike looks from him to Hanji, then Levi. “It’s the same for you two, then.” 

Levi doesn’t respond. 

“Looks that way!” Hanji says, the same grin plastered over her face, as if this sort of thing was totally normal. 

Mike sits back, one hand coming up to rub at his jaw. “What sorts of things do you remember?” 

Erwin hesitates – there’s so much, an entire lifetime, explaining would take hours, days even. Weeks, perhaps. “An… an army. We were all in the army. And there were others… Fighting…” His arm aches, and he clenches his hand open and shut. “Giant monsters.” 

He gets the reaction he was expecting—Mike’s eyebrows disappear beneath his shaggy blond hair, and he blinks once, slowly. “What kinds of monsters.” 

“Titans.” Hanji says it, a strange quality to her voice, and that’s right, she was— 

“And you… fought these… titans? In the army?” 

“You did, too.” 

And that makes Mike straighten with surprise, gaze meeting Erwin's once more. “I was there,” he repeats, confirming. 

“Yes. You…” 

You died. 

They all died, eventually, but—Mike— 

It’s getting the news all over again, almost, only there’s time to grieve, time to process it, and even then, Mike is right here, in this moment, staring at him with great concern, as if Erwin’s the one that needs worrying about. 

“…Alright.” And it’s the same innate understanding that he’s had for as long as they’ve known each other, and now that’s a statement wrapped in truth twice-over. I understand, take the time you need, I can wait. There’s no rush. 

Erwin breathes. 

There’s a long stretch of silence, then Mike looks to Hanji and Levi. “So what do you do for a living?” 

Levi glares at Mike suspiciously, as if he doesn’t quite trust the way Mike seems to be taking everything, how calmly he changes the subject. 

“I’m working at a lab!” Hanji is bursting at the declaration. 

Erwin raises his eyebrows, a fond, pleased smile spreading over his face. “What sort of lab?” And that sets her off, chattering happily about the lab, the grant she got to join the study, something to do with stem cells and the applications to medicine, the other researchers, what they’re doing, and Erwin feels an overwhelming swell of fondness. 

He hadn’t even known he’d been missing her, the brightness of her eyes behind her glasses as she gestures with her hands, the pitch her voice reaches at certain points that she finds particularly interesting or exciting. 

He hadn’t known he’d been lacking. 

“They’re paying you well, then?” 

“Oh, yeah! It’s great, I get a stipend in addition to my salary, and they pay for all the flights and stuff for any conferences I have to go to, and health insurance and benefits, the whole package!” 

He’s so proud. “How long have you been there?” 

“Oh, just about five months, now! I got the job offer in January, after I published my thesis, you know, and when I got it we started looking for a new apartment, cuz you know where we were before was just this tiny little thing with just one bathroom and not even a balcony, awful, really, but affordable. But now we’re here and…” Hanji trails off, looking from Erwin to Mike to Levi, her wide smile softening. She bites her lip. “And you’re here.” 

Erwin wraps an arm around her shoulders, pulling her against him, and she presses the side of her face to his shirt. She wraps her arms around his middle and squeezes, and Erwin studiously ignores the way his shirt starts feeling a little damp where she’s pressed against it. Instead, he makes a mental note to ask about her thesis later. 

Finally, Hanji pulls away, sniffing once and wiping underneath her glasses. Erwin gives her a moment, looking up to Levi, who is staring hard at the coffee table. 

“What about you, Levi?” 

The dark-haired man’s eyes slice to him, and after a moment’s pause, he shifts, sitting back in his chair. 

“I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of Krav Maga.” 

“A martial art form and self-defense system used by the Israeli Defense Forces.” 

Levi almost sneers. “Alright, Wikipedia.” 

Erwin ducks his head, trying to hide his amused smile. “Mike took it for a while.” 

And that makes something shift in Levi’s posture as his gaze cuts to Mike, suddenly alert and assessing the tall man. “Really.” 

Mike shrugs easily. “A few years, yes. During college and a little after, but then I got a bit too busy. Couldn’t afford the fees at the time.” 

“I’m an instructor at a place about 20 minutes from here.” 

And Erwin feels like he knows that look, the one that Levi is giving Mike now, suddenly acutely aware of the space the other man occupies in the room. Not in any sort of intimidating way, of course, but sizing him up, nonetheless. 

“That’s not all you doooo, though,” Hanji suddenly interjects in a sing-song. Erwin looks to her briefly to see she’s grinning at Levi, and Levi scowls at her. 

Erwin raises an eyebrow. “…What else do you do?” 

Levi meets his gaze, and his eyes are a guarded challenge. “…I’m a tattoo artist,” he says finally. 

Erwin isn’t entirely sure what Levi was expecting, but he’s apparently unhappy by the way Erwin reacts: a blink of surprise, eyebrows rising slightly. Levi’s expression closes off, and he starts to look away, but the moment is interrupted by Hanji yet again. 

“He’s really good, too! You should see some of his pieces, they’re—oh!!” Suddenly she stands and her hands go to the hem of her shirt, yanking it off over her head as Levi and Mike both make choked noises of surprise, Levi grinding out a “Hey—” of protest. 

Hanji turns away, revealing her back as she unclasps her bra, letting the straps slip off her shoulders as she shows off, looking over her shoulder at them with a wide grin. 

