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Büsker Dü's and Don'ts

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It was fall in Sina City, which for some blessed locales meant the trees lit with vibrant hues of red and yellow, but in Sina this meant one thing and one thing only: rain. Not a heavy rain like a downpour or even a drizzle that blew sideways in the wind, no, Sina rain was more like a steady mist of ever present wetness that Levi despised. He refused to wear a hat so his inky black hair always had this soft halo to it that gave him a little shiver as he walked to work.

New job, new commute. He never really saw the point in owning a car in the city. There was no place to park it and it seemed more trouble than it was worth. The terrible bus ride, during which his face had been pressed into a sweaty man’s armpit—it really sucked standing at armpit level—may have changed his mind.

His new job was in one of those new gentrified loft offices. Full of app and website start-ups and chock full of hipsters, everyone was looking to make it big and get their fair share while doing as little actual work as possible. Having an “it” app was the new lottery. Levi had disabused himself of that romantic inclination. If he was going to make money, he’d have to do it the old fashioned way. Well, sort of. If you called graphic design ‘old fashioned.’ It was still hard work, Levi reminded himself when his carpal tunnel started to flare up. Dot Pixis had broken away from the major firm where Levi had previously held position and when the old man heard Levi wanted to jump ship, he was only too happy to give him a lifeline.

He hung up his dove grey wool coat and scarf. Passing through the open office (a terrible attempt at fostering innovation and group input that hampered productivity) he inwardly groaned at his colleagues. Ratty jeans and hoodies. Really? Nothing created an air of professionalism more than your old college team on your chest. Levi had embraced the casual atmosphere, albeit with his own flair. Italian leather loafers (which he dutifully waterproofed the previous weekend), dark designer skinny jeans, a black and white checked shirt with a matching thin tie with a flat tip. It was an expensive outfit but Levi believed that if you bought quality expensive items and took care of them, they lasted much longer. Let some people buy cheap clothes and trashy video games. The clothes would grow holes and be tossed in a few months and the video games would lose their appeal after a few plays. Levi was surprisingly frugal and had never been in debt and he hated for people to think otherwise just because he dressed how he wanted. His body, his self, his image.

The trick, he thought with some smug amount of pride, to looking like wealth when you actually rake in a mediocre salary, was in the details. His tie clip was one. His expensive black glasses frames. The dress socks (also purchased on a trip to Italy) were another. Erwin had picked them out as they strolled through Florence and—

With a sharp pang he realized that there was no part of his dress that hadn’t been in some way influenced by Erwin. So much for his body, his self, his image.

Scowling slightly now, he went into the small kitchenette and prepared himself a cup of tea. The kitchenette was fully stocked with sparkling water and an electric kettle. He noticed with some amusement that there was not only a dishwasher but a clothes washer and a dryer currently running.

“Why,” he asked Petra, pausing to blow cool air on his tea. “Does the office have a washer and dryer and who is using it?”

“Me,” said Gunter, looking around his computer. “I put my pants in the dryer when I get to work and then I have toasty junk all day.”

“…What are you wearing as pants now then?” Levi asked, really not wanting to know the answer.

Gunter indicated a blanket wrapped around him like a toga.

“You know, if we could treat this more like an office and less like a dorm, I’d much appreciate that,” Levi sighed.

“I thought that’s why you wanted to leave the big boys and come work with us,” Petra asked, cocking her pastel pink hair to the side. When Levi had first met her it had been a very lovely shade of strawberry blonde and now it was all strawberry no blonde. She had done it up in old-fashioned pin curls on the side and was wearing a 50s style dress to compliment her rockabilly look. Cute, but again not truly professional attire.

Everybody wants to look like an individual and everybody looks all the same, Levi thought with a sigh, realizing he was no better. Just earlier he had been preening over his own aesthetic and now it felt like a hollow empty shell, a lie, a reminder of who he was or rather used to be.

You know what? Fuck it. So what if Erwin picked out those socks? Just because they had broken up didn’t mean he had to cast aside every reminder of their time together. And if he changed everything about himself just so it was different from who he used to be then wasn’t he really just letting Erwin have all the power? Damnit! He was keeping the tie clip too!

Feeling like he’d done quite a bit of emotional growth in the past twenty minutes, Levi opened the door to his office and gave a happy sigh. His one stipulation when he joined Pixis’ firm was that he have his own office. None of this sharing open space and open minds bullshit. An office with a window. And boy what a window. It wasn’t as though the view were spectacular, just overlooking the courtyard and the office building across to the next building, but it was his window. His own personal retreat.

He took a sip of tea and felt the warmth fill him up and he sighed again. New beginnings were tough, but he could get used to this. He could do this every day. Fuck Erwin for saying he was too stuck in his routines. A little routine is good.

Except, he thought some days later, for the bus. The bus was a terrible, terrible routine.

“You know anybody who is selling a motorcycle?” he asked Petra, stomping in angrily.

“Bus blues?” she asked sympathetically.

“I was screamed at by a woman for daring to take a seat because her cat needed to sit there.”

“Aw kitty!”

“No, there was no cat, she was just crazy.”

“Aw, well, I like the bus. I like meeting new people. I met this woman one day who told me exactly when and how I was going to die. Isn’t that great? Now I don’t have to worry unless I go to SeaWorld!”

The dryer buzzed and Gunter stood up.

“Pants time!” he said, accidentally dropping his toga blanket and giving them all a good view of his cartoon character boxes.

“Yo Erd!” Levi called and the man took the headphones out of his ears. “You know anybody selling a motorcycle?”

Erd shook his head.

“Why do you want a motorcycle?” asked Gunter, stepping into his pants one leg at a time like the office was his own personal changing room. “I mean isn’t that a little cliché?”

Petra shot him a look.

“What does that mean?”

“You know, mid-life crisis stuff.”

“What makes you think I’m middle aged? Do I look middle aged?” Levi asked. He had yet to find a single grey hair (upstairs or downstairs) and he’d always been told he looked young for his age.

Erd offered, “You know how when chicks get dumped they chop off all their hair? Well guys buy motorcycles.”

Levi regarded them all coolly before taking his tea to his office.

“Maybe you could walk,” Petra said, following him. “It’s supposed to be nice the next few days. Indian summer they call it. I think the name is super racist but I don’t really know what else to call it?”

“I live too far away to walk,” Levi sighed.

“Okay well…then…you know my boyfriend?” she asked, swaying a little on the spot.

Yes, they all knew ‘the boyfriend.’ Petra talked about him constantly. Levi had no idea what the guy actually did, but they’d all been out for drinks a few times and accepted him at face value. A gargoyle face. But a gargoyle face that Petra loved so Levi kept that opinion to himeslf.

“Well he bought me a scooter a few years ago as a birthday gift but I fell off once and smacked my coochie on the handles and ever since then I’ve been a little afraid to get back on the horse.”

This particular brand of TMI was delivered in Petra’s girlish whisper voice and Levi found it less annoying only because his friend Hanji was far worse and would have told him with diagrams exactly where on her lower lady-person bits she had injured.

“Uh huh.”

“So I’m selling it! It’s in really good condition.”

A scooter? Really?

“I mean, try it out for a month or so and after a month you can decide.”

Levi figured it was worth a shot.

The next day was glorious. A balmy mid-70s to lift the gloom of fall. He hung up his coat and scarf which he hadn’t worn instead choosing to sling over his arms. Gunter’s pants were in the dryer again and Erd was listening to his death metal as Levi busied about with his tea, nearly humming. Petra was bringing the scooter in today and that only served to improve his mood. The bright sun was pouring through the window and Levi opened it just enough to let in the sweet smelling air. Taking a sip of his tea he reflected how much things had changed in the past few months and how good it felt to find his footing. He sighed happily.

All of his good mood went out the window as the busker below it started in on his bucket drum set.

“What?” Levi blinked.

Chapter Text

 

Levi had never realized there were so many percussive noises to be made. There were rat-a-tat-tat’s and badum-badum’s and ticker-ticker-ticker’s and the ever impressive combination of the three into a loud racket below Levi’s window.

“Hey ho!”

Oh and who could forget the bellowing voice that punctuated each paradiddle with its sonorous chants that made absolutely no sense? Every time a person walked through the courtyard the busker would call to them.

“Pretty lady! Pretty lady walking, she’s walking to work, got a briefcase. Hey!” WHOMP WHOMP BADUM BADUN TAT!

Why? Dear God, why?

“Drops a quarter and scooooooore!” ratatatatata snap snap BOOM!

“Are you watching a movie in here?” Petra asked.

Fingers to his temples, Levi looked up at her, a powerful migraine blossoming in his head.

“Is that outside your window?” she asked, covering her mouth with her hands to stifle a laugh. She poked her head out the window. “Omg, this is hilarious. He’s got like twenty bucks in there.”

“Business man, going to business. Got business to do, business with the—“ CRACK CRACK PAPOW! “Ladeeeeeeeez. Yeah!”

Levi put his head down on his desk.

“Did you ask him to move?”

“Three times now. He can’t hear me over his own racket.”

“Let’s get lunch and I can show you Izzie.”

“Izzie?”

Izzie turned out to be “Isabel Magnolia,” Petra’s old scooter. The black Vespa was sleek and well cared for. Levi had misgivings about a grown ass man on a scooter, but as he slipped behind the steering, he realized how right it felt.

“I have a helmet you can use too, but I think it’s not really your style,” Petra said, indicating the pink hibiscus helmet in her hands.

“I’ll buy one,” Levi said, sliding his hands over the handles. He liked that. He liked that a lot more than he was willing to admit.

“Do you wanna give her a ride around the parking lot?”

Levi tucked his tie into his button-down and turned the key. A few laps around the parking garage were all he needed to clear his head of the incessant drumming by his obnoxious friend outside.

When Levi and Petra returned to the open office he was perplexed to find it completely empty and all the occupants in his office.

“This guy is killing it,” Erd said with a mouthful of cup noodles.

The new busker had a crowd outside of appreciative fans on their lunch break. Hipsters of all sorts were gathering around the courtyard, nodding along to the rhythm.

“Sick beats bro!” one of them called out.

“Thank you citizen!” the busker shouted and pointed. “My name is The Jägermeister and I will be here all week.”

“Oh no you won’t,” Levi growled.

As Petra, Erd, and Gunter all watched The Jägermeister, as he apparently called himself, Levi felt an odd calm fall over him. A sort of serenity or Zen. He left for the kitchenette and rummaged around until he found a large cooler. Filling it with water he found himself humming happily, giddily even. Taking slow steps he carried the large water filled cooler over to his office window.

“What are you—“ Petra began and her eyes widened.

Levi tipped the cooler and doused the busker below.

“The fuck? What the fuck is your problem?” the busker shouted, turning his soaking wet head upward to look at Levi.

Grinning maniacally, Levi flipped the busker the bird and slammed the window closed. His coworkers stared as he sighed happily then picked up his tea and sat back at his computer.

<*>

The good weather stayed through the week but unfortunately so did the busker. He learned his lesson and didn’t camp out under Levi’s window, but he wasn’t far from it. Levi was blessed with every sound a bucket could make. The Cup Song with a bucket? Levi had heard it. Any drum solo from Rush? Levi heard it a dozen times over. Hot For Teacher? Check. Moby Dick by Led Zeppelin? Check. Since The Jägermeister didn’t have a cymbal he made little whippish noises with his mouth. He also didn’t sing anything, just shouted out enough lyrics at full volume so his audience got the idea. He made up poems (if you could call them that) on the spot about the people walking by. “Hot soccer mom looking hot doing soccer!” He also shouted random phrases like a drum major issuing commands. “I’m a cymballer, rimshot caller!” was one of Levi’s personal favorites.

The Jägermeister was basically what would happen if Jack Black played drums, did lots more weed, and went off his ADHD meds. Still, he seemed to be making a killing. The baseball hat he’d placed on the ground (despite already wearing a slouchy knit hat and a chullo the day before) was overflowing with green.

“Sad little man, sitting in a window. Un! Ho!”

Levi ignored him.

“Sad little man, in the window, on a computer, being cranky.”

Was he talking about him?

“Likes to dump water on people.” Untiss untiss. “Is probably sad because he’s an asshole.”

Levi flipped him off.

“Likes flipping the—“ he tapped out a loud riff. “Bird!”

Levi stood up and closed the shades.

<*>

Levi left with his coworkers to go to a bar after.

“Sad little man, has a girlfriend. Didn’t see that coming.”

“Is he drumming about you now?” Petra asked.

“I’m his muse. Apparently,” Levi said in a low murderous voice.

“Short angry man’s girlfriend is really hot. Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am!” The Jägermeister said as Petra dropped her spare change into his hat.

She giggled.

“Don’t feed the stray,” Levi sighed.

Oluo waved over at them and Petra ran up to him and jumped in his arms.

“Whoops, that’s her boyfriend. Angry man is still alone.”

The bar was known for its local draft beers but had little in the way of edible food so they stocked up on peanuts and wasabi peas. What Levi hated most was that the ground was covered with peanut shells that crackled with every step.

“What do you do with all of these shells?” Levi asked disgusted.

“We sweep out the bar every night and then put them in bags. Then we either toss them or give them away to people who need them for mulch.”

An idea struck Levi. “Could I have a bag for some of the shells?”

The waitress looked surprised. “Sure, give me a moment.”

She closed their tab and they waited just outside the bar while she packaged up some of the shells.

The Jägermeister had decided that outside a bar was a perfect place for him to be.

“Sad little man, coming out of the bar. Is sad because his girlfriend has a boyfriend.”

“Levi?” a recognizable voice asked behind him and he closed his eyes because he really hoped it wasn’t who he thought it was.

“Sad little man’s name is Levi—“

“Erwin, hey,” Levi had to raise his voice a little to be heard over the racket.

Petra, now a little tipsy, had decided to dance to the bucket drum.

“Yeah girl un un un yeah go girl un un un. Little shortie is drunky, dancing kindof…clunky. She’s not heavy, she’s not chunky, dancing super funky.”

Petra laughed and threw her arms around Oluo.

“Kindof crazy out here,” Erwin said scratching the back of his head.

“Yeah,” Levi agreed, the answer sounding lame in his head.

“How’s the new job?”

“It’s great. It’s really excellent. How’s the old place?”

“Ah, you know, same ol’ same ol’.”

“Shortie has no fear, when it comes to beer, un un un. She toss those brewskis back, 1, 2, 3, 4—“

The silence between Erwin and Levi was made even worse by The Jägermeister’s terrible rhymes and incessant drumming.

“Levi’s talking to a guy, thinks he’s kindof fly.”

“Shut the fuck up,” Levi could kill the drummer.

“Short dude, short dude, is rude, is rude.”

“You still painting?” Erwin asked.

“Yeah,” Levi said and felt a twitch of annoyance. He’d never stopped painting and the way Erwin said it felt just a little condescending.

“Cool.”

“Here you go!” The waitress chose that time to finally bring him the bags of peanut shells he’d been asking for. They were in two long clear shaped bags and Erwin looked at them curiously.

“Uh…they’re for a collage piece,” Levi lied, feeling mortified

“Right…Hey, so,“ Erwin started. “I still have some of your stuff and I was wondering when would be a good time to drop it off.”

“Levi’s boyfriend’s pretty hot, makes me have nasty thoughts.”

“Yeah, sure, I’ll text you a time,” Levi said.

“Oh, are you sure? I mean, I could go get them right now and drop them off at your place later tonight.”

A bootycall? Seriously?

“I’m busy this weekend. I’ll text you a time next week,” Levi said dismissively.

Was it just him, or did Erwin look a little hurt? Good.

“Oh, sure. It was cool seeing you.”

“You too.”

Erwin leaned in to give him a hug or maybe a kiss on the cheek but Levi dodged the gesture.

“Ooo, DENIED.” WHOMP WHOMP!

Erwin left, looking thoroughly embarrassed and Levi’s face was burning. He marched over to the street performer and emptied the entire bag of peanut shells into the baseball hat filled with change and into his bucket and all over his stupid head. There were bits of shells in the busker’s hair and stuck to his hat and in his stupid hoodie. He blinked in confusion and then Levi picked up the baseball hat and flipped it onto the kid’s head, spilling coins and bills and more peanut shells everywhere.

There was no retort or pithy chant for this action. Just a long drawn out sigh as the boy began sorting through shells to find his change. Levi practically skipped away.

Chapter Text

 

The weekend should have been blissfully free of the busker. He woke up early and went for a jog. Meeting with Erwin had thrown him more than he wanted to admit. He kept thinking over Erwin’s offer to meet up and exchange items. Truth be told he still had an old sweater of Erwin’s hanging in his closet that he couldn’t be bothered to part with.

The jog cleared his head. Usually he listened to his music while running but lately his ears had been sore (wonder why) and he enjoyed the soft chorus of geese flying overhead and children playing in the park. After he did his cool down, he went to his favorite coffee shop. Sina Coffee was one of the few coffeehouses that boasted an impressive tea collection. He didn’t know what blend they used for their black tea but it was by far his favorite. Every other Saturday he would come in and buy some in bulk and a cup to go. He liked loose leaf better than bagged and Hanji had gotten him a nice infuser for his birthday one year. The barista was his favorite. She was quiet, calm, and didn’t bother him with banal small talk. She started packing up his usual amount of tea the second she saw him get in line. Levi noticed she’d cut her hair. She was the kind of barista that always wore a scarf no matter the season. Today was no different as she donned a black tube top and elbow length wrist warmers that matched her red scarf.

“Usual?” she asked as he made it to the counter.

He nodded.

Behind him a group of college kids were making a ruckus and mess.

“Eren, why do you have peanut shells all over you?” asked one of the girls of the group, leaning forward to pick off a shell.

“Ugh, I thought I got all of them. Long story, don’t ask,” he groaned.

Oh no. Oh no no no. No. Definitely no. Please no. Levi didn’t have his glasses on so he couldn’t quite make out the faces, but that voice sounded terribly familiar.

“How’s busking?” asked one of the boys.

“It’s awesome! Except for this one jerk who keeps hassling me.”

Shit.

Well at least The Jägermeister hadn’t seen him yet. He was too busy goofing off with his friends and being a general nuisance, making a mess with the creamer and tossing rolled up bits of napkins at one another.

“Hey,” he motioned to the barista. “Can I ask you something?”

She blinked and nodded. He had never spoken to her before save to give his order.

“What is up with that asshole? What’s his deal?” he jerked a thumb in The Jägermeister’s direction.

“He’s my baby brother,” she said without skipping a beat.

“Ha, no really.” The two of them didn’t look anything alike.

“He’s my baby brother,” she repeated now giving him a look of extreme distaste.

“Oh.” Levi couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“Did you want room for cream?” she asked.

Levi shook his head, now tongue tied by the revelation that his favorite coffee shop was now also tainted by the obnoxious busker.

