Levi is a liar.
He keeps telling the 104th death will stop hurting eventually. He tells Eren this over, and over again, a conviction in his voice that can’t be questioned and Eren nods, wipes his tears and believes him. He never tells him death isn’t about the pain, but about the consequences.
It might be during one of these times Eren starts to keep him company at funerals. Levi doesn’t voice that this is something he doesn’t need to do, he’s still a kid, but it’s there, heavy in his gaze when it lingers on the brunette longer than necessary.
Not even mercy makes death kind. It’s a foreign concept when it takes shape in his mind: death is something he’s used to live with, so he’s never given himself the luxury of imagining a different way of existing. What he does know, however, is that the world is already cruel enough. He won’t be able to bring flowers to the dead, but he can make things easier for the living.
So now he's a liar.
He starts to say other things, mouth tight and arms crossed, to Eren’s shocked rants when the world demands more and more of him and there’s just so little left of his hope to be this worn thin: “you’re enough.”
Eren is not. Eren will never be enough, the hunger of this world doesn’t come only from the titans. Humanity is a constant illness: consumes everything and then demands more . Eren might be a miracle, but he’s still one with flesh and bones. Levi can hear the cracks in his soul every time he loses another fight, his knees meet the ground, his hands bleed and he keeps wondering why why why why
Why can’t I be better,
this time Levi is on his knees too. His back is bent forward, out of exhaustion, or closeness to Eren. The kid’s skin is slick with sweat, his eyes ragging with tears, his lip broken from biting down on it. Levi is calm, hand firm when he rubs the back of his neck. Eventually, Eren’s panic eases off and he can breathe again, focusing only on the spots the captain is touching.
There’s so much in his plate, some days. Levi knows this is expected of him, he has to be there for his soldiers, has to lead this war, has to be the back keeping the wings spread. That strength. No one speaks of the sacrifice it entails. The tiredness weighing heavy on his soul when he has to again give of himself for others. He supposes in that way, both Eren and him are similar. Even regaining energy exhausts him in the days he can lock himself in his office and pretend he’s not needed somewhere.
When Eren knocks on his door and comes in there’s a silent plea for permission in his eyes Levi ignores. Eren’s presence is accompanied by a small cup of tea that, for a second, leaves him speechless. It feels like breaking: his chest is too heavy, his shoulders slouch, he wants to curl up in his chair. What he does, instead, is snap at Eren to stop wasting time on getting on his good side, because he can’t afford to look like he needs the comfort of tea.
Then, to his quiet and small I just thought you might want some tea, Levi lies: I’m fine. Now leave.
Leave, stop worrying, stop exposing my weakness. His mouth is unforgiving when it twists into a scowl, his back is stiffer than ever. He walks the corridors of this fortress sure of his steps echoing in the emptiness, announcing the world that he’s here.
Levi starts to lie to himself, too. I can do better than this. I can shoulder more. He’s also like Eren, in that; only that he doesn’t have the luxury to lose a battle. Faltering means his squad will also lose the only thing they assumed as unchanging in this world in constant decline. He can’t promise he will win this war for them, but he can promise to always remain as their hero.
What he never says is how death is about the sacrifices we make to overcome it. They last like a scar on the skin, disfiguring a part of the body. Something that doesn’t belong there, but is, and now things are just a little worse than before. Happiness is contentment in the periods where they can exist without sacrificing. This concept is a secret he shares with Eren’s fingers, the day he allowed himself to fall asleep on the armchair in the library of the castle, and woke up to a hesitating pressure along his arm, tracing veins (ways to his heart) but also scars (ways to his soul). He snapped his eyes open then but still took a few seconds more to trace the profile of Eren, the way his bangs are a tad longer, his skin has the sun enamored and his eyes are vibrating with life. Levi has always wondered how long it takes for a flower to grow, but having time to contemplate flowers means war would be over. He can’t lie to himself to that extent, even if Eren’s eyes are asking him to stay.
It’s not a conscious choice, it’s one he needs. His hurt is his safe space: he can handle everything as long as it’s in his terms. Killing titans is something he knows, being forgiving with himself is something he doesn’t.
But Eren? Armin put his stubbornness into words once: I’ve never seen him win a fight, but I haven’t seen him lose one either. That’s what scares Levi the most. He doesn’t need anyone’s compassion, he can’t accept it because he’s not weak. He can’t be.
But again, he’s being asked more, there are just this many walls he can put up between himself and his squad. When Eren starts to attend to funerals with him, Levi wants to be proud, but can’t praise Eren for taking responsibility of the lives he couldn’t save. He sees deaths piling up on his shoulders day after day, in the way his back bends forward a few millimeters more every time Levi’s gaze finds its path back to the kid. Not a kid anymore.
Eren’s insomnia talks of the monsters he still sees when his eyes are closed.
So Levi goes to him after everyone’s left and they are the only ones standing, still paying respect to the bones now feeding the flowers spring is blooming over the grass. He’s careful not to step on any of them, to buy himself time, to grow courage where his chest is drained and empty.
Eren’s face is vacant and pale and everything it shouldn’t be, this given up stance doesn’t suit him.
“Don’t give the dead an attitude, kid”, it’s as tactless as he’s always been but seems to jolt Eren back to the present, judging by how his head snaps up and regards Levi, guilt shrugging his shoulders at not having paid attention to his approach. In his defense, Levi doesn’t want to be doing this either. One day his words won’t work anymore, one day there won’t be anything Levi will be able to do to shield them from the pain and then
Reality is this. Their world is unforgiving, ungiving, unkind.
“I’m sorry, sir.” It’s barely a mumble carried by the still cold breeze, Levi pretends to not acknowledge how the apology is directed at him instead of the body resting below their feet, like suffering is something Eren needs to apologize for.
This is what it all is about: he’s sorry for being more of a human than a monster. If he was a monster all the way through he might have earned a few wins for the Survey Corps. He was always running behind Annie and Reiner, anyway.
Levi tightens his mouth, entertains his eyes on the yellow flower next to his left boot to avoid seeing the effect his words have on Eren and lies:
“There’s nothing to apologize for.”
Truth is there is. Humanity demands apologies every time they lose lives to the cause, like them pursuing a future is something worth apologizing for. Maybe that’s how it is, maybe this world works in absolutes and an attempt isn’t justifiable no matter the cause it stands for. He promised himself to never regret his choice when he left the underground to spare himself the punishment of facing how the outside was more of a hell than what he ever knew below. At least, there, he lived by his own rules. Here, he has to force his head and Eren’s to the side, so they will receive the next slap. Rabid dogs should be sacrificed, maybe that’s what they are. Maybe that’s why they are here: waiting to fest on the bones of those who died because safety is a concept that only exists for those who can afford it.
Levi can build walls between himself and his squad but can’t build any to save them from extinction.
Funny, how ironic his life is.
A wall for protection, contention, a way of living. It was never about freedom.
That’s not what he tells Eren, though:
“You wanted to see the sea with the rest of the kids, right? Put your shit together, Eren, otherwise that won’t happen while we still breathe.”
Levi’s heroism is another type of cowardice: he can’t run back, so he runs towards the titans. Either way, he’s always running. Away from headquarters during his morning training, away from Eren, away from his past. Sickness eats holes in his gut to fill with nausea every time Eren worships his step like he’s a promise of salvation, but further: like he deserves salvation and that’s the only reason why Eren ever intended on soldiering this war. It's not about the sea anymore if can’t be shared with Levi too.
That’s a sacrifice the captain hadn’t asked of him, couldn’t have possibly ever asked of him; makes his hands shake and his lungs twist and suddenly there is not enough air in this room when Eren is also here.
So, he runs. It’s just another way of lying.
Armin’s eyes are of the color of tenderness, and as absolute in this way of understanding nature by universal concepts: nothing goes unseen by him. They stick to Levi’s back when he hastens in his retreat, away from the hand Eren was holding up, next to where his arm was on the table. He masks everything with anger, a pained hiss: don’t touch me, I don’t need physical comfort, and never stays to watch Eren pursue his lips and shield his expression so no one will notice the pain.
Levi can’t be hurting him, it’s just /not fair/. But this war isn’t, either, and that’s the statement he clings onto to justify the pressure on his chest every time he denies Eren an inch closer.
And also like this war: Eren never wins, but never gives up either.
“It takes only one death to understand that it isn’t about the loss, but about the consequences.”
Armin’s voice is gentle and soothing, careful in his approach to the figure of the captain, arms resting on the fence of one of the balconies of this castle. Levi feels his breath stop short, prays he’s not giving away the hammering of his heart by how he curls into himself slightly, trying to recoil from Armin’s quiet presence. This is it, his squad knows about his lies. Knows about how he’s just a myth within the Survey Corps, how his strength won’t make a difference in this war. How he’s been feeding Eren’s hope with lies of a brighter future when they, probably, won’t survive enough to really see the sun setting on the horizon, lighting up the ocean on fire. An ocean that is said to also be the color of Armin’s eyes, again: understanding in places where Levi doesn’t want him to be.
Armin silences his apology before it leaves his throat:
“Clinging onto the hurt because it’s the only reality we are sure of makes of the time we have left a misery. An uncertainty, more so than what it really needs to be. I used to tell myself that it was okay, that life is supposed to be this way. It took me almost a year to understand that I am allowed to be reassured: letting myself believe Eren won’t die. Even if he’s hot-headed and needs us to chase after him every time, he won’t die. Remember? He never wins, but never gives up either.”
His smile is kind of apologetic, like he knows something Levi doesn’t and is apologizing mutely.
Levi doesn’t want sympathy. He doesn’t know what to do with it. He turns his face away and hopes the kid will get the hint, and leave.
Armin doesn’t approach him again. But, as months go by, his words stick to Levi’s skin, cling onto his mind, become an annoying shadow looming over his thoughts. Even Erwin asks him one day if he’s doing okay, and Levi doesn’t know how to respond that he’s started to tear off eyelashes from tugging at his lids as if that way he could erase the nightmares.
He says he’s okay, and that’s an old lie. The places where he’s hurting are hidden from the world.
Eren is proven to be as stubborn and hot-headed as Armin’s words guaranteed. Not like this is anything new to him, but it still kind of is, every time there’s a knock on his door and it happens to be him, all of those times, carrying a trail with tea and not giving up despite how much Levi sneered at him all of those first attempts. Now it’s become a routine, one that berates Levi because he shouldn’t be allowing this, he can’t ask for this so he can’t accept it, Eren needs to focus on himself, to focus on his friends, to
there’s no ending for his excuses.
In the same way there’s no ending for the justifications Erwin gives when they go outside and come back when less than half of what they left with. Levi listens to mothers cry and point at him to erase his title for the one of murderer, and maybe it’s true? He hasn’t brought down as many titans as he’s seen lives cut because he wasn’t there when he was meant to.
In this way, he’s also like Eren.
But unlike him, when the brat bristles on the horse, head snapping up and eyes fierce, fierce with hunger for life, fierce of protectiveness and rage and everything that he is being poured out of his chest as he throws up his soul at the woman, calls her murderer back, because fear shouldn’t be a justification for genocide. If the titans breach the walls again, their numbers won’t make a difference if they’re counted in negative.
It only takes Levi a cold command (Eren) for him to bite down on his lip, hard, and search with now eyes of hurt the figure of his officer. Levi is already turning his head away from him.
He, also, doesn’t need protection from the truth.
His act of merciness is to spare Eren the explanation that follows once they’re back in headquarters and they are the only ones left in the kitchen. Levi waited out on all the kids to go to sleep and, Eren, like always, kept him company. That’s just the thing he does and it bothers Levi. He feels the pressure thick in the air, only that doesn’t know exactly what pressure it is. Eren is pointedly staring at the table, ready for the reprimand that doesn’t come.
Levi sighs, and exhaustion nests on the now empty parts of his lungs.
He’s lived under this cruelty as long as he knows, Eren doesn’t need to try and change that. Levi is okay with it. Levi is okay with hurt, with the sacrifices, with the chronic pain anchored to his bones, to his back, to his neck, the regular headaches, the blood on his clothes. The smell of war.
Eren’s intentions are always about justice, nobility and courage. It takes strength to win a fight, but resilience to endure a loss. The latter is only another type of strength their society punishes. They don’t have the luxury of grieving, of losing. Eren is wrong in the eyes of their world in all the places Levi admires him for. That why he clamps a hand around his neck, Eren shrinking into himself, lips resolutely pulled together... to part in surprise once Levi rubs the tense muscles a few times and bids him goodnight with a tired, dry voice.
He, also, pretends to not have noticed how Eren smells of soap, clean laundry, the sun on his hair the whole ride back; so much like a promise of peace and so unlike the war -
Isn’t that also a lie?
Kindness is an act of baring oneself: you peel off layers of skin to cover another person from the cold. What shows underneath takes effort, because altruism isn’t natural to mankind. Levi is not suicidal. He first needs to have enough for himself to be able to give. Unlike Eren, who goes at him full force and doesn’t mind cracking his skull open against Levi’s walls, he’s determined to climb them all, to bare himself until there’s violence to his exposure and Levi recoils, recoils, hides. Living like this is what got him this far. If he gave up on the cements of his beliefs there would be nothing holding him up. He would have lived
and he refuses. Refuses to think his source of strength comes from a bad place, a bad perspective, a bad way of surviving. Not all about life is hurting, Armin’s words, not his. He refuses that, too. It is about hurting. He knows what it is to belong, to share, to come back home to someone. Some days, the worst days, he wishes he hadn’t met Farlan and Isabel. So he wouldn’t know the shape of kindness.
Levi gets up before the sun breaks the sky, hair plastered to his forehead in cold sweat, hands too shaky to make the bed properly or button his shirt all the way up, eyes bloodshot.
It’s a bad day for Eren to approach him. But by the way he’s fidgeting since he laid his eyes upon the captain when he entered in the kitchen Levi is expecting his presence, way closer than before. The kid doesn’t say anything, though, doesn’t push, for once, just sits there quietly and squeezes his hands in his lap, not really looking at Levi but his shoulder close enough that it lulls him into leaning on it.
It would be nice , he thinks, to be weak just this once and let go, allowing himself to be welcomed by Eren.
That’s a selfish thought, and one never materialized. His body is protesting in how rigid it is holding him straight on the bench, spoon methodically clinging against the mug even though there’s no sugar to dissolve in the tea. They, also, don’t have that luxury.
Levi notices how he’s not missed it. Or, rather, how he’s so used to its absence it stopped being one.
He wonders, silently, if Eren also thinks about this. About how the silence is no longer filled with the ghosts of his family. Maybe that’s the reason why he looks so lost and overpowered lately.
“I have the consequences of their love”, Eren murmurs, quietly, somehow Levi’s voiced his thoughts aloud. “Sometimes that’s like a chronic condition. You’re missing something that was given to you, something that maybe belonged to you only because you’re alive. The love of a mother. The safety of a home. The protection of childhood. Mikasa…” a brief pause, Eren shifts in his seat, bringing them closer. He doesn’t seem to realize, but Levi does. His whole left side raises goosebumps along his skin. “Mikasa tried to fill in the gaps, to give me what I lost, she understood how it is to get that taken from you. Something you assumed as absolute, you know. I kept denying myself to be loved by someone else. I was angry at Mikasa for even trying . I just… didn’t want it? I didn’t want anyone to love me because I also, wasn’t loving myself. They call me suicidal bastard for a reason”, there’s a chuckle now thrown in there, dry and forceful and Levi makes himself smaller next to Eren. He’s empathizing in ways he doesn’t want to. There’s a tension in the air edging him, something unspoken, something radiating from Eren, an intensity so thick he can’t breathe. “Then I got into the Scouting Legion. Understood letting go is a choice we have to allow ourselves to make.”
Then: a hand on his back. It’s too heavy and Levi can’t fight the urge to recoil, as if that hand soothingly sliding down his back hurt deeper than a punch. That’s what kindness does to you so, Levi lies to himself:
I don’t need this.
“Aren’t you tired”, his voice was trembling. “Aren’t you tired of loving without getting anything back.”
A pause. Fierce (vulnerable, tender) green eyes unwavering.
“Not everything we are supposed to take from loving is good.”
Ah, Levi swallowed, he might be right. Eren’s willing to accept loving Levi will bring him nothing. It’s your problem, kiddo, he never asked for it. Can’t accept it.
He turns his face away and dismisses the hand on his back to hide his lies.
An act of giving is another way of displaying kindness: we can’t deal with it. It’s just that. He can’t. He doesn’t have enough of himself to give back, both of them don’t fit here, in Levi’s chest. The fact that Eren’s doesn’t mind and won’t ask for anything else, proves love is synonym of hurting for him too. Only in this case Levi’s the one hurting him.
It chases him at nights, when all the lights are out and the silence keeps him company. He hates Eren, decides, in those moments, hates Eren and all the possibilities he offers, hates the kid’s resolution to take from Levi’s plate as much as possible, all of it, if it means Levi can breathe less tiredly. Hates there’s no end to his giving. Hates that he doesn’t feel worthy of it.
“I really hate you”, he lies, when they’re alone in the stable, brushing the captain’s horse. Eren doesn’t reply at first, his expression is solemn. Levi’s trying very hard to pretend he’s not wondering about why the tips of the brunette’s ears went red. Eren sighs then, as if giving up on the war he’s holding within himself and replies quietly with that’s okay.
That’s okay. You can do that to feel better.
Levi clenches his jaw and throws the brush at him, no one gave you the right, Eren Jeager. No one asked you to be also Levi’s martyr he’s the one supposed to fulfill that role, he’s the one keeping his wings spread enough to shelter the whole Scouting Legion. Fuck you, Eren Jeager, he doesn’t want to put you through this, that’s why he started lying in the first place. Promised you everything would get better, promised you he’d be the one being Humanity’s Last Hope and oh, oh, he just. He can’t.
He can no longer do this. He can’t.
He lied to you all: he’s not enough. Can’t be what Eren expects him to be, what the world expects him to be. Turns out the title of murderer suits him better. That’s all he’s done, ever: dirty his hands with blood.
As his back hits the wall of the stable and his knees give out on him he’s absently staring at his fingers and wondering can flowers bloom if they’re watered with blood and then no, no, Eren’s clutching them hard. He’s angry, Levi understands in the fog of his mind, that’s what the redness of his ears is about.
“Armin says togetherness is the feeling of quiet contentment in the presence of those you trust. Says it’s about being able to turn your back on someone, knowing they won’t stab it. Says it’s about sleeping at nights during war because you have your people with you and you trust them to save your life. It’s about the meals we get ready together, the times we spend after dinner when the kitchen is empty but still smells nice, the silences we share, the words we share, the moments we choose to share. I say togetherness is a feeling we build within the limits of each other. The space between walls. Not a threat: no-man’s land. There’s no safety for us without you, not because you’ll save us but because you’re here with us. We all live together or die together.”
Maybe. Levi wants to avert his gaze and pray for the suicidal noise of his heart to not be heard by Eren. The oxygen in his lungs is dense and sticky, he has trouble breathing. His hands might be shaking, if not for the firm grip of the brunette’s. What is Eren asking out of him, though? He’s confused, scared. Also desperate to give in. He can’t soldier this war on his own and neither can you, Eren Jeager. Maybe that is all what this is about.
“You’re selfish, Eren Jeager”, he states in a whisper. He just went and said we belong with each other and Levi can’t deny it. Eren’s made his way to him and there are no more places to hide in. No more excuses to put distance between them. All he wants is to
drop his shoulders
and rest his forehead on Eren’s shoulder. It smells like clean laundry and hay, like sun on his skin, like fresh vegetables from the garden in the south wall of the castle.
Weak , his mind is screaming at him, and. Levi. lies.:
it will be only this once.