It looks a bit like something out an 1800’s medical textbook, like a view inside the body from the back. A chunk of ribs on the left side is missing, letting the upper ventricles of the heart peek through, the rest of it caged behind artfully drawn bone. Another few ribs, further down on the right, are missing to reveal part of a lung. There are places where the spine has been sliced away to display delicate nerves of blue within, and at her shoulders, it’s bone and muscle and blood vessels fading into each other, alternating in perfect, chaotic harmony. 

“It’s beautiful…” Erwin says quietly. He smiles at her. “Very you.” Hanji grins, pleased. 

Levi says nothing. 

Erwin feels a bit off-balance, out of his depth with someone he used to be so in tune with, even if the thought seems so strange in his mind—here and now, they’ve known each other for an hour, maybe, not even that—they are, for all intents and purposes, in this life, strangers, but Erwin knows Levi, knows how he likes his tea and his blunt way of speaking, how he will wash windows until birds fly into them, thinking them empty air, and then he’ll complain about having to clean them again. 

This distant between them feels strange and off, and Erwin, for once in his life, is unsure of how to go about fixing the problem. He never expected this, after all. 

Hanji breaks through his introspection by plopping back down on the couch next to him with a happy sigh, her shirt back on. 

Erwin looks back to Levi. “Do you have any? Tattoos, that is.” 

Levi gives him a short look. “Yes.” 

Hanji grins. “You should show them! It’s really cool, Erwin, you gotta—” 

“No.” It’s spoken with a finality that makes Hanji stop short, blinking at Levi for a moment before sagging against Erwin. 

“Whaaaat? Why not?” 

“I don’t feel like it,” Levi nearly snaps. 

Hanji stares at him for a moment, then sighs, before looking back to Mike and Erwin with an apologetic grin. “Well… What about you guys?” 

Erwin glances at Mike briefly before he looks back to Hanji. “I’m an attorney, actually. Working at a firm downtown.” 

There’s a soft noise that sounds suspiciously like a scoff from Levi, but when Erwin glances at him, he’s looking away. Hanji, however, is delighted. “Oh my god, that’s amazing!! What kind of law are you practicing? Getting all the bad guys thrown in jail? Saving innocents from a horrible fate? Kicking greedy corporations in the ass?” 

Erwin’s smile is indulgent and fond. “Nothing quite so exciting, I don’t think.” 

Hanji’s expression is eager, nonetheless, so he relents. “I… well.” Out of nowhere, the faintest curl of something akin to disappointment goes through him. “Litigation, primarily, cases of representing individuals in civil suits, mostly for things like workplace discrimination and harassment.”  

“Woo, Erwin, living the glamorous life of a big-shot lawyer!!” 

Erwin shoots a glance to Mike, who makes no effort to mask his amusement – he knows firsthand, after all, just how glamorous Erwin’s life isn’t, and so gives Erwin something of a sympathetic smile. 

Then Hanji wants more details (“Nothing that’ll get you in trouble, of course, attorney-client privilege and all that, but something!”) so Erwin indulges her just a bit more, giving vague examples of cases he’s worked on or born witness to over the past few years.

Through this, he glances at Levi, to find him watching him with a strange look on his face. It feels like a lifetime, has been a lifetime, and yet, at the same time, he remembers it all as if it happened yesterday. But still he cannot find any inkling into what Levi is thinking, as he recalls having been able to do in the past. 

“So that’s that,” he finishes, turning his attention back to Hanji, who at last is somewhat satisfied. She looks to the other armchair. 

“And what about you, Mike?” 

The tall man blinks, looking at Hanji with a strange, almost confused expression on his face, and a stab of something like sadness goes through Erwin. 

He doesn’t know them

Two close friends that he fought alongside for years, and he doesn’t know them like they know him. They’re strangers. 

But Hanji’s smile is open and genuine, and after a moment, Mike seems to accept it. “I write.” 

“Books?” 

Mike nods. “One, so far. I’m working on the second. Otherwise, a few journal articles and some short stories.” He looks up, and tilts his head slightly when he meets Levi’s gaze. “Yes?” 

Levi shakes his head. “Nothing.” 

“You have a copy or two of it here, don’t you?” Erwin tries, encouraging, and Hanji exclaims with excitement, insisting he let her see. 

And there’s that same furrow between Mike’s eyebrows again, like he’s not sure what to do with Hanji being so friendly and familiar with him, but he relents with a quiet “Be right back.” 

He disappears into the back hallway for a minute, then returns with a copy of his novel in his hands, giving it to an overjoyed Hanji, who begs him to let her borrow it, promising to take very good care of it. 

And as he watches Mike nod in assent, Erwin racks his brain. 

Why isn’t he…? 

I saw Hanji, and then I saw Levi and remembered. Hanji and Levi both saw me and remembered. Mike… 

Why hasn’t he…  

He met them before. He didn’t remember them. They didn’t remember him.  

I never met them until just now.  

Think.  

Think. 

But then Hanji is asking him a question, interrupting his thoughts. He looks at her, smiling apologetically. “I’m sorry, Hanji, what was that?” 

“I aaaasked,” she says, grinning knowingly and waving the book in her hand, “if it was any good?” 

Erwin nods, glancing at Mike, knowing Mike will see the pride in his gaze. “It’s quite good.” 

Mike’s features are soft, and to anyone that didn’t know him as well as Erwin, seemingly expressionless. But there’s concern there, in his eyes, and confusion, and Erwin resolves to deduce what exactly has gone wrong. 

-- 

They sit there, in Erwin and Mike’s living room, and talk for several hours. 

Well. Hanji talks, and Erwin talks, and Mike occasionally adds his own input, as he is inclined, and Levi… 

Levi responds when addressed directly, but for the most part, he remains silent, closed mouth, a tightness around his eyes as he watches Erwin, then Mike, and even on occasion, Hanji. When Erwin catches him staring, Levi is quick to look away, and when Levi catches Erwin watching him, his eyes narrow into a quick glare, before he breaks eye contact again. 

Finally, Hanji sighs, stretching. “Aaah, I want to stay here all niiight, but…” She smiles up at him. Erwin feels his heart swell with fondness yet again. “You know. Importance of sleep and all that. But hey!” she adds, standing and stretching. “We’re neighbors! Don’t think you’ll be seeing the last of us, we know where you live! And of course, you have an open invitation to come right down and see us whenever, too, right Levi?” 

Levi’s gaze cuts from the coffee table to Hanji. “…Yeah.” 

Hanji beams. 

Mike collects their mugs, but before he can retreat to the kitchen, Hanji steps in front of him and wraps her arms around his torso, squeezing tightly. And it just takes a moment of hesitation, but Mike returns the gesture, even though his expression is slightly troubled. 

Hanji finally lets him go with another bright smile, and then it’s just the three of them in front of the door. They all stare at each other for a beat, then with a “Oh, for goodness sakes,” Hanji wraps Erwin tightly in a hug, burying her face in his shoulder. He returns the gesture, rubbing a soothing hand up and down her back, until finally her hold loosens. She sniffs once, rubbing her face, then her smile is back in place. 

Her gaze darts to the kitchen, then back to Erwin, her expression determined. “We’ll—figure it out. Why… why he isn’t—”

Erwin nods. “We will.” 

Then Hanji tugs open the door, stepping out into the hallway outside. She casts Levi a look, veiled behind an easygoing smile, seemingly ready to leave. 

“Levi,” Erwin says. 

The shorter man looks to him, expectant. 

“Are you all right?” Erwin asks finally, and Levi's eyes widen momentarily before he scowls. 

“What the fuck kind of question is that,” he gives by way of a reply, shoving his hands into his pockets and turning away, heading towards the door for the stairs at the end of the hall. 

Together, Hanji and Erwin watch him walk away, then Hanji gives Erwin one last, apologetic look. “Goodnight, Erwin,” she says. 

“Goodnight,” he replies, and then she turns and follows Levi. 

Erwin shuts the door. 

When he looks up, Mike is stand in the entryway of the kitchen, watching him steadily. 

After a long silence, both men staring at each other, Erwin sighs. “I’m going to take a shower.” 

“Alright.” 

And so Erwin does, locking himself in his bathroom and turning the water up as hot as he can stand.

Chapter Text

Two days later on Sunday evening, Erwin is sitting in their living room reading when there’s a rapid-fire knock on the door. 

He opens it to find Hanji there, grinning at him. She holds up the copy of Mike’s book that he’d lent her. 

“Hey! Stopped by to return this! And I never got your phone number! Also, you and Mike should come over for dinner, I’m making spaghetti!” 

Erwin cannot help his smile. “Of course. Come in, I’ll go let him know.” He steps aside to let her in, but she stops halfway to wrap her arms around him suddenly. 

It’s strange, how he relaxes into it, he thinks. 

“Sorry, sorry, got a little carried away there,” she says, pulling away, but he shakes his head. 

“Don’t apologize.” 

He goes to the study, knocking once and pushing the door open, but it’s more his presence that calls Mike’s attention away from his laptop, what with the heavy headphones he’s got on. He lifts his head to Erwin, reaches and presses a key on his laptop, then tugs the headphones down around his neck. 

“Hanji stopped by to invite us down for dinner, are you at a point you can stop?” 

Mike glances to his screen, considering, then types a few extra words and saves. He nods, closing his laptop and pulling the headphones off his neck. 

Hanji brightens when they both go back to the living room, and she steps up to Mike, holding out the book. “Here! It was great, I loved it! Thanks so much for lending it to me!” 

Mike glances down at the book, obviously surprised, then back to her, and he nods once. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.” 

She nods. “Yeah! I really did!” 

Mike blinks, then tilts his head slightly. “You may keep it then, if you like.” 

Hanji is obviously delighted, beaming up at him. 

Erwin watches the exchange, and knows Hanji is holding back. He’s incredibly grateful, because he still hasn’t given Mike a full explanation, hasn’t told him the whole story. Mike hasn’t asked; he’s giving him space. And Erwin knows he won’t ask unless Erwin tries to pretend he’s fine. He has a few theories about why Mike isn’t… why he doesn’t remember, but he wants to discuss them with Hanji, out of earshot, first. 

It’s been strange, the past two days. Various memories drift to the surface at the strangest times. And some of them seem of such little import: breakfast one morning as a cadet, riding his horse across an open field, the wind whipping through his hair; sitting in his office, the only light provided by a dimming candle on the desk… 

And in nearly every memory, Mike, Levi, or Hanji, at least one of them is there, sometimes with many others, sometimes just them. 

But isn’t that how memories so often work? Coming up at seemingly random moments, with little control over what is remembered? 

And they are memories, after all. There is no doubt to that fact, as impossible as it seems. 

-- 

Hanji and Levi’s apartment is as neat as Erwin expects it to be. It has the same layout as Erwin and Mike’s – The door opens directly to the living room to the left, the dining area straight ahead and the kitchen in the corner, and the wall separating the kitchen from the living room has a large opening above the counter, opening the kitchen to the rest of the apartment. To the direct right is a half-bath and a closet. Behind the breakfast table is a sliding glass door leading to a balcony. 

Levi isn’t there. 

When Erwin asks, Hanji simply says he’s at work, with no indication as to which job, but mentions that he should be back soon, then drags Mike into the kitchen, insisting he help her chop tomatoes (“You can just smell which ones are ripest, right? Come on!”) When Erwin tries to help, she just makes him set the table. 

When Levi finally opens the door thirty minutes later, the smell of tomato sauce and basil permeating the entire apartment, he makes eye contact with Erwin sitting on the couch immediately and stops in the doorway. His eyes dart up to the number on the front of the open door, then back to Erwin.

“Hey Levi! Welcome home! I invited Erwin and Mike for dinner!” Hanji calls from the kitchen. 

Levi mutters something under his breath as he closes the door behind him, locking it. 

“How was work?” At his question, Levi gives him an indecipherable look. 

“It was fine.” 

Erwin opens his mouth to ask which job he was at, but Levi walks past him with a “Taking a shower.” 

-- 

Dinner, surprisingly, feels normal. Levi seems, somehow, more at ease with Erwin’s presence once he emerges from the shower, and Hanji’s spaghetti is delicious. They talk more about Hanji’s work, and she asks Mike a number of questions about his book and the other things he’s had published, and tries to pester him about what he’s writing now, though Mike reveals little on the final point, making Erwin smile (he’d had just as much luck as Hanji). The discussion steers firmly clear of Levi’s work, and, for that matter, Erwin’s, as well as the past. 

Erwin and Mike both attempt to help clean up, but Levi shoos them out of the kitchen, claiming he doesn’t trust their dish-washing abilities.

Erwin grins as he watches Levi start to scrub a plate from the other side of the open bay between the kitchen and living room. “It’s alright to put dishes in the dishwasher before you scrub them clean, you know. I promise that there’s not such thing as getting the dishwasher dirty,” he comments. 

Levi glances back over his shoulder and raises a disdainful eyebrow at him in response, and Erwin chuckles. 

They stay not too much longer, but Hanji hugs them both at the door, and Levi hovers nearby, hands in his pockets, and nods at them with a “Night” as they leave. 

Things will be fine, Erwin thinks as he sets his alarm to wake him for work tomorrow. 

-- 

In his dreams, he flies through among trees and over rooftops, swords slicing easily through thick flesh, hot, steaming blood splattering on his cheek, the foul stench of rot pervading the air, and for a moment he pities Mike’s heightened senses, but it’s on to the next target, only now they’ve morphed into human beings, screaming in pain and terror as he cuts them down just as easily, guts spilling out on the too-green grass, the too-blue sky above him, as he brings down his blades again and again and again—  

Levi sits up in bed with a gasp, his heart racing, drenched in sweat, and it takes at least a minute for him to reorient himself, he’s here, in their apartment, in his room, there’s his dresser and his closet and why won’t his hands stop shaking, this is ridiculous, calm down, just stop, you’re better than this, you piece of shit, snap out of it, don’t be absurd— 

Suddenly he realizes the sounds he’s hearing aren’t the phantom cries from his nightmare, lingering in his mind’s ear after waking, but an actual voice, just a room over, crying out in fear and pain and it still takes him another moment to realize it’s Hanji, Hanji is crying in a way he hasn’t heard in— 

Levi tries to stand and his legs fail him. He curses loudly, voice high-pitched and thin in a way that is shameful; he’s a grown-ass man, it was just a fucking nightmare. And yet it was so much more than that, verging on real in a way that has his body’s fight or flight response on full. 

Shit!” he grinds out again, willing his legs to function. He uses the bed to pull himself upright and staggers to the door, leaning against it, and then he hears Hanji cry out again and he yanks the door open, using the wall as support as he stumbles down the hall to her room. 

When he gets to her room and gets the door open, he sees her on the bed, tangled up in her sheets, twisting in obvious distress, but even just the sight of her makes the panic begin to bleed away. 

When he goes to her side, laying a hand on her, she yelps, sitting up suddenly and wrenching away from him. 

Stay back!” She lashes out, but it’s clumsy with fear. He’s able to grab her wrist before she can hit him, and he grips it tightly. 

“Hanji! Hanji!!” At the sound of his voice, the woman goes still, blinking in the darkness. 

Shaking, she reaches out one hand to fumble for her glasses on the bedside table, pushing them on, and then she makes a broken noise. The hands that had been fighting him off mere seconds ago are clutching at his shoulders, pulling him close so that Hanji can bury her face in his collarbone. 

Her cheeks are damp as her body is soon wracked with sobs. 

God, the—the things I did to them, I tortured them, they were humans, I—” 

“Shut up, just shut up, stop talking,” he snaps, hating how her hands on him make his pulse begin to slow, helps push away the veil of panicked terror shrouding over his mind. It’s not enough though, his lungs are still demanding air the way they do after a brutal work out, and forcing himself to breathe deeply, slowly, is a struggle, even as the rational, functioning part of his mind knows, knows hyperventilating will only make it worse. 

Hanji’s arms tighten around him and they stay there on the bed together and try not to shake apart. 

-- 

Mike is not entirely sure what rouses him. He manages to sit up, peering into the darkness at the faint glowing numbers of the clock at his bedside (it’s just past two), and is about to go back to sleep when he hears the sound of something shattering in the kitchen. It takes another moment, but he stands, going to investigate. A glance shows Erwin’s bedroom door is open, and the apartment is dark save for light spilling from the kitchen. 

He goes down the hall, eyes narrowing at the light, and when he steps into the doorway he finds Erwin there, in a white undershirt and boxers, bracing himself on his left forearm against the fridge. There are the remains of what looks to be a mug on the floor. Erwin’s shirt is dark with sweat at his armpits, the small of his back, and his chest, clinging to his skin, and his hair is damp with it, temples shining slightly in the light. His right arm hangs at his side. 

“Erwin…?”

That makes the other man lift his head slightly, turning it to glance at Mike. He grimaces, then looks away.

Mike waits.

Erwin inhales, shuddering violently as he lets it out again. “I can’t—” He breaks off, scowling bitterly with frustration, a muscle in his jaw working. “I can’t feel my arm.” 

Mike frowns, concerned, and waits to see if Erwin will elaborate, but he doesn’t. “Like pins and needles, or…?” 

“It—” Erwin shrugs his shoulder and his arm sways. “It’s like it’s not even there,” he says, voice tight as he closes his eyes again. 

Mike steps forward to Erwin’s side, reaching out and placing one hand on his wrist. It is slightly cool to the touch, but nothing out of the ordinary. When he glances at Erwin’s face, the man is staring down at his hand, and he swallows, shaking his head almost imperceptibly. Mike gets the same reaction when he wraps his fingers around Erwin’s wrist, and the furrow of his brow deepens as he feels Erwin’s pulse racing double-time beneath his skin. 

He slides his hand up Erwin’s arm, and at just an inch below the hem of his sleeve Erwin inhales sharply. Mike stills. 

“There. I can—feel that.” 

Mike slowly spreads his hand out, wrapping it around Erwin’s bicep, watching the muscles in Erwin’s face twitch. He squeezes lightly, and eventually Erwin relaxes, just a little, fingers twitching slightly. 

“Better. Sort of.” 

“Go sit down. Do you want me to make coffee?” 

The chuckle Mike gets in return is rueful, wrought with disdain. “Came in here to do that, was having too much trouble doing it one-handed,” Erwin says, gesturing with his head at the mess on the floor and the counter, where Mike notices their canister of ground coffee is out already. 

Mike squeezes his hand on Erwin’s arm again, gently, and Erwin takes a calming breath through his nose. 

“Go. I’ll be out in a minute,” Mike says gently again. 

Erwin nods, and he goes. 

As Mike prepares the coffee, he glances through the opened bar between the kitchen and living room, watching Erwin settle onto the couch and stare at nothing. 

Worry claws at his mind. 

The coffeemaker they own is fast, at least. He adds two spoonfuls of sugar for Erwin, then pours another cup for himself and does the same, though he usually takes it with cream as well. It is barely 2:30, after all, so the extra bitterness will help wake him. 

Then he goes to the living room, handing Erwin his cup and sitting in the armchair right next to the couch. 

“Tell me.” 

And Erwin does. He starts at the beginning, and Mike stays mostly silent, listening intently, only speaking to ask short, clarifying questions. 

Erwin eventually seems to runs out of things to say, and they lapse into a silence, until, at six, a distant beeping starts up from Erwin’s room. He looks to the clock tiredly, then sighs, bracing himself to stand up. 

“Are you actually going to go to work today?” Mike asks, eying the deep shadows across Erwin’s face, the hollowness of his cheeks and paleness of his skin. 

Erwin gives him a wry smile. “The world doesn’t stop turning just because…” He pauses, swallowing as his gaze goes unfocused, looking at something Mike can’t see. “Just because things are suddenly different.” 

Mike has nothing to say against that, and so lets him go. 

-- 

The next two nights are… well. They manage, somehow. The first, Levi wakes up in a state of panic, only to find Hanji trembling, tears running down her face as she crawls into his bed. The following mornings, he goes to work and his co-instructor asks if he’s alright—his movements are sloppy and uncoordinated, for him, though she won’t say as much. On Wednesday he goes to the studio and nearly puts the wrong design into the thermal-fax twice, and once almost uses blue ink instead of black, before the owner tells him he looks even more tired than usual and sends him home, canceling his appointments for the evening, which rankles to no end. 

Then he gets back to the apartment. 

When he opens the door, he finds it in a state of disarray, books off the shelves, papers strewn across the floor, and it nearly gives him a heart attack. The door was locked and the TV is still there, though, so intrusion is quickly crossed off the list of possibilities, and his momentary panic is replaced by anger. 

“Hanji!!” he calls out, his voice a warning as he stalks through the apartment, searching for her.

He finds her in her bedroom, the entire room a wreck, and he opens his mouth and takes a breath to yell at her but stops short. 

She’s sitting, knees drawn to her chest, up against the wall, one hand wrapped around her legs, the other halfway through her hair. 

She’s crying. 

Shit, Levi thinks. He can’t handle people crying. Especially Hanji. The nightmares have been bad enough. 

“Hanji.” He does his best to pitch his voice into something soothing. 

She glances at him, then her face screws up again before she looks away. 

Levi approaches her cautiously, crouching down next to her, one hand bracing himself against the wall. 

“Hanji.”

She raises her head, swallowing, obviously steeling herself to speak as she breathes in, staring at the empty space in front of her. 

“We met Moblit.” 

Levi pauses, blinking. “What?” 

“We—” she sniffles, wipes her nose with her hand, and Levi suppresses the urge to scold her. “Remember, we went out drinking to celebrate finishing my thesis and getting the job and finding the apartment and everything all at once, and I was telling everyone at the bar about it, and he—that was him, we talked, he—he gave me his number, my phone was dead so I wrote it down on a receipt, and then I forgot the next day and then we moved and now I can’t find it, I—” she inhales, shuddering, then presses her face to her knees. “God, I’m the worst.” 

And Levi has no idea what to do.

Chapter Text

When Erwin opens the door, it feels like letting out a breath he didn’t know he was holding, seeing Levi there, a tired, tight desperation around his eyes before he asks Erwin to come with him, Hanji is-- 

With one last glance to Mike, who simply watches him levelly, he follows the shorter man down the stairs, not asking all the questions that he wants to – How are you holding up? You look as tired as I feel, is everything okay? Have you been sleeping well? Have you been sleeping at all? 

The state their apartment is in is enough to send a shock of alarm through him. When he glances at Levi, he is surprised to find Levi’s shoulders suddenly tensed, hunched forward as he resolutely doesn’t look up at Erwin, leading him down the hallway to Hanji’s bedroom. 

The sight of Hanji there, on the floor of her bedroom, has the strangest effect on him – as distressing as it is to see her so upset, still more tension drains away from his body, making him feel weakly relieved. 

He says her name and she looks up, and he is at her side in the next instant, taking her hands in his, and after another moment, pulling her to him and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. 

She shudders, then sighs against him, sniffing morosely. 

“Come on, both of you.” Erwin gently helps Hanji stand, nodding towards the door to Levi. Surely being in his and Mike’s apartment would be better right now – for Hanji and Levi both, what with the state of chaos their own is in right now. 

Once on the couch in their living room, Hanji leans into him, telling him what happened, gesturing vaguely every so often. She’s incredibly tired, voice quiet, face drawn with dark circles under her eyes. Erwin knows Mike is listening intently even as he pretends to busy himself with cleaning in the kitchen. 

“Hanji,” he says gently. “When… how have you been sleeping, recently?” 

Levi lifts his face to Erwin from where he’s sitting on the other end of the couch, tucked up in the corner, one leg crossed over the other and shoulders curled in on himself. Hanji sits up a little, brow furrowing as she looks up to Erwin. 

“You…” 

Erwin casts his gaze away, knowing how his own weariness is written across his face. Distantly, he hears the sounds in the kitchen ceasing for just a moment. 

“I… the past three nights, I’ve woken up unable to feel my arm.” He knows he doesn’t need to specify which one. “Usually around two or three AM.” 

“Shit,” Hanji says, wilting against him. 

A beat passes, and Erwin glances at Levi, who is watching him from the corner of his eyes with a strange, almost sad furrow between his eyebrows, something like concern flickering in his eyes. 

“It’s… never been this bad. Even back then, the nightmares weren’t like this… not even after my first expedition, god, I just—” 

Erwin makes a low noise of comfort, rubbing her back, and she quiets, turning her face to his shoulder as her eyes close. 

He feels so very tired. Monday night, he’d gone to bed early, so tired from work and his utter lack of sleep, but the nightmares had come back just as strong, even waking Mike again… Tuesday night had been a struggle, torn between needing sleep and not trusting his mind to let him rest. But now Levi and Hanji are here, looking as tired as he feels, with Mike a room away… Erwin glances up, and Mike is watching them openly through the open bay from the kitchen. The usual concern is there in his eyes, but accompanying it is an undercurrent of guilt that makes Erwin feel guilty himself. There has to be some explanation… 

Erwin looks away, pressing his lips to Hanji’s hair. She sighs against him, and after a few more minutes of stillness, Erwin raises his head and blinks down at her, suddenly realizing she’s fallen asleep. 

He can’t help the slight fond grin that tugs at his lips, and when he glances at Levi, it widens further when he sees Levi is also nodding off, chin against his chest, eyes closed, breathing slowed. 

Well then.  

So, Erwin, shifting carefully so as to disturb neither of them, succumbs, and closes his eyes as well. 

-- 

Hanji wakes suddenly with a soft gasp, eyes blinking rapidly in the darkness. She sits up from where she’d fallen asleep against Erwin, rubbing at where her glasses dug into her face, leaving an indentation on the skin at her temples. There’s a blanket bunched up in her lap, having fallen there after been draped across her and Erwin, the blond’s chest rising and falling slowly with each breath. When she looks past Erwin, Levi is there, curled up against the armrest, head drooped against his shoulder, another blanket carefully lain over him. 

She hesitates before standing, bracing herself against the instinctive desire to stay pressed up against Erwin’s side, but her mouth feels like cotton and she needs to pee, so finally she pushes up off the couch carefully, as not to agitate the other two. She pulls the blanket off Erwin to readjust it, and pauses when she sees his hand curling around Levi’s foot, sticking out from his own blanket, Erwin’s thumb pressed against the arch. 

Maybe there’s hope for them, this time, she thinks, suddenly, at the swell of warmth in her chest at the sight. Surely there must be. Why else… 

She shakes out the blanket and tucks it around Erwin again, who shifts and mumbles in his sleep, brow furrowing. The lines ease when she places a careful hand on his cheek, and there’s another rush of affection for him, and she blinks rapidly, then presses a feather-light kiss to his forehead. 

She makes a quick trip to the bathroom, then creeps around, trying to find a clock. The digital clock on the oven is bright blue in the darkness, and reads as just past three. She goes to the cabinet to start looking for a glass to get some water, when movement from the corner of her eye makes her jump, hand flying to her mouth to muffle her shout when she sees it’s Mike, standing there in the entrance of the kitchen, watching her.

He nods in greeting, flicking a switch that turns on the soft lights over the counters, tucked up underneath the cabinets. “Sorry.” 

Her smile is easy. “It’s alright,” she replies, just as quiet. 

“Glasses are over there,” he says, pointing, and that’s just like him, isn’t it? Knowing without asking, skipping two steps in the conversation to get to the important parts. It makes her grin, chirping a soft, bright “thanks!” as she goes to where he indicated, and he blinks. “Um. Sorry.” 

Hanji shakes her head, pulling down a glass and stepping to the dispenser at the fridge, clicking it over to ice water. “Don’t apologize.” 

He stands there a moment longer, then steps into the kitchen, going to the coffeemaker. Hanji hops up to sit on the counter, watching him measure out coffee grounds, pulling out a filter from the cabinet, pouring water into the tank. Then he presses a few buttons on the machine. 

Then he turns away, pausing in his step when he saw her watching him still. Hanji’s smile widens momentarily, friendly, but he doesn’t react, just meeting her gaze. 

“I’m sorry.” 

Hanji raises her eyebrows. “Whatever for??” 

Mike shrugs, looking away. “I don’t really understand what’s… Erwin explained, but it still doesn’t mean anything to me, really. It just sounds like some elaborate story.” 

Hanji’s mouth quirks into a bitter smile. “You think we’re all crazy?” 

But Mike shakes his head, brow furrowing slightly. “No… I’m just—I’m sorry I can’t help.” 

Hanji thinks her heart breaks, just a little, at that. “Oh, Mike…” She slides off the counter, leaving behind her glass to go to him. “You are helping, I know it. You can’t blame yourself…” She grins, rueful. “We’re all sorts of screwed up right now, yeah? Definitely helps to have someone around that doesn’t feel like they’re losing their mind.” Her tone softens. “I’m sure Erwin really appreciates it.” 

He meets her gaze at that, and his eyes are sad, so Hanji just wraps her arms around him, squeezing tightly. He returns the embrace, and Hanji makes a silent promise to figure it all out. 

She thinks of Moblit, and the determination grows. 

Then finally, she pulls away, patting Mike on the arm. “Go to bed, I’m gonna head back out to those two.” 

Mike nods. “Sleep well.” 

And Hanji smiles. “You too.” 

-- 

The trio is woken by Levi’s phone alarm at 5:30. Levi curses, voice thick with sleep, as he fumbles with the blanket draped over him, then pulls out the phone and turns it off with some (perhaps unnecessarily) forceful tapping. 

“Got work in an hour,” he says by way of explanation, pushing the blanket off and standing. 

Hanji just sighs and snuggles up against Erwin again for a moment longer, but then stands as well, so Erwin does the same. 

As Levi kneels to put his shoes back on, Erwin thinks he spies something there above his ankles, lines of black, but he’s not close enough, the view too obscured for him to make out what it is. 

-- 

“You realize though…” 

As they step over to the door, Hanji and Levi both look to him, expectant. 

“We’re not the only ones. The others are out there, somewhere. We just have to find them.” As he says it, hope curls in his chest, strengthened by the dawning look in Levi’s eyes, the way Hanji nods, smiling softly as she closes her eyes for a moment. 

Hope for all of them; their comrades, for Mike… 

“Hey! In a few weeks there’s a midnight premier that me n’ Levi are going to, you should come with us!” 

Erwin smiles. “What day?” 

But when she tells him the date, he blinks, then shakes his head. “Business trip.” 

Hanji is disappointed at that, as one may have expected, but says she’ll ask Mike later.

Levi, for his part, simply shrugs once in understanding. Erwin’s mind goes back to how, upon waking, having silenced his alarm, Levi had blinked the sleep from his eyes, frowning blearily at his surroundings, pulling his foot out of Erwin’s reach as he sat up. They’d found coffee already in the pot, though Mike was nowhere to be seen, and Hanji had just smiled, strangely quiet for once. 

Now, as Erwin looks at him, he thinks that maybe the lines of tension in Levi’s shoulders have eased a little, at least. 

-- 

Two days later, on Saturday, Erwin takes the time to set up a video call with his parents. He’d called his mother the weekend prior, but his father had been away at a conference, so they’d agreed to talk the next week. 

Once he gets the okay from them, he presses his call button, and his heart pounds in his chest as it rings twice before they answer. 

The video loads, and Erwin blinks several times, words momentarily failing him as his father peers out at him from the screen, his mother at his side. 

“Erwin? Erwin, are you there? We can’t see you!” 

Erwin shakes himself, quickly turning on his camera. “Sorry about that, dad.” 

On the screen, his parents blink, then they both grin wide, sitting back and waving at the camera. 

“How have you been? You look tired, dear, are you taking care of yourself?” 

“I’m fine, mother, there’s just…” 

He can’t stop staring at his father’s face. The flicker of concern when he trails off brings him back again, and he shifts in his chair. “Sorry. Work’s busy. That’s all.” 

His mother gives him a look like she doesn’t quite believe him. “Hm. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep.” 

“Mom, I’m an adult, I know how to take care of myself.” 

Neither of them look fully convinced, but the topic changes, thankfully. Erwin asks his father about his work (the summer class he’s teaching on Political Literature is just a few weeks from finishing, and Erwin can’t help his grin, nor the tightness in his chest as his father launches into an anecdote about one student who reminds him of Erwin, fierce and level-headed in her arguments and methodical in her writing), and he asks his mother about her garden (a good third of an acre behind their house, filled with all sorts of plants, extensive rose beds and flowering trees.) She’s more than happy to give a report, detailing the way she’s been coaxing these vegetables here or those flowers there to flourish, how this one rare rose she’s been cultivating for a few months now is finally beginning to bloom, and he smiles even as he distantly remembers the window box, filled with flowers, that she tended to carefully at their house in southern Rose. 

They talk for at least an hour, his parents asking after Mike (“How is he doing? Have you managed to get any more details about his next book out of him?” “Nothing yet, mom.”), and Erwin surprises himself by mentioning Hanji and Levi, being almost entirely truthful about how they met (“How many times did you say they mixed up the mail?” “I lost count, but it was enough that we’ve gotten to know each other fairly well through it all.”) But finally, his parents have to go, so Erwin bids them goodbye, staring intently at his father’s face all the while. 

He doesn’t move from his seat for a good minute after the call ends. 

Then he shakes himself from his reverie and stands, going out to the main room to find Mike just getting back from an errand, and together they have lunch. 

-- 

The movie is… well. It’s alright. It’s the third in a series that Hanji is a fan of, so she’s delighted, as always, chattering away happily about this special effect or that line there, vowing to go see it again and bring Erwin once he's back in town, while Levi listens with half an ear. 

But suddenly she breaks off, standing up straight, her head turning to the side, exuberance falling away. There’s something urgent in her expression as her eyes scan the crowd. He’s about to ask her what the hell is wrong, when her face splits into an impossibly wide grin, overjoyed, and she takes off running, pushing through the crowd, yelling. 

Levi yells after her, what the hell, get back here, don’t— 

But then he sees what she does, following her intended path towards the three heading towards the exit ahead of them, just starting to turn back at the sound of her voice.  

Eren Jaeger, Mikasa Ackerman, and Armin Arlert seem as in-tuned to each other as ever, as they move as a unit, all three’s eyes widening in unison as they see Hanji bounding through the crowd towards them. 

And like before, with Erwin, Levi finds himself robbed of motion, unable to take a step forward, until someone jostles him from behind. 

“Watch it,” he snarls over his shoulder, but finds himself able to move, now, and he makes his way to them as well, as Hanji nearly picks Eren up as she hugs him, the both of them laughing. 

Then Eren sees him and his eyes go wide all over again, pushing away from Hanji hurriedly (the woman doesn’t mind, going to hug Armin instead) and stepping forward, staring at Levi intently. 

“Captain Levi…” 

It’s a sudden slap in the face. 

“Don’t—don’t call me that, shithead,” he says automatically. “I’m not a captain anym—now.” 

Eren doesn’t seem deterred at all, simply nodding breathlessly. “Right. Okay.” 

Then in a single rush of movement, he steps forward and hugs Levi. 

Levi goes stiff, taken off guard for a moment, before he pushes at Eren’s shoulders, pushing him away. “Get off me, brat, what the hell,” he says, voice tight, and even then, Eren just smiles, completely unbothered as he complies. 

“Sorry,” he says, though he doesn’t look sorry in the slightest. “It’s… It’s good to see you, sir.” 

-- 

Erwin is jolted from sleep by the obnoxious ringing of the telephone on the bedside table, and it takes him two tries to answer it. 

“H’lo?” 

“Good morning, Mr. Smith, this is the 5:30 am wake-up call you requested! Thank you, have a lovely day!” 

Erwin mumbles out a reply of some sorts into the phone as the click of the phone being hung up sounds in his ear. He places it back on the receiver, rolls onto his back, and groans, rubbing at his face. Then he forces himself up and into the shower. 

He’s coherent and functioning by the time he gets out and starts getting dressed, and halfway through buttoning his shirt he notices his phone blinking, so he picks it up and unlocks the screen. 

It’s a text from Hanji. 

Look who we found! 8DDD PS the movie is great you have to see it when you get back

Attached are two slightly blurry photos of her and Levi with Eren Jaeger, Mikasa Ackerman, and Armin Arlert. 

They’re all smiling on some level, save for Levi, their expressions ranging from typical slightly-manic from Hanji on one side, obviously taking the picture herself, other arm around a pleased, happy Armin next to a widely grinning, exuberant Eren, with Mikasa behind them with a soft, quiet smile of her own. Levi, in front of Armin, being crowded from behind by Hanji, is staring up at the camera as if he doesn’t trust it. 

The second picture is them again; this time, Hanji is crossing her eyes, tongue hanging out, her other hand reaching to grab onto Levi’s cheek and stretch it to the side, to his obvious and probably vocal disapproval, his hands raising to fend her off. Armin and Eren are making similar faces, tugging their lips down into teeth-baring snarls with their fingers, Eren’s other hand mussing Armin’s hair as Armin pokes Eren’s cheek. Mikasa gives them both rabbit ears from behind, expression a cool deadpan. 

Erwin feels a swell of affection rush through his chest, and he saves both pictures to his phone. 

He types out a quick reply, knowing Hanji won’t be awake for another few hours thanks to the time difference, and finishes getting ready for the day, feeling lighter than usual.