“Sugar?” she asked.

“No.”

He didn’t know why she was asking. She never asked him before, she knew he liked it plain. She grabbed the shaker of sugar and poured a fine steady stream into his to-go cup. Making eye contact the entire time, she emptied the entire contents into his tea.

“Will that be all for you today?” she asked, handing him his cup in a small sleeve.

“N-no, I’m good thanks,” he said taking the cup from her.

The group behind him was strangely quiet and Levi hoped the street performer hadn’t caught sight of him or his very humiliating dressing down by the PMS-y barista. He tossed the cup around the corner because despite the sweetness, it tasted awfully bitter.

He decided on getting himself a decent helmet. He bought one in the same jet black as Izzy. Petra said it was good luck to name things so he picked “Farlan” for the helmet. It wasn’t as romantic as Isabel Magnolia but then again its job was to keep his head safe so he didn’t mind.

<*>

He texted Erwin Monday morning and informed him that during lunch would be a good time to drop off his stuff. At first it appeared that the busker wasn’t going to make it out that day, but then he showed up right before noon and Levi sighed as the familiar shouts and claps of the bucket invaded his quiet work time. The kid had apparently figured out his audience was more receptive around lunchtime and he stayed until the work rush ended, wherein he’d go hang outside the bars.

[Erwin:] I’m down in the courtyard.

Shit, he didn’t want to meet in the courtyard.

Levi took a deep breath and gathered his things.

[Erwin:] I have a meeting in twenty minutes so I can’t stay long.

[Levi:] That’s fine.

He didn’t want them to have a long sit down talk and cry over the wreckage of their relationship. What good would that serve?

“Short guy’s boyfriend is back, bow chicka!” The Jägermeister was now using the flagpole in the courtyard in his routine and it made an even more obnoxious metallic click as opposed to the dull thuds of the bucket.

“Oh hey, my Godfather Blu-rays, I wondered where those had gone,” Levi said looking in the box.

He thought he’d feel more pathos when he looked inside the box. He pictured looking into a time capsule of all of their time together. But instead it was just a few books that he’d left on Erwin’s nightstand and a few DVDs that made it into his collection. Some he didn’t even realize were his. That’s the problem with being together with someone so long, you forget whose stuff is whose. The collection of Pablo Neruda poems was theirs. Sure, Erwin had given it to him as a gift, but it wasn’t really his.

“Ah!” Levi pulled out his green hoodie. “Good, it’s been getting colder on my runs and I really needed this. Thank you so much for bringing it.”

Erwin looked like he had expected Levi to take the exchange harder and didn’t look too pleased at how well Levi was handling it. Was Erwin taking the break up harder? Good.

“Short dude is breaking up with his boyfriend, WHOMP WHOMP.”

“Hey, when you were looking for my stuff, did you find that Cowichan sweater I used to have? I can’t find it anywhere?” Erwin asked.

“Nope,” Levi lied.

“Oh, because my mother knit it for me and I’d very much like to have it.”

“Sorry, can’t help you. Maybe you lost it.”

“Hey short dude, how are you gonna pack that box on your short dude scooter?” the busker asked.

“You have a scooter now?” Erwin asked, looking devastated that a complete stranger knew more about Levi than he did. “New job and a scooter?”

“You know I hate the bus,” Levi deferred.

“Angry dude rides an angry scooter angry because his boyfriend dumped his angry ass.” Click click.

Goddamnit the kid was becoming vindictive in his chants.

“Friend of yours?” Erwin asked jerking his thumb at the busker.

“I may have dumped a bucket of water on him.”

“That sounds like something you’d do,” Erwin chuckled.

Oh no. Levi really missed that chuckle. He felt his knees buckle a little. He looked away from Erwin, focusing instead on the steady beat that the busker was pumping out, clearly eavesdropping.

“I’ve missed you, Levi,” Erwin said.

Fuck don’t do that. Levi shifted the box in his hands.

“I was hoping we could remain friends after.”

Levi’s jaw twitched and he cleared his throat, “Yeah, well thanks for using up your lunch time to bring me this.”

“It was no problem.”

He could have said, “It was nothing,” but he meant it when he said it was “no problem” which meant it was something. Shit shit shit.

“See you around?” Erwin asked. When Levi didn’t reply he turned and to add insult to injury dropped a dollar in the busker’s hat.

Levi stood there, feeling like he’d just survived a hurricane.

“Dude that was heavy as fuck,” the busker said sympathetically.

“What the fuck is your deal?” Levi asked. “Don’t you have a job? Do you honestly have nothing better to do than ruin my life?”

“This is my job,” The Jägermeister said in a hurt voice.

“Then go someplace else!”

“No,” the punk raised his chin defiantly.

Levi set down the box and in two steps he had crossed the courtyard and grabbed both drumsticks out of the busker’s hands. He broke them one at a time over his knee then threw the remains in the young man’s face. Standing triumphantly with his hands on his hips Levi leaned over him. He expected the kid to fight him, he certainly was angry enough, but instead he reached into his backpack…

“No,” Levi shook his head. “Don’t you dare.”

…and pulled out an entirely new set of sticks.

“Don’t—“ Levi cautioned, his expression severe, holding his finger out as if scolding a child.

“Short dude, has serious anger issues, gets his kicks breaking a guy’s sticks,” The Jägermeister drummed, grinning ear to ear.

Levi’s was apoplectic with rage.

This was the moment that Levi should have realized that escalating the situation could only end badly. But it only got worse from there.

<*>

“I’m gonna take him to the mattresses,” Levi informed Petra, watching the busker out his window.

“The what?” Petra asked.

He’d been watching Godfather the night before, lying on his couch sideways and stuffing popcorn into his face, his glasses askew. The night had ended when he tried to drink tea sideways and had inhaled most of it along with a few popcorn kernels. Breakups fucking suck.

“The mattresses,” Levi repeated as if that clarified things.

“I still don’t know what that means but it doesn’t sound good.”

“He wants a war, he’ll get a war.” Levi brooded, sipping his tea and glaring down at the busker.

The busker flipped him off and Levi only glowered.

“Do you know how you kill a snake, Petra?” Levi asked. When she didn’t answer, he continued. “You can cut the tail off a rattlesnake, but it’s still got a venomous bite. No, you need to cut the head off.”

“Are you monologuing? Why are you monologuing? I’m starting to worry about your obsession with our little drummer boy,” Petra said. “You know he could sue you and the firm for harassment.”

“Me harassing him? He’s harassing me! I’ve been making a list of every single incident since day one. If he wants to sue me let him sue me. I’ll get a better lawyer and take him for all he’s worth.”

“I don’t think he has anything, that’s why he’s out there with a bucket.”

“Then I’ll take the bucket.”

“Oh…kay. You know, I know that breakups can be hard, but I kindof feel like you’re taking your anger out on the kid.”

“There he goes! He’s going!” Levi pointed.

The busker took a break every hour and a half or so to use the restrooms at a gas station around the corner. He’d take all of his cash with him, but he’d leave his bucket to stake out his turf. Levi raced down the stairs two at a time.

“What’s Levi doing?” Erd said, coming up behind Petra to look out the window.

“He’s taking the street performer to the mattresses,” Petra explained.

They watched Levi grab the bucket and sling it over his arm. He quickly took off his expensive shoes and socks. Taking a running leap he grabbed the flagpole, clinging with his arms and bare feet.

Petra opened the window.

“Levi get down from there! You’ll hurt yourself!” she shouted out at him.

“Let him,” said Erd sagely, putting a hand on her shoulder.

“What’s Levi doing?” Gunter asked, joining them.

“Going to the mattresses,” Erd explained.

“Ah. Well this is better than a horse head, I guess,” Gunter said.

“What are you boys even talking about?” Petra threw her hands in the air storming out of the room.

To their surprise Levi managed to shimmy up the pole and place the bucket at the very top like a demented angel on top of a very skinny tree. He slid down the pole and pulled socks and shoes on his freezing feet. He managed to make it back up to his window to see the kid’s reaction. Trying to not seem out of breath, he stood at the window as The Jägermeister gaped at the bucket on the pole. When he managed to look back at Levi, Levi blew him a little kiss.

“Leave the drum, take the cannoli,” Erd said, nodding in approval.

Chapter Text

 

Levi hadn’t expected the busker to be back the very next day. Sure, he hadn’t thought he’d gotten rid of the bastard for good, but the next day? Really? And why was it so easy to find that many buckets?

“This one goes out to the asshole three stories up and two windows over!” The Jägermeister shouted. “You can take my bucket, but you can never take my freedom!”

Levi watched him set up three separate buckets and play on each of them. His eyes narrowed. When the busker realized he’d caught Levi’s attention, he grinned. Then he pulled out one last item and set it on the center bucket, turning it to face Levi. There was a wrenching sensation in his stomach as he realized that it was his helmet. The busker brought both sticks up and crossed them over his head before tapping on the helmet so forcefully Levi thought it might break.

“Farlan!” he whispered and ran down the stairs.

When the kid saw him coming, he threw it onto the roof with an impressive arm.

“Whoops,” he smiled before sitting back down to play his drums. “Short dude, is rude. Rides a scooter, wonder what happened to it…”

Dicks. Dicks was what happened to it. Hundreds of silver dicks all over his gorgeous scooter. Poor Izzy. How had the kid even gotten into the garage? He rubbed a cautious sleeve on the ugliest, veiniest member and to his relief it smudged. Then it wasn’t permanent marker. Probably one of those semi-permanent markers his barista sister wrote the daily specials in. He breathed a sigh of relief.

Now Farlan was a different story. The busker had decorated it with a whole sleeve of My Little Pony stickers. The stickers he could peel off and wipe the stickum off with Goo Be Gone, but the tiny marks made by the drummer’s sticks he had to buff out. It took him over an hour to clean both of them. Levi vowed revenge.

<*>

“What do you mean you can’t do anything about him? He vandalized—what do you mean permit? He has a permit? You can get a permit to stand around with your thumb up your ass as long as you call it ‘performance art?’” Levi had spent the first hour of his day on the phone with the police and then city hall and then the tourism board. Apparently the kid had a busking license and was authorized to be in that zone. Who knew such things existed?

“Maybe it’s time you called it quits?” Petra suggested hopefully.

“Gimme your phone,” Levi snapped his fingers at her.

“Why?” she asked, but handed it over anyways.

He dialed the police and then adopted a high falsetto. “Hello yes? Police? I live in the Stohess Towers and there’s a—a what do you call them? Some kind of street musician on the street harassing children! He unzipped his fly and—oh this is horrible—he pulled out his-his-his wedding tackle and showed it to the children! Please hurry. He’s in the Shina Courtyard. My name? Oh it’s—“

He hung up and handed Petra back her phone feeling smug.

“Oh Levi,” Petra sighed.

The police showed up an hour later and Levi watched them talk to the kid before putting him in the back of the car. The busker glared up at him as Levi sipped his tea and waved down at him.

That felt good.

<*>

The busker didn’t return for the rest of the week. Without his foil to distract him Levi found he breezed through his workload leaving him alone to rehash every moment of that conversation with Erwin. Then it turned to every moment of every conversation with Erwin. The next weekend he realized, marked nearly three months since they’d broken up, two months since he’d gotten a new job, and one month since his near meltdown over the nuisance that was The Jägermeister.

Saturday he woke up after finishing the Godfather Part II and proceeded to busy about his normal routine. He had just finished stretching and was about to start his run when he heard a very familiar noise.

“Short guy is stretching, gonna go for a run. Run short stop run.” Papow papow!

“You,” Levi hissed.

A woman walking with her child dropped some quarters into his hat.

“The Jägermeister thanks you!” The Jägermeister grinned, showing off his snakebite piercings.

“Are you stalking me?” Levi asked.

“This is a public place, old man,” the kid shrugged, smiling. “I can play here alllll day.”

“If this is your plan to get back at me?” Levi asked. “Because I’ve got news for you. I can run and you can’t really keep up with that drum.”

The busker’s mouth fell into a small ‘o.’ He clearly hadn’t thought it through.

“That’s what I thought,” Levi said taking off.

He still had to pass the drummer at every lap and the kid would shout something at him, but he simply cranked up the volume in his ears. At this rate he’d be deaf by the time he turned forty.

 “You’re kindof like a small ball of rage and muscle, you know that?” The Jägermeister said, yawning and resting his elbows on his bucket. “Like a wolverine. Or a honey badger.”

“What nonsense are you saying now?” Levi said, ripping his headphones out as he busied about doing pushups for his cool down.

“I wasn’t saying anything bad! I said you were surprisingly buff.”

“Surprisingly,” Levi muttered in annoyance.

“It was a compliment! Christ, you take everything as an insult.”

Levi responded with another pushup, bringing his nose down to almost touch the browning blades of grass.

“I mean, I just didn’t think that Mr. Chip-on-my-shoulder could do a single pushup.”

“How did you think I got that bucket on top of the flagpole?” Levi asked him.

“Uh…a ladder?”

Levi smirked.

“You didn’t…did you climb it? Holy fucking shit, dude. You take this shit seriously.”

“I thought I made that clear from the beginning. You’re harassing me, you vandalized my scooter and I’m about five seconds away from calling the police again.”

“So that was you. I kindof figured.” The kid was resting his chin on the bucket and he had a dopey smile on. Goddamnit he was blazed as fuck. For some reason that doofy expression irked Levi more than he could explain.

“And at any rate I used a washable pen,” The Jägermeister said shrugging.

“You mean you half assed it just like you do everything?” Levi asked in mock surprise.

The kid just laughed.

“You’re surprisingly okay about being carted away by the police,” Levi said, his brows furrowing.

“Yeah man. I mean I used to be like you like super angry and shit. But then mom got me a therapist and I discovered pot and this drum and now I’m just super chill. Like I found my inner peace. Namaste and shit.”

“My God, do you hear yourself talking?”

“I just don’t see the point getting all worked up over this shit. You’re the one getting all pissed off and it’s funny as fuck to watch. Ahahaha. You gotta find your happy place, bro.”

A vein in Levi’s forehead twitched.

The Jägermeister started in on “Fat Bottom Girls” much to Levi’s chagrin just shouting the lyrics like a drill sergeant.

Levi picked up his towel and flung it around his neck, leaving for the coffeehouse. The drumming stopped and he realized the kid was following him.

“What?” Levi snapped.

“You’re going to the coffee shop right?” he asked, swinging his bucket and his side. “I see you in there all the time.”

“So you can’t get a real job, but you can somehow afford to get coffee nearly every day?” Levi asked annoyed.

“I got a connect,” the kid itched at a spot on his nose with his drumsticks. “My sister owns the place so I get free coffee.”

“Fucking freeloader,” Levi muttered. “So I take it you’re not leaving any day soon?”

“Naw man. I’m gonna be out there Monday, then Tuesday, possibly but most definitely Wednesday, Thursday, and obviously Friday at 11:30AM sharp. Get the lunch crowd money.”

“I’ll schedule my daily shit around it,” Levi rolled his eyes.

“I can take anything you throw at me dude. All that hate of yours it just rolls off my back like water off a duck man. Like water off a duck. Ima take all your negative energy and I’m gonna channel it into this drum and turn it into positivity.”

“Did you just wake up one day and think, ‘I know! I’ll be a bucket playing street performer!’?”

From the look on his face that was exactly what happened.

“So what if I did?” he huffed.

“Your drumming fucking sucks!” Levi shouted. “You have no talent! Get a real fucking job and stop following me!”

The kid looked hurt. Good.

He yanked on the door to the coffee shop and the brat followed him inside.

“Oh no. No. NO no no!” his favorite barista shouted pointing at Levi. “No, fuck you.”

“What?” Levi looked confused as the Jägermeister stepped in around him.

“Connie—” She snapped her fingers impatiently at one of the college kids and he obediently handed her his camera. “Do you know what kind of week I’ve had? I got a call in the middle of work to come down to the police precinct to pick up my little brother because some asshole said he was flashing kiddies. No. No fuck you. You’re fucking banned.”

She took a picture and it flashed, catching Levi in a very unflattering pose, then the Polaroid popped out.

“What?” repeated Levi, blinking spots out of his eyes. “Where do you even find Polaroids anymore?”

 Shaking it, she slapped a magnet on top of it, pinning it to the board. Then she wrote, “DO NOT SERVE. BANNED 4 LIFE.”

“Oh come on,” Levi protested.

She underlined “LIFE” three times.

The Jägermeister came up behind him and stared open mouthed at the terrible photo developing then he started laughing with his terrible stoner laugh. In the photo Levi had one eye half closed and his lip was pulled in a half sneer.

“Dude,” he pointed at the photo as if he were the funniest thing he’d ever seen.

“OUT!” the barista insisted.

“Fine! You know what? Fuck you and your fucking Polaroid camera. Fucking your idiotic brother. Fuck your tea! And you know what? Fuck your scarf!”

“Oh yeah?” she shouted heatedly. “Fuck my scarf really?”

“Yeah fuck your stupid ratty ass scarf. If you’re so fucking cold, bitch, wear a sweater. Fuck all of you!”

Flipping them all the bird, he stormed out, The Jägermeister’s dumb laugh chasing him.

“What an asshole!” Mikasa fumed. “Eren, I told you you can’t play your stupid drum in here.”

“I was going to go outside—“

“And you can’t play it in front of my store.”

He gave a dramatic sigh and went to get himself a cup of joe.

“And stop stealing coffee!” She smelled him. “Oh my god, you reek of pot.”

Chapter Text

 

“Heyo! Did you bring the money for the scooter today?” Petra popped her head in his office cheerily.

“Yup.”

“So what are you going to do now?” Petra asked because Levi was brooding by the window again.

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” Levi said darkly.

“Oh boy.”

She left and shook her head.

“What’s he doing now?” Erd asked.

“He said he’s going to make the kid an offer he can’t refuse.”

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” Gunter imitated in a wheeze.

“I’m gonna make him n ‘ffer e ‘nt refuse,” Erd imitated, making a gesture with his hands that made him look like a small clawed lobster.

They continued back and forth until they were nearly unintelligible.

“Men,” Petra muttered, desperately wishing there were more women in the office.

“Mine was better,” Erd said.

“I was doing De Niro as Corleone,” Gunter explained.

“Motherfucker, no one does De Niro as Corleone. You’re doing DeNiro as Brando as Corleone.”

“Showtime!” Levi said, running by them pulling on his coat.

“Okay, but whose was better?” Gunter asked.

“No one does De Niro as Corleone,” Levi said, wrapping his scarf around his neck.

Erd looked at Gunter with a victorious smirk, twirling his stylus in his hands.

“Well you weren’t lying on Saturday when you said 11:30AM sharp,” Levi said striding up to the busker.

“Huh?” The Jägermeister looked confused.

“On Saturday when you said…never mind—“

“Oh yeah, sorry bro, I don’t remember like anything from Saturday. I was stoned as shit.” The kid gave a chuckle.

“No kidding,” Levi said flatly. Well at least he appeared somewhat sober today.

“So what are you out here today for? Gonna try to change my mind? Insult my drumming some more?”

“Actually I wanted to apologize.”

The Jägermeister snorted. “Sure you do.”

“I mean it’s clear that this is really important to you,” Levi fiddled with his scarf.

The brat squinted at him trying to figure out his game.

“And you’re not that bad. You’re getting a lot better.”

“Uh…huh.”

“Imagine what you could accomplish if you put just half of your energy into it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you play half a song, then you diddle around, then you play another half a song, then you take a shit and a smoke, then you practice your beats, then you pack it up and head home.”

“So…?”

“I mean just once I’d like to see you really play.”

“What’s that mean?” the kid furrowed his brow.

“This is what you want to do, right?”

“Yeah!” he said and Levi had to hide a smirk because the kid’s enthusiasm was obvious.

“Well, do it. Here, I’ll make you a wager.” He pulled out his wallet. “If you can sit here and play the whole day, I’ll pay you five hundred dollars.”

“Ha!” the kid laughed and shook his head. “You don’t have that kind of—“

Levi pulled out the five crisp hundreds he’d withdrawn from the bank that morning as payment for Petra’s scooter. The brat’s eyes went wide and his mouth fell open.

“Five hundred dollars and all you have to do is sit out here and play your dumb drum. How about it?”

“What’s the catch?” the kid’s mouth was still open.

“You have to play the whole day. From now until 5pm. No bathroom breaks, no smoke breaks. And you have to play the entire time. No pauses longer than 10 seconds. And if you do, you get $500. If you give up—and I really think you will give up—then you have to find a new place to play and never come back. Capisce?”

“So I just have to play for five hours straight?”

“A hundred bucks an hour. Not bad for a hard day’s work, eh? And if you give up, you have to leave.”

“Five hours?”

“Yup.”

“You’re on, midget!” The Jägermeister’s face broke out into a grin.

“Excellent.”

<*>

If the poor kid had bothered to look at the news today, he would have known that the weatherman predicted the largest thunder storm in recent history was to hit Sina City. Levi heard the first two cracks of thunder and it was like the heavens opened up.

“Oh my god, this is amazing,” Levi said looking out at The Jägermeister in the pouring rain. He sipped his tea feeling very warm and cozy inside and gave a little wave at the kid who was dutifully plugging away at his drum. The sound wasn’t even audible over the pounding of the rain against the roof.

The first hour was pure bliss and Levi congratulated himself on his brilliant plan. But then the kid still hadn’t left. The second hour, he started to have some regrets. And when the hail started at the beginning of the third hour, Petra came over to stand next to him by the window frowning deeply. She looked out at the shivering kid and his shaking arms looking miserable, then she turned her judgmental eyes on Levi.

“Don’t,” Levi shook her off. “If he wants to stay out there, that’s his business.”

But she continued looking at him with that expression and he saw the idiot flinching as a piece of hail hit his very red ears. He scratched at it, but didn’t stop playing.

“I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty. He had this coming!” Levi said.

“Mmhmm,” Petra said with a chirp of moral superiority. She turned and left.

“Goddamnit,” he said. “God fucking damn it.”

He pulled on his coat and his scarf again and grabbed his umbrella.

“Kid, go home!” he shouted over the deluge.

The brat blinked water out of his eyes to look up at him.

“No!” he shouted stubbornly.

“Go home. The bet’s off.”

“No! You’re just trying to trick me so I don’t get my 500 bucks!”

“Kid I was never going to give you that money. That was to pay my friend for her scooter.”

“A bet is a bet and I’m going to win,” The Jägermeister insisted, shaking all over.

“You’re gonna get sick.”

“What do you care?”

Levi sighed and held the umbrella over the both of them. “How about a compromise? You were out here what two? Two and a half hours? Here, I’ll give you $250 and you come inside and get warm, okay?”

“No trick?”

“No trick.”

“Okay.” He stood up, water dripping from his hoodie, stepping on the hems of his jeans. He made to take one of his buckets with him.

“No, that thing stays out here.” Levi scowled at it as if it were a particularly naughty pet.

The kid acquiesced.

“What’s your name, brat?” Levi asked as they were inside, shaking his umbrella off. “Because I’m not going to call you The Jägermeister.”

“What’s wrong-g-g w-w-ith—“ he chattered his teeth.

“It’s the stupidest name of all time is what it is.”

“It’s m-m-my name,” the kid said looking hurt. At Levi’s expression he clarified. “Jaeger.”

“Jaeger,” Levi repeated not quite believing him.

“Eren.”

That was a name Levi could at least consider as normal.

“And you’re Levi,” Eren remembered. He couldn’t remember all of Saturday but he remembered that at least.

“Yeah.”

“What’s your last name?”

“Ha, no, nice try. I’m not going to have you waking me up outside my apartment because you Googled where I live. Here, there’s a dryer here and you can make yourself something warm just—don’t do that here!”

Eren had immediately stripped down to his skivvies and thrown his clothes in the dryer.

“I think I have some gym clothes,” Levi said, keeping his eyes trained on the ceiling. “Hold on.”

Levi only had his work out sweats. The sweatshirt wouldn’t fit over the kid’s shoulders but the pants he managed. They were tight and at calf level making it look like he was wearing a pair of clam diggers but they were dry. Erd gave him a shirt to borrow and Gunter gave him his toga blanket. When he pulled off his soaking hat, Levi saw he had small gauge piercings in addition to the snake bites and his lip curled.

“What’s the matter, don’t like piercings?” Eren asked, still shivering but looking less like a drowned rat. He gave a shit-eating grin.

“Piercings I don’t mind, but stretching out your lobes. Gross.”

“Hey, it’s my body, I mark it how I see fit.”

“Yeah,” Levi rolled his eyes grabbing some milk from the fridge. “You’re so original, that’s why everyone else has the same thing. So counter culture.”

“Hey you’re talking about it, aren’t you?” Eren said leaning over him and Levi sidestepped around him, not wanting to be dripped on. “So you hate tattoos too?” Eren asked casually. “Or should I just assume you hate everything?”

“I like good tattoos.”

“Well that’s pretty subjective isn’t it? I was thinking of getting a sleeve. Maybe that’s what I’ll use your money for.”

Levi gave him a pained expression. “Don’t tell me what you plan on doing with my money it’ll just depress me.”

“You’re just too chickenshit to get a tattoo yourself so you’re hating on me.”

“I have a tattoo.”

“Really? Where?”

“I’m not telling you.”

“Is it on your ass? Oh my god, that’s hilarious.”

“No, but I’m not showing it to you.”

“I bet it’s lame anyways. Probably says “MOM” or—oh! What was your ex-boyfriend’s name? The blondie?”

“Erwin,” Levi said in a hushed whisper.

“Oh my god, does your tattoo really say Erwin—“

“No, he’s here!” Levi ducked down behind the kitchenette counter, hiding from his ex. “Why is he here?”

Pixis ushered Erwin, Nile Dawk, and Shadis, Levi’s former boss into his office. Levi picked his head up to look at Pixis questioningly.

“I’ll be with you gentlemen in one minute,” Pixis said closing the door behind him.

Levi marched to his office and Pixis followed, his large bag still over his shoulder.

“What is that?” Levi indicated the parade of his former coworkers.

“It’s a long story, I’ll tell you about it after, if everything goes well.”

“Why is your ex-boyfriend here?” Eren asked wandering over to the two of them sipping on his hot cocoa.

Pixis looked at him questioningly and pointed at Eren, “Who is this?”

“You said it was bring your pet to work day,” Levi deadpanned.

“It is?” Eren asked eagerly. “Is there a dog here? If there’s a dog here I want to pet it. Where is it? Why didn’t you tell me there was a dog here?”

“There’s no dog here because I vetoed Pet Day because I am not cleaning up some animal’s shit.”

“Oh…” Eren looked disappointed.

There was a soft yipping noise from Pixis’ messenger bag.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Levi said as Eren let out a happy squeal.

“Could you—“ Pixis indicated the dog.

“Hell no.”

“Look how tiny you are!” Eren said picking up the Pomeranian pup. “He’s so fluffy!”

“This is Maria,” Pixis said.

“Maria! What a fancy lady!” Eren said dancing with her.

“Go stay in the lounge and don’t bother me,” Levi snapped at Eren pointing him away. But when he looked out his office windows he could see Petra and company gathered around Eren and the tiny dog.

“So what’s it like working with that guy?” Eren asked, jerking his thumb in Levi’s direction.

“It’s great.”

“Ha, no really.”

“It is! Levi’s a really great guy and a good boss. He brings us cronuts every Monday.”

“Shit there are cronuts here? Can I—“

She handed him the box.

“Fuck yeah.” He grabbed a chocolate one. “No none for you Maria, chocolate is bad for puppies. Yes it is, yes it is. Here you can have some of the plain one.”

“Don’t feed the dog people food,” Levi said from inside his office.

“Yeah Levi is great. He can be a little abrasive but he’s a good guy.”

“Yeah, I think I’m familiar with the abrasive side.”

“So Eren, what else do you do when you’re not driving Levi crazy?”

“I’m just really focusing on my art right now,” Eren said and Levi groaned.

“What kind of art?” Petra asked brightly.

“Well you’ve seen it.”

“He means his terrible drumming,” Levi called.

“Okay, I have a question,” Petra said leaning in and lowering her voice. “At this point you’re just fucking with him, right? I mean you’re only staying out in our courtyard because it pisses him off.”

“No, I mean…I kindof can’t drum anywhere else.” He flushed. “Mimes kicked me out of the park and my sister’s stupid boyfriend took over my old corner. And he fucking sucks. Like he’s fucking awful.”

“Mimes,” Petra mouthed at Levi and Levi rolled his eyes.

“And he has the balls to tell me that my drumming sucks.”

“Man, I like this guy already,” Levi drawled.

“Yeah so I don’t deal to him anymore. Dude is fucking my sister I mean that’s just bad business if I sell him weed.”

“I can’t believe the cops never booked you on possession,” Levi muttered.

“I mean I don’t deal anymore anyways,” Eren clarified. “But if I did, I wouldn’t deal to him.”

“So do you think you could get me…” Petra’s voice lowered and Levi couldn’t hear the rest but he could guess.

“No, like I said I don’t deal anymore,” Eren said loudly for Levi’s sake, but then he whispered, “Later.”

“We should start doing random drug testing at work,” Levi thought aloud to himself and Petra whirled back to her computer screen.

“Hey, pot’s legal here,” Eren said rolling his eyes.

“If it’s sold by a dispensary and we can still fire people for failing a drug test,” Levi reminded them.

“Whatever.” Then to Petra, “If ever there was someone who needed to get baked it’s that guy.”

“Levi doesn’t partake. He’s very abstemious,” Petra informed Eren. “You know, his body is a temple and all that.”

“What like, he doesn’t smoke?”

“Or drink,” Levi said from inside his office.

“Dude.”

Levi was jiggling his leg anxiously. Why was Pixis meeting with Shadis? What could they all have to talk about? The door cracked.

“Go sit in the lounge,” Levi ordered.

“He’s so bossy, isn’t he Maria? Yes he is. Yes he is!”

<*>

Levi pretended to be absorbed in his work when Erwin strolled in as Levi knew he would.

“Knock, knock,” Erwin tapped on the door.

“You don’t need to say it if you actually do it,” Levi reminded him.

“Right,” said Erwin giving a half smile. “Well I figured I’d say hello since you dodged me when you were in the lounge earlier.”

Levi tried hard to look like he didn’t know what Erwin was saying. Erwin closed the door behind him.

“What was that meeting about?” Levi asked.

“I can’t really talk about it just yet, but I’m sure you’ll find out from Pixis soon enough so I’ll leave it to him.”

“Hm,” Levi’s brow furrowed and he tried to look hard like he was working on a project and not another game of solitaire.

“I like your office. It’s nice. Nice view.”

“Thanks. I like my office too.”

“You know if you came back to Shadis’ firm you’d get an office like this.”

“Oh you sweet talker you.”

“Just think about it.”

There was a loud sound as Eren ran past his window giggling.

“Look! She’s chasing me!” He tripped over the blanket and fell down still laughing.

“Our intern program is terrible,” Levi deadpanned at Erwin’s expression.

Eren ran the other direction, “Come on Maria! Come catch me!”

“What is that?” Erwin managed, pointing behind him.

“Yeah, they only get class credit.”

“Right, well. Think about what I said. If you come back to Shadis you’d probably get a raise and an office.”

“Thanks but no thanks.”

“Talk to Pixis before you turn me down outright,” Erwin gave a tight smile.

“Roger that,” Levi saluted.

“It’s the circle of life!” Eren said holding the dog out in front of him.

Fuck my life, Levi thought, rubbing his temples.

Chapter Text

 

“We lost the Balto account,” Pixis said after things had quieted down.

“What?” Levi was stunned. He’d spent a great deal of time on his work for Balto. Levi had handled it personally. Intimately. “Did they not like the work we did for them?” His throat was tight.

“They did, they just didn’t like the cost,” Pixis gave an ironic smile.

“You think they could have told us before we spent a month’s worth of work on their project,” Levi grumbled.

“Without the Balto account we can’t stay afloat.”

“Why? We have other clients.”

“They don’t cover nearly enough. Without the Balto account, I’ve been forced to sell us to Survey Corp.”

Fuck. This wasn’t happening.

“They still want you on hand to manage our clients. You’d be in charge of the transition over there. If you took the job.”

“What about you?”

“Ah. I’m an old man in a young man’s game. I think I’ll take this as a sign to finally retire. Spend some time with the grandkids.”

“What about my team?” Levi asked.

“They’re young. They’ll bounce back. If you take the job with Survey Corp you might even be able to hire them back.”

Levi liked his coworkers. He didn’t like the idea of abandoning them.

“If you’ll excuse me though, I think I have to break the news to the troops,” Pixis gave a rueful smile and tapped Levi’s desk.

“Ah well,” said Gunter with a sigh after Pixis filled them in. “We had a good run of it anyway.”

“Yeah, I started updating my resume on LinkedIn the second I saw the suits,” Erd nodded.

“My sister is starting up her dressmaking business and wants me to help with the design for the website,” Petra shrugged.

“What about you Levi?” asked Erd. “Are they keeping you on at Survey Corp?”

Levi was hesitant. “They want me to, I’m not sure yet.”

“You should,” Petra urged. “Better dental.”

Levi tried to smile, but couldn’t really bring himself to do so.

“Well we’ve got two weeks, want to head out and get a drink?” Petra asked, cocking her head to the side. “I’ll text Oluo to meet us there!”

“As much fun as eating pretzels and peanuts with you guys sounds, I think I’ll sit this one out,” Levi said. He didn’t really feel in the mood.

“Fine, but in two weeks when we’re officially out of here we’re going out!”

“Sounds good,” Levi said.

He grabbed his coat and nudged Sleeping Beauty awake. Eren was lying on his back, his arm thrown over his eyes and Gunter’s shirt lifted high enough to show a hint of bronze skin. Eren still had that youthful chubbiness in his face and his body, the kind that turns gaunt and hard when you get to be Levi’s age. He had his mouth open and was drooling slightly. He had a very tiring day after all, not actually working.

“Closing time, kid. You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”

Eren started awake and wiped the drool from his chin.

“What time is it?” he asked, stretching his arms up and grabbing the doorframe.

“Nearly six.”

“Did the rain stop?”

“Yeah about an hour and a half ago.”

“You didn’t have to let me crash here for that long,” Eren mumbled.

Eren opened the dryer and pulled out his clothes. When the dryer went off, Levi had checked on them since Eren was passed out on the couch. They were still wet so he had put them through again.

“Nice they’re still warm,” Eren said and without warning or shame he stripped down again.

Levi turned around and stared at the ceiling. He caught Petra’s amused expression from across the office and shook his head.

“It was nice meeting you Eren!” Petra called. “Oh, I never got your phone number.”

“Oh.” Eren hopped up and down in his jeans before buttoning them and still shirtless put his hand to his chin in thought for a second. “Well I don’t really have a phone, per se.”

“Oh,” said Petra. Levi glared at her. She was deliberately stalling Eren from putting on that shirt as long as possible so she could get a good look.

“Yeah man, I dunno, cell phone companies just send all that information like right to the cops and shit. Like I don’t want the government on my back, ya dig?”

“Or your shirt for that matter,” Levi muttered through gritted teeth.

“Really?” Petra tried not to smile and instead pretended to look very interested.

“Yeah, it’s some fucking 1994 bullshit man. Fucking government spying on us.”

“1984,” Levi corrected.

“That doesn’t sound right,” Eren scratched his head. “But I can give you my buddy’s phone number. Here.”

He grabbed a large permanent marker and pulled on her arm and Levi found himself stuck between the two of them.

“This is my buddy Armin’s number but he totally knows how to get in touch with me. He’s cool, but he doesn’t like me giving out his number so don’t tell him that I did.”

“I think he’ll figure it out when she calls and asks for you,” Levi sighed.

“Oh, true.”

He scribbled the number on her arm.

“I can just put the number in my phone—oh, okay then. Do you want my number?” she asked.

“Yeah sure.”

She pulled his arm and studied it very carefully, shielding it from Levi’s view. Eren read what she’d written and laughed a little, the tips of his ear going a little red, then he quickly pulled his shirt on.

“You better not let your boyfriend know you’re giving out your number to random guys,” Levi said, not liking how he was excluded from their little joke.

“That’s, like, bullshit. Like, people don’t belong to any one person.”

“That’s what immature assholes who have never been in an adult relationship say,” Levi rolled his eyes. “Are you clothed? Good let’s go.”

“You’re just uncomfortable with the human body,” Eren said breezily.

“Kid, I am very comfortable with the human body, but I’m not comfortable with a man walking around shirtless in my office.”

“Prude,” Eren said simply.

“Exhibitionist. C’mon let’s go, I have to escort you out to make sure you don’t steal stuff.”

“I’m not leaving your side anyways until you give me my $250,” Eren said, hurrying into the elevator after Levi.

“Yeah, okay but I need to stop at an ATM,” Levi said distractedly. He’d already given his cash to Petra and was tapped out. There went his dining out budget for the month.

“You good?” Eren leaned over to look at him.

“Yeah I’m good for it.”

“No, I mean are you—nevermind.” He swung his arms back and forth idly. “You seem…subdued.”

Levi looked at him sharply. Eren was usually oblivious or at least pretended to be. Levi didn’t feel like sharing.

“I mean, you’re being just a little less mean than before.”

“Just tired,” Levi evaded again. He didn’t feel like explaining the complexities of his job and personal life to an adult toddler.

“I know what you think of me,” Eren said suddenly and Levi looked at him. “You think I’m a joke—no no, that’s okay,” he said because Levi was opening his mouth to respond. “That’s fine. Everyone does. Everyone laughs at me. People think I’m stupid. It doesn’t bother me. I’m used to it.”

Levi didn’t know how to respond. “Okay.”

“I just wanted you to know that I know and that it’s okay I don’t mind because I don’t care what other people think.” He shrugged lamely.

Levi looked up at him and the elevator opened and Eren stepped out ahead of him.

“I got fired,” Levi said heavily, his shoulders slumping and Eren turned back to look at him. “We all did. Well sortof, we got laid off, my boss sold the company.”

“That is some fucking capitalist bullshit,” Eren said, suddenly angry.

He ranted about the evils of capitalism, recycling words that weren’t his own like some Marxist parrot. Levi found himself regarding the younger man with some fondness. Eren was a little silly, but he was harmless. A sweet kid with no compass in life.

He’d left the buckets out upside down so they had filled to the brim with water. Eren continued his rant as he tried to tip them over and Levi had to jump out of the way to keep them from spilling over his shoes.

“Sorry, I’m a moron,” Eren apologized as he spilled a great deal of it down his front. He tried to pick up all three buckets and found he didn’t have enough hands.

Levi sighed and stacked the buckets inside one another and handed them back to Eren who flushed a little in embarrassment.

“Sorry. I’m an—“

“You’re not a moron, kid,” Levi said with a sigh. “And you’re not a joke. But how can you expect anyone to take you seriously if you don’t take yourself seriously?”

Eren hugged his buckets to his chest and looked down at Levi.

“I—“ he started, then switched back to his earlier ranting. “If we didn’t live in a society where people are measured only by their value and have to sell themselves to—“

“Why do you put out the hat?” Levi interrupted him.

“Huh?”

“Why do you put out the hat when you’re out here playing the bucket?”

“That’s different. I only take what I need from the earth. I’m not going to become some paper pushing corporate sell out like—“  He stopped suddenly and tried not to make eye contact with Levi.

“Like me?” Levi asked with some amusement.

“Uhhh…” Eren tried to fill the space by hesitating into his bucket.

“C’mon,” said Levi pulling on Eren’s sleeve. “Let’s go.”

“Where are we going?” Eren asked as Levi broke out into a brisk walk across the courtyard. He set down his buckets and followed him. “You better be going to an ATM.”

“I will, but this first.”

Eren had a hard time keeping up with Levi’s short legs. He was small, but he was speedy.

“See, kid,” Levi said, speaking as rapidly as he walked. “If you were really the non-sellout that you claim you are, you wouldn’t put out the hat at all. If it’s truly about the art, it would just be about the art. But I’ve got news for you kid, you filled out a form for a permit, that’s about as bureaucratic as it gets.”

Eren’s eyebrows turned upward like a hurt puppy and he stopped in the middle of the street they were crossing.

“C’mon,” Levi tugged at him again, now almost smiling. Levi almost smiling was very scary Eren decided.

“Where are we going?” Eren asked nervously. “Are you like some gay Patrick Bateman?”

Levi chuckled and Eren was even more disturbed.

“So why do you put out the hat?” Levi repeated. “I’ll tell you why. It’s because art must be paid for.

“Huh?”

“I mean, I know nowadays everyone just torrents shit. I used to too! I was all over Napster.”

“What’s Napster?”

“Christ, that’s depressing.” Levi stopped and gave a little groan.

“What’s depressing?”

“How old I am.”

“How…how old are you, by the way?” Eren asked, trying to sound casual. “Because you can’t be like older than forty.”

Levi groaned again.

“I mean, you talk like you’re some ancient old man but what are you like 26? 27?”

“That’s the sweetest thing you’ve said all day,” Levi said, now with a little skip in his step.

“Because I’m 22—“

“You’re such a baby,” Levi reached up to pat his head. “I’m 31.”

“Where are we going again?”

“Here.”

They stopped in front of a closed store with a brightly lit front window that had a golden curtain background for a colorful abstract piece seated on an easel. Levi’s eyes were wide and that semi-permanent wrinkle between his eyebrows had smoothed away.

“I was 15 when I sold my first piece at one of those cheap sidewalk art shows. There’s nothing quite like it, watching something you slaved and cried over carted away for 50 bucks in your pocket.”

Eren looked from Levi to the painting, confusion spreading over his face.

“Then after art school, I couldn’t really afford to buy paint, so I just kindof tooled around with whatever I had and digital art and it turns out that the starving artist shtick gets old really fast when you’re picking up guys so I worked my way up at Survey Corps. I sold out. I sold out so I could buy paint and believe it or not a steady paycheck means you can buy a lot of paint. I sold a few here and there at art fairs and then I met Hanji and she sold one of my pieces for $200. Can you imagine? $200. She offered to sell my stuff in her studio and there it is.”

Eren stared at it. There was no way Levi did that. It had a bright palette and was too messy and abstract for the fastidious little man.

“Now everyone who walks by this window looks at this piece and my name on it, right there.” He pointed and Eren followed to the little placard that read “Views from the Wall, oil on canvas by Levi Ackerman.”

“So why do you put out the hat?” Levi asked. “Because art must be paid for. If it’s not, it loses its value in our lives. I mean, I know it’s not much, but this…this is mine, this is my work. I can take pride in it. No, working up the corporate ladder is not what I want to do, but it’s worth it because I can do what I want.”

“It’s beautiful,” Eren said and Levi was taken aback.

“So I have to ask you, is banging on that bucket every day what you really want to do?” Levi cocked his head to the side.

“I—I dunno.” Eren looked defeated and overwhelmed.

“That’s fine, you’re young. You’ve got time to figure that out. Figuring out what you want to do is always the hardest.”

They both jumped as the woman inside pressed her face against the glass and scared them.

“Levi!” Hanji unlocked the door and poked her head out. “Wanna come in?”

“Can’t, sorry,” Levi indicated Eren. “Just wanted to stop by and show it off.”

“I’ve gotten a lot of calls about this piece,” Hanji said excitedly. “Haven’t reeled one in yet, but I’ve got a lot of fish interested!”

“Good to hear,” Levi nodded. “This is Eren. I’m going to an ATM to give him $250.”

“Paying escorts now?” Hanji asked brightly, her voice completely free of judgment.

“No!” Eren yelped a little. “I won a bet. Sortof.” He frowned.

“Night Hanji!” Levi waved at her and she waved back as they walked away. He seemed happier than when they’d left the office but it was hard to tell.

Eren was still frowning the entire time and when Levi handed him the money he tried to hand it back.

“I’m not gonna lie, I really need the cash,” he mumbled. “But I didn’t really earn it. I didn’t even really win the bet.”

“You steal your sister’s coffee and throw your clothes off at the drop of a hat and suddenly now you’re embarrassed? Here.”

Eren stared at it before finally pocketing it.

“Right, well, this has been a weird day, so I’m—“

“I have no fucking idea what I’m doing,” Eren said and his green eyes looked redder and waterier than they had on Saturday. He wiped his nose on his sleeve.

“With what?” Levi asked, not liking how despondent the younger man looked.

“Anything,” Eren half laughed. “Everyone is waiting for me to get my shit together and I have no fucking clue what I’m doing. So I thought ‘I’ll busk!’ because at least that’s better than fucking nothing. At least it’s something, right?”

Oh god, I broke him, Levi thought.

“Everyone else is just getting on with their lives and I’m just fucking stuck.”

“Hell, I know that feeling,” Levi said before he could stop himself.

“How? You’ve got a job and you’ve got—that shit back there—that’s real! That’s like actual—“ he waved his arms about, his face turning red as he struggled to find the word. “You’re—fulfilled.”

“No, no I’m not. I am the furthest thing from that,” Levi said bitterly.

Eren looked down at him, blinking in confusion.

“Would a grown ass man start a war with a busker if he were fulfilled or happy with his life? Oh Jesus, when I say it out loud it sounds really bad.” Levi sagged a little on the spot.

Eren grinned a little. “Will you—do you want to get coffee?”

“At Sina Coffee? I’m banned for LIFE, remember?”

“Mikasa doesn’t work on Mondays, she just comes in to lock up when they close. C’monnn,” he whined when Levi looked uncertain. “You can get your tea fix.”

So they went to Sina Coffee.

“I don’t think I’m supposed to serve you,” the blond barista said eyeing the large sign behind Levi. Really? She still had the Polaroid up?

“It’s okay, he’s with me, Armin,” Eren said.

“I don’t think I’m supposed to serve you anymore either,” Armin said dryly. “You never pay.”

“Oh, I forgot! Look, I have that $200 I owe you!” he handed a wad of cash to Armin.

Armin stared at it then looked sideways at Levi, “Where did you get it?”

“I earned it busking,” Eren waved off his friend’s concern.

When Armin continued to look at him in disbelief, Levi offered, “I lost a bet.”

“He tried to drown me,” Eren said cheerfully.

“Right.” Armin decided it was better not knowing.

They got a table and waited for their order as Armin dealt with the small line of customers.

“I want to perform!” Eren nearly shouted, pounding his fists on the counter, scaring the customers, but not his friend who appeared used to this kind of outburst.

“Oh…kay?” Levi leaned away from him.

“You asked what I really want to do and I want to perform.” His eyes danced wistfully.

“Well, that’s a start.” Levi hadn’t really expected to be someone’s life coach that day, especially when his own life was in the shitter.

Armin appeared to be swamped as a large crowd from the state theatre down the street let out so Eren disappeared behind the counter and started on drinks for him.

“I need a medium soy latte and a decaf Americano,” Armin asked him.

Eren clapped him on the shoulder, “No problem.”

“So why can’t you work here again?” Levi asked as Eren dicked about making a small foam leaf in the latte.

“Mikasa said I’m not ‘reliable’ or whatever. So I don’t show up for a few shifts, so what? Did people die because they didn’t get their coffee? I doubt it.”

Levi bet that when Eren did manage to show up for a shift he was stoned out of his mind.

Eren busied pouring the loose leaf tea into a small sachet and then stapled it closed, dipping it in the hot water to steep. He handed it to Levi.

“Thanks.” Levi took a deep breath. Ooo baby, Papa missed you. He’d tried the Whole Foods, the Teavana, and Chinatown but he couldn’t find one he liked better than the blend they sold at this small shop. “Who is your distributor for your tea?”

“Oh, I could tell you,” Eren said, knocking the portafilter with the tamper in a way that was reminiscent of his bucket drumming. “But then I’d have to kill you.”

He hummed along to the radio as he finished the drinks.

“You’re in my blood like holy wine. You tastes so bitter and so sweet. Oh, I could drink a case of you,” Eren sang.

One of the seated patrons (the one Mikasa called Connie) pretended to howl and Eren howled back. At Levi’s expression, Eren explained.

“Whenever there’s a sad song, you have to howl at it.” As if that made sense. “It works better with Landslide.”

“No, I was just thinking you actually have a decent voice,” Levi shrugged, but the revelation bothered him. “You only ever shout with the drum, you never sing.”

“Thanks, Eren,” Armin said, finally clearing the line.

“De nada,” Eren said, carefully walking his giant mocha with a tower of whip cream to the table.

“So?” Levi said expectantly and Eren looked up at him confused with whip cream on his nose.

“…So?”

“Why don’t you sing?”

“Because I want everyone to hear my sick beats and rhymes.” Ticka ticka ticka went his spoon against the side of the mug.

“Stop that.” Levi reached forward and plucked the offending item out of his hands.

“Iunno, I want to perform but I’m not good at anything,” Eren continued, resting his head on his hand. “Like there’s jugglers and mimes and this one guy plays an accordion. People are actually talented. I don’t have any talents.”

“You’re confusing talent with skill,” Levi pointed out. “You can learn to juggle or play an instrument. No one pops out of the womb ready to toss flaming batons in the air. You have a good voice, why can’t you play—I don’t know—a guitar and sing?” Anything but that goddamn bucket drum.

“Because that’s what douches like Jean do to get chicks. Every asshole plays Wonderwall on guitar! Besides I don’t know how to play.”

“Neither did Jean at one point. You just don’t want to try hard.”

“Uh, excuse you. I practiced really hard on my drum before I took my act to the streets.”

“One night,” Armin corrected. “And you started at 3AM the night before my Econ final so thanks for that.”

“So write a few songs and accompany along on guitar.”

Eren laughed at that. “I can’t write lyrics! I don’t know how to do that!”

“So learn,” Levi leaned over the table, his flint grey eyes flashing behind his frames. “You’re always making up rhymes on your drum. You can even sing along to your drumming (although I’m not sure you’d be able to hear anything over it). But don’t sit there and cry over how you can’t do anything when you haven’t even tried. Aren’t you tired of picking up some new time wasting activity every few months? Aren’t you tired of hitting your sister and your friends up for cash? You want to bang on your drum. Fine. Do that. But fucking commit to it, Eren. You’re only going to get out of it what you put into it.”

Eren sucked in a sharp breath.

“You wanna perform, fucking perform. No more dicking around. Don’t sit around thinking, ‘One day when I’m good enough, I’ll actually go for it.’ No, when you’re sitting out there in front of my office from 11:30-5, you are performing. That is not a playground that is your stage. Stop waiting for stuff to happen to you and start making things happen for you.”

“The other buskers think I’m a joke,” Eren said, toeing at a dirty tile under the table.

“Yeah, I bet they do. I’d be pretty pissed if I spent all my time devoted to my craft only to have some punkass kid come in acting like it’s a goddamn joke.”

“Okay.” Eren nodded. “Okay.” He repeated. “So…what do I do?”

“I can’t help you kid. I don’t even have my own shit together. I have to decide by tomorrow if I want to go back to my soul sucking corporate job. I should have spent all of this time floating my resume out to any Sina graphic design companies. I don’t think I could move back to Trost, it is such a dirty city.”

He groaned and rubbed his eyes underneath his glasses.

“What are you going to do?” Eren asked.

“Probably take my medicine. Suck it up and go back to Survey Corp. Goddamnit.” They sat there in silence for a few moments. “I gotta piss.”

Levi splashed water on his face, then dried it. He examined the lines under his eyes. There was nothing more frustrating than talking to someone who was brimming with potential and whose future was limitless when he felt so very old and boxed in.

Eren was examining the corkboard, his tongue between his teeth, thinking hard.

“Someone is selling a guitar!” he pointed excitedly when he caught sight of Levi. “It’s fate!”

“If they were selling a bagpipe would it still be fate?” Levi asked. Oh god, the thought of Eren with bagpipes outside his office was unbearable.

“They want $95 for it.” He chewed his lip. “Hey Armin! Can I borrow 50 bucks?”

A resigned Armin rolled his eyes and dug his hands back into his pockets to hand Eren back the cash he had received only minutes earlier.

“Well kid, it looks like all that time I spent trying to get rid of you backfired,” Levi said, popping his shoulders. “Now I’m the ousted party.”

“But you’ve still got two weeks, right?”

Levi nodded.

“Well, I’ll see you ‘round. Maybe we can hang out again?”

Levi doubted that very much. He had only lingered this long with the busker because he felt so guilty for upsetting him earlier.

“What the hell is he doing in here?” Mikasa asked pointing at Levi, showing up to close out the shop. “I thought I was very clear about this sign?”

“What?” asked Eren, looking around at the sign. “That’s you? I had no idea.”

“Out!” Mikasa ordered Levi.

“I was leaving anyway,” Levi waved her off, hiding his month’s supply of loose-leaf from behind his back.

It was a hike back to his office and he took the long way by the waterfront. Early October in Sina City was always delightfully spooky, the bay misting over with fog. The storm may have left but she took away the last of summer with her. Levi watched a tug boat guide a barge through the harbor. Why did nothing ever work out the way he wanted it to?

One day. One day he’d be happy. That’s what he always told himself whenever he felt down.

Maybe you don’t deserve to be happy, a little voice nagged at him. Maybe the whole drama this afternoon was karmic retribution for how he’d treated Eren. The worst part of this train of thought was realizing that he was the antagonist of his own story. He had pitted himself up against an imaginary enemy in The Jägermeister only to find out the busker was just a kid and Levi was the true villain. Assholes like him don’t have good things happen to them.

He pulled out his phone, the bright screen casting a glare in the dark light.

“You said an office with a window?” he texted to Erwin.

So you’ll take the job?” Erwin texted back almost immediately.

“Yeah.” Might as well. It wasn’t as if he had anything else going in his life. And a guy needs to eat.

Well that wasn’t completely true. He still had his paintings. He remembered Eren’s green eyes reflecting the gold-curtained display, his mouth open in reverent awe. Sweet kid.

Chapter Text

 

It rained all week. And the next week. Eren never came back to reclaim his buckets so they filled steadily with rainwater, seagull feathers, and dead leaves. Levi had expected Eren to show up at least once before they left, but he never did. Pyrrhic victory, Levi thought ruefully.

The movers came in on their last Friday to take all of the computers and furniture that Pixis had sold so there wasn’t anything for them to do. They spent all day at the bar and Petra got so drunk she fell off her barstool and after that Levi had to hold her steady until her boyfriend came to pick her up.

“This is like the last day of camp all over again,” she cried, throwing her arms around Levi’s neck. “I’m gonna miss you assholes. We didn’t get enough time together. Promise me we’ll still hangout!”

“I’m gonna miss that dryer,” Gunter said sadly. “So cozy and warm.”

“Yeah, I was going to tell you to knock it off with the dryer,” Levi said, patting a crying Petra. “That’s the fastest way to cook your little swimmers.”

“Wait, what?”

“You’re not supposed to put hot things on your lap, dumbass,” Erd said. “It’s bad for fertility. You’ve never heard that?”

“What? How come none of you ever told me this earlier? I could have just nuked all of my future children!”

“Natural selection,” Levi deadpanned and was rewarded with a peanut to the face.

“What if we never see each other again?” Petra asked, smearing her eyeliner as Oluo pulled her into a cab.

“I will text you tomorrow and after you finish puking your guts out we will hang, okay? We’ll go on the giant Ferris wheel or something.”

“Okay.” She sniffed.

“Thanks man,” Oluo shook Levi’s hand. “She’s pretty bummed about the whole thing. Take care.”

“You too,” Levi nodded and the cab left. “What about you two?”

“Pacino marathon,” Erd suggested.

“Fuck yeah!” Gunter pumped his fists in the air.

They spent the entirety of Scarface drunkenly shouting “Say hello to my little friend!” but never actually made it to the famous scene, instead falling asleep on Levi’s couch, popcorn all over the floor.

Levi cleaned around them, then kicked them out when he woke up for his run. Eggs, bacon, and two Advil later, he pushed them out the door.

It felt good to run off his anxiety about the coming week. The brisk air slapped at his cheeks and he was glad for his green hoodie.

“Short little man is running, gunning for the record,” a familiar voice floated through his headphones. He pulled them off and paused panting at the bench Eren occupied. “Uhhh, what rhymes with record? Usually his shirt is…checkered? How’s that?”

“Terrible,” Levi panted.

“See, Levi look, I can play E chord up here,” he sang in tune with his lazy strumming. “Or I can play G chord down here.” He lowered his voice.

“You were gone our last two weeks. Don’t tell me I scared you off.”

“Oh, no. I had some, uh, housing issues.”

“Did your sister finally kick you off her couch?”

“No! Well yes, but I have my own place. It just sprung a leak so I had to crash with her while it was being fixed then I got into a fight with her boyfriend. Then he got into a fight with her so the both of us crashed with Armin but then he went through his semesterly freak out and kicked both of us out.”

“You’re not homeless now are you?” Levi asked, concerned.

“No, I told you. My place is all patched up. And Jean taught me a few chords. Well, just the two.”

“Hey one more and you can play any Green Day song.”

Eren laughed.

“Here, I’ll show you another one,” Levi motioned. He repositioned Eren’s fingers. “There, give that a try.”

Eren dragged his pick down the strings. “I did it!”

“You pervert. Look at you fingering A minor.” It took Eren a second to get the joke and then he gave a heavy belly laugh. “Glad you liked that one.” Levi pulled on his right shoe, stretching out his quads and then did the same with the other one.

“You’re a funny dude.”

“I’ve always thought so.”

“Funny looking too,” Eren gave a shit eating grin. “Your hair does this little flappy thing when you run. You need one of those Lululemon headbands that housewives wear.”

Levi grimaced.

“Sorry, domestic goddesses.”

Levi continued his run while Eren attempted to switch between A minor and G in rapid succession. He started his cool down only to realize Eren had followed him.

“You are really good at pushups, you know that?”

“Perks of being an army brat.”

“I mean, my arms are really buff from drumming, but I don’t think I could do more than ten. If I could do ten.”

“That’s because buff arms mean nothing unless you have a strong core.”

“Uh, I have a strong core.”

“No you don’t.” Levi didn’t even bother to look up.

“Yes, I do, see?” He lifted his shirt up.

Levi regarded Eren’s flat stomach coolly and shrugged.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I mean, you’re thin but not by gay standards. You’re chubby to me.”

Eren gave a little grunt of displeasure, “Well thanks, that’s all I needed was body image issues.”

Levi shrugged.

“Okay, look. One—“ Eren managed a single pushup.

“That’s not—no, your elbows are all the way out and, no that’s not even close. Bring your elbows in. Elbows over your hands. Tighten your core. Use your glute. There you go.”

“Well, if you give up on being an artist maybe you could be a personal trainer,” Eren suggested before collapsing and burying his face in the grass.

Levi tsked.

“Here, be useful, hold my shoes,” Levi ordered as he finished his cool down sit-ups.

Eren held them absentmindedly, staring off into the distance of the park. He hummed a little.

“What are you thinking about?” Levi asked because Eren’s silence was unusual.

“Just daydreaming. And thinking up a song.”

“Oh yeah?” Levi asked.

“Yeah,” he said chewing on a piece of grass. “It might not have occurred to you (or me for that matter!), but I am a creative powerhouse. I have already come up with lyrics to, like, six songs.”

“Is that so?”

“Well, okay, most of them I came up with over a bowl and forgot to write them down. The ones I did manage aren’t terrible. But mostly I just sing them over in my head so I don’t forget.” He tapped his skull. “Now I just need to learn the chords for them. Jean refuses to teach me anymore. He says he’ll start charging me for lessons.”

“Well there’s always YouTube.”

“Oh, I don’t have a computer.”

“You can go anywhere with a library card.” Levi tapped his nose.

“You’re a fucking genius.” Eren said, releasing Levi’s feet. “Bye!”

He raced off, then came back for his guitar, leaving Levi behind mid sit-up a bemused expression on his face.

Chapter Text

When he started back at Survey Corp, Levi tucked a box of cronuts under his arms and rode the elevator up. Erwin hadn’t been able to swing the office with a window, so Levi was back in his old cubicle. It was literally the exact same cubicle. The same cubicle facing Erwin’s office where Levi first noticed how handsome Erwin’s forearms were and the line of his jaw and that perfect head of hair. His cubicle mates were the same. Nanaba and Mike. Not much had changed. He set down his tiny bonsai plant and cracked his knuckles.

And that’s how life was for a while. Work and then home. Tea and Imogene Heap in his headphones and blank canvases. Tea and David Bowie and late night brushes. Scooter to work. Scooter home. Clean. Pull out the drawers in the fridge. De-mold the bathroom. Tea and Black Sabbath and all of Breaking Bad. Clean his brushes. Call Hanji. Text Petra. Call of Duty with the boys. I’m good. I’m great. Thanks for asking. Painting is going great. Merry Christmas. Happy New Year.

Rituals were good. Rituals were safe.

He honestly didn’t realize how much time had passed. Sure, the holidays came and went. He found he stopped trying to catch Erwin’s reflection in his computer monitor screen. But then it was Valentine’s Day and he wondered how the hell he could have missed out on the fact that it was February.

“Coffee trolley is here,” Mike said sniffing the air and stretching.

“Roses are red, Violets are blue, Nifa I have a caramel latte for you!”

Levi blinked behind his thick frames. Why did that voice sound familiar?

“Nanaba, here is your latte with amaretto, you be the puppet, I’ll be Geppeto?”

She took her coffee rolling her eyes.

“Eren?” Levi asked, scooting his chair to look down the cubicle walkway.

Walking down between the cubicles he caught sight of the back of Eren’s messy haired head, drumming on a large thermos of coffee with stirrer sticks.

“How much for a large cup of regular?” someone asked.

“Two dollars,” Eren said. “One if it’s a refill.”

They pulled out a few bills and then dumped some change into the tip jar on his trolley.

“Thank you sir! I like your tie, it’s really funny; it’s got Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunnyyyy!”

The man smoothed out his cartoon tie appreciatively.

“Eren!” Levi called again.

“What’s up, doc?” he wheeled around. “I’m on the clock.”

Levi gave a small wave.

“Levi! My favorite short guy—“

“Stop that.”

“Sorry.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m the new coffee bitch boy,” Eren said and a woman gave him an offended look. “Oh shit sorry, I shouldn’t swear.”

“I see that. But what are you doing here?”

“Oh, well Mikasa opened a kiosk downstairs and she bribed Annie with managership if she hired me. So now I get to run the trolley up.”

“That’s great,” Levi nodded.

“How’re things with you?” Eren leaned on his cart.

“Good. Great.” Levi had gotten so used to the lie that it didn’t even feel false to him.

“Really?” Eren wrinkled his nose looking at the tiny cubicle.

“Well you weren’t here drumming outside my office to drive me insane, so yes,” Levi pointed out.

“I liked your old office better,” Eren said, coming over to sit on the desk. He played with Levi’s staple remover like it was some angry viper.

“Me too,” Levi said, leaning back in his swivel chair.

Eren looked at all the other offices curiously.

“You’ve got a good view of Blondie’s office,” he pointed out.

“Do I?” Levi asked, leaning back to look. “Oh, I guess I do.”

“Isn’t that awkward?”

“That’s what I thought when I quit the first time.”

“Wait, so let me get this straight,” Eren said, screwing up his face as if solving a puzzle. “You left this job because you broke up with your boyfriend, then started a new job to get away from him, which then got bought out by this place so now your ex is back to being your boss?”

“Yup,” Levi popped his word and then pulled his thin lips into a grimace.

“Dude,” Eren said sympathetically poking the bonsai tree

“He said if I came back to Survey Corp I’d get an office with a window but…” Levi sucked his teeth, brooding over Erwin’s drawn blinds. “Then again he promised a lot of things.” Eren’s eyebrows disappeared up into his messy hair and Levi jumped a little startled. “Uh, sorry, that sounded a lot less bitter in my head.”

“Hey, I’m off in a few, wanna get lunch?”

Levi hesitated. He’d actually packed last night’s tofu stir-fry as lunch.

“I mean—“ Eren stammered. “Shit, sorry you’re prolly busy.”

Eh, his lunch could sit there until tomorrow.

“Why not?” Levi turned off his monitor.

<*>

“Why’d your boyfriend dump you?” Eren asked around a burrito as they sat in the atrium.

“Who says he dumped me?” Levi bristled

“So why’d you dump him?”

Levi crossed his arms and glowered.

“Was he really bad in bed?”

“Tch.”

“Were you bad in bed?” Eren grinned, biting on some fries.

Levi stabbed at his salad with some vehemence.

“How long were you guys together anyway?”

“Seven years.”

“Seven years? Holy shit. Did you have to move out of your apartment and all of that?”

“No, we weren’t living together.”

Eren chewed on his thumb and this bit of information.

“Yeah, that should have been a big clue right there,” Levi muttered.

Eren was still giving him that look, a mixture of pity and curiosity.

“It was no one’s fault,” Levi tried not to sound as melancholy as he felt. “Sometimes things just don’t work out and there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t really blame one person. It’s just life.”

Levi shrugged and took another bite of food. His salad was nothing special. He examined the dressing, Christ that was a lot of calories. His distraction tactic didn’t seem to work with Eren and he sighed.

“I dumped him.”

“Why?”

“He kind of forced my hand?”

“Did he cheat on you?” Eren asked evenly, trying not to press too hard.

“No. Or at least I don’t think so? I thought he might have so I got tested after we broke up, but I was fine so...” He wiped his mouth and threw his napkin on top of the empty container. “He said he didn’t find me interesting or fun to be around anymore but he didn’t want to break up because it was better than being alone.”

Fuck,” Eren said dropping his burrito onto the plate and startling a few businessmen in suits. “The fuck. That is some heavy—” He shook his head a few times. “That is some fucking bullshit, man. That is fucking—you don’t deserve that, no one fucking deserves that. Fuck.” He took an angry bite out of his burrito.

Levi never realized it was that bad until he said it aloud. He’d never actually told anyone about the reasons for the breakup.

“He said I was too stuck in my ways.” Levi put a hand to the soft hairs on his neck. When Eren made to protest, he continued, “And I am. I always need to have things in order, I need to have my little routines. I’m not spontaneous. He was right.” Levi nodded. “So I dumped him. And then I quit.”

Eren looked confused.

“If I didn’t we’d never change. We’d slip into the same routine. Keep going to bed with one another, keep pretending we were a couple even though we weren’t. Keep pretending we’re happy.”

“But now you’re back at the company.”

Levi grimaced again. “Yup.”

Eren thought for a moment.

“He said you weren’t spontaneous so you dumped him. Then quit.”

“Yes,” Levi nodded. They’d been over this.

“So what else did you change?”

Levi blinked.

“Like did you get a tattoo? Like a butterfly or a pair of wings that represent your freedom?” Eren spread his arms like he was Kate Winslet on the Titanic and giggled.

“Nothing, actually.” Levi furrowed his brow even more than usual. “I didn’t do anything. Well, the scooter. But that’s it.”

“Well, what about uhhh…something spontaneous…something spontaneous…” Eren thought furiously, which must have been taxing on his little stoner brain. “You could go…skydiving.”

“I’ve been. It’s fun.”

“Oh. Uh…you could take a kick boxing class?”

“High school judo champ,” Levi flexed his arm, nibbling on some almonds.

“Learn to dance?”

“Salsa or tango? I know both. Look, this is sweet of you an all but I’m not a 50 year old divorcee. I don’t need to get my groove back or have some Eat, Pray, Love experience. I’m good.”

“Well I don’t know what the fuck Erwin was talking about, I, for one, think you’re plenty interesting.”

“Well I’ve got to go back to work—“

“Wait, I’ve got it, hold on.” He left for the coffee kiosk and when he came back he was holding a large to-go cup overflowing with whip cream. “This is the Sweetheart. It’s the Valentine’s Day special.”

“I don’t drink coffee. I don’t like the caffeine.”

“There’s caffeine in your tea,” Eren pointed out. “And besides I got you decaf.” He looked very smug for remembering.

Levi eyed it, his lip curling at the whip cream. “What’s in it?”

“Amaretto, cherry, and dark chocolate syrup with our special homemade vanilla bean whip cream.”

“No, that’s disgusting. Do you know how many calories are in that?”

“My friend Sasha gets these all year round and she never gains a pound. Granted, it’s because she has like limitless energy. She does this thing where she crochets and does parkour at the same time and then posts videos of it online—“

“I’m not drinking it.”

“You said didn’t want to be stuck in your routine. You always get the same cup of black tea every day. You don’t have to switch to these, just try it once.”

Eren handed him the cup and Levi couldn’t hold it like he usually did because of the whip cream. He took a sip. One sip. And then spat it back into the cup.

“Oh God, that’s disgusting. Ugh, no. Nope.”

“Oh man I wish I had Connie’s camera for that.” Eren laughed.

“It’s like cherry cough syrup. Nope. No.”

“You have to finish the whole thing!”

“I will at work.”

“You better,” Eren called as Levi headed for the elevators.

He couldn’t bring himself to finish it, however.

“What is that? It smells amazing,” Mike leaned over, his nostrils flaring.

“You like it? Good take it. It’s awful.”

The big man eagerly downed the whole thing in one sitting, ignoring Levi’s disgusted face.

Chapter Text

 

March came in like a lion. Levi braved the biting rain, layering spandex under his shorts, but he wasn’t surprised Eren wasn’t busking. It was hard to play in the rain. When the rain finally broke, Levi found his favorite loiterer lounging on the green park benches like he’d never left.

“Babe, baby baby I’m gonna leave you. I ain’t jokin’ woman I’ve got to ramble,” he sang, hugging the guitar like it was the titular woman.

“Well at least it’s not Stairway to Heaven,” Levi said, blinking sweat out of his eyes.

“I know that one too,” Eren said lazily.

Levi had forgotten to ask Eren about his guitar. They had been so focused on his own drama that it had slipped his mind. Also, he figured the kid would have given up already. Yet, here he was. He sounded good. Much better than the last time.

“You know there’s more than Zeppelin, right?” Levi indicated the guitar.

“I’ve got a few Doors songs too. You want classics? I’ve got Johnny Cash. Beatles. Dylan, obviously. Denver. Looking for something more modern? Any indie band you can think of. Seriously, ask for anything. But let me guess, you want Oasis, right?”

“I thought we agreed that was for assholes like your sister’s boyfriend.”

“Ohhh, so you’re an R.E.M. fan,” Eren guessed accurately. “So 90’s. Tell me Grandpa, what was dial-up like?”

“Shut up,” Levi kicked some gravel at him.

“Well since I’m taking requests, this goes out to the short man with the bad attitude.” He started strumming and Levi recognized it immediately as ‘Man on the Moon.’

“I thought you’d go with ‘Losing my Religion,’” Levi teased.

“Overplayed,” Eren said simply. “Or did you want ‘Everybody Hurts.’ I bet you did.”

Levi ran a few laps and Eren switched over to a few other songs, keeping him entertained.

“I’m still mad at you for saying I’m fat,” Eren said after Levi made his 6th pass.

“I didn’t say you were fat I said you were gay-fat.”

“Same thing. I ran track in high school, you know. I bet I could take you on.”

“Prove it.”

Less than thirty seconds later Eren was regretting this decision.

“Ow, ow, ow,” he whined rolling on the ground. “That hurt. Ow. You tripped me.”

“Not even. You tripped over your own shoelaces.”

And so he had. Spectacularly at that. Levi helped him back over to the bench.

“Is it bad? How bad is it?”

“Hard to tell. C’mon, I can clean it up at my place.”

How Eren had managed to hit the only rock on the path was a mystery to Levi. The kid was a magnet for disaster. Eren grabbed his guitar and together they helped him limp to Levi’s apartment.

“Huh, I figured you lived close to the park, because you never took your scooter to the café, but you’re really close.”

“Do not get blood on my furniture. Stay in the kitchen.”

Eren obeyed but also removed his pants and hopped up on the counter in his boxers. Levi sighed and grabbed a first aid kit he kept under the bathroom sink.

“You’ve got something in there,” Levi squinted at Eren’s knee.

“Are the rubber gloves necessary?”

“You’re bleeding. Yes.”

“You look like some mafia hit man,” Eren pointed out uneasily as he dabbed at his knee with the washcloth Levi had given him.

“It looks like a—“ Levi grabbed it with a pair of tweezers. “A woodchip. Ugh, look at that thing, it’s like an inch long.”

“That’s what she said!” Eren laughed nervously.

“What are you freaking out about?” Levi asked because Eren was making a constipated face.

“I don’t like the thing you put on.”

“What thing?”

Eren pointed at the bottle of rubbing alcohol. Really, kid? Levi grabbed a cotton ball and dabbed it.

“Wait!” Eren protested. “You have to blow on it.”

“I’m not blowing on it.”

“You have to!”

“No.”

“Levi blow on it, please!”

“That’s what she said,” Levi muttered, grabbing Eren’s ankle. “Hold still.”

He swabbed gently over the area and Eren screwed his face up and tried not to yelp. Levi blew gently on his knee, looking up at Eren with those cool grey eyes of his. Eren managed to open one eye to look down at him.

“There, is that better?” Levi asked, blowing gently again before placing a bandage over the cut.

“Y-yes,” Eren nodded, feeling foolish.

Levi slapped the bottle on the counter and Eren jumped.

“Do you hate me?” Levi asked, leaning on the counter as he removed the gloves. He raised his eyebrows and looked up at Eren.

“No, it had to be done, I suppose,” Eren said flushing. “Sorry.”

“For what?”

“Iunno. I always fuck up around you.” He put a finger through the large and bloody hole in his jeans. “Well these are practically unwearable.”

“I have some old jeans I was going to give to Goodwill, you can look but I don’t think any are going to fit you. I don’t think you need stitches, but I’d ask someone with a medical degree first.”

“Do you want to hang out?” Eren asked suddenly.

Levi looked back at him in surprise. “Uhhh…”

Spontaneous, Levi,” Eren reminded him. “Break the mold! What were you going to do today anyways?”

“Well, break up the mold under my cabinets.”

“C’mon, let’s go do something fun. We could go down to the wharf, get fish and chips. Go on the rides. What’s your favorite ride? Mine is the Gravitron.”

“The Salt N’ Pepper Shakers,” Levi’s flint eyes looked especially evil then. Levi liked the brief moment of weightlessness before the ride swung down. It had been his favorite since he was a little kid.

Eren stomach flopped over at just the thought of the nausea inducing ride. He was not particularly fond of it.

“Errr, well, maybe not that one.”

“The rides are closed until summer anyways, kid. Sorry.”

“C’mon, what’s something you’ve wanted to try but never bothered with?” Eren picked up a pair of jeans and attempted to pull them on, but they came about to thigh level. He sighed and tried another pair.

Levi furrowed his brow. “I dunno. I have to shower anyway. I can’t go anywhere all sweaty like this.”

Eren whined. “Well hurry. Just, like, splash your pits or something.”

Levi looked disgusted at the very thought. “I won’t take long. Two minutes tops. You can time me.”

Eren did. Levi was out before his allotted two minutes.

“Is this your painting here on the wall?” Eren shouted and Levi had to crack the door to hear him.

“No. What kind of asshole hangs his own art on the wall?”

“Oh. Where is your stuff?”

“Second room. Do NOT touch anything.”

Eren peeked inside the door, chewing on his lip. Levi had a large painter’s cloth down on the ground, although it was surprisingly spotless. Eren tiptoed in the room to look at it. It was gorgeous. He looked around at the other items in the room. Most were photos of the harbor and various sites around the city, but some were of people. He recognized Hanji. He picked out Petra and the boys. Even Erwin was there. Levi clearly hadn’t done the breakup purge of photos.

“Oh my god,” Eren laughed, picking up a frame. “Is this you?”

“I don’t know, what are you looking at?”

“This goth kid drowning in these black JNCO jeans.”

“Unnggg, yes.”

Eren could have died of laughter. “You’re even wearing the pale makeup and eyeliner.”

“Hey, fuck you, I was cool as fuck.”

Eren wandered out of the room and Levi could hear him searching.

“What are you doing? Don’t touch anything.”

“Do you have a cat?”

“No.”

“Oh, you should get one. It’s what people do.”

It’s what lonely people do.

Levi looked at his reflection in the mirror, ring finger at those lines under his eyes. When did he get that old? He wrapped his towel around his waist and he heard Eren fiddling with his CDs.

“What, pray tell,” said Eren, his mouth curved upward into a mischievous grin. “Is this ancient artifact?”

“And here I thought you’d be all about LPs and their ‘purity of sound.’” That was an annoying trend Levi hated.

“What’s an LP?” Eren cocked his head to the side. Shitty brat.

“I’m closing this door so I can change. Did you find some pants?”

“Yeah, these green ones fit.”

What green ones? Oh, that’s right. He’d taken some of Hanji’s clothes for her to drop-off.

“Oh, those are Hanji’s.”

“Well they fit.” Eren let out a little frustrated noise on the other side of the door, pouting. “You said you had a tattoo. I didn’t see one.”

“And you’re not going to.”

“I’m going to get one as soon as I have enough cash.”

“Tattoos are overrated.”

“How can you say that? You have one!”

“Everyone wants to mark themselves as unique. I just think you don’t need a needle do so. Your actions should mark your life, not ink.”

Eren gave another whine.

“Alright,” said Levi pulling open the door in jeans and a shirt. “Fine. I’m going to show it to you, but really quick so get a good look.”

He hooked his thumb in his jeans and pulled them down to reveal his right hip for the briefest of moments. Eren squinted at the mark, then reared back blinking.

“There, now you saw so—“

“Was that…did you get an ankh?” Eren burst into laughter. “Oh my god you actually got an ankh.”

“I was a fat goth kid growing up in the 90s, of course I got an ankh.”

Eren fell on the floor and rolled around so tickled by the idea.

“Well I’m glad you found it funny. Hey—“ Levi leaned over him suddenly squinting without his glasses. He polished them and set them on his nose. “What happened to the snakebites?” Levi indicated his lips.

“Oh—I—“ Eren flushed a little. “Well, I can’t wear facial piercings at work.”

“Yeah, but you don’t even have a scar or—“

“They were magnetic, okay?” Eren’s face turned a bright red all the way up to his ears. “Someone said I should try them out to see if I wanted the real thing.”

“And?”

“I may have swallowed one in my sleep.”

Levi snorted. “Man, we’re a couple of cool dudes. C’mon brat, where do you want to go? Can you even walk with that knee of yours?”

“Yeah, it’s throbbing now but I think it’ll be fine.”

Levi grabbed a bottle of Ibuprofen and tossed it at Eren and he took two sans water and then they were out the door.

“Where are we going?” Eren asked.

“Someplace I’ve wanted to try but never got around to it.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Sina City was blessed with a young population with disposable income and she took advantage of that. Gastropubs and breweries dotted the city and the nightlife was rich and filled with music and drag queens and roller-skate rinks and foam parties and more. The people of Sina City weren’t really the sort to sway in a dark club with glow sticks and molly so alternatives popped up. Settlers of Catan competitions in the 104th Pub. Crossword competitions in the back of the iron gated Garrison building. Hula Hoop parties on the grass of Reiss Park and rock climbing by the Beast Titan statue—a hairy ape-like stone monolith that glared down on you as you attempted to scale the wall.

Levi had always wanted to try the trampoline sports park. An entire gymnasium covered in trampolines. Levi loved that sensation in his gut right before gravity hooked him back to the ground, that temporary weightlessness that felt like flying. He never could have convinced Erwin to go and the idea of a 30-something year old man going by himself to bounce around was laughable. He would have been far too embarrassed.

Compared to Eren, however, Levi looked extremely cool. The kid had no shame.

“Look, did you see that sweet ass backflip? Levi did you see it?” Eren bounced and jumped around like a little kid, his hurt leg seemingly forgotten.

Levi practiced a few handstands.

“You know, when you’re walking about you’re kindof duck footed, but when you’re running or flipping around you’re very graceful.”

“Thanks,” Levi said rolling his eyes. He didn’t need to hear that he walked like a duck.

“What about me?” Eren said jumping and staring at Levi from between his legs. “Am I graceful?”

“Hell no.”

One hour in the trampoline park playing trampoline basketball (something Levi could only excel at in the springy environment) was enough to tire out even the most energetic of people. Eren collapsed, panting on the ground. Levi bounced around him in his bare feet, holding the ball and dancing to a Michael Jackson song playing over speaker.

“C’mon, I’m schooling your ass,” Levi said, aiming another shot. “Nothing but net! LeBron ain’t got nothing on me!”

“Except, like, two feet.” Eren gasped. “I’m hungry.”

The kid spent more time half naked or rolling around on the floor than anyone Levi knew.

The way you make me feel, you really turn me on, knock me off my feet baby—“ Eren sang along his eyes closed, looking peaceful lying there on the trampoline.

“We can get food.”

Free food. Now there was an idea Eren liked. His eyes popped open and he jumped up.

“I gotta try to moonwalk mid-bounce though first. Am I doing it?”

“No.”

“What about now?”

“Almost.”

“Really?”

“No.”

<*>

“This entire place smells like bird shit and fried dough,” Levi complained.

“Fish and chips, though,” Eren indicated the food trailers at the wharf.

“Calories and cholesterol.”

Spontaneous, Levi.”

“How spontaneous would it be if I shove my foot up your ass,” Levi grumbled, but paid for both of them.

The wharf was a scenic vista for tourists and Levi rarely traveled down to it. He didn’t like the water or all the creepy houses floating on pontoons. What did they do when they sprang a leak? Call a plumber? One woman was arranging patio furniture on the top. Hey lady! It’s a boat, not your bridge club! Levi’s lip curled and the woman waved down at them.

Eren waved back cheerily and dug into his food

“What are you doing?” Levi asked because Eren was making a mess.

“Making orange sauce.”

“…What is orange sauce?”

“You take ketchup and tartar sauce and you mix it until it’s orange and if it’s not orange enough you add a little mustard.”

“Oh God, that’s disgusting.”

“Try some!” He dipped a fry in the orange concoction they dangled it in front of Levi’s face.

“No!”

“C’mon, just one little—oh you sonuva bitch.”

This last part wasn’t directed at Levi but rather to their right at a bronze statue at the end of the wharf. Eren dropped the fry onto his plate angrily.

“Look at this. Can you believe this asshole?”

Levi looked from Eren back to the statue then back at Eren.

“Just to check, how high are you right now?”

“It’s not a statue, it’s one of the mimes,” he glowered.

They inched closer to the mime, fish and chips in hand. Levi tilted his head to the side. The living statue was good. Were it not for the single bead of sweat, Levi never would have guessed it was a real human being under all that paint.

“Hey fuckface, how’s the view from up there!” Eren shouted.

“Is this that temper of yours you said you cured with pot and a drum?” Levi asked, amused at the venom Eren had for the silent man.

Eren turned from the statue to face Levi.

“Don’t get me started on this asshole, he and his mime boyfriend have kicked me out of every place I perform. Well jokes on you asshat—“

They turned to address the statue only to find a middle finger in their face.

“Hey!” Levi objected.

They’d never seen him move.

“I wasn’t even playing here today but now that you’re here I’m going to sit right in front of you and steal all your traffic.” Eren shook his head at Levi. “I swear this clown—“

The statue had his hands up in mock fear of Eren.

“Creepy motherfucker—“ Eren shouted at the same time Levi jumped and said, “When did he move!?”

It was impressive how still the tall man could stand. His arms weren’t even shaking.

“Oh man, you’re good,” Levi complimented.

“Stop that!” Eren elbowed Levi. “He’s not he’s—“

The statue had his hands under his eyes pretending to cry.

“I am NOT a baby! Fuck you!” Eren raged, stamping his foot on the ground like a toddler.

“I gotta get a picture of this guy,” Levi said rummaging through his coat pockets for his phone.

When he surfaced the statue was pointing at the sign by his locked coinbox that read “Photos $1”

“Oh sorry, my bad,” Levi dug around in his pocket for some change.

“Don’t give him your money,” Eren said slapping the coins out of his hand, where they rolled down the wharf and slipped between the cracks and into the water.

Eren dipped a chip in the orange sauce and placed it in the statues hand. Several seagulls cawed in interest.

“Ha, let’s see what you do with that,” Eren said standing back triumphantly with his hands on his hips.

The seagulls swarmed, but the living statue didn’t move save for another bead of sweat down his brow.

Laughing, Eren tugged on Levi’s sleeve and they turned to leave. The chip hit the back of Eren’s head.

“Why you—“ Eren started rolling his sleeves up to fight but was instead picked up off the ground by a very angry mime.

“What did I tell you limpdick?” the muscular man shook Eren. “I said leave my boyfriend alone.”

“Levi, a little help?” Eren asked out of the corner of his mouth.

“Oh, man, I gotta film this.” Levi pulled out his phone.

“He’s up there, working his ass off and you’re hassling him.”

“Then maybe he shouldn’t be such a douche.”

“That’s it! I’ve had it with your shitty ‘tude. None of the other buskers save you and horse-face give us grief.”

He shoved Eren off the wharf.

“You okay, Bert?” the big man called to his boyfriend and he must have been because by the time Levi whirled around to look he had his thumb up.

“How much for a selfie with you and the other guy?” Levi asked, phone still out.

“Oh. Two dollars,” the big mime said cheerfully.

“Excellent,” Levi dropped the coin in the box. “Smile.” The camera flashed, the mime making a peace sign and the statue with the thumbs up and Levi pointing at them with his usual flat affect. “Thanks, I gotta fish the idiot out of the water.”

<*>

“You could have helped me,” Eren said ten minutes later standing under the electric hand dryers.

“I would have if you hadn’t started it and weren’t being a complete douche. You deserved to be tossed off the wharf.”

Eren sighed, shaking water out of his shoes.

“I mean you really went off on that guy, what gives?”

Eren grabbed at his arm and turned his head to the side.

“Eren,” Levi prompted.

Eren sagged a little as they exited the men’s bathroom, walking nowhere in particular. He was silent and so Levi was about to let it go.

“Hey so I was walking past the gallery the other day and your painting was gone from the window,” Eren said changing the subject.

“Yeah, it sold,” Levi said, surprised the kid had noticed.

“Oh,” Eren said. “That’s great.” However, his face told a different story. If anything he looked depressed by this news. “Can I confess something to you?”

“Uhhh, sure,” Levi nodded, not sure where this was going.

“I know this is stupid but I just…I thought maybe if I tried really hard and put in the hours busking on the pier on the weekends that I could save up the two grand to buy it.”

“What? Why?”

“Iunno. Just to prove to you that I could. That I’m getting better. That I can do this. I knew it was a pipe dream—quite literally—but it was my motivator. I got really close too, but then my bike chain broke and I had to replace that. Then I needed new strings and—“

“Kid,” Levi stopped him. “You don’t need to prove anything to me. If you’re going to play, you need to play for yourself, not to show some 32-year old asshole like myself you can.”

Eren stopped, blinking water out of his eyes.

“Where were you going to even put it?” Levi asked, so completely bewildered by Eren’s ridiculous confession.

“The café bathroom,” Eren teased.

Levi glared.

“No, I know. It was a dumb plan. This whole thing is just hard, you know? And…” he bit his lip. “I found out this bar that does live shows is having an open mic night on Wednesday nights. If I’m good enough I could get a regular gig there. But the manager wants me to submit a demo for the open mic.”

Levi thought that defeated the purpose of an open mic, but it wasn’t his business to run.

“Jean was making his to submit, so I asked him for help since I don’t have a computer to record my stuff on and he was being a complete dick about my songs. He kept saying my chord changes were ‘too predictable’ and my lyrics were ‘too cerebral’ but not in a good way like the original Star Trek, but like the Monkees trying to be the Beatles. Then when I told him I didn’t care he was all, ‘go listen to more Phish, you stoner asshole.’ Like his shit is any better! God I hate that horse-faced jackass.”

Levi was laughing and clutching his sides.

“What?” Eren asked, fuming.

“Oh man, you two sound like two sides of the same coin.”

“No, he’s a jerk and I hate him.”

“You know,” Levi said tilting his head to the side. “Someone like that can be good for you.”

“What? What are you even talking about?”

“Eren, you’ve got your best friend and your sister to give you money and a couch to crash on and moral support, but you need someone to challenge you. Someone to make you try harder, someone to give you critiques and push you.”

Eren blinked at him again.

“Yeah well, he’s still a jerk and now he’s pissed at me so I don’t think he’ll help me. So I think the open mic is out of the question.”

“You know, I don’t know you that well, but I feel like your parents did you a disservice somewhere along the line. Whenever you come to an obstacle, if you can’t physically fight it, you just throw your arms up in the air and go ‘Oh well! Must not be in the cards today!’ You need to take a step back, figure out what needs to be done, and then do that thing. Like with those guys back there. Did you ever even talk to them like they were rational human beings or did you just shout and throw a tantrum?”

“You know it’s easy for you to say ‘keep a cool head’ when you’re so cool! I’m not! I’m not like you! I keep embarrassing myself over and over in front of you and it’s humiliating!”

“What do you care what I think?” Levi raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t know! You have this look all the time like you’re unimpressed with the world and everyone in it and I thought, ‘Hey! If I can impress that one guy who hates everything, then I can impress anybody!’”

Levi’s expression soured. “I don’t hate everything.”

“Well you certainly don’t like everything.” When Levi’s jaw only twitched in response, he clarified, “You’re very picky—er—particular.”

“It’s called having taste.” Levi turned his nose up.

“Well, nobody likes a person who defines themselves by the things they hate instead of the things they like.”

That hit Levi hard in the gut. Erwin had said something very similar.

Clearing his throat, Levi changed the subject, “What song were you going to do for your demo?”

Eren launched into a long winded bit about how he was torn between two songs and how he couldn’t decide which was better. One recorded better, but one was better live, or at least that was what Jean had said, but Jean was an asshole so who fucking cares what Jean thinks? But maybe he was right? He should just pick his favorite, but that’s like picking favorites between his hypothetical children.

Every few blocks, they stopped and Levi snapped a picture for inspiration until they finally parted near the café.

Chapter Text

Erwin pulled him aside the next Friday.

“I need you to have your computer turned off and all your stuff packed for the move,” he explained. “Legal doesn’t want people moving the computers themselves, so you just need to put your stuff in the box and the tech people will handle it.”

“Where am I moving?” Levi asked. There had been a few emails from Erwin, but he had developed the bad habit of skimming the header and then ignoring them.

“You know reading emails is half the job, right?” Erwin reminded him. “Your office. We finally have an opening, so you get that office with a window you wanted.”

Levi was stunned.

“I never forgot,” Erwin looked slightly embarrassed. “I just couldn’t make it happen immediately.”

“Why do I get a new office?” Now that Levi had what he had asked for, he was very confused by it.

“Because you’re a senior member here, if you don’t count the three and a half months you worked for Pixis.”

“Don’t say senior, it makes me feel old.”

“I’ve got some bad news for you then,” Erwin said smiling. “We are old.”

“Shut up you creeper, you’re older than me.”

“You know what I did last weekend?” Erwin asked with a sigh.

“What?”

“I bought my first box of Rogaine.”

Levi nodded very seriously. “A wise purchase.”

“Some asshole on Grindr said it looked like I was wearing a wig so I got self-conscious.”

“Well, let me know when it starts working,” Levi deadpanned and Erwin flipped him off.

“You’re welcome for the new office, by the way.”

On Monday, he unpacked his little Bonsai and turned around in his office chair to examine his view. It wasn’t spectacular, mostly he overlooked the entryway to the building. If Eren managed to set up camp outside, Levi could easily block out the sound as he was six stories up.

“I’ve got a nonfat latte for Rico, let me sneak a peak-o. Ohhh kay, sorry! Geez.”

Levi could hear Eren offending his female coworkers outside.

“Oh, here you are,” Eren poked his head inside Levi’s office. “You got a new office!”

“That I did.”

Eren set down a neon pink sheet on top of Levi’s keyboard and fingers.

“What’s this?”

“I’m playing open mic this Wednesday!” Eren beamed.

“…You didn’t give everyone one of these with their coffee, did you?”

Eren scratched the back of his head. “Annie said not to so don’t narc.”

“My lips are sealed.”

“Whoa, you’ve got a Mad Men couch.”

“A what, now?”

“Like you’ve got furniture and shit in here for banging secretaries.”

“I’m not really likely to bang any secretaries,” Levi pointed out.

“Um, guys can be secretaries now too. Sexist.” Eren flopped down on the couch.

“Isn’t your boss going to get mad at you?” Levi asked, hands hovering over his keyboard.

“I’m running out the clock. I’ve got like 15 minutes left and if I go down now Annie’ll make me empty out the thermoses and rinse them and shit and then I’ll wind up clocking out ten minutes after my shift and I don’t want to do that. So are you coming?”

“To what?”

“My open mic night?” Eren looked at him upside-down.

“I’ll try.”

Eren chewed on his lip. “Will you?”

“Will I what?” Levi asked, squinting at his screen, trying to figure out what the fuck Mike had said in his email. Maybe that hair of his made it hard for him to see the screen while typing because the giant was practically illiterate.

“Actually try to come to my open mic night.”

“Bars and live music aren’t really my thing, kid.”

Spontaneous, Levi—“

“Cut that out. I said I’d try.”

“Jean says live music is the only real way to experience music.”

Since when did Eren care what Jean thought?

“Knock, knock,” Erwin tapped on the door, stepping around the coffee trolley.

“You don’t need to say it if you actually do it,” Levi reminded him.

“Uh…hello,” Erwin addressed Eren.

“Sup.”

“Who is this?” Erwin asked Levi, pointing at Eren.

“This is Eren the coffee bitch boy. He’s running out the clock.”

Eren laughed at this.

Remembering his purpose, Erwin shook his head, “Can you translate what Mike said about this account because—“

“No. I’m emailing him to clarify with actual words this time.”

“You know I just passed Dawk carrying his work laptop into the bathroom.” Erwin wrinkled his nose.

“Ew, why? That’s so unsanitary. That’s why I use Purell after I touch anyone’s computers.”

“Pfft, you worry too much about germs,” Eren said from the couch.

“Isn’t your dad a doctor?” Levi asked because the brat had mentioned something about it once.

“Uh yeah, so? I used to eat dirt as a kid and I had the strongest immune system of all my friends. I never missed school because I was sick.”

“Really? Not once? Not because of chicken pox or mono? You never missed any school?”

“Well I miss some days for Mom’s chemo.” There was an awkward pause after this. “…And some because I was hungover…”

“There it is,” Levi pointed at him.

“But I’m just saying, like, the government puts, like, so much antibacterial shit and it’s like, making, like, superbugs. There’s antibacterial shit in chicken McNuggets and toothpaste, man.”

Erwin and Levi’s phones blipped.

“Oh, gross,” they both complained in tandem.

“Dawk sent a meeting memo from the shitter,” Levi wrinkled his nose.

“What’s this?” Erwin asked, grabbing the pink paper from Levi’s desk. “There’s a bunch in the recycling bin.”

“I’m playing open mic! You should come!” Eren said.

“You probably shouldn’t hand these out to everyone at the office, I’m not sure your boss would like it,” Erwin cautioned.

“What’re you a narc, Erwin?” Levi asked, hitting send on his email to Mike.

“So Eren, what do you do when you’re not shilling coffee?” Erwin tried to be polite.

“I’m, like, trying to get my art out there. Like my music and my message, you know?”

“Well,” said Erwin nodding slowly. “The world holds its breath.”

He gave Levi a commiserating look before leaving.

Eren sat up, looking hurt.

“That guy is an asshole,” he thumbed in Erwin’s direction.

“Mmm,” Levi hummed noncommittally.

“I mean I know I’m just a stoner loser,” Eren said dolefully in what Levi thought was a stunning moment of clarity. “But that’s just who I am now.” He fiddled with a new hole he’d put in Hanji’s jeans. “You know?”

He looked up at Levi with those big earnest eyes of his and Levi couldn’t find it in himself to say anything mean so he nodded and said, “I get it. We’re all in a constant state of flux.”

Eren nodded, happy Levi understood.

“And hey,” Levi pointed at himself. “I used to be a fat goth kid. I’m the poster boy for reinvention.”

Eren laughed. That was good.

“So are you coming? Wednesday night! 8pm! Hannes bar! Bring your friends!”

“I’ll try.”

<*>

Erwin tapped on the door.

“Gold star for you, you didn’t say it this time.”

“What are you doing?” Erwin asked.

“Uh, the Balto account?”

“No, I mean what are you doing with that kid?”

“I’m not quite sure what you mean.”

“Are you going?” Erwin asked Levi, holding up the pink flyer.

“I might.”

“You hate live music. And beer. And bar food.”

Levi shrugged.

“Maybe I don’t anymore.” You don’t know everything about me.

Erwin closed the door behind him.

“Look, Levi, I don’t know what you’re up to these days and I know I don’t have any right to pry into your life, but I just don’t think this is a good idea.”

“Are you saying that as my boss or as my ex-boyfriend?”

“As your friend.”

“Right, well, as your friend, I’m going to stop you from continuing this conversation before it becomes something we need HR to mediate.”

Uh oh, them’s fighting words, Levi, a voice went off in his brain.

Erwin’s face grew cloudy.

“Fine, I’m just going to come out and say it. I don’t think it’s appropriate that you’re chasing after a straight boy who is a decade younger than you. But, you know, it’s your life, do what you want.”

Levi gave a bitter laugh at Erwin’s absurd accusation.

“I’m not even going to dignify that with a response. I’m not going to fight with you.”

“Of course you don’t,” Erwin muttered.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You never want to fight! We didn’t even have a conversation. You just left, Levi! You left me without a word! You just turned in your two weeks and left!”

“And how would that conversation have gone Erwin? ‘Well this is a pretty pickle we find ourselves in, you don’t love me or find me interesting in the slightest, but golly-gee I think we can make it work through sheer denial!’ Give me a fucking break.”

“I never said I didn’t love you,” Erwin stared at the floor.

“Fine, you wanna fight. Let’s fight,” Levi spat throwing his glasses off with such vehemence that Erwin jumped. “Where should we start?”

“How about with how you avoid conflict?”

“Sounds, great! Then we can move on to how your mother calls me your ‘special friend.’”

“That’s not an insult! You’re my friend who is special to me, that is an accurate assessment!”

“Maybe I don’t like to fight with you because you treat me like I’m some irrational being. ‘Uh, Captain, I find this highly illogical.’ I don’t need to give a PowerPoint on my emotions for them to be valid. You said you don’t find me interesting. You said you don’t like being around me. And then you have the fucking cojones to act surprised when I’m offended?”

“I said I didn’t feel satisfied with our relationship. It was supposed to be a talking point for a more in-depth discussion.”

“A talking point. Jesus, do you hear yourself? You know sometimes I think you have no empathy. I think you’re a fucking sociopath.”

“Great, now we’re name calling. That’s some great conflict resolution right there.”

“Stop using buzzwords like ‘talking point’ and ‘conflict resolution.’ This isn’t a business meeting, this is us. Or maybe I should start using your lingo back at you. There is no synergy for us. It died when you told me I was better than being alone. That’s how low your bar was set for me. That’s how little you think of me. Better than alone.”

Erwin ran his tongue over his teeth, his eyes bright and Levi found his pricking in frustration as well. He put his fingers to his temples.

“Is that what you wanted? Closure?” Levi sighed.

“Closure is…overrated,” Erwin said and Levi wanted to laugh or cry or anything to get whatever it was he felt out of his chest.

Erwin left and Levi gathered his things to leave. They wound up both getting in the elevator at the same time. The ride down was long and silent.

<*>

Levi didn’t go to Eren’s open mic. It had nothing to do with what Erwin said. He honestly just forgot on Wednesday. By the time he came home and took off his work clothes and started painting it was already quarter to nine and he really didn’t want to head all the way downtown on his scooter so he didn’t bother.

Are we still going out tonight?” Petra asked Levi via text on a Thursday a few weeks later.

“Yeah, I’m bringing Hanji along too.”

Oh thank god. I need another girl there. If I have to listen to another CoD convo I’ll scream.

“Jokes on you because Hanji loves it.”

:P

“Where are we going again?”

Hannes. They have live music and they make blended drinks so you can get a virgin piña colada [salsa dancing woman emoji].”

“Calories.”

“:<”

The bar was packed, but not too full that they couldn’t get a table. Their waitress took forever to arrive so Levi offered to go to the bar and order drinks.

“What is it with gayboys these days?” he asked moodily. “I just had two separate guys come up to me and call me ‘Daddy.’”

“Ew,” Petra said, then giggled over her fruity cocktail.

“Like am I supposed to be flattered by that? Hello, yes, I want to use you for your money and then you may have the honor of sexing me.”

“You can be my Daddy any time,” a passing man interjected, mishearing the conversation and giving a lascivious wink.

“Quit being a disappointment!” Levi barked. “IPA for you Hanji.”

“Thank you, my good sir. Did Levi tell you guys he sold another painting?” Hanji said, taking a large sip, foam on her lips.

“I don’t sell them. I paint them, you sell them,” Levi demurred.

“No! Really? That’s amazing!” Petra exclaimed.

“So you’re buying the first round then?” Aururo asked with his tongue between his teeth.

“Stop it, that’s rude.” Petra elbowed him.

“Yes, first round is on me,” Levi nodded and they tapped their glasses together, Levi’s own filled with cranberry juice.

“Aw, thank you, Daddy,” they chorused and he rolled his eyes.

“Man, I would love to be a Sugar Daddy,” Gunter said around his beer glass.

“Jackass, you’re too broke to be a Sugar Daddy,” Erd rolled his eyes.

“Easy for you to say when you’ve got a Sugar Mommah at home,” Gunter accused.

“Uh, I’m sorry that I don’t have a problem with my girlfriend making more money than me.”

“She bought him a PS3.”

“That’s so we can bond via our shared love of videogames.”

“Well, I’m too young to be a Sugar Daddy,” Levi said grumpily. “I’m still young enough to pull my own Sugar Daddy.”

“HA!” someone gave a sardonic laugh above his head. “Only if they like midgets.”

“I don’t have to take that from someone wearing a crop top and a scarf. You could just use the extra material from the scarf to make a whole shirt.”

“What’re you even doing here?” Mikasa asked him.

“You can’t ban me from the bar too.”

“I was wondering if that was your picture at Sina Café!” Hanji said, slapping her hand on the table.

“What did he do?” Petra asked.

“He called the cops on my baby brother.”

“You’re Eren’s sister?” Petra stood up, nearly knocking over all their drinks and pulled Mikasa into a hug. “Hi, I’m Petra.”

“Oh, hi, nice to meet you. Thanks for coming out.” Mikasa returned the hug awkwardly. “It means a lot to him.”

“Why?” Levi asked confused.

“Eren’s playing tonight. Didn’t he tell you?”

“No. How would he tell me?”

“He sent out a huge mass text about it.”

“Why would I give that idiot my number? He’d call me in the middle of the night to tell me how we faked the moon landing.”

“Uhh…we did fake the moon landing,” Mikasa corrected.

“No, we didn’t. Jesus, what is it with you Jaegers?”

Now that he thought of it, he actually hadn’t seen or heard from Eren in nearly two weeks. Maybe the brat was mad at him for not showing up to his open mic? He hadn’t promised anything.

“If I hear one boo. One single boo or shout or any heckling come out of your mouth, I will break you,” she threatened.

“Well, good news for you. I’m just here to hang out with my friends. So be gone!” he shooed her. “Before someone drops a house on you too.”

“It’s hard for me to come up with a response to that,” Mikasa said to Levi’s smug face. “Because I don’t know whether to go with munchkins or Dorothy.”

Damn, he set her up for that one.

She gave a hi-five to Armin behind her, who returned it somewhat reluctantly.

“Sorry about Mikasa,” Armin apologized. “She’s just really protective of Eren.”

That was an understatement.

“But if I you did come here to mess with him,” Armin said, his wide smile becoming sinister. “Just know that I memorized your credit card number from the last time you were in the café and I know a million and one ways to ruin your credit so badly you’ll need your parents to cosign every loan until you retire.”

He and Mikasa found a table where she could keep throwing daggers at Levi and also have a good view of the stage.

“That’s our Levi,” Petra said, clapping Levi on the back. “Making friends everywhere he goes. What are you doing?”

“I’m calling to cancel my card before Norman Bates there spends it all on nightgowns and stuffed cats. Excuse me.”

Levi stood up to head outside to deal with the operator.

“But you’ll miss Eren’s set!” Petra grabbed at his arm.

“I hear him play all the time when he’s stalking me,” Levi rolled his eyes. “Yes, hello? I’d like to report my card stolen? Ugh it’s one of those automated things. I’ll be back.”

It turned out to be just as noisy outside as it was inside and he didn’t really feel comfortable shouting his account number around a bunch of drunks so he went back in.

“Hey, I’m The Jägermeister and some of you may remember me from open mic last Wednesday.” Most of this last bit was drowned out by the yells from Eren’s friends. He had quite the cheer team. “I was going to get things started with a little Beatles.”

“That’s original,” Levi muttered from his spot by the door.

“Yeah, I know,” Eren said to the crowd sheepishly. “How original.”

Levi figured walking through all the tables during Eren’s set was rude (and might provoke retaliation from Mikasa), so he hopped up on a stool at the bar and tried to get the bartender’s attention for a tonic water with cucumber but the jerk ignored him probably too busy making Vodka and Red Bull mixers.

Then something happened and Levi wasn’t even aware it was happening until after it was all over. Eren started singing and maybe it was the microphone or the lights or the fact that he didn’t pause the song to yell “short guy is short and running” but Eren was good. Really good.

“Jai Guru Deva Om, nothing’s gonna change my world.”

His voice was surprisingly powerful. Levi should have known that was true, the kid had strong enough lungs to shout over his drum, but it still took him by surprise. And he looked good. He had a great stage presence that sucked all the air out of the room. Even the bartenders made an attempt to be quieter with their shakers.

He played another safe cover of some Fleetwood Mac song and then started on his original material and the lyrics were shaky (some rhymes that didn’t quite make sense, but then when did Eren’s ever?). One had a hook that was catchy, but cheesy. The potential was there. It wasn’t bad.

Not bad at all.

This wasn’t clumsy stoner Eren, this was someone completely different. Sure it was the same bravado and playfulness, but there was a level of maturity and soul Levi didn’t know Eren even had.

“Alright, so Hannes told me not to sing this next cover. He said it’s too dirty but how could I resist?”

There were some wolf whistles and one of his friends gave a loud whoop of approval.

“You all best be ready because someone is getting pregnant tonight,” he joked before launching into an impressive acoustic cover of Beyonce’s Partition.

He fumbled over the French, instead choosing to hum when he couldn’t quite get the words out, earning him a few laughs, but when it was done, his friends screamed their dumb heads off.

And then it was over and Levi’s cucumber tonic water was just ice cubes and he didn’t remember drinking any. It was a short and tight set, clocking in just over fifteen minutes.

“Thanks guys, you’ve all been great. I’m going to be here next Thursday with some new material so see you then!”

He hopped down the exit closest to the bar and pulled up short when he saw Levi. Levi gave a shy hesitant wave, almost not sure that this was the same Eren he’d seen thrown off the wharf by a mime or walk around in Levi’s sweats carrying Pixis’ tiny puppy. Eren broke out into a large grin and Levi felt relief.

“You came!” he said and threw his arms around Levi.

Not used to being hugged by people he’d tried to get arrested Levi didn’t know how to respond to this gesture. He was still reeling from Eren’s transformation onstage. And the hugging was new. Were they hugging friends? How long do you need to know someone before you’re on hugging terms? How many times had he hugged Hanji or Petra? Maybe once? How many times had he hugged his guy friends? Never. Was Eren just a huggy person? Or was he just that pleased Levi had shown up? This was weird.

Levi started to say how he had been tricked by Petra but never got out the words because a blonde woman came up to him and Levi recognized her as the sour faced barista at the kiosk in the downstairs of his building.

“Annie! Hey! Thanks for coming!” he said before giving her a large hug.

Oh good. He was just a huggy person. Relief.

“Sorry, I have to open up the kiosk tomorrow so I gotta go. Good set.”

“Thanks! Bye!”

She left and Eren turned back to Levi who had tried to sneak away but no such luck.

“I haven’t seen you in forever! How are you?”

“Oh you know. Same ol’ same ol’.” He bit his lip. Why did he sound so lame? Stop that. “What about you? That was a pretty impressive bit of stuff—uh—that was good. You did good.”

The second act started in on its set so thankfully Eren didn’t hear him stammering like a moron.

“Really? You liked it?” he asked.

“Yeah. I did. I did a lot.”

“You’re not just saying that?”

“Why would I ever say something nice when I don’t have to?” Levi joked figuring self-deprecation was the best way to handle his sudden insecurity. “Anyway, where have you been?”

“Oh…uh…” Eren scratched his head. “Your ex-boyfriend complained to Annie that I tried to sell him weed in the parking lot so she had to fire me.”

“Oh.”

“Like I’d sell to him anyway. Besides he strikes me as a coke man. Have you checked his nails? Does he have a coke pinky?” Eren waggled his pinky in Levi’s face. He was surprisingly chill with being fired. Probably expected it from the beginning. Eren didn’t seem like the kind of person to have the greatest employment record.

“Sorry. I probably put him in a bad mood. We had a big fight.”

“Oh yeah? Were you throwing staplers at him and shit? Did you have makeup sex on your bang couch? Did he take you in a manly fashion?”

Levi laughed. He couldn’t help it. “Excuse you, I would not be the Peggy Olson of that situation. I’m obviously more of a Don Draper.”

“Yeah minus two cartons of cigarettes a day and a fifth of scotch. What are you even drinking? Vodka and seltzer?”

“Just tonic water with cucumbers.”

“Oh, so, I’m actually being paid for tonight,” Eren said. “And look I get one free drink ticket. I’m going to use it.”

He left lowly singing, “I’ve got a golden ticket!” and Levi watched him go, still a little mesmerized, but his view was interrupted by some 19 year old with the sides of his head shaved hopping up into his lap.

“Hey Daddy,” he purred. “Want to buy me a drink?”

“Do I look like Ikea furniture?” Levi asked loudly.

“Uh…no?”

“Then get up off of me.”

Startled by the steely look in his eyes, the teen slid off his lap.

“Your boyfriend hit on me while you were getting your drink,” the teenager told Eren, giving Levi a spiteful look. “Thought you outta know.”

Levi threw his hands up in the air at Eren’s amused expression.

“What is it with these gays here? What am I putting out that is attracting this kind of nonsense?”

“I think it’s the nonalcoholic drink. You look like you’re trolling.”

“Trolling. Listen to you.”

“Hey baby—“ another guy came up to Levi.

“No,” he snapped before they could get anything else out.

“Dude, if you’re so popular, why are you still single?” Eren asked as the rejected suitor turned around.

“Word on the street is I’m an asshole,” Levi said shrugging.

“I think I heard that,” Eren nodded and they both laughed.

“Okay,” Levi nodded down the length of the bar indicating a cute man with freckles leaning over the counter and laughing with the bartender. Cute teeth, cute freckles, nice arms. The kind of boy who would call you ‘Daddy’ with a slight flush over his cheeks and biting his lip. “What about this cutie?”

Eren turned around and winced. “That’s Marco, Jean’s boyfriend.”

“Damn, the good ones are always taken. I thought Jean was straight and banging your sister?”

“Oh no! Oh man I never got to tell you that. No, they broke up because he’s totally gay. Or maybe bi? We just don’t know. I’m not sure Jean knows. But they’re apparently okay with it? Still friends and all. Honestly they drove me crazy fighting all the time.”

“I thought she was extra pissy to me.”

“Oh yeah, no, she hates you.”

They both gave her a little wave and she glowered back.

“Did your sister play lacrosse or something in high school? I’m getting those kinds of vibes off of her.”

“Stoppp,” Eren snorted into his drink. “Okay, what about the punk looking guy three tables over?”

“No whiteboy wears a doorag unless he’s hiding his male pattern baldness. Also, he’s straight.”

“How can you tell?”

“His sandals.”

They both hissed in secondhand embarrassment.

“Oh, the blond guy, I went to high school with him. We played football together. Thomas. Hey Thomas!”

The man gave a short nod.

“Ugh, jocks.”

“You’re just as picky about guys as you are everything else. You remind me of a gay Mr. Darcy.”

“That’s just regular Mr. Darcy. Did you see the one with Colin Firth? Those pants? Please. Anyway, picking up boys at a bar is always a bad idea.”

They chatted for a little while longer, huddled together to hear over the stage before Eren eventually broke away.

“I should go say ‘hi’ to my friends and wish Jean good luck before he goes on. Catch you later?”

“Yeah, I gotta get back to my friends too.”

“Cool.”

Levi sat down and Petra grabbed him.

“Oh thank god, they’re talking about Call of Duty again and I can’t, I just can’t anymore. What did you and Eren talk about?”

“You know, stuff.” Levi shrugged. What had they even talked about? He couldn’t remember the content, just Eren’s tan forearms as he tapped on his pint and his green eyes shining with laughter.

Jean’s band wasn’t that great. At least not as good as Eren’s set. It was just Jean on guitar, some cranky girl on bass who kept rolling her eyes through the whole thing, and their drummer wasn’t nearly as good as Eren’s bucket drumming. But maybe Levi was biased. Eren’s whole table cheered and screamed their asses off though, so it wasn’t as if Jean had a lack of supporters.

“Did you guys know that Levi is psychic?” Hanji asked their table during the break between sets.

“Levi doesn’t believe in psychics,” Petra pointed out.

“That’s because he is one,” Hanji said, but no one believed her. “C’mon Levi. Tell me what I’m thinking.”

Levi put his hand on top of her head and made the most serious of expressions possible.

“Lynda Carter twirling,” he informed all of them.

“That’s exactly right,” Hanji nodded.

“That’s because that’s what she’s always thinking about.”

“Hey everybody, I’m back,” Eren said from the stage and they all turned to look at him in surprise. “Apparently the next band to go on got a flat tire. So Jean and I are going to entertain you until they get here. So please enjoy the musical stylings of Two Guys, One Guitar. Not to be confused with any dirty videos online.”

Jean hopped up and tuned his guitar a little.

“Hey Eren,” Jean said in his best NPR voice into the microphone.

“Heya, Jean.” Eren leaned around him.

“Did you guys catch Eren’s set?” Jean asked the audience. “Can you believe he’s only been playing guitar for 6 months?” There was a whoop from Eren’s table and the audience clapped politely.

“Thanks, thank you,” Eren graciously accepted his applause off-mic.

“I can,” Jean said and they laughed. “Hey Eren.”

“Yeah Jean?”

“Why don’t you help me out with this?”

Eren stood behind Jean, wrapping his right arm over and around to strum while Jean fixed the chords with his left. Oh, Levi got it. Two men playing the same guitar. Sure.

“Give that a whirl,” Jean said and Eren strummed and they both nodded. “Ahhh, very nice.”

There were a few titters in the audience.

“How about we give the folks a few arpeggios?” Jean asked and Eren complied. “Oh very nice, Eren.”

“Why thank you, Jean. You know, I must say I like you a lot more now that you’re not dating my sister,” said Eren conversationally, picking at the strings expertly.

“And I like you a lot better when you’re not hiding under the bed with an air horn,” Jean said switching chords suddenly. “Oh good catch there, Eren.”

“Say Jean.”

“Yes Eren?”

The fingerpicking sped up a little.

“Why did you and my sister break up? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“His tiny dick!” Mikasa shouted to the stage and Jean flipped her off with his free hand and the whole table laughed.

“Well that’s a good question, Eren. You see she lacked a quality I sorely desire in a woman.”

“What’s that, Jean?”

“A penis.”

“Ah. That’ll do it, Jean.”

“Yes, and no matter how badly we attempted to accommodate this, through props and other devices, it just didn’t work.”

“Whoops. Bend over boyfriend!”

The crowd gave a laugh.

“Here, let’s try something a little harder,” Jean said and Eren reached his left hand under Jean’s, using his hand as a capo. “Careful not to choke the neck there, Eren.”

“Ah, thanks Jean. My dad used to remind me of that all the time. And that was before I even played guitar.”

They strummed a few melodies, showing off their teamwork, which was frankly impressive to watch, if a bit silly like guitar Twister.

“We should probably play a song for them, Jean.”

“That is an excellent idea, Eren.”

They started playing a familiar intro but hit a sour note.

“Sorry folks! I swear we’ve practiced,” Eren laughed and they tried again. “’Hello darkness my old friend.’ Wait, I’m high, you’re low.”

“No, I’m low—oh gotchya.”

There were more giggles.

Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again—“ they harmonized perfectly and stopped.

“Oh very nice, Eren!”

“Why thank you, Jean!”

Because a vision softly creeping, left its seeds while I was sleeping—

“Oh look Eren, it’s those mime bastards.” Jean stopped. “I hate mimes.”

“Living statue!” they corrected, shouting at the stage and Levi turned around to see the tall living statue and his beefy mime boyfriend laughing in the audience.

“Whatever,” Eren said. “You know Jean, I’ve always thought if it walks like a mime, talks like a mime, then it’s probably a—“

“Mime,” they harmonized again and beautifully at that.

“Very nice, Eren.”

“Thank you Jean.”

“But you know, Eren, mimes don’t talk,” Jean continued with the chords and Eren kept up with him.

“Ah, that’s true, I always forget that part, Jean.”

“You know what they say, a mime is a terrible thing to waste.” Groans from the audience.

“HA!” Levi laughed, snorting hard and when his friends looked at him in surprise he pretended he was coughing.

Mikasa glared at Levi, attempting to discern if he was mocking the performance so he pulled a stony face and stared straight ahead at the stage.

“’And the vision that was planted in my brain, still remains.’” Oh!” Jean stopped and jumped a little. “What is that?” he asked, trying to look behind him and indicating Eren’s crotch.

“Oh, I thought I’d help you out a little, Jean,” Eren said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a small shaker egg.

Levi couldn’t help it, he snorted again and had to clap his hand over his mouth. It was stupid. So stupid.

“Oh, well, that was very thoughtful of you, Eren,” Jean said, pretending to look relieved.

“’In restless dreams I walked alone, narrow streets of cobblestones.’” Eren shook the egg in time.

Their voices were dreamy together. Jean’s was a little rough and frankly he sometimes whinnied like Mr. Ed, but Eren’s smoothed his out. They were also funny, pretending to be very serious despite how ridiculous they looked.

“Ah! Now what was that?” Jean jumped again.

“Really Jean, we’ll never finish the song if you keep interrupting,” said Eren pulling out two kazoos. “Oh, sorry, yours is the one with the lipstick on it.”

They continued the rest of the song harmonizing on the kazoos which was every bit as ridiculous as it sounded and Levi was nearly in tears at the end.

They finished, humming the last of The Sound of Silence through their kazoos and took a bow. Eren’s table whooped and screamed their approval and Levi gave a loud whistle that made Aururo jump and bite his tongue.

“Thank you!” Eren said. “We are Two Guys, One Guitar and this was our first and last performance!”

Jean hopped off the stage and attempted to kiss his freckly boyfriend with the kazoo still in his mouth. A brunette jumped up to hug Eren, wrapping her legs around his waist and Levi briefly wondered if she was his girlfriend before they all shouted for shots.

“I’m all warm and sleepy,” Petra yawned.

They had been there for quite some time. Levi grabbed his coat as Eren walked by, the brunette hitching a piggyback ride on his shoulders.

“How bad was it?” Eren asked, wrinkling his nose.

“It was funny. It was more of a classic stand-up bit than a set. But you got me with the pegging joke.”

“Shots, shots, shots!” the girl dug her heels into Eren.

“Shots for Sasha!” Eren shouted, carrying her to the bar and a few others followed behind him.

“What even—hic—is pegging?” Petra stumbled in her unpractical shoes.

“Nobody tell her,” Aururo waved them off.

They all piled into Hanji’s Volkswagen and Levi drove, dropping them all off, ending with Hanji where he’d left his scooter, then he scootered home. He couldn’t sleep that night, staring at the red numbers on his alarm clock before pulling himself out of bed. He put on his glasses sleepily and grabbed his iPhone, skipping through a few songs, and then sat down to paint. Painting at night was always his insomniac cure.

He had a song stuck in his head and he kept skipping through his playlists, hoping one of the titles would jog his memory when he realized the earworm floating around in his head was one of Eren’s.

Chapter Text

The first Saturday of April was mid-60’s and was so pleasant during Levi’s run that he decided to grab his book and sit reading in the park. Eren hadn’t been there in the morning but Levi figured the kid probably drank enough to keep him hungover through Sunday. He sat reading enjoying the smell of freshly cut grass. The cherry blossoms had budded on the trees and little pink petals kept falling onto the pages of his book. He was enjoying himself immensely when out of nowhere he heard Eren shout.

“LEVI!”

He sighed.

“LEVI! CATCH!”

Levi had no time to drop his book before the guitar came flying at his face. He caught it and fumbled but managed to keep it from falling on the ground.

“The fuck—“ he shouted at Eren’s retreating back.

But the answer was soon clear as a snow white swan followed after Eren, hissing and spitting angrily chasing him across the park.

“What did we do to deserve this?” Levi asked the guitar.

He lay it across his lap and continued reading his book.

“Do you have a permit?” an officer walking by asked.

“Huh?” Levi asked. He really just wanted to read his book.

“Look buddy, you can’t busk without a permit.”

“I’m not busking, I’m not even playing it. And do you see a bucket for change?”

“You probably hid it. Look, if you don’t have a permit I’m going to have to write you a ticket.”

“For what? Holding a guitar? I’m just holding it for my friend.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that one before. Look, you can fill out a permit, but it’s a $25 fee and—“

“I’m just sitting here reading my book—“

“Sir, if you don’t have a permit, I’m going to need to ask you to leave the park or you will receive a ticket.”

“Look Officer—“

“Woerman.”

“Officer Woerman. I’m not busking. I’m reading my book. There happens to be a guitar here, but I am not playing it.”

“Yo! Thanks Levi! Damn, never play music for swans. It sounds like some fairytale idea, but they do not appreciate it. And they are really mean.” Eren took his guitar back. “Are you okay, Carla? Did you get hurt by the mean swan?”

“Do you have a permit?” the idiotic officer asked.

“Oh yeah, man, here you go.” Eren pulled out a crumpled piece of paper.

“Jaeger? Didn’t I bust you back in high school for selling pot to my son?” the Officer said in recognition.

“Maybe? Who’s your kid?”

“Daz.”

“Oh man!” Eren laughed slapping at Levi. “Daz the Spazz. Dude, how is that loser doing?”

“He got into Stanford,” Officer Woerman glowered.

“Wow,” said Eren, hands on his hips nodding. “Good for Spazzman.”

“Yes, he’s in law school now.”

“No shit, really?”

“Yes. Good to see you’re making your parents proud.” Woerman eyed Eren’s guitar and disheveled appearance.

“Oh man, does Daz still do that thing where he can shove gummy worms up his nose and pull them out through his mouth? That shit was a fucking riot.”

Levi gagged audibly.

Woerman gave Eren a piercing look and Eren continued to grin dopily at him.

“You take care now,” Woerman said handing Eren back his permit.

“Will do Officer Spazzman—er Woerman.”

The Officer continued on his patrol and the second he was out of earshot both Eren and Levi let out a disgusted grunt, “Prick.”

“Ahh, Carla needs a new string. Hey Levi, what’re you doing today?”

“Trying to read my book,” he sighed.

“That’s boring. C’mon let’s go do something.”

“Fuck you, I am doing something.

“C’mon, I’ll take you somewhere fun.”

Levi was tempted. He tapped the spine of his book deciding.

“No.”

“Levi!” Eren whined, stretching across Levi’s lap, putting his head over Levi’s book to block his view. “Please?

Levi shoved his head off. “I thought Saturday was your best day for busking down by the pier.”

“It is. I just wanted to take you out as a thank you.”

“Thanks for what?” Levi asked bewildered.

“All the advice you gave me! I mean, it’s because of you I got that steady gig at Hannes—“

“No, it’s because of you that you got that gig. Take ownership of that.”

Eren was quiet for a moment chewing on his lip. He stretched into Levi’s lap again and Levi gave a sigh.

“Whatchya reading?”

“Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides.”

“Oh. Why won’t you let me take you out?”

“Because you don’t have any money. And I’m flattered you want to thank me, but—“

“Maybe I just want to hang out with you.”

“Ha. Why?”

“Because you’re fun to hang out with.”

“Now that’s a damn lie.”

“Is it really so hard for you to believe that I want to hang out with you? Take ownership of that,” he mimicked Levi’s low voice and Levi fought against a smile. “Besides I’ll take you somewhere where it doesn’t cost us any money and you can sit and read your book there.”

Levi hesitated.

“Besides I’m supposed to be helping you be spontaneous.”

“Spontaneous doesn’t mean you get to bully me into whatever you want. But fine—“ He snapped his book shut and stretched. “Let’s go.”

<*>

“Where are we actually going?” Levi asked as they walked along the pier.

“My place.”

“Oh.”

“What?”

“I didn’t know you had a place.”

“I told you I did! I like to live off the grid, keep the government off my back.”

“…You don’t live in a cardboard box do you? Or a van down by the river?”

“No, I have a real place with a bed!”

“…Does your dad pay for it?”

“No! I don’t take anything from that man.”

Eren and his sister apparently didn’t get along with their father. There was some bitterness there but Levi hadn’t wanted to pry. He didn’t sound like he was abusive…just...not very involved. But then Levi could have gathered that by the fact that Eren busked for a living.

“We’re almost there anyways.”

“Eren, there are no houses around here. Oh don’t tell me—”

“Houseboat, Levi!”

Levi groaned.

Eren stood on the dock and gestured to a rundown and mildew boat.

“Isn’t she great?”

That was not the word Levi would have used to describe the houseboat.

“Yeah, Dad was already paying for the slip so I just started camping out here. It’s much better than Mikasa’s couch.”

“I thought you said your dad didn’t pay your rent.”

“He doesn’t. This is our family boat but he never takes it out. He just pays for the slip and lets it sit here all year.”

It seemed like Dr. Jaeger put that amount of attention into every aspect of his life.

“Does he know you’re living here?”

“Well…yeah.”

“Then I’ve got news for you,” Levi said clapping Eren on the back. “Your Dad pays for your rent.”

Eren scowled and shook him off.

“I actually take care of her,” he said out of some fondness for the boat. “C’mon.”

He tripped down the dock and then hopped up on the boat. Levi watched him uneasily.

“What’s the matter?” Eren said as Levi was still on the dock with his book tucked under his arm.

“I’m not a big fan of boats. Or water.”

“Then why did you choose to live in Sina of all places?” Eren asked.

“Well not for the boats that’s for damn sure,” Levi grumbled, shifting his weight.

“Can you not swim?” Eren asked, far too understandingly for Levi’s tastes.

“I can swim! What moron can’t swim? I just don’t like swimming. Or boats.”

“Do you get motion sick? That’s okay, I have to dose Armin up with a bunch of Dramamine every time we go out on the bay. I’ve got some if you want it.”

“I don’t get motion sick!” Levi snapped.

Eren was watching him with a bemused smile on his face. At least one of them was enjoying himself.

“Well, you’re in good hands,” he said, setting down his guitar. “Because I used to be a lifeguard and I used to drive the water taxis for a living. So if you fall off, I can save you and I’m a great boater. So c’mon. All aboard!”

He held out his hand for Levi to take. Levi eyed it as if it were a poisonous animal before cautiously extending his own. Putting one foot firmly on the edge of the boat, he tested his weight, once, twice, before stepping up and then down. He was on the boat. Good. He made it without even stumbling. Good. Why? Why was he on the boat?

“Here, I’ve got something for you,” Eren said laughingly.

Eren pulled out a bright orange life jacket and carefully pulled it over Levi’s head, minding his glasses. It was such a gentle gesture that Levi could only blink up at him as Eren busied about with the ties. Eren wrapped both arms around Levi’s chest and Levi stopped breathing, his heart pounding in his ears, and then Eren clipped it into place and adjusted the straps. Admiring his work, he took a step back and laughed.

“I look stupid,” Levi said, suddenly aware of how terrible the orange looked against his pale skin.

“You look great,” Eren chuckled.

“I can’t move my arms. I feel like the little brother from A Christmas Story.”

“Well, good news is, it may not be fashionable, but it will keep you from drowning.”

“Is that likely to happen?” Levi asked, giving a small laugh to hide his nerves.

“I told you, I used to drive the water taxis. I know this harbor like the back of my hand.”

“Used to.”

“Yeahhh, they fired me for failing a drug test. But it’s not like I ever drove while high. I’m not an idiot.”

“So, you’re truly sober now?” Levi asked, closing his eyes because the sight of the water bobbing up and down was making him nauseous. Oh no, closing his eyes was worse. Nope. Open.

“Of course.”

A boat entering the docks caused a few choppy waves to slap against the side of the boat and Levi grabbed the side frantically.

“I think I just put my hand in bird shit,” Levi observed with a great deal of disgust.

“Oh, here, there’s a small bathroom right here.”

Eren led Levi into the cabin. There was an unmade mattress in the center and piles of clothes and towels everywhere. There was a small toilet, smaller than an airplane bathroom for him to wash off his hand. He had some trouble closing the door with the stupid life jacket on so he left it open.

“So here is the helm, the wheel,” Eren said and Levi poked his head out. “And I am your captain. Captain Jaeger at your service.”

There was no towel for Levi to wipe off his hands, but there were plenty strewn about the cabin so he made do with those. Gross. Eren started up the motor and Levi jumped, startled by the sound, and fell on Eren’s mattress.

“I’ve gotta unhook the electric and the water pump and then we can be off!” Eren said cheerily.

Levi bobbed up and down on Eren’s waterbed. Really? Only Eren would have a waterbed on a boat. What was Levi doing here? He was so over his head. This was so out of his element. He lay his head back and stared at the tie-dyed Grateful Dead poster hanging from the cabin ceiling. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of a few pictures taped to the cabin wall and he got up to examine them. Some of Eren and Mikasa and a woman who was probably his mother. Some of him and his friends. Levi tiