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The Last Noble Breath

Chapter Text

Guided by the winds away from the royal city, Eren Jaeger found himself on the outskirts of Trost. A bustling city rich with culture and nightlife, Trost seemed to be every man’s dream. What lurked stealthily in the shadows of Trost, however, were not men but wolves; wolves of a company that opposed the country’s leadership. Knowing that he’d have to completely reinvent himself in the presence of thousands of eyes, Eren sat in the middle of his new studio and brought his katana to his silken cinnamon hair. Lopping off a good portion of his once lower back length hair, watching as it fluttered helplessly to the ground, scattering over the floor, Eren began the first step of a new life.

No one would know who he was there without any hint. They’d not look into his eyes and see a man to be feared simply for his bloodline. No, no longer would people grovel and bow to him simply because of his station; a station he was born into yet refused to accept. Respect should be earned, not given so freely. Eren sat there in his new home, bought with most of the gold he’d managed to bring with him as he snuck away from the palace. There wasn’t much left, but it was time he learnt how to save money and live like the people he used to speak for. It was time that he became Eren Hawkyns, the artist, and cast away Eren Jaeger, heir to the emperor’s throne.

War mongering sparked tensions all over the country, and perhaps he should have settled in a better spot, but this was now his home. He’d have to learn how to take care of himself, how to tend a garden by himself, how to cook, and how to clean. Being heir to a throne he’d willingly cast aside trying to live as a normal man would be nearly impossible, but he’d die trying if that was what it meant to escape his old life. Thanks to some of the teachings from his tutor, he understood the basics of making a life for himself but in no way was it going to be easy. Eren Jaeger was starting over and forgetting that stood to inherit the throne while civil war waged and threatened to shatter the already broken country into shards.

It hadn’t been his thought to run when things grew difficult; that was never his intention. Speaking out against his father’s tyranny began to set the rift between him and his succession for years. Everyone inside the palace knew the young heir to be proud and courageous, determined and bold, but what they didn’t know of their emperor was that he’d despised that when aimed back at him. Eren bickered his cause against his father for years, always saying they should have been doing what was best for their country’s people, not for them. What struggled and strife had they had? Being a figurehead was good enough for Eren, but his father disagreed and sought only to line his pockets. Grisha Jaeger sought to reclaim his birthright and take what was his by any necessary force. He was tired of sitting in the shadow of another he’d appointed in a ceremony purely for show. It wasn’t he who held power, not his family, and he’d envied that.

Who did disagree with the Emperor’s thoughts and actions? Over half of the appointed advisors….under the thick blanket of night. No one dared to speak publicly against the emperor, except two men. Being the first, Eren had always told his father what he thought, but the second was a man his father had appointed to run things. A militaristic leader who’d been placed in power thanks to his succession was meant to, at first, control the people and keep order. Until the Tagin had soon begun to see the emperor’s reign for the ruthless oppression it truly was, it had been exactly that while the emperor sat back and fumed. When he spoke out against the emperor tensions began to raise and people began to talk. Sides were taken, war was waged, and battles were forged in it’s fires. Tempered by the resolve of his beliefs, the backing of his underlings, the militant leader known as the Tagin had ensured the country’s divide with the same opinion Eren had once spoken; the same opinion that had gone unheeded.

Caught in the middle of a war, most average people tried to do their best and avoid further bloodshed. Unfortunately, both sides of the war were going about their positions the wrong way and the people were losing a war they never asked for. The Tagin had created his forces in order to declare themselves a government of the people while Grisha Jaeger wished, purely for his own purposes, to preserve their way of life and continue to oppress their people. Two different rules, with factions behind them based on loyalty, honor, and culture. Having witnessed it firsthand, Eren knew the men following the Tagin had wished to see the fairness in creating a government where people had the say, but others saw the decision as weakness in a ruler to ask for opinions of those beneath them.

It was difficult to be on either side. The emperor had planned for the people to stick to their ways of life they’d known. He bet on the fact change would scare them, and he’d been right. Trying to change their way of life by making their lives better was part of the Tagin’s plan, but giving power back to a war hungry, selfish figurehead wasn’t. People no longer knew who to trust as they’d all been obeying the Tagin, following the rules he’d set in place, but as war came to ravage the nation it allowed criminals to run rampant. As the criminal activity increased it was also shown as a fault to the Tagin, and things only continued to spiral downhill. Amidst the war crops were being burnt, villages were being razed, and innocent people were dying in droves. The people losing the war, weren’t even the ones fighting it.

Trying to break away from all the horrid politics, Eren wished to just live life as a painter. It had been the one thing he was always good at, though his father wished him to cease the activity and continue to take more swordsmanship lessons from his general. He’d been groomed to be a commander in the emperor’s forces, but it wasn’t something he accepted. There were many things about his life that his father refused to accept, and so he believed refusing one thing of his own was just as good as payback. His tutor allowed him to paint when he wished as it freed his mind of the horrors facing the people. In the end, it had been all thanks to his tutor that he’d made it out of the palace to start anew with basic skills.

Unfortunately, there were plenty of things that could link him back to his royal heritage. Attempting to hide it all was going to be difficult, but he began to manage by placing his katana and kodachi under the floor of his home. Wrapping them delicately in silk, he covered up the second largest symbol of his birth. Hilt embellished with a jade stone at the end, woven with the finest silks, and blade etched with beautiful artwork, the blades were a symbol of his bloodline. Only those of the highest classes were allowed to carry, or even own, swords. Ensuring they stayed hidden meant ensuring his survival. Carrying out too much when he’d snuck out of the palace had been impossible, thus he only took what he’d needed.

A couple of kosode, his blades, a bit of gold, an old bow and quiver, and some tools of his trade were all he could carry with him. He’d been lucky to purchase the home of someone who’d died in the war, helping the poor widow find a new start herself in the process. It had a hot spring near the back of the property along with a small plot of land prime for growing things. Being on the outskirts of the city assisted with keeping his head down, because if there was one city he’d be killed in? It was Trost. Trost was the epicenter of the Tagin’s forces. In Trost lay the headquarters of the special police force known as the Kensha, or the wolves of Trost. Clad in sky blue haori with white at the sleeves, daishō tied at their right hip, and aura’s swirling with authority, the force was unmistakable.

Kensha forces were known as ruthless, heartless, bloodthirsty killers by both civilians and opposing forces alike. Their reputation preceded them as their haori fluttered on the wind behind them with each step. Should they discover who he truly was, there was no doubt in his mind that he’d be captured as a prisoner of war and executed as a show of power to the emperor. He knew very well that the men in the unit were capable of, he’d heard the war stories from General Hawkyns. They were truly excellent swordsmen, but almost all of them weren’t all of noble class….something unheard of. Most were wary of their presence, treating them like devils, but if were to look at them objectively then he’d have to say they did exactly what they were formed for: slaughter.

The men of the Kensha were a police force at heart, however, and didn’t fight in the war until called upon.  As part of the still functioning government they worked closely with the Tagin to prosecute criminals. They’d been tasked to keep the city safe during the hardships of increased criminal activity, and they did exactly that. People were still frightened of them, as they too knew the war tales involving the sky blue coats stained crimson on the blood soaked ground. Carrying flags of the Tagin, the 13 units of the Kensha would always remain loyal to their Tagin and see anything related to the emperor as the number one enemy. Should his true identity be known in the heart of the Tagin’s city, then the quiet, peaceful life he wanted would be impossible to keep.

 

So much as bathing at the local bath house wasn’t something he was able to do. He’d been immensely thankful for the hot spring on his property. For if anyone saw the symbol of royal lineage tattooed into his skin, he’d be dead come the next sunrise. Sprawling down his back, left side, left upper thigh and left hip was a proud peacock. A bird known for its beauty and also its temper; a bird fitting to him. With tanned skin, eyes the color of the stone in the hilt of his swords, lean, muscled frame, warm smile, and friendly, near magnetic, disposition, Eren Jaeger was man who looked as royal as he was. Attempting to hide that was too hard, and thus he opted to remain a quiet man without much to do or say.

After a week of beginning his life, Eren was being helped out by the older women in the community. When they all asked about his mother which he’d answered truthfully as he could by stating she’d died when he was young. Taking pity on him, the women began to show him to wash his clothes or even to cook. In return he’d helped them carry things back from town or do whatever they asked of him. These were the people he’d wanted so hard to protect, their lives were worth keeping, worth saving. It was shame his father didn’t see that, but it wasn’t his problem anymore. His problem now was learning to survive as he began to create his paintings.

Before he’d realized it, two months had gone by. Crops had sprouted in the plot out back, he could manage to cook a few things, and he’d managed to survive off something he loved. Steeped in rich culture, Trost had been the perfect place to debut as an artist. People would wait to see what he’d created each week he went to the market stall. He’d slowly worked his way to becoming popular enough to ask women to model for him. Unfortunately, he’d soon after been mobbed by eager women to be his source of inspiration for a new painting. The more he could make, meant the more money he could have and save.

His first purchase when he’d finally saved up the money was to buy a new tea set. People hustled about the streets paying no one any mind, ignoring something if it wasn’t their business, and he had to say that was refreshing. No one ever looked twice at him unless it was because of his paintings. He no longer looked like the emperor’s son, not like many had even seen him outside Shiganshina, the royal city.  Thankfully, he could continue to have his popularity and not have a single thing to worry about. Surviving was the name of his game, and he’d finally found his place to strive.

For once in his life he was so happy that he oftentimes caught himself humming a melodic tune. Buying his tea set had even deserved a wide smile. Now if he could only remember how to make well it himself! Most of the time he made it there was too much of one ingredient; maybe one day he’d figure out the art behind it, but until then he was just happy his home was beginning to feel like a home. His studio was covered in messy blocks of wood, untouched canvases, and rows of finished paintings. It seemed that a life in the town was the life he was supposed to live. Inspiration came by the wave, and he could create anything at any point in time.

What he wanted to do instead of paint, however, was celebrate. Once he’d dropped off his tea set at home and painted a little, he decided to clean up and head out for a treat. There was a new little tea shop that had opened and he found himself in the mood for something sweet. Deciding it was best to go before it got too crowded, Eren made his way back into the city. Thankfully, it wasn’t too far away and the small business’s white and violet storefront made it easily recognizable. Violet wasn’t a cloth color many people were able to afford due to the high price of the plant that was used for the dye. Putting up something that vivid shouted to customers they had the best quality of goods to offer.

Much to his surprise, it seemed that everyone was attempting to beat the rush. He’d only managed to land a seat when someone had just finished. Quickly he sat and waited for the chestnut haired young woman to arrive and take his order. Her kind mahogany eyes regarded him with warmth and exuded elation. She was clearly happy to be doing something she loved. Cooking for people had to be a passion of her as it was tasted in the delectable dumplings she’d placed before him when she returned. It wasn’t just the food that had caught his attention though. Someone walked into the establishment that took his breath.

Standing a few inches shorter than himself was a man with the most striking hazy blue eyes and glossy midnight hair pulled back into a short ponytail to reveal a finely razored shave. His mere presence captivated most of the people in the tea shop as all eyes watched him stride inside without pause. His chin was held high and his pale, petal pink lips were poised in a natural state of stoicism. Blank as a stone, as beautiful as cut gem, the man commanded attention and Eren gave it, or did the man steal it? He couldn’t truly be sure. The man looked as if he’d worked theater with skin as flawless as his.

Good looking men only worked in theater as some of the most enrapturing women. Another option was simply that the man was a prostitute. It wasn’t uncommon for that practice, and it certainly wouldn’t have been so strange to see him in the shop as it was near the district. Whatever the man did for a living he could about bet it would have capitalized on his features. Eren suddenly found himself wishing that he could have kept a man like that company during his times at the palace.

Before he could notice the eyes on the man turned to icy glares and pointed daggers, a young woman approached him “Excuse me, you’re the new artist in town aren’t you?”

Smiling softly, he nodded towards the stormy eyed woman “Yes ma’am, I am.”

“Your paintings are just magnificent,” she exclaimed lively as her slate eyes lit up with a brilliant glimmer “my husband brought me one home and I’ve been hooked on having your work surround my home since. I simply wished to thank you for your hard work in creating such pieces. You’ve an immaculate talent.”

Eren’s smile only grew as he lowered his head in thanks “Thank you very much. I am honored to hear that. I hope that you’ll continue to enjoy them. If you’ll excuse me, I’m going to return to my tea before it cools.” She gave him a smile and returned to her seat just as someone took the empty seat at his side. Feeling the presence, Eren turned to be met with the raven haired man who’d enraptured him upon entrance. The very moment his hazy blue eyes met his he knew very well that the man was no prostitute or actor. Malice lurked beneath the surface of his gaze, blood pooled beneath the striking steely blue iris, he could almost smell the death and blood staining the man’s skin. Whoever he was, Eren wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to know anymore.

Frightening him momentarily, the man asked flatly “You’re an artist?”

Clearing his throat and attempting to regain his composure, Eren confirmed “I am. You are?”

“Not important,” he responded curtly. “I wasn’t aware an artist, of some reverence, had come to Trost.”

Eren replied calmly “I’m simply an artist who’s found Trost all of some two months ago.”

“I see,” the man answered “do be on your guard here in Trost, Artist, it’s not like other cities, you know.”

“How’s that exactly?” Eren inquired curiously.

A scoff exited the man’s lips “They say wolves prowl these city streets at all manner of hours. You’d best be on your best behavior.” Raising the tea cup to his lips, a chilling smile spread his lips “Welcome to Trost.”

Chapter Text

Departing from the tea shop left Eren’s mind rushing to conclusions. Why exactly would be getting warned by a perfect stranger about the Kensha forces? He was well aware of the police working in the area. Something about the conversation just pricked his skin and set him firmly on edge for the rest of the night. Even on the walk back home he found himself concerned about why someone would feel the need to mention a group as infamous as the Kensha. It wasn’t like there were people outside of the city who were unaware of the name anyway.

As he made it back to his home, he took a moment to think on his situation. Being back before sundown meant that he could still get a few things done. Honest work was hard as he discovered. Learning to wash and hang his clothes, learning to cook for himself, tending to the small garden, and even making his tea began to get a little easier. With the help he’d been having from both his delightful neighbors, Eren had also been receiving the help from several of his models. They would often tease him that he couldn’t take care of himself very well, which was why he needed to hurry up and find a wife. He’d laughed it off and moved the conversation along, as he didn’t really want to tell them of his preferred company.

Continuing his work after some of the chores had been done, Eren decided to sit in his studio and paint. He knew that his work was rather expensive, but somehow they always managed to get bought. Knowing that he had a high rate of moving the pieces he created, he figured that he might as well try to create more varied pieces. Being so popular was a dream, though it was also a nightmare as he had to create lies on piles of lies when clients began to ask about where he was from. Attempting to tell them he didn’t do much painting back home was the only way to move the subject of conversation to something aside from him.

Staying up most of the night, Eren ensured that come morning he’d have a few paintings dry and those ready to replace them. His work was flourishing in Trost, which was unexpected, but he wasn’t about to look the gift horse in the mouth. Simple images were done quickly, but the others required hours upon hours to ensure that every single line was in the correct place. He wished that everyone be able to have a piece of his artwork, but the more intricate pieces required a particular type of patron. Very few of his highly detailed pieces were done by a day’s end. Much as the night ended for him, only one highly detailed piece would be available for purchase at the morning’s market.

Thankfully, the piece moved much quicker than he had originally anticipated giving him a sense of ease. He could then just wait on the others to sell at whatever rate they did, and if they didn’t he’d simply rotate them. With so many people in the city, however, he could count on them selling either by the end of the day, or the next. What he didn’t count on was catching his first glimpse of the Kensha as he waited to sell the few remaining pieces. Sat atop a tall bay stallion, robed in the traditional sky blue haori with jagged white designs at the sleeve, was whom he presumed to be a captain of the Kensha.

His sharp features and piercing amber gaze gave off the aura of authority, and as he led his men through the city Eren could feel the atmosphere plummet. A long ranged weapon, silk and rope wrapped, blade curved at the end of the length of crimson pole was firmly placed over the left shoulder of the captain. It wasn’t like anything he’d heard. A young captain with two toned hair of flaxen and pecan, of which the pecan underneath was cut short while the top flaxen half was tied neatly into a knot, who wielded a naginata blade wasn’t something he’d remembered from his multiple war councils. Someone as striking as that would have most certainly made ripples in their pond.

From his position several paces back, Eren could smell the stench of blood before he noticed it splashed at the bottom hems and sleeves of the men’s robes. Coming home from a skirmish was his best bet, but Eren sought to pry no longer. Staring so openly might only bring conflict though he did remain ever curious about their actual activities. The Kensha were rather secretive with their real duties, and the only thing he knew for certain was that they were Tagin forces, the active police of the city, and deadlier than any general he’d ever met.

Jerked from his mind by a customer, Eren gladly resumed his business as the Kensha unit went about their own. He was lucky to have glimpsed them without drawing much attention to himself. For everyone in the city, it was likely a normal sight. Once they’d cleared the streets, heading to their headquarters, the lively, cheery atmosphere quickly resumed. All actions seemed completely unaffected by their presence, so he opted to be the same and pretend as if nothing in the world had happened that was abnormal.

When he returned home later in the evening, he had just enough time to tend to the garden and bathe at the hot spring before the sun finally set. Most of his day he spent ensuring the spread of both his name and his wares. At home, he was cooking, making some tea, and turning to the studio. Unfortunately, when he finally made it to the studio he was hard pressed to find something to paint. Inspiration just wasn’t coming to him. Just as he stretched out for something to think on, he caught a glimpse of the peacock feathers on his upper thigh.

Exhaling a sigh of exhaustion, Eren regarded the image forever inked into his skin. A peacock was the symbol of his royal lineage, this he’d known, but he’d never thought he’d be forced to endure a 15 hour tattoo to bear the proof of it. It was something his father had ordered, not a badge of honor to his right of succession. For something so massive as to cover the majority of his left side, Eren still found it beautiful despite its ever present, gnawing reminder of who he truly was beneath it all.

Springing up with inspiration from the rather dark thoughts, Eren suddenly found himself alight with morose inspiration. Beginning his idea with a bare bones outline, he placed a paintbrush in his teeth and began to mix his paints with his fingers. For hours he kept going with his idea. When it finally began to take a shape, the crumpled, dying, tattered body of a once majestic peacock lay at the water’s edge. Its mouth bloodied, its body mangled and torn, scattered feathers lay spread about the scene. The waters ran pink with the trace amount of blood pooling from the once proud peacock.

At the muddied riverbank was a singular paw print before they trailed off, extended out to the right of the painting, where he had plans for a second canvas to make the rest of the image whole. On the second canvas, Eren began to furiously make out the rest of the landscape. Within a few more hours he was finishing up his basics. A victorious hunter standing with its greying muzzle pointed towards the sky, open as it howled. The wolf stood near its kill, the peacock, and announced to the world its profitable hunt. Near the edge of its paw, white fur banded, and just to right was a torn piece of cloth nestled among the reeds. Sky blue fabric was hidden softly painted to show just what this painting set meant.

Titling them came swiftly. Each of them was representative of the picture it held. ‘The Last Noble Breath’ and ‘Victor’s Spoils’ were apt titles for each piece in his mind, and with them completed he finally began to clean up. He often found himself being controversial in his own ideals, but painting them so plainly was a stark contrast in speaking and being heard. There was no middle ground in the interpretation once someone saw the meaning in his work. Perhaps this the first step in truly announcing what he believed was going to happen with the war; announcing his own views. Obviously, he hated both sides, but if one had to shadow his beliefs more then it wasn’t the imperialists.

When it came to the politics, Eren almost couldn’t believe his father was going to war with the Tagin. So what they’ve been figureheads for the last hundred years?! It was a pretty damn good gig to him when they were working side by side to help the people and provide comfort. Now, due to his father’s insatiable desire for power, the people were going to be the ones at a loss. Leave to his father to attempt to gobble up as much power as he could while thinking of no one but himself. It was beyond the realm of morally reprehensible. How many people were going to have to die to give him even a shot at what he wanted? Too many.

While true that his ideas didn’t ring entirely true with the Tagin, they were pretty close. If the man wasn’t lusting for the same absolute power over the country, he might have sided with him. A militaristic leader would never settle with just having as much power as currently held, that he knew, and thus the future was likely to be riddle with war no matter which side won. Why couldn’t there be a middle party who noticed the finer points in both sides, as well as those that were past the scope of asinine? If only a third party existed who could be the best of both and the worse of neither; then perhaps he could understand the need for war to change.

It wasn’t to say that he was completely against war either. He understood its purpose among the world, but he wasn’t for war without a purpose or for war that was an essential pissing contest. The war ravaging the country as it stood was nothing more than two angry children bickering over who should be in charge. Were he honest with himself, he’d simply prefer it if they both got killed to prevent anymore skirmish across the land. People’s lives were being ruined all for the sake of two egos larger than the country itself. His thoughts plagued him as he lay in the futon, ready to sleep, but he supposed it was the thoughts that kept him awake that inspired his art.

Come morning, Eren awoke to a knock at his door. Startled, he quickly adjusted himself and plodded off towards the door. Upon opening it, he was met with a familiar face. A young, raven haired woman with bright caramel eyes had been practically hopping when he smiled in greeting. She was a woman he’d painted before, but it was strange. He needed no model, so why exactly had the woman come to his home?

“Good morning, Maddy,” Eren began with a kind smile “may I help you?”

Beginning with a reciprocating smile, she nodded “Morning, Eren, I was just wondering if you needed a model today?”

Dashing the woman’s hopes, Eren shook his head “Not today, Maddy, but thank you for stopping by.” Unfortunately, what began as a simply rejection snowballed into a massive fit. Suddenly the young woman had burst out in tears over the rejection, leaving Eren stunned in the doorway.

“Am I not good enough?!” She squeaked through cascades of tears.

“Of course not,” Eren began before she began to sob harder. “Shit! That’s not what I meant! Of course you’re good enough! I mean, you’ve sat for me before! Just---”

“What’s going on here?” Came an authoritative, yet silken, voice from behind Maddy. Eren’s eyes blew wide as he regarded the man who’d spoken. As he walked, the wind blew his haori behind him, the ties of his headguard fluttered around his head, and suddenly the amber eyes of the wolf were on him. Of all people to see, Eren hadn’t ever assumed a captain of the Kensha to be at his door. Much less, had he expected it to be the very same Kensha captain he’d seen riding back into the city. Surprisingly, he noticed the man was wearing daishō unlike he had been when he’d ridden into the city. It seemed a dark burgundy were the color of his choice as the finely colored material beneath the black binding on the hilts of his swords.

Eren shrugged “I have no idea! I told her I didn’t need a model today.”

Reaching out to console the woman, the Kensha captain cooed “Aww, come now, lass, don’t cry.”

“Don’t touch me!” Maddy screamed as her face contorted with disgust. “Get your filthy hands away from me! No wolf will ever touch me!”

As the woman stomped off furiously, the Kensha captain groaned “Aww, come on! I’m not that bad!” Turning his amber gaze back to Eren, he sighed “Damn. I’m sorry to have intruded, but I had to make sure things weren’t escalating.”

Eren rolled his eyes “It’s fine. I can now return to my work as can you.”

“Seem awful eager to get rid of me,” he purred dangerously “so tell me why that is?”

Clicking his teeth in derision, Eren answered “Tch, do I need a reason to want a war monger off my step? You reek of bloodshed and slaughter.”

“Wow,” the captain laughed “you’re such a smooth talker. It’s no wonder that poor girl was in tears. You remind me of my vice-commander with an attitude like that.”

“That’s not a compliment,” Eren seethed before turning to shut the door “good day.” What a way to start his morning. The last he needed was to deal with a killer on his step when he had far more important things to do. Cleaning up a bit after his long night painting involved clearing away the fallen wax from the candles in the studio among scrubbing the floors to remove fallen splashes of paint. More paintings needed to be placed outside to dry. On a rack just behind the home, Eren had arranged a stand where he could keep the paintings out of direct sunlight so that they wouldn’t fade yet would manage to dry faster. Everything had a process around his home, and once things were finished up he decided that he wanted to paint something inspired by his surroundings.

During the sun’s descent in the sky, Eren knew that a sunset would be the perfect thing to paint. He wouldn’t have long to do so, but it was something he’d enjoy. Grabbing some of his things, he found a beautiful knoll behind the house several paces out. A towering maple tree made for the perfect rest spot as he began to paint the various hues of tangerine, fuschias, and violets that began to streak the once pale blue sky. Such a beautiful sight couldn’t be captured entirely in the essence of paint, but he could try to make something lifeless seem infused with it. Painting in the nature of itself was serenity unlike anything else, but something took his eyes off the sinking sun. Hoofbeats sounded in the distance, drawing his focus down the knoll.

A patrol of Kensha was exiting the city’s gates. From his place atop the knoll, Eren was able to watch as the large procession moved out of the city. Only a select few of them were on horseback leading the flourish of sky blue, signaling that they were likely important to the organization. He couldn’t help but think that it was odd to see such a large division on the way out. Attempting to turn his attention back to the painting, Eren turned a blind eye to the marching of soldiers. There wasn’t much more time to be outside painting, but luckily he managed to get the base of his painting complete before it began to get too dark. Once he was finished for the day, he packed up his things and headed back to the studio.

Quickly stowing away his painting for the day, Eren began to get things in order for an early night. It had been a while since he’d actively gotten out to explore the city. In fact, he only briefly knew about each district which meant that he didn’t know the way around the city. With so many people and so many back streets it was easy to get turned around, but Eren had a sudden itch to have a drink. Alcohol wasn’t something that he often found himself craving, but he did know that there were several establishments in the south district that were perfect for that kind of craving.

After he finished up around the house and cleaned himself up a bit, he went to do exactly that. Perusing the south district made him a bit uncomfortable. Bright lighting, welcoming smiles of beautiful women decorated like living porcelain dolls, assaulting scents of too much perfume, and the raucous bellows of drunken men bounced off the buildings. It was simply overwhelming to be in the midst of such activity. A red light district wasn’t a place he ever thought he’d be, but there he was searching out a decent place for a drink. All he truly knew was that each place was virtually the same, so it didn’t matter his choice in establishment.

Walking towards one such place, Eren found himself being drawn to a modestly decorated parlor. Neatly trimmed in vivid crimson, the front of the parlor was welcoming without being audacious. It seemed to invite him in the longer he stared. Deciding that it would be his place for a drink, Eren brushed aside the hanging curtains and walked directly to a front desk. Surprised by the lively atmosphere even downstairs, Eren glanced around briefly as he waited for someone to see to him. Much to his surprise he saw a familiar face partaking in the business’ services. The raven haired man from the tea shop was sitting between two men, all three with women on their laps, and he seemed to be enjoying himself as they poured him more alcohol.

Boisterous didn’t begin to describe the barrel chested, blonde man to the left. At the right of the man from the tea shop sat a tanned, freckled man with a mid length ponytail reaching just past the nape of his neck. It was interesting to watch them interact, as they all seemed to know one another. Laughing and drinking together, it seemed to Eren as if he knew them more than just as passing acquaintances. The blonde shouted something in a laugh, turning his head to the man from the tea shop. His blonde top knot was certainly showing what Eren had already known by the form of his body: he was a swordsman. With only the noble families being denoted to carry swords, it made him wonder just who they all were.

His mind was freed from it’s curiosity when a woman’s voice took him off guard “Welcome to the Sanguine Blossom.” Shifting his gaze, Eren looked to the petite woman behind the desk. Honey blonde hair was pulled up atop her head, adorned with freshly plucked flowers, but it was her dark lipstick and charcoal lined cerulean eyes that had his attention. Purely from a place of artistic aesthetics, she was completely enrapturing.

“Thank you,” Eren replied softly “I’d like a drink and some company, purely for conversational purposes.”

Lowering her head in a slight bow, the woman smiled “I see. Very well, sir. If you would please follow me.” Paying the rate for the evening, Eren agreed and began to follow the woman. Casting a glance back at the men from earlier, he’d noticed them moving to private rooms as well. Oh well, it seemed his natural curiosity was cut short, but at least he could go into a room, have a drink, talk some, and enjoy his night. When he was led into the room, the woman with him departed but did leave him with the information that he would be joined shortly.

To his surprise, Eren was joined much quicker than he believed he would be. Sliding open the door was a woman wearing a stunning white and emerald kosode. Flowers were scattered across the forest green obi tied at her waist, her waves of auburn hair were styled up so that it tumbled over her right shoulder, but it was her kind sage eyes that struck him. How a woman so gorgeous was forced to work in such a place was beyond him. Judging from her trembling hands as she sat in front of him trying to pour his sake. he knew that she’d not been working there long. She’d get in trouble if he wound up pouring his own sake, so the least he could do was help her.

“Here, I’ll show you,” Eren offered softly. Placing his hand atop hers to steady her pour, Eren smiled and took the cup when she was done. “Don’t worry, you’re only here to pour my drinks and listen to me talk. I’m not the most talkative man either, but you seem unnerved.”

“Ah, I’m sorry,” she spoke sweetly “but is there a reason you wish only to speak with me?”

Eren smiled softly “There’s no need to apologize. I’m a painter; I can appreciate the beauty of you aesthetically, but I’ve no interest in women.”

A gracious smile curled the young woman’s ruby lips “I see. You must be the artist everyone is raving about.”

Pleasantly surprised, Eren chuckled “Haha, I may be. Do you like paintings?”

“Very much!” She exclaimed excitedly. “I love art in all its forms. My eldest brother is even a fan of poetry.”

Finding that odd, Eren arched a brow as he downed yet another drink “Wow, how interesting. A purveyor of art and as radiant as the morning sun. I’ve no doubt you’ll have a sponsor soon enough.”

Lowering her head, the young woman smiled “I do hope so. What have you painted recently, if I may?”

As he continued to drink, a gentle flush began to creep across his cheeks “Hmm, recently I’ve done a sunset, a dragon, a pond of koi, a sunlit forest of life with deer at the sides, and a two piece illustration of a peacock and a wolf. My views have begun to reveal themselves in each brushstroke.”

Obviously interested, the girl’s eyes began to glimmer curiously “Oh, your political views?”

Eren hummed “Mm, on the war so I suppose so. I don’t believe painting it was wise.”

“May I ask your views?” She inquired in a low whisper.

“The paintings are titled ‘The Last Noble Breath’ and ‘The Victor’s Spoils,’” he answered before shaking his head “but I believe I may have had too much to drink.”

Offering a sympathetic smile, the woman patted his knee “Well they sound lovely. Why don’t you lay down and rest? You may use my lap if you so wish.”

“How kind of you,” Eren replied in a slight slur “please forgive me then.” As he laid out and rested his head atop the young woman’s lap, Eren closed his eyes. Around him he could hear the stirring of other patrons through the thin walls, but everything soon faded away. Luckily he didn’t sleep too long before he awoke staring at the ceiling while the comforting feeling of fingers combed through his hair.

“Are you feeling any better?” Came the soft voice of his company.

Staring up at the angelic features, Eren nodded slowly “Yes, I believe so though I am a tad bit fuzzy. I should get going now. I appreciate your kindness and care, miss.”

“You’re welcome, sir. I will escort you down.” Staggering as he got to his feet with a bit of help, Eren was able to get onto his feet and down the stairs. Bidding farewell to his companion, Eren began to walk towards the exit. Along his way, he noticed the raven haired man from the tea shop shaking off the company of an excited woman. Part of him was nosy and wondered what in the hell the deal was, but he had to get home. There was no time for him to be wondering about those kinds things. He was far too drunk to be concerned with anyone but himself as he stumbled out of the parlor.

His arm was caught just a few paces down the street as he stumbled “Whoa, you’re a bit drunk, huh?”

Chapter Text

Turning his blurred vision to his savior, Eren stared in both confusion and awe. Face only dimly lit by the street lights of the district, Eren was able to make out that spellbinding snowy complexion and hazy blue eyes of a familiar man. How the tea shop man managed to keep weaseling his way into his life, he’d not known; he wasn’t hating it however. Instead, he found himself all the more curious and took more than the inch the man had offered.

“A little,” Eren answered as he leaned into the man.

“C’mon then,” he offered sweetly “I’ll escort you home.” Tugging Eren’s home over his shoulder, the smaller man took some of his weight. From his close proximity, he could breathe in the scent wafting off the man’s grey kosode. A bit of cedar mixed with the pungent, acrid scent of liquor. No matter what the mixture, he had to admit that he found it rather alluring. It was either that or the man himself, no matter how cold he’d seemed. He wondered why he was helping him at all. This man was a perfect stranger, so why would he be so willing to help him home? Just because they met earlier in the week? Highly unlikely. Whatever the reasoning was, he didn’t truly care.

It was going to take a bit of time, considering that his help had also obviously had a bit to drink, to get back home. Blind leading the blind? More like the drunk leading the drunk. Wandering down the barely lit alleys of the city, taking twists and turns that Eren didn’t even know existed, it began to get as convoluted as he anticipated. All he managed to tell his mystery help was that he lived just outside the city at the western district. Thankfully, it seemed that his guest knew exactly where he was going. As for Eren, he couldn’t rightfully tell which way was up, down, left, or right. Relying on some handsome mystery man to get him home wasn’t exactly how he imagined his night playing out, but once he was at his front door he felt a good bit better about it.

Before he had a chance to thank the man, he was already headed back down the road. Oh well, he could get inside, collapse, and call it a night. Maybe he’d be able to thank him some other time. What mattered to him in the moment was actually finding his bedroom so that he could get some sleep. There had been far too much excitement for wanting a simple drink, but all in all he found the excursion worth it. One thing that wasn’t worth it, however, was the dreadful hangover he woke up with the next morning. There was no way that he was planning on doing anything when his head was pounding, his eyes stung, and his mouth was drier than the Sahara. The day was better spent in bed, not doing anything unless it was absolutely necessary.

A bit of ease came the next morning. He’d only managed to do the basics the day before, but now a dip in the hot spring was more than relaxing. Communal bathing just wasn’t his style with the tattoo running down his body. He’d be too easily recognizable, so he found that his hot spring was perfect in more ways than one for him. Eating was fulfilling and checking on the garden was next, but after everything he had a few paintings that had managed to dry. His will to get out of the house after being cooped up was running overtime, so getting out to the fresh air of the market was more than calling his name. Packing up his things, including his two piece set, Eren made for the stall that he’d claimed when he first arrived.

It was rather sweet of people to ask where he’d been the day before, but of course he was explaining he didn’t go everyday thanks to the fact his work had to dry. One purchase had been for the day, so he turned around to put away the money he earned when he caught the trill of a familiar voice.

“Beautiful pieces,” he complemented. Eren turned to see the blue eyed savior who’d escorted him home. In the sun’s midday rays, he looked nearly ethereal. Such flawless porcelain skin illuminated brilliantly against the dark contrast of his ebony kosode The fabric matched the shade of his hair serving only to make his steely eyes pop. For a moment, the only thing Eren could do was stare as he then noticed the pair of swords on his hip. They were new. Of the previous times he’d seen him, Eren hadn’t ever seen him armed. It gave him momentary cause for concern.

When he’d finally found his words, Eren provided a charming smile “Oh! Thank you.”

Gesturing towards the thinly veiled political pieces, the man met his gaze “I’ll take them if you wouldn’t care to sell them to me.”

Nodding as he lifted the pieces carefully, Eren lowered his head “Thank you for your patronage….” as he trailed off and accepted the payment, Eren decided it was then he should thank him again “and for, erm, the other night. I apologize for my behavior.”

A hint of smile began to form at the corner of his rosy lips “Not a problem at all. Glad to see that you’re feeling better. Don’t handle your liquor that well?”

Shaking his head sheepishly, Eren sighed “I think it was just stronger than I’m used to.”

Brow raising, the man inquired “That so? Never been before then? It’s stronger so you’ll blackout quicker and be unable to perform the services you paid for. Either from the blackout or other means.”

Pausing to process the information, Eren pursed his lips “Mhmm, okay. I get it now. Thank you. I appreciate your refreshing candor.”

“Of course,” he responded before walking off “see you around.” When he strolled off leisurely, Eren couldn’t help but think that was not how he assumed the man to be. Something seemed almost pleasant about their interaction, and Eren couldn’t quite place his finger on it. A beautiful man who enjoyed art, escorted him home during a drunken stupor, and, albeit oddly, welcomed him to the city. He didn’t even know the man’s name for heaven’s sake! Why was he drooling over some mystery man who was cleared to be armed in such a city?! Oh well, it didn’t matter he supposed. The rest of the day could be carried on without even thinking back on the matter. He had paintings to sell and people to schmooze.

By sunset he was still at his stall speaking with several people about taking custom order paintings. He couldn’t exactly refuse noble households when they paid so well for something simple. Of course he’d mentioned that he didn’t do portraits of people’s likeness; he used his models for their bodies in a specific pose and nothing more. A couple of orders were placed in for simple landscape pieces which would be easy enough, so he was thankful that he stayed for the sheer fact of the matter he could make more money. Over all, he’d done extremely well for a day at the market. His mystery man had overpaid, but he had a sense of the matter he’d done it on purpose. Should he discover him again, he’d be sure to hand it off.

On his way home, he found that the darkened streets began to permeate his bones. A chill set about him as he headed home; something felt wrong about being out so late on unknown streets. Normally he wouldn’t be as on edge, but this was still an unfamiliar city and known for its crime rate. Eerily whipping wind began to howl subtly on his walk covering the sound of the steps behind him. He’d wished that he would heard them, and maybe he would have been able feeling the ghosting of a blade his throat. As he continued to walk slowly, he walked into an open intersection where four armed men awaited him. Quite obviously the leader, dressed in a ragged, muddied kosodehis snaggletoothed grin caused Eren’s lip to snarl in response.

“Seems you’re out past your curfew, Artist,” the man sneered.

Hand placed inside his kosode, Eren scoffed “Listen, gentlemen, you seem reasonable enough. I would seriously reconsider your next steps. I’ll have no problem killing you where you stand.”

“Fiesty aren’tcha! Boys, why don’t we give ‘em a little taste of steel, hmm?” At the leader’s direction, he could feel the blade at his throat retreat as it was seconds from being aimed elsewhere. Easily sidestepping his assailant, Eren removed his dagger hidden behind his obi. Flourishing his movements were easily done as his opponents were sluggish boars. Disarming one with a high aimed thrust, Eren quickly severed the median artery of the man’s arm. Knowing he was likely to bleed out, Eren smirked deviously and begged more to come at him. Strangely enough, the men began to scatter like cockroaches under light when a stranger appeared seemingly out of thin air. Had it not been for the haori and headguard, Eren wouldn’t have had any idea who saved him.

With a flawlessly drawn weapon, the Kensha soldier stood in front of him. It was a sight to behold as he parried an attack before striking out quicker than Eren’s eyes could capture. He’d only seen the sheen off his blade as it struck the man’s throat, left shoulder, and then his right. Only his slice to the right shoulder had used the cut of his blade and only to incapacitate the bandit.

Once getting the man on his knees the Kensha soldier began to speak “Well, we knew there was a gang of bandits around. Tell me, do you wish me to kill you now or let my commander do the honors?”

“Whatever,” he bandit spat at the man’s feet “we’re to be put out anyway.” The bandit may have responded to the threat, but Eren didn’t care of the answer. He knew that civilians weren’t allowed to be armed so he quickly sheathed his dagger inside his kosode. When the Kensha soldier turned to him, Eren was floored. He’d seen the man before; he was unmistakable. Long umber hair tied up in a ponytail, hardened chocolate eyes accented by soft facial features dotted in freckles….it was the man who’d been with his favorite mystery man in the red light district.

Gesturing towards Eren, the Kensha soldier began to speak “You’re coming with me back to headquarters to await the magistrate’s orders. You will also come with me. I only need you to testify as I report on the man’s actions. After that you’ll be free to continue.”

Quirking a brow, Eren clicked his teeth “Tch, you mistake me for someone who cares of your reports, sir.”

Eyes flaring with hostility, the man countered “Maybe you’re drunk again, Artist, and failed to hear me. You mistake me for someone lacking authority. My name is Marco Bodt. I am the 1st division captain of the Kensha. You will do as I order you, or I’ll cut you down like a criminal right here.”

Sucking in a breath, Eren nodded “Very well. Lead the way division captain.” Following a Kensha captain wasn’t how he wished the night to go. Bandits? He could handle some bandits. Training beneath a general in the art of the sword since he could handle a blade, Eren would have had no trouble escaping their poorly executed attempt at robbery. Now he was heading to the Kensha headquarters?! Just a place he wanted to be as the son of their most hated enemy. Walking across the city with him was difficult enough, but once he reached the compound in the center of the city, Eren felt his stomach began to knot. Dread twisted its way through every muscle of his body, instantly tensing him as they began through the gate.

Lanterns lit the area as they walked into the compound, but he wasn’t able to see well enough to walk without being guided by Captain Bodt. Once inside the main building, the bandit’s hands were tied and he was handed off to a sentry soldier. Eren was lead into an open hall where several other men awaited them gathered around the sides of the hall. A lithe young man with to the left wearing a hunter green kosode with long blonde hair tied up in a simple ponytail, on the left a man of towering height with pale blue eyes left his dirty blonde hair pulled back into a short knot, and in the center was a man whose presence commanded all eyes. His straw blonde hair was tied up in a similar knot as his companion but glacial eyes were as chilled as the ice they reminded him off. Those on the left and the center wore their swords, but the smaller man on the right hadn’t. Eren stood confused as he regarded them, until Captain Bodt bowed at the waist.

“My lord,” he spoke to the central man “the leader of the bandits has been apprehended.” Rising, Marco gave him a nod and then stepped back into place next to Eren.

“Very well done,” the man commended “we’ll request a transport for him after we contact the magistrate’s office.” Shifting to his left, the man smiled warmly “Commissioner, would you care to take word?”

“Not at all, I’ll leave immediately,” he responded before striding out out of the room.

Captain Bodt cut in respectfully “My lord, this man was the one attacked. He can speak for the truth in the report.”

Shifting his glacial gaze to Eren, the man inquired “Sir, are the recollections correct? Were you attacked by the man in question and his band of rogues?”

Eren nodded “Yes, sir. That is correct. I was taking a new way home when I was attacked.”

“I apologize that my men patrolling the area were not quick enough to protect you,” he began “we will remedy that problem. Please allow Captain Bodt to escort you home and ensure your safety.”

Lowering his head only slightly, Eren bowed “Thank you.” Captain Bodt, too, bowed and upon rising began to escort him out of the hall. On their way out, Eren could just make out several building behind the one they were exiting. He began to wonder if they were barracks for the men in each division. They all had to be highly skilled warriors, but Eren was more worried about being alone with the temperamental captain.

Shifting to Eren, the captain cleared his throat “I don’t know where you live, so you’ll have to lead the way. I’ll remain at your side for the duration of the trip to make sure you arrive safely. If you would please.” Taking that as a way to at least push some distance between them, Eren gladly led the way. He didn’t want to be any closer to the man than he had to be. Being in that compound was stifling as he could feel the chill from their bloodlust enveloping him like a thick haze. There was no doubt in his mind the men were war hungry, and he wanted to be as far away from any of them as humanly possible.

Along the way he did begin to wonder about them. It wasn’t like he could go around asking questions about them due to the fact that would arise suspicions around him. Drawing any attention to himself was already bad, but attention for prying? Well that would sound a lot like spying. There had only been so much knowledge about the Kensha swimming around the palace. Only his tutor had informed him of such things. The man he was with, Captain Bodt, was obviously a rough man. Oddly enough, however, was the fact that he seemed to care. Behind his ruthless gaze lied someone who’d no doubt seen the horrors of war and sought to protect the people of the city.

Back at his home, Eren thanked Marco with a slight bow which seemed to take him off his guard. He nodded in return and went along his way while Eren went inside. Events happening to him began to ring true as strange, but that was what happened when people knew his name. Knowing who he was and his business would no doubt make him a target for thieves. Now he knew to get back before sundown to prevent any less than reputable characters from stopping him along his way. With his lesson learned, Eren didn’t even to bother painting. Slumber called him and thus he answered quickly, wishing to let the trials of the day wash away.

When he awoke, he set to taking care of the normal chores before heading off to the studio. Beginning some of his commissioned works, Eren began to paint while his mind drifted. Thinking of the paintings he sold to his mystery man, he began to wonder what he’d done with them. Had he hung them up somewhere on display, or kept them private? The man hadn’t seemed like an art enthusiast so curiosity ran with him. Maybe….just maybe he’d be able to ask if he was an enthusiast then maybe he’d be willing to sit for a painting. It had been a while since he’d had any male models who sat for him, and that man begged to be in his studio. Perhaps if he got out and walked around a bit, he’d run into that man again.

Deciding that luck may be on his side, Eren opted to have a walk around the city. He may just be able to get more familiar, and find some little stores to enjoy. On his way out, he made sure to sure to carry his coin pouch with him. Tucking the fabric pouch safely inside his kosode, Eren rested his forearm inside and leisurely strolled into the city. Aimlessly he wondered around for a few hours, stopping in at several stores, picking up more tea, and finding that he was having a rather good outing. When he finally spotted his query, Eren decided to follow him along his path and see exactly where he was going. It seemed that he was walking quite a ways when it came to what he was looking for as the man quickly ducked into the shop he was searching for. Inside, Eren found him perusing glass containers of small, spiked, colorful sugar candies. Pastel colors stood out inside the glass, but he’d not exactly looked the kind for sweets.

Voicing his opinion, Eren hummed “Didn’t take you for a man of sweets.”

Turning on his heels the man managed a half smile “Ah, if it isn’t the artist. If you must know I’m buying them for my little sister.”

“Oh,” Eren replied with a smile “how kind of you.” Before the man could reply, Eren found himself straightening as he tensed. The towering man with sandy blonde hair and pale blue eyes had just walked straight up to them. Obviously it looked as though he knew Eren’s mystery man.

“Just who I was looking for,” he grinned widely.

Rolling his eyes, Eren’s mystery man sighed “Sir, is there something that you need on my outing? I’m to return shortly. Can’t it wait the ten minutes on my return?”

“I see,” the man answered “then I will ask it of you then.”

“Thank you,” he responded before the man left and he could turn his gaze to Eren “forgive me for that. Work never sleeps.”

“Are you working for the city?” Eren asked, knowing the man had been sent to search for the magistrate.

The man nodded “Something like that.”

Eren gave him his best smile, “Ah, I get it. Anyway, this may sound strange to you, but if you’ve the time I’d like to paint you.”

Startled, the man began to clear his throat “Ah, well, I’m quite flattered, but you’d not sell that painting. Of that I can promise. No one in this town would want my likeness anywhere near them. Stick to women, landscapes, and animals.”

Lowering his head, Eren apologized “Forgive me for this thought,but you’re a good looking man. Beauty is subjective, but I find that you have a beautiful form. I don’t paint portraits of people, I simply use their forms to create what I need. Your likeness would have little to nothing to do with the piece.”

“Thank you,” he replied courteously “I appreciate your words, but people here find me to be a source of government oppression, a killer, even a thief. If you don’t need my likeness, then I’m sure anyone else will do. I do hope you find them, as I look forward to your next piece. If you’ll excuse me.” Dejected, Eren sighed to himself and flashed a smile as the man exited the store. What kind of man was he exactly? Everything about him felt so contradictory. At least while he was in the store he found some things that he could use for his work, so the trip wasn’t a complete waste of his time.

“I wouldn’t stick around that guy if I were you,” the shop attendant announced boldly.

Arching a brow, Eren cocked his head to the side “Excuse me?”

Gesturing with a nod of his chin towards the door, the attendant “Guy that just left. He’s a fucking animal. Keep your distance from the likes o’ him.”

Eren scowled “Your opinion means little to me, as I can clearly form my own, but thank you for your concern.” Grabbing his things after placing his payment on the countertop, Eren began to head back to the house. While walking back, Eren thought back to just what he’d been told. If the people had thought such horrendous things of him there were only two options of his job title. Either the man was one of four magistrates of the city, one per district or ward, or he worked for the city as a tax collector. Thief was the adjective that pointed most likely to the latter, but it didn’t explain why the commissioner he’d seen at the Kensha’s headquarters was asking for him.

Chapter Text

Trost appeared to be a city shrouded in mystery, or at least it’s people were. For a moment he’d begun to think that by reputation, people in the city were leaned more towards the Tagin. Breezing past several people gathered around a tabloid salesman, however, allowed him to hear something that led him to the opposite conclusion. Open conversation of discussing the lay of the land in the form of politics began to concern him. People speaking of how they believed the emperor had their best in mind made him nearly ill, both physically and mentally. How could someone be so dense? The man didn’t want was best for them, only himself!

Back in his studio, his thoughts from hearing the views of the people on the street began to leak into his work. Painting the imperial flag, Eren began to work away on it until he realized that it needed something else. Recalling his mystery man’s daishō, Eren began to paint the dark navy of the hilts before he began to cross of the black cloth overtop it. Never did he think he’d just let himself escape by way of thinking back to what was hanging as his mystery man’s hip. Perhaps this painting would go to show just what the country was supposed to look like; both systems and men in power working together to keep their nation as it should have been. Instead they were drawing it all apart. One piece to demonstrate what his true views were was just enough to let him know it wasn’t a piece he could ever sell.

Hanging the piece in his bedroom, Eren made sure it had a nice place to be on display. While in the room, he rolled back the mat atop the floor and pried up the section where he had hidden his own daishō. His kodachi was enough to give his identity away, but luckily his dagger hadn’t been a part of the set. First thing he’d lost had been the dagger, and due to his misplacement it had to be replaced with another. It wasn’t as nice as the match, but it worked and he liked it. Just as he replaced the boards with a longing sigh, there was a heavy knock at his door. Whoever was at his home within the hour of sunset obviously wasn’t there for a social call. Quickly, he cleaned things up and made for the door.

In the second he opened the door, his eyes rolled back. Standing in front of him was not one Kensha captain but two. Captain Bodt and the two tone haired captain whose name he lacked. Both wore smiles that were more facetious and of station than of an actual smile.

“Can I help you gentlemen?” Eren inquired as he fought back a snarl.

“Just making sure that you’ve not been targeted anymore since your incident the other night,” the unknown captain stated as his amber eyes bored through him.

Flatly stating his answer, Eren folded his arms over his chest “No, I haven’t. You can leave now.”

Captain Bodt’s lips curled into a dangerous feline smile “Hmm, that so?” Shifting to his fellow captain, he posed “Captain Kirschtein, does that seem a bit baffling to you?”

“A bit,” he answered.

“Strange or not,” Eren griped “you’re not permitted in my home so leave.”

Inching closer, Captain Bodt clicked his teeth “Tsk, while you’ve got a point, we’re just curious as to how you managed to fend off those sword wielding bandits without nary a scratch on you. You know that it in this city carrying weapons as a commoner is against the law, and we have suspicion you’re breaking the law.”

Conceding defeat, as to not cause trouble, Eren sighed “So it is. I’m not entirely too familiar with city law as I moved here not long ago. As a travelling artist, it is not my first encounter with the type. I will obey this city’s laws and allow you entrance into my home in order to confiscate my concealed blade. I’ll gladly show you where it is.”

“Good man,” Captain Kirschtein nodded as Eren stepped away from the door to allow them inside.

“Thank you,” Captain Bodt replied as he stood in the center of his home “now would you lead me to the weapon?”

Leading Captain Bodt into his bedroom, Eren gestured to the space next to his futon “It’s beneath the cleaning cloth.” As Marco stepped over to uncover the short dagger, Eren sighed. Obeying them would lead to less trouble for him, but he didn’t like giving over his dagger. If he did have another run in with those men, then he’d not be able to brandish a weapon to protect himself. He could only do so much without a weapon in his hand, and it wasn’t like he was going to carry around his daishō. His eyes scanned the dagger in Captain Bodt’s hands as he unsheathed it.

“Nice blade,” he complimented “where’d you buy this?”

Knowing it to be of rather high value for its craftsmanship, Eren shrugged “Can’t remember as I didn’t buy it. A man traded it to me for a couple of my works a few cities over. I’ve no clue of its origin.”

“Shame,” came his response. “Is this all?”

“Yes,” Eren lied swiftly as he walked out of his room only to see the other man investigating in his studio. “Get out of there before you cause a catastrophe!!” Yanking the man back by the lapel of his kosode, Eren jerked him out of his studio. “Leave. Now. Both of you. Before you wreck something.”

Captain Kirschtein nodded “Sorry. You’ve done nice work.”

“Thank you,” he glowered “now out!” Both men turned on their heels and exited after having gotten what they came for. Good riddance to them both. He definitely didn’t need them in his house when he had secrets to be hiding from them. Why exactly did they seemed to be so fucking preoccupied with him? It was a bit alarming to be on their radar though. Plagues on his life, those Kensha assholes. He could begin to understand the people’s discontent with them. They were brash and pushy, but at least they were gone. Ducking into his studio to check on things, Eren made sure the captain hadn’t disrupted anything in his prying.

Luckily, everything seemed to be in order, so he sat down to get some work done. Enough distractions had stolen his focus for the day. Opting for an entire night in the studio. His mind was a flourish with new vivid ideas that he could visualize perfectly. Racing through the processes and losing himself in the painting, Eren let time waste away around him. The sun set before he knew what was happening, but it still failed to stall his progress. He lit the candles around the room and returned seamlessly to his work. In fact, Eren’s drive drove him to the point of letting time whisk him away. Falling asleep in the midst of paint and dripping wax hadn’t been part of the plan, but nonetheless it had happened.

Cracking open his eyes as sunlight streamed in through the window, Eren struggled to wake himself up. Groggily managed to get to his feet only to have another morning visitor. Far more aggravated about his rise in popularity, Eren shuffled to the door where he was suddenly aware that he’d just woken up. Scrambling to fix his horridly disheveled appearance in the presence of his mystery man, Eren began to notice just how inopportune it had been for him to fall asleep in the studio.

Attempting to restrain himself, his mystery man regarded him with a tensed smirk “Good morning…I see that you slept, erm, well?” Knowing full well that his hair was darting about wildly in each direction, that there were smears of paint covering his face, fingers, and chest, and unfortunately his warped kosode was shifted enough to bare his chest and some of his stomach as his obi loosened in his sleep. What a time to see the man he’d not so secretly been drooling over in his dreams. Dressed in an azure kosode with a silver and black obi, he stood slightly off center as his left arm rested inside his kosode. Steely eyes raked over him while waiting for him to finish in his attempt to fix himself.

Eren shook his head “Oh, uh, yeah I guess. I fell asleep in my studio. Is there something I can help you with?”

“I can see that,” he snickered “you look like, well, a canvas….and a messy one at that.”

“Damn it,” Eren cursed before opening the door and inviting him inside “just come on in and I’ll wash up a little bit.” Once his guest had stepped inside, Eren headed off to the back room where he could splash some water on his face to clear away the paint smears. With the glass, he could examine just how horrendous he’d looked. Grabbing his hair brush, he attempted to fix his appearance at least to a moderate degree. Pulling his kosode to its appropriate place, adjusting the thin cloth beneath it, and straightening up, Eren hoped that he could at least pass for somewhat decent when he returned. “Sorry for that,” Eren announced as he stepped back into the room.

Hazy blue eyes turned to him before the man’s lips curled “It’s fine….ha, uh, here. You forgot to tie this a bit tighter.” Without thinking the man stepped forward and wrapped his arms around his waist to tighten his obi. Eren’s breath sucked in sharply as he turned to be met nearly nose to nose with him.

Clearing his throat, Eren stepped back “Thank you. Would you like some tea? Maybe then you can tell me why you’re here.”

Skipping straight to the point, he shook his head “No, thank you, I’ve just returned from a tea shop. I’m here to say that if you still wish me to model for you, I will.”

Eyes alight with a passionate spark, Eren grinned “Oh, that so? What made you change your mind?”

“Gut feeling, maybe, and some free time in my schedule,” he answered “but so long as you’re not using my likeness then I suppose I can feel a bit better.”

“I see,” Eren nodded as he chewed his lip “but, yes, I promise to you that your facial likeness isn’t what I’m after. Rather, for me, I’m more interested in the body. Using someone’s form in front of me helps a lot more than simply guessing. I can see the fluidity, the ease, the best angles in live models. The human body is a magnificent thing.”

The man gave him a smile “Does that appreciation of the body mean you prefer nude models?”

Attempting to not swoon at such a godly sight of the man’s smile, Eren replied “It does, but if you’re uncomfortable with the idea then you’re free to remain clothed.”

“It’s fine by me,” he responded “so when do we begin?”

Eren grimaced as he thought to the state of disarray likely in his studio from falling asleep unexpectedly “Uhhh, just give me a moment to straighten up the studio, and I’ll call you back.” Giddy beyond all meanings of the word, Eren got to the studio and began to immediately clear a way for his model. Cushions were grabbed for the both of them, fresh water needed to be sat around him, brushes needed to be cleaned, and he needed to move paintings outside to create more space. Moving back and forth between the drying rack outside and his studio, he could feel that his guest was being entertained. Darting back and forth from one room to another, Eren tried his best to do things quickly but getting woken up so early by someone unexpectedly meant that he hadn’t exactly prepared for guests.

After dragging his model in by the wrist, he was instructed to sit cross-legged atop the canary cushion in front of him, remove his obi, pool his kosode at his hips, and stretch out his right arm with his wrist elevated just so. Eren tidied up his kosode, adjusted the placement of his arm, and then told him to look at the tips of his fingers. Of course the man knew that he couldn’t move while Eren was working, so at least that part was covered. Much like yesterday, Eren’s vision remained concreted in his head as he began to think of the man in such a regal form. Thinking of him on the edge of a step leading out to a garden, delicate golden butterfly on the tip of his finger, it’s wings etched of darkened stained glass, Eren found quite the muse in the man. Judging purely from the display of his lean muscled core, well defined biceps, and toned form, he seemed a swordsman worth his salt. Painting him as such would be no difficult task.

How could no one regard the man as gorgeous? Eren’s image of him may have been different, but if anyone had seen the view he got to witness no one could say that he wasn’t at least a stunning man. Shimmering blue eyes which harbored pain, bloodshed, war, and violence seemed to radiate something entirely new as he watched the man hold his position. Whatever lingered in his mind, Eren didn’t know but he wanted to. Natural curiosity had begun to take over his mind as he painted. Had the man really just had a gut instinct? How could he have been certain that it wasn’t something else?

“So,” the man began speaking as Eren worked on the painting.

Extra brush in his teeth, Eren interrupted “Shh. Models don’t talk.” Eren’s job was to paint him, and his job was to sit and look pretty.  He did make for a rather acceptable model as he continued and kept it silent. Once the basic outline of the body was finished Eren announced “You can put your arm down now.” He’d never been so quick with a model’s piece, but perhaps that was due to the image in his head that he wanted to hurry and get out. All puzzle pieces seemed to fit into place when it came to the piece, and he was rather ecstatic about the idea. Three hours was all it took for him to get the basics of the painting done, at least the paled out forms.

Details would be added later, upon the first layers, but for then he was done with needing his model. As he continued, Eren dismissed him with the fact that he could stay or leave. In the moment of his peak talent, he cared nothing of what was going on around him so long as there was silence. Ignoring him as he spaced out, Eren hadn’t even noticed that the man had decided to stay. Mixing paint with his fingertips, streaking the canvas where need be, and cleaning brushes as he went meant that the entirety of his focus was his artwork and not the strength of the gaze on him. Eren paused only to tie up his hair and soon returned to his work without a care in the world. Not even thirst drove him to move away from transferring the image in his head onto the canvas of the scroll in front of him.

Six hours into the painting Eren huffed “Finally.” Shifting as he felt the presence behind him, he looked to his model “You know you didn’t have to stay.”

“Wanted to see how it turned out,” he shrugged “seeing as how you used me for it. It’s breathtaking. Is that how you see me?”

Honestly answering, Eren smiled “When I see your features in sunlight I get one word: regal. In your eyes I see pain, war, blood, and other things that disagree with the sentiment, but this just came to mind. It isn’t exactly a representation of you in my regard. I’m glad that you like it, and know that when it sells I’ll compensate you for your time.”

“Interesting take on me,” he replied “and I thank you for your opinion. There is no need to pay me as I plan to buy that from you before anyone else gets the chance to.”

“Uh, wow, okay. I’ll have to sit it outside so that it can dry,” Eren explained through his astonishment “but it might be done as soon as this time tomorrow.”

His model nodded “Very well then. I’ll be back tomorrow for it. You do certainly possess an incredible talent. What’s that one?”

Following his gesture towards a particular piece he’d not quite finished, Eren hummed “Ermm, that one is a political piece. I paint them when they come to mind. I lived in the capitol before I came here, you know. I left because I wanted nothing to do with the war or with anyone on either side.”

Raising his brows, he asked “If you despise the war, and those involved, why do you paint propaganda?”

“Because it sells,” Eren answered with a laugh “and sometimes I find myself wondering who will win this war. So, I paint whatever comes to mind. Can I ask why you bought the two pieces you did?”

“I got them because they were stunning. I do side for the war, and that should be fairly obvious, but I like that you paint both sides. Maybe it’s the money to support yourself, but you seem smart enough to know, and see, the merits in both opinions,” he explained kindly with an unknown sparkle in his eye.

Eren couldn’t resist a small smile “Thank you. I lived in the capitol and had many a debate about the merits of each position. I refuse to side, but I can say that one side holds stronger values that echo my own….and it doesn’t involve allowing the people to be further repressed.”

“Then we’re eye to eye on that matter at least. You may not support either side, but your heart lies with one. May I ask why this is the city you chose to move to despite it being one of the two epicenters of the war?” He inquired, eyes focusing on Eren intently.

“I think everyone favors a side even if they don’t realize it, but I refuse to support the vicious sawing apart of this country on any scale. I moved here out of luck. I just packed up my things and thought the first that struck me was where I’d stay. I found this perfect place and settled in. What I didn’t know was that in such a large city the warmongers would be banging at my fucking door more often than I’d like,” Eren griped as he thought about the previous morning.

Lip curling up, the man shook his head “So you’ve had a run in with our Kensha? That’s not good. I told you the first day that you should be more careful; that the wolves roam these streets. I told you they are everywhere.”

Eren rolled his eyes “I’ve been unfortunate enough to encounter them on several occasions. Two in particular seem to be rather attached to me; not unlike scum on a catfish. One I saw you with that night in the red light district.”

“Tall, tan, has freckles?” When he saw that Eren nodded, he continued “That would be Captain Bodt.”

“Mhmm, yes, I’ve met him formally,” Eren droned with an audible scoff “when he saved me from some bandits. He discovered I had a hidden blade concealed behind my obi. A Kirschtein joined him when they came to confiscate it yesterday morning. I’d heard about not being able to protect yourself out here, but it’s ridiculous.”

Disagreeing, the man spoke firmly “No, it keeps crime down for the most part. Only two kind of people have weapons: those who work for the government, and criminals.”

“How can you be so sure they aren’t one in the same?” Eren posed. “I’ve seen you carry yours. You didn’t today.”

“Yes, I have to carry mine when on duty,” he explained “because unfortunately there are several crooked officials in this city which is why I exist. If you wanted to escape the war then this was a bad city to do it in.”

“I’m learning that everyday,” Eren sighed “but I can’t leave until I have the funds to do so. What exactly is your job? How do you know those Kensha enough to enjoy drinks and entertainment?”

“I work to ensure all criminal activity is controlled, dealt with, and that the people of my city are safe,” was the answer that he gave as Eren’s questions only grew. “I know the Kensha, because I work alongside them and many others, including the commissioner from the day before.”

Disdain creased Eren’s features “At least you aren’t helping them in this war. I can tell you’ve seen war, but I don’t see the bloodlust on you as I do them.”

“Those men fight for their convictions quite strongly,” he defended quickly “but it’s getting time for me to begin work. I must be going. I’ll come by for that painting tomorrow.”

“Very well,” Eren replied as he got to his feet “it was nice speaking with you, and thank you for allowing me to paint you….I feel strangely though. I don’t even know your name, so I’ll give you mine in exchange. Eren Hawkyns”

Offering out his hand, the man smiled his enchanting smile “Levi. Nice to meet you, Mr. Hawkyns, now I can stop referring to you as Artist.”

Chapter Text

Allowing the name to roll seamlessly off his tongue, Eren repeated it as he shook the man’s hand firmly “Levi, nice to meet you as well, but please call me Eren. I’ll be sure to take care of your painting. Good evening.”

“Very well, Eren,” Levi replied as he straightened and made for the door “you as well.” Turning to be on his way, it was all Levi left him with before disappearing beneath the setting sun. As he shut the door, Eren felt a bit of anxious anticipation sinking into his skin, an almost giddy glee that washed over him as he thought of Levi returning to pick up his painting. Though he worked in government for the city, it wasn’t as if he was out slinging a blade around for the Tagin. Honestly, he didn’t seem to be so bad for the time that he’d been able to spend talking with him. A part of Eren still couldn’t believe that he’d had the opportunity to do so, that Levi even willingly sat for him. It was a miracle.

Deciding that he was still in a creative mood, he returned to the studio to paint aimlessly. All he seemed to think of was how much of a shame it would be that only Levi would get to see that painting. No one else would get to see how truly beautiful Levi was or the heart that he’d poured into creating the image. At the very least, he supposed Levi would appreciate it for every bit of work and soul woven intricately through it. A break before it got too late eased some of his lingering doubts, allowing him to free his mind. Some tea and dinner proved to be all he needed at his break, and then the world flowed from his brush. Breathing new life into drab scrolls and sheets of canvas was exactly what he was made for, and so he continued long into the night. Only dim candlelight lit his workspace, straining his eyes as he kept himself busied with the craft.

Come morning, after a restful night back in his futon, he found his passion invigorated. Unfortunately, there was a list of chores that had to be done before stoking the creative fire. Once things were taken care of and the sun was high in the sky above, Eren found himself sitting comfortably in his studio imbibing life into the still, motionless creations of his own action. Fallow deer, city scapes, town life, and lazy ponds with blossoms of cherry trees strewn across the glassy, placid surface all seemed to roar with life with the very last stroke of the brush. Things seemed to be moving at a delightful pace for the day.

Distracting him came swiftly on the wings of a heavy handed knock on the door. Being popular was certainly going to annoy him if this kept up. How long would his work be interrupted this time? Oh well, he wiped his hands on a spare cloth scrap and made for the door. Much to his delight it was Levi who’d come to check in on his painting….the painting that he’d forgotten about checking on. With the layers of paint on it, he was pretty sure that it wouldn’t take a day of drying outside to be finished.

“Good afternoon, Eren,” Levi addressed pleasantly “hard at work?”

Inviting him past the threshold with an open gesture, Eren nodded “I have been all day, so I haven’t had the time to check on your painting’s drying progress. I can step outside if you like?”

“Sure,” Levi shrugged before a feline grin curled his lips “but only on the grounds that it’s with me. You should take a break. Working all day and staying indoors is bad for your health, or so I hear when I do too much work. Why don’t you come with me?”

Quite intrigued, Eren smiled softly “Okay, hard to refute that claim. Where are we going exactly?”

Jerking Eren by his arm as he turned on his heels, Levi flashed a toothy grin “My little secret. I know a good place to relax. My treat.” Pitched forward, Eren tried to gather his balance about him as he was whisked away. He’d barely had the reach to shut the door before he was being led down the street and off to the city gates. It hadn’t been how he planned his evening, but so far he wasn’t hating being led around the city by Levi. Dodging and weaving through the throng of busy city goers wasn’t nearly as exhausting with Levi leading the way. People sidestepped to be nowhere near in his way as he’d so clearly come from some business earlier in the day. Weapons tied at his side, Levi’s imposing aura caused nearly everyone in his beeline to divert themselves.

Though it was odd to see, he thought back to the cashier who’d told him to avoid Levi. It seemed like everyone else had followed his directive. Working for the city didn’t mean he should be hated, but the fact he worked alongside the Kensha? That was certainly going to catch him some flak among the citizens of the city. Ducking through backstreets and narrow alleyways kept his mind attempting to focus on his steps instead of on his back burner thoughts, but it thankfully didn’t take long before it worked. Sharp twists and turns down unfamiliar streets led them to a quaint little restaurant nestled among the various stores. He’d been dragged down so many ways he couldn’t even recognize the district they were in.

Without giving him time to think on it, Levi led him directly past the hanging drapery with the restaurant’s name and into the shop itself. Casting his eyes to his new, unfamiliar surroundings, Eren could tell the place was popular with those who knew of it. Friendly chatter sounded in the air around the patrons already seated, but judging by the sparsity of the customers he knew it was a yet to be discovered, or newly opened, restaurant. Levi’s hand had yet to leave his own despite their public setting. In fact, instead of letting go he squeezed a bit as he took him to the bar.

“Levi, sir!” The cook exclaimed with a broad smile. “Your usual?”

Nodding, Levi took his seat and released Eren’s hand “Yes, sir, that’d be great. Thank you.”

The apron clad chef turned his lagoon blue gaze towards Eren as he addressed Levi “Pardon me for prying, but it’s not often we see you with company.”

Glancing to Eren, Levi shrugged “He’s a friend who exhausted himself painting all day. I told him a bowl of your udon and he’d be right as rain again; ready to paint again in no time.” Eren sat stunned as the chef thanked him and gestured to the menu written on the backboard in charcoal. Perusing the written items, Eren took a moment before ultimately deciding on his meal.

Knowing it was going to take a bit, Eren leaned back in his seat and addressed Levi “So, this place could definitely be described as off the beaten path.”

“It is,” Levi answered as after a sip of his tea. “Only a handful of people know about it and the others don’t care to come here because people like me do. You’re not like that though are you?"

A bit off put, Eren craned his head to the side “No? I don’t care. People aren’t their jobs, and the same holds true of you.”

“Thank you,” Levi offered “I don’t get that often. I am not my job, quite true, but I still act for the people I represent when not working.”

Rolling his eyes, Eren replied “I’m not dense, I know that, which is why I find it so odd that you’d flirt with me in public.”

Smirking devilishly, Levi leaned closer as his words silkened enticingly “Ah, so I’ve been compromised, have I? That’s too bad. I was enjoying this cat and mouse routine.”

“You have been caught,” Eren answered proudly “not that it’s a bother, mind you.”

Brow quirking in curiosity, Levi hummed “Mmm, that so? Surprising. No wonder you don’t frequent the red light district much.”

“Plainly saying so, it’s not my type of place. The entertainment, however, isn’t a waste. I spoke to a beautiful, smart, young woman when I went. It was almost strange in a way,” Eren reminisced about the striking auburn haired beauty.

Chuckling softly as he sat back, Levi nodded “Yes, I do know of the enrapturing young woman. She’s taken many a man’s interests. Due to my coworkers, I’ve been more times than necessary.”

“So, you dabble in the pleasures of the district?” Eren inquired boldly.

“Rarely,” Levi answered with a somewhat dissatisfied sigh “as I’m not picky on my preference of the kind of entertainment per se, but the person beneath it.”

“And that makes me?” Eren found himself blurting outright. While he knew that Levi had specified person beneath, he took heavy note of that to include both male and female. He found himself too intrigued and his mouth had spat out a response before his mind had time to process it correctly.

Without a moment’s thought Levi answered “Interesting, smart, mysterious, and, if I may, stunning.”

Eyes rounding in surprise, Eren shook his head to hide the peony dusting his cheekbones “Thank you, although I’d hardly call myself mysterious.”

Levi peered closely as he chuckled “Ha, I don’t know your age, where you’re from, if you have any family, or frankly anything personal. You arrive one day into my city like a fresh breeze, you’re an artist, and your name is Eren. This is all I know.”

“And I don’t even know your family name on top of all that,” Eren countered with a warm smile.

“Oh look,” Levi gestured “our food has arrived.” Though he had been correct, Eren didn’t find that avoidance maneuver tasteful. On the other hand the food was delicious and it was a true shame the place was so out of the way. He knew that he’d be back provided he could find his way. Something about Levi being so aloof struck a chord in the back of his mind. Perhaps he was hiding something too. While they continued to eat in silence, Eren found himself staring back at Levi several times. Being caught in the man’s presence was slightly unnerving. He didn’t like Levi’s job, but Levi himself wasn’t that bad….especially not to look at.

Deciding to bring their time together back around to conversation, Eren casually asked “So, where did you grow up?”

Levi glanced up as he dabbed the corners of his mouth “Oh, um, just outside the city. It’s a terribly tiny town, but what about you?”

“Around the capitol,” Eren shrugged “but I moved around a lot when my mother passed. After my father left I was on my own, but luckily I managed to have some natural talent to exploit.”

“Incredibly lucky,” Levi added “but my mother died when I was young as well. My father died in the war before I was even born. I never knew him, and I was lucky enough to be raised by my aunt. Technically my sister and my brother---”

“Cousins,” Eren finished under his breath.

Nodding, he smiled softly “Yes, they’re my cousins. We don’t look a thing alike, so no one could really confuse us for siblings anyhow. Because I grew up with my cousins, I’ve used their family name as long as I can remember. My true family name is unimportant, you understand?”

Eren gave a slight nod in response “Of course.”

“Your lack of parental figures makes sense to me now,” Levi began with a cheeky smirk “because you can hardly take care of yourself.”

Puffing out his bottom lip in a sort of pout, Eren huffed “Hey! I--I’d argue if it wasn’t so true. I’m still learning, as I’m only 20 you know.”

Brows creasing, Levi sighed “Young, so young. I’m 26. You must have been too small to remember the Battle of Maria.” A lie was easy to fake as long as he remembered to subtract his actual age difference before replying.

“I was barely 13,” Eren responded “but I remember it. Were you--”

“Yes,” Levi answered firmly “I was 19 and battle was something I was trained for. I still train in a dojo almost daily.”

Flirty grin playing at his lips, Eren eyed his body languidly “It shows.”

“Ha, thank you,” Levi purred “so do you think my painting will be done?”

Eren sighed deeply “Hmm, honestly? Paintings are finicky at best. Most paintings I sell are sold days after I finish them depending on the size and intricacy. Bigger canvas means more layers of paint and that means longer drying times. Some take a day or two while some could be up to five or six..”

“I see,” Levi commented “then I almost wish it isn’t done.” Startled by the confession, Eren smiled broadly as he implied why that was. He’d not expected Levi to flash a beaming smile in return “You’ve a nice smile, Eren, I’ve been meaning to say that.”

Clearing his throat, Eren averted his gaze “Thanks, let’s go see if it’s dry.” As he got up from the seat, Eren turned to see Levi already paying for their meals. Even if he recalled Levi offering to pay as his treat, he at least wanted to offer to cover his own meal. Likely, he would have been refused anyway, but it was on the sheer principle of the fact. At least it didn’t have long to linger on his brain when Levi returned to seize his hand and lead him back home. Their path was no longer set at a pace of astounding dizziness but instead a calm and serene walk that allowed him to take in the area’s lovely scents and stunning sights. Taking their time back home had even allowed Eren to fully examine the roads and passages they took along their way. There wasn’t any way he’d remember it fully, but he’d at least have a decent idea if he wanted to go back.

When they returned, Eren instructed Levi to wait while he checked out the paintings. Outside on the rack, they’d had a little more time to dry, but it appeared that Levi’s hopes had paid off. Most of the painting was still shimmering wet, and the scent of paint still clung thickly to the fibers of the canvas. It was pretty obvious it wouldn’t be dry for at least another day, or maybe longer.

As he stepped back inside, Eren help up empty hands “Looks like your wish paid off, Levi. It’s nowhere near dry yet, and it’s probably gonna take another day at least. There’s a lot of paint. Should I just send word to you when it’s done? I’m sure I’ll see you in town when I’m at market.”

“I’m sure I can find the time to come check for myself just as the sun sets,” Levi replied with a smile.

Figuring it to be a good enough time, Eren thought aloud “So it has all day to dry?”

“Sure,” Levi shrugged as he inched closer “or so we have the whole night to make sure you’ve eaten and done your laundry properly. Hopefully your garden tending is fine as it appears you have a decent green thumb.”

Eren chuckled awkwardly “Hah, well, there’s a first time for everything I suppose. I do have some help every now and again.”

“If you need help I’m free,” Levi offered.

A bit puzzled, Eren posed “You’re of noble birth, Levi, so how do you know about these things anyway?”

“Helping my aunt was enjoyable to me,” he answered fondly. “She didn’t have to take me in, and I wanted to make sure I did my best to ensure I wasn’t a burden.”

“Pardon the pun, but that was noble of you,” Eren replied softly.

Wicked grin splitting his lips, Levi’s voice dropped to a whisper “Then forgive me, Eren, for what I’m about to do isn’t so noble.” Arm slipping around his waist, Levi’s surprising strength once again took him more than off guard. Before he registered the flurry of fervor, Eren found his lips captured. Kissing Levi wasn’t what he expected at all. His eyes took a moment to flutter closed as he finally succumbed to the taste of secondhand tea and sparks of spontaneous passion. Clutching the side of collar of his kosode, Eren tugged him closer and allowed Levi to take everything he wanted. Internally, Eren’s shrieking was loud enough to drown out the echo of his rapidly beating heart. Levi was beautiful, sweet, smart, and a bureaucrat, but he was so much more.

Panting as he retracted from Eren’s embrace, Levi cleared his throat “Forgive me. I hope I haven’t overstepped.”

“Ha, you haven’t stepped enough,” Eren replied with a salacious lilt before shoving Levi’s back to the wall. In the next instant, Eren had lifted his chin so he could deepen their kiss quickly. Levi’s hand reached to his jaw and brushed quickly into his hair. Part of Eren wished he could do the same and hold him tighter, but Levi couldn’t let his hair down. A sign of his station couldn’t be tampered with so that would have to wait. All he wanted in the moment was to indulge and gorge himself on Levi’s taste, on the rush of his skin, and the feeling of his body pressed between his chest and the wall behind them.

Breaking the kiss, Levi dropped his hand to frame Eren’s face “I’m hate to say it, but I have to be going. Work calls early in the morning.”

Eren pressed a kiss to his cheek “Sure, and thanks for treating me today. I’ll have to return the favor.”

“You just did,” Levi whispered before slipping free of his hold and letting himself out without another word. As Eren stood wistfully in the wake of Levi’s indulgent kisses, he couldn’t help but allow the airy feeling linger about. His heart thumped violently in his chest; a mix of the still lingering effects and the fact his mind was alight with the darkness of his past. It wasn’t too long ago he heard his father’s biting words in derision as he informed him of his sexuality. “A good heir is one who produces another,” he’d announced arrogantly, as if this were some factory to keep their family throned. Acrid though the words tasted at the time, he’d just placated the man with his usual “yes, sir” and moved on. He’d never thought of the fact he’d never carried on a relationship with anyone. People came and went, and he was none too enthralled with them.

Now things were different. Levi was a man of some repute whose mere presence made lesser men shrink away like rodents, yet also seemed to melt his coherence and stir a flutter in his stomach. A crush on a man made him feel as though he were still a teen entranced with the many available pleasures of the flesh. With Levi teasing him, flirting with him, kissing him even, Eren’s mind was spun. He didn’t know up or down in this scenario. How was he supposed to act exactly? Deriving physical pleasure from one another was something he could navigate, but anything more than that was startling and unfamiliar to him. He’d never truly been allowed time with anyone outside the palace walls. Keeping him sheltered and locked away from the world ensured that his father had something in mind for him, but like hell would he have agreed to whatever it was anyway.

Being on his own meant that he was finally free to decide things of his own volition. If he wanted to, he could sleep with Levi or even see him casually. Whatever he wanted he could do, of course provided it was agreed upon, but there was only Eren and Levi in the decision and not an entire royal court behind them. How immensely joyous that felt. With only himself as the ruler, he found that he may enjoy attempting to spend his time with someone in hopes of something more. Levi wasn’t his first in any physical sense, but perhaps there was a chance for him to be more. No matter, he definitely wanted Levi on his list.

Chapter Text

Excitement coursing through his veins at the very idea of it, Eren’s excitement quickly contorted to passion. A passion he needed to get to the canvas. In fact, a rather devilish idea began to concoct in the recesses of his mind. The very action itself would need the entire night, but it was effort he considered to be highly worth the pay off. If Levi was to come over to check on his painting….what if it wasn’t dry? On the supposed off chance that Levi’s painting wasn’t dry it was assumed he’d come back to check on it again were he so adamant. All it would take was another expertly piece of craftsmanship, and that was something he could do. Getting all the details perfected so no one could tell the difference though? That was easier said than done.

Retrieving the original painting from its place outside, along with the others as the sun had finally gone down, Eren brought them all into the studio with him. Propping up the original piece by his side, Eren began to tedious process of creating his first, and last, duplicate piece.  Each stroke had to be more precise than the last. In the beginning, he’d not worried so much about doing things a certain way, only his way, but now there was pressure to replicate every single mark in the exact order or someone would be able to tell things were amiss. If the first piece had taken over seven hours, there was no telling how long the duplicate would take.

Apparently, the duplicate would take more than double the work of the first. His time had been ravenously consumed by tending to the garden, bathing, eating, preparing tea, and the various things around the house. There hadn’t been much time to get back into the studio, but at least he had. Minutes before the sun would beginning sinking in the sky, Eren finished the piece. Of course, Levi was no fool and he couldn’t put out a completely wet painting on the drying rack for him to see. Instead, he carefully took a paintbrush, dabbed it in some water, and lightly lined the dry edge of the painting and some inside the center. Giving it a glossy, wet, shining surface would ensure that Levi believed it to be still drying. It was the perfect distraction; the perfect lie.

As Levi’s knock rapped at the door, Eren swiftly crossed the room and opened the door to his beautiful form “Good evening, Eren.” Stunned by the attire, Eren stood momentarily frozen by the aura wafting off Levi’s skin. Daishō on his hip, strong gaze, dignified, commanding presence overwhelming his typical placidity; Eren could plainly see the change in his demeanor that his work demanded of him. Still, there was something dangerously inviting about it all. Chuckling warmly, Levi teased “Are you going to stare all night?”

“Forgive me, you look nice is all. Good evening, Levi,” Eren replied as he welcomed him inside “you’re just on time to help me check on the painting. Follow me, if you would please.” Leading the way out to the back of the property, Eren guided Levi out to the drying rack where he’d lain the duplicate painting mere seconds ago. Gathering it up carefully, Eren tilted the painting in the warm glow of the setting sun. Wet sheen of the hydrated paint gleaming quite obviously, Eren turned to Levi “Still not dry I’m afraid. Sorry you came out all this way for nothing.”

“Getting to see you again isn’t nothing,” Levi remarked with a wolfish grin “so that’s alright. Have you eaten yet?”

Shaking his head, Eren answered with a huff “Uh, not yet, but I’ve been busy. I have other stuff to do now. I need to bathe and---”

“Sounds like you need to eat something then,” Levi answered as he cut off his string of thoughts “so, show me to the kitchen.” Gesturing down the short hall on the opposite side of the house, Eren showed him to the humble little kitchen. With some help from models and neighbors he’d been able to learn some things, but he preferred to just eat whenever he remembered to. There was more time in a day to get paintings done in his mind when he forgot, but he did actually make the effort to eat. At least with Levi around maybe he’d just forget a little more; especially if he was going to volunteer to cook for him. A simple gesture so sweet was more than enough to justify his duplicate painting.

Some steamed dumplings later, Eren was stuffed and offered to make some tea for Levi. Watching as he quickly spat it back into the cup had Eren grimacing. He couldn’t make tea to the best ability, but at least he was learning! Offering to teach him a little more, Levi made him watch as he began all over again. Beginning with a larger, lukewarm cup, Levi began to add more leaves and decrease the size of the cup the longer the tea heated. Allowing the first to cleanse the palate, Levi carefully constructed the cups to gradually build on the flavor profile of the teas. In all his years drinking tea, he’d never remembered tea as delicious as what Levi served him.

He’d decided to enjoy the time with Levi he had instead of skipping out early to the hotspring. The dark of the night didn’t matter to him, for as far as he was concerned the pale light of the full moon would be more than enough. Each minute spent with Levi, enjoying learning of the things he did in his free time aside from train, learning how the city worked through its politics, it was all fascinating. Nothing was more interesting than learning about the place he lived and the man who’d make him swoon with a single bat of his long lashes. Catching a rare glimpse of a pearly smile as he spoke of his family was potentially the best part of sitting there and listening to him talk before he’d left to return to work. If every night was going to be as splendorous, how long would it last? How long could he draw it out and make it last?

A delight of spending a night with Levi sitting atop the grassy knoll as he painted, a comfortable silence falling over them, came on the second night. Painting a starry night sky with Levi at his side, humming what seemed to be a melodic lullaby, the night passed in a serene type of bliss he’d never experienced with someone. Being so comfortable around someone to completely zone out and forget his setting wasn’t exactly that he could do around just anyone. How odd that it came with Levi despite only knowing him for such a short amount of time. Something about the man set an ease in his bones yet caused a frantic stir in his chest.

Catching his smoldering stares, hauntingly beautiful eyes meeting his own as Levi’s pale lips curled in a dangerous smile before capturing a stolen kiss from his lips. Too fleetingly did their time pass together on the nights they held; only an hour was theirs before Levi was vanishing to head home. It felt as though it were a cruel tease of time. Dangling something that he could barely have in front of him and only allowing such a small amount of time to have with him. When would there be a time when he could have more than just the scarce hour? Could he even venture to ask that of Levi? Would there be a line drawn between them? Only time would tell.

By the sixth day, Eren knew that he couldn’t keep holding up the charade that the painting wasn’t dry. It never took longer than that for it to dry, and it wasn’t about to start. He’d enjoyed every moment that he’d spent with Levi, but he knew it couldn’t last any longer unless he’d asked it to. Luckily, when Levi would return to him he’d have a plan. Their time spent together provided some of the best inspiration he’d had in quite a while. Vigor pranced from the tip of his brush and roared to life in his paint. Levi was better for Eren than he’d imagined, so it had to last no matter what he had to do for it to.

At the knock on the door, Eren rushed to open it “Hey.”

Levi smirked “Hey.”

“It’s still not dry,” Eren shrugged “but--”

“No way,” Levi answered.

Finishing, Eren took a hold of his hand “But it should be dry in a little bit. Just allow it some finishing touches. Are you tired? You look tired tonight. I can make some tea.” He’d noted the darkening circles beneath Levi’s eyes and the dullness of his skin when he’d opened the door. It looked as thought he’d not slept in some time, or hadn’t had an easy go of sleeping.

Levi flashed him a gentle half smile “Tea would be lovely.” Eren motioned for him to sit before he walked off to the kitchen to begin. Recalling exactly how Levi made his tea, Eren had thankfully been practising. Placing each delicate cup atop the tray along with his kettle, Eren carried it out and sat it carefully in front of Levi. While pouring it, Eren wondered when he should make the move knowing the rouse was well over. Levi was a bright man and he wondered just how long it’d take him to catch on.

Offering out a cup, Eren inquired “How was work?”

Taking the first approving sip, Levi hummed “Mmm, thank you. The best tea server is making it better, but I was just busy is all. Crimes seem to be more prevalent lately. I don’t know how to help stop it.”

“I see,” Eren began sweetly “I can’t claim to know much about that, but I can say that as long as there are people alive some of them will be criminals. Some take the easy route to life and turn on their people, but others are created from strife and suffering. Without anything else, nowhere to turn, and no way to live otherwise, some people will turn to crime. If you want to cut down on what crime you can then I say you start by preventing what causes would turn people to such means of providing for themselves or their families.”

“How astute of you,” Levi countered as he took another sip of tea. “That’s an interesting idea. What would you say are the causes that turn good people into criminals?”

Answering honestly, Eren replied “Starvation, disease, the desperate will to protect and provide for family, the loss of everything someone has--- so, I guess war is a good starting point. It causes such suffering. Often it’s the disease and famine, the blight, the destruction of home and fields that kills more people than the fighting. While those actively fighting die, war makes sure it misses no one.” For a moment, Levi’s eyes widened owlishly as he blinked back his surprise. The next thing Eren had noticed? Levi’s hand had fallen to the hilt of his katana, fingers curled around it tightly.

“You make a good point, Eren, but I lack the power to stop a war. The rest I can help ease a bit. Thank you. I feel immensely better,” Levi smiled slightly as he dropped his hand from his sword.

Returning the smile, Eren snickered “Oh yeah? Glad to hear it. Here, you should rest a bit.” Pouring him another cup of tea, Eren waited until he was sipping it before slipping around behind him. Hands smoothing the fabric of his azure and charcoal kosode over his back, Eren slowly made his way back up to his shoulders. Massaging his shoulders after a rough day surely would help him relax and unwind a bit.

“Mmm,” Levi hummed as his eyes closed “a man could get used to this. Too bad you don’t work in a parlor; I’d be your best customer. Actually….I’m glad that you don’t on a second thought, so I can have you all to myself.”

“Greedy boy,” Eren purred.

Levi shrugged before responding flatly “Never claimed not to be.”

“For what it’s worth,” Eren offered with a flirty lilt “even if I did work in a parlor I’d save a trick or two for you.”

A laugh escaped Levi’s lips “Haha, the thought is appreciated. You don’t strike me as the subservient type though.”

Thinking back to his previous life, Eren responded quickly “I’m not. If I was I wouldn’t have shoved those Kensha assoles right outta my house.”

“No, you wouldn’t have, you’re right,” Levi answered swiftly before asking “but what are you truly like, Eren, when no one is watching?”

Pausing for a moment, thinking of how he’d been described, Eren gave him honesty “I’m bossy, loud, friendly, and cynical. I try to be an optimist but fail. I try to hide my worst qualities from people, but when I’m alone things are different. I’m reserved, crafty, and patient, I enjoy my solitude but find myself pining after the slightest human touch, but what would people say about you versus what’s true?”

“That I’m ruthless, demonic at times, a killer, a cause for babes to be held tighter to their mothers, that I’m cold, apathetic, violent, selfish, and cruel. What’s true? Most of it I’d venture,” Levi answered with a slight huff.

“Would your friends say that?” Eren posed as if that’d somehow change what Levi had just said about himself.

“Probably be the first ones to say it,” Levi answered “but it doesn’t bother me. Who I have to be for work and who I am when I’m alone are different. I enjoy reading, learning, bettering myself. I’m not someone who swings a sword around without a brain in my skull. I’m calculating and methodical. I am leader, and at times I have to be ruthless, so I’m not worried about other people’s impressions of me. There are far more important things in life than someone else’s perceptions.”

Gathering that he’d heard those things all too often, Eren placed a hand on his arm “I can’t say that I don’t a feel a difference when you walk in here with your presence thick with authority, nearly stifling with a chill in your eyes that makes my blood run cold. That doesn’t mean that I don’t know the man beneath it. You are more than your position, so don’t let it change this man whose shoulders I massage, whose eyes focus on me when you think I can’t notice, and whose lips I gladly kiss.”

“And it is greatly appreciated that you notice and understand who I truly am. My line between business and pleasure don’t blur, so there are to be no worries to wrinkle that pretty face, hmm?” Shifting, Levi turned to face him as he placed a hand on his cheek “Isn’t it time for you to go to bed though? Have you eaten tonight?”

Eren leaned into the gentle touch “I have and it is.”

“Then I should be on my way,” Levi began before his voice silkened and his hand dropped to Eren’s throat “but, first, may I ask something of you?”

“Of course,” Eren nodded.

“May I kiss you?” Levi questioned as his lips curled in a predatory smile. There was something smug about it as he waited before acting. Holding the lecherous gaze, Eren found himself weak to his teasing ways. No one had ever teased the heir, but Levi didn’t know that.

As Levi thumbed over his collarbone, Eren gave a slightly delirious nod “Uh….yeah.” Laughing before seizing his lips, Eren could feel the smile on his lips before it faded. Closing his eyes and giving everything into the kiss, Eren found himself overwhelmed by the fervor in the passionate embrace. Levi was pushing so much into one kiss, as if it’d be the last he’d ever have. Deepening the fiery kiss stole his breath, but if being kissed breathless by Levi was his goodnight then he never wanted to go to bed. Levi’s ferocity was beginning to show as he’d let his mind slip away in favor to sink into the feeling of Levi’s lips on his own. Hand on his chest pushing him to the ground as he crawled into his lap, Levi urged Eren to give more.

Husky, honeyed voice ringing in his ear, Levi broke the kiss and whispered against his skin “Tell me, Eren, do you come from a place where an intimate relationship between two men was acceptable?”

Fighting the mewl in his throat as Levi’s lips pressed a kiss to his throat, Eren replied in a strangled pant “Yes.”

“Good,” he breathed before scraping his teeth across Eren’s skin “then do you know what I want you to do?”

Hands hesitantly finding their place on Levi’s waist, Eren whimpered “No.”

“I want you to know something,” Levi began through his lowly trailing kisses “here, it’s not something looked down upon and it is actually quite common among swordsman. Don’t let another man touch you, Eren, or I’ll gut him where he stands. Understand?” It was then Eren’s mind recognized the growling rumble in Levi’s words. He was the jealousy in him forcing a warning of sorts? No. That wasn’t how this was about to go.

Eren scoffed “I understand, but I refuse. You may be a higher station than me, but I am not your property to mark and direct. You do not tell me what to do, Levi, so do not mistake my weakness to your touch for mindless complacence.”

“Feisty,” Levi growled “but what if I rephrase the question? I want you to myself, Eren, and I don’t want anyone else with you.”

Confused, Eren turned his head to meet Levi’s eyes “Uh, does that mean you intend to pursue something romantic in nature with me?”

Steely eyes rolled back as Levi kissed him “Yes, I do, so I’ll ask you again. Will you keep my company in lieu of another man’s?” For a moment, Eren had to wonder if Levi had been reading him so easily. He didn’t entirely know if pursuing anything with Levi was a good idea, but he certainly wasn’t going to be spending time with another male consort. Every part of him wanted to be with Levi and take what he could get in such a cruel world, but hiding something so monumental from him could get him into a lot of danger.

“Okay, then I agree, so long as it holds true for yourself as well,” Eren hummed as he wrapped his arms around his waist.

“I promise,” Levi huskily answered before moving to capture his lips. Losing himself in the radiant heat of Levi’s passion, Eren let Levi control their hurried actions. With his hands roaming down Levi’s back, Eren wasn’t giving a care to the world so long as he could gorge himself on Levi’s taste. Things moved quickly between them, wasting no time in Eren slipping his hand up Levi’s thigh or Levi dropping his hand to Eren’s obi. It suddenly struck him then, when he felt the tug on the fabric. If Levi removed that he’d see his tattoo! Bolting upright didn’t seem a right move to make.

As Eren broke the kiss, he laid his hand atop Levi’s at his obi. A silence fell over them and that was the only clue that Levi needed to cease his actions. Considered a man of honor, Levi lifted Eren’s hand and pressed a soft kiss to his palm before crawling out of his lap. Once Eren sat up and tied his obi back carefully, so as to not show any piece of his tattoo, he carefully led Levi back to the front door. Much to his surprise Levi stated his intent to return the next night for his painting. He swiftly placed a kiss to Eren’s head and turned on his heels to leave.

What a conundrum he’d nearly gotten himself into. How was he thinking that he could get away with anything physical when it came to Levi? Or anyone? It’d have to be completely black in a room, devoid of any ounce of light, in order to let himself be swept away in a whirlwind night of romance. Taking someone for himself was new and strange, but he wanted to give into the desire clawing its way through him whenever those steely eyes regarded him so heavenly. He was always told that if he had to keep a secret he should tell no one, but if he had to have a second best route; tell only one other. Part of him wished he hadn’t denied Levi so quickly, but he didn’t think he could trust him to be his second best option just yet.

Before bed he headed out to the hot spring where he could relax in the steam and warmth of the night around him. It helped him to sleep, but it was perhaps also a bit of bliss creeping into him. It seemed to continue even when he awoke after a rather restful night. Though he seemed to be spry with energy and able to do every chore he needed to, there was nothing flowing creatively. Not a drop of paint found its way onto a canvas. Without a flow of his creative spout, Eren figured it best to tend to the garden and go out to help some of his neighbors with harvesting. The older women graciously accepted his help, and since they were always helping him it was nice to finally be able to return the favor a bit after a couple months.

When the sky began to darken and the sun began to set Eren bid them farewell and headed home. Making some tea was all that he needed for the day, because his elders had decided he needed to eat more. Getting so full he only wanted to lie and down sleep after some work sounded more like the life of a fat house cat and not that of an artist. Oh well, he couldn’t help much of anything it seemed. A wave of regret fell over him as he looked longingly to the studio. He’d wanted to find something to paint, anything really, but nothing seemed to strike him as it typically did.

Interrupting his thoughts, a knock sounded at the door. Of course, he knew exactly who was coming over. Placing the tea on a tray in the center of the room, Eren got to his feet and went to open the door for Levi. Wearing a breathtaking merlot kosode, Levi’s arm rested just inside it as the other stayed at his side. For some reason the wide smile on his face was almost uncharacteristic, but the same could likely be said about his frown.

Hand reaching out for his cheek, Levi cooed “What’s wrong, Eren? You seem down. Should I come back another time?”

“No,” Eren answered “I’d like you here. Come inside, I’ll pour you some tea.” Leading him inside as always, Eren led him over to the tea and poured him a cup. Levi took a testing sip and it was met with an enthusiastic smile.

Patting his lap as he folded his legs beneath him, Levi sighed “Come. Tell me what is keeping my artist wearing such a dour expression.”

Getting comfortable, Eren laid down and gently rested his head in Levi’s lap “I’ve not been able to paint today. I just sat there, in the studio, for hours and nothing. I suppose a block is normal, but I feel worthless when nothing flows. Despair tugs at my chest, and I feel as though I should be trying even at this very moment. There is so much beauty I could capture, but nothing is flowing.”

Calmly raking his fingers through Eren’s hair, Levi hummed “Why don’t you just let yourself relax? You’re not worthless for a momentary lapse in inspiration, so just take a break. Maybe there’s so much going on that your brain simply doesn’t know where to begin with it all. Let yourself have a day off without overthinking it, hmm? What are your plans tomorrow?”

“Maybe you’re right,” Eren sighed “and tomorrow I’ve got to go to market. There’s a stack of paintings just waiting to be sold.”

“Well, then it sounds like you need to be well rested and not staying up all night possessed by whatever painting demon infiltrates you when in that trance of yours,” Levi chuckled. “What do you want to do tonight?”

Taking a hint from Levi’s words, Eren turned to bury his face in Levi’s stomach “Lay here and enjoy the night.”

Skimming his fingertips down his nape, Levi nodded “You can stay to your heart’s content.’

“Only until you have to leave,” Eren corrected with a pout “and then I have to sleep.”

“If you’d like,” Levi proposed “then I can stay until you fall asleep.”

Glancing up to him, a glimmer dancing like twilight stars in his eyes, Eren smiled “Really? How sweet of you. Let me go change.” Levi sat back and waited for Eren to get to his feet before doing the same. Eren went ahead to his bedroom to change into something thinner for bed. As the gentleman he was, Levi waited until he was waved inside. A devious smile curled Levi’s lips as he regarded Eren in the mesmerizing forest green kosode. Fingertips reaching out towards the sleeve, Levi rubbed the satiny material between his fingers.

“Fine silk,” Levi remarked “this is amazing quality.”

Clearing his throat, Eren nodded “It was a gift. I’ve had some people offer services or even gifts in return for my paintings.”

“Hell of a trade,” Levi spoke quietly as he slipped his arm around Eren “now then, let’s get to bed, shall we?”

While he arranged their bedding, Eren cast his eyes to Levi as he untied his daishō “Are you sure you should be taking those off?”

“I don’t think I’m gonna get attacked,” Levi reasoned before carefully laying down his weapons “at least not with deadly intent.”

At Levi’s flirty wink, Eren rolled his eyes playfully “Mhmm.”

“Even if it were the case,” Levi added “I’ve a dagger hidden, and I’m a lot faster than I may appear to be.”

“All that training, I suppose?” Eren posed as he laid down.”

Climbing in beside him, Levi nodded “Instinct and training; without one the other is useless. Now, rest.”

“Okay,” Eren mumbled as he lay against Levi. Why was it so difficult to get comfortable? Laying against him before hadn’t been a problem, but now it felt as though the second he closed his eyes his heart wouldn’t calm itself. Frantically racing in his chest, Eren’s heart beat as if he’d just run the city’s streets. He attempted to calm it by laying his head on Levi’s chest, but he was met with something far more interesting. Being able to hear Levi’s heart beating like a caged animal soothed him. At least it wasn’t just him.

“What’s wrong,” Levi hummed quietly “can’t sleep?”

Averting his gaze and turning away, Eren answered “N-No, it’s not that. I’ll be fine.”

Refusing to accept that as an answer, Levi placed a hand on his cheek “Tell me.”

“Nervous,” he finally managed “my heart feels like it’s in my throat.”

Sighing, Levi understood “Ah, I see, perhaps it wasn’t a good idea t--”

“No, that’s why I didn’t say it,” Eren interrupted “because I also feel safe and content, but you’re so close.”

“Close enough to do this?” Levi snickered before stealing a half kiss. In the pitch black of the room, making out where his lips were was momentarily difficult. Kissing the corner of his mouth wasn’t the best, but the second kiss landed on its mark.

Backing up, Eren snickered as Levi had missed “Haha, yeah, that.”

Proposing a decent plan, Levi kissed him again “Then how about we get it outta your system, yeah?” Ready, able, and more than willing, Eren gladly took him up on the offer to both extinguish the lingering tension and express a bit of longing. Languidly kissing Levi, taking a pleasure in their lazy actions while in bed settled his racing mind and allowed him some comfort afterwards. Levi wrapped around him, breath warm on his skin, as he found himself drifting off. Part of him wondered if Levi would let himself out, but judging by the sounds of rattling and stumbling around when he woke up halfway through the night. Of course Levi didn’t completely know his way through the house, so stumbling around was typical. Eventually he ignored the noises and fell back into a comfortable sleep.

Chapter Text

When he awoke the next morning, Eren found himself ready to begin the day. He got up, got dressed, made some tea, and began to get his paintings ready for the market. Unfortunately, he noticed a note on the table top in the front room.

 

 

Eren,

Forgive me for using your things and for the purpose of this letter. I’m afraid I’ve been called for important things, and I must be going. I’m not going to be able to stop by for a while, so please don’t wait up. Get some sleep and remember to eat.

~L

After reading the hastily scrawled note, Eren began to wonder what exactly he’d been called to do. Something had to be incredibly important for Levi to just stop coming by. Whatever it was had to be important, so he wished him well and collected his things. Being at market all day would hopefully let his mind concentrate on selling his wares or maybe he’d be able to find something to paint. Along his walk things felt relatively normal, like nothing had happened, but once he was in the heart of the city that began to change. There were whispers and rumors floating on the wind, being carried ear to ear to anyone who was listening. Uneasiness settled into his bones as he heard that the city’s leaders headed out to the next city over, leaving some of the people worried about bandits and thieves.

It wasn’t an odd concern to hear on the streets, but it was one that gave him cause for worry. If Levi and other members of the city’s council had gone out on a diplomatic mission, following the ranks even of some Kensha patrol units, then it certainly meant there was a storm brewing somewhere close. There was no reason for the city officials and special police force to be leaving under the guise of something simple; he knew better than to believe it was just something simple. From everything he knew, Eren concluded that the only thing this was about was the war. Nothing else would have made sense, and giving criminals the run of the land while they were gone seemed like something Levi had been worried about. Knowing those who kept them in line were gone, criminals would be popping up like rabbits out of their spring grasses.

For some, it was no doubt going to cause trouble, but Eren could handle himself and tossed caution to the wind. His paintings moved, but they moved a bit slower which was likely due to the amount of concern from citizens. While back at market he was welcomed by some friends and those he routinely sold alongside of. Various questions came his way of where he’d been and how he’d been doing to which he responded he had to stock up on some paintings and got carried away with a new romance. Romance with an artist seemed to spark something in their curiosity, so he gladly gave them some details of how they’d done nothing but lie together and enjoy one another’s warmth after the sun went down or how he’d been allowed to paint at his side while he was serenaded with a beautiful, peaceful, lullaby.

Some of the women swooned at the thought, but he was laughing at how if they only knew they’d change their minds. Thankfully, just having some enjoyable conversation of love and romance stoked his creative fire, and once he’d sold some of his paintings he was headed home early to paint. Getting lost once again in his studio as hours passed was renewing his soul. All he wanted to do was paint the emotion in his chest and the despair in his mind. Creating something truly magnificent from a broken mind or something tragically beautiful was his calling card. So much had happened to him already that painting was his outlet, and when the passion in him roared to life there was no stopping it.

For days he sat in his studio painting constantly between small breaks. There were so many ideas running rampant through his head that he had troubles figuring out where to begin. Eventually, however, he placed a small dent into the paintings, but he also had commissions to tackle. Household chores that needed to be completed were done in spurts when he finished a painting, but painting seemed to be done in lieu of household chores. Some things in Eren’s mind took priority over many others, but that was what happened once he found a groove to settle into. It didn’t matter to him when it happened, as he had many things to get done and didn’t have time to waste on tedious things.

When the time came to call it a night he often found himself staring at Levi’s painting he had yet to collect. Staring up at it, he found himself missing him more and more. The look in his eyes, the feeling of his lips on his own, the way his words shook him with a new thoughts, just the feeling of Levi’s body beside his own; he missed it all. In the chaotic world they were in, finding something and clinging to it with everything they had was the only way to keep someone. Giving him something to believe in and couldn’t ignore no matter how hard he tried, the world had given him Levi and there wasn’t any way that he could give him up. He needed to find out what was going on, and he wasn’t going to settle for nothing.

On his way back to market, four days later, he was warned by his neighbors to be careful. News of bandits robbing people on their way home as it got dark began to spread not unlike a malicious wildfire carried on by a single ember.  He’d heard no news of Levi on the prevailing gossip winds which began to worry him a bit. There’d been no news of the city officials return either. What exactly was going on he didn’t know, but he wanted to find out. Putting his ear to the ground wasn’t as easy as he’d assumed it’d be, but while at market he knew that he could count on hearing some things from passersby. Little things that made ripples in larger ponds were exactly the bits of information he needed, and it seemed that the only place to find those bits weren’t on the street.

By selling more paintings he’d stayed out longer but managed to gather more than money. Knowing to visit a couple of tea shops to get more information, Eren made sure to sit and enjoy a cup of tea and some snacks while he let the evening draw to a close. Most of the things he learned were useless; just old biddies clucking about new flavors of tea, new kimonos and kosodes, their daughter’s marriage to a prominent merchant, the fact it was almost time to break out yukata for a festival, and pointless other bits of chatter. It was only when he stopped in the tea shop he favored and frequented most often did he hear something that stopped him from his next sip of tea.

“They say the patrol lost a couple men,” a patron informed her friend quietly beneath her breath . “Apparently there was an attack while they were on their way back. A couple showed back up through the city gates with deep gashes and blood pouring profusely. Their uniforms were so stained my sister had a time getting them out.” Immediately Eren dropped his tea cup. Among the chatter the ringing of his cup clattering against the table barely drew any attention. The spilled tea rushed over the edge of the table and onto both himself and the floor. He didn’t give a rat’s ass about the tea. Levi could be hurt! Of course, he could take care of himself, but that didn’t stop him from worrying. They were back in the city and he’d not heard from him! It only figured that Levi would make Eren his first priority when he came back unless he’d been injured.

As a woman approached him to help clean up the mess, Eren profusely apologized and left in hurry. Without thinking Eren began to rush back to his home. His mind raced with possibilities after hearing news like that. He knew that putting stock into gossip wasn’t exactly the best thing to do, but goddammit it involved Levi! He had to get back home and see if there would be a find Levi. Only knowing he worked for the city didn’t give him much hope on finding him, but he could arrange his thoughts once he was home. There was no time to waste lollygagging around the city streets.

“Lookie who it is, boys!” Came a slurred, tumultuous voice from the corner. Stiffening his posture, Eren paused in his step as the man walked out from the shadows. Along with three other, judging from the acrid stench, drunk men brandishing short swords. Taking on three drunk idiots wielding weapons was stupid even for him, but he knew that there was no way out of it if he did. God, why wasn’t the rumor that the officials were back spreading!? Apparently, the wolves did manage to cull the criminals at least to a small extent.

Sneering, Eren lifted his chin “Tch, you all are seriously daft. Didn’t you learn your lesson in the last tussle? Your leader is gone, so why don’t you scatter like the roaches you are?”

“He ain’t nowhere, sweetheart, but right here!” Shouted one of the men to his left. “That was a distraction. I don’t come outta my spot for no reason, but I hear you gave ma’ boys some trouble. Thought I’d settle the score myself.”

Refusing to give any inch in his placement as they encroached on his space, Eren spat “Ha! So, you've come to take on an artist? How kind. Honored. Touched. Really. But, you know, I don’t like four on one. I’d not be averse to two, but this is just overkill.”

“You’re about to see overkill, artist, hand over y---”

Before the man could finish his sentence, a low growl rumbed “Drop your swords, or I’ll kill you where you stand.” Rolling his eyes might have been instinct as he noticed the haori flowing behind the Kensha standing behind the bandits. How many times was he going to have his ass saved by those assholes? Not like he didn’t appreciate it, but if they’d not confiscated his blade he could have handled the situation himself. With the city noises he wasn’t entirely sure he knew this one. He couldn’t make out the voice at all over everything, but it was only in the next instance that Eren’s eyes blew wide. He’d never seen a technique strike fear into men quite as the Kensha in front of him had.

Blade of his sword parallel to the ground, stance firm, and head lifting, the Kensha examined the bandits and laughed. Nearly trembling in the wake of the Kensha, the bandits began to clamor for an easy exit even if it meant going through Eren. Lip curled in a snarl, Eren easily lashed out with a fist as a man attempted to flee in his direction.

After the man had them all at the point of his blade and backed to a wall did he turn to Eren “Are you alright, Eren?” Gut twisting as he made out cruel, cold blue eyes and the striking angles of Levi’s porcelain face, Eren’s expression twisted in disgust. He wasn’t just a city official; Levi was one of them! How dare he lie to him! Of course he couldn’t trust a demon of the war! How dense had he been to feel attachment to a man made for spilling blood of hundreds of innocents?! Air ripped itself from his chest, and it was all he could do to not turn and storm off as hurricanes of malicious thoughts swirled through his head. Everything he knew was a lie. What about him was even true? Why would he do that to him?! How he could he take all the trust he'd been building up and crumble it like dust? Why would he let him believe so much only to turn out to be the exact thing he hated?

Finding his voice, Eren cleared his throat “Yeah, uh, I’m fine.”

“This is not how I intended to let you know, but please come with me back to my headquarters. I will explain then, and I need to bring these men with us,” Levi stated flatly, words completely devoid of any emotion. Nothing betrayed him as he stood there, headguard tied and haori dusting his ankles. He looked so imposing despite his height. It was then he saw it again; the rust of blood and war in his eyes.

Gesturing towards the men, Eren huffed “There are four of them and two of us.”

Levi removed a section of rope cord from around his waist “Then tie them together.”

“Oh yeah?” Eren snarked as he let the cord hit the ground. “Why don’t you do it your-fucking-self. I suppose a man like you can manage.”

“Now is not the time for a pissing contest!” Levi barked in demand. “Do as I say. Now.”

Feeling the true nature rising off Levi’s skin, Eren stared blankly “Are you ordering me?”

“Yes, I am,” he replied sternly.

Eren bent to pick up the rope and sighed “Fine.” Doing as instructed by a member of the city’s police force, Eren dutifully tied the hands of the bandits as they’d dropped their weapons. Knotting the rope by interweaving it between each bond of the man’s hands, Eren ensured that they could easily be led by one man. For some reason Levi decided to collect the weapons himself, letting Eren not even stare at them for longer than it took to gather them. What really began to make him wonder was why the men didn’t completely scatter in an attempt to flee like last time. Only man, the leader, had been dumb enough to rush Eren in attempt to flee, but something struck Eren as odd about the behavior. In the back of his mind he chalked it up to the fact that they got the real man behind it all and laid down their arms once he’d been caught.

While Levi led the way Eren’s eyes focused solely on his back. Dressed in his uniform only forced the reality of it all to sink in. He’d not even cared about winding through the streets to get to the compound. Before he’d looked around to see the various buildings on the grounds passed the gate, the lanterns lit with a peaceful glow, each of the soldiers walking by, but he could only notice Levi. Watching as he handed off the men to someone at the front of the main building just as Captain Bodt had done, Eren thoughtlessly followed Levi into the hall. Around him were various men donning the same uniform, but he’d noticed the commander again. A man of station with such presence was difficult to miss, but it was all spinning around him so quickly.

At first it had seemed as though time slowed to a near halt when he’d seen Levi’s face, but once they stepped over the compound’s threshold time sped up. Everything around him was dizzying. He no longer knew what was up or down. There were men talking amongst themselves and someone was giving a report, but he hadn’t even managed to pay attention to the first half of it. Only when the man, Erwin, he recalled, spoke did he snap from his hypnotic trance.

A broad, welcoming smile curved the man’s lips “Ah, Levi, you’re back….with a guest. How’d it work?”

“Brilliantly,” Levi replied proudly “I knew the rumor that we’d ridden out would spread and they’d come out of their hovels. It’s far too easy to spread rumors in this city when you just send out a couple men on horseback with a foot patrol unit.”

“Guessing he was a target though?” Erwin gestured to Eren. “That was right on the money.”

Levi shrugged “Once is easy enough to dismiss, but knowing they were watching him made it easier.”

“Well, great work as always,” Erwin commended before addressing the some 13 men gathered in the hall “anyone else have anything to report?”

“No, sir,” came the echoing unison reply.

“Dismissed!” He bellowed as the men began to bow before flooding out. Shifting his gaze to Levi, Erwin sighed “Have you told him yet?”

Levi shook his head “About to.”

“Tell me what?!!” Eren shouted, voice bouncing off the walls as his eyes narrowed harshly towards Levi. “What the fuck is going on here?!”

Before beginning, Levi’s eyes softened as he took a deep breath “Eren, my name is Levi Ackerman. I’m the Vice-Commander of the Kensha forces. It was my job to find out your true intent and if you posed either myself or my men any harm.”

Floored, Eren put some space between them as he backed up “What?! Y--You’re….That’s it. I’m leaving. I refuse to acknowledge this right now.”

Just as he turned, Levi reached out for his wrist “Eren, please. Leave when I finish at least.”

“Why?” Eren snarled as he jerked his arm free of the touch. “I don’t really give a shit about who you are.”

At the venom in his words, Levi shook his head “What was it that you said, Eren, huh? That I’m not my job?”

Eren scoffed “A job is something you do to support yourself, Levi, but this? No. This is a sick fucking hobby to fuel your own ego. You’re just another war monger hoping to win this senseless war of two stubborn bastards deadlocked in a dick measuring contest. You’re sending people to die for what? For this man's ego?! It’s not a job.”

“What would you have me do?!” Levi shouted as his control snapped. “In this life you have to find something worth living for, because in the blink of an eye it can be taken from you. Having something to live for gives you something to fight for, to protect no matter the cost, or to even die for. I’m trying to ensure a better future for what I fight for. I fight to protect my people, to prevent this from happening again, and if I have to shed blood then you had better understand I will shed so much that I may form an ocean in my wake. If it is required of me then so be it. No one was forced here, no one was conscripted, and everyone here joined on their own terms. They joined us because they’re like minded individuals. You do not have to agree with me or my methods, Eren, but I am not standing here because I like war. I’m here because I will not back down from protecting my beliefs. I want to stop this from happening again, and so I fight.”

“You sound like you’re so convinced that a militant leader fighting for more power will cease war. Nothing will ever get done like this,” Eren retorted after holding his ground in the wake of Levi’s momentary composure break.

“And nothing will be accomplished by spitting romantic ideals and sitting on your hands or by running away and pretending that it doesn’t exist. At least I sleep well knowing the sacrifices I make will not be in vain, and that I’ve kept my head out of the sand,” Levi snapped back with a jab at Eren’s reluctance to pick sides.

Eren threw up his hands as he shook his head “Nothing more will come from leaders who fail to see the root of the problem! Both sides are just as blinded and corrupted by their desire for power. Their views are clouded. If what you want is peace and safety, a military rule isn’t the way to go about it. For the imperialists who seek change and peace from an emperor scorned who does nothing for his people and will do nothing but pass off problems to the nearest advisor; they’re blinded by old loyalty. To simply state it, both leaders are completely inept, but the wishes of the people aren’t. Find a leader who can see the merits in both sides and finds a way to combine them, and then, if you must, take up arms in support. As it sits now - we’ll all lose. You’ll never achieve your goals this way. Levi, your methods are cruel, tactless, and callous but, unfortunately, effective. I cannot forgive your actions so, whatever drivel you were about to spew about using me, save it. Goodbye Le--Excuse me, Vice Commander.” With a slight bow, Eren sneered and headed for the door. Levi’s hand reached out to him, but he shook it off and stormed out of the compound. He didn’t truly know which was he was going, but he knew that he’d eventually find his way out of the godforsaken place.

As Levi sighed, furrow between his brows sinking deeper, Erwin placed a hand atop his shoulder “That was cold of him even by your standards. Did you truly compromise yourself? Did you fall for him?”

“Maybe?” He groaned. “I can’t be sure. I don’t trust him at all. I know that he’s hiding something. His stories don’t check out, no one can corroborate what he’s told me, and he’s too well trained to be a commoner. Erwin, Marco watched him draw a blade will skill and stance; we know nothing about him, and his education is as high class as his kosode. The connections can’t be found because Eren Hawkyns doesn’t exist, sir.”

“Then your mission isn’t over,” Erwin announced. “Get him to accept you as you are, find out who he really is, and we’ll go on from there. Obviously, he doesn’t like us very much, but only because we’re the Tagin’s leading forces.”

Knowing it wasn’t going to be easy, Levi declined “No, we can’t spend more time on this. Finding him out is gonna take time that we don’t have. I can’t afford to be wasting time when he’ll not let me back in so easily. There's too much around here to do!”

“Do you think anyone else could do it?” Erwin posed. “We need to know beyond the shadow of a doubt if he’s spying on us or actively working against us. We can have someone else do your paperwork and correspondences.”

“Guess I’ll go chase him down,” Levi sighed before bowing his head and walking out of the building. Hunting Eren down didn’t strike him as the safest thing in the world to do, but orders were orders. A part of him wanted to settle every doubt he had, but there was no way Eren was going to hear him out anyway. Why would Eren even believe that what they had was real? It’d never been part of the job, but it was a part that he didn’t mind. Not even after hearing the views Eren held did he mind as he slid down the slippery emotional slope. In his eyes he’d seen fear, ire, disgust, and betrayal. He needed to apologize more than anything, so he prepared himself for an explosive meeting.

 

Chapter Text

Fuming as he paced back and forth through the front room, Eren’s thoughts refused to settle themselves. Of all goddamn people to fall for?! The goddamn vice commander of the Kensha! What absolute rotten luck he had. First they wouldn’t leave him alone, and then he wound up the target of one of them all for the sake of being investigated? What threat did he pose exactly? Voicing his distaste for the war and painting propaganda didn’t exactly make him public enemy number one; at least not in his eyes. He’d sat and had conversations with Levi at length about the war and the opposing sides all while knowing that he was a supporter of the Tagin. He’d just never expected that he was a supporter in the worst way possible.

Everything began to make sense as he linked it all together. Levi’s ability to skirt his questions with the guise of being a city official wasn’t exactly wrong. A lie of omission was still a lie……but could he truly judge anyone for lying? Now, in the position he was in, Eren was just as guilty as Levi was in that aspect. In fact, he would  have ventured that he, himself, was far more guilty of lying that Levi could have ever been. He’d not forgive the man for sinking to such deplorable methods, but he could forgive him for lying about his identity. After all, Eren’s lie was far larger than Levi’s was. If Levi ever came to know it then his life would crumble around him. Perhaps it was a good thing that nothing developed further between them despite how badly he’d wished for it.

Just turning off how his heart felt at getting to see Levi again didn’t work. He could hate the man’s actions all day for a thousand eons, but he didn’t know why he couldn’t utterly abhor Levi himself. Levi stood for everything he found despicable, but he couldn’t bring himself to hate him. As far back as he could remember, there hadn’t ever been anyone like Levi in his life. He’d hardly been allowed the comfort of another person, he’d never been able to express his thoughts openly, or even himself. Maybe if there had been one person like Levi then  he wouldn’t feel so weak to his mere presence. Every bone in his body wanted to refute the attraction he still felt for him, but he knew that it was pointless to. He couldn’t help the magnetism he felt between them, he couldn’t forget that rare smile he’d seen Levi show, or how he’d lowered his guard so casually when he was with him. It all screamed real; right down to the furious pace of his heart when they’d slept next to one another. Though his brain said one thing, his heart said another and it was possibly the worst war to wage.

Part of him couldn’t believe Levi had spied on him, but the other part of him could. It was his job. Neither of them had been completely honest with one another and thus couldn’t trust each other. In the end of things, he supposed it shouldn’t have surprised him all that much. He’d known going in that things between them couldn’t be real as they felt anyway; he was concealing the fact that he was the emperor’s son while masquerading as a commoner and having a tryst with a “city official.” It was the plot of some horridly written romantic drivel. No matter which way it was spun it just didn’t ring true to begin with. Maybe he just wanted to believe that someone cared for him without his title, that someone wasn’t swayed by who he was or his power, but what if it had been the same for Levi?

He highly doubted that anyone with a shred of common sense would be able to fall for a man like Levi while knowing everything about him. Beneath it, they were both the same; fighting an animalistic urge to love and be loved in return while hiding away beneath a false sense of security and persona. To Eren, Levi had faced nearly all the same issues that he had, except for the fact that Levi had willingly chosen his path. Eren had been forced to endure a path of solitude and despair since he was born, but Levi fought for his ideals with passion and conviction despite what that may bring upon him in the process. He may not have agreed with Levi, or the way he’d done things, but a little part of him could understand why he’d taken the opportunity to enjoy himself. It wasn’t like anyone else was lining up to be with the demon of the Kensha.

At the bottom of the glass of reason, Eren found himself understanding more so of the why but little of anything else. Eren had taken his own enjoyment, but he still knew it wasn’t real….or at least it was what he tried to tell himself to make it ache a little less. There had always been whispers about Levi, but now he even understood them a little better. He’d recalled hearing things about him from the war councils, but they’d never spoken any names. Only the fact the leaders of the Kensha were formidable enemies that excelled in the bloodiest tactics. Maybe they should have mentioned something more about the brutality behind their chosen methods, but there was nothing that could be done about it now. All he had to do now was bear with it until the pain his chest dulled.

He’d been going to make tea to calm his nerves when there was a knock at the door. It was late. Who’d come knocking on his door at such an hour? Without thinking he’d gone to open the door with the coming knock before it could sound against the wood. Seeing Levi standing before him dressed as he was, Eren immediately snarled and slammed the door in his face. Just why would Levi come to him? To what, rub some salt in the festering wound he’d torn through his chest? He wasn’t ready to see him again. Not now.

“Go away,” he shouted through the door.

“Not a chance,” Levi responded with a resolve in his voice “so would you just open the door?”

“Not a chance!” Eren tossed back scathingly.

Levi thought for a moment before screaming “I’ll shout everything at the top of my lungs and embarrass us both if you do not open this door! I’m asking you, Eren, please, open the door!”

“Won’t embarrass me,” Eren huffed “so shout ‘til you’re hoarse, you…jackass!”

“Eren, please,” he pleaded softly “I don’t want to say this a door. Please.” Why was he still so weak to that soft whisper?! There was something behind that begging voice he knew that no one else would ever hear from a man like him. It was a deadly game of cat and mouse, and he knew it…but he couldn’t resist no matter the danger.

Deciding against his better judgement, Eren sighed and pulled open the door “Fine.”

“Thank you,” Levi spoke softly as he moved past Eren and into the front room.

As he shut the door, Eren snipped “What do you want?”

“I’m sorry,” he began “I want to explain a lot more than I could at headquarters.”

Rolling his eyes in a tiff, Eren huffed “Okay, try me. Don’t wanna dirty my clothes in lies before bed though, so let me sit down before I’m knocked off my feet by a tsunami of bullshit.”

Levi gradually took a seat in front of him “Okay, I deserve that, and no doubt a lot more. No matter what I’m about to say to you, Eren, I cannot deny that it’s going to be bad. I’m going to be honest, so you need to know.  I’ll begin by saying what began the entire fiasco. We got word of a spy in the city tracking our movements and supply lines.”

“So, like, reporting back when you left the city?” Eren asked, knowing full well what he was speaking of.

“Exactly,” Levi nodded “but all we knew was that the man was new in town. That’s around the time you popped up. See, we know everyone in this town, and most of them loathe us. Most of them know our faces and spit at our feet as we walk past. There are very few who even tolerate our mere presence in their shops. You, on the other hand, weren’t as quick to voice your distaste as if to not draw attention to yourself, but then you suddenly get popular. You start doing well enough for yourself and start painting propaganda, your stories didn’t check out, and then you start selling paintings, quite regularly I might add, to a imperial sympathist. We first thought that you were passing coded messages in the paintings, so when you took an interest in me after my warning I used it to my advantage to find out who you were. I’m not supposed to say this, Eren, but nothing about you checks out. Your name is fake, and I’ve known that for a while. Actually, I’ve known it since you told me. The look in your eyes was wrong….almost fearful. I searched this house myself, top to bottom, but I’ve found nothing to give away who you are or what you’re really doing here. Your skill with a blade means you’re a high station of birth, your education is high as well, and your kosode? They’re all clues that I can’t quite fit together with all these gaps. You’re hiding this previous life, Eren, and I need you to tell me about it.”

Shying away from Levi’s concerned gaze, Eren shook his head “I--.....Levi, my identity….look, I know that after all the time we spent together that you cannot fake your heartbeat. You can’t fake that look in your eyes like I couldn’t a hide a lie from you in mine. Our nights together your heart was just as frantic as mine, so I will tell you that I cannot tell you who I am. It’d put you and everyone else here in danger. It’s all I can say.”

Hesitantly reaching for his leg, Levi dropped the hand atop his skin and whispered “What have you done? I can help you if you’d just tell me.”

“I’ve done nothing,” Eren answered as he looked down at the hand on him “and I’m not lying. You gave me your truth, so I just told you all I can of mine. I owe you nothing more than this.”

“No, you don’t,” Levi sighed “but if it’s so bad then don’t say another word to me about it. I can’t do anything about it if I don’t know anything. Without proof there is only speculation, so just don’t say another word on it…..unless it’s to answer me this: what’s your real name?”

Eren finally raised his gaze to Levi’s “My name is Eren, but I can’t say anything else. Levi, I’m here to escape from my past and start over, so can you let me do that? Can you let me live the life I ran away to have?”

“Do you mean me, my men, or anyone in this city any harm?” Levi asked as he held Eren’s intent gaze.

Laughing, Eren shook his head “I think you’re absolutely moronic, but I do not intend to hurt anyone. I just want to live where I’m free to paint as a way of life.I just want to paint, Levi, I don’t care about anything else.” Words straining to free themselves from his throat, Eren fiddled with his fingers before holding Levi’s gaze "I----I want to be normal.”

“Okay, I can see that,” Levi answered gently “so I guess that does mean you weren’t very average, huh? Probably has something to do with that skill you possess with a brush. Explains the money and what not. Being hounded for your ability….at least here you can live a decently peaceful life if you so wish. I take it that you want me out of your house now?”

Before he rose to his feet, Eren placed his hand atop Levi’s “Wait. Can I ask you something?”

“Anything,” Levi replied as he lifted Eren’s hand, fingertips skimming across his knuckles.

“What’s your reason?” Eren inquired while attempting to ignore the lurch in his chest at Levi’s action. “You said you need something to live for, to fight for, to die for; what’s yours?”

“My sister, my brother, all the families in this country; I fight for everyone’s right to safety, prosperity, and happiness. We may not see eye to eye on everything, Eren, but I never said that I agree with everything the Tagin does. Of the two of them, however, I side with the Tagin. I am a warrior. It’s who I am, but I’m also an officer of the law, of the city, I am a brother, a cousin, a nephew, a teacher, a diplomat, a leader…. I fill many shoes in order to protect these people….in order to protect my people. I see my position as a place to help people, so I did not choose his side simply because he employs me. I chose it because I can do the most good here,” Levi explained carefully as a bit of pride seeped into his words. While he spoke, Eren noticed a glimmer in his eyes. Determination perhaps? Something about that look gave Eren the idea that he was more than resolved to his place in this war. Maybe if someone like Levi was leading a charge….maybe something could change. What if he could understand his motivations, his choices, his every thought? Would he be able to understand his reasoning behind his orders?

“At least you understand the horrors of what you’ll create,” Eren noted before continuing “picking him… fighting… protecting your people….yes, I almost forgot you’re nobility. You were raised for that and your station dictates that you’ll fight no matter what comes to pass. It’s expected of someone like you. Do you enjoy it?”

“Do I--” Levi’s brow furrowed deeply before he scoffed “taking someone’s life? No. God no . It’s haunting knowing what happens when you step onto the battlefield. It’s lingering guilt when you watch the light dull from someone’s eyes, someone who wasn’t chosen for this battle, but in order to achieve my goal I will spill what blood I must. If someone tries to kill me, I will cut them down where they stand and not bat an eye no matter what they believe.”

Eren frowned at the response “It’s not like that for me, Levi, ….but I’ve never been in that situation. All of it feels wrong. I’ve only seen the aftermath, but I can tell that it hurts you. I still can’t understand you….” as he trailed off, Levi tapped his hand and he sighed “but I think that I want to. I can see many side of things but a soldier--excuse me, a vice commander’s perspective is new. I’ve never been one to fight, but I have some knowledge. I am not always clear minded, but I do my best to think of all options that may be available to a scenario. I don’t know that I could fight against an innocent man and draw his blood despite what side of the field he may be on.”

Levi twined his fingers with Eren’s “Yes, I can understand. I do understand. It’s the opinion of an empathetic soul who withers when people are hurting. I’ve been raised to fight, Eren, and obviously you haven’t. You’ve not been hardened by war, by death, by the battlefield, and thus I cannot blame you for your ideals. I may believe they are a bit naive to the harshness of reality, but I do not think they’re wrong for you to have. You’ve never been instructed to kill, and you do not have to pick a side in this war. Your convictions are strong and just, but it will not accomplish anything when it comes to the ongoing war. Omelettes need broken eggs and a step forward for everyone will be winning this war. I’ve faith in it and that is all I need.”

“Then all I can ask is that you respect my opinion and I’ll try to see yours,” Eren breathed lowly “your actions, however, are vile, and I cannot see how you fail to understand how you treated me was abhorrent. You said you weren’t an actor, but I clearly see that you’re skilled in it.”

“I do!” Levi screeched unevenly. “I know that what I did was horrible, and I’m sorry, Eren. I can’t trust you completely, nor you I, but I can say that the time I spent with you was time well spent. You were right in that I can’t fake my heartbeat or fool the way my blood runs hot at just a simple kiss. I am not acting nor have I been. Gaining information during the time to use for the ensurement of the city’s collective safety? Yes. Faking imy affections? No. There is only so much that I can say in a report in front of my subordinates to my superior, but he is aware of my…situation.”

“Are you saying then,” Eren began with a smug smirk “that you genuinely care for me? Was I not just a mission? Was it not all fake? Have you compromised yourself for an untrustworthy, naive, painter?”

Levi squeezed his hand and reached out to place his other hand along Eren’s cheek “Yes, I am, and my promise to you remains intact. Does yours?”

“I don’t know,” Eren replied as he turned away from Levi’s touch “I need time to think it through, Levi. The vice commander of the Kensha forces isn’t exactly sitting at the top of my to-do list if you understand my meaning. You’re the farthest thing away from someone I would have willingly spent time with in any manner of speaking. Quite obviously, however, I can’t deny the physical attraction I have towards you, but I cannot say that I am attracted to the rest of you as that remains to be seen. I don’t know if I can be, honestly, but I’m not going to refuse you. You'll need to show me who you really are. After all, we’ve both been lying to each other.”

He nodded solemnly “I understand, and I agree. We’ve both been hiding who we truly are, and we cannot claim to know if what exists between us can continue until we truly know one another. Before I have to leave, Eren, would you mind selling me my painting? And it’s duplicate?”

Jerking back, Eren stared wide eyed as a smile curved his lips “You knew? Very good, Vice Commander. I admit that I still don’t know if what happened between us was because you have a silver tongue and know what I yearned for, or because you were being honest. I suppose you’ll just have to show me the real you and let me discover you for myself, hmm?”

“Of course I knew,” Levi snickered “you think me a failure of a vice commander? I notice everything, Eren, and I would be honored to still be allowed to visit you should you allow me to. I noticed the duplicate due to the fact that the butterfly in the duplicate isn’t as intricate and there are some slight smudges along the edges. That day you asked me to model for you? I know you followed me for a while. I pay attention to everything around me at all times.”

“What?!” Eren yelped in surprise at being caught.

A bit of a laugh escaped Levi’s lip “Hah, well, you’re not exactly stealthy, are you? You’re loud and clumsy, but only because you’ve never been trained to conceal your footsteps or slow your breathing correctly…among other things.”

“Gee, you really know how to smooth talk a guy, huh?” Eren huffed as he rolled his eyes.

“If that’s what you’d prefer instead of the tru---”

“Stop,” Eren sighed “words are nothing more than empty platitudes. If you want me to know you, Levi, then you’ll come around as often as you can to make sure I understand everything about you that you want me to. Let me go grab your paintings now.”

Getting to his feet as well, Levi followed Eren to the bedroom where he’d stored Levi’s paintings “They’re in your bedroom….that’s part of what gave it away, you know. I got up that night to search this place, and that was when I saw the two of them. Admittedly, I laughed at first. I thought it was because you wanted one to keep. Must have been my vanity, haha, but then I realized it was because I said I’d come back everyday until it was dry. You just wanted to me to come back, and no one has ever wanted to me to come back. Something about it just struck me.”

“Don’t worry, if I had known I wouldn’t have wanted you around,” Eren teased before sighing under his breath “but if you knew….you wouldn’t want me around either.” Stepping past the threshold of the bedroom, Eren turned on his heels “I just wanted to get to know you, Levi, just like I still do. I want to know how you think, how you feel, and what makes you, you. So, do make sure you come back, okay?”

Levi smiled softly “That’s a promise.”

“Out of curiosity,” Eren smirked as he grabbed the paintings “do you know how I faked it?” When Levi shook his head, Eren continued “The duplicate only appeared on the next day. It wasn’t dry the first night, but I used to wet random spots by dropping water onto carefully. The sun allowed it to barely dry without fading it out. Some new paint was on the edges, but that was it. Fairly easy really.”

When Eren returned with them in his hands, Levi withdrew a small pouch of coins and offered it out to him “I see. Crafty of you, it truly was. I kinda like that little devious side in you, Eren, now let me pay you for them.”

As Eren cautiously took the small pouch, he asked “What will you do with them?”

“Display them probably,” Levi replied “in my room at headquarters. Please, take what they’re worth to you.”

Only taking a few, Eren handed it back “Thank you. These few will cover my materials. As for my labor? That you will pay for in another way. Show up at sunset tomorrow. You can begin to work off the debt you now owe me.”

Stowing away the pouch, Levi pursed his lips “Ah, well, I know that you think I timed the drying process to give it all day to dry, but the truth is that my patrols begin at sundown. I know that owe you more than I can likely comprehend for the anguish that I’ve caused you, but sundown may not be entirely possible.”

Eren shrugged “I don’t care about that. You owe me a king’s ransom, Levi. You did it before so you’ll do it now. Understand me?”

Recoiling with a stern gaze, Levi’s voice firmed “Are you giving me orders?”

“You’re damn right I am,” Eren answered as he folded his arms over his chest.

Levi nodded with a laugh “Alright, alright. I’ll be here. You’re right. I do owe you, so I will do everything in my power to ensure my prompt arrival just a bit before sundown. Thank you for letting me make it up to you.” There was one way that Levi knew Eren would understand his sincerity. A man of his station didn’t bow to just anyone.

In the moment Eren watched Levi incline his head, Eren demanded flatly “Do not ever bow to me, Vice Commander.” 

The powerful volume of Eren’s voice startled him “Okay, forgive me. I’ll see you before I begin patrol tomorrow evening. Please, get some sleep.” Reaching out for his hand, Levi brought it to his lips and kissed the tips of his fingers sweetly before turning away. Watching as he left, hyori fluttering behind him, Eren couldn’t help but feel a certain way. Some part of him felt as though it was like watching a lover depart for war when he was dressed like that. For all he knew that could be true. The Kensha fought in battles, so fawning over a man like Levi was bound to come with more problems than he could count. Seeing his smile and the concern in his eyes had resonated with him. They both just wanted to throw out their stations when it came to how they felt.

Levi was more than willing to not push who he was, he apologized, he was hurt in the process as well, and he was ready to do all that Eren had asked of him. If levi could manage to work on everything that had happened then he could begin to forgive him. After all, Levi’s lie had nothing on his own. If Levi discovered who he was then he’d be bound by his honor to turn over the information to his commander. Keeping his secret his own could be done, but it would mean lying to Levi. It was something he planned on doing, but that meant his dismissal of Levi’s actions. He’d not forgive the way he’d chosen to do it, but he could forgive him for doing it. The ideas played around in his head when he finally drank some tea to calm his nerves before bed.

Thankfully, he’d been allowed some rest by the incessant thoughts, but he couldn’t help letting his mind race back to the topic when soaking in the hot spring the next morning. He needed to head back out to the market. It was then he realized that if his identity escaped it would spark a whole new war on it’s own. Levi was an interesting man, he was so beautiful and smart, and completely different than himself. His honesty was unshakable, but he hated the emperor and if he discovered Eren was his son? What then? Telling his commander who he was would cause a new rift. If his father got word that he was with the Kensha then there’d be another reason to raze the city to the ground; Grisha would make no hesitation to do so either. He’d think Eren had been kidnapped instead of leaving on his own free will.

Directing the anger of an emperor keen on destroying everything the Tagin touched, Eren knew his father would turn it into a war about him were things to take that drastic of a turn. Levi appeared to be a decent man even is beliefs were solid and misplaced. He wanted to keep his promise, but there were so many strings being tied to it. Maybe….after the war….but what if he didn’t survive? Should the imperialists win then Levi and everyone siding with the Tagin would either be caught and executed publicly, he’d kill himself, or if the Tagin won he still stood a chance of dying in battle. He didn’t want to think that thought again, but what Levi said began to settle into him.

Life was fleeting. Taking what he wanted regardless of their stupid opinions on war would ultimately lead to their happiness. Living as he was, was happiness and that happiness included Levi. In the grand scheme of things it didn’t really matter what they believed in on the war effort. Eren would gladly be there to welcome him home, make him tea, and clean away the blood on his body if he had to. He had no power to stop the war, not by himself, and his views would never be seen as an option to take. Eren did not need to agree with Levi to understand him, and that was all that he needed. So, the plan to understand everything about Levi was a decision he made quickly. At the end of the day, Eren was still a spoiled palace brat who couldn’t handle not getting what he wanted; what he wanted was Levi.

Chapter Text

Sunset came much quicker than he’d imagined. After his soak, cleaning up, doing some laundry, working on some commissions, and eating a bit he’d realized that the sun was beginning to sink in the sky. He’d gotten to the door just as the first knock sounded, but he waited a moment before pulling open the door. Dressed in a silver and black kosode with his head guard tied, daishō on his hip, and powder blue hyori, Levi looked more than regal. Though he despised the garb, he had to admit that it was flattering on Levi.

“You’re staring yet again,” Levi smirked.

“Can’t help it,” Eren shrugged before inviting him inside and shutting the door. “It feels odd to see it in the daylight and so obvious. Where did you hide your things when you came to see me?”

Levi chuckled “I gave my haori to a nearby captain, and I typically don’t wear my headguard unless I’m going to be fighting. These horrid coats make us walking targets though, so I figure it’s not entirely smart to not wear my guard when a fight can happen anywhere.”

“Ever think of, I dunno,” Eren began before arching a brow and gesturing to his haori “not wearing a color that stands out against an army of soldiers?”

Rolling his eyes, Levi huffed “Do I look like my duties include coat design? I have far more important things to do with my time. I’m the group’s dignitary basically. Being second in command means I also handle battle reports, training, patrol, meetings with support and allies, dealing with my idiot subordinates, and a couple of other things.”

“Are they really that bad?” Eren asked as he recalled him sitting with his captains in the red light district.

“If you have to ask,” Levi began “then you don’t need to ask. You’ve met Marco and Jean, but you didn’t meet the others. I feel like a run a school yard.”

Eren grinned “Maybe train them better then, Vice Commander.”

“Ha ha, very cute,” Levi droned “but you can’t train a personality or else mine would have been fixed by now. Now, why sunset? I can’t stay forever.”

“Sunset is the real you,” Eren answered as he reached out to place his fingertips on the metal of Levi’s headguard. “Seeing you like this helps me grasp it.”

A small snicker sounded from Levi before he schooled himself  “Hah---Mhmm, I see.”

“Oh, must you turn everything filthy?” Eren grumbled.

Leaning into him, Levi hummed “Hmm, people call me a demon around here so probably so.”

“Ugh,” Eren groaned “you’re awful.”

Teasing him a bit further, Levi smirked “What? Not gonna ask to see my sword?”

Face heating, Eren huffed “Levi!”

“What? Being a man of some power doesn’t make me any less of a tart,” he shrugged as he wore his teasing grin. Frustrated that he was being treated as he was, Eren decided that two could play it at Levi’s game. If he wanted to tease, then Eren could do it too.

Fingertips trailing down his chest, batting his eyes, Eren whispered “If anything, Levi, I’d ask you to take it out so I could play with it and not just stare at it.”

At the silken words, Levi cleared his throat “Erm, Eren, my sword is not a toy. It’s an instrument of my station, an extension of myself, and a tool of death.”

“Yeah?” Eren purred. “Show me.” Doing as asked, Levi stepped back and unsheathed his katana, instantly holding it as he had the previous night. He’d never seen anyone wield a blade that way until Levi dropped his stance  and met Eren’s gaze. For a moment, Eren’s eyes were drawn only to the blade. It was made quite well, the tsuba was intricate and captivating, but his one thought was just how much blood had that blade shed? Levi had been in war; he’d killed people with that very blade.

“Are you okay?” Levi questioned quietly, bringing him back to the moment.

Eren nodded “Mhmm, nice craftsmanship. I know better than to ask to wield it, but I can tell that you treat it well. You’re fluid on the withdrawl.”

Brows knit, Levi shook his head “Thank you. You know a thing or two about swords?”

“You’re the one that told me I had training,” Eren replied with a smirk “so do you think that appreciation wasn’t part of it? I couldn’t take you, that much I do know, but I’d have fun trying.”

“Ha,” Levi laughed “is that a challenge, Eren? I don’t honestly think that’d be wise. If you were to spar with me it’d only raise more questions that you can’t answer. Besides, I wouldn’t go easy on you. It’s not in my nature.”

Eren scoffed “That’s what’d make it more fun. My training is incomplete, but there is enough there for a good go. Now, put your sword away, so I can say what I want.”

Sheathing the sword as he ran it against the saya, Levi quickly put it away “This blade will never touch you, Eren, so say what you will.”

Taking a moment to collect himself, Eren began slowly “I, uh, I forgive you for lying to me. I don’t forgive the tactics you used just yet. I’m lying to you too so that part is easy-ish to forgive.”

“It’s a step,” Levi offered with a reassuring smile “but can I ask you for something?”

Rolling his eyes, Eren crossed his arms over his chest “You should know that I don’t like that question. Either take it, or ask specifically if something that you can’t take.”

Smirk curving his lips, Levi replied “Fine, but don’t regret those words.” Grabbing his arm and leading him out of the house, Levi quickly dragged him outside. “I’ve gotta go, but I’m not leaving without what I want.” Pulling him flush to his chest, Levi reached up and kissed Eren swiftly. Momentarily surprised by the kiss, Eren took a moment to respond before quickly wrapping himself in the embrace. The very second Levi deepened the kiss Eren was lost.

Slipping a hand to his jaw, Eren took control of their kiss with more than a bit of reluctance to stop. Knowing that Levi had to leave didn’t stop him from wanting more.

Why was Levi such an amazing kisser?! They were in plain, public, view but it didn’t seem to bother Levi at all. In fact, he’d reason that it pushed him a little farther. It was a bold statement to make in front of all his neighbors that seemed to be coming and going, but he didn’t care. Kissing Levi stole his breath and will to do much else. Levi showed no signs of breaking away, so Eren had to do it for them despite not wanting to.

After pulling himself away Eren shook his head “You … we’re in public, Levi! You can’t just---”

“There are very few people in this world who get to tell me what I can and cannot do, Eren,” Levi purred.

“I’m one of them,” Eren stated flatly.

Rubbing the pad of his thumb over his cheek, Levi teased “Yes, you are. Did you really mean to say that I can’t kiss you in public? As I recall it, you were the one who kept coming back for more.”

“Uh, I….dammit, don’t tease me!” Eren pouted.

“Sorry,” Levi shrugged “but I enjoy teasing you. I wish you didn’t have to stop. My patrol is in the south ward tonight, so I won’t be far from here.” Taking a moment to steep on those words, Eren had an idea come to mind. There were implications to the sentence forming in his mind, but he wanted them. He couldn’t tell Levi everything, but he could at least give him something.

“Levi?” Eren called. “What time do you stop?”

Racking his brain for a moment, Levi answered “Sunrise normally. There have been times when I stop an hour or so before dawn though. Why? Something up?”

Cursing the luck, Eren questioned “Do you get a break?”

“Not really,” Levi sighed “but I can sneak away if I need to. Got something on your mind?”

“Just stop by tonight, okay?” Eren smiled invitingly.

Levi nodded “Okay, will do. Have a good night, and be sure to take care of yourself.”

“Be safe,” Eren offered sweetly before stealing a chaste kiss. Levi gave him a nod before stepping away and heading off to the city gate. Watching him leave gave Eren a sudden second thought. Should he have really said that to him? Levi already seemed a bit desperate in their time together once before, so whenever he’d invited him over in the middle of the night only meant that would increase. He began to wonder just how exactly he’d act. After turning Levi down before, he wasn’t about to do so again. It may not hold up to the pleasures of the red light district in the south ward, but he knew it’d be at least worth a break.

After some tea he opted to pass the rest of the night with some painting. Finishing up some commissions gave him a sense of accomplishment, and so he reverted his attention to things he enjoyed. Painting without worrying of how something was going to turn out was his favorite thing to do. He wasn’t painting for anyone but himself when his brush touched the next canvas. It was relaxing to just let go for a bit. A desire to paint Levi’s coat and his swords came over him, so he took his time and focused on it for a bit. It was a piece he wanted to devote time to, so he decided to do it last when his faculties were regained. Something about Levi garbed in his uniform seemed so commanding. It was no wonder why people were scared of him; if he’d seen him like that at their first meeting he’d have likely been more than the initial bit of intimidated he had been.

When Levi finally managed to make his way back around to Eren’s, he’d not expected there to be no answer when he knocked. A bit taken off kilter, Levi decided to let himself inside. Quietly, he snuck around in the dark and figured that Eren was sleeping soundly in the bedroom. Much to his distaste, he discovered no Eren in the bedroom. Knowing there to be only other option, Levi headed across the house to the studio. Inside he finally found his query. Laying in the floor, curled into a ball, Eren was sleeping soundly on the studio floor. Paint laid scattered among the various canvases. As he surveyed the area, he opted to clean things up a bit before waking him.

Once things were put away he went up to Eren and placed a hand in his hair. Eren looked up at him after he’d run his fingers through his hair a couple more times. That sleepy look made his heart thump violently in his chest; dazed and smiling sweetly, Eren looked impossibly ravishing. Nuzzling into him, Eren had turned into his face into him with a little hum.

“Tsk, you ask me here and you aren’t even in your bed. What was so important, huh?” Levi asked quietly as he attempted to stir Eren from his slumber.

“Mmm, you’re warm….” Eren noted through his sleep addled mind. Looking up to him momentarily, he mumbled “You’re gonna protect me, right?”

Levi’s brow furrowed as he tried to imagine why Eren needed protecting “From what? Of course. What’s wrong, Eren?” As he tried to ask about it, there was a soft little snore that left Eren’s mouth. How was he talking in his sleep? Deciding there was one way to wake up Eren, Levi leaned down and thumbed Eren’s bottom lip. Kissing him awake seemed to work rather well as Eren moaned quietly into the kiss. Turquoise eyes blinked open for a quick second before closing again and indulging himself for a moment.

Eren pulled away and tenderly placed a hand on his cheek “Levi? You’re here.”

He nodded “Yeah, I am. You know that you talk in your sleep?”

“No,” Eren shook his head “did I say anything important?”

Giving him a little smile, Levi answered “Not a thing. Let’s go to bed.” Eren gave him a little nod and allowed Levi to help him to his feet. Leading Levi off to his bedroom without a clear thought in his mind, Eren shuffled into the room and quickly snuggled into his bed. Staying at the side, Levi respected Eren’s space before he was unceremoniously yanked off his feet by Eren. Snagging his hand and tugging him down, Eren grinned at Levi’s surprise. He couldn’t make out the expression too well, but Levi had a quick remedy for that. Before lighting a candle atop the short bookshelf in his room, Levi got to his feet with the shake of his head to give the room a warm ambiance. When he returned he made a show of untying his daishō cord before slipping to Eren’s side.

Kissing him feverishly, Levi quickly twisted their sweet actions into sensual. Forcing Eren onto his back, Levi climbed into his lap with ease and secured a kiss that would begin to haze Eren’s mind. He may have been asleep moments ago, but now he was fully awake. Feeling out Levi’s body atop his kosode was nice, but he wanted under it. After seeing him model for him, he knew what lurked beneath the beautiful silk resting atop his skin. Unfortunately, he only thought of how to quickly hide himself due to the light in the room. It wasn’t enough to completely illuminate the room, but it was enough to make out the contours and shadows of someone so close.

Pushing off his hyori, Eren shoved off the coat and waited as Levi flung his headguard off to the side. Returning to lips hungrily, Levi deepened the kiss immediately and dropped a hand to Eren’s hip. With some friction as Levi rocked his hips, Eren broke the kiss in favor of gasping for a bit of air. His fingertips clenched the fabric at Levi’s back when Levi’s teeth grazed his throat. Never had anyone been allowed to leave so much as a single mark on his skin, but he’d had a feeling Levi was the first. No one was allowed to taint his skin, but the fact the emperor’s enemy had lain the first mark on his skin was all the better. There was something thrilling about the dangerous prospect.

Turning his head to give him more room to work with, Eren got a bit more comfortable. Levi tugged open the collar of his kosode, hand slipping onto his chest, while focusing on mapping a trail of evidence down his skin. Getting his obi untied was the next step, so Eren gave him a bit of help, but he had to take that moment to pause.

“Levi,” Eren began sweetly.

Against his throat, Levi hummed “Hmm? You want me to stop?”

“No,” he breathed “I just have something to tell you.”

Curiosity piqued, Levi moved back “Oh? Am I your first?”

Rolling his eyes playfully, Eren shook his head “No, haha, sorry. I have a mark on my thigh that can identify me.”

“So you don’t want me to see it?” Levi questioned. When Eren nodded in response, Levi reached over and picked up his hyori. Draping it overtop Eren, Levi framed his face delicately “Then I won’t look. Do what you need to do.” His eyes closed in the next blink, and he left Eren to do as he wanted. Covering his tattoo with his obi and tying it around his thigh, Eren tried his best to conceal the nara ink on his skin. The feathers were covered but his side still showed some of the tattoo, so he gathered up Levi’s coat and laid it over his thigh and stretched a sleeve up to his side to obscure it.

“Okay,” Eren replied “but, Levi, why’d you do that?”

Levi gave him a smooth smile as his desire clouded eyes fluttered open “Because, I want you, Eren the artist, not whoever you’re not ready to show me. I only take what is given to me.”

Eren smirked “Liar. You’re a conqueror; you take things and make them yours.”

“Would you like me to conquer you, Eren? I’ll take what you give me,” Levi purred in sweet promise “and then I’ll make you mine.”

“You’ve got to work,” Eren reminded “so stop talking.”

“But I never rush,” Levi whispered as he loomed atop him “I’m a diplomatic man who doesn’t settle until both parties are more than satisfied…..even if it takes all night.”

Feeling Levi’s teeth nibbling his earlobe, Eren immediately gasped “You silver tongued demon!”

“You called?” Levi teased. “Just relax and let me take care of you.” Not one to turn down that proposal, Eren sank into the tender caress of Levi’s hands as they pushed aside the remaining fabric on his body. He willingly pulled his arms free of his sleeves and allowed Levi’s hands to roam down his chest, to his stomach, to his hips. A ghosting touch chilled his skin, sending a shiver up his spine, and had him giving himself over to Levi far too quickly. A man hadn’t ever touched him so boldly, as if he’d known everywhere that would cause a reaction from him. His mouth began to lower to his chest and trail down his stomach. Arching his back into the touch was instinct as Levi’s scorching kisses blazed down his body.

He was used to being the painter in the room, but Levi’s masterful mouth was painting his body with arousing yet strategic paint. As much as he was enjoying being lavished in the overwhelming attention, Eren wanted to touch Levi too. There was no asking to do anything, so he reached out for his obi and Levi gladly began to disrobe with a single action. Eren was immensely thankful for Levi’s willingness and understanding of his small actions. Levi clearly didn’t mind baring his body, and it was much to Eren’s delight.

Sitting up, Eren began to roam his hands over each inch of Levi’s toned, perfectly porcelain body. Mouthing down his throat, hands skimming down his stomach, and examining each part of him was coming from more than an artist point of view now. Though Levi was enjoying the attention, he was there for Eren and needed to focus on giving him the experience of a lifetime. Quite obviously he’d never been with a man like Levi, so he was about to show him what it was like to be lavished by him. Shoving him back to the floor, Levi’s actions were a flury to Eren. All he could focus on was the boiling of his blood in his veins and clawing of a voracious, lusting, desire he’d never known.

With his hand slipping between Eren’s thighs, he noticed him tremble and began to curl his fingers around Eren’s hips before dragging him down. Eren’s sharp yelp in surprise had given him a bit of a chuckle, but he ignored it and decided to take a testing stroke around Eren’s cock. Hearing the first suffocated mewl was all he needed to know it’d likely been a while since his last encounter. Deciding to draw it out a bit, Levi lowered his mouth to trail his tongue up the underside of his length and tease a bit more. Sucking gently on the head as his hand moved around the base, Levi could feel Eren’s hips already aching to move on their own. Eren didn’t have to be quiet when it came to their activity and with the way his sinful mouth was working him, he didn’t plan to.

“God, Levi!~~” He moaned arduously as his toes curled. Levi hadn’t done much, but he already felt like coming unglued from his touch. Most people had been afraid to touch him, hesitant and gentle, but Levi had such a control over his body that he didn’t even know could be had. His hands were rough and calloused in places, his touch was passionate and sure, and his pace was mind numbingly thorough. His visitors often didn’t spend much time with him, and so they couldn’t discover that his weaknesses were his stomach and his ears. At least he’d assumed it was because of the time constraint, but Levi was once again showing how his palace lovers failed to stack up against the Kensha’s vice commander.

Levi had practically seen through him as he first sought out his ears and then focused on his stomach. It wasn’t so hard to discover Eren’s erogenous zones when his body shook and trembled with each silken brush of his lips. He’d had to admit that such an open body bared to him was indeed like something to conquer and leave his brand on. Listening to the pants and delightful gasps leaving Eren’s lips was a music he’d enjoyed so immensely, so he decided he wanted more. Relenting in his teasing, Levi decided to finally give Eren the release he so desperately craved as he lowered his lips to his cock. Writhing in pure ecstasy beneath Levi’s intense passion had Eren’s mind blanking on everything else. Only Levi mattered, and how he was unravelling him with the simplest actions.

Taking him in various increments had Eren’s mind whirling as he increased his pace. His hips thrust up to meet his actions which Levi didn’t seem to mind as it only spurred him quicker. He knew that it wouldn’t take much longer for Eren as he could hear the stunting in his breath and the strangled moans of his name. His body was as easily read as a book, so honest, so beautiful, and so perfect. Tasting him was magnificent, but surveying his body was a close second. Fingertips curled into the cut muscle of his hips to keep him still, but Eren quaking beneath him was delightful. All he needed to do was push him farther, and he didn’t have much to go at all.

Eren managed a rasped moan of his name and strangled pant in warning of his impending climax. Failing to heed the warning, Levi continued and pushed him through the body wracking, muscle clenching, euphoric release while swallowing the tepid emission. Getting him through the little after shock and watching his chest rise with labored breath provided a sense of victory. He’d claimed Eren, but not all of him. Not yet. Eren had abandoned any inhibition he’d ever had and his mind took a moment to process things. When he could think clearly again, he reached up and dragged Levi down to his lips.

“One day, Eren, I will conquer all of you including your right thigh,” Levi promised before kissing Eren.

Eren’s brows knit before he smiled “Hmmm, never tasted myself before, but you keep at that and you just might get all of me. Sure you’re not an actor?”

“Absolutely,” Levi snickered “and it’s just less of a mess that way. Now, come here. I don’t expect reciprocation tonight. Tonight was for you as part of my way of apologizing and paying you a little something for your hard work.”

“What if I want to touch you too?” Eren pouted a bit, aching to touch him.

Levi laid at his side and brought the blankets around them “Then you can….when we are even ground.”

Knowing they’d never be on even ground, Eren huffed “We’ll never be on even ground when you’re a higher station than me.”

“I meant in ways of our relationship,” Levi explained awkwardly “I mean…if it still exists. You do still promise, don’t you?”

With a smile Eren nodded and laid close to him “After that I find myself wondering if anyone would even come close. I don’t want anyone else, Levi, so my promise will remain intact.”

“Thank you,” Levi sighed appreciatively before laying against Eren “then as long as you’ll have me, Eren, I am yours. Tonight, untie that and get some rest. Use this.” Tugging the coat over him completely, Levi allowed Eren to use his coat as a cover.. Beneath the blankets, Eren untied the fabric from around his thigh and relaxed into the welcoming embrace of sleep. Falling asleep too quickly was a curse of having his energy sapped. He’d wanted to spend more time wrapped up in Levi, but he couldn’t have asked for a better ending to the night.

Chapter Text

Come morning, Eren rolled over in his futon and discovered an empty space beside him. Of course he’d expected Levi to be gone when he woke up, but it didn’t make the discovery less bitter. What did, however, surprise him was what was draped atop him. Levi’s Kensha haori was settled atop him. Sprawled out beneath the soft fabric, Eren had to give Levi credit for truly being a man of his word. Apparently, at some point in the night he’d tossed off his blankets and tangled himself in only the coat. Levi hadn’t wanted to take it off him and see his identifying tattoo, so he’d left without it.

Part of him was worried that he may catch some flak about not having his coat, so he decided the first thing he would do after getting up was laundry. Washing and hanging up Levi’s coat to dry had to be the first thing. He needed to ensure that it would be dry when he came to pick it up. The resemblance in the situation gave him a slight laugh, but there were other things that needed to be done. Washing Levi off his skin in the hot spring had a bittersweet element to it, but it was relaxing and a nice way to begin the day as the weather was perfect. As the weather got hotter, however, it reminded him that he needed to buy new clothing, some that was a bit thinner, so he decided to head out for the day and get some shopping done. Luckily, there were a couple of places he’d known by his gracious customers and was able to place some orders.

Eating while he was out prevented him from forgetting, so he made sure to stop by at a little restaurant before returning. Painting for a bit would help him settle his mind and let him sink into the art. Unfortunately, there was only one thing on his mind, and his name was Levi. Deciding to return to the painting of the haori and his swords, Eren brought out the canvas and began to effortlessly continue where he’d left off. When he’d made a decent progress on it, having felt like it was time, he’d put away the painting and gone outside to check on Levi’s coat. What shocked him was seeing a neighbor waving as he began to feel the fabric of the coat. A nice conversation began to flow, but it was simple and to the point.

Being asked about finally finding a good partner, Eren had to answer with the only thing that he felt. He felt Levi was a good man at heart, but needed someone to keep him from burning out. Already he knew that Levi had so much on his plate as one of three heads of the organization he was a part of.  There had been a gentle smile on the woman’s face before patting him on the shoulder and returning home. She’d mainly been checking to see if he’d done his laundry right, but she couldn’t resist the gossip after seeing Levi’s coat. All he had to say was that he believed in Levi, and she nodded and carried on. Luckily he didn’t get berated for his choice in companionship, but figured he did enough of that himself.

Sometimes he let his mind drift to scenarios that were better left internalized, but he couldn’t help but wonder if he was completely okay with things as they were. Falling for a man like Levi would surely mean pain, but it was a pain he was sure he was ready to face. Resolve strengthened during those moments. When he began to think it all through, the more he knew that he was settled on Levi, and no one was going to take the man from him. It was that determination and grit in solidifying the thoughts that made him return inside with Levi’s coat and a smile on his face. Just as a little something extra Eren opted to begin making tea when he got back inside, as the sun was finally beginning to set.

As expected, Levi’s knock came swiftly with the sinking sun, but what he didn’t expect was to be brought gifts. Levi had strolled inside with a bundle of green paper tied with twine. Opening the delicate paper, Eren smiled broadly. Inside were tiny confections made with petal pink rice flour covered with a pickled cherry blossom leaf. Sakura mochi was a festival treat that wasn’t often done so late in the year, so it stood to reason that Levi had to have gotten them from someone traveling. It was one of the sweets he’d always loved as a small child, so Eren exchanged the sweets for a cup of tea as he headed off to the kitchen. Returning with Levi’s coat and a tray of tea, he sat them in the middle of the front room and settled in across from Levi.

“You washed it,” he smiled softly as he slipped on his coat “thank you. You even brought me tea? Are you attempting to bribe a government official?”

Eren snickered “Haha, maybe, but aren’t you bribing me? My favorite festival sweet, you didn’t pry about my past, and you even left me your coat.”

Levi sipped his tea casually “It was the honorable thing to do. I told you that I’d wait until you were ready, and I will abide by that.”

“And I appreciate that,” Eren replied as he took a bite of his mochi “but you didn’t get in trouble did you? For not having your haori?”

“Ha!” Levi laughed suddenly. “No, no, just got some rather inquisitive stares was all, but I imagine they knew. My captain on patrol gave me a bit of a hard time but all in good fun. No one would dare attempt to reprimand me. Hell, most can barely look me in the eyes before scattering off.”

“I see,” Eren lulled “quite a reputation you must have. Now you’re at least free to stop by whenever you’d like. Just come on in, and if I’m asleep? I don’t care.”

Brow arching at the bold words, Levi hummed “An open invitation, hmm? Okay. I’ll come check in if I happen to be on this side. I patrol the north ward tonight, so I won’t be close I’m afraid.”

Pouting at the thought, Eren huffed “Ugh, that’s unfair, but just be safe, okay?”

Leaning across the small tray, Levi stole a chaste, sakura tinged kiss “Mmm, I promise. Making me not wanna leave.”

Shoving him back playfully, Eren chuckled “Haha, just go. Stop being so dramatic.”

“Fine,” Levi shrugged as he got to his feet “thank you for the tea. I’ll see you later.” Getting to his feet, Eren led him to the door where a lingering kiss was to be their final parting words. It felt nice to be able to enjoy something so domestic as sending Levi off with a kiss and the promise to be careful. Finishing off the tea and mochi, Eren decided to go paint for a while and hope that it would eventually lure him to a state of tired placidity where he’d be able to lie down and enjoy some time to sleep. His thoughts, however, raced towards the fact that Levi had said “I’ll see you later” instead of goodbye. Even though he was all the way at the opposite end of the city, Levi still made it seem as if he had every intention of stopping by.

It was a nice thought that eventually did allow him to get some sleep, but he didn’t think it was something that would come to fruition. Halfway through Eren’s sleep, just at the break of sunrise, Levi opted to take his open invitation. Quietly sneaking into the house, Levi took his time to be as careful as possible so that he wouldn’t wake Eren. After his last encounter with Eren sleeping, however, he was pretty sure that there wasn’t much that would wake him anyhow. During Eren’s bear-like slumber, he was able to stealthily sneak into the bedroom and get comfortable beside him. Cuddling up to Eren’s broad chest as he slept was quite pleasing. He was incredibly thankful the man didn’t snore too often.

Something about the way Eren’s sleepy actions made him so much cuter. He’d had to admit that he spent a moment admiring his sleeping features, how peaceful appeared when sleeping, as if nothing weighed him down. Whatever he was hiding he knew that he’d come to know eventually, but it wasn’t a necessity. As far as he was concerned, if Eren never told him then his assignment would never be over and he could make him first priority all the time. He knew Erwin was well aware that Eren posed no threat, but they both had appearances to keep up which meant Levi had to be on some kind of assignment to be allowed away. Eren wrapped his arms around him and nuzzled closer just as he began to think about his reputation. Clearly, Eren didn’t give a rat’s ass about it, and that was the greatest compliment. It was nice to be enveloped in someone’s warmth despite what his nature might have led someone to believe. Listening to Eren’s rhythmic heartbeat was a comforting melody that only ensured after a long night he’d be asleep before he knew it.

Waking with a face full of hair, Eren rather assumed that he truly wasn’t awake yet. Levi, however, stirred in his sleep and Eren immediately held his breath. How did he creep in without his hearing it?! Ugh. An opportunity sorely missed. Instead of getting up, Eren opted to close his eyes and try to bask in the moment. Levi was so vulnerable like that, and he got to drag him flush to his body and be the one looking over him. It was a bit heart wrenching when he noticed that the typical furrow in Levi’s brow only deepened in his sleep. There was some motion in his sleep as he wiggled around, but he figured that was about normal for sleeping in an unfamiliar place.

Still, it did bother him a bit, so he did his best to calm him by sweetly brushing the back of his hand down his cheek. A slight shush left his lips as he drew him closer and kept him from squirming around so much. Only when Levi relaxed in his hold did he sigh contentedly and lay his head against Levi’s. Closing his eyes for a bit, Eren allowed himself to relax and think of how incredible it would have been to wake up next him every morning. Despite knowing everything he did about Levi there was something dangerously alluring about him. Maybe it was because he never got to truly rebel, but he did think Levi’s heart was in the right place even if his actions weren’t.

“Mmm,” Levi mumbled as he stirred “you up?”

Eren smiled softly “Maybe? I don’t really want to be yet.”

Levi cracked open a hazy eye and slipped his arm over Eren’s hip “Me neither. Let’s just go back to sleep.”

“Did you have a long night?” Eren questioned as Levi exhaled and ducked his head back beneath Eren’s chin.

Nodded, Levi hummed “Mhmm.”

Stroking his hair, Eren posed “Then you can sleep all you’d like.” As Levi drifted off again, Eren began to wonder about what a long night for Levi meant. Had there been commotion? Had someone gotten hurt? It dawned on him that he didn’t really know a lot about the kind of work that Levi did. Maybe if he learned about it a little more then he could come to understand it better. There was a lack of knowledge that stemmed from being kept holed up most of his life, so if he could continue to learn then he could continue to grow and form his own thoughts and opinions on matters. Perhaps Levi was the perfect link. While he laid there against him, he suddenly found himself drifting off again. What did it matter? Lazing around in bed with Levi was too sweet a call to resist.

Only an hour passed by the time Levi was waking with a bit of refreshment. There was an unspoken moment as Eren woke shortly afterwards. Steely eyes regarded him with care just before Eren squeezed him tightly. He didn’t need to care about anything but the way it felt so calm and safe when he was with Levi. Nothing else mattered but their whispered laughs and stolen kisses as the sun began to rise high in the sky.

“Time to get up,” Eren groaned. Begrudgingly agreeing, Levi nodded and let Eren roll back their blankets before getting to his feet. It was then that Eren noticed something peculiar. What Levi was wearing, wasn’t what he had been wearing earlier in the evening when he left. Had Levi gone home to change and then arrived there much later?

As Eren shook his head, Levi arched a curious brow “What?”

“You changed,” Eren noted with a gesture to the length of his body.

With a smile, Levi chuckled “I stopped by my headquarters before leaving out. Wanted to make sure that my plans wouldn’t be ruined when in uniform.”

“Plans?” Eren questioned.

“To take you for dinner and perhaps a drink of you’re up for it,” Levi answered casually “so you don’t mind, do you?”

Finding absolutely no objection, Eren beamed “Of course not. That’s very sweet of you. I have some things to do around the house first, though.”

“Not a problem,” Levi replied “two pairs of hands get things done quicker than one, hmm?” Eren cast a sideways glance to him for the remark, but was more than willing to let him assist with some things around the house. He wasn’t averse to having Levi help, but there were some things he wasn’t going to allow. For example, having Levi anywhere near his clothing made him nervous. Having Levi unsupervised in his bedroom made him nauseous, so he tried to keep Levi’s attention around the kitchen or garden. While he managed to complete most of the daily tasks, he found himself getting a bit peckish. Much to his surprise, Levi decided to surprise him with breakfast and tea.

Sitting across from him as he began to enjoy the surprise breakfast, Eren inquired curiously “So, what happened on patrol last night?”

A bit puzzled, Levi skewed his head to the side “Hmm? Suddenly interested in what I do?”

“I can’t have a better opinion if you don’t let me try to understand you,” Eren posed “and I do want to understand you.”

Smirking a bit, Levi nodded “Very well. We had some issues with rowdy drunks and the usual likeness of the south ward which was beyond odd for the north. After getting some of them back to their homes we had some foretelling information provided to us. All I can say on that front is there have been unsavory rumors circulating about the city, of people being taken and returned through the night with no substantial wounds. No one knows why these people are suddenly taken from their homes, but it appears someone is looking for something….or someone. It’s only speculation at this point, so please don’t go spreading that around the city. Rumors spread in this city quicker than legs in a soap house.”

“But remember that it’s crazy to carry a weapon and protect yourself,” Eren droned with an eye roll. “I promise I won’t tell anyone.”

Recalling Eren’s skill, Levi leaned over the tray “Only those who’ve even trained, Eren, would be proficient enough to wield a blade. Of course, only those of us who were born into some form of nobility would even think to carry a weapon, isn’t that right?”

“Never said I was or wasn’t,” Eren huffed “but you are right that they’d need skill first to take care of themselves. Therein lies a problem with your little societal rule system.”

“Did you know that more than half the men who work for me aren’t of noble birth, but farmers or tradesmen?” Levi posed rhetorically. “My company is made of some of the most talented men you’d ever see, and many were trained by the very man who trained Captain Bodt, Captain Church, and myself. It’s truly trivial in the world as to what your parents did or who they were. Only skill matters in my ranks. Such things of birth don’t matter to us.”

Floored, Eren sat his tea cup down “So you’re telling me there are men from all stations in your units? Now, that is something to be noted.” He had recalled hearing of it from General Hawkyns, but he hadn’t expected it to be true. It was unheard to have mere peasants in the ranks of an army, unless conscripted, but he found he enjoyed that Levi found them just as equal to him as anyone else.

“Anyone who is prepared to fight for the betterment of their country by way of ultimate sacrifice,” Levi stated “are those we take. They train every single day under some of the most notable swordsmen in this country. One of the things we fight for is the dissolvement of the class system, Eren, and this is part of why the emperor professes such disdain for us. He wants power, to keep people trapped to this way of life, and to keep any outside force away from us to prevent us from seeing freedom. He doesn’t understand that what we need is the freedom to choose our way of life ourselves. Our familial ties to the past shouldn’t dictate the path we, and all those after us, are to walk. It’s time to abandon that lunacy. I’ve fought alongside men who far more naturally inclined than the men I grew up training with. We shed the same blood, and our lives are worth the same under the sun.”

Finding Levi’s words resonating with him, Eren nodded along “I see. I like to hear that from you. No man’s life is worth more than another’s despite what this hierarchy may have to say about it. I agree that many should be able to dictate their own paths in life.”

“At least we agree on that I suppose,” Levi chuckled teasingly.

Eren rolled his eyes “Oh haha, well, why else would I have spent time running off and painting in some new city instead of what was dictated for me? I understand that pressure more than anyone should ever have to.” After a moment of realizing how much that might have given away, Eren quickly dusted himself off and gathered up the items on the table “Anyway, let’s clean this up, and we can do whatever we want.” For a moment Levi’s uncertain stare lingered. It didn’t take a high IQ to notice that Eren had jumped topics like fleas jump from rats in city streets. Levi was hesitant about moving away from the subject, but decided it would be best to not push the issue any further due to how uncomfortable Eren had been.

Instead, Levi easily guided Eren out of the house and kept him busy with the walk to the city gate. At some point Eren had managed to forget about how close he’d nearly been to giving himself away. A gentle breeze blew through the city, and the scent of fresh flower blossoms carried delicately along with it. It was too gorgeous a day to waste thinking on such negativity. He needed to focus on what was right in front of him, and that was the fact that Levi had a horrible patrol and yet still came to see him, planned an outing, and was ready to spend the day with him before going back to the compound. While he found Levi’s “job,” as it were, to be horrible, Levi himself was a secret softie beneath his porcelain scowl. Knowing he was one of the few to ever see that side of him gave him a sense of pride as they walked aimlessly  along the densely populated streets.

It soon became clear to him that neither of them truly had a destination in mind. Just wandering languidly through the city together was peaceful enough, but once they found themselves outside of it? Eren could only describe it as a delightful serenity; a well deserved escape. There was a quaint pond just on their left, hidden away by the trees, as they begun to head down a stretch of well worn gravel road. The normally glassy, placid surface was littered with fallen sakura petals, their cerise reflection bathed with the warmth of the evening sun. A sudden, fleeting, iridescent shimmer of patterned scales cutting through the water reminded Eren of the gardens in the palace. He’d feed the fish with his mother when he was young, but now seeing it made the hollow of his chest echo. He missed her. Too often had it been since something reminded him so heavily of her to the point where he had to forcibly tear his gaze from it.

Noticing Eren’s sudden apprehension to walking near the pond, Levi silently reached for his hand. Warm and tender, Levi took Eren’s hand in his own and gave a reassuring squeeze. Of course he didn’t know the meaning behind Eren’s aversion, but he’d been able to see the sorrow etching its way into his normally jovial features. Not wanting to broach the topic just yet, Levi carried on until they came to a spot nestled near the back of the pond, just far enough from the edge to still be able to see its entirety. Eren sat against him quietly as they took a seat in the grass to just allow time to pass. Being in Levi’s presence was enough of a comfort for him, but it was strange the longer he thought about it. He’d never felt so comfortable around another person before, and knowing what he did about Levi….it should have made it nearly impossible to stop being on his guard. There he was though, just relaxing at a simple touch. The heart yearned to have what it wanted, however, so Eren just allowed himself to enjoy the peaceful moment.

When the wind began to die down, Levi finally spoke up “May I ask?”

Seemingly understanding, Eren answered without hesitation “My mother loved koi ponds. Anything relating to nature really. She was a kind, beautiful, smart woman, and yet every time I think of her I only taste a strong bitterness. I love my mother dearly, and I miss her dearly, but I can’t help the acidity in my mouth as I speak of her. I do not know why she endured the pain she did only to leave me behind in a life I never chose to have. I think back to the times we used to walk around the gardens when I was young, and how she always said that I was learning to be the best person that I could be. I would grow up with so much resting on my shoulders, but I would have to bear it no matter what my opinion on it was. She resigned herself to a living a life, I am convinced, that not even she wanted. Had she not conceived me, I know what her fate would have been, and I almost wish her life had ended before I became part of the equation. She was happier then, before she met my father, so I cannot help but wish she never had anything to do with the vile man. I don’t blame her for her actions, for leaving me behind, but I can’t look back on my memories without the slight distaste I feel in my heart.”

Tightening his hold on Eren’s hand, Levi sighed softly “I understand that. I used to resent my mother for leaving me alone, but I wouldn’t be the man I am today without having to endure the struggle and pain that I have getting here. At each failure, I have picked myself up and carried through it. I got stronger through each setback life has tried to give me. Maybe you just haven’t found your purpose yet, Eren. Whatever life you left behind sounds as if every fiber of your being was tied to it. Are you so sure it wasn’t where you belonged? Maybe you could have fought with the opinions you carried.”

Glancing over to Levi, Eren managed a smile “Of course the warrior wants to fight. Life isn’t always about fighting, Levi, but maybe I should have accepted it and been miserable. There were people who depended on me, and I left them behind. I left like my mother did. Maybe you’re right though. I don’t know if I have found my place yet. When I do, I might begin to understand the trials I face.”

“You can’t look to the future if you’re still clinging to the past, Eren,” Levi offered “so don’t think of what you’ve left to settle in the dust. You should think of what you want right now, and what your plans are for the future. I’m not saying you should have stayed only to be miserable for the rest of your life, but if you feel so terribly about it? That guilt pooling inside you? Maybe part of you knows that you need to settle something there before you can move on and fully enjoy this new life you’re creating. Can you tell me more about your mom? Didn’t she die when you were small?”

“I was almost ten,” Eren answered solemnly, “but I didn’t know she’d died. My father had to tell me, and, judging from the look in his eyes, he didn’t care too much about it. She’d left, quietly, one night when I was around seven. I didn’t remember much, but I remember the last thing she ever said to me. ‘Don’t let them down, Eren, I love you.’ I never knew what to make of those words. Why would she tell me not to let them down? She hated them, and everything about our life. It made no sense, and it was frustrating beyond than what mere words can describe. My father did most of the raising, oh and he’s still alive. I lied about his death, but not really. He’s dead to me if that counts.”

A slight chuckle left Levi’s lips “It counts to me. He sounds like a giant asshole, so it’s fine. I can’t speak for your mother’s motivations or reasonings, but you know she had to have loved you to stay as long as she had. May I ask how she died?”

“Some form of illness,” Eren shrugged “I don’t really know. That’s pretty much all I know, honestly. I wasn’t told anything beyond it, because it wasn’t constructive to my duties. I just think had the arranged marriage not happened, just, maybe things would have been different.”

Raising Eren’s hand to his lips, Levi placed a tender kiss to his skin “It’s alright, Eren, you’re free here. There’s no need to worry about anything. Just you and me, and maybe a little bit of sake later. Thank you for telling me a little bit about the real you.”

Unable to restrain a smile, Eren nodded “Of course. What about you though? You said your father died in battle before you were born, and your mother died too.”

“Mhmm,” Levi began “she died when I was four, but at the least I can still remember what my mother looked like, though not more than that retained. I don’t have many memories of her beyond that. Most things I know I’ve been told from other people, and the same can be said of my father.  My aunt has was always there for me, but being raised with two twins was hell. I had to look after them, they’re younger than me, so I didn’t have much time to do anything else aside from my usual training. They’re obviously not identical, but it gave me lots of practice for dealing with the other set of twins I have to deal with at the compound. It also told me how to look after all my captains, considering they’re all a bunch of whiny children with seemingly endless pools of energy.”

Curiosity grabbing him, Eren’s questioned “You have twins on the compound?”

“Four captains of my units, actually,” Levi mentioned “so, yeah, unfortunately. Two sets of them can get pretty hectic, but each set is vastly different. One I’m worried may raze a small city in the wake of anger, and the other is more likely to just punch several people. In the second set, one is bouncing nearly off the walls with any intake of sugar, and the second rarely speaks to people they happen to deem unfit. Getting them to shut the fuck up when you’re deemed worthy, however, is a cure I’m still searching for.”

Eren couldn’t help but snicker at the descriptions “It sounds as though they enjoy testing the limits of your patience, Vice Commander. I imagine the men of your ranks also are a form of your family. Will you tell me about them?”

Surprise twisting his features, Levi shrugged “Uh, sure, why not? They are my family, so I suppose it’s only fair. Erwin Smith is the man in charge of our units, my boss if you will, our commander, but he’s also a close friend to me and has been for years. In fact, he’s been my instructor for since I was young. Around the compound he also trains some of our captains. We all enjoy a good sparring every now again, as warriors may, but it’s purely in good fun. I believe the only person who doesn’t see the sword play as thrilling, would likely be our doctor. The man abhors the use of a blade, but make no doubt he’s just as skilled as the rest of us. He simply prefers to lecture us on our health, eating habits, and regular sleeping schedule.”

“I may venture to say, Levi,” Eren began to tease sarcastically “that he may be directing that towards you on purpose. Could you even imagine?! Why, you told me you before that you’ve been lectured by your own people before for failing to take care of yourself, right?”

Brow furrowing, Levi sighed “Perhaps. I just have a lot of work to do, and I do not like being disturbed, for any reason, which seems to irritate those around me quite often. It’s not my prerogative if they are sniffing around my office. I still have reports to do, so if something is important it can wait until I’m out of my room.”

“Purely moronic,” Eren quipped with a disapproving frown “that’s no way to take care of yourself. You lecture me about ensuring I eat, sleep, and take care of myself yet you shirk your own responsibilities. How will anything ever get done around there if you refuse to keep yourself in shape, Levi?”

“You sound like the doctor,” Levi grumbled “but you do have a point. My hypocrisy is only showing because I care for you more than I do for myself.”

Cheeks beginning to flush, Eren shook his head “Liar. You just want to baby me and avoid having to take responsibility for your actions, so you chose to placate me with sweet words instead. I know your tricks, Levi.”

Refusing to allow Eren to accept such a thing, Levi placed Eren’s hand to his chest “Does this feel like a lie to you, Eren? I’ve made my peace with my place in life. I can be killed at any point time simply for the job I have. It’s an all too sure reality that I may very well die soon. I do try my best to keep myself in shape, in all forms of the word, but sometimes the delay of my actions dictate if more people will die. I have control of our battlements, Eren, I give a final say in where my troops are going. So, I make sure they’re fine before I do anything. You, on the other hand, I like to personally make sure you’re doing everything you can to be here a lot longer. You’ve fought for your place here, in this city, so I’m just making sure that you can enjoy it without hearing a rumble in your stomach while doing so.”

“Unfair,” Eren muttered under his breath. While Levi’s heart wasn’t racing quite like his was in the moment, he noticed something different. Levi’s heartbeat was steady and even at a resting rate. He was just as at ease as he was. If a man like Levi found comfort in his sheer presence then that alone should have made a profound statement to him. The rhythmic flow of his steady beating heart only enforced the words he spoke, so Eren gave a curt nod “Okay. I understand, but please try to take better care of yourself too. Being here is only enjoyable as long as you’re at my side. Please, remember that much at least.”

“In the very least,” Levi smiled softly as he released Eren’s hand “I promise. I will try to do better, but I’m beginning to feel a bit peckish. What do you say to dinner, hmm?”

“Sure,” Eren responded as he began to get to his feet. Brushing the debris from their clothing, Levi and Eren began the leisurely stroll back into the city. He wouldn’t have called it dinner per se, maybe early dinner, but the sun was lowering itself in the darkening sky meaning that Levi would be leaving him soon. During their walk back through the city Eren had to admit that he hadn’t expected himself to gush so much information about himself. It was nice to learn more about Levi in return, however, so he couldn’t remain too mad at himself for it. Getting the chance to learn more and broaden his view on Levi and his men was a chance he’d take at any presented opportunity. In order to feel better about the choices he’d made, in terms of his companionship, then he needed to know every little detail he could.

During their meal, Eren’s focus remained solely on Levi. There were some obvious stares lingering on them rather uncomfortably, but Levi seemed unperturbed by the leer. Brushing it off ass well, Eren continued to listen to Levi as detailed some of his activities around the compound. Patrol duty seemed interesting as well, and he got to see a little more compassion from Levi as he spoke. Little things like a delicate smile barely threatening to pull at the corners of his lips, to a slight rise in the volume of his voice, gave him a look into the real Levi. Sure, he was likely a ruthless killer when it came to battle, of that he made no doubts, but beyond a bloodsoaked battleground he was so much more than a warrior. He had hopes for bettering their city and even their society. What he knew of Levi was beginning to change form into something else.

He may not have agreed with it all, but he could already tell that beneath it all Levi had a beautiful heart. Maybe he didn’t show it to many, or maybe he never showed it at all, but it was something that he could never escape. No matter how war-hardened he became, Levi would always do what he thought was right and what he thought was best for the people he cared about. Bit by bit he was coming to understand more about Levi and the way he ticked. Eventually, he knew that Levi would ask about his identity, but maybe if he could give him the same information about himself, while strategically misplacing some bits of the information, then Levi could come to understand him too.

As dinner came to an end, Levi walked him home and stole a sweet kiss before placing a gentle one atop the crown of his head. Parting was indeed a sweet sorrow, but he knew that Levi would come to him tomorrow. Sunset meant the city needed Levi’s watchful gaze much more than he did. He could tell that Levi loved his work in serving the citizens of the city, making sure they were safe, and he could see every ounce of pride he poured into it. It was a bit sad that there weren’t other people who saw beyond his wolfish nature. He was too stoic to show it, but Eren could tell that it bothered him on some level. Levi did so much for them only for them to throw back in his face. Sure, he didn’t like them either, but he did know they were protecting the city everyday from threat. They were protecting their citizens, and at least deserved to be recognized for that.

While he moved around in the house trying to get some paintings finished, Eren’s thoughts raced to what tomorrow may bring. Levi had taken him somewhere nice, so what if he took Levi to one of his favorite places? There were a couple that immediately sprang to mind, but he wondered if he should push his luck a little while he was at it. With a mile wide smile, Eren painted and pondered on how well Levi would take the idea. Nonetheless, he planned to pose it to him the next afternoon. Until then, he’d just have to be comforted by the scent that still lingered in his linens, waiting for the sun to rise the next morning and bring his light with it.

Chapter Text

Breathing in the first waking breath to start a new day wasn’t normally something to take great note of, but when he once again woke when the weight of something against him, he’d called it notable. Emitting a bit of a chill, Levi’s skin felt as though he’d gotten cold at some point. Or had he just imagined that bit? No matter, Eren would have declared it anyhow before wrapping Levi tightly in his arms. Getting to embrace him and feel Levi relax into his touch was the perfect way to begin his morning. Lying there and enjoying the serenity of comfort, Eren rested his eyes and began to wonder what Levi would think of being carted off. He’d not minded sitting with him at the knoll, but this place was just a hint further.

From atop the cliff he could nearly see the entire city, but he wondered what Levi would think of it. Maybe it wouldn’t be nearly as exciting. To Eren, however, the view was breathtaking, and sharing it with Levi would be priceless. Being able to share something he enjoyed with a man he cared about was one of the finer points of being outside the palace. Would he have ever gotten to experience so something peaceful and….normal otherwise? Probably not. The prized bird had to be kept in his cage to sing only when the moment struck. Out in Trost he was finally free. No bars, no cages, no pressures. Levi had been right; he was free to think only of himself and what it was that he wanted.

What he truly wanted lie sleeping in his arms, but it was hard to be a peacock staring down a wolf. At what point would it all boil over? Would Levi be the one to finally let him be himself, or would he wind up in shackles both proverbial and literal? There was no way to know for sure. It was a delicate scenario that required more trust than Eren had in Levi. Not to say that was a bad thing, but he was still a soldier, he still had orders, and he was bound by duty and loyalty. There was only so much that he could do or say in the wake of that. So many thoughts swirled through his mind, but he knew that today he’d be as honest as he could with Levi.

In hopes that they’d be able to enjoy themselves, Eren decided that he needed to get up first. Tearing himself away from Levi when he was sleeping was a choice he didn’t really want to make. Watching him sleep curled into his chest was too sweet. Carefully brushing the strands of raven hair away from his forehead, Eren planted a delicate kiss before untangling himself from their mess of limbs. Just as he began to get to his feet, he heard a soft hum from Levi. Turning, Eren noticed Levi’s eyes had opened and were regarding him with an emotion he couldn’t quite place. Something inside the treacherous storms of Levi’s entrancing blue eyes lingered, something he couldn’t made out, something hidden.

“Getting up so soon?” Levi yawned as he placed a hand over his mouth.

Eren smiled as he nodded slightly “Mhmm, I have plans today.”

“That’s alright, I can--”

“With you, idiot,” Eren teased as he returned to Levi’s side just to kiss the tip of his nose. “I know I said all wolves are stupid, but I didn’t expect to be so correct!”

Brow furrowing, Levi huffed and hurled Eren’s pillow towards him “Oh, shut up!”

“Why? Gonna take me away if I don’t?” Eren pushed as he swiftly dodged the pillow. Cheeky grin spreading on his face, Eren pushed him a little further “Sorry, but you’d have to actually be able to catch me for that wouldn’t you, Shorty?” If only Eren had known when to give up. Playing around with Levi was fun, he’d never gotten to really have a moment like that with cute play fights, but he didn’t know that he should’ve stopped at the first jab. While Levi may have been small, there was a reason he was the vice commander of an entire string of military personnel, and Eren was about to find out why.

Taking Eren’s crack on his height as the sign of war, Levi began to laugh before sprinting after him. Snickering to himself as he rounded the short table in the front room, darting off to the studio, Eren had to nestle him some place that Levi would have some mild difficulties getting to. He’d heard Levi slide across the floor as he’d given chase, but he’d not expected him to be so close on his heels. In fact, he’d been nearly silent in every other moment that it gave Eren a start when he was standing in the frame of the door. A devious smirk began to split his lips, and Eren was pretty sure he both loved that smirk and found it to be the end of him. As he eyed Levi from his corner in the studio, he couldn’t help but clear his throat.

Neither of them cared too much about the state of their dress when it all began, but perhaps if Eren had paid it more attention he wouldn’t have been distracted. Baring most of his chest, Levi’s kosode was the perfect amount of disheveled. Paired with his slight bedhead, the glimmer of mischief in his eyes, and the smirk on his face, Eren knew that he was done; if Levi got any closer he’d be so thoroughly done. At least he’d strategically locked himself between dozens of open paint containers, ink, and still wet canvases.

“Do you honestly believe you’re safe over there, darling?” Levi purred enticingly as he arched a brow.

Glancing around his surroundings, Eren shrugged “Unless you want to ruin my work, I’d say so.”

“Tch, you still underestimate me,” Levi sighed. Eyes widening at the thought, Eren knew that he was about to pay dearly for their morning cat and mouse race. He watched closely as Levi’s eyes narrowed, examining the room, before he cautiously moved through the room. Pivoting on the tops of his feet, moving so effortlessly, as he found the gaps in the clutter, Levi managed to come to stand in front of Eren with a devilish smile.

Shaking his head as he chewed on his lip, Eren held up his hands “Oh, fine, I give. Was it because I called you short?”

“I find my height to be an advantage actually,” Levi retorted “because it means people underestimate me. I suppose I’ll have to teach you that the only way to win against me is to outsmart me, because it’s nearly impossible to out maneuver me, Eren.”

“Obviously, but I think I have a way that would be better than both of those things,” Eren lulled as he whispered against the shell of Levi’s hear.

Curiosity piqued, Levi hummed “Mmm, yeah? What’s that?”

“A distraction,” Eren snickered before dipping his fingertips in the container of ruby paint at his right before smearing it down Levi’s cheek.

Blinking back his surprise, Levi chuckled “Oh, you cheeky bastard. You’re going to pay for that.”

“How?” Eren scoffed before Levi quickly grabbed his wrist. Twisting his wrist easily behind his back to force him against the wall, Levi spun him quickly before releasing him.

“Wonder what I could possibly do with you like this, hmm?” Levi purred before discovering the indigo paint atop the short bookshelf to their right. “Oh, this is stunning color, but it’s expensive isn’t it? Meaning this paint will cost whoever buys a painting with it a rather sizable amount. I wonder if it stains the skin much like the plant? Let’s find out.” Dipping the tip of his finger into the paint, Levi found the cooled, thick, liquid a bit pleasant on the skin before he placed a dab on Eren’s shoulder. Noting how it smeared, creating a striking contrast at it moved across Eren’s beautifully tanned skin, he found he rather liked finger painting. There was one action he couldn’t resist after seeing his example.

Each fingertip was coated in a thin layer of the paint as Levi hiked up the fabric at Eren’s knee. Sliding his hand up Eren’s right knee, his thigh, and finally up to his hip, Levi sighed to himself. Had Eren’s shiver at the sensual act been any more prominent then the streaks of paint on his thigh would have wavered in their path. Just that little bit of a reaction ensured that Levi had gotten what he wanted. Eren didn’t hate it one bit, but he was concerned as to how they were going to get out of the nook in the room without disturbing anything. He’d barely gotten himself in there in the first place.

As the paint dried atop his skin, Eren turned to face Levi “Hmm, you know, you’re right. It is expensive, and I could have told you before you put it on your skin that it’ll leave your skin colored much longer than my own. Your skin is like the most flawless porcelain.”

Allowing Eren’s fingertips to brush his cheek, Levi smiled “It’s anything but flawless, Eren. My skin shows just how many battles I’ve survived. War doesn’t have your skills; it doesn’t paint a pretty picture on a man. It leaves cracks and chips in his veneer, leaves him bloodied and bruised, hardened and cruel as he tries so desperately to cover what it’s stolen from him. Eventually, it’ll strike the killing blow.”

Chest aching as he heard the tremor in his words, Eren watched the uncertainty spin in Levi’s eyes “It’s done anything but harden you. Even if you show it to no one but me, Levi, I know who you are now, because you’ve shown me your heart. That part of you is one that war has not ravaged despite whatever you’ve experienced or seen on the battlefield. Today, I want you to know my heart. The only thing I still cannot do is show you my body or tell you my family name.”

Leaning into the touch, Levi nodded “Very well. I suppose I need to get the paint off my face then.”

“Or you can leave it,” Eren shrugged with a smirk “I like seeing that I got one in on you finally.”

“Only because I was expecting something far different than a smearing of paint across my face,” Levi admitted with a huff “but if it stays much longer then everyone will suspect I’ve been dabbling in the south ward’s pleasures. It’s almost the color of a distinctive lipstick I know.”

Brow quirking up, Eren teased “Is it? Didn’t know you’ve been so often you can pick out specific girls’ lipstick shades.”

“Does that bother you, Eren?” Levi chuckled before shaking his head. “Relax, it’s nothing so obvious. One of my captains is taken with a specific blossom. She’s the only one allowed to wear this shade. Let’s say if I come back to the compound with this on my face, I might come back to you with a black eye.”

Surprised, Eren pried “Wow, that’s something. You allow him to be that taken with a prostitute?”

“She’s useful to have around, I’ll say that much,” Levi answered “but that’s because she’s not your average prostitute. She’s the mother of the house.”

“What’s that mean exactly?” Eren inquired, not entirely sure there was much more to a brothel than the prostitutes.

Levi snickered “Ah, right, you aren’t too familiar with the district. She basically runs the establishment, takes care of the girls, keeps everything up, etcetera and so forth. It also makes her time far more expensive, if she’s still young, of course. One appears to have ensnared my good captain. Doubt those claws will retract anytime soon, but what did you have planned, hmm?”

“How about you lead the way out then I’ll lead the way there? Deal?” Eren posed. With a  quick nod, Levi carefully led the way back out of their little lover’s nook in the studio. Eren wasn’t nearly as graceful with his steps through the studio, but at least he managed to not ruin anything or knock anything over. He considered that a win at least. Had his old palace tutors seen the debacle they’d have likely lost their collective minds. He’d been taught to walk with grace and dignity, but there he was having a little salacious paint fight after rolling in the bed with his Kensha boyfriend. Oh, if they could have been a fly on the walls to his life now. Maybe they’d stop looking for him, maybe they’d realize he was finally happy, maybe they’d realize that he was finally alive.

While Levi washed the paint off his face and straightened himself up a bit, Eren set to making them a bit of breakfast to take with them. Just something simple was good enough, and he was a bit proud of himself that he could even do that now. So much of his life had changed since he left the palace, and he was thankful for every single bit of it. As he finished up, Levi walked into the kitchen and peered into the basket atop the counter. Quickly scooping it up, Eren grinned and went to preen up a bit. Scrubbing at the paint on his leg was a hassle, but Levi’s marks were still visible. The dye had stained his skin, and he knew from experience that there was no getting it off; it would have to wear off over a period of a couple days in the very least, but that was just fine. If he got to see more of Levi’s marks on his skin, he’d be elated.

Once everything was prepared, Eren began to lead Levi out of the house and down the path away from the city. It was a heavily worn road, as so much traffic passed in and out of the city. With Levi at his side it felt odd to be walking it. He’d never once walked the road with someone else, and he’d never brought anyone to his secret refuge. A place to think, to reflect, to paint peacefully without being interrupted by city noise, Eren had alway found the cliff to be his perfect place of placidity. Nothing else seemed to exist when he was up there staring down at the world as if he were a bird in the skies. For so many things Levi had been his first, but he was also the only person who didn’t really know much about him. Sure, he was learning, but it wasn’t nearly fast enough.

 

Chapter Text

The path to the cliff was a bit difficult, thanks to some dense overgrowth stretching across the entrance, but Eren was able to worm his way through. If he could make it through, he had no qualms about Levi’s ability to replicate the actions. As they began to veer far off from the road, Levi casually slipped his hand into Eren’s. A simple comforting gesture was all he needed to feel his heart begin thumping violently against his ribcage. Tugging him along a bit quicker, Eren couldn’t wait to reach his refuge. Levi seemed to be caught up in their path more so than the journey, but once Eren had dragged him up the incline his eyes widened in marvel. Staring out at the city from atop a rugged cliff wasn’t what he imagined, but that was just one thing he loved about Eren. He’d never once been what Levi had expected.

“I come here to lose myself,” Eren muttered as he braced his back to the trunk of the massive gnarled tree behind them. Its leaves provided the perfect shady canopy, but the lone tree prompted Eren’s thoughts. “This tree reminds me of how I feel being in Trost. It’s in the wrong place, completely alone, overlooking a city that it casts its shadow down onto. Most nights I can’t sleep I come here and just think. Levi, I told you that I can’t tell you who I am, and that if I did I’d put you in danger. I am of noble birth, and you may think me a coward. I didn’t run from war, I didn’t run for love, and I didn’t run to forget everything my past made me. Levi, I ran from my inheritance. I don’t want it; I don’t want to be made into someone I’m not. I want to be normal. I want the freedom to love who I want. I want the freedom to choose my ‘hard’ life, but I am conflicted about the decision I’ve made. My gut swirls with uncertainty in the night. I lie awake and wonder if I made the right choice.”

Sitting in the grass against the tree, Levi patted his thigh “Lie down. Your thoughts don’t have to be organized, but tell me why you feel this way. Eren, I want you to tell me everything that you can. Let me know your heart as you wish me to.”

Emotion clogging his throat, Eren fought his words as he graciously accepted Levi’s proposal “I….it’s hard for me to say. If you had the power to help people, you would without a second in hesitation, you’re so beautiful that way, Levi. No matter what it costs you, I know you’d do it. It’s why you’re willing to live and die for a cause you deem just. You’d fight to the ends of this earth to protect people, to ensure your dreams, and give the people what they deserve. I feel so pathetic next to you, you know? Here you are, a man who’s doing everything in his power for something he believes in, and here I am; a man who ran from his power, a man who deserted the people who need him, who ran without telling nary a soul, a man who would rather live on his own and forget it all…..but can’t. Levi, your words stuck me the other day and has only made the doubting voices in my soul grow stronger.”

Fingers running comfortingly through Eren’s hair as he listened, Levi hummed “Which ones?”

“You said that the guilt I feel…I might need to settle things there before I can move on,” Eren began “and I think you may be right, but I can’t go back. Am I doomed to feel this haunting pressure squeezing the life out of me at each waking second? I can’t shake this horrendous guilt for leaving.” As he looked up to Levi, he placed a hand gently on his jaw “You are everything I didn’t intend to find, Levi, but I am glad that I did. You’ve helped me accomplish more than you could ever know, but I’m afraid to lose it all if I try to leave now. Is it so wrong of me to want to focus solely on my future….on my new life….on you?”

Placing his own hand atop Eren’s, Levi sighed “Eren, I am rather glad we thought you were a spy, or I wouldn’t have gotten to have this. I know you’re deeply troubled, but I’m afraid I can’t say what is best for you. If you can’t return there without being captured then I wish you never leave Trost. I certainly don’t want you to leave. Your heart weeps at the thought of others in pain, that I know, but you can’t fault yourself for looking out for you. I can’t fault you for protecting what you want for yourself. I do have a question though, if I may, why don’t know people know you’re missing? We have reports when noblemen go missing, Eren. It’s completely unheard of to go so long without a report when I know how long you’ve been in Trost.”

“They would never let it be known I escaped,” Eren answered “because I was less of a nobleman’s son and more so property. If I voiced an opinion my father didn’t like then I was kept away from people so that no one would hear it. Like when you lock a cuckoo in a cage. What would you do to the cuckoo who refused to sing for you, Levi?”

“Make it sing,” Levi answered “or perhaps entice it to sing before getting a needed bit messy. I am not above getting what I need by any method possible.”

“Almost exactly what I expected of you,” Eren smiled softly “but my father prefered to kill it while I prefer a far different method. He’s a cruel man, and I am not cut out to be his successor. I want no part in it. He expects a puppet to do what it’s told, mindlessly obedient, but I am subservient to no man nor woman. When I was young he taught me tenacity, grit, determination, and how to voice myself strongly and articulately. I was taught how to wield a blade, and I’m far from a failure at it. Unfortunately, as I got older the very qualities my father had nurtured became the ones he feared. Once I spoke up, I spoke out and turned those very things against him.”

Levi scoffed “What a coward. A man with power is only as good as the people he surrounds himself with. One man cannot wield a great power by himself.”

“No, they can’t,” Eren sighed “but, Levi, there’s something I want you to know. Those men taking people….I suspect they’re looking for me.”

Concerned, Levi’s brows only furrowed deeper “Eren, I know you don’t remember, but you talk in your sleep, yeah? You asked me to protect you, and I vowed myself to you in that instant. Are you sure these people are out looking for you?”

With a nod, Eren muttered “Beyond positive. It’s entirely likely they’ve been tasked to bring me back.”

“Then I’ll come every night,” Levi declared boldly. “I will check in every single night, throughout the night twice, and I will send someone to check the doors. I will make sure that you are protected. Even if I have to do it myself, Eren, I will make sure that you are okay every single goddamn night.”

“You’re too good to someone who’s lying to you about their identity,” Eren responded softly.

Leaning down to press a kiss to his skin, Levi shook his head “I’d say that falls to you, Eren. I didn’t deserve your second chance after the way I’d treated you, so I can learn to do the same for you. I don’t care what your station says about you, Eren. I care about you, and that’s all I need to know. It’s not like whatever you’re hiding from me will end the world.”

“It might though,” Eren whispered “Levi, it just might end your world, but I do thank you for thinking of me so dearly. Is there anything else you want to ask me?”

For a moment Levi paused to wrack his brain before nodding “Do you truly think being with me is something you can handle easily?”

“No,” Eren answered “I don’t, but relationships aren’t solidified until they’re tried. You cannot make a blade stronger without tempering it. Bone fuses stronger after a break. I don’t want something that’s easy, Levi, I just want you. I don’t care what that means. My secret is likely large enough to force a rift between us so large that it may seem an impassable canyon, so I will accept that when the time comes. I’ve given you the second chance like I hope you’ll give to me in the future.” Turning the atmosphere a bit, Eren smirked “Or maybe I plan on ensuring that you’re so thoroughly enraptured with me that you’ll never be able to evade my charm no matter what happens.”

“Too late for that I imagine,” Levi chuckled warmly “I don’t know if there’s anything that could drive me to the point of not wanting to remain at your side. I do know, Eren, that whatever you’re hiding I already forgive you for. I can’t promise to not be angry in the moment that it is revealed to me, but I can promise to think through it just as you did for me.”

Reassured by his words, Eren heaved a sigh of relief “You’re right, I had to do the same, so I expect you to be furious with me too. I’m sure I can stand calm in the wake of your anger, however.”

Levi clicked his teeth “Tsk, you’d be the first man to ever do so. My anger tends to bury itself until I can no longer keep it hidden. When I get angry even my commander runs, Eren.”

“I would not be worthy of your affections were I unable to bear the brunt of your storms,” Eren offered “because people get angry all the time. We all are waves of crashing emotions, but what matters is that there is one person who can calm your seas. I won’t budge no matter how angry you get, much like how you were with me. I still do not like your organization, but I understand your reasoning and place for being there.”

“You have such a refreshing way of looking at the world,” Levi sighed. “I hope that it continues to broaden. Maybe one day you will come to understand more.”

“Maybe so, but thank you for letting me spill my guts to you. Now we can eat and relax before you have to be off,” Eren remarked as he sat up and began to dig through the basket he’d brought along. Laying with Levi, having lunch, and staring down at the city he’d come to love was as peaceful as it was igniting. Being able to vent out his thoughts and fears was worth more to him than Levi would ever know. He’d never been able to have more than a moment’s physical rush with someone, so for Levi to embrace everything that he was so blindly, with such an impregnable conviction, Eren hadn’t any notion of how to react. Perhaps he had made the correct choice in Levi as a partner. Despite his opinions, Levi was still the best person he’d ever been with in any sense of the word, and he only hoped that it continued.

For a while they enjoyed simply basking in each other’s presence, but time came too quickly for them to begin getting back. Levi still had to return to his headquarters before leaving out for his patrol meaning even there had been even less time available to them. It was known to him, however, that he wouldn’t always be able to be at Levi’s side. The people in the city needed his presence far more than he did, and this was one instance that he didn’t mind sharing. Though he wanted all the time with Levi as possible, he absolutely drew the line at walking with Levi back to his headquarters. Just being around the place made him antsy and nauseous, so Eren insisted that they part ways at the city gate.

Levi obliged, understanding his reluctance to venture to Kensha headquarters, and swiftly parted at the gates after a tender kiss. Eren turned on his heels ready to begin his evening. Maybe his painting would preoccupy him for a bit. After all, there had been an influx in demand for his pieces, so it was a good time to have a fire lit beneath him. Back at the house he began to clean up the studio after they’d left it a mess during their early morning shenanigans. Thankfully, it didn’t take too long to straighten out the area and place things back where they belonged. Getting into his creative flow, however, took a bit longer. His mind didn’t seem to want to tear itself away from the constant doubts circling his mind.

Instead of allowing them to consume his mind, Eren opted for using them as inspiration. Using painting as an outlet for all his thoughts often helped him place them to rest, but it seemed with each brush stroke the painting began to take a darker twist. What was once the magnificence of a standing castle was now deteriorated, eroded rubble collapsed in on itself. Scorch marks left their blackened strikes on the weathered stone base, the once beautifully adorned walls had long since fallen, and the path the flames had corroded through the stronghold were obviously seen. The once blood-sopped ground refused to allow any life to take root; nature’s own lament over innocence lost. Laying tattered and beaten by years of weather, one piece of jade cloth rested beneath the rubble.

Depicting his previous home felled by the tides of war wasn’t how he’d pictured his night, but his hand seemed directly connected to the pit of his withering soul. Reaching into his core to paint both a fear and a desire was frightening to him, because it made him step back and reevaluate his own thoughts. Part of him knew that his father deserved to lose the war, but the rest of him knew what would happen to the capitol city and its inhabitants if he did lose. No matter what, he could only see the loss of life. Maybe Levi could have rationalized it to himself and to Eren, but he personally couldn’t go back. He couldn’t backtrack his thoughts to morph it into something different, to see where the true win would be found. Embracing the fear in his heart only caused him to feel as if he were being buried beneath the burden’s weight.

Something about the bloodchilling, body paralyzing fear was foretelling of events to come. The war was just beginning to heat up, but it hadn’t reached a pinnacle yet. His true fear was his disappearance becoming that peak, but what if it was something else. These people hunting for him….had his father truly sent a group of bandits to capture him? It didn’t seem right. With all his knowledge of Grisha’s tactics, capture alive hadn’t ever been a part of the equation. True, he was the man’s son, but Grisha didn’t see something so familiar. A sinister thought began to creep into the recesses of his mind.

If there was one thing Grisha knew about him it was his love for the people they were supposed to support. Hurting any of them on account of him would draw him from the woodworks quicker than a blink. If he truly was after Eren, it only stood to reason that they wouldn’t directly come after him. No, these men would escalate their attacks until Eren willingly came forward and returned home. It couldn’t look the least bit suspicious if he returned in the guard of an unsavory company. Just the thought forced a snarl of his lip. Whatever was going on, Eren had no doubt that Grisha was somehow pulling the threads of it all in order to get him home. Were violence needed, there wasn’t any ounce of doubt that he would stoop so low.

As far as he knew, there was no way to prevent his thoughts from creeping into his work. Calling it quits, Eren decided to fix himself some tea and head to bed. It wasn’t going to be a very productive night for painting when all he could think of was the danger he was putting everyone in just for being in their city. It was time to sleep, or at the very least try to sleep. No matter, tomorrow was a new day. He just needed to find a way to get himself through the night.

Luckily, he only needed to get halfway through the night. When awoke in the dead of night he could hear the door sliding open. For a moment he hesitated, but there was only one set of footprints so light he almost mistook them for something else entirely. Only Levi could have been the culprit. He heard the studio being opened, by way of hearing some rattling, before the light steps began to inch closer. Keeping his eyes closed, slowing his breathing, and turning to face the wall, Eren tried his damnedest to keep from springing out of the blankets.

Not even when he felt the pressure of Levi’s knees on the futon did he turn to him. Instead, he left it be. Levi ran his fingers softly through his hair, humming quietly, before Eren turned into his side. That was all it took. Placing a delicate kiss to his forehead, Levi made sure that Eren was alright and then took his leave. Every atom in his body screamed in rebellion at his abandonment, but he knew that Levi would be back another night to both steal a lover’s moment and ensure his safety. No matter what, Levi was always going to protect him. He’d promised it.

Come morning, Eren crawled out of bed and tidied up before remembering that Levi had been doing something in his studio during the night. Once he’d recalled it, there was no doing anything else. The urge to see what Levi had done was too strong to rein in, so he crossed the den and slid open the door. Nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary until he noticed the pillow he typically used as a seat had a note lying atop it. Reaching down to pick it up, Eren began to read:


Eren,

Stopped by late last night, and all seemed to be well. I’ll make another round tonight but won’t be able to stop by during the day. My reports seem to be piling up. See you tonight for another fleeting moment.

~LA

Of course his reports were piling up, he was never there to do them! Oh well, he was pretty sure that Levi didn’t mind the time they spent together. Spending time with him had to be better than being stuck in his office back at headquarters doing who knew what kind of paperwork for the Tagin and their military operations. The note gave him a momentary elation at the thought of Levi sneaking back just to make sure he was safe, kiss him, and leave just as swiftly as he’d arrived. It was entirely too sweet of him, and it conflicted with everything everyone knew about Levi. Perhaps that was why he found it so enrapturing. For a public official, a man of extraordinary strength, and a military man, something so sweet and simple was his to see…his alone and that was truly something to hold dear.

At least the day began in stark contrast to how his night had ended. For the day, there was some housework to be done, but after that he just needed a dip in the hot spring then it was time to get to work. Days passed him by in what felt like the snap of fingers. Levi hadn’t much time to stay with him through the night, but he made sure to leave a note each night he stopped by. Only once did someone else stop by to make sure nothing appeared out of the ordinary. He wasn’t aware who it had been, but they dropped off a sealed letter for him sent by Levi. Even though he couldn’t make it himself, he still made sure to send his personal touch to it. If he’d thought being the heir to the country had made him spoiled, Eren wasn’t prepared for Levi’s tactics.

Levi’s letter had informed him that he’d be able to stay the night, so he’d have to be prepared to put up with him. The words forced a short laugh over his lips. If anything, he’d be swooning at Levi’s appearance and eagerly prepared to put up with him. Nothing was quite as perfect when he could just lie beside Levi, completely tangled in a mess of limbs, and barely clothed. Comfort at just another’s presence wasn’t something he thought he’d ever get to have, but there he was giddy about the fact Levi would be staying the night. His mind began to drift on the topic, wondering if there would be any amorous activities to be had during his visit. Now, that was an option he would definitely be anticipating.

By the time night fell, Eren found himself yawning frequently. It was high time that he get ready for bed and, subsequently, Levi’s arrival around dawn. Getting into bed, Eren found himself worn down to the barest level of functional. The day had sapped far too much energy from him. Helping his neighbors, painting, doing laundry, picking up his new kimonos and kosodes, and staying beneath the heat of the sun at market to move some small paintings had taken it out of him. Resting before Levi’s return was a necessity, but he knew when Levi walked into the bedroom all his energy would find a way back to him. Being next the man he cared for was all it took for a recharge.

He’d fallen asleep with ease and awoken the same when he heard the sliding of the front door. A sleazy smile curled the corners of his lips as he inhaled softly. He was more than ready for Levi to slide open the bedroom door…until he realized there was more than one thing amiss. The footsteps were heavy as whoever trudged through his home walked about. Had Levi not been able to make it? Still, it didn’t seem right. Levi’s captains were trained exceptionally well, and each moved with grace and precision. The motions fumbling around his home were clumsy.

Adrenaline coursing through his system, Eren tried to forget the heaviness in his limbs and silently moved towards the swords hidden in the floorboard. Prying open the boards notified those in his home of his location, so Eren hurried to reach for whichever blade he could grab first. The dark of the night was advantageous for himself, as he knew his home’s layout, but it still made his own actions a bit delayed thanks to his half-had slumber. In the second the doors slid open and he began to hear multiple footsteps, Eren unsheathed his katana. This wasn’t going to be easy, but if someone thought they could ransack his home or attempt a threat on his life then he’d quickly put an end to it.

Several men funneled into the room, one carrying a small lantern to light the room, and Eren straightened himself. This was the last thing he needed, but he stood ready for an assault. When would they ever learn that he was far more dangerous alone than he ever would be in a group? Ah, well, he supposed the learning curve would be steep. A simple step towards him could be parried, each thrust of the blade could be diverted and blocked, but what couldn’t have been prevented was having a narrow range of motion when being surrounded. Odds were stacked against him, and he was never much of a gambler but taking someone out with him was going to happen.

Shoving his blade behind him with a flourished step to his right, the motion was unavoidable. A gurgled yowl tore from one assailant’s mouth as Eren’s blade slid through his abdomen. Not one to make lessons painless, Eren quickly jerked the blade with both hands tearing through muscle and organ. Spilling the most blood before being forced to drop his blood stained blade was an award he’d have gladly taken. Feeling a shot to his kidney with the hilt of blade before arms circled beneath his shoulders and a hand covered his mouth and nose, Eren knew that he’d failed. At least he’d taken one of them down with him. When his temples began to blare with sharp pain and his vision failed him, he’d no idea what was to be the end result.

Chapter Text

Being blindfolded and bound hadn’t been the worst part of Eren’s journey, but at least whatever chemical compound he’d inhaled had partially worn off. He didn’t know how long he’d been travelling, but he did know where they were based on the scent. Eren had traveled to many places before stopping in Trost, and there were a couple places he could remember so vividly. Other places had rumors surrounding them, and it was thanks to those rumors that he began to understand where they were. It wasn’t very difficult to misplace the pungent odor of sulfur, or even to fail in hearing the sound of dripping water.

Once his blindfold had been removed as well as the ropes nearly cutting into his wrists, Eren knew he was underground Mitras. Someone had to have rubbed something against the limestone walls to produce the unholy odor lingering in the air. It was no secret that thieves and rogues used the underground tunnel system for their miscreant misdeeds. Now the only thing he needed to find out was why he was taken alive and not killed. Old wooden planks were crafted for makeshift bars despite the overpowering smell of rot as the moisture had sank into the fibers. Being in an actual cell was a bit surprising, but it meant that whatever reason he’d been taken for was certainly something nefarious.

Just as he began to acclimate himself to the dank environment, he could begin to make out the room. Surprisingly wide on either side, there were several tables of men spread out among the ovular room. Nestled in the middle of the room with a clear sight to each side, Eren had a view that began to make his stomach curdle. His swords were laid, fully sheathed, atop a worn wooden table as the presumed leader of the miscreants crossed his legs. Of respectable height and build, the chestnut haired man directed his cold topaz gaze towards him. Rugged, heavily scarred features and a well shadowed jawline gave him the impression this man was nothing more than a common mercenary.

“Where am I?” Eren inquired, wondering just how much of their position they’d give away.

Just as hypothesized, the man spoke flatly “You’re someplace safe…for now. When we get what we want that’ll all change.”

“And what is it that you want? Basic human decency? No, let me guess, it must be to have a higher intellect than a common skink? Sorry, gentleman, but I’m afraid I can be no help to you in either respect,” Eren scathed as the corner of lip twitched up in a sarcastic smirk.

The man rolled his topaz eyes “Ha, funny, but I wouldn’t be joking if I were in your position--”

“If you were in my position you’d have died back at my home,” Eren countered “so, tell me, what could possibly be so important to cost you the lives of your men? Clearly you knew attempting to come after me would be no easy task.”

“Hmph,” he scoffed “your Kensha friends will come when they learn we have their precious vice-commander’s lover. With you here we can lure them in and form an attack.” How fucking trivial. He was kidnapped because of his relationship with Levi?! Oh, the poor bastards had no idea just what they had done.

Leaning against his makeshift door, Eren sighed “Yawn. Why don’t you tell me something more interesting. Who do you work for?”

Approaching the door, yet remaining a safe distance back, the man shrugged his shoulders “An interested third party who wishes to take control of the current chaos.”

“Does that mean you have strife with the emperor?” Eren posed with a devious grin.

“No, he’s our ally for the time being,” he began “that is until we rid ourselves of the Tagin’s dogs.”

Chuckling wickedly, Eren’s voice dropped “Then you should have thought twice about ever lying a filthy hand on me, you vacuous vermin.”

“Oh, yeah?” Came the sing-songy question. “Why’s that?” Jostling down the back of his kimono, untying his obi enough to give him some wiggle room, Eren began to roll the fabric from his back. Lowering the cloth until he bared the beginning of the peacock on his back, Eren pooled it down to his hips before addressing him.

“Look at who I am and see how you’re going to fair now,” Eren seethed dangerously as murmurs began to rise from the others. “My name is Eren Jaeger, son of Emperor Grisha Jaeger, and if you look past your friend’s dried blood on my blade you’ll have all the verification you need. You hold more than you know behind some rotting wooden boards I could probably kick down if I saw the reason to. Rest assured, that if you do not kill me, I will remember each and every one of your faces, and when I get out? I will have you hunted and slaughtered.”

A crooked, toothy smirk began to play at the corners of the leader’s mouth before he let loose a victorious yelp “AH! Excuse us then, your majesty, but this just got a lot better for us. Instead of our original plan, we can send word to the imperial army and say that the Tagin ordered your kidnapping. Then, when the Kensha arrive, it’ll be an all out bloodbath! Two armies with one heir!”

Eren snarled upon instinct “I take it he’s looking for me then? My father?”

“Quietly,” the leader whispered for emphasis “but yes. It’s been nearly six months since your disappearance, your majesty, and he’s beginning to run out of lies to tell the people in the palace.”

“Interesting,” Eren mused “so no one knows I’ve left then. That allows me some wiggle room then. When did you send your ransom to the Kensha?”

“With the rising sun,” came the quick answer. Formulating that Levi had to have been kicked in high gear when he saw the struggle and blood on his floor, he knew that Levi would be riding out as soon as he could. If the note had arrived before then, that would mean he was likely bringing back up in the form of other captains and a unit of foot soldiers. Being funneled into the entrance would put them at a massive disadvantage, but they did well when the odds were stacked against them. With Levi’s drive being forced by the fact Eren was in danger would only mean he’d arrive quicker.

“Very well,” Eren snickered “then you don’t have much time left at all. Judging by the fact these are limestone caverns and the groundwater is pooling in an area nearby, we’re directly beneath the heart of a city. The only city with underground tunnels is Mitras, meaning we’re just slightly west of Trost. Shiganshina is further south and with Levi’s rage in full force, I mean, look, you scuffed my face….well, the Kensha should be here before too long. By the time the imperial army gets wind of my surfacing it’ll be too late.”

“Tch, we’ll see about that,” the man huffed as he clicked his teeth “and General Hawkyns has an encampment just 300 klicks south of here.” In that instance Eren’s blood began to boil. It was going to be close into who would go where. General Hawkyns had been to him what his own father should have been. If he received word that Eren was in any form of danger then all hell would follow at his heels. This wasn’t good, but as Eren’s mind began to race the leader began barking orders at his underlings. Readjusting his kimono, Eren decided sitting on the floor was a stern nope and settled instead for pacing anxiously around the cell.

Most of what he’d said had been complete shit off the top of his head, but he’d been right. They’d scuffed his cheek at some point, likely during their skirmish, so whenever Levi saw it along with the welts on his wrists everything was going to go up in smoke. He didn’t know how long it was going to take him to get there, but he knew that it had better be quick. The last thing he needed was causing a direct battle between the most dangerous man alive and his lover. No, this was not going to happen. If he had to out himself then so be it. Protecting Levi came first. Nothing else would matter if something happened to him, and he’d never forgive himself.

It felt as though eons were passing as he continued his pacing and overthinking. There just wasn’t a good way to stop it. His mind was running rampant, his composure was shot all to hell, and his heart was racing. Despite everything he wanted to do, he knew that if he tried to listen to the casual chatter of the bandits might help him learn something. Poised at the front of his cell, leaning his shoulder into the wooden bars, Eren attempted to pick up on any conversation that might tell him something. Unfortunately, the only thing he gathered was uncouth attention.

“Hear you like guys,” a boorish remark hiccuped by his ear as a balding, rotund man outstretched a hand towards his shoulder “I’m sure I could have a pretty little thing like you. Be better than that wolf anyhow.”

Recoiling at the mere thought, Eren growled “That wolf is a better love than anyone in this country. I’d sooner gut myself than let anyone else lie so much as a fingertip on me, you loutish oaf!”

“Glad to hear that, baby,” Levi purred salaciously when he stormed into the room. “Sorry, I’m late.”

Though Eren’s emerald eyes glistened at the sight of Levi, his booming words were in definite contrast “Get me the fuck out of here, Vice Commander!” Watching the onslaught of several men rushing towards Levi, the commander, and some others Eren presumed were captains of the Kensha, Eren was safe as long as he was inside the cell. Each captain had something special about them that lended itself to battle. It was a deadly dance of blades as steel collisions rang through the cavern; it was difficult to tear his eyes away from. Levi’s motions were so flawless, seamless, and effortless. With each strike so fluid, he managed to have the upperhand within minutes of stepping into the underground room.

Bodies fell, crumpled in on themselves, and blood began to pool in darkened puddles throughout the room. It was pandemonium and madness, but he knew it had to be done. The men whose lives were lost didn’t appear to be redeemable anyhow, at least not in his eyes. With so many running amuck, however, no one but Eren could lead them to the ringleader of it all. Eren shouted the leader was getting away, and watching the man be jerked back by the color of his maroon kosode was worth every second spent in the repugnant tunnel. Once the man was apprehended, Levi stepped over to the cell to slice through the rotted wood with a simple motion or two with his blade.

Before anyone could stop him, Eren’s rage began to come to head. Grabbing his katana from the center table, Eren unsheathed his blade and held it fractions of an inch from the man’s throat.

“Should they not need you I’d have my revenge on you, slowly,” Eren seethed in promise.

Bloodstained teeth showed in a wide, condescending grin “You’re showing your lineage. You really are your father’s son!” A flush of burning ire unlike anything he’d ever had the displeasure of experiencing washed over him in that instant, clouding all his rational thought.

“Compare me to him again, and I’ll sever your head from your shoulders!” Eren boomed, gaining the attention of everyone in the room.

Levi’s surprise overtook him as he placed a hesitant hand on Eren’s arm “Whoa, Eren, calm down--”

“DO NOT TOUCH ME!” Eren snapped as he jerked his hand away from Levi’s touch. Dropping his sword, Eren quickly began to gather his things before he sighed “We need to move. Now. The imperial army is marching here, as we speak, from an encampment just south of here.” Watching as Commander Erwin’s gaze moved from his swords back to him, Eren knew that his jig was up. The man’s cerulean eyes had widened before softening in recognition of his station. There were to be no more lies, but first they needed to survive. In order to have everything wrapped up in a nice bow, Erwin apprehended several of the men from the bandit party, bound them, and began the march out.

Along the way Eren found his hands shaking. Sitting in a saddle atop one of the horses, Eren could watch his hands on the reins trembling harder with each passing second. A glance out to his left revealed that Levi was watching him, and one to the right proved that Erwin was keeping a watchful eye on him as well. There were too many thoughts rushing his mind for them to keep any kind of order. Everything he’d worked so hard for was about to come crashing down. His freedom was ending. At no point did he assume his identity wasn’t going to spew forth and bind him with new shackles.

Thankfully, the ride back to Trost wasn’t too long, but it had begun to wear Eren down. In the scenario facing him, there was only one thing he could do and that was to embrace who he was. Straightening up in the saddle, reverting to the training he’d spent his life in, Eren looked to Erwin and held his gaze.

“Do you mind if I stop by my home to change and get this foul blood off me?” Eren asked carefully, knowing full well that he didn’t need to ask for permission yet. When Erwin gave him a curt nod, he inhaled deeply, steadied himself, and dismounted once his home came into view. Though Levi looked as if he were ready to swing a leg over the saddle and come with him, Eren shook his head and walked in alone. This was his to do alone; this reversion back to his previous station was his path to walk alone. No one would be able to stand at his side now. Everything he knew was coming to an end, in a swift, bitter defeat at the hands of an unknown enemy.

Inside, Eren stripped away everything the people outside knew of him. Finding his silk jade ribbon, Eren sat and began to tie his hair up. The once waist long hair had been cut to his jaw, but now the ends dusted the tops of his shoulders. The kosode he left the palace in was still the highest quality item he owned in terms of clothing. Silver detailing on the hunter green backing was a dead giveaway, as it appeared to be garish and poncy. Only people of station had the gall to wear something as outlandish and bold. Drawing attention to himself had always felt foreign, but even as he began to tie his obi the feelings magnified drastically. The white cord used to tie his daisho at his hip remained in the pit in the floorboards.

Returning the room only further soured his stomach. Blood pooled and cracked atop the surface; the footprints of bandits smeared in the substance as it tracked across the entire house. Someone would have to clean it up, but it wouldn’t be him. He knew his fate, so he resigned himself to it as soon as he presented as his old self. With an air of dignity and grace, Eren adjusted himself and stepped out of the house he’d no longer be able to return to. Surprising and confusing everyone present, the very moment Eren’s feet stepped past the threshold, Commander Erwin bowed deeply from the hips. There were few men above the Commander’s station to whom he would bow, so the action took them all off kilter.

Stepping up to Erwin, Eren untied his daisho cord and placed his swords in Erwin’s outstretched hands while he lowered his head in respect “I’m sorry, your majesty, but you understand why I must.”

A hollow smile crossed Eren’s lips when he offered out his already sore, burnt wrists “I do, Commander, do as you must.”

“What the fuck is going on?!” Levi bellowed as he watched Erwin gently bind Eren’s hands in front of him.

Turning a gentle gaze to Levi, Eren sighed “Do you remember, Levi, when I told you my lie was larger than yours? This is my lie.”

“Erwin--”

“I’ll explain at headquarters, let’s move,” Erwin stated flatly. All concern or curiosity was cut off with his words. No one planned on stepping out of line to question their commanding officer. Instead, Eren gladly took his offered help back into his saddle while they began their daunting walk back to the Kensha headquarters. During the walk, Eren couldn’t help by stare as they walked past people he saw every single trip to market. They were none the wiser as to what was going on; Eren skillfully concealed his bound wrists. None of them had ever seen their country’s heir, so they’d never be none the wiser to his presence. At least that was one weight off his shoulders.

Upon their arrival, Eren was helped down by the commander before being ushered into the main hall, a place he’d already stood far too many times for his liking. Among them, were the 13 captains of the units, the Kensha’s doctor, and the commissioner he’d seen once before. Animosity crackled in the static air as the tense atmosphere began to weigh on them. He could almost feel the heaviness on their shoulders.

Once they took their places, one voice rang out before anyone had the chance “How the fuck did you know the movements of the imperial army if you’re not a goddamn spy?!”

“Captain Bodt, if I recall correctly, a man of your station should be well aware of how to restrain himself,” Eren chastised before continuing “but I will answer your question after I explain myself. I need a bit of help, however, as the binding of my hands makes this a rather difficult task to undertake alone.” Casting a sideways glance to Levi, he beckoned him with a nod of his head “Levi, this is not at all how I hoped you’d get to do this, nor will it be only yours now, I’m afraid. If you would, I need you to get my kosode down to my hips.”

Approaching him cautiously, Levi shook his head while his fingers slipped behind the tied obi “Eren, I don’t think--”

“Luckily, I’m not asking you to think, Vice Commander,” Eren countered as he smirked slightly. Levi’s tolerance for Eren’s antics, however, was beyond low. The corners of his lips tugged down in a grimace. Regardless, he began to do as Eren asked of him. Carefully untying his obi just enough to allow the sliding of the cloth, Levi began to run into an obstacle. There wasn’t a way to allow Eren’s arms out while his hands were tied, so Erwin gave him a nod to allow him to untie the ropes wrapped around his wrists. Once his wrists were free, Levi continued to lower the fabric until he could leave it at his hips.

Eren took a deep breath and turned to address the officers in the room “If you still are not aware of my identity, presented by the tattoo running down my body, then look to the swords your commander is in possession of. The jade stones in the hilt may give it away instantly, but if you were clean the blade from the blood dried on its edge you’d see an inscription. A motto: Fierce as fire, resilient as bamboo, and proud as the peacock. My father’s senseless words.”

“What the fuck….” Levi whispered beneath his breath before raising his voice “I can’t believe you! How dare you!”

Erwin placed a hand on Levi’s shoulder “Levi, calm yourself.”

“So you’re not just any spy?!” Captain Kirschtein scoffed before turning his scowl towards Levi “God, Levi, you really know how---”

“Cull your tongue!” Eren boomed as his voice echoed on the walls. “I am no spy, and Levi has nothing to do with this. You will watch your place, Captain, for as much as I hate to say it, I am still the heir to this country. I did not wish this my place, but it is nevertheless who I am. I ran from this place to do what I love most: paint. I refuse to be a figurehead for a war I do not support and less of all to my father’s vile, callous views. I was never here to spy on anyone; I cut my hair, gave up everything I’ve ever known, and escaped from the palace in order to live a new life as someone else, someone free. Now, it appears what I wish is no longer attainable. Commander, for what purpose do you wish to use me?”

Stepping forward, Erwin presented a smile while he spoke “I need you, Eren. I don’t want to force the emperor’s hand here, because he’ll just send a show of might. This war would no longer be about what’s best for our country and its people; it would be about you. No, instead, I offer you a seat here, to be what you aren’t: a spy. Refuse my offer and you will be our prisoner. With you we can turn the tide of this war to our favor. Think of all the lives you could save.”

Unable to prevent it, Eren scoffed “Hmph, by doing what? Sending more to die in their stead? I think not. You must think me daft, Commander Erwin, if your narrow mind can think of that as the only path to take; even more so if you truly believe that I’d take such a route. ”

“May I?” Levi interjected.

“If you must,” Erwin nodded, allowing him the floor.

Levi took a breath and turned to Eren “Don’t put on airs with me, Eren. Would you use your position for something useful instead of running?! Remember what you said about me? You have the power to do something. Goddammit, I didn’t think you’d have this much power….if anyone knows the real you, Eren, it’s me. Do you realize that with us you are closer to being free? If we win you won’t have to inherit this war ravaged land that you don’t even want. You could be whoever you wanted!”

“Darling, if I continue at this rate, I’ll only survive to be used as a pawn for whoever can steal me away,” Eren stated quietly, voice quaking. “There’s no more hope for a peaceful life now that I’ve been discovered. Even you wish to use me for my influence and power, you, who has lain with me so tenderly, the man who knows me best. I am the son of your sworn enemy, your lover, and yet all you see is a strategy, a chip to toss, and a pawn to use. I am no longer free by any means nor can ever I be again. My time on this road is at its end.”

“That’s not---I didn’t- --” Levi struggled, attempting to construct words to convey his purpose yet failing so miserably.

“It’s okay, Levi,” Eren offered as he smoothed his hand down Levi’s cheek “I’m used to people only being close to me because of what I can do for them. I’ve only lived six months, and I suppose that was good enough. Your care during that time was more than enough for a lifetime. Thank you for that, Levi.” Dropping his hand, Eren lifted his chin, pushed back his shoulders, straightened his spine, and announced “Commander, Vice-Commander, Commissioner, and various Captains of the Kensha, it is now that I formally refuse your offer. I am your prisoner to do with as you see fit.”

Immediately, Levi shouted “Why are you so calm?!”

“He’s a person who has been raised to be prepared for this kind of scenario. It’s like Prince 101. He was taken from the life he wished to live, and thus he regresses back to the one he had,” a nearby captain answered. It was the man he’d once seen with Levi before, back at the Sanguine Blossom in the red light district. His sotic expression partnered with a broad, barrel chested physique made him appear far more intimidating than he truly was.

Another Captain spoke, patting Levi on the shoulder “This is him being his station, the son of the emperor, and not the man you’re infatuated with, Levi. He’s given up.” The ashen haired man seemed to have a close relationship with Levi, as he was fairly certain that Levi wouldn’t like someone touching him so familiarly. The taller man’s turbulent flint eyes seemed intently focused on Levi’s deepening brow furrow. Was he perhaps concerned for Levi? Now, that was new. From what Levi had told him there weren’t many who even liked being near him

While Eren’s speech visibly pained Levi, Erwin simply nodded “Very well, your majesty, you’ll be confined to a room here, but you will be taken care of. You have my word. We’re not savages, and you mean us no harm. That being said, however, there will be armed guards stationed outside your door just to ensure you remain where we can keep an eye on you.”

Eren lowered his head “Thank you, Commander, may I leave?” Erwin gestured a hand out to him before following closely behind him. Instructing two men to take him to the empty room in the captain’s quarters, Erwin trusted the men to escort Eren to his new room before returning to the main hall. Whispering the orders would ensure that not even Eren knew which part of the compound he was venturing to. A disorienting tactic that would last only a few days, but one he figured that would increase his already mild discomfort.

Once Erwin returned, Captain Kirschtein began to speak “So, what now? He refused to help us.”

A slight chuckle left his lips “Haha, I knew he’d refuse. The rumor of the emperor’s son is that his temper is just as volatile, if not worse, than his father’s but his heart is pure as tempered gold. At the end of it, we have to provoke him, and I know just how.”

The very second his eyes landed on Levi, Levi shook his head in contest “Absolutely not. I’ll have no part in this. It was you who chose to take him captive as a prisoner of war, not me, so you figure it out.” After speaking his peace, Levi stormed out of the room. He’d not be used to use Eren anymore than he already had. This was no decision they’d made for betterment of their cause. It was impulse, and he wasn’t having it. He understood Eren’s presence was dangerous, but surely there was a better way than this lunacy.

“Congratulations,” Captain Bodt sighed, a hint exasperated by the ordeal, “you got him out of the room. You know hiding anything from him is gonna have extreme backlash, so I shouldn’t have to tell you that. How are you planning to play it?”

Shrugging, Erwin smirked victoriously “Hmm, I’ve no idea what you could mean, Marco. Eren’s weaknesses, thus far, are three things: the intense desire to be free from his royal life, being compared to his father whose views he vastly disagrees with, and his affections for Levi. We combine those and he’s free….of course by that I mean he’s ours.”

Chapter Text

Pacing through the decently sized room, Eren found himself growing far more irritated than he believed he could have been. He knew it would happen, each piece, but the one thing he said he was prepared for, he wasn’t. It was more than fury that he saw swimming in Levi’s beautiful blue eyes. All he could think of was seeing that betrayal lingering in his creasing porcelain features. It was a souring feeling that he was all to familiar with. The only thing he allowed himself to believe was that Levi cared enough for him despite his title to think through everything that had happened. Doubt settled into the recesses of his mind, but faith in the man he cared about couldn’t wane.

By the time he sat down, he heard a feminine voice just outside his door “Excuse me.” Once she slid open the door, Eren recognized her instantly. Sure, she looked incredibly different in her powder blue Kensha haori, but he’d never forget her face. Fiery red hair and beautiful green eyes. He’d never expected her to be in the Kensha, but he did recall catching a glimpse of her earlier. Too much had been going on for his focus to have been on anyone but Levi. “Your majesty, I brought you some food.”

As she sat the tray in front of him, Eren did his best to smile “Eren, please, I detest my title so no need to be so formal. You’re the girl from the brothel.”

While Eren inspected a rice ball, she nodded “I was undercover doing recognizance for the room next to the one you were in. Sorry I had to knock you out so quickly.”

“No need,” Eren waved off the apology as he took a small bite of rice “you were excellent company.”

Lowering her head, she smiled “Thank you. My name is Isabel Magnolia. I’m the eighth unit captain. My older brothers are the third division captain, Farlan Church, and the--well, Levi.” Dropping the rice ball from his hand, Eren had to catch his breath. What had she just said? This was Levi younger sister? He’d been correct; they looked nothing alike. Her presence was bright and exuded energy whereas Levi’s was far from the same mark.

Regaining his composure, Eren cleared his throat “Ah, excuse me, you’re a talented group. You must love sugar candies.”

“I do!” Isabel exclaimed excitedly. “Levi always gets me some when he stops by the west ward. You know, he used to tell me about you. All he’d talk about was you, and I could finally see that look in his eyes that meant he’d found someone he deeply cared for. He loves your paintings, absolutely adores them, and he thinks your smile is one of the marvels of the world. On the night he came back without his coat he’d been patrolling with me, and he told me he left it in his office. Like hell he did. He’d never do that, he’s too….well, you know.”

“Haha, yeah, I suppose I do know, quite well, what you mean,” Eren sighed despondently “but nothing ever lasts forever. He’s a good man at heart, though he can be lead down the wrong paths….he’s too…fr-- nevermind. You may go now. Thank you.”

“Of course, you’re welcome,” she nodded before attempting a bow.

Stopping her, Eren shook his head “No formalities, please, Captain Magnolia. You lot have exhausted it long enough.” Nodding, she excused herself and left him to ruminate on her words. Levi had actually talked about him to his sister? That should have said something, but Eren knew that the words no longer mattered. What kind of sick hell had he found himself in? There were a couple things that he knew now, and none of them were good. For one thing, he knew his father was aware that he was in Trost. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he sent troops into the city to find him, or his own personal dog team to hunt him down and drag him back. General Hawkyns was well aware of his location as well, which wasn’t entirely beyond the realm of possibility to think he’d also be tasked with retrieving him.

On top of being located, his father was told that the Kensha were responsible for his disappearance. What would happen to Trost if he didn’t show up and set things right? How many people would have to die? A seed had been sown in his father’s mind and there would be no taking it back. His fury would be aimed directly at the Kensha forces; he’d be gunning for them. This wasn’t the life he wanted, and it damn sure wasn’t the life he planned on leading. No, if he had it his way, then he’d solve this dilemma.

Levi had seemed shaken to the core when he’d been called out about using him. It was a difficult thing to say, especially in front of so many, but it didn’t make the scenario any less real. There wasn’t a doubt lingering that they’d attempt to goad him into something, but he didn’t mind their futile attempts. Being their prisoner wouldn’t be too bad; though it certainly was objectionable. Knowing his father’s anger, it’d be best to escape and set things right. Unfortunately, he didn’t know a damn thing about the compound. It would take time to learn every in and out of the facility, which was time he didn’t know if he had.

Knowing his father, his irrational hatred would lead to grave mistakes on his end, but also a determination to wipe them out. If it continued, Levi could very easily die in the skirmish, and his father would do anything to get him back. Eren couldn’t put it past Grisha to do something so grossly underhanded either. Only time would tell how things would play out on the battlefield. It had already turned to centering on him and not the people. He would be the only person who could change that, but he would have to change it on his own terms. There was already so much happening around him that he didn’t know where to begin. He didn’t want to do have to take the path that seemed the most logical… because it involved him becoming everything he didn’t want to be.

Honestly thinking, he knew that he’d need to work alongside the Kensha in order to prevent his father from progressing, but he didn’t want to pick a side. Maybe he’d pick a side when there was a clear point that registered to his moral compass, but he also knew that the Kensha were going to try every tactic in the book to get him to pick their side especially if that meant dangling Levi in front of his face.

While he finished eating, Eren sat the tray near the door. He’d been a bit relieved that they had a rather good cook. Food always provided him a decent distraction during the time he was eating, but afterwards he was still engrossed in his own thoughts.

“May I come in?” Interest piqued, Eren’s focus jerked itself from the turmoil wreaking havoc in his mind and aimed instead towards the door. It was a voice he was more than familiar with, but he had to admit that he was bemused that he’d be making an appearance so soon. Didn’t he need more time?

Clearing his throat, Eren affirmed “You may.” Levi slid open the door carefully, so Eren stood and greeted him. Standing in front of him, Eren found it more than a bit awkward. For the first time there were no secrets between them. The air between them was clear yet stifling. “Was there something you needed? Surely this isn’t a personal visit.”

Levi grit teeth before lowering his head “It is, your--”

“Don’t you ever call me that. I’m beyond tired of hearing it,” Eren growled before his animosity fell away.

“Forgive me,” Levi sighed with resign as he met Eren’s gaze.

Eren shook his head “And drop the formalities, Levi, I’m your prisoner.”

“No you aren’t, not mine,” Levi scoffed before pausing “but why didn’t you tell me, Eren?”

Gesturing him past, Eren took a seat in the floor “Would you have taken a different path if I had? Everything I told you was honest, but I don’t think that you would have been able to do anything differently. You’d still wish to use me for what I can do for you. Levi, you may know me best as the painter, but you know nothing of me as the heir to this country. I have to act now as my station and not as the man you’ve grown to know.”

“Then let me know you now, Eren,” Levi pleaded as he reached for Eren’s bruised, scraped cheek “I can bandage this while I’m here. I promise that I’m not going anywhere, Eren. I don’t necessarily like it, but you don’t like my position either. You’ve taken it all in such stride, and now it’s my time to do it for you. I promised you that I would, and I promise right now that I’ll talk nothing of you joining our side. I know I asked you this before, but how in the hell do people not know the heir to the damn country was missing? No one thought to look for you?”

At Levi’s sentiment Eren couldn’t help but swoon “No, it’s okay, it’s just a scrape. I’ll be fine. Contrary to what you may like to believe, Levi, I am far from fragile.”

Levi’s hazy eyes rolled back “Mhmm, I noticed by the volume of blood in your home.”

“I told you that I am not a pacifist, Levi,” Eren smirked “but, as for the reason no one is aware of my disappearance, the same reason I told you before still stands. My father has a reputation to uphold among the people. Do you really think that people would assume he could control a country if he couldn’t even control his own son? He can’t claim to be a competent leader like that. He’s a complete fool. Likely he’s told people in the palace and capitol city that I’m deathly ill or some sort. I was always getting sick as a kid.”

Racking his brain, Levi began to nod “Yeah, I think I remember hearing about that. You’re a little older than you originally told me, though.”

“By about three years to be accurate, I was born in early spring, but this is enough about me, Levi. How are you faring with the news?” Eren posed gently, taking Levi’s hand in his own.

“Well, I told you already that I don’t like it,” Levi began “but I also promised you I’d do my best to push through that. I mean, hell, I pretty much slept with the enemy.”

Eren shook his head “I don’t recall ever being your enemy, Levi.”

“You’re my enemy’s son. It still feels strange, and you were right. Your lie was far larger than my own, but now I understand how you felt discovering who I was. The only difference---”

“Was that you used me to accomplish a goal, and I never made you second guess my affections for you,” Eren interrupted, noticing the wounded expression settling into Levi’s face.

Levi clenched his jaw as he nodded “You still say they were genuine though you knew our positions? Is that why you said that you couldn’t tell me no matter what happened?”

“Yes,” Eren answered immediately. “If I told you about me then you’d have been obligated to inform your commander and this would have come to pass much sooner. One day I knew this would happen though, Levi. I was-- am , fully prepared, but I told myself that I’d tell you who I was after the war. I came the horrific realization that you could be taken away from me at any moment, or someone would recognize me and the reverse would be true. Seems as though both of my worries could become very real.”

Levi raised Eren’s hand to the back of his lips before brushing a kiss against his bruised knuckles “This life is never certain, so we take what we can and enjoy it where we can before we try to do the same for the next generation. Your identity, Eren, would and does put a lot of people in danger, but why couldn’t you say that, most of all, it put you in danger? Are you so altruistic that you couldn’t see that it would hurt you too?”

Smiling at the action, Eren couldn’t help his grin “I don’t see it that way. I was taught how to handle situations like this, so if any others were hurt by my actions then that’d be worse. I didn’t want to hurt you or for you to be so conflicted about knowing my identity. I do care about you, immensely so, and it does not matter what you do. I can never stop caring about you, Levi, and I don’t need anymore time to tell me that. You’ve no idea how profound of an effect you’ve had on me.”

“You wanted to protect me, and I understand,” Levi chuckled “so can I ask how you enjoyed your six months as a painter?”

“They were the best of my life,” Eren admitted “I feel as though I’ve only lived for six months. Life in the palace was constrained and strict. I was sheltered from the outside world, and I wasn’t allowed to vocalize my opinions so openly. I was practically to be seen and not heard when my father learned I opposed him. Only my tutor thought I should learn the ways of everyday citizens, so I learned some things….obviously I wasn’t that great at them, haha. I excelled, however, in tenshinryu, which is something I imagine you find interesting. It was expected of me to lead a division of the imperial army, to presumably face you, but I refused. I informed everyone of my beliefs, and it was my tutor who helped me to escape. Here is the only place I’ve ever felt truly alive, and it is in part thanks to you.”

Completely intrigued, Levi smirked only momentarily before a deep furrow settled in his brow “Then it is definitely no wonder you were able to defend yourself so readily. I am sorry to have taken you away from the life you wished to live.  You sound as though you hate nearly everything about the emperor and your privileged lifestyle. Here, you are alive, so please do not act as though you’ve given up. I was further informed that you would act this way, but I cannot stand to see it. It’s not you, Eren. You’re so vibrant and full of life, and to see you like this feels as though a part of me is breaking.”

“You didn’t take me from my life,” Eren reassured with a squeeze of Levi’s hand “you showed me how to live it and why I want it, why I crave it, so desperately. You’re right though, this isn’t me; it’s my station.”

“Just around me then,” Levi pleaded gently “don’t act this way.”

Eren nodded “And you? Will you blend the two things I know of you here? I’ve never completely see you act as your station, but I know how you act when you’re being yourself….like the man I know so dearly.”

“If that’s what you wish of me then you shall have it. Enemy’s son or no, I still hold my promise to you, Eren, as well as the one I made to you in your sleep. My duties, however, call to me. If you need anything, inform the men outside the door, and I will come as swiftly as I am able,” Levi vowed as he got to his feet.

As Eren watched Levi’s hips begin to twist, he cleared his throat “I believe I told you never to bow to me.”

“Now, I know why. Excuse me, Eren,” Levi smiled before slipping past the door. In just one conversation, Eren’s outlook solidified. He knew exactly what was required of him and how he was supposed to go about it. There was too much that came with the idea, however, as it all hinged on his magnetism and ability to persuade people. Night slowly began to press on into early morning while he continued with the plan of escape. It had taken a bit of mental fortitude to resolve himself to leaving Levi and running back to the one place he hated most on the earth. Maybe then he’d be able to protect everyone. The biggest wrench in his plan was that he required help.

Levi would never go against his commander, and he never planned on even putting him in the position to think on it. Instead, he’d need help from someone else. Isabel perhaps? No, she had a strong tie to Levi, and she wouldn’t go against his orders either. There had to be someone who thought the entire scheme of the war was absolute lunacy….or not. His location meant that the chance of acquiring any help would be nil to none. Biding his time was going to have to work; he needed to stall for a while. Discovering his way around the compound would be the first step.

Facing his father after everything was going to be harsh. There was obviously going to be some sort of punishment waiting to be enacted upon his return. Revenge was a stone easily cast in the palace, but he never knew from which direction it would come. Until he could make his daring attempt at freedom from the Kensha compound, he’d have to get resourceful and gain some trust of the people around him. Of course, he already had ideas on how to accomplish that, but they were still untested. Only time would tell if he’d be able to win some of them over.

By morning, he’d been able to stretch a bit, but being stuck in the room without a task or something to keep him busy was going to drive him insane. There had to be something that they’d allow him to do. If it came down to it, he was pretty sure Levi would give him a task if he asked. Keeping himself busy would be one way to let the time pass him by much quicker. At the rate he was going, a caterpillar would morph into a butterfly before he felt an hour pass him by. Were this to be his punishment, it might eventually wear him down.

A sound at the door jarred him. Snapping his head back to examine the source of the sudden noise, Eren was met with the ashen haired man he’d seen speaking with Levi during yesterday evening’s meeting. Dressed in the usual Kensha uniform, the man stood about his height, slightly taller, with softened charcoal eyes and masculine features.

“Your maj--”

“Eren, please,” Eren corrected as the man offered out a tray “and do, please, remind them to call me by name. I prefer it over a dead title.”

The captain nodded briefly “Sure. Do you need anything else?”

Pausing a moment, Eren inquired “Where can I bathe?”

“I’ll arrange for the men outside to take you to the bath house,” the man offered as he stepped towards the door.

Before allowing him to leave, Eren had to know “Thank you, may I ask your name?”

“Farlan Church, 3rd Division Captain,” came the proud response. The name was familiar. Isabel’s brother, her twin, which made him Levi’s brother.

Blinking back the momentary bewilderment, Eren chuckled “Haha, so you’re Levi’s brother? Well, cousin technically, I guess.”

“I am. Anything else?” Farlan sighed.

“Would you ask him to come see me?” Eren posed, hoping that Levi would actually be able to find the time.

For a moment, a smile tugged at the corners of Farlan’s lips “You must actually like him. No one ever asks for him….not if they want to live.”

Concerned as he recalled Levi’s reputation, Eren huffed “Why’s that?”

“Because people here are afraid of him,” Farlan snickered, the mask finally broken. “He can be absolutely ruthless, and his glare would freeze an army in their steps. If he’s woken up by someone, well, they better say their grievances. No one distracts Levi, and no one wants to have to be the one to tell him anything.”

“Oh, he can’t be that bad,” Eren droned “but I can imagine that he’s not a morning person. He didn’t really like to wake up. I appreciate you passing along the message for me though.”

“Certainly,” Farlan nodded as he slid open the door “if you’ll excuse me.” With Farlan taking his exit, Eren returned to have the breakfast brought for him. It was quite surprising that he was actually rather free despite the armored guards outside his room. Commander Erwin respected his position, and the reverse of that coin held true as well, but he was still a prisoner. Were he not attempting to force Eren’s decision to waver, he figured things might have been on vastly different grounds.

When he finished his breakfast, Eren placed the tray next to the door only to be taken off his balance when the door slid open without warning. Nearly stumbling backwards, Eren had to quickly regain his balance before he was forced to collide with his visitor. Much to his surprise, Levi had stopped by far quicker than he’d assumed he would be able to. A slight chortle left his lips as he watched Eren’s grace fail him.

“You sent for me?” Levi questioned, folding his arms over his chest while studying Eren’s fumbling steps.

“Hmm?” Eren hummed before straightening up a bit. “Oh, yes, I did. I’m bored to death in here, Levi, at least let me paint.”

Taking a moment of consideration, Levi shrugged “That may be difficult, but I’ll run it by the commander. You’re not allowed to do anything because you’re not being watched.”

Eren huffed “Ugh, just what exactly do they think I’m going to do? I’m a palace brat. I’m used to being locked in a room, and I didn’t try to kill myself then. I’m going to go absolutely stir crazy if I don’t find something to do.”

Levi smiled gently and outstretched an open palm “It’s likely a tactic to get you to change your mind for a bit of freedom. Now, c’mon, I’ll escort you to the bath house myself. It’s on the other side of the compound.”

Accepting his offer, Eren placed his hand atop Levi’s “Thank you.” The second the guardsmen outside noticed their conjoined hands, Levi’s frigid aura could have chilled him to the core. It was immediately understood why no one wanted to deal with him. Upon first experience, he could see the air of authority swirling thickly around him with each step they began to take. It was as if Levi’s station dictated an arctic exterior. Still, he could see the pride in how he carried himself, in each surveying glance from the outside path.

“The training grounds are going to be just past there to your right and the dojo is on the left, that building there,” Levi began as he toured Eren around the property. He had to admit he was taken back by the sheer size of the place. When he’d been before to the place he’d seen nothing beyond the front gate and main hall, but he was suddenly seeing barracks, training rooms, their dojo, dozens of rooms, and even a garden. Adorned in black, white, and powder blue, the flag flying in front of the dojo was that of their Kensha colors and sigil. Being near it was enough for his skin to erupt with chills. “Kitchen and main hall are in the opposite direction we came along with my office, personal room, the commander’s office, and his room as well. On the farther side, to the east of the dojo you’ll find the doctor’s office. If you won’t let me bandage your face or wrists, I’ll have to drag you there myself.”

Noting the off-white building with flowering plants hanging from the entrance, Eren nodded “Perhaps I will force your hand then. If your office and room is back the other way, are all the captain’s there as well?”

Shaking his head, Levi replied “No, actually, your room is nestled right in the heart of the captain’s quarters. If you were to open your door in the night, there are two captains on either side of you who would hear you. That being said, they also have direct entrances into your room, so do be on your best behavior, Eren. I’d hate to break up a fight in the middle of the night.”

Knitting his brow, Eren grumbled “I don’t like the way you said that just now. Who exactly am I stuck sleeping between?”

“Best if you don’t know,” Levi grimaced, tugging him along the path in futile attempt to draw Eren’s attention from his words.

Stopping, Eren arched a brow “Voted most likely to murder me in my sleep?”

“Eh, maybe?” Levi cringed as he knew exactly who Eren meant.

“Joy, so it’s Captain Bodt then?” Eren groaned as his lip twitched up in a momentary snarl.

“Yep,” Levi sighed “and Kirschtein is on the other side.”

“Lovely!” Eren exclaimed sarcastically. “Maybe, if I’m lucky, they’ll join forces and put me out of my fucking misery quickly lest I be forced to endure the brunt of their never ending supply of disapproving scowls and biting words.”

Halting mid thought, Levi pushed his shoulders back until Eren’s back was braced against the wall of the building “Don’t you ever kid about that, Eren. You have no idea how much death and destruction I’ve seen. I really don’t want to hear that coming from your mouth.” Stunned, Eren opened his mouth but found no words. Gaping like a goldfish out of water, all Eren could do was close his mouth and nod. Of course he should have known better than to say that. Earlier he’d noticed Levi’s lips tug down just enough to be seen when he’d said he wasn’t going to kill himself. The topic of death seemed to make him uneasy, and that struck Eren as odd.

Shouldn’t a man like Levi be more than aware of all the death he, himself, had inflicted whether literal or unintended consequence of his actions? Perhaps it was because of Levi’s relationship with him, but whatever it was seemed to have done something different than antagonize him. Fear lied in his eyes when Eren found the courage to meet them. Concern, worry, guilt, all expressions he watched cross Levi’s facial features before he attempted to step away, noting Eren’s silence.

Grabbing his forearm, Eren nodded “I’m sorry. I can see it makes you uncomfortable. It did earlier too.”

“Tried to hide it then,” Levi sighed as he stared down at Eren’s hand wrapped around his arm “but I suppose I did so rather poorly. I’ve seen too many people I care for die, Eren, I can’t bear the thought anymore.”

Lifting his chin, Eren smirked “I’m too full of spite to die, Levi, I mean, who else do you know who ran away and fell for their father’s arch enemy?”

“You make a good point,” Levi teased “you’re far more likely to die from a gardening accident.”

“Hey!” Eren pouted “I got pretty damn good at gardening, thank you very much!” Levi chuckled to himself before turning off and continuing their walk. Snorting air out his nose, Eren scowled and followed Levi until they came into the shadow of a relatively large building. No doubt he was aware of the bath house, judging by the cloth entry signs hanging in front of the open door, Eren tensed as Levi guided him inside. Noting there were two distinct branches of the area, Eren was a bit puzzled. Gender segregated bath houses had been implemented years ago, but it was an odd thing to see there. Isabel had been the only woman he’d seen, but he supposed it had to be why the building had separate bathing areas.

For a moment, Levi paused and began to walk back into each section of the bathing areas. When he returned, Levi grabbed his hand and led him into the left section.

“I had to make sure that no one else is here,” Levi admitted “they’re not allowed to know who we have here. So, go ahead.” In an instant, Eren’s muscles froze. Though he was well aware of communal bathing, it hadn’t mean he’d ever participated in it. At first it was more than a bit awkward. Very select few people were even allowed to see his body, and none were allowed to bathe with him. He rather enjoyed that last bit. Bathing was a nice solace, but now there seemed to be something unspoken lingering on the tensely charged air.

“Whoa!” Eren blurted when he turned to catch Levi disrobing several feet away. He’d not expected Levi to take advantage of the moment quite like that.

Casting his gaze over his shoulder, Levi smirked impishly “What? I need one too. You don’t mind, do you?” As his feline grin only widened, Levi teased “Or, is the royal side of you used to personal bathing, hmm?”

Feigning offense, Eren turned up his nose “Hmph.”

“I’m sorry, is that supposed to disprove it? Because now you’re being a little brat,” Levi pushed, wearing his smug grin.

Deciding he knew how to get to Levi, Eren puffed out his bottom lip “Must you continue to tease me? I’ve no problem with communal bathing.”

Weak to the rounded, gentle eyes and pout, Levi nodded “I feel like I’ve actually got to tease you a bit more now. I know why you looked like I’d smacked you in the face the first time I’d done it. C’mon then, your he---”

“Don’t you dare,” Eren warned as he narrowed his eyes towards Levi.

“Then hurry up,” Levi prodded “but you have me curious. How’d you go so long without being seen?”

While slowly disrobing, Eren answered “I was fortunate enough to have a hot spring on the property, and if needed I could heat water. I did know how to actually light the stove, ya know.”

“Sneaky, aren’t you?” Levi chimed “At least you can enjoy it here. The tub is rather roomy, but I won’t bite if you wanna get closer.”

“What?!” Flushing, likely down to his toes, Eren’s eyes widened owlishly. What had he just said? Oh no. Washing off in the same area was one thing, but actually sitting and soaking with him was another! Did he seriously mean that, or was he teasing again?! This was why Levi could be so frustrating! Although, he had to admit that if Levi could watch him strip down, then Eren could do the same. It’d be nice to see every inch of him in the bright light of the morning sun. Mmm, just the thought had his heart racing.

Finally, he’d been able to catch a glimpse of Levi’s fully exposed body. Venus dimples with the perfect thumb divots at the small of his back, slender hips, well muscled back….it was not just the heat beginning to flush Eren’s bronzed skin. As Levi lifted his arms over his head to untie the ribbon securing his hair, Eren had to ensure his jaw stayed in place. Watching the ripple of his muscles as he raised his arms nearly stole his breath. Levi’s physique was nearly carved of perfect marble, sure, there were some imperfections, a plethora of scars that he could see even from his distance, but even marble had its flaws. Standing there, examining every inch of Levi’s body that was bared to him made him all the more wound up. He wanted to have his fingers on Levi’s skin, feel out each gorgeous inch, and enjoy a moment lost in themselves.

“You have a serious problem with staring,” Levi announced smugly as he sauntered over to Eren.

“Oh!” Eren winced in embarrassment. “Sorry, can’t help it.”

Reaching out to skim his hand down Eren’s side, Levi hummed softly “God, you’re beautiful. It should be a crime to hide that.”

Jumping nearly out of his skin, Eren inhaled deeply before shaking his head “What?”

“Your tattoo, you, it’s stunning and really well done,” Levi complimented before lowering his hand to Eren’s hip soothingly “but you seem nervous. Are you alright?”

Steeling his nerves, Eren nodded his head curtly “Just because I’m alright with the idea of communal bathing, doesn’t mean that I’ve a ctually done it before. I have always bathed myself, and the thought of being so close to you… Yes, I’m nervous. It’s awkward.”

“I’ve been well acquainted with your body, Eren,” Levi chuckled before smiling sweetly “there’s no reason to be nervous.” It was rare, that genuine smile of his, and difficult to oppose. Levi wasn’t a very emotionally driven person, so when he showed a little of that side to Eren it was all he could do to not just give him anything he asked for. Taking him off guard, Levi asked softly “Would you prefer if I let you bathe alone?”

Before thought could process, Eren blurted on instinct “No.” At the time the words left his lips, Eren managed a weakened smile “Don’t leave me alone here.”

Chapter Text

“Okay, let’s go then,” Levi beckoned sweetly. Following Levi as he led the way into the open area, Eren had to become accustomed to doing things with Levi close enough to touch. Residual heat from the steam of the water felt nice on his skin, enough to ease the aches and worry, but his wrists burnt in the intensity of the water. A hiss exited his lips as he rubbed his wrists, drawing Levi’s attention. Eren brushed away his concern, but knew that he’d have to have the welts treated. Skin had been raw and burnt from however long he’d spent in binds. From one set of shackles to the next, his day had been filled with aching wrists.

Turning as he heard the careening splash of water splattering on the floor, Eren caught a glimpse of Levi shaking the water out of his hair. Glossy midnight strands fell in front of his face so easily, and he’d finally gotten to see Levi with his hair down while they were bathing. Now if only Levi would let him run his fingers through it. Why that was such an overwhelming urge, he had no idea, but that didn’t prevent it from echoing in his head. Fighting the gnawing in his gut to reach out and touch him, Eren had to get through washing his skin and hair before going to bathe in the tub. From the look he’d caught as they entered the stone basin, which was far more than substantial for just two men to be in, especially given Levi’s height, it wasn’t only Eren’s heart lurching into his throat.

Bolting upright, Eren inhaled sharply as he felt Levi’s fingertips dancing up his thigh, following the paths of paint still stained on his skin. Though the sensual skin contact lit a fire in his blood, something about the way Levi’s entire palm began to smooth over his skin began to feel comforting. Wrapping around him, Eren couldn’t resist the embrace. Skin to skin, exposed in all forms of the word, they’d finally shared a moment of intimacy where they were free to be themselves. No more lies; all laid bare before one another both mind and body. For once they were truly themselves. A revelation as bold and defying sent a tingling warmth coursing through his veins, into his extremities, as if pure serenity had washed over him when he felt Levi squeeze him just a bit tighter.

Voice barely above a whisper, Levi sighed “Let me have this for a bit. I won’t get to be open about my relationship with you here, not with my men when they’ve no idea who you are or why you’re being guarded. The top brass is more than aware of my affections for you, but outside these walls there isn’t much I can do. They can know I’m seeing someone, but they can’t know more than that.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Eren hummed. 

“Yeah, you are,” Levi teased before urging him along to the bath “come on. Time to relax.” Stepping into the water once they filled it, Eren sat with his back to the corner as Levi opted to sit against him. Being taller made it much easier to enjoy Levi sitting practically in his lap. With his back to Eren’s chest, Levi relaxed back into his touch as Eren nuzzled his face into his neck. Inhaling the delicate scent lingering on his skin, Eren could have claimed he’d found paradise. He never wanted to leave the damn tub, not when he got to indulge himself so readily. Arms around Levi’s hips, Eren dragged him as flush to his skin as possible.

“Can I say something?” Eren began as he broke the comfortable silence settled between them.

“Anything,” Levi replied with a content breath. Hesitantly though at first, Eren decided there was nothing stopping him and began to run his fingers through Levi’s silken hair. Feeling the longer strands slip so easily through his fingers, he wasn’t focusing on the moment Levi leaned back into his touch. Humming with each rake of his fingers, Levi was enjoying the bliss of their intimate moment.

Speaking against his ear, Eren continued to weave his fingers through Levi’s silken hair “I love when you let your hair down. It’s incredibly attractive. You look positively roguish when it’s covering your face.”

“Thanks,” Levi chuckled warmly “I think, but it’s getting a bit long for my tastes. I need a shave too.” The shoulder length strands had been quite a reveal when he’d taken his hair down, but the length complimented him well. As for his undercut, yeah, it could have done with a trim, but he quite liked the way it felt as the roughness brushed against his fingertips.

“Mhmm, it’s perfect as it is, but maybe you could use a shave. I’ve wanted to do this for a while now,” Eren admitted readily.

Turning, Levi couldn’t help his laugh “Touch my hair?”

“Yeah,” Eren defended with a shrug “it’s always tied up. I just wanted to run my fingers through it. I can think of one time in particular that I really wanted it down, but you had to work. I wasn’t about to ruin it.”

Arching a brow, Levi grinned salaciously “Yeah? I bet you did. I would have let you, you know. If you want to keep doing it I’m not gonna stop you. It’s feels nice.” A bit giddy at the allowance, Eren continued to rake his fingers through Levi’s hair. Enjoying each little hum and near moan tumbling over Levi’s lips, Eren found himself growing a little antsy to touch him. Abandoning his hair, Eren slipped his hands down to Levi’s neck, rubbing out the kinks in his muscles as he moved. Last he remembered, Levi enjoyed a good massage, so he could give Levi something he enjoyed while sating some of his own selfish desire to touch him.

Delving down to his shoulders and upper back, Eren began to feel the knots of tension disappearing from his muscles. Relaxing back into him, Levi was more than finding Eren’s actions a bit sensual in nature.

“Keep it up and I’m gonna think I’ve accidentally stumbled into a soap house,” Levi purred sensually.

“A what?” Eren asked curiously, having never heard the term before.

Twisting around to face Eren, Levi grinned “You’ve never heard of a soap house? How sheltered were you? They’re in the red light district….should I show you why?”

At the flirtatious inflection in his voice, Eren swallowed tensely “Uh, or you could just tell me?” 

“Haha, you’re adorable, look at your cheeks!” Levi chortled in jest before answering the question. “A soap house is a bath house with extra services.”

Realization dawning on him, Eren nodded “Ohh, I get it now.”

“Did you truly never get to--”

“Levi, you have to understand something. In the palace my sexuality is frowned upon because I won’t produce an heir that would be legitimate in any manner. My lack of willingness to do so doesn’t sit well with many people either,” Eren began to explain. Swallowing the awkward lump in his throat, he continued “I’ve never been in a real relationship with someone. I wasn’t allowed. A fling here and there for sexual gratification was about it, and even then there were a slew of rules that both partner and I were required to abide by. No man could mark my skin for one, no man could be with me longer than the act itself, no man was allowed to place me in a role of subservience, and no one, man or woman, was ever allowed to enter a bath with me… just to name a few.  Women were brought to my room as well, but of course I only ever used them as models for the paintings I had to hide away.”

Recoiling at the information, Levi placed a hand on his cheek “At least there was some fun, yeah? I do get why things make you a bit nervous now. You’ve literally never gotten to experience the world or another person’s care. Makes me feel exponentially worse for what I did to you….”

Placing his hand atop Levi’s, Eren replied “It’s alright, Levi, you didn’t know. Men in the palace weren’t opposed to being with one another, in fact it was pretty common, but my father wouldn’t indulge my ‘fantasies’ in hopes that it would pass. Joke is on him, not only do I know I only prefer male company, the male company I currently possess is his enemy.”

“Mhmm, I like hearing that,” Levi murmured before hesitantly leaning into him. Fractions away from a kiss, Eren hadn’t any idea if Levi was truly okay with knowing everything about him and carrying on a relationship with him. Just because he said he was alright with it, didn’t mean it was entirely true. His brain spoke logic, but his heart wasn’t bound by such nonsense. Closing the short distance between their lips, Eren surrendered into the longing kiss he’d been waiting, what felt like eons, for. A rush of skin against skin, enveloping one another in the slow burning fires of their passion, Eren truly wished to lose himself in the voracious hunger clawing at his senses.

Levi’s fingers brushed Eren’s hair back from his face before dragging him closer by the back of his neck. Deepening their kiss, chasing one another, Eren couldn’t get enough of him. In Levi’s absence it seemed he’d grown so desperate for touch that something simple was enough to cloud his mind. Yearning for more, Levi placed his hand atop Eren’s inner thigh, gliding it farther up until Eren’s breath hitched. Nibbling his lower lip as he retracted from their kiss, Levi gave him a devilish smirk before pressing a kiss to his jaw. Feeling him shudder with each tender kiss, igniting the smolder in his chest, Levi trailed his kisses down the tendon of his throat.

“Ha, Levi,” Eren gasped as Levi’s teeth grazed his skin.

Quirking a brow, Levi hummed “Hmm? I told you, Eren, that I’d have this part of you before I conquer the rest of you.”

Eren’s words meant to come out as a statement, but all that sounded was more of a suggestive pant “Now isn’t the time?”

“Not for much,” Levi shrugged before continuing “but surely you don’t think it feels bad, me touching you like this.”

“I--I, that’s not it,” Eren whined desperately, struggling to fight the carnal lust tearing through his coherence.

Recognizing the wanton tone in his words, Levi teased seductively “Or is it too good?”

While he had no comment on Levi’s words, he questioned “What--uh, what if someone comes in?”

Levi clicked his teeth “They won’t. Everyone here knows when I bathe, and the captains are well aware of our relationship. No one would want to risk possibly disturbing the two of us.”

Unable to refute that, Eren figured giving it couldn’t be so bad “Yeah? I hear you have a fearsome reputation…. show me.”

At the breathy pant, Levi clenched his jaw before clarifying “You want me to be rough with you? I feel like I’d be tainting something.”

“Picture it as defiling the enemy’s possession,” Eren enticed lowly, curling his fingertips in Levi’s hair.

Shivering at the caress, Levi warned “If that were the case I might be rougher than you’d like.”

“Just shut up and take what you want,” Eren demanded as he twisted his fingers further in Levi’s hair and tugged.

Inhaling sharply, Levi met Eren’s gaze with desire darkened eyes “Is that an order, Eren?”

“I’m sorry, did it not sound like one? Do I need to reiterate?” Eren growled.

“Be careful, Eren,” Levi warned “or you’ll start something you can’t finish.”

“Thought you’d always make sure we finished, Vice Commander,” Eren lulled before kissing him feverishly. Giving Levi an inch ensured that he’d take a mile. Hands roaming over his body, exploring Eren’s core, his hips, his chest, Levi took his time in making certain he could commit each physical piece of Eren to his memory. Remembering to breathe while he wanted to be consumed with Levi was growing more difficult with each passing second. Dropping his hands to finally get a taste of Levi’s body, Eren slid his hand down from his neck, his chest, and to his stomach. When his fingers skimmed across a raised scar, Eren had to think back to the night they spent together. He’d not remembered any scar on his stomach, but it had been dark. It hadn’t been like his mind was too present at the time either.

There was one thing that he did remember from that night, and it was that he owed Levi. If Levi assumed he was going to allow him all the control, he was gravely mistaken. Shoving Levi to the side of the tub, taking his breath, Eren began mouthing against his throat. Leaving evidence of himself on Levi was a nice treat to his ego, such beautifully discolored porcelain skin that was his and his alone. To have such a powerful man moan in his ear, however, nearly drove him and his composure off a cliff. He was fighting to keep himself reined in, but Levi’s hand smoothed up his inner thigh in response to Eren’s actions.

Levi hummed as his fingertips ghosted across Eren’s cheek “You’re not thinking---”

“Vice Commander Ackerman!” A voice bellowed from outside the bath house, instantly causing them both to shrink in response. Levi grit his teeth and rolled his eyes back at the call. Why now?! Eren wiped the corners of his mouth, as Levi held a lone index finger over his lips.

“Quiet, okay? It’s Erwin,” he smirked before raising his voice. “Yes, sir?!”

“I’m well aware that you’re not alone in there, but, when you’re finished, we have some matters that need to be attended to. Make it quick,” Erwin boomed.

“Yes, sir!” Levi answered before the sounds of Erwin’s footsteps began retreating.

Groaning, Eren sat back “Ugh! Here I was hoping I could finally repay you.”

Levi placed a tender kiss on his lips “Next time, okay? I’m a rather busy man around here, but I’ll find the damn time for you even if it drains me.”

Nodding, Eren smiled “Go. It’s not like you don’t where to find me, and I’m not going anywhere else.”

“True,” Levi snickered “so let’s get out and get cleaned up.” Reluctantly moving, Eren graciously accepted Levi’s offered hand climbed out of the tub. Though he knew Levi had to leave him, Eren was wise enough to believe what had been said. If there was a way for them to spend any time together then Levi would find it, he’d make time, or he’d clear a time for him. There wasn’t any denying that Levi was an incredibly busy man in his compound, but there were some things that could supersede that drive to duty. While he dressed, it was consuming his every thought. If only they’d not been interrupted….

He supposed that worse things could have happened, however, and delighted in the fact they got to share the moment together at all. Erwin was no longer lurking outside the entrance when they exited the bath house together, thankfully. Despite the pressing issue at hand that needed to be dealt with, Levi took his time in departing his room once they returned. A sweet, lingering kiss reassured every detail of Levi’s vow. When he left, Eren was once again alone in the room without much to do except stare at the ceiling. Much to his surprise, Levi had at least managed something simple for him during the morning. Having been dropped off a couple things to read, at least he had some form of entertainment to pass the time.

Completely engrossed in his readings, Eren laid out onto the floor and held the material above him while doing his best to find a comfortable reading position. Every few minutes the position would change, but his eyes remained glued to what he was entranced by.  It wasn’t until several hours later that he bothered to move. Once the door slid open without so much as a greeting, Eren practically stumbled over himself in an attempt to get to his feet. Greeting someone, no matter their position, in any way other than with some form of decorum intact wasn’t Eren’s form. There needed to be some retention of his dignity and, minimal, grace.

“Alright, your highness,” came the sarcastically seethed greeting “you can either eat or not. Either way, it’s no skin off my back.” Staring towards the freckled captain, Eren had to admit that Captain Bodt hadn’t initially felt so prickly. Perhaps it was because he was the affront to everything he stood for, but he knew that he couldn’t get through his plan without picking the man apart, without discovering what made him tick, and the only way to do that was to make him angry. He’d only heard a small amount of information about the man, but he did know he took pride in his training.

Eren’s lip twitched upwards “Ah, of course it wouldn’t be, but I do not trust someone who’d rather have my corpse in this room.”

“When did I ever say that?” Marco questioned sternly. “Sounds like vanity on your part, but I figure that comes with all you royal types. You should probably work on that. Doubt it’s a very attractive quality for Levi to stomach.”

Feeling the sharp bite of his words, Eren scoffed “Ha, my vanity is not to be assessed by a man with his own penchant for pride. I hear from many that you have a vanity problem yourself, Captain Bodt, one that crossed even the imperial war table.”

“Don’t talk of me as if you know me,” Marco warned dangerously “you know absolutely jack shit about me.”

Having hit where he needed to strike, Eren continued to prod “I do actually. I know your technique, Captain Bodt, one that has been studied….and mastered. What is it again? A slice to the throat, left shoulder, and right shoulder? Impressive.”

Eyes widening, Marco’s hand dropped to the hilt of his blade, sliding the blade inches from its saya “That’s impossible! No one can master that technique but me! I created it---”

“Vanity, pride, ego,” Eren interrupted “is the downfall of a good man. I lied; I do not know it. I only know of it, as it truly is impressive. It makes you a formidable opponent, or so I hear. I wasn’t old enough to get far enough into my lessons to be able to replicate a strike so fiercely quick, but the mere thought caused you to draw your sword, almost completely. Your reputation precedes you, Captain.”

Schooling himself quickly, Marco cleared his throat “And yours does not. You’re nothing like we’d heard.”

Quirking an eyebrow at his words, Eren found his curiosity piqued “And what is it, exactly, that you’ve been hearing about me?”

“That your temper was worse than Levi’s,” Marco answered swiftly “or even my own.”

Laughing, Eren gave a slight snort “Ha, then that was an attempt to provoke me? Test the theory? It seems you’ve been doing that upon each meeting I’ve had with you, Captain. While I do have quite a rash temper, and it is known to get the best of me at times, it is not wasted on those I wish no harm upon.”

Brows knitting, Marco huffed “You wish no harm onto your captors? I cannot say definitively whether or not that was an intended goal of mine, but do rest assured that should I have ulterior motives, your grace, you would never discover them so easily.”

“Were I truly your captive, I’d be held elsewhere and treated much worse,” Eren countered slyly before tacking on “and I wouldn’t be so sure. You’ve no idea what palace politics are like. I am quite aware of your motives, Captain Bodt, such as the attempt to use Levi against me at some point, likely a last resort considering his position among you. You’ll probably tell me that if I don’t side with you I’ll be as daft and cruel as my father, a carbon copy of him, which would undoubtedly piss me off, but it wouldn’t be true no matter which way you spin it. Unfortunately for you gentlemen, I do not intend to budge in my position.”

“Too smart for your own good,” Marco commented coldly “and yet too dumb to know when a cause is just. So pretty and yet so dense. I’ve no idea what Levi sees in you; to be frank, all you are is a coward with his sense of duty so backward you’re not even be fit to be considered as the heir to this country. A reason we want your bloodline removed from power. Your entire relationship is a sham too.”

Not fazed by the ideas, Eren shrugged his shoulders “Perhaps it began as such, but it isn’t any longer. I have my own opinions to form on the matter, and I will not compromise myself or my values to appease anyone. Your opinion of me matters little, as you are right. I am a coward who shirked his duties and is not fit to be an heir, and I have never wanted to be. I would like to see my history erased from power as well, but your methods are what I cannot abide by. You see, we agree on some things, but I will never be your instrument to use; I will never be a tool for someone to wield in this war.”

“And you won’t even do it for him? Guess that really shows how much you care, huh?” Marco prodded with a biting venom. “Oh well, you’re here with us no matter what you decide.”

“Marco!” A powerful voice boomed from the entry way. Immediately, Eren watched as Marco flinched at the resounding call. A sharp inhale through his nose, Marco twisted and turned to face Levi at the door.

Voice flat, Marco responded “Sir.”

Levi’s tone accrued a sharp edge as he questioned rhetorically “Don’t you have a letter to be delivering for me to the Lanshore outpost? I don’t recall your orders involving anything more than a delivery to the first line and to drop off Eren’s lunch. Go run that letter to the line. Now.”

“Yes, sir,” Marco replied through clenched teeth before bowing and excusing himself rather hastily.

Sighing, Levi slid the door shut and turned to Eren “Forgive him. He’s honestly a great guy, real sweet actually, but he is one of the men here whose family was killed by your father’s raids. His entire city was razed to the ground when he was very young, he and his twin sister were but a handful who survived. His distaste for the royal family is thickly woven, and he is acting his station a bit too much at times. Marco and Ymir aren’t of noble blood, and they sometimes attempt to overcompensate it as most of the captains are of noble birth. Marco far more than Ymir, however.”

Eren nodded “I can understand that, but I do wish we could find a source of common ground. I’ve no idea how long I’ll be here, and I do not wish to altercate with him on each passing breath. Speaking with him allows me to understand his heart is in the place he believes to be right, and I cannot possibly fault for him for defending his ideals so strongly. I am the embodiment of everything he appears to loathe. Maybe one day I can find some way to earn his respect.”

Levi shook his head with a slight snicker “Baby, Marco gives respect to those who earn it by showing him up in battle, even those of us in the chain of command had to earn it. Marco is a great warrior, so earning his respect may be a long way off. Having him on a term of coexistence with you might be the most you can get from him, and don’t get me started on Kirschtein. Look, I came to bring you some good news, so please don’t frown at me.”

Automatically attempting to counter the frown he’d not know he was wearing with a half smile, Eren chuckled “I see. Well, we’ll see about how to do that. What is this good news?”

“I was cleared to go fetch your supplies,” Levi announced with a broad smile “so I personally went to your studio and collected them. I knew you’d have a fit if someone else went in there, so I decided to go. You’re free to paint in my office, as you’re supposed to be supervised while doing so.”

Slinking up to him, Eren placed a gentle kiss to Levi’s cheek “Thank you for going out of your way for me.”

“Mmm, you’re welcome,” Levi hummed softly before curling his fingers around Eren’s hip “but come on now. You’re coming with me.”

“Ordering me now? To go be in your office alone? Why, Vice Commander, it sounds as if you have ill intentions,” Eren commented deviously.

Levi winked playfully “Who can be sure these days?” Carefully leading him out by the wrist, Levi led him to the other side of the compound. Walking step in step with Levi was a bit difficult, due to the differences in their natural stride, but Levi kept at his side. At the moment two men, likely soldiers, came into their line of sight, they bowed deeply and didn’t raise until after Levi had passed. It something that Levi hadn’t even taken notice of. Instead, Levi just tugged Eren along the path to his office. Once there, Eren made no comment to the men and slipped inside behind Levi.

Chapter Text

Closing the door behind him, Eren slid the door and turned to examine his surroundings. Levi’s office was immaculate to say the least. Having a room that slid open to its own private garden reminded him of the painting he’d done of Levi….the same painting that hung above the very opening to the garden, at least its duplicate anyhow. Glancing out into the beautifully decorated garden, Eren could have sworn he noticed something darting about in the yellow flowering shrubs near a small stream that likely lead to a pond. To the left, at the far corner of the room, laid Levi’s teak desk. Piled high with papers, ink, brushes, and maps, the desk was sprawled about a bit messily which was uncharacteristic of Levi. Maps hung behind the desk of the various surrounding regions, marked with various trails and paths denoted on each.

Even a tea set sat in the lonely corner, as if it was just waiting to be used. Staring at it a moment later, Eren came to realize that it wasn’t just any tea set. It was his tea set; the first thing he’d bought for himself when he moved to Trost. Next to it, however, was what drew Eren’s attention. Several wooden blocks, stretchings of canvas, his paints, his brushes, and even some of his clothing were placed delicately and neatly together. It seemed that Levi had gone above and beyond what he’d said. How he’d even gotten away with such a thing he did not know, but he was going to have to show his thanks later.

“You hang the duplicate in your office?” Eren mentioned in a whisper, inching towards the garden door.

“I do,” Levi answered “and the real one hangs somewhere much more important to me. Now, you can sit there and paint, so long as you promise to keep distractions to a minimum. I’m rather swamped at the moment.”

Nodding, Eren went to sit and sort out his things “Of course. Thank you, Levi.” Finally being able to paint was a blessing. One image began to take shape in his mind, so he began with a simple hunter green back ground before adding in his foliage and various other flora. During his attempt to lose himself and fully immerse into his artistry, he began to steal glimpses at Levi. Part of him wondered if he could get away with painting him another time, the way his brows were so tightly furrowing, his lips stretched thin, and his mind so far away made it appear as if whatever he was doing was incredibly important yet troubling for him. He knew then exactly where that furrow came from; his job.

It was then that someone began to call to Levi as a quite soft knock sounded against the door. Almost hesitant. Even the officer’s voice trembled when he began to trip and stumble over his words. Levi was growing increasingly frustrated, and he could see the exasperation clearly etched into his features. Quickly, the man was scampering of and Levi released a rather audible sigh, rubbing at the bridge of his nose, while he returned to work. Knowing he likely wasn’t going to get another opening, Eren got to his feet and cautiously approached Levi.

“Is something wrong?” Eren questioned.

Levi rubbed at his temples “Our supply lines have been halted along the lines of what the Jineaen rubble. There’s an encampment of the imperial army nearby, and our unit is basically pinned down without an exit. The area is flat until you reach the mountain line, but it’s dangerous there too.  I have to figure something out quickly, or my men could die.” Instantly, Eren understood that Levi held lives in his hands every single day. Having to make those calls….it was no wonder he didn’t always sleep well.

Recalling information of use, Eren offered “My father places those settlements, encampments or whatever, only when he’s trying to intentionally draw out the enemy.”

“How---”

“Remember, Levi, I was being groomed for the imperial army. I’ve attended my fair share of war council meetings. I know the man’s tactics,” Eren answered quickly.

Levi turned to him with a slight wince “So….if I were to ask you how to move my supply line without confronting that encampment and causing conflict, would I be overstepping my bounds?”

Glancing down at the scrawled topographic map, Eren simply asked “Show me where they are?”

“Your father’s men are here,” Levi pointed “and our unit is here.” Levi had said he wished to move things without conflict, without bloodshed or violence. Surely there was nothing wrong with a bit of assistance to avoid any loss of life in either direction. This was one small thing he could do for Levi, as thanks. There were only a few ways that his father could even know of Levi’s supply lines or a unit in the area.

“Have you moved men through here before?” Eren asked plainly.

Levi shook his head “No, I haven’t. We don’t mobilize until we’re called to. These men are there to prepare lines of communication between offices and to prepare a solid supply line.”

“Then it is entirely possible that he has no idea you’re there,” Eren responded. “If he does know and wants to choke it, then he’s hoping to intercept your messages to command or to your allies. My father is no strategist, and I’m afraid that falls to a man I’ve known my entire life. He’s intelligent, cunning, and ruthless. The only way around this if he’s here is to go around the mountains. It’s a long route, and no doubt treacherous due to the recent rains, but if you don’t take it all those men will die. General Hawkyns leaves no one alive.”

Instantly, Levi placed a hand to his stomach “Ah, so this is his doing. We’ve met on the battlefield, he and I, so I am more versed in his tactics than I'd like to be. I will disperse a captain immediately to bring word. Isabel should be perfect.”

Stunned, Eren gasped “What? You’re going to send your baby sister into what could turn into a bloodbath?!”

“Isabel is extremely capable,” Levi explained “and she wouldn’t be a division captain if she weren’t. She’ll carry a concealed blade, a couple decoy letters, and we’ll dress her nicely. To anyone who sees her, she’ll simply be traveling alone and that will make her easy to apprehend by the men. She will be detained long enough to cause the guards on watch to be distracted, and that will give my unit long enough to reach the mountains before being spotted.”

“You’ve a lot of faith in her,” Eren sighed lowly “but I understand why. I hope I helped even a bit, so I’m gonna get back to painting now.”

Levi stopped him with a carefully placed hand at his side “Listen, I’ve actually got to go make a report and call a council to announce the movements and prepare for disperse. By the way, don’t tell anyone I asked for help?”

Understanding, Eren grinned “Your secret is safe with me. Go on. I’ll head back to my room, but come get me once you’re done, okay?”

“You go it,” Levi promised “and I’ll escort you back to your room. It shouldn’t take us too long, but you never know with these things.” Well, there went his hope of walking alone back to the room, but it was Levi’s duty to ensure he was supervised. Oh well. Some things just couldn’t be helped, so he accepted his escort and his, always welcomed, departing kiss. Maybe he’d think more of his caged cuckoo longing for freedom while he waited, but mostly he already found himself drifting to what Levi had said.

General Renauld Hawkyns was a man who was a better father to him than his own. So much of his time was spent with the Renauld learning things from basic stance to even learning how to clean the training area. Eren could remember attending the war councils and planning out different plans of operation with him, learning how to use and apply strategy to win a battle, and ultimately learning how to completely incapacitate the enemy. Thinking of the fact his weapons instructor had run into Levi on the battlefield made him nearly ill. Levi’s hand on his stomach didn’t bode well either, as whatever run in they’d had shared obviously wasn’t a good one. At the very least they both walked away from it alive which was something to be incredibly thankful for considering the odds.

While he was waiting on Levi’s return from the council, Eren began to think that he wanted to do more Levi. Before everything happened and their secrets spilled forth, Eren had always wished there was more he could do for Levi. Now there were so many options to help him. Maybe he could make Levi tea or do his laundry; now that he knew how to do those things. It then made him wonder. Who even did the laundry around the compound? Who cleaned? Was there someone designated to do those mundane, simple, everyday tasks? Asking Levi would be the only way to find out, but he had a feeling the response might not be the best one. Still, he was determined to not only assist Levi and make things easier on him, but also to gain more freedom and slowly learn his range of captivity.

Once Levi finally returned, looking a bit more drained and frustrated than he had two hours ago, he escorted Eren back to his office. Before painting, however, Eren was determined to get Levi’s full attention.

Sitting on the edge of Levi’s desk, Eren began “Hey, Levi, I might be the one overstepping now, but can I make tea?”

Levi arched a brow and glanced up from his work “Have one of the men do it. That’s what they’re there for.”

“For making tea?” Eren scoffed sourly. “No thanks, I prefer to do it myself. I abhor others performing such menial tasks for me when I am perfectly capable of doing so myself. It comes with the bittering taste of home. I want to clean, and do laundry, and make my own damn tea….and make your tea!”

Huffing, Levi shook his head “You’re a spoilt little brat at heart, aren’t you? Still wanting things your way. Fine. I will look into it, but I wouldn’t expect a favorable decision. You’re still the emperor’s son, Eren Jaeger, so having you do housework is frowned upon. Even I don’t much like, if I’m honest.”

Curling his lip in disgust, Eren grumbled “You don’t have to like it, and I am not a brat…though I may be a bit spoiled. I simply wish to do something to keep me busy, and if I can help you too then that would be the best thing I could do.”

Knowing to concede, Levi dropped his hands to the table “Okay, you win. I’ll go pass word along. Hold tight---”

Stopping him before he could even rise from his seat, Eren posed curiously “May I make the request myself?”

Nearly stunned, Levi let out a huff of air “He’s quite a busy man around here, Eren, so I don’t know. Normally, I’d just barge in, but you’re not a matter to….nevermind.”

“Oh, no,” Eren urged with a slight bite in his words “go ahead. I’m what?”

Levi paused a moment, certain he’d misstepped, “Uh, just that you’re….well, due to your situation I should act professionally no matter what it is, if it involves you, meaning that---”

“Meaning that all things involving me means you acting as if I’m a prisoner of war,” Eren finished for him, a bit indignant at the notion.

“Yes,” Levi replied honestly “that means for those who don’t know who you are, that’s all they know: that we have a prisoner of war on the compound. We don’t need anyone knowing that we’re holding you here, Eren.”

Having no more of the idea, Eren slid from the desk in a tiff “Fuck this. I’ll find him myself.” As he began to storm out, Eren took the jade ribbon tied around his wrist to begin gathering his hair. Once his hair was up and his posture straightened, Eren made for the far hallway with confidence and pride. Though he could hear Levi shouting after him, calling him by name, Eren continued to search and scan the hall for a room that give just the right amount of ostentatious. Locating it became rather easy but only due to the fact Erwin had his position, his rank’s sigil, hanging above the door. Before he could say much, the door slid open to reveal Erwin’s puzzled expression.

Eyes rounding in surprise while watching Levi catch up, Erwin exclaimed “Whoa! What’s going on out here?”

Lifting his chin, Eren hummed “You and I need to have a chat.” Shifting to Levi, taking note of his both furious and frustrated face, Eren mused “Levi, this does not concern you.”

“Wha---”

“Guess you heard him,” Erwin shrugged with a bellowing laugh. “It’s okay, Levi, I can handle him. Just go finish those routes we need.”

Reluctantly agreeing, Levi lowered his head “Yes, sir. Please, excuse me.” When Levi turned on his heels to return to his office, Erwin gestured to allow Eren inside his office. At first, Eren was a bit taken aback. The walls were beautifully adorned in silk hangings, paintings, wooden blocks of art, and the occasional shelving. Taking an offered seat in front of Erwin’s hellaciously disorganized mess, where a desk probably lurked beneath it, Eren carefully sat.

“Alright, what is it?” Erwin asked, elbows braced atop the mountain of precarious clutter.

“I want to make my own tea, do my own laundry, and clean,” Eren stated firmly, resolve strengthened. “This sitting around bullshit is only going to drive me to my suicide. At least let me help with the basic things….but if you won’t give me that, then at the very least? Let me do it for Levi.”

Intrigued, judging from the feline smile splitting his lips, Erwin clicked his teeth “Tsk, you want me to let the emperor’s son do chores? I can’t very well, in good conscious, let you---”

“Let me make one thing painfully clear to you, Commander,” Eren began harshly, gaze focused intently “if you wish to treat me as the emperor’s heir then you will do so completely. Should you wish to obey my station, I can simply order you to allow me to do so. You pick your path wisely, Commander, or I will pick for you.”

Shaking his head, Erwin sighed “Levi was right; you are a difficult one to argue with. As far as everyone knows, that is within the higher ranks of command, you’ll be considered an honored guest. They mustn't learn of your true identity, however, so simply revert to your painter’s persona. If you wish to demean yourself into doing menial chores and housework then I cannot stop you. On the one hand, we get to benefit from your cleaning and Levi may actually take care of himself….or at least be taken care of. It is highly unlikely that that anyone else would do it under a direct order let alone a voluntary basis. You must truly love him or be afflicted with absolute lunacy.”

“When I figure it out,” Eren chuckled “I’ll be sure to let you know. Thank you for granting my request, Commander.”

“Erwin, please,” he insisted “and you’re welcome.”

Nodding, Eren addressed him without formalities “Very well, Erwin, if you’d please point me to the kitchen? You may have me watched, but I don’t wish to be anywhere else. Levi is here and that’s all I need.”

“You’ll have the captains checking up on you often. Don’t leave the compound, or I will be resort to lethal, if necessary, force. You understand?” Erwin questioned seriously.

“Of course,” Eren replied swiftly before another thought struck him. “Am I to be trusted with arms then?”

Shocked, Erwin had to blink back his surprise “Well, I suppose within reason. It’s not as if you’d get anywhere if you were to attempt anything nefarious. Why do you ask?”

Glee spreading across his face, Eren chipped “I hear you’ve a respectable training grounds, and it’s been quite a while since I’ve done any training. If you so wish it, Levi can keep possession of my swords.”

“Train under guard,” Erwin insisted “and that is acceptable to me. I’m sure some the boys would love to have a round with someone of your….caliber.”

Eren rolled his eyes backwards with a drone “Ugh, you mean the bloodline they wish to slaughter? Yes, I bet they would, but I suppose that makes it all the more interesting. I thrive on a good challenge.”

“Strange boy,” Erwin murmured before raising from his chair “but come along. I’ll give you a tour of the place. You’ll no doubt run into the captains as you get used to assisting. Each person does their share of work around here, no matter their station, but each has a specific job that you'll learn.”

“I see. Let’s get to it then,” Eren beamed brightly, anxiously ready to get on with his plan. It was going to take him a while before he’d be capable of recalling every twist and path of the compound, but in due time he’d begin to develop a relationship or at least respectable civility with those around him. Getting shown around the area claimed a good bit of time, so beginning on his work in the kitchen for Levi’s tea was slightly behind schedule. While on the brewing of Levi’s tea, Eren wondered what had possessed Erwin to agree so readily to such a demand. Perhaps it was a tactic; yes, that wouldn’t be too surprising in the end. Were Erwin attempting to gain his favor by giving into his demands, it wouldn’t matter in the end. All he needed to do was stay long enough to ensure a decent report with everyone around, and the more he moved around, the less they’d come to expect him of treachery.

Chapter Text

While gathering up the tea set onto the tray, footsteps alerted him to a presence entering the room. Shifting his head to the source of the distraction, Eren was met with the other captain who wasn’t making friends with him anytime soon. Captain Jean Kirschtein’s amber eyes lingered on him uncomfortably, obviously scrutinizing him as they narrowed.

Finally addressing him, Captain Kirschtein scoffed angrily “What are you doing in here? Why isn’t anyone watching you?”

Answering flatly, Eren continued to arrange things on the tea tray “Because things have changed. See your commander if you have any questions; I am allowed to come and go in order to do some things around the compound. Cooking, cleaning, laundry, and I’ll likely be painting, perhaps even training among you. All you’re to say is that I am guest, Eren Hawkyns, to be precise.”

“Your painter’s persona, eh? I see. I can’t believe it was agreed upon,” he grumbled before sighing “and we’re just supposed to agree with it?”

“No, just accept it. No one ever has to like or agree with a choice made by someone else. You do, however, have to accept it. I may not get along well with you or anyone else here, but I’m not here to get along with you. I’m here to help Levi and lessen the stress on him. I can see how horribly it wears on him,” Eren began to explain carefully.

“Interesting view,” Jean mused “all that time in the palace do that?”

Bitterness edging his words, Eren replied “Not exactly. See, while I was educated, it was mostly things I’d have to know to take over as the ruler of this country. My tutor taught me differently. She showed me how to do everyday things and to think for myself. If I ever saw something that I disagreed with,  I began to voice it and accept the multitude of consequences that followed. When this war began my father assumed I’d speak out against militaristic rule, and I certainly do, but I didn’t do as he expected. I don’t agree with either. I ran off when he wished to confine me until I changed my views. Now, tell me, does that scenario sound familiar?”

Nodding, Jean began to breeze past him to begin dinner preparations “Exactly what we’ve done to you. Wouldn’t just making the decision be the best choice?”

“I am used to captivity, Captain Kirschtein, so much so that it no longer impedes my decision making. It only forces me to cling tighter to my ideals,” Eren chuckled “but if you believe that were the best course of action to take, let me pose you this: would you go against your beliefs, everything you know to be right, if you were in the same scenario?” Eren posed carefully, eyes searching the other man’s curiously.

Jean scoffed quickly “Hell no; they could kiss my fucking ass. I don’t break for anyone. So, you just wanted to be normal and normal people aren’t expected to fight….I can get that, but so many here had that normal life and felt so powerless over their own lives. They came here, to us, to at least have a fighting chance at having their own say over their futures. I guess the grass is always greener, hmm?”

“Apparently so,” came Eren’s dissatisfied sighing “I may have my station, but it was something I was born into just like others. I didn’t wish for it. Now, would you care to show me how to get to Levi’s room from here? I don’t know if he’s in his office or his room.”

Checking the wall, Jean hummed “Hmm, it could be either. Why don’t you try the office first? He rarely comes outta there. I can take you, if you need, since boss man says it’s alright.”

“Noble blood,” Eren muttered almost under his breath.

“Me? Yes,” Jean confirmed “I am of noble birth. I understand my duty, but I am not one to blindly follow anyone…so I left my family to defend my own stance. I don’t need you in the kitchen when I cook anyway, so let’s go.”

Unable to prevent the chortle from escaping, Eren cackled “Ha! You cook?!”

“Yes, I do,” Jean groaned “but don’t be surprised. If you wanna help me, I’m sure I can find a use for you during meal prep. Just come back whenever you want, but don’t expect me to be so nice to you.”

“I don’t expect manners from dogs,” Eren teased “but at least it’s nice to know you’re not snarling and baring teeth at me, unlike Captain Bodt.”

“Forgive me for not laughing,” Jean grumbled while sliding back the door “and Captain Bodt is an incredible man, but I don’t expect palace rats to know that.” Not minding the back and forth, Eren chuckled to himself and grabbed the tray from atop the counter. Following silently on the heels of the captain, Eren carefully began to survey the path, taking in every detail he could. When they came to a fork in the hall, Jean addressed him “Levi’s room is at the end of the left fork, but if you go down the right, his office is two doors down and on the right side of the hall. Excuse me.”

Lowering his head just slightly, Eren graciously spoke “Thank you very much, Captain Kirschtein. I look forward to dinner.” In response, the man’s amber eyes widened just a minuscule width before he turned, haori billowing behind him, to head back to the kitchen to prepare the evening’s meal. Shifting his attention once again to the task at hand, Eren began to make his way to Levi’s room. Although the chances were small that he was there, Eren still wanted to be sure. Walking into Levi’s office when he wasn’t there was likely to get him into more trouble than walking into Levi’s bedroom. One was expected of him almost but the other could restrict his freedoms should someone assume he truly was spying, given what was in Levi’s office the last time he’d been with him.

A knock at Levi’s bedroom proved naut, for Levi was likely in his office as Officer Kirschtein had suspected. Having to turn, around after waiting a few moments to ensure Levi honestly wasn’t inside the room, Eren spun quickly on his heels and made it back to the fork. Nearly bumping directly into a man of a shorter height and thinner build, dressed in standard clothing, Eren had to regain his faculties. In front of the man, Eren watched with obvious concern as the other man profusely apologized for running into him. From the shaky hands and trembling voice, Eren had a feeling something was wrong with him.

“No, please, excuse me,” Eren insisted sincerely “are you alright, sir?”

Horribly fumbling over himself in an attempt to correct a disheveled appearance, the man’s sage eyes flickered to his own “Ah, n-no, my apologizes. It---I just….he’s a bit intimidating is all.”

“Who?” Eren questioned, albeit a bit rhetorically.

“Vice Commander Ackerman,” came the answer. “His presence is just….strangely powerful. I couldn’t even get out what I wanted to say.”

Lips curling dangerously, Eren hummed “Hmm, is that so? Then I guess he’s not gonna like me bringing him some tea then, huh?”

Completely floored, the young man guffawed “What?! Haha, you’re bringing ‘the demon’ tea?”

“Of course,” Eren chirping cheerily “so come on. Let’s go see if we can accomplish what you originally intended to. Which was what, exactly?”

Deciding to follow Eren, the man quickly trailed at his heels “I was just going to ask if it was alright to train with division 3. Captain Church was asking if anyone would like to join, and none of us really want to turn down such a gracious open invitation to train with him. Standing in front Vice Commander Ackerman….I just couldn’t get the words out right. He told me to come back when I could articulate myself well enough to get the point across and not distract him from his duties.”

Rolling his eyes, Eren grumbled “Sounds about right.” Leave it Levi to terrify the kid; he couldn’t have been older than 18 years old, at best. For a moment, Eren studied the evident fear in the young man’s eyes before standing in front of Levi’s office. Knowing that he could command his own presence when the time called, Eren straightened his spine, squared his shoulders, and cleared his throat before allowing a bit of his lineage to show. Raising the volume and changing his tone to that of an authority figure, Eren announced “Vice Commander Ackerman.” Quickly, there was stirring inside the room before the door slid open at a rate that Eren would have sworn could have taken off a finger.

Confusion knit Levi’s brows as he examined Eren, his eyes soon studying the soldier at his side “You again…. Have you found your words? Hurry then. I’ve not got all damn day to be waiting on you.”

“I, uh---”

Eren sighed “Levi, you’re intimidating him. Would you let him breathe before barking at him? I know it’s what you lot are good at, but a moment wouldn’t hurt, yes?”

“That’s not my problem,” Levi countered, then addressing his soldier “spit it out already! What’s this about?”

Squeezing his eyes shut, a volley of words began to spill from his lips “Training with division three today, sir!”

Waving a dismissive hand, Levi gestured for him to move on “Oh, yes, Farlan’s holding open training today. Sure, you and any else who wishes have my permission to attend, however, do remember our training starts in---an hour and 21 minutes. Off with you, then.”

“Yes, sir! Thank you, sir!” Echoed from the young man as he quickly turned to jog down the hall excitedly. Meanwhile, Eren stood with a disapproving gaze as Levi scanned him over.

“Eren---”

“Hush,” Eren groaned before letting himself into Levi’s office, by way of pushing him aside. “Let’s have some tea while it’s still hot.” Moving outside onto the walkway, just before the small steps descending into the garden, Eren settled onto the floor. Judging by the small cushions already there, it appeared every bit as if Levi himself often ventured out there as well. Levi sighed heavily, audible even from several feet away, when he shut the door and met Eren outside. A bit bewildered, Levi watched curiously as Eren poured his tea for him.

Sipping it just enough for a taste test, Levi nodded “Thank you. You’ve gotten better. A lot better.”

“Glad you think so. Now, you know, you could stand to show a little more compassion for your men,” Eren began to lecture.

Levi sat down his cup “No thanks.”

“They don’t need to be afraid of you, Levi,” Eren insisted “because that man was terrified of you! All they just need to be respectful and dependable.”

“And be highly disciplined to be one in my ranks,” Levi stated directly. “I’ve no place for anything but the best for anyone in my ranks. When it comes to discipline, I believe there are several ways to go about doing so. Many methods are effective, but scaring them into being prompt, direct, and precise is one that has produced the best results. You’re a leader, Eren, how far has coddling gotten you with the people you’ve, undoubtedly, directed?”

Huffing, Eren shook his head “I never coddled anyone, but I never thought to intimidate them so severely that they’d be afraid to even approach me. Part of it is your personality, I know that much, but the other part is that you choose to amplify that piece.”

“Because it works,” Levi answered “but they do not hold their respect for me from this method. I show them I’m a capable leader, warrior, and man. They respect me on a base level, but the weaker willed individuals quake in their step when near my room. How about you tell me how you’ve gotten Erwin to agree with your proposal?”

Drinking his tea with a smirk, Eren bypassed Levi’s previous comments “I told him that if he was going to continue to treat me like the heir apparent, then I was going to use that authority to order him to allow me to do what I please. He may not follow my father’s orders, but I am a neutral party with the most power in this godsforsaken hellscape. At least the most ceremonial power.”

Levi gave a soft chuckle “That you are. I suppose you’re going to inform me of what you’re allowed to do now?”

“I’ll be helping about the compound, but I only need guards outside my room at night. I’ll be moving around much of the day, unless I’m with you, and I’m even allowed to train with you. You’re the one I’ve designated to keep my swords,” Eren smugly retorted, broad smile continuing to grow.

Getting to his feet, Levi stepped across the threshold, moved behind his desk, and returned to Eren in a matter of minutes “Good thing, too, considering your swords are already here. I wasn’t going to let them be in anyone else’s care.”

Taking them from Levi carefully, Eren admired them “How kind of you. May I?”

Levi flashed a smile “They’re yours, Eren, do as you wish. Kinda heavy though, aren’t they?”

Standing to remove a blade, Eren easily maneuvered it “Not at all.” Unaware that Levi was watching his every flourish of the blade, Eren continued to move about with it. The last instance wielding them had brought the end of lives, but he couldn’t find it in him to personally care about the men themselves. In general, however, he was terribly guilty he’d removed any lives from the world, as they were not his to take.

Suddenly, Eren felt Levi’s hands on his hips “You have great form, Eren. Shame I didn’t get to watch you. Who was your instructor?”

Tensing at the question, Eren answered softly “General Hawkyns.”

Instantly, Levi released what sounded to Eren like a low snarl “Hmph, no wonder, but your hands are a bit high. Here.” Placing his hands carefully atop Eren’s wrists, Levi used a slight bit of pressure to instruct him to lower them. “If he’s your instructor, I’ve no doubt you’re just as highly skilled with these.”

Eren lowered his blade before sheathing it appropriately “Not too great, but enough to be considered a challenge. Am I going to get to come to your lesson? It’s been a long time since I’ve practiced.”

“If you’d like,” Levi offered “but you cannot bring those. They’d draw too much attention. Speaking of which, what am I to do when others begin to question me about who you are and why you’re here?”

“Use Eren Hawkyns,” Eren replied with a hollow smile “and I know you understand why it was my created family name now. As for why I’m here? I don’t know; I suppose that’s up to you, isn’t it?”

Returning to their seats, Levi nodded “I do understand. As more than just a mere lover, I suppose I could conjure up something….though, that would draw more attention no matter what were to follow it. Welcoming you here, the painter, my partner in life, no, the questions would never cease.”

Casually laying his hand atop Levi’s knee, Eren shrugged “I don’t mind questions, Levi. You said before, that they couldn’t know we were together….not as my true self. Now, you can be as free as you so choose to be. Don’t they know you’ve had a lover due to your absences?”

A subtle laugh escaped Levi’s lips when he took Eren’s hand in his own “I rarely leave this office when I am here, Eren, so most of them have no idea. It would be entirely too far beyond the realm of plausible to them, no doubt, that someone would be able to even stomach enjoying the company of a man like me.”

“Maybe if they didn’t see you as a demon that’d be different,” Eren replied before silkening his words “so, should we show them?”

“Only if you’re prepared for what it brings,” Levi answered with a kiss dusted across Eren’s knuckles.

Chill erupting down his spine at the casual intimacy, Eren hummed “Mmm, I can handle it. I just want them to see you as….well, human. I don’t want them to be so scared of you. It makes me think horrible things, Levi, when I know how they view you.”

Jerking him nearly across the cushion, Levi yanked Eren to him “Tell me, do you wish to share with them the side of me that only you are privilege to?”

“No, just for them to have a better opinion of you,” Eren admitted, trying to refrain from kissing the honeyed lips which hovered only a fraction of an inch away from his own.

Almost as if reading his mind and his intent, Levi delicately brushed his lips over Eren’s “Good, because I don’t want to show my vulnerability to anyone but you. I care for you enough to show you my weakness, because I trust that you will not use it nefariously. Last I checked, though, your opinion of me isn’t that high either.”

Stealing another kiss, unable to help himself, Eren shook his head “And I would trust you with the same. My opinion of you will always be of the highest I can place it; my opinion of this place and your position in all of it? Not so much. I hope it is the same of you….and that you can go back on a promise you once made to me.”

“I don’t tend to retract my promises, but if you ask it of me I will consider it,” Levi agreed before continuing “and I can say that is similar with me as well. I can realize that you aren’t your birthright, Eren, and I care for you , not what your title is.”

“Good,” Eren hummed delightedly while inching closer “as for my request, you once said that you’d not blend business and pleasure. How about now?” Sliding the tea tray out of the way, and being careful to move their cups with it, Eren sat in front of Levi and opted not to wait on a verbal decision. Simply stealing a kiss would be the best he could get without having to say so much as a single word. Indulging in secondhand tea undertones from Levi’s lips was far more delicious than the tea itself could ever dream of being. Something was always so intoxicating about the cloyingly sweet embrace; from the way Levi immediately gave into his desires or the way he knew exactly where and how to touch him to elicit the exact responses he wished for. Sliding his fingers into Eren’s hair, Levi deepened their kiss and allowed it to linger for more than he perhaps should have.

Once breaking the kiss, Levi pressed his forehead to Eren’s “For you, I’d do anything, Eren. Including compromise myself….I’ve never met anyone that ever made me want to do nothing more than lay here and enjoy the company of another.”

“Wasting time away with you is an unspoken goal I will have until I die,” Eren smiled “but this is the only instance I will let you compromise yourself. I care about you far too greatly to watch you fail to uphold your own values. That being said, I believe we must go train.”

“You are far too perfect to remain at my side, Eren, even if you fail to believe that through our positions.” Reciprocating Eren’s warm, tender smile with one of his own, Levi framed Eren’s cheek “ Alas, you are correct. We need to get down there. If you will return the set to the kitchen, I will go ahead and get to the dojo. Are you alright to remember how to get there yourself?”

Nodding, Eren stole his parting kiss “Yes, I can manage.” Levi placed a gentle kiss to his forehead just before he rose to collect the tea set. Returning it to the kitchen was an easy task, as he’d thankfully recalled the path he’d taken to get there. Getting back to the dojo? That one he may have fibbed about. It’d give him a moment to wander about himself under the guise of being disoriented by all the twists and turns. With an excuse ready to go, however, Eren found that he didn’t want to actually explore at the moment. He just wanted to get back to Levi, so he dropped off the set and traced his way back to the office. From the office he could remember the way back to his own room, and from his room the dojo would be off to the left, just before the bathhouse.

Once he arrived, he carefully slipped his way inside the building. A strong odor of sweat and chemicals reached his nostrils in the instant he passed through the door. Likely the cleaning chemicals and the scent of dozens of men sweating was heavy enough to produce such a strange, pungent odor. Still, it wasn’t the worst thing, and he was quite to used to being amidst the smell during his own training. Before approaching Levi, he stayed at the back of the room and watched carefully as he commanded such respect merely by walking past someone. Bows were abundant, and the atmosphere was tensely charged as Levi began to stand in front of his men. Beginning his training with a reminder they needed to be poised to kill at any moment, Levi progressed into instruction.

Teaching his soldiers that their motions needed to be fluid, strong, and sure, Levi stood in front of him and demonstrated with his own actions. Being able to observe him in such a moment reminded him of his own training. While be so engrossed into thoughts long past, Levi’s voice rang out to him.

“Eren,” Levi addressed flatly with a dangerously curled smirk “how far did that challenge go? Do you still wish to spar with me?”

Jerked from his head by words that took him completely off kilter, Eren just shrugged “I, uh---well, I’m only familiar with my own blades.”

“A source of already lacking skills,” Levi teased “but luckily for you….here.” Walking across the room to the back of the dojo, Levi removed two swords from a weapons rack. Handing them to Eren, Levi stood in front of him with the jade in his blades covered with silk taping, and the saya being entirely replaced. How sly. “Come on, now, Eren. Play with me.”

Getting to his feet, Eren gladly took his weapons and tied them accordingly “I can never resist a good spar with you, Vi---Levi.” At the use of Levi’s first name, half of the unit in front of him began to whisper. Eyes widened and blinked slow when they noticed that Levi’s playfulness wasn’t normal with anyone aside from a fellow captain. Already he could sense the wheel turning in their skulls, attempting to discover who he really was and why he was so friendly with Levi.

“Take a stance,” Levi ordered “and draw when you’re ready.” At Levi’s final words, Eren obeyed and firmly drew his blade. Feet steady and posture correct, Eren stood opposite Levi and prepared for their match. Unfortunately, what he could have never prepared himself for was the cold, cruel fire in the depths of Levi’s gaze. The aura around him chilled him to the hollows of his bones; it was stifling. If this was ‘The Demon,’ then he finally understood why he carried such a moniker. Why did his chest ache at the revelation? At the understanding of the fact that when Levi drew his blade, it was as if he no longer existed inside himself.

Nothing more could be said, only done, as Levi made the first step towards him in an action so quick he was thankful for his own version of autopilot. Barely escaping the sharp bite of Levi’s blade, Eren twisted and managed a simple parry. Despite his lack of  ability to match Levi’s speed, Eren matched Levi’s onslaught with power. Flourishing each motion smoothly during the clash of steel, the dance of swords was deafening. Neither of them was focused on each other in a personal aspect, only on the fact they were the other’s enemy. Directing their distaste for one another’s position still wasn’t something that came in play, as they truly only viewed one another as an enemy for a serious sparring session and nothing more. Eren only wished he’d studied Levi as an enemy; perhaps then he would have known how he operated.

With an action Eren had only seen, Levi replicated the one technique that was all his own. Holding his blade parallel to the ground, Levi smirked and performed one act to end it all as Eren moved to strike a blow. Before he’d even registered the action, Levi’s blade twisted beneath his own. Using Eren’s momentum against him, Levi was able to quickly disarm him and hover the tip of his blade against his throat. Hearing his sword clatter uselessly to the ground, Eren cleared his throat and met Levi’s eyes. Only when Eren placed two fingers to the dull edge of the weapon and gently pushed it aside did he see the man he knew return to Levi’s gaze.

“Not bad, Eren,” Levi complimented before handing him his fallen blade “but your fluidity is choppy on parries, your strength will only get you half of the way there, your range of motion can use some slight adjustments, and you lacked true conviction in your actions. Then again, we both know you didn’t want to kill me.”

Taking a breath, Eren rolled his eyes before bowing in thanks “Thank you, but you know my reason for not truly wielding these weapons.”

Nodding, Levi stepped forward and bowed “I do. Given your circumstances you’re pretty decent, but we can always work on it.” A faint, genuine smile began to twist his lips. For what seemed like the blink of an eye, Levi had shown Eren a smile in public, that soft, warm, loving smile he longed to see. Noticing that his men began to murmur, Levi cleared his throat “What? If you have time to be whispering amongst yourselves then you have time to be training! I’ll be examining each and ever---”

Interrupting, Eren placed a gently hand to his forearm “Levi, please, remember what I said.” At Eren’s soft plead, all eyes turned to him in shock.

Sighing, Levi gave in “I do, and I’ll try….but it can’t be now. I’m sorry.” Addressing his men, Levi boomed “Training with Captain Church’s men will be a great way to test yourselves and improve your disciplines. Split up and take arms.”

Farlan slinked up to Levi from across the left side of the room “Ooh, Levi, you almost slipped up. They nearly saw you crack an actual smile.”

“Almost human, for a fleeting moment,” Eren muttered.

Glancing to Eren, Levi grumbled “I know, Farlan, but it’s his fault. He just had to---”

Shoving a finger into Levi’s chest, Eren scoffed “Oh no, you just had to use me as a tool, so don’t even start with me. A smile wouldn’t kill you.”

Hand over his mouth, obviously enjoying the banter, Farlan snickered “Damn, Levi. Of all the men in the world to fall for, you wind up with the one who not only isn’t afraid of you but refuses to put up with your haughty attitudes. He’s also the one man you shouldn’t have ever been around, but I suppose that ship has sailed.”

“We don’t control the people we fall for, Farlan, and perhaps in time you will be tested with someone in a similar manner. So, spare me your spiel,” Levi quipped. Brushing his fingers across Eren’s cheek, Levi stared hazily “You are so frustrating, but I’d have no other. Thank you for letting me demonstrate with you. I apologize for not having spoken of it with you beforehand. Forgive me?” Attempting to restrain himself, Eren was absolutely giddy over Levi defense of their relationship and his admittance in front of his family. Even an apology? It was as if he’d hit the trifecta! A rather simple smile donned his lips at such an innocent thing. Leaning into the warmth of Levi’s hand, Eren exhaled blissfully and paid little to no mind about the glances being cast their way. Just the action allowed Levi to take his own assumptions about his forgiveness.

“You seem to feel strongly for him, Levi,” Farlan chuckled before his tone dropped. Holding Eren’s gaze, Farlan began “There have been many people in our lives who have left in various ways. Levi is a fantastic man at looking after others, but he de-prioritizes his own care. I’ve never seen him express himself both so openly nor honestly. I implore you, Eren, continue putting up with my brother.”

The moment Farlan began to bow, all of Eren’s emotions dissipated as he struggled with vocalizing himself “I, uh, will, but, please, Captain Ch---”

Stepping on Farlan’s toe, Levi clicked his teeth “Tsk, get up, idiot. Bowing makes him rather uncomfortable.”

Cursing under his breath, Farlan scowled “Ouch! I get it. My apologies, Eren. Levi, tonight Jean, Connie, Reiner, Ymir, and I are gonna head out to the south ward if you wanna come with us.”

Glancing between Eren and Farlan, Levi slipped an arm around Eren’s hips “No thanks, I have every last drop of entertainment I need right here.”

“Ugh,” Farlan droned with an overly exaggerated roll of his eyes “gross. Okay. Suit yourself.”

Chapter Text

Had Eren grown too complacent in the wake of Levi’s words, fate was always there to remind him that he needed to stay on his toes. Before there could be much else done, the slam of doors gave nod to their new participant. With knit brows and slight snarl of his lips, Captain Bodt practically seethed in each step he made towards Levi.

Volume louder than need be and tone direct, Marco growled “Vice Commander! What the hell is going on---”

Levi straightened beneath the tone “Do not think to assume such a tone with me, Captain. What has you in such a tiff?”

“He’s armed! Are we to trust him wielding blades now?! What kind of absolute lunacy is this?!” Marco demanded while gesturing a hand out to Eren.

Taking a step closer to Marco, Levi’s voice softened “He’s our honored guest, and he wanted to train. If you an issue, Captain Bodt, then I suggest you take it up with Commander Erwin. Things have changed in your absence.” Though his voice was calm, Levi’s eyes said everything they needed to. Watching them swirl with the challenge of his authority wasn’t new but when it was directed at another Kensha member it still unnerved Eren just a bit. Another glimpse at the so called “demon” in a way of speaking. Levi, however, seemed to have no problem grabbing the collar of Marco’s haori to haul him off to a corner of the room and have a chat. Though he wasn’t close enough to hear the discussion, he had a pretty good idea of what the two were speaking of. It didn’t take a behaviorist to tell the expressions crossing Marco’s face were mainly done in disdain and disapproval.

When the two returned, Marco stopped his pace in front of Eren “So, you’re allowed to do as you please, now? Have common run of the roost, hmm?”

Eren shrugged his shoulders casually “To an extent. I do still have limits on the things I am allowed to do. Does it give you cause for concern? I’m not here to hurt anyone.”

Snorting a huff of air through his nostrils “Not that you could if you even tried to.”

“Would you care to rethink that?” Eren drawled. “I have had formal training since I was young. You group are not the only swordsmen here.”

“Eren,” Levi began with a smirk “both the third and first divisions have captains of the utmost skill. Suffice to say, Eren, that Farlan and Marco are our best swordsmen in the ranks we have.”

Rolling his eyes, Eren scoffed “I may be a brat, my basic information limited, but I am well aware of everyone’s skill. I know what I’m doing. So, Captain Bodt, how about I train under you while I’m around?”

Absolutely flabbergasted, Marco shook his head “What? Are you serious?! Why in the eight invested hells would I want to train you?”

“Why?” Eren offered bravely “Because you get to spar with someone you know is worth the effort you put in.”

Marco snorted “Please, --”

Cutting off Marco’s words, Levi crossed his arms over his chest “Actually, he and I just had a good little match. He’d provide a good challenge. General Hawkyns began training Eren when he was young, but due to the nature of his strained relationships his training was never completed. Surely you find that interesting?”

“Really?” Marco smirked curiously. “You may indeed be interesting after all.” Walking off to the back of the room, Marco called over his shoulder “Fine. Let’s go. I’ll train you if you’re any good.” Deciding to have a go with Marco should have stricken some sort of fear through him, but there was nothing of the sort. Flowing through his veins was something vastly different than fear. He was beyond ready to begin sparring with Marco. Maybe then he could finally prove himself to Marco; prove himself worthy of equal footing in his eyes. In Marco’s eyes they were enemies, and so he needed to get into the mindset as well. At no point was Marco going to be pretending this was just a simple sparring match; Eren needed to be prepared for injury.

Stepping into Marco’s space, blade drawn, Eren watched Marco’s motions. Purposefully going on the defensive to observe how quickly and surely Marco moved was one tactic that wasn’t going to work for long, but it was one that he needed to employ. He’d only seen Marco in action once, and even then he’d not gotten a clear view of every motion, every step, or every fluid swing of his blade. Being able to avoid his maneuvers was more than difficult, but he managed to narrowly avoid the business end of Marco’s blade. Each movement Marco made was incredible. Unfortunately, Eren knew more than well that he was being toyed with; Marco was just an overly excited cat playing with a brave, or perhaps stupid, rodent.

Being forced to move into the offensive, Eren began to match Marco’s step in the dance of steel. Listening the scrape and clang of colliding metal seemed to draw more than Levi and Farlan’s attention. The dangerous two-step may have drawn more attention but to Eren and Marco nothing mattered more than their match. Sidestepping Marco’s powerful blow to parry with his own felt nice; hell, he was absolutely fucking amazing that he’d survived so long without a damaging blow. Getting too wrapped up in his own thoughts caused his step to falter and his speed to slow. Met with the heavy weight of the blunt side of Marco’s blade at his ribs, Eren’s breath halted in his throat.

“Not too terrible, actually,” Marco chuckled “so you must’ve trained for quite some time.”

“From birth practically,” Eren answered with a grin while they sheathed their blade.”

Marco gave a low bow in thanks before rising to laugh “Then you should be better at it! There aren’t many who can stand toe-to-toe with me for so long, however, so you should at least be proud of that given your injuries. They could be causing that failure in your fluidity. Perhaps you should see the doctor.”

“Perhaps I should,” Eren bowed respectfully. Rising, Eren beamed “I am a bit surprised though, Captain Bodt, that you’d still be willing to spar with me in such condition. Besting an invalid surely doesn’t mean much to you.”

“Right, no true honor in winning against someone who’s injured, true, but for being injured you still manage to do as well as some captains,” Marco smiled honestly, giving a quick nod to his skill.

Bending to his knees, Eren flattened his palm against the dojo floor “Holy shit….no? No, the earth is still warm so hell hasn’t frozen over. That was almost a compliment, Captain Bodt.”

Levi interjected “Almost.”

Having nearly forgotten about their audience Eren nodded “Guess I couldn’t get so lucky.”

“Nearly,” Marco shrugged “but I’d be willing to instruct you from to time if you feel up to it once your wrists are taken care of. I will not do it for free though.”

“Mind your place,” Levi reminded strongly.

Casting his gaze to Levi, Eren shook his head “Mind yours, Levi, he’s more than obligated to ask me for something in exchange for his time. Our deal doesn’t include you.”

Umber eyes rounding in surprise, Marco attempted to restrain his laughter “Ouch. At least you can speak to him so roughly and live. All I ask, Eren, is that you and I have a chance to speak. There are some things that I’d like to know.”

“Within bounds, of course,” Eren replied with a nod.

Inching closer, Marco leaned down to whisper in his ear “There may be something I can use your talent for as well.”

“Oh?” Eren replied, curiosity piqued, “Very well. Twice a week? One-to-one instruction?”

“Three,” Marco corrected “and for four hours. My regime is not simple, but you should be able to handle it once you’re healed up decently.”

“Very well. I look forward to your care, Captain Bodt,” Eren chirped. Levi and Farlan remained still, staring with unblinking eyes. Judging from the blank expressions on their faces, they were confused as to how their interactions had progressed from a fight to an agreement. Levi was the first to approach him, shaking his head at the series of events, while Farlan moved on to instruct his soldiers.

Levi gave him a nod before moving to follow Farlan’s example while Marco spoke from his side “Would you need an escort to the good doctor? I’ve got to make my rounds around the barracks anyhow.” Eren figured he could use the help anyhow. Walking around the compound at Marco’s side wasn’t the oddest thing to ever occur, but it was certainly on the list of things he’d never expected to happen. Thankfully, the walk to the doctor wasn’t that far, so he’d departed from his company before too long. It was a bit awkward heading up to the doctor’s place of business without ever officially meeting him. Sure, he’d seen the man before, but he’d never done much than that.

Standing outside the entrance to his office, the doctor awaited in him dressed in shades of rich plum. His long, honeyed hair was pulled back into ponytail, and the doctor’s cerulean eyes never seemed to leave him.

“You must be Eren,” he called softly “I’ve been waiting for you. Come in.” Taken aback by the words, Eren’s brows furrowed just slightly. Nevertheless, Eren followed the shorter man inside and sat in front of him when gestured to.

“Thank you,” Eren began appreciatively “for forgoing my title. You know of me, but I’m afraid that I cannot return the sentiment.”

With a kind, warm smile the doctor nodded “Forgive me. My name is Armin Arlert. I was informed by Vice Commander Ackerman that you detested your title. He also instructed me to chase you down should you not make an appearance in a couple days. Your wrists, and face, need tending?”

Glancing down to the burns still stinging dully, Eren sighed “I suppose so, but his insistence….you should simply ignore that in the future if at all possible. He simply worries too much.”

Rising to gather the necessary materials for bandaging his wounds, Armin clicked his teeth “To take such a significant measure for a significant others, worrying over a simple bruise is commonplace, even among the believed heartless. Seeing Vice Commander Ackerman worry is a bit….perturbing.”

Huffing, Eren nodded “I can imagine it would seem so, but why do you believe that, if I may?”

“I’ve not known the vice commander long, meaning I know little of his behavior outside the average day spent here, I’ve patched him up only a handful of times, and I perform his routine physical checks in order to clear him for duty,” Armin reported back while gently taking Eren’s left wrist in his hands.

Wincing slightly at the poultice being slathered across his skin, Eren replied “So, for you, it’s a glimpse into his humanity?”

“In a manner of speaking, as I’ve only ever seen him so invested in his sister’s health,” came the slight chuckle from Armin’s lips.

“Ow,” Eren cringed “please do allow some mobility. There are things I must do with those.”

“My apologies,” Armin nodded as he carefully worked to clean and bandage Eren’s wrists. Once he finished with Eren’s wrists, the doctor’s chilled, clammy fingertips brushed against his jaw “Unfortunately, it appears the scuff on your cheek will scar. Does it hurt when I do this?”

Skimming his finger across the wound, Armin prodded Eren’s cheek causing him to immediately swat at the annoyance “Yes! Stop that!” The sharp burn accompanied with the brush of skin was enough for him to begin feeling the ache across the band of his face. “I don’t particularly care if it scars or not. Just patch it enough to where Levi can’t complain about it.”

“As you wish,” Armin snickered behind his hand. You know there’s a slight laceration; the blade was likely so sharp you didn’t even feel it slice through your skin.”

“You don’t say,” Eren mused before posing “do you enjoy being here, Doctor?”

Taking a moment to pause, Armin answered truthfully “Enjoy perhaps is too strong of a word to use. I have a purpose here, and I love helping people, but I do not know if I would enjoy seeing the horrific things I have to see. The aftermath of war is devastating; more so beyond the grisly wounds and death.”

Finally having discovered someone who shared the same thoughts, Eren nodded with a smile “I couldn’t agree with that sentiment more. Did you, too, come to stand with the Kensha by choice?”

Armin shook his head, features falling “My practices was razed, and I’ve been on my own for quite a while. I came because they needed me and vice-versa.”

“Understandable,” Eren commented softly “I’m sorry to hear about your practice. You do not sound as if you wanted to be here. Do you not agree with them? Their ideals?”

“Pieces of it, but I’m a doctor. It doesn’t matter what I think. My job isn’t to stand and defend their thoughts, it’s to keep them alive to do it for themselves,” Armin answered with a matter-of-fact tone. Jackpot. Eren might have found his way out; it lied with the one person who wasn’t obligated or honor bound to the Kensha and their goals. A man who didn’t side with the war, and who was friendly enough, would be the perfect catalyst to his actions.

Amping up the charisma a bit, Eren smiled broadly “I see. You and I are similar in that nature. Thank you very much for your help.”

“You’re welcome,” Armin offered kindly “but….may I pry?”

With a shrug, Eren nodded “Provided you tread lightly, sure.”

“How do you see these men around you?” Armin posed carefully, watching him intently.

“Certainly not an easy questions to ask,” Eren mused before answering “but I believe their hearts lie in the right place. I simply believe they’re being mislead….there are other methods to achieve the same goals. Honestly, I believe in their cause to an extent, but some of their actions are reprehensible to say the least. Against my father, however, I begin to worry if they may to resort to more uncouth tactics.”

“So you understand their positions but refuse to support their methods and the justifications they use in order to support them?” Armin prodded, likely seeking some clarity.  

“More or less,” Eren shrugged before pondering aloud “but what about you? Surely you have some opinion on the matter as well, being an objective party.”

Armin nodded along “Mhmm, I do . There are efficient strategies that aren’t being utilized, but some believe that there are other motives for their apparent madness.”

“I can certainly see that as one possibility considering that we aren’t inside the commander’s head. It appears that you and I are of a like mind, Doctor,” Eren commented with a charming smile.

“Please, call me Armin,” he invited kindly. “We are of similar thought in a couple of areas, but I can see that you are conflicted about your ideals. Should you ever need anything, even to speak freely, my door is always open to you.”

Getting to his feet, Eren gave a slight incline of his head “I may very well take you up on that offer someday soon. Thank you, Armin, if you’ll excuse me.”

On his way out, Armin called “I’ll look forward to it. Be sure to change your bandages twice a day!” Eren rose an arm above his head in an attempt to show he’d heard the good doctor, as he took his exit. It would be marvelous to feel as though he’d feel no judgement for speaking his thoughts; not to say that he’d felt that way in the beginning, only that he didn’t want to cause any unnecessary discourse when he needed to build friendships. He’d also much rather enjoy what time there was to be had with Levi. Being able to relax in just the presence of one another was all he asked. When he wasn’t to be with Levi, however, perhaps it would be Armin who could help him learn more about each captain? Perhaps other captains would have the leads on their fellow Kensha. First he needed to weasel himself in a bit better.

Knowing he should head back to the dojo, Eren began to step on the path with slight hesitation. What if they were done already and weren’t there still? Would they be done yet? There were some questions he’d not figured out quite yet. Soon he’d learn their schedule, but it was wasn’t going to be then. He’d had two sparring sessions, and if truth were told he felt like he could use a bath already. Deciding that just changing out of his clothes might make him feel a bit better, Eren opted to detour to his room before returning to the dojo. If anyone could have heard the thought in his head and understood the need to be a bit more clean, it’d be Levi. Surely he couldn’t be faulted with wanting to go ahead and be out of his sweaty clothing.

Back at his room, his guards at the door seemed to be a bit more wary of him. Why that was, he didn’t known and didn’t particularly care to find out. Maybe Levi had something? It didn’t really matter in the end; he was there to change, and they couldn’t stop him from leaving the room even if they wished to. Eren had his little bit of reign but not much else. During the time he was disrobing, Eren’s mind began to wander to the very thought of his perceived freedom. If he could at least hold up the charade a bit longer, make the friends he needed, and get out then he’d be able to do everything to ensure his departure would be a smooth one. The thought of leaving constricted his chest, but there was nothing else to be done. No other option awaited him. He needed to have a steeled resolve and know that he was doing it for Levi and himself.

It was almost as if even a moment’s thought summoned him. While ensuring a decent tie of the fundoshi resting against the skin of his hip, Eren heard the light footsteps behind him.

“May I help you?” Eren hummed with a slight pull at the corner of his lip.

Eyes obviously raking down the bare sight in front of him, Levi couldn’t help but lick his lips almost predatorily “I’m fine right here.” Sighing, Eren crossed his arms over his chest and waited patiently for Levi to state why he was interrupting him. Noting Eren’s hesitance to either dress, or undress, Levi chuckled “Where’d your modesty go, Eren?”

“I suppose it washed away in the bath house,” Eren retorted smugly, fingertips tapping against his arm.

“That may very well be a positive thing,” Levi purred, stepping up to him before lowering his voice “but I do admit that I find it exhilarating when I can make you blush.”

Heat already pooling across the band of his face, Eren narrowed his eyes and huffed “I didn’t say I wasn’t ---Ugh! What, Levi, could have possibly dragged you here to interrupt my dressing?”

Snickering a hint at Eren’s reaction, Levi answered “Haha, just checking in considering I got word that Marco escorted you to the good doctor. What was his verdict on your health and injuries?”

Offering out his wrists for examination, Eren held out his hands “He didn’t evaluate my overall health, but they were just abrasions and burns aside from my cheek. I’ve a small laceration and bruise which is likely to scar.”

Fingertips brushing against the cotton gauze, Levi smiled softly “Unfortunate, to damage such a beautiful face, but a scar wouldn’t be the end of the world. It will add some character.” As Levi’s touch fell away, he inched closer to Eren. It was then that Eren wondered if his own scar would be like the two of Levi’s. Only visible when too close to him, the diagonal scar across his cupids bow or the half inch scar beneath his left eye, Levi’s facial scars were attractive. Just thinking of them forced his instinct to overtake his thought. Thumb padding over Levi’s lip scar, Eren found himself momentarily entranced.

“Like yours,” he murmured quietly. “I love seeing yours; they remind me of how fiercely determined and brave you are. You’ve endured so much yet managed to fight through it all.”

Grabbing Eren’s hand before he could lower it, Levi hummed while intertwining their fingers “Every good heir needs a soldier, hmm? To remind him of what is to be an average human?”

“I’m no longer an heir, and you aren’t considered human by nary four people,” Eren retorted jokingly.

“Fair enough,” Levi chuckled “I just enjoy teasing you.”

Rolling his eyes, Eren hummed “Obviously so. Now, would mind letting me return to getting dressed now?”

“Nothing has been stopping you,” Levi began before whispering “though seeing you parading about in your undergarments hasn’t been terrible.”

“Your lecherous gaze has been stopping me,” Eren huffed while ensuring to bend slowly while reaching out for his clothing. Seeing Levi’s wolfish smirk reflected in the mirrored surface of a nearby vase had him feeling a bit victorious internally. Sure, he knew what he was doing, and he loved it when Levi couldn’t resisting staring. It was nice to be desired, and to be the object of Levi’s desires was more than thrilling.

Just as he began to finish, Levi smoothed the palm of his hand down Eren’s back “Just admiring.”

Twisting his head to glance over his shoulder, Eren hummed “Mhmm, thank you, so who is to be bringing me dinner tonight?”

“Bringing? Oh, Eren, no. You wanted the privilege of residing here under the guise of an honored guest, and as such you will continue to be treated as such. We couldn’t possibly be seen delivering your dinner to you; you will be dining with the top brass tonight,” Levi grinned mischievously.

“On second thought----”

“Come on,” Levi prodded “you’d better get used to it now.”

“Ugh,” Eren groaned before Levi took his hand carefully in his own. Dragging Eren out of the room, hands joined together securely, Levi began to lead him down the hallway. Eren’s mind began to race. What type of environment was he going to be venturing into? There was no idea of what to expect when it came to dining with the Kensha. When they began nearing the main hall Eren’s appetite began to vanish, he swore sweat beaded his skin, and his stomach knotted around itself. Each step closer to that familiar building only increased his nausea tenfold. Hopefully with Levi at his side, squeezing his hand as they entered the massive hall, he’d be able to not only survive the dinner but be able to interact.

Chapter Text

The moment they entered the hall, everyone in attendance rose from their seats at the table causing Levi to grumble “Really guys?” Eren’s heart lurched itself into his throat at the display. Was he supposed to say something? Act or behave in a certain manner? His mind blanked on the ceremony, but it was then the large, blonde, barrel chested man he’d seen with Levi and Marco a handful of times bellowed loudly with a hearty laugh. It seemed to shift the atmosphere.

“Who said we were standing for you, gasbag?” At the blonde’s quip everyone began to laugh boisterously. Around the tables, Eren began to cast his glance to survey his surroundings. Formed in a square, there were four tables set alongside one another in the center of the room in which four seats awaited. Erwin sat at the back, alongside the doctor, where two other open seats remained. Only one other seat remained unfilled; the empty seat sat next to Levi’s little sister, Captain Isabel Magnolia.

Not giving them any time to settle, Erwin addressed Eren with a charismatic smile “Well, Eren, it comes to my attention that you’ve not been introduced to everyone.”

Speaking boldly, Eren answered flatly while holding his gaze “Introductions weren’t very high up on my itinerary, Comm---Erwin.”

Levi slipped his arm free of Eren’s grasp and began to gesture “Surprisingly enough, but let’s begin, shall we? Beginning with units, you’re familiar with Captain Bodt our first division captain.”

Marco gave a slight wave “More acquainted than I’d imagine he likes at this point.”

Eren gave a simple shrug “No, I’m adjusting alright to your attempt to outwardly drive up my blood pressure.”

As some of the others laughed, Levi continued towards the blonde man from earlier “Division two is led by Captain Reiner Braun.”

“Evenin’, your ma---”

“Free another word of that sentence from your lips Captain Braun, and I’d gut you where you sat,” Eren smirked devilishly. Though his face may have been teasing, many could see that a piece of him remained serious. An underlying hint of his father’s personality melded into his own, taking its own form.

Bellowing laughter filled the room “Haha! Feisty! It’s nice to see you with that fire back in you rather than the, uh, puppet of your station.”

“Gentlemen, easy,” Levi warned before continuing towards his brother “and you know division captain three’s Captain---”

With a friendly nod, Farlan lifted his chin “Eren.”

“Captain Church,” Eren replied, smiling just a hint. Truly, he did like Farlan. There was nothing of him to dislike as far as he’d seen. Perhaps he stood a chance at getting closer to Levi’s family. It would be nice to see and understand them, as well as garner the opportunity to get more information on Levi and their past.

“Farlan’s alright, Eren,” Farlan offered, giving Eren liberal use of his first name.

Levi rolled his eyes “Too familiar with my brother, too. Moving quickly, aren’t you? Captain Springer is the bald idiot and head of division four. Division five is led by our other Captain Bodt---”

A thin woman with golden eyes, tanned, freckled skin, and tied back cinnamon hair grinned crookedly “Don’t let my shithead brother drive you too mad. He’s a dumbass.”

“You’re worse than me!” Marco shouted through a sip of his sake.

Restraining himself from laughing, the corner of Eren’s lip curled upwards as he spoke “Thank you for that brief glimpse into family dynamics, Captain---”

“Just call me Ymir,” she responded quickly. For the rest of the introductions Eren stood and nodded to each of the captains respectfully. Captain of the sixth division was Bertholdt Hoover, a rather tall, brunette man, with a warm smile and clear attachment to fellow captain Reiner Braun. Being dutifully informed that the two were in fact an item caused a momentary delay in Eren’s thoughts. He’d not figured something like that would be allowed in their ranks, but he was learning to be surprised when it came to the Kensha. A new face was over division seven, a man named Eld Jinn who was quickly distinguished by his sandy blond hair pulled into a top knot and the trimmed facial hair. Division eight was led by none other than Isabel, Captain Gunther Schulz was leading division nine, and Captain Kirschtein led division ten.

Another woman, named Zoe Hanji, presided over the eleventh division. With her obvious quirks, he was pretty sure he’d remember the bespectacled brunette with her curious caramel eyes. A man that strangely happened to acquaint his teeth and tongue frequently presided over unit twelve, Captain Oluo Bozado, and the final captain’s rank belonged to petite, stoic blonde woman with pale blue eyes, Captain Annie Leonhardt. He’d been quickly rushed through their introductions, but no one seemed particularly out of place to him. As odd as it might’ve seemed at first, to Eren, the way they interacted and spoke to one another just reminded him of a large family. Though Captain Kirschtein was in the kitchen, he had a suspicion that even blended in alongside everyone else.

Once the dust had settled, Levi began to nudge him along “You’ll be sitting with me.”

Eren chuckled “No thanks.” Mouths popped open, in obvious surprise, around the room at his words. Some were clearly taken aback by his reaction while others were owlish and awaiting Levi’s reaction to such a bold refusal. Despite his internalized fear of misstepping, Eren wasn’t going to let them dictate his actions. Perhaps it would be best to have moved along and not caused a ripple in the waters, but Eren had never been much for the rules. He did want to sit with Levi, but there was another place he felt he could belong; a place that he could slowly infiltrate with some time.

Shaking his head a bit, as if he’d misheard, Levi questioned “Excuse me?”

“Last I recalled, Levi, you’ve no ownership over me, and unless Isabel has complaints, I’d love to sit next to your sister,” Eren explained with a smirk and warm, gentle smile towards Isabel.

Isabel’s beautiful emerald eyes began to sparkle with excitement “Oh! You’re more than welcome to sit next to me!”

Still befuddled by Eren’s words, Levi posed “And if I’d like to sit next to you?”

“Then I believe I have two sides, yes?” Eren quipped teasingly, knowing full well by the deepening furrow of Levi’s brow that he’d annoyed him by his actions.

Marco snickered openly “Well, I guess we know who controls that relationship!”

Eren corrected him swiftly “Relationships are on equal footing, Captain Bodt, so were there a power imbalance, it would only cause one partner to feel undeserving or uncertain. Despite my quip towards Levi, he is more than well aware that he has an ounce of influence on me. My station has, pardon my crassness, fuck all to do with anything.”

Ymir’s hand went over her mouth immediately “Maybe that shit is why you’re still single! Damn, getting schooled, Marco. Even Oluo has a girlfriend!”

Gunther Schulz, an apparently reserved man, grit his teeth “Ouch, Marco, she’s got you there, man.”

Captain Hanji raised a brow “This was nice and all, but I’m still concerned over the fact Levi not only accepted back talk, but he retorted to it with emotion! Is he dying?!”

“I’m not expiring yet,” Levi answered with a low grumble.

Hanji continued to press the issue as she smirked “Really? Cause the look on your face is killer. You showed us an actual emotion! Despite being frustrated, you let him put you in a place real quick. What’s all that about, huh?”

Deciding to end the topic before it could continue, or another arise of similar nature, Eren sighed “Then let me do this for both retribution and enforcement.” Slipping his hands to the sides of Levi’s overcoat, Eren yanked the fabric and jerked Levi closer to him. Planting his lips firmly over Levi’s began to cause more than a sir. Sharp inhales and various “oohs” were heard around the room as Eren sank himself into the embrace. It took a moment for Levi to oblige, having been in a room with his men, but he ultimately gave in for a moment.

Breaking the kiss, Levi delicately placed his hand on Eren’s cheek “Forgive me. I spoke too rashly; assuming you’d wish to immediately be next to me.”

“You would have been right, but I rather enjoy being your family, too, Levi. I’d like to know them better while I have the opportunity,” Eren returned with a smile. Addressing the room, Eren cleared his throat and raised his voice “Now, I’ve heard the whispers while I’ve been making my rounds, and I will not stand for it. My relationship with Levi is not to be questioned by the likes of you all. The only people with that right are myself and Levi. I’ve no care in the heavens above as to what any of you could possibly have to say on the matter, honestly. My affections for Levi bleed into every facet of my life, and I’ll not have anyone speak as if he is any less capable for his affections towards me. Do we all have that understanding?”

For a moment the room was silent. Stunned silence faltered on the air as not a single soul had anything to say. While Eren had lied about hearing the last bit, he knew that some would eventually think Levi wasn’t himself or was no longer capable of his job because of their relationship. Before anyone could voice it, Eren was going to shut it down. Like hell he would ever allow anyone to question Levi or their relationship.

Taking everyone’s focus, Erwin’s powerful voice cut through the stagnancy “I believe you’ve made yourself crystal clear, Eren. You’re much more antagonistic when it comes to Levi rather than for yourself, I’ve noticed.”

“Because I care for him far beyond the measure of which I care for myself,” Eren answered honestly. “Your opinions of me, all of yours in this room, are lower than the soil that rests beneath our feet, of that I have been made painfully aware. You all, however, admire Levi greatly, and I’d see to it that his affiliations with me do nothing to lower your opinions of him. Believe me, were it our choices to fall for people, I can assure you that no one in the Kensha would be on it nor the son of Levi’s enemy on his.”

Ymir raised her cup of sake at Eren’s words with a wink “Nor the mother of a brothel on mine.”

“Or a fellow captain on mine,” Bertholdt joined with a broad smile.

Reiner pressed a kiss to Bertholdt’s temple before addressing Eren “Trust us, Eren, none of us think any different of Levi because he got wrapped around your little finger. In fact, most of us venture to say it makes him that much more frightening. The man has something to lose now.”

“Seriously right, Reiner,” Hanji chimed in with her two cents “second in command of the Kensha shaking up with the third in command of the entire country….or higher depending on a person’s view, is utterly horrifying. Talk about a power couple, eh?”

Unable to prevent his smile from stretching nearly molar to molar, Eren beamed “I am….thrilled to hear such words from you all. Captain Hanji, I honestly hold very little power these days, but Levi would technically command my station’s power were he not Kensha.”

“Don’t forget a man,” Levi added in with a heavy roll of his eyes.

Captain Springer quickly thought aloud “Whoa….hold up now. Your father didn’t---”

“No,” Eren interjected before he could finish the thought “much of my life I spent attempting to claw free of the cage I was placed in at birth. It dawned on me that you all think living there was easy. In a way, yes, I was privileged to live there an operate as I did, that I do not deny, but you all are so far off the mark I cannot being to correct it. Much like here, I was locked away for voicing a dissenting opinion. My sexuality, my preference for men, meant that I was seen as worthless. What kind of heir could I be were I to not produce a biological heir of my own? You all think my father is a bastard, and I do too. He is a scourge of this land I’d rid myself were it an option. Patricide is typically frowned upon, unfortunately.”

Captain Eld commented “That’s insanity. He was your father….but isn’t it common for two men to be together in the capitol?”

“In the palace itself as well,” Eren mentioned, “yet still, Levi would be refused because he is a man.”

“So your desire to perform household chores stems from where exactly? Not exactly very prince-like,” Ymir tossed in, awaiting the answer patiently.

Eren chuckled “I always wanted to be a normal person. Live an average life. Learn how to take care of myself. Turns out there is someone here worse than me at that, which is sad. I hear that Levi is terrible at taking care of himself, and my actions help to provide me with some semblance of an average life.”

Erwin glanced towards Levi “Quite horrible, I’m afraid, to the point of exhaustion. It’s nice to see someone brave enough to volunteer to take care of Levi, considering he can’t do it himself and scares everyone who is brave enough to inch towards his door.”

“Thank you for that,” Levi droned “but I don’t need---”

“I don’t recall saying that you needed anything, Levi, only that you fail at doing basic chores when you’re busy and that you’re not always great at taking care of yourself. Did I miss anything?” Eren posed with a devious smirk.

Hearing steps from behind them, they turned to see Jean carrying out wooden trays “What the hell did I walk into the middle of? Levi being talked back to? Guess we get dinner and a show!” Everyone had a good bit of a laugh, but Eren decided that helping Jean out with bringing out dinner might get him the in with the kitchen he needed. Once all food was settled atop the tables, the sake was flowing, and people were immersed in their own conversations, Eren took a seat next to Isabel and Levi, while Farlan remained on Isabel’s other side. Being able to eat and enjoy the banter between the three of them was nice. Just as he’d suspected, their meals were familial, and it didn’t seem like anyone ever missed them. Even Armin had given him a smile a time or two during the meal.

A couple of people had cracked a joke or two about Eren’s royal lineage, asking if Jean’s cooking was up to par. Much to their surprise, Eren believed it was, and he was being truthful to boot. When he thought back to it, Jean’s cooking really did remind him a bit of home. The chef at the palace and Jean had similar tastes and styles in their cooking methods. Maybe he really would be a good man to learn from; it wasn’t like his cooking skills could possibly get any worse than they already were anyhow. The speak of cooking and food soon died out only for it to replaced with another topic sitting at the table: sake.

Eren wasn’t much of a drinker, Levi knew that, but the conversation wasn’t as much about the rice liquor as it was where to go to procure it. In the dojo he’d heard Farlan mention some were going off to the south ward for the red light district, but he’d not expected nearly half of them to finish up their dinner and make right for it. The thought seemed to addle Eren’s brain a bit. Perhaps he just didn’t understand the majority of the district’s appeal, but he did have to admit that the liquor was strong and the women were rather enchanting. Maybe that was all there was to it at the end of the night.

By the end of dinner Eren was assisting Jean in carrying the trays back to the kitchen. It amazed him that Erwin was the one to help with the washing and clean up, but nonetheless he continued to assist the two until the room was mainly cleared of anything that may have suggested dinner had taken place.

Slipping his arm around Eren’s waist, Levi approached him stealthily and asked lowly, breath warm against his ear “Spend the night with me?”

Blinking back his surprise, Eren questioned with knit brows “Is that even allowed?”

Levi’s answer came swiftly “No one has told me it isn’t.” With such a simple response, Eren was already allowing Levi to lead him from the main hall. Getting to see Levi’s bedroom was one thing he’d have nearly begged for. Having at least remembered where it was after knocking earlier, he knew about where they were going. Hopefully a couple more nights sharing a space with Levi would have him remembering more than just the way there. Once Levi carefully slid open the door, Eren found himself in awe of just how beautifully decorated and adorned the room was. It certainly hadn’t been anything near the expectation floating around in his room, but it seemed that Levi was always going to blow away the expectations he held like sakura blossoms on brisk spring winds.

Beneath his breath, Eren unconsciously muttered “Beautiful.” The walls of Levi’s room were covered by richly painted silk hangings which captured his attention near immediately. When Isabel had stated her eldest brother loved the arts, Eren had no idea how entirely correct she could have been. For a moment he had to stop in his step while crossing the threshold. Above Levi’s futon hung the first painting he’d done for Levi, as he recalled the duplicate hanging in his office. When Levi had told him previously that he’d display it in his room he hadn’t assumed that Levi was serious about it. Not even the stunningly vibrant royal purple sprigs of lavender or freshly cut irises would have sprung to mind when picturing Levi’s bedroom. How odd preconceived ideas always came back to surprise him.

“You sound surprised,” Levi purred as he brushed past “did you expected it be drenched in the blood of my enemies and my walls festively adorned in their spines? Rib bones for wind chimes, perchance?”

Eren snapped from his daze and shook his head “Not at all, but you certainly do know how to paint a grotesque image, don’t you? I was simply surprised by the amount of artwork, and the freshly cut flowers as well. You have immaculate tastes.”

A dangerous smirk creased Levi’s lips as he dragged Eren closer “Oh, yes, I do. So tonight I don’t have to patrol. It’s just you and me.”

Swallowing the tension in his throat, Eren nodded “Mhmm, sounds nice, but these walls are legitimately paper thin, Levi. I don’t think that---”

Bursting out with a sharp laugh, Levi cupped Eren’s cheek “Look at you being presumptuous!” Heat pooling beneath the surface of his cheeks, Eren could feel his features tinting cherry red. Of course he didn’t invite him back to have sex with him the first chance they got to do so! Ugh, Levi at least managed to have some class retained by his station. Eren’s embarrassment felt as if it would seep out of his pores and suffocate him the more Levi smiled back at him. If he attempted to turn his head Levi would only constrict him tighter. He knew physical avoidance maneuvers would just grow Levi’s ego on the matter, so he tried his damnedest to remain still despite his growing urge to tear himself away. The animal to run became the prey to be chased, and staring down a predator meant standing firm. Levi was a man who enjoyed the thrill of being able to tease him, so he needed to be steady in his resolve so as to not give him the enjoyment.

“I didn’t mean---”

“Relax,” Levi hummed soothingly, “I’m only teasing you. Of course the thought has crossed my mind, but I didn’t wish to upset you by being the presumptuous one. I’m rather glad to see that I wasn’t alone in my thoughts.”

Breathing a sigh of relief, Eren allowed his head to fall to Levi’s shoulder “You were most certainly not the only one thinking of the moment. I am simply exhausted, however.”

Soothingly combing his fingers through Eren’s hair, Levi agreed “It has been a long day, hasn’t it? Let’s lie down.” Stepping away from Eren after breaking their embrace, Levi began to get the room ready for the night. Once he’d settled their sleeping arrangements, Levi returned to Eren’s side holding a faded white bottle and two saucers. Knowing immediately what it was, Eren became instantly hesitant. “Would you care for a drink? You didn’t have any at dinner. Suspicious of it?”

“Uh, not really questioning that part of the alcohol. I wouldn’t mind a a drink with you, but I think only a small amount will suffice after the last time I drank,” Eren offered apprehensively. Last he recalled drinking was when Isabel had gone undercover and put him under rather quickly.

Chuckling, Levi nodded “No worries; my liquor isn’t quite brothel strong, but it has been known to knock lesser men on their asses. We’ll just monitor your intake. I suppose you weren’t keen to drink at dinner in the event you became inebriated.”

“Well, something like that, but now I’m worried about the strength of your hidden liquor as well,” Eren grimaced, attempting to let the heavenly music of Levi’s laugh pass his attention. Taking him by the hand to lie down at the back of the room, Levi led Eren back to where they could sit comfortably and enjoy their drink. Pouring him a cup, Levi offered out the clear liquor to Eren. Taking it cautiously, Eren carefully sipped the burning liquid and tried his best to not make a face or shiver at its strength. How Levi could easily down the beverage puzzled him. Maybe it was just due to the fact that he’d not been exposed to it that often, whereas Levi was used to imbibing the alcohol rather frequently.

Distracting him from the taste of the liquor burning its way down his esophagus, Levi questioned “So, what is your plan, Eren? Do you mean to stay with me here for the duration of the war?”

Clearing his mind, Eren smiled sweetly “Levi, wherever you are is a place I’d love to be. Nothing else matters to me….but on the off chance that something were to happen that separated us just know that I’d be fighting down the gates of hell to make it back to you.” Taken off kilter, Levi stared blankly back at Eren for a moment. He’d not expected such a response. Had he said something wrong?

In the next moment, Levi sat down his saucer and smiled brightly “Not what I was expecting from you, but I cannot deny loving the answer. I only ask because….well, this is a bit more difficult than I imagined it would be.” Rising from his seat, Levi came to sit directly in front of Eren. Hand trembling as it reached out for his jaw, delicately laying against his skin, Levi held his gaze and spoke softly “I’ve got to leave for a while.” In an instant, Eren’s blood chilled, his breath hitched, and his stomach knotted knowing what this meant; it was the realization that Levi was going to war.

Chapter Text

Oh, gods no. It wasn’t happening! Why now?! Surely this was some cruel joke, right? He knew exactly what that meant, with that tone, and his actions. Struggling to find his ability to breathe, Eren couldn’t sit there any longer. As though something had their hands down his throat, crushing his lungs in their monstrous hands, Eren’s breathing stuttered. This could not happen! Not now! Knocking the breath out of his chest came with the realization that Levi was going to war.

What if he didn’t come back!? Overwhelmed by a surge of emotions, likely increased tenfold by the alcohol, Eren shakily got to his feet. His heart rate began to speed beyond the realm of comfortable, his head fogged, and his skin flushed at the liquor rolling in his veins. Being witness to the sudden change, Levi got to his feet and placed a hand at the small of his back to escort him to the garden. A bit of fresh air would help, at least he’d hoped, so he carefully led Eren to the edge of the walkway.

Silence settled between them; stifling all thought and speech. Neither of them had the courage to speak on the matter yet. It needed to sink in another moment before it would feel right again. He’d practically just been told the man he’d given everything for was going to risk his own life. This wasn’t right. It didn’t feel right at all, but he’d known the time was going to come. He’d thought it’d be easier, that he’d prepared all he could, but nothing could have prepared him for those words when Levi had spoken them so softly. It was like he’d already written his own epitaph when he spoken so morosely.

Finally finding words in his throat, Eren whispered lowly “....For how long?”

“I don’t know,” Levi answered honestly, placing his hand on Eren’s knee, “A week? Three? Five months? However long it takes me to drive back the advancing imperial force on Lanshore’s frontlines, out near Ragako.”

Acidic words corroding his throat as he spoke them, Eren turned to examine Levi’s features “So it is for war, then?”

“Yes, it is,” Levi replied swiftly, stoic expression lending nothing to Eren’s ability to read him. It was then Levi inched closer, concern knitting his brows “I cannot lie to you, Eren, I run an all too real risk of being hurt, fatally so. There is nothing I can promise you to make you feel any better about this, but at least I can pose you this rhetorical question: how could I ever act so recklessly when I finally have someone awaiting my return with each bated breath?” Already feeling the tears brimming his eyes, Eren couldn’t bring himself to hold Levi’s gaze. The bloodcurdling fear that Levi wasn’t coming home struck him too coldly. His veins iced, and his mind ceased to picture anything but an announcement of death. Before he could be too lost to the dark recesses of his mind, Levi pulled his face back to him. Kissing the tip of his nose, Levi smirked a little in an effort to lighten the seriously dampened atmosphere.

Knowing that he couldn’t even be mad at his logic, Eren shouted “You idiot! I---Levi, I’m terrified that---”

“Shhh, I know, I know, come here,” Levi offered as he wrapped his arms around Eren delicately. Once Levi’s arms were around his back, Eren’s fingers clawed into the fabric on Levi’s back as he buried his face into Levi’s neck. “At least have faith in me, Eren, in my ability. I leave in two days, but until then just enjoy our time, pleas---” Not one for allowing himself to be interrupted, Eren ensured that his tears were absorbed by Levi’s clothing before kissing Levi suddenly. Without warning, Eren suffocated every last emotion he could feel pouring from the surface into their kiss.

Pulling back from the kiss, Eren grabbed Levi’s shoulders “You will come back to me, Levi Ackerman, or I will raise you from the dead just to kill you myself. Do you understand me?”

Smiling, Levi gave him a nod and stole another kiss “Quite clearly.” Hearing a sudden rustle, Levi jerked his head to a bush at the end of the walkway “Aww, Hoshiakari, sweet girl. What are you doing over there?” Stepping away from Eren, Levi moved swiftly towards the flowering azalea bush. What he came back with astounded Eren. For just a moment his attention focused on the stunningly gorgeous black and white marbled fur, but it was then jerked by the glassy left eye the little animal possessed. At Levi’s feet was a small marbled fox, her guarded posture mostly remaining behind Levi, but he could make out that she was still fairly young. She appeared curious of Eren’s presence but did not wish to approach him any farther. Maybe it was the liquor, but to Eren it looked as though she was quite bonded to Levi. He began to wonder if anyone knew about her, and if they did, did it not manage to lower the fearsome reputation he claimed?

“You have a fox?” Eren blurted a bit loudly.

Recoiling at the noise, the fox darted back beneath the bushes while Levi clicked his teeth in derision “She’s not mine. She’s more like the base’s fox, but she does love the garden.”

Smirking at his far too obvious protest, Eren hummed “Mhmm, I’m sure. So, how’d you wind up with her?”

Rolling his eyes back, Levi huffed “She’s not mine. Maybe one day I’ll tell you.”

“How about the name then?” Eren counter offered.

“It means starlight,” Levi explained before clamming up about the topic and jumping to the next. “Now, I need to know something.” Coming to stand in front of Eren, Levi beckoned him up “I need you to promise me that you won’t do anything rash while I’m gone. Because I don’t know how long I’ll be gone, I’ve spoken to Erwin about granting you permission to be part of incoming messages from my deployment. I will send word to Erwin when I arrive and when things are important. This means that you may hear things you will not like….things I’ve ordered and things I’ve done . I don’t want you to see this side of me and regret your choice---”

Eren scoffed as he interrupted “I know what I signed on for, Levi, and I know what war entails. When you send word I’ll be waiting. I mean, it’s all I can do anyway, well, that and worry incessantly.”

Slipping an arm around his hip, Levi shook his head “Don’t worry too much. I’m gonna be okay. Now, let’s get back to enjoying our night.” Leading him carefully back to the bedroom, Levi stopped just short of the futon to begin disrobing. Feeling a flash of heat, Eren found himself quickly averting his gaze before following suit. Before he registered the feeling, he and Levi were laying down against one another, his arm thrown over Levi’s wasit casually. It hit him in that moment: what if he never got to experience that grounding comfort again? Levi’s patrols were frequent, and he knew that he was scheduled for the next night as well. It would have to be then.

Dipping his hand down to Levi’s hip forced Levi to turn “Everything okay?”

All Eren could mutter was a simple command “Kiss me.” Not having to be told twice, Levi rolled back and gladly did as Eren asked. Warmth in the connection immediately gorged the heat in Eren’s veins. This was exactly what he needed and wanted. If Levi was going off to war then he’d give him a damn good send off, and he did owe him last he checked. Sliding his hand down to Levi’s thigh, Eren began to move gently, sweetly, with the passion smoldering just beneath the surface. Levi didn’t seem to mind much as he chased Eren’s lingering kiss, indulging himself greedily on his taste. It was only when Eren shoved Levi back to straddle his lap that Levi’s actions became a bit hesitant.

The bite of his lip was enough for Levi to place his hand on Eren’s chest “Stop.”

Mortified that he’d done something wrong, Eren sat up “I’m s--”

Levi placed a delicate hand on his cheek “I know. I’ve been here before Eren. The pity ‘you might die’ sex isn’t what I want from you.” Oh shit. Eren had to take a moment to think it through. He was exactly right, at least in part. Being scared they couldn’t have the moment did influence his decision, but wanting to be with and give himself entirely to Levi was something he’d been waiting for an opportunity for. The opportunity had willingly presented itself and now he was being faulted for trying to take it?

Turning Levi’s hand to kiss his palm, Eren replied “Do you think pity is a reason for me to give myself to you? I will not lie to you and say that it was not a factor that influenced my decision, but if we didn’t and---”

“I know, Eren,” Levi reiterated “but when I have you there will be no hint of pity in our passion. You shouldn’t feel any sorrow in your heart when you and I are together. Instead, let me celebrate my safe return with you.”

“So I become the boon? A spoil of war?” Eren questioned.

“No,” Levi soothed “you become a man overjoyed at his boyfriend’s safe return. To celebrate life and care.” How Levi managed to make that sound better he had no clue, but it was a talent of his and that silver tongue he possessed. It came to him as well that it was much better than the percentage of sobbing on him again. He still wasn’t proud of that.

Eren gave him a curt nod “Okay, but at least---”

“Why don’t you just lie with me? Take comfort in my presence, in my warmth, in my care. In the morning we’ll talk more and revisit any concerns you may have. Until then, sleep,” Levi urged as quickly turned his hips. Jostling Eren with a smile until he landed beside him, Levi laid his head against Eren’s shoulder and closed his eyes. Doing the only thing he knew to do, Eren enveloped him tightly and tried to let himself drift off. Unfortunately for Eren, his slumber, once obtained, was not to be restful. Nightmares assaulted his mind; images of bloodied, tattered flags and fields sopped with blood, the air heavy with metallic twinges so heavy it seems to constrict all breathing.

Jerking awake, Eren twisted his head to immediately be met with Levi’s thigh. Hand in his sweat-soaked hair, Levi sat attempting to soothe Eren while he slept. Plagued with dreams of death and war hadn’t exactly made for a restful night. In fact, Eren could have fallen back to sleep right there, comforted in Levi’s lap and gentle caress.

“Good morning,” he offered calmly “are you alright?”

Rolling onto his back, Eren looked up to Levi “No….it was horrifying. Terrible dreams of bloodied clothing and corpses, abandoned weapons and razed fields. I can still feel it coursing in my veins….the fear. It was so real.”

“My fault then,” Levi cursed under his breath. “I’m sorry to have caused them, Eren, but I didn’t want to lie to you.”

Knowing Levi felt responsible for what his own subconscious had forced onto him, Eren clicked his teeth “Tsk, it wasn’t your fault. Levi, I had to come to terms with the fact that someday, someday soon, you’d be leaving me for this exact reason. I just expected to be able to handle it much better than I did. Please, do not think that a reflection of you. It is a reflection of myself and nothing else.”

Pressing a kiss against his sweat laden forehead, Levi hummed “Still, forgive me. I could have attempted another way to phrase my words. It was an inevitability that would eventually come to pass, yes, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to be affected by it, Eren. There are just some things you cannot prepare for, no matter how tirelessly you have attempted to do so. Now, let’s get up and go wash this sweat off, hmm?”

Nodding at the comfort in his words, Eren sighed “I’d like that. Thank you, Levi. After that what---”

“Breakfast, preparing travel documents, gathering armaments, plotting out patrols, getting the horses ready, letters to write, reports to send, then finally lunch,” Levi groaned. Eren’s brows sank. That was so much to do with so little time to do it in. Before noon? Were they insane? It was going to run Levi absolutely ragged, which meant that he’d had to come check on him. Likely Levi would miss out on doing something for himself during that time.

Sitting up, Eren frowned just slightly “Gods, you’re busy today. I guess I’ll do some things around the compound to occupy my time. If there’s anything you need be sure to let me know, okay?”

“I promise it so,” Levi smiled while getting to his feet

Turning with an arched brow, Eren purred sensually “Good. Now, then, are you gonna come guard me, Vice Commander Ackerman?”

Levi slipped an arm around Eren’s waist “I love it when you use my title like that. Of course, let’s get to it then, as you stated I’ve a busy morning.” Eren was delighted just to be able to steal him for the time it took them to bathe. The sweetness of Levi on his tongue, soaking while enjoying the warmth of the water and one another, and getting to just lie against him was all he needed to feel energized for the day. Their laughs and stolen kisses in the fog of secrecy would linger in the depths of his soul while Levi was gone. It was those the little things that he’d miss while waiting for him to come home; how he was playful and sly, how every caress of his skin would leave a longing in his heart, and how Levi’s absent minded comforts meant the world to him.

Compartmentalizing his thoughts, Eren had to move Levi’s departure to the back of his mind. If he thought about it any more at length then he’d likely have another mental breakdown, and he didn’t have the time for that. Levi had asked him to take his laundry when he finally went, so he, of course, agreed. Before he was set to his tasks for the day, Eren and Levi had decided to grace the main hall with their presence. It turned out that Eren had been correct when he felt a familial aura from the Kensha; no one dared to miss any meal. Everyone had gathered for breakfast, and most captains were already rather awake. Thought not exactly chipper, he supposed that as long as they were awake and alive they’d be in the main hall for dining.

While observing their habits, Eren himself didn’t eat much. After last night his appetite had severely diminished. He just couldn’t bring himself to do much more than eat a couple strawberries. Picking here and there at his food was odd for him, and it hadn’t gone unnoticed by those around him. Deciding that he needed to keep busy in order to prevent the horrid thoughts of Levi’s departure from seeping into everything he did, Eren pressed a kiss to Levi’s temple and excused himself under the guise of not feeling well. There wasn’t any way that he continue to sit there, and the jokes of “showering too early” had drained him were easily cast aside. There were things that he needed to do, so he did his best to ignore everything around him.

Slinking back to Levi’s room, Eren collected Levi’s clothing and decided to get a head start on the laundry for Levi. Once he had Levi’s things gathered up, he went to grab his own before heading off. Finding others already doing their laundry, Eren thought nothing more of it than they simply wanted to do it early so the sun would have more time to dry their clothing. The noon sun was often the warmest, so to have clothing up to dry by then would ensure they cut down on some of the time. At first it seemed the men paid him no mind, but the moment he washed and hung something of Levi’s, the whispers began. Like the world had stopped, when Eren turned to give them a friendly a smile they began to straighten. Surely they weren’t afraid of him yet?

Of course they weren’t afraid of Eren. It was who was approaching him that caused them to suddenly remember their place. Marco strolled up to him casually with some bundles of clothing beneath his arm.

“I know you’re busy,” Marco began “but would you mind? I’ll owe you a favor.”

Not one to miss out on that, Eren nodded “Of course, Captain Bodt. Is Levi alright?”

“As grumpy as always,” Marco offered before turning on his heels “but, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve things to take care of. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Eren hummed delightedly in response as Marco swiftly left him to his task. Thankfully he’d not brought too much, but it appeared he had great tastes in silk. While cleaning the fabric, Eren couldn’t help but admire the quality and the delicate pattern. Most of them wore dark colors so as to not be garrish, but Eren found he loved the golden accent thread woven through one Marco’s kosode. Levi’s laundry was going to have to wait a moment while he needed to hang Marco’s. If he didn’t finish Levi’s then he could always worm his way out of that, but he couldn’t very well do so with Marco after having agreed.

By the time he was hanging up one of Levi’s haori, one of the three men bravely spoke “Uh, rumor is, you’re a painter?” Shifting his attentions towards the gentleman who spoke, Eren cast his gaze to the man. A broad build, sandy blonde hair tied back into a loose knot, and ruggedly masculine features, the man wasn’t one he recognized. Judging by his build, however, he had a feeling he knew where the man’s rank belonged.

“That rumor would be correct,” Eren offered kindly, smile curving his lips, “is there something that I can assist you gentlemen with?” For a moment, Eren caught a glimpse of one of the other men in their company fiddling with his fingers. Were they nervous? If so, what reason did they have to be nervous if they thought he was only a painter? Something was a bit suspicious of the behavior the men were exhibiting.

“Well,” the man began shakily “then why are you here? If you’re a painter, what reason do you have to be here?”

Fighting his internal compulsion to get a bit haughty, Eren exhaled slowly and nodded “Because there are I things that I can do here which no one else can. Also, do not presume to know your superior’s motivations. I figure that may you get lot into some trouble. After all, aren’t there things to paint here? Could it be possible I was hired for commission by someone here?”

One of the other men shrugged his shoulders “Suppose so, but you’re doing Vice Commander Ackerman’s laundry. Not exactly work for a painter….or anyone but the vice commander really.” The redhead’s words sank into Eren’s mind. Did Levi always do his own laundry? Is that why they seemed so concerned with his presence? Had it so been so far beyond the realm of normal that it was impossible to let be?

“Does the vice commander always do his laundry?” Eren questioned with a curious gaze.

“Absolutely!” The third shrieked in surprise.

Taken aback, Eren recoiled at the sudden yelp before the blonde began “He says we’re too inept to be able to uphold the rigorous standards at which he holds for cleaning a floor let alone the standards required for his clothing.”

“More like you’ll ruin whatever you land your filthy little paws on,” came Levi’s rumbling growl. “Not unlike my favorite hoari you lot ruined.”

“Sir!” Responded the three soldiers in unison. Eren couldn’t help the snicker leaving his lips. Levi’s mere presence was enough to stir them straight.

Deciding to have a little fun, Eren sauntered over to Levi’s side “Have you come to check on me?”

“Of course,” Levi offered sweetly “with this time slot it meant that the second division would be doing laundry, or at least those who’ve been tasked with it this morning.”

Humming, Eren replied cheekily “I see. Were you worried that they impede my ability to clean your clothes properly?”

Shaking his head, Levi recognized the attempt to prod him “You said you weren’t feeling well, you barely ate anything this morning, so I just wanted to know if you feeling better. Are you doing okay after---”

Opting to finally test the reaction of those Kensha discovering Levi’s romantic ties, Eren interrupted “After last night? Levi, I’m fine.” Bending just slightly to kiss him softly, Eren smiled “Just fine. I promise. Now, you’re incredibly busy today. Finish your paperwork, your preparations for tomorrow, have your patrols mapped out, and before you leave I’ll bring you some tea, okay?” Momentarily stunned, Levi had to take a moment to respond. It was then Eren’s heart soared. An actual genuine smile began to curve Levi’s lips.

Placing his arm around Eren’s hips, Levi nodded “Haha, alright, baby. I’ll make time for it, and be sure to clear time for lunch as well. Don’t be late. You know I detest tardiness.”

“Why, I’d never dream of it, Vice Commander Ackerman,” Eren teased.

“He---You--- Vice Commander Ackerman smiled!” The blonde soldier interjected, completely befuddled.

Amused, Eren turned to him with the most chipper smile he could muster “No one would ever even begin to believe such a ludicrous thought. Were you to even attempt to inform anyone of this I would strangle you with your own entrails, soldier.” Though his exterior was cheery and jovial, his words were dripping with an obvious venom. Clearly horrified by his remarks, the soldiers stared owlishly. Levi couldn’t help a laugh at the situation, causing even further bemusement.

“That’s my boy,” Levi snarked, stealing another kiss, “I’ll see you later, Eren.”

“Bye, Levi,” Eren waved as Levi untangled himself from their embrace to return to his duties. Eren knew how to have some fun, but in the end he was still guarding Levi’s secret sweet side. There were only five of them total, and two of them damn sure weren’t going to say anything, but with Eren’s warning he doubted that Captain Braun’s soldiers were going to say anything either.

While Eren had continued to get back to his laundry, the redhead soldier among them scoffed “You must be some kinda devil.”

“Wha-- Me?” Eren feigned as he placed his hands over his collarbone. “Nope, I’m just a painter.”

“A painter that made Vice Commander Ackerman smile….laugh….you kissed him!” Came the replying screech.

Unable to prevent himself from laughing, Eren snickered “Haha, yes, that’s what people do with their partners. Relationships involve intimacy, yes?” In that moment of connection, had their eyes widened any farther they’d have popped out and fallen into the grass. Having a bit of fun at their expense was a bit exciting. He understood why Levi liked to take the occasional liberty.

“Now we know something isn’t right!” The third man exclaimed, shaking his head. “How can you be with a man like that? ” All it had taken was that tone. Questioning his affection for Levi wasn’t ever going to cease, but he could find a way to end inquiries quickly. In an instant Eren’s mood shifted and the atmosphere had fallen from playful to highly tense.

Eren’s hands stopped, he cocked his head to the side, smiled, and turned to the soldier who’d spoken “Like what , exactly? And do ensure that your next words are chosen with the utmost care. Levi is courageous, brave, tenacious, incredibly smart, far more beautiful than anyone has any right to be, talented….and more things that you could only ever aspire to be. He is the man I gave up everything I’ve ever had to be with; a man I care so deeply about that I care not where it takes me. I’d follow him to the gates of hell and back with a smile on my face. Remember this, he leads you, and he leads you sternly, but you will show him respect lest I find it necessary to free you of your loose tongue. You will watch your tone in front of me. Am I clear?” At the pointed, harsh tone paired with his gaze that could have given Levi’s freeze a run for its money, the three men nodded. Rarely did Eren resort to such a tone, but he wasn’t letting that slide.  When he’d only received a nod in answer, Eren cleared his throat “I failed to hear you, and I’m not nearly old enough for my hearing to be failing me, gentlemen. Am. I. Clear?”

“Yes, sir!” Echoed around him.

“That’s better,” Eren beamed brightly “now then, do you need any help with your laundry? I may not be the absolute best at the chore, but I am certainly useful!” The whiplash inducing change in Eren’s personality had the men concerned. Being sure to tread lightly on the topic of Levi was something that he hoped would make its rounds. Were someone to speak ill of Levi then there was likely to be some sharp words. Luckily, the men didn’t seemed to be too perturbed by the experience and sought help from Eren when they were finishing up the first bunch of the division’s laundry. When the next batch came in, Eren gladly stayed to assist with as much as he could before he knew that he was going to be summoned for lunch and for Levi’s tea afterwards.

Before he could get very far, Jean snagged him and asked if he’d mind helping him with some prep work in the kitchen. Not one to turn down the opening he needed, Eren gladly obliged Jean with some assistance. There wasn’t too much to do for Jean aside from peeling, washing, and chopping some things. Jean was primarily there to oversee the cooking processes and ensure that the meal got done specifically to his liking. Having some minor assistance allowed him to keep his eye presiding over everything instead of focusing on one thing and running the possibility to forget the next.

Delivering out lunch with Jean, Eren finished before taking his seat next to Levi. For but a moment were things quiet in the hall while everyone took their first testing bites. After a bite or two the room erupted in conversations.

The room, however, silenced as Reiner spoke “So, you out scaring my boys, Eren?”

Without a moment’s pause, Eren rolled his eyes “‘Your boys had a tone that I did not appreciate nor could I condone.”

“Last I checked,” Reiner began, straightening up, “it isn’t your place to govern--”

“When that tone is directed at Levi, I would dare you to stop me, Captain,” Eren sharply retorted.

Levi sighed and turned towards Eren “Did they insinuate anything uncouth after I departed?”

“One had the gall to ask me how I could possible be with a man like that,” Eren informed him with slight bitterness edged in his words.

Reiner nodded “My apologies. It seemed they’d signed their own bills of death. Understood. Any disrespect can and should be culled among the ranks. Apparently, there is a rumor spreading about you, Eren. Soldiers think they finally found the devil that Levi sold his soul to….and his eyes are of the most beautiful turquoise.”

“Yes, they are,” Levi lulled, dropping a hand to Eren’s knee. “Rather interesting rumor they’ve cultivated.”

“Gets better,” Reiner started, leaning on the table, “I think Eren scared those boys more than you did! It was funny as hell to hear ‘em shake! Guess you’re the devil now, Eren, or as they call you: Hell’s painter.”

The moniker was a bit fun, so Eren smirked “Oh? Well, I suppose either way they’ll learn to watch their tongue, and we’ll get along perfectly well, lest I cut it from their skull.”

Erwin couldn’t resist the jab “Oooh, careful, your father is showing.”

Scoffing at the futile attempt to enrage him, Eren simply flicked his wrist “Curious, was that by chance a, futile, attempt to anger me, Commander Erwin?”

“Perhaps,” Erwin admitted with a twinge of a smile.

With a sigh, Eren directed his words to Erwin “I do admit it, you know, my similarities to the man. Fortunately, my negative qualities are one that I admit readily. I take personal offense when such things are directed at those I consider my family, those important to me. Speak ill of them, and I will certainly rise to meet it. I am not someone you wish to offend. It is then that my lesser qualities tend to shine at the surface.”

“Judging by that ice in your gaze?” Marco chuckled with a shake of his head. “We can tell. Make sure you bring that to training.”

“Certainly so,” Eren agreed “I’ve always been one to take my training seriously.”

Speaking up, Erwin cast him an interested gaze “I hear that General Renauld Hawkyns trained you.”

Figuring Levi had informed him of such, Eren nodded “He did. If you so wish to be more accurate in gauging my loyalty to the man, Renauld was more like a father to me than my own was. He cares for me as if I were his own son.”

“And you spent time with him? Not your father? It only makes sense. I think of each of my students in a similar light. Don’t I, Levi? Farlan? Marco? Reiner?” Erwin spieled off with an almost proud tone, holding his chin high.

Levi’s eyes rolled back “Much to our distaste.”

“No wonder. I see their loyalty runs quite deep,” Eren commented before picking apart a radish.

“Could the same be said of you and General Hawkyns?” Erwin prodded straightforwardly.

“Depends,” Eren shrugged “I refuse to place blind fealty in anyone; I don’t need their chains.”

Erwin blew air through his nose “And that is what makes you so dangerous, Eren. You’re bound to nothing and no one. Free honor is a dangerous things.”

“You have a bit of that wrong. There is one person I have willingly bound myself too. Why do you think I never told him who I was?” Eren posed, returning the hold of Levi’s hand.

Giving a slight squeeze, Levi filled in the answer “It was so I’d not be placed in a position where I would’ve needed to make the choice between betraying my lover or betraying my commander and country. He knew that he could not ask me to disobey the man I am honorbound to follow.”

“I see,” Erwin mused “you two appear to have bonded rather quickly in such time you’ve been together. I admit, at first I was not approving of your relationship unless I could find a way to use it to my advantage, but I’ve been enlightened recently. A productive vice commander working twice as hard to ensure he doesn’t lose the one thing he finally has to fight for? Well, that’s just as worthwhile. I trust you’ve been made aware of the impending departure, Eren?”

“Thank you, Erwin, for saying such,” Eren smiled before it fell away at the mention of Levi’s departure. It had damn near spoiled his food and appetite, but Eren managed to respond “I have been aware, yes.”

“My apologies, then,” Erwin offered swiftly “Eren, for the pain you’ll feel in the wake of Levi’s absence. You are not alone in those feelings, know that, and should you need there are many you can seek out who understand. You’re free to come to me with any concerns or questions you may have. You’ve been in your fair share of war councils, so you need not balk at coming to ours. Though you may be a neutral party, Eren, my duty and honor are bound to this country. Currently, only you and the Tagin are the only men I will answer to.” Stunned silence engulfed the room. Had he truly spoken such words aloud? Did he mean to? Had Erwin ingested something putrid and rotten, maybe some liquor? It didn’t make any sense for him to say such a thing when Eren was being held prisoner.

“Last I recall,” Eren replied “I was your prisoner. There is obviously no honor being held to my station.”

Nodding at his words, Erwin recanted “Yes, for now. Let’s call it…. guarding. While we may still be holding you against your will, technically speaking, we all know your mind is made and your heart is here.”

“Then we appear to have reached a small understanding,” Eren smirked deviously, knowing exactly what he then could and could not get away with doing. “You’re doing what you must while maintaining a semblance of decorum that is possible with me. I thank you for that.”

“Of course. Honestly speaking, however,” Erwin lead in with a pause “seeing you as a neutral party may very well assist us as more than you yet know. Being on a situation of good terms is beneficial to us all.”

A bit lacking in his understanding of his choice of words, Eren hummed “Mhmm, perhaps so.”

“Look at that!” Levi snickered. “Everyone seems to be coming around to you, baby. Marco, even you’ve calmed in Eren’s presence. Is there a single person alive that you cannot sway with that smile?”

Marco grimaced “He was willing to earn his respect from me in  battle while being injured. His determination and ferocity are admirable qualities. We still need to speak, however, on some things. And I can assure you, Levi, that it was not his smile that swayed my stance.”

“Eren’s just got piles of charisma,” Isabel chirped “the kinda way that just pulls you in. He’d be such an excellent spy! A smile and you’d believe anything out of his pretty little mouth!”

“I’m not cut out of that sort of profession, Isabel, but I thank you for the vote of confidence,” Eren chuckled sweetly, sending her a playful wink. Shifting his attention back to Erwin, Eren questioned “Erwin, if I may, would you inform me as to when the units depart tomorrow?”

“Of course, Levi may inform you. Afterwards, why don’t you visit me in my office. There are some matters we can discuss,” Erwin offered silkenly. He didn’t exactly enjoy being asked of in front of the Kensha. It meant that he couldn’t decline it after all that had been discussed. It’d not only reflect poorly on him, but it may weaken the ties of bonding between he and the other officers.

“Very well,” Eren nodded.

“Before that,” Jean interrupted “would mind helping me in the kitchen?”

Eren didn’t have the time to begin formulating a response when Levi shouted “NO!”

Staring blankly at Levi, Eren scoffed “Excuse you? Something to say, Levi?”

“You and I both know you’re a terrible cook,” Levi sighed “don’t sign up to poison us all in your pride.”

“Fucking shit, Levi, damn!” Jean cackled. “I was just having him help with the prep, you didn’t have to call him out like that! See if anyone is getting lucky tonight!”

Eren folded his arms over his chest “Yeah, you ass. Listen, I’m sure they could all guess that before about seven months ago I’d have never even attempting taking care of myself. Cooking included in the list of tasks I’ve yet to find my footing in, but I helped today and you’re not dead….. yet.”

Reiner tossed in his opinion with a nod “Yep, sorry VC, but we kinda figured that much. In part, that was why the laundry thing was so damned funny.”

Knowing he’d been beaten, Levi huffed “Ugh, I’m sorry. Forgive me? Anyhow, most of us need to be going. There’s work to be done, so ensure you get it done in a timely fashion. I need all your reports by 16:00.”

With an eye roll and a groan, Eren stole a quick kiss “Yes, I forgive you. Now, go get to work on your reports before I suddenly find the urge within me to poison your tea.”

Chapter Text

Retreating back into the kitchen after a sigh of relief from Levi, Eren followed Jean to the kitchen where they began to prepare for dinner. Farlan kept himself occupied by helping with the dishes and cleaning a bit around them. During the time he was assisting, he was adhering to Jean’s standards and closely obeying his directives to ensure nothing went awry. Washing vegetables, peeling, and dicing was nearly the extent of the help he could offer, but nonetheless it was assistance that Jean was more than gracious to receive. It wasn’t like anyone else would be jumping for the opportunity anytime soon.

Once Jean was no longer in need of his services, Eren opted to make some tea for Levi. Checking the clothing lines would be imperative too, but he could check them once he set out for Levi’s office. Along the way there were some curious murmurs being spoken as he walked in the halls.

Clearing his throat, Eren hummed chipperly “Whispers are still audible. Don’t make me repeat them.” Hearing the scuffle of feet after his words only caused a soft laugh to escape his lips. Maybe being Hell’s painter wouldn’t be so bad. Most of the words being uttered so secretly were nothing more than opinions that meant less to him than the insects around them chittering away. It wasn’t even as if Eren’s threats were genuine; they were simply empty threats to assure them all that he commanded a form of authority. No one there could question authority and that in turn meant no one could pry into the logic behind his actions, whatever they be.

The moment he could act freely and move about without anyone below the captains making fuss, he would be able to continue to plotting his escape. An escape from the Kensha compound, however, would take much more than some elaborate planning; it would have to wait until the time was right but when that was, no one could be certain. Until the opportune time, Eren would continue to do his best to blend in and acclimate to his surroundings. The more comfortable and amiable he seemed, the less suspicion he would draw from those around him.

Approaching Levi’s office, Eren’s mind ceased it’s running about escape and focused on the noises escaping Levi’s office. Voices. Levi was hosting a meeting with someone? Last he recalled that wasn’t in his list of plans to do for the day. Was it with someone important, or was it something Levi didn’t trust him with?

Shoving the nagging thoughts aside, Eren sat to place the tea at his side and slide open the door “Levi, tea is ready, if you’ve the time.”

It took a moment, before Levi cleared his throat “Sure, come in.” Sliding back the door carefully, Eren glanced up to see that Levi was certainly in the presence of company. Biting his tongue about the guest inside the room, Eren got to his feet and brought the tea inside before shutting the door behind him. Judging from the deep furrow of his knitting brows, Levi appeared distraught over something. If Eren knew anything about the man across from Levi, it was that his presence would always bode ill. Sable hair pulled up into a ponytail reaching the divot of his lower back, Gideon Moreau’s topaz eyes followed him around the room until he came to stand at Levi’s side.

Immediately, a throaty chuckle came from Gideon “And thus he makes himself known to me once again. So it’s true, is it?”

Fighting back the bile in his throat, Eren smiled facetiously “Sir, good to see you again, as well. Would you care for some tea?”

“Served by the heir apparent?” Gideon posed with a cheeky smirk. “Certainly, it’d be nice to speak with you, Eren, if you’ve the time.”

“You too, Gideon,” Eren hummed as he poured his tea before Levi’s.

Bewildered by the fact the two were on a first name basis with one another given the scenario, Levi bowed deeply “Sir, you are more than welcome to stay and join us if you so wish. It would be my honor.” Watching the bow nearly forced a snarl across Eren’s lip. Knowing that it was Levi’s place to be so honorable, Eren attempted to force back each instinctual avoidance maneuver.

Waving a hand, gesturing Eren over, Gideon smiled politely “Levi, please, no need to be so formal. Eren, come, sit. Tell me how you’ve been. Surely escaping the palace has had its benefits, yes?” Pouring himself a cup of tea after serving Levi, Eren joined them both. It was difficult to reminisce on the pleasant times they would chat at length in the palace when Gideon would visit. Gideon was once more than a friend to Eren, but someone who’d taught him a wide array of things. Unfortunately, that was years previous, and the only thing Eren could now perceive him as was Tagin Moreau.

The man in his company had once been a great friend, but times had changed and corrupted his heart until it was nothing but festering tissue in the hollow depths of his chest. His condescending tone was one Eren recognized instantly. Playing the palace politics was a familiar game to them both, but Eren had to wonder if Levi was versed in the dance. Four years ago, his father had rebelled against the rule, and Gideon had begun his farce against the emperor.  It was then that Gideon had wrongly assumed Eren would follow him. A rift between them began and continued to grow as word began to surround him of Gideon’s soulless tactics on the battlefield.

How was he supposed to conduct himself in front of Levi during this exchange? It wasn’t as if he knew anything about their history, but perhaps Eren would be able to stomach the conversation and endure for Levi’s sake. There wasn’t room to let his own emotion clog Levi’s duties and cost him anything for his poor behavior.

“The benefits have far outweighed the rest,” Eren admitted honestly after a delicate sip of his tea.

Nodding, Gideon hummed “I’m sure. You know, Eren, I have been hearing a lot about you recently. You have certainly changed from the teenage boy I knew so long ago, and it appears that in that absence the years have treated you marvelously well.”

“And to you as well,” Eren offered in return “you last saw me four years ago, Gideon, when my father egged on this blasted war. What kind of things have you been hearing about me, or should I even bother to inquire?”

Chucking with one corner of his lip tugged upwards, Gideon answered “Oh, only that you somehow managed to seduce yourself into my ranks, ran away from home, have managed to strong arm yourself into fitting in with my police force, and decided to begin degrading yourself….in the form of household chores.”

Refraining from rolling his eyes back at the tone in Gideon’s voice, Eren just managed to glance over to Levi “Do your reports often include my movements, Levi?”

“You’re not privileged to the content of my reports,” Levi answered flatly.

Gideon placed a careful hand atop Levi’s shoulder “It’s fine, Levi, truly. Eren, I asked for the information to ensure your safety. You and I were always friends, Eren, and I’ve heard where it is you stand on this front. There is no threat you pose to me or my plans, but you understand why I’ve had to take precautions, old friend or not.”

“Of course,” Eren agreed, attempting to hide the venom in his words, “I appreciate your care.” Growing tired of the entire false polite atmosphere, Eren heaved a deep sigh and met Gideon’s gaze “May I speak freely?”

“As always, Eren,” Gideon allowed with a small nod.

“Erwin’s amusement from spurring my flank in wish of a grand show of my emotions is growing tiresome,” Eren seethed.

Surprising them both, Gideon erupted with laughter “Haha! Endlessly ruffling the heir’s feathers does appear to be a favorite pastime of his. He’s only testing your mettle, Eren, so have so fun and give him a show. You and I both know that temper of yours can grow exponentially hotter than forge when kept buried. If you so wish to shove him in return, have at it.” The sarcastic jab about giving Erwin the show he so wished for was enough to have Eren foaming at the mouth. Of course he would agree to their verbal battle, he got to get under Eren’s skin that way.

Levi chimed in with a grin “Oh, rest assured he has been giving just as good as Erwin has been dishing him. Eren isn’t one to allow his prodding. Watching it is a bit of an….well, never mind that thought.”

Blinking back his own distaste for Levi cutting himself off, Eren cast his gaze to him “No, Levi, why don’t you continue? I’m only fantastic friends with your family, remember.”

“Two of the most powerful men in the nation are in this room, Eren,” Gideon reminded him with a jab “cut him some slack.”

“Do not tell me how I am to conduct myself when my boyfriend cuts himself off on a thought about me, Gideon, it’s unbecoming of you to stoop to intervening on a lover’s spat,” Eren returned with a venomous glare.

“Far be it from me to continue when you’re right,” Gideon relented with a scoff. “But I’ve known Levi for a while, and I’m sure it wasn’t pertinent to the moment.”

Discovering the moment to finally ask, Eren questioned curiously “How do the two of you know one another so familiarly?”

Getting a tad more comfortable, Gideon readjusted his posture and sat his tea down “I fought alongside Levi in the Battle of Maria when he was young. Before the division. He’s a superb warrior and an even better leader. As a dignitary, Levi can have anyone eating from the palm of his hand stupendously quick, but he also wields the ability to flourish a sword better than most I know. His skill as both an incredibly swordsman and silver tongued dignitary make him irreplaceable to me.”

“You praise me far too much, sir,” Levi chuckled with a sigh “besides, I’m sure Eren will mock everything you’ve just said beneath his breath the next time I locate some reason to tease him.”

Witholding a laugh, Gideon clicked his teeth “Tsk, Levi, allow me my words at the very least. There is some information I must disclose to you. You see, before the war, Eren and I were around one another quite often when my duties called me to the capitol. I often thought of Eren as a younger sibling. Do be on your best behavior with him; he is not as sweet as he may outwardly appear to be. Quite a handful….honestly.”

Levi cast his gaze to Eren, sipping his tea with a smirk “Most certainly, though I’m afraid my learning curve was lacking, as I’ve only just realized.”

“Gideon, please,” Eren groaned “you know both Levi and myself rather well. Neither of us is how we appear to be to the naked eye. Now, tell me, was it you who sent the orders for the units’ departure to Lanshore?”

“Yes, I did. You’re worried aren’t you, Eren?” Gideon prodded with a smile. “You were never able to prevent your emotions from leaking onto your face. Every ounce of concern is etched into your features.”

Eren clenched his jaw before releasing the tension “If you man you cared for was going off to battle, wouldn’t you be? Death follows no man’s rules or wishes. Listen, you know my skills Gideon, we’ve been in many a council together. Tell me the odds, and who is leading the advancing imperial forces.”

“I would be, yes, Eren. I will tell you what I can---”

Before Gideon could finish, Levi rose “No, you will not. With every bit of due respect, sir, this information should come from my mouth, not yours. I’ve promised him the information I could tell, so I’ll stay true to that, if you’ve no objection.”

Giving Levi the floor with a broad grin and wave of his hand, Gideon got to his feet and joined Levi “By all means.”  Eren was taken gently by the wrist and led to Levi’s operations desk. Strewn across the top was a map filled with notes that he failed to comprehend entirely. Detailed movements were etched along paths, but Eren had yet to connect them all.

“General Hawkyns plays no part in this battle, but Captain Briehold does. Our units are aiming to aid Lanshore in repelling the advancing troops through the pass. Holding Lanshore prevent the imperials from--”

Understanding where Levi was headed, Eren filled in his assumption “From inching closer to choke off your allies. If either of you mentions that I said this, I will deny fervently then slit your throats while you sleep. Marshall Briehold is a weak swordarm. His motions are choppy and weak to his right, so he favors his lefts and attempts to compensate for the lack of power with speed. He’s too quick, but he can’t block heavy blows.”

Patting his back, Gideon snicker victoriously “Always a dear surprise you are, Eren, you little enigma. I’ll chalk it up to love and know better than expect any other battlefield knowledge from you. Not like I need a lot of it anyhow. Thank you for your contribution.”

Nearly ill from the touch, Eren scoffed and shoved back Gideon’s hand “Don’t thank me. I didn’t do this for you. The quicker this battle is over, the sooner that Levi will return home to me.” Gathering up the tea, Eren finally allowed his guise to crack “You know, I have always seen the lust for war in your eyes, Gideon, so eager to prove your worth. Using your age as motivation in vanity to prove yourself as thousands die for your overinflated ego is morally reprehensible. Everything I knew of you is so lost, buried, decayed. I wouldn’t ever help you slaughter more innocent people in this farce you’ve created in your lunacy. You were once like a brother to me, a mentor teaching me all about the world and country we claimed to love and hold so dearly; you told me our duty together would be for the betterment of people’s lives, making them happy, because without them we stood for nothing. Assisting you with that information ensures this battle will be quick and better that way for the overall good. How flawed you have become, how corrupted by voracious greed and lust, your wish to expand will only cause more war, death, and strive for the people you once used to care so dearly for. You’ll never be happy as you continue to believe you have something to prove.” Shaking his head in sorrow, Eren brushed past them to exit the room “I need to get the laundry. Excuse me, Levi, Gideon.”

Air stifling as he made his exit from the room, Eren could no longer hold in what he felt he needed to say. Before the war they had been so close, as brothers, but war only brought out something foul inside him. Maybe it had always lingered inside his heart, and had brought out the real side of him, but Eren had to quickly lament the death of the man he’d once known. The love of carnage and power reflected in the golden flecks accenting topaz irises. If he examined them closer, by chance they would have run red with the bloodlust consuming him. Just another war monger torn apart by greed and insatiable hunger.

He’d learned all he needed to know in that conversation, but at least he understood why he was being treated the way he was. Orders handed down by their greatest authority, and he ordered Eren be treated as the heir. Gideon would have to do what would frustrate him the most. Somewhere, his old friend was in there, but war had lit a fire that could no longer be contained. By making his point, Eren had fanned those flames. Going as far as to announce Levi’s name before Gideon’s was the final jab. Their back and forth reminded him of palace life, the politics one had to play with a smile and a knife behind their back.

Part of Eren wished he could retain the parts of Gideon that he remembered from so long ago. The man who first showed him how to ride a horse or swing a sword. Rebellion was centered in Gideon’s nature, growing it in Eren’s core as well. He’d been the first example of rebellion for the greater good when he began to become vocal about moving away from Grisha’s thoughts. It was then, however, that everything came to a head. Two arrogant bastards with a point to prove kept clashing over different ideals, and it was the people who suffered as they’d become locked between their war paths. The tagin and the emperor decided long ago to make it appear as if they’d kept their respective powers, but once the Gideon rebelled publicly against Grisha all illusion shattered. Curtains fell and the war began.

Stuck in the center, Eren had always seen the similarities in them both. Grisha may have lit the match, but it was Gideon who tossed it to the brush. Maybe if things could have been solved by not reverting back to acting like petulant children, the war wouldn’t have begun. People wouldn’t be torn and ravaged by the war. Both men were shallow, condescending, intelligent, egomaniacs with a god complex and a chip on their shoulder that came from being born into their stations. Locking horns was inevitable, but the war? If only someone had the sense to have mediated their demands between them before it began….but that was likely too much to have wished for.

Their entire conversation was laced with venom and underhanded jabs, but as Eren began to take in the laundry he began to wonder if Levi had understood it. Gideon said Levi was an astounding dignitary, so it was likely he could navigate the political dance himself. Politics outside of the palace, however, were two entirely different beasts. Levi was quite a chameleon when need be, but he only prayed that he could understand Eren’s actions and that they wouldn’t hold any negative repercussions for him.

Deciding to have a moment to himself, Eren returned to his own room and set to folding and storing his laundry. Marco’s room was next door, so he could have his ready as well. Unwinding from Gideon was going to take some time, as he wasn’t feeling up to the task of being social again. Going to dinner with everyone would rapidly consume his energy, so recharging was a necessity. While keeping himself and his mind occupied with busy work, time began to escape him. By the time he realized, he was late to dinner, and it wouldn’t be long before someone came to fetch him. Still not feeling ready for such interaction, Eren began to tidy up and prepare to head to the main hall.

In the very moment he opened the door, Levi was standing in front of him with heavy concern in his eyes. Standing rigidly, Levi was examining him as if something had happened to him. Carefully guiding him outside, Levi shut the door behind them and waited until they were alone before speaking.

“Are you alright? I didn’t get a chance to speak with you,” Levi whispered softly, worry lingering in his words.

Eren exhaled an obviously exasperated sigh “I’m nauseous and tired of politics for one night. Gideon is a husk of the man I once knew, and I can no longer stomach even his presence.”

“He could tell,” Levi offered with a smirk. “I’ve been a part of this world for a while now, Eren, you were seething in there. Tacking on your scathing attack on his person at the end there, he knew you weren’t happy to see him. Honestly, when you left, he seemed a bit down for a moment before reverting back to himself.”

“I was seething and scathing, and he was facetious and obnoxious,” Eren countered. “It nearly loosened all of my composure. Once, he and I were close. Gideon taught me so much that he’s abandoned now. This war has morphed him into a monster. I’m not exactly finding myself with much of an appetite after it.”

Frowning at the mention of Eren’s refusal to eat, Levi gently lifted his hand to caress Eren’s cheek “At least try. For me? Please. Come eat with me before I leave.” Eren leaned into the fleeting touch. Would he refuse him their last dinner together for a bit? “I know it was awfully awkward for you to have to play nice, for the most part, but, please, do not let it gnaw away at you like that.”

Relenting, Eren gave in with a half smile “I will try my best not to let it. Let’s go back inside, but I can’t promise you that I will be able to eat much.” Agreeing, Levi took Eren’s hand in his own and led the way back to the hall. At their entrance, everyone ceased their conversations and glanced up. Feeling a bit placed on the spot, he forced a smile and joined Levi as he sat down. Returning to their activities, everyone seemed enamored in their own discussions. It was if they noticed the air around them and let it be. Eren wasn’t entirely bothered by that, they left him be for the night and for that he was grateful. Enjoying his time with Levi in accepted silence was just what he needed to recharge from the eventful evening.

Once dinner was over, Eren walked in time with Levi as he readied for patrol. At the front gate Reiner awaited him. It was all Eren could do to tear himself away from the lurking thoughts whispering to him that tomorrow it would be real. Tomorrow Levi left for battle, and it could very well be the last he’d ever see of him. For now, it was only a departure for a simple patrol with Reiner at his side.

“I’ll be back by sunrise in order to sleep for a few hours,” Levi stated while leading him to the gate. “Unfortunately, you’re to spend the night in your room during my absence. Can you manage?.”

Huffing, Eren rolled his eyes before stealing a swift kiss “Of course I can manage, but I do not enjoy having to. Be careful, Levi.”

“Always am,” Levi hummed with a second stolen kiss. Reiner grumbled something inaudible beneath his breath just as he and Levi turned on their heels to set off for the night. Watching them leave, backs to him, with the hem of their haori fluttering on the gentle breeze almost seemed picturesque. Recalling how his mind was brimming with the thought of Levi’s departure, his chest began to ache. At least, for now, it wasn’t real and that knowledge was enough to comfort him during the journey back to his room.

Contemplating the war call, however, came back to focus at the front of his mind as he laid down. The three units selected, Marco’s, Reiner’s, and Levi’s, would be leaving at dusk, as it would be safer for the battlements to move under the veil of night. Unfortunately, that thought wasn’t exactly comforting him any. Beyond everything else, it was still dangerous, it was still war Levi and his men were going to confront. No way it was going to end well, but he had to let himself remain with a dainty shred of hope that Levi would come out of the scuffle unharmed, or at the very least in one piece.

Chapter Text

Unable to sleep due to constant tossing and turning, Eren found that his mind was incessantly running on thoughts of dread and peril. Waking countless times from the sweat on his brow or thrashing about, he only wished he’d be able to have a decent night’s rest. Levi, however, would serve to interrupt his on and off sleeping pattern. Sliding back the door as quietly as possible, Levi came slipping into Eren’s room at just a little after sunrise. Morning rays illuminated the room, bathing them in golden warmth, but Eren found nothing could have ever compared to the comfort of Levi at his side. Welcoming him into the bed without a word, only open arms, Eren dragged Levi to him the very moment he was able.

A steady, calm, resting heart rate lured Eren into a soft slumber. Laying against Levi had dulled the raging seas of nightmares warring on his subconscious. Each movement Levi made in his sleep would jar Eren just the slightest, forcing him awake. Figuring that perhaps he should just stay awake a moment longer to find the enjoyment in their shared company, Eren clung tighter to him. He didn’t want to allow himself to ruminate on the negative thoughts clogging his mind, but he couldn’t help but to think of them. How long would Levi be gone? Would he returned injured and bloodied?

Fingertips dancing across Levi’s bared shoulder, Eren was weak to the call of his lover’s exposed skin. Caressing his skin, loving the frayed mess of Levi’s tangled hair, Eren kept a watchful eye on him as he slept so soundly against his body. Soaking in the carefree expression, Levi certainly didn’t look like a man who was going to war within the day. As he slept, chest raising with the labor of breathing, Eren admired the things he would be miss. Draping his arm over Levi’s midsection, Eren dragged him flush to his back and pressed a delicate kiss into the crook of his neck.

Leaning back into Eren’s chest, Levi hummed groggily “Mmm, good morning, Eren.”

“Afternoon, Levi,” Eren corrected with a soft inflection.

Grumbling at the thought, Levi replied as he turned in Eren’s arms “Are you serious? Ugh, time to---”

“Shhh,” Eren cooed gently “no, rest. If they need you, Levi, I’m entirely sure they can deduct where you’ll be. In fact, allow me to cover your absence.” Clearing his throat, Eren propped himself up and yelled “Captain Bodt!” Clanging and fumbling was heard next door before the door at his right was jerked open with such force that Eren believed Marco was about to tumble through it. Standing in the doorway with a dissatisfied grimace, Marco had been poised at the ready for an attack until he took notice of their tangled limbs and disheveled appearances.

“Wha-- Really? ” Marco groaned.

Eren chuckled before keeping his tone flat “If anyone finds themselves requiring Levi for the time being….ensure that they do not . Levi needs to get more rest, so delay any of his appointments by around two hours.”

Scoffing at Eren’s directions, Marco cast his umber gaze to Levi “Lev--”

Interjecting before he could question the order, Levi echoed Eren’s sentiment “Just do it and shut the door on the return to your room. I believe you have your orders, Captain, and I would be sure to leave the room as well. Lest you bear auditory witness to things better left away from your imagination.” Upper lip forming a slight snarl in disgust, Marco bowed lowly and slid the door shut on his exit. Once Marco had let them be, Eren reached out to cup Levi’s cheek before stealing a chaste kiss.

“Sleep,” Eren instructed with a smile “I plan on doing so as well.”

Lips falling into a frown, Levi questioned “Did you not sleep well?”

“Not at all,” Eren answered honestly “so let’s relax and get some more rest.” Levi nodded, going along with his plan of getting more sleep. After all, he’d be riding all night with his troops and wouldn’t have the time to get much sleep. Snuggling into him, Levi rested his head beneath Eren’s chin as he wrapped around him tightly. Holding him closely, the two soon drifted off to a sound slumber. Unfortunately, their two hour time frame wasn’t to be hit, nor even close, to the time they’d been asleep. Waking up after just an hour wasn’t nearly good enough to be considered restful, but as his eyes met Levi’s that was all he needed.

There was a silent promise in them; emotions that he recognized without need to pause in thought. It was a familiar glimmer that he’d noticed once before. A longing desire, a smoldering passion, and just the hint of sorrow to bind it. Indulging in a tender kiss, Levi reached out for him to cement his emotion. Gladly reciprocating, Eren found that enjoying their morning, yet true afternoon, should be passed with stealing what moments they could for themselves. For a moment, Levi seemed to be letting off from the embrace, but Eren was not in the mood for a fleeting connection. More wasn’t enough to sate him.

Slowly twisting to his knees, Eren shoved Levi’s shoulders carefully to the floor. Obviously intrigued by Eren’s actions, Levi arched a brow and waited for Eren’s next move.

Tugging at the tie on his hip, Eren kissed Levi’s jaw before whispering huskily “Last I recall, Levi, there’s something I owe you.” Leading a trail of kisses to his ear, Eren nipped at his earlobe “Consider it my glimpse of what’s to…. come when you return home to me.”

Noting the carnal urge lacing his words, Levi held his gaze “Then I am at your mercy to do with as you so please.” Chills erupting down his spine at the seductive tone in Levi’s voice, Eren kept to the plan in his mind of ensuring that Levi would have a mind blowing wake up call. Feverishly stealing his lips in a flurry, Eren quickly stole Levi’s breath in a moment of overwhelming passion. It’d been so long, he’d waited to have Levi beneath his touch that the longing was voraciously devouring his own patience. Wishing for Levi to abandon all inhibition was no easy task, but perhaps he’d have just the skill to make it so. Hypnotic kisses tasting just as intoxicating as a brothel’s liquor, Eren forced himself to return the connection with matching intensity. A gnawing, chewing hunger began to throb through Levi veins with every rapid pulse of his heart and sweet, tantalizing kiss lain along his skin. He’d no time to think before Eren’s hands were roaming up his stomach, distracting him as his lips claimed every free inch of skin available.

Electric touch set Levi’s skin alight with a rush unlike anything he’d known. A roaring fire rolled in his veins with every passionate kiss and glide of Eren’s hands down his body. Jerking forward, back arching off the floor,  as Eren’s hand pawed at his groin, Levi’s eyes closed in anticipation. Leaning his head back to find every ounce of pleasure in Eren’s kneading fingers, as they slipped between his thighs, Levi let the first audible, carefree moan tumble so boldly from rosy lips. Shivering beneath the heavenly chorus, Eren forced his own arousal to each swift action. A first kiss across Levi’s lower stomach forced Levi to breathe lowly, clearly enamored with the rush of ecstasy stemming from the featherlight touch.

Quivering beneath his skillful fingers, Levi’s skin pricked at the exposure to the air once Eren flung any remaining cover away. Not much in the way of providing a tease, Eren was more than ready to give Levi what he’d been owed from so long ago. Kisses strewn over his hips, Eren trailed lower until the scrape of his teeth over Levi’s hip could drag free another moan from Levi’s lips. Lingering caresses of his inner thigh, Eren allowed his thoughts to become consumed with everything in his arsenal to bend Levi to his will. Wishing for Levi to experience all that he could before he left him, all he wanted was to pour himself into one moment.

Lowering his mouth to Levi’s cock, twisting his tongue down his shaft, sucking on the head, and fondling him gently; Eren focused entirely on the pleasure Levi could derive from him. Mind clouded by lust and driven mad by carnal instinct, Levi’s chest labored with each breath. Nothing else around them mattered in that singular moment, just Eren and how unfathomably giving he was being. In his heart, he knew that part of it was Eren’s reluctance to part from him without a sincere show of his deepest affections, but the other half was born of a desire to give Levi the greatest gift he had: himself.

Fingers aching to rake through Eren’s hair, Levi praised in a throaty rumble “Gods, just like that, Eren. So breathtakingly beautiful…. you look perfect right now.” Succumbing to the mind numbing experience, Levi pushed his fingers into Eren’s wildly unkempt hair, knotting his fingers into the cinnamon strands. Hearing Levi moan his name set his pace quicker; he’d been waiting for that. Levi’s composure was rapidly deteriorating the longer Eren held him at his mercy. A twisting urge in his gut, one that he knew all too well, came quickly as Eren’s rhythm hastened with it.

“Eren!!~” Levi moaned in a delirious pant. Heart continuing to beat outrageously through the course of his orgasm,  Eren sucked and swallowed until his euphoric high began to plateau. Breathing was still uneven and heavy as Eren glanced up to him, saliva glistening on his lip as he made a show of licking them. Levi’s shallow, erratic breathing would take time to even out, and it would be during that time that Levi would regard him with the utmost care he could project.

Brushing the hair away from his face, Eren pressed a kiss to his cheek “Do I wish to know why you’re staring at me like that?”

“Whoever taught you needs to receive an appreciation letter from me,” Levi chuckled teasingly.

Laying back to his side, Eren snickered “I had a few ‘instructors’ per se, but I am still not entirely versed in the giving side of that. Out the experiences that I do have, however, I’d rather it be you. I still lack general information on the world, nearly nothing I know of relationships---”

“Then I will be you final instructor,” Levi offered sweetly, lifting his chin to place a ginger kiss upon his lips. “From now until my last breath, Eren Jaeger, whatever it is that you need I will gladly give.”

Struggling to find a reply, Eren smiled “I already have your heart, Levi, there’s nothing else I need.”

Arching a brow, Levi smirked “Silly boy. I can thinking of several things that you’ll need.”

Understanding the meaning conveyed by his tone and impish smirk, Eren stole a kiss “Yeah? Then you must promise to show them to me when you return.”

“Promise,” Levi muttered before slinging an arm over him “but lie here with me for another moment before we need to head out for the day.” Not one to deny the man his pleasures, Eren nodded and laid at his side, basking in the afterglow of their afternoon debauchery. Like everything, however, their time together would dwindle and work had to be done. Splitting their ways after a lazy bath, Eren left Levi with a lingering kiss before busying himself with the slew of cleaning that needed to be done. Scrubbing floors and continuing with the laundry, Eren found himself preoccupied. Levi was busy with making the final preparations for the journey to Lanshore, but Eren began to wonder how he was going to fair in Levi’s absence. Would the attitudes of those around him change by his disappearance? What if sending Levi to this post was to keep them apart to in order to enact a nefarious plot? Only time would tell.

Not being informed as to where Levi was or what he was doing, Eren’s tasks had to center around himself for the time being. Delivering his tea would be impossible without him awaiting it in his office. Spending the time sweeping, mopping, and scrubbing floors, Eren’s back was ready for a break come time to prep for dinner. Joining Jean in the kitchen, Eren was quickly put to work doing the basics. For a bit, he was enjoying passing the time with kitchen chores. It was the least strenuous on him, but he did begin to notice Jean wasn’t focused. Jean’s attention was sporadic, his gaze shifting between items, his actions moving too quickly from one thing to the next; it was beginning to capture more than Eren’s concern.

Seizing the knife from Jean’s hand, Eren jostled him from his mind once he’d noticed Jean’s accident waiting to happen “Whoa! Pardon me for intruding, but are you alright? You almost sliced your finger open.”

Jean sighed dejectedly and shook his head “Huh? Oh, yeah. I’m fine. Thank you. Would you mind checking on the broth and then making sure the water is boiling?”

“If you say so, sure,” Eren answered nearly beneath his breath. Leaving Jean to his own devices, he checked the broth and water as asked but wondered about the atmosphere. Was it always so drab when they were setting out for battle? He understood the occasion was solemn and required a respect, but surely the somber air wasn’t their way? A grand celebration was something he expected when sending men off to war, especially when those men were more family than friend. After the realization, time began to drag for him, and he ensured to keep a close watch on Jean. His general lack of focus for the day was causing him more concern.

By dinner time he and Jean were shuffling out of the kitchen to deliver meals to everyone awaiting in the dining hall. Scanning the room, Eren would have been remiss if he hadn’t noticed the lack of his own lover. Surely Levi hadn’t become so absorbed in his duties that he forgot to join them? Waiting a few minutes was commonplace, and allowed him to pause and hope he was only overreacting. As the minutes began to pass, and everyone carried on as if nothing were amiss, Eren finally had to inquired.

Glancing to Erwin, Eren cleared his throat “Erwin, where could Levi be at this moment?”

“Preparing to leave,” Erwin answered. “Give him a few more minutes to arrive before you go rushing off like a desperate damsel in need of her knight.”

Scowling, Eren rose from his seat “Three things: damsels do not seek out their rescuer, he missed breakfast and lunch, and, excuse my lack of decorum, fuck you.” Wasn’t he allowed to be worried for the man for whom he cared so deeply? Making sure he was alright was a normal feeling, and it was no wonder Erwin remained alone. Casting a skeptical glace around the room, it appeared as though some laughter was hidden, but no one rightfully cared about his words. Eren set out to check the most obvious places, but he knew that Levi wasn’t in his office. Perchance he was in his bedroom? It was likely, so Eren trotted off in hopes of discovering that he was just running behind. Upon announcing his arrival, and sliding open the door after waiting for a handful of moments, it appeared that Levi wasn’t in his bedroom either.

If Levi was neither in his office nor his room, where exactly would be? The chances that Levi had already left were slim….weren’t they? Everyone else had been there, save three people, but surely that wasn’t the reason! Explaining Erwin’s smug expression could have been for the comment he’d made….or could it be that he’d known Levi had already left without informing him? Ceasing his path mid-step, Eren began to grow frantic. Running through a list of all the places that Levi could be, he literally began to run to them. Not in the dojo, the bath house, and certainly not in the kitchen; where was Levi?!

Collapsed in the hallway, attempting to catch his breath, Eren knew there was only one person who could be completely truthful with him. Armin hadn’t been at dinner yet, but he often took care of patients before dragging himself into the main hall. The man wasn’t partisan in the war, so at least he could feel open about what he had to say. Making his way to the good doctor, Eren found himself growing tired of the entire ordeal.

Knocking on the frame of the door, Eren didn’t have to announce himself before Armin slid open the door with a broad smile “He had a feeling you’d be by soon. Come on inside.”

Peeking beyond Armin, Eren could catch the slightest glimpse of Levi tugging up the sleeve of his kosode “Did you miss me, Eren?”

“I--yes, I did,” Eren admitted softly. “Is everything alright?”

Armin interjected with a nod “A perfect bill of health. He was only getting the standard medical exam before he leaves. It’s a requirement beforehand.”

“Why is that?” Eren posed curiously.

“Because if I am in failing health or have a wound that be considered fatal, I am no longer allowed onto the battlefield. Were I to be in battle and be mortally wounded, my men stay to fight despite it. Retreat is dishonorable in that scenario. It’s to prevent any of that from occurring,” Levi explained carefully as he continued to adjust his clothing.

“And you are in excellent health, even after t---”

“Thank you, doctor,” Levi interrupted with a stern tone. “Eren, are you ready for dinner? I’m starving.”

Off his guard, Eren nodded complacently “Sure, okay, let’s go. Thank you for your assistance, Armin.”

With his usual warm smile, Armin sent them off “My pleasure. There are a couple of items within this log that require my direct attention, so  I’ll be joining you all in the main hall for dinner shortly.”

Levi gathered himself and made for the door with Eren at his side “We’ll save your place.” Trudging alongside Levi, Eren silently followed his pace as they made for the main hall. For the majority of the time Eren’s thoughts were consumed with only more concern. Levi’s visit to the doctor had answered few questions, but it had only managed to raise more. Whatever Armin had been about to say had likely been serious, and yet Levi had managed to cut the words from his tongue so seamlessly. Just what kind of secret was he keeping that he would refuse to inform Eren of it? Surely it couldn’t have been any worse than the secrets they had already divulged to one another. Part of Eren wished that he could find the strength within himself to question Levi of it, but the other likely knew it would gain him nothing. If Levi was aiming to conceal something than it was his business to do so and prying would only mean a conflict of his trust.

“You’re quiet,” Levi hummed in a sing-songy tone. “Is everything okay?”

Finally finding words to articulate, Eren began “I--I thought you’d left, and I may have gotten a bit frightened by that assumption.”

Stopping in his step, Levi turned to Eren with a scowl “Did someone tell you, or even infer to you, that I had in fact deployed already?”

Eren shook his head and sighed softly “No, but Erwin had this tone about him and this smug smirk across his lips. No one would inform me of your whereabouts when I began to worry over your absence.”

“Then what drove you to such worry?” Levi posed, carefully caressing his cheek.

“I just couldn’t locate you anywhere I assumed you’d be,” Eren explained “adding onto that fact the expressions on their faces, and my own overwhelming emotions. I do not trust them, Levi, any of them. Not for so much as a single location of a teacup let alone where you’ve run off to. I feel as though every step I take is being watched beneath a magnifying glass; like they’re, hoping, waiting until I misstep so that they can act on their distaste for me.”

Brows creasing, Levi’s voice began to drop into a barely audible whisper “Are you worried to be left alone with the members of my units? Do you fear for your safety?”

Scoffing at the obvious, Eren shunned further comforting touch “Are you completely daft, Levi? Of course I do! I am worried about the possibilities of what could happen during your absence, but ultimately I can hold my own quite well. I just wish it will never come to that...I wouldn’t want to hurt anyone.”

Unable to prevent the urge, Levi brought Eren into his arms “Shh, you have nothing to fret over while you’re here. Gideon may be….well, a bastard in his own right, but he will not allow anyone to so much as lie a single malicious fingertip on you. An order has been given from his mouth and passed through my ranks. It is an order we must all follow. You are in no danger here, unless you try to make an escape. In which case, not even I was let in on the orders of how to deal with such a scenario, so don’t think of leaving me, okay?”

Letting his head rest to Levi’s shoulder, Eren corrected him “I have you to worry about, but I do place trust in what you’re saying. Remaining on edge, however, is only instinct.”

“Just don’t overthink it, okay?” Levi posed with a playful half-smile. “You mean the world to me, Eren, and I would never let anyone touch you or harm you in any manner of the word….not even those to whom I owe my own life.”

Beaming so brilliantly at such a simple proclamation, Eren grinned “Let’s get you dinner before you leave, yes?” The words spoken had felt as if acid had crawled up his throat; he still loathed the idea of Levi leaving and having to appear perfectly okay with the idea. Instead, he focused the majority of his mind to the dinner he was about to have. Projecting the idea he was alright, and not about to lose his mind, Eren walked into the room and calmly took his place at Levi’s side. Noting Erwin’s smirk still plastered to his lips during the duration of the meal had nearly soured his stomach. Likely he’d known, and probably was the one to ensure he’d actually gone for the medical check, but it was then something else came to his mind.

Cutting Armin off, Levi had concealed whatever it was that he was about to say. Was there some secret about his health that he wasn’t allowed to know? It did give him some cause for concern, but he’d no time to broach the subject in conversation. Despite his myriad of feelings, Eren attempted to rid himself of them as he ate, serving only to allow himself to grow far more nervous for Levi’s departure. Time was ticking down too quickly, and he was aware of each passing second. Only making the matter worse,yet again, a man Eren was unfamiliar with was quickly stepping into the hall to speak with Levi. Bending to whisper something into his ear, the redhead was in and out in a blur. Whatever it was, once dismissed Levi straightened his posture.

“Reiner, Marco, our horses have been made ready and the men have finished with their preparations,” Levi announced sternly before the final words shook Eren’s core. “We depart in five minutes. Ready yourselves.” Standing from his seat, Levi offered out a hand with a gentle smile “Eren, follow me, please.” Unable to do anything aside from agree, Eren nodded and took Levi’s hand. Chewing his lip anxiously, Eren followed Levi to his office where Levi paused to gather his swords. Shifting, he’d noticed Eren’s actions “Nervous?”

A huff of air blew through Eren’s nostrils “Worried. Nervous. Frantic. Pick any synonym for them to describe me at the moment and I’m sure you’d be correct. How could I not be, Levi? This prospect is horrifying.”

Standing firm, Levi shook his head and gently placed a hand to Eren’s cheek “Look at me and hear my words when I speak. I will come back. It will take me about four days to reach Lanshore’s front lines, and I will be sending word when I arrive.”

“Eight days…” Eren muttered to himself whilst holding Levi’s gaze. In Levi’s steely irises he could see the resolve and strength of his words, but there was always a hint of sorrow in them.

Levi took Eren’s hand in his own “Everything is going to be okay.”

“Okay,” Eren whispered in reply. Forcing himself to nod along with the idea, Eren’s chest began to burn. Breathing strained him as they made their walk to the front gate, but it was the final sight that stole Eren’s breath. Three massive units of men had already assembled outside the city’s gate, each awaiting their leaders who were speaking their goodbyes. Reiner to Bertholdt, Marco down below with his unit, and Levi waited still yet with Eren by his side. Several of the other unit captains were saying their peace before the others departed, giving them a proper send off, but Levi stayed firmly rooted by Eren.


Reiterating, Levi turned his focus to Eren “Everything is going to be okay, Eren. If you need to write me, there are ways to do so privately. I am sure that you can locate the correct people to ask. Eren, I---”

“We’ve not got the luxury of all night, Vice Commander!” Marco interrupted, shouting over them.

Reiner growled back “Don’t you rush our goodbyes just because no wants you, Bodt!”

Stifling a laugh, Eren placed a hand over his mouth while Levi sighed “Easy, Reiner, cut it short. He’s right.” Glancing to Eren, Levi spoke softly “I’ll be back soon, Eren, goodbye.” Sealing his words with only a single stolen kiss, Levi was mounting a horse as black as ink. He’d been able to feel every emotion and word he’d not been able to say in Levi’s kiss. Watching him and Reiner barrel off to their units below, like demons out of hell, had stuck its own kind of blow: was he watching him leave or sending him to his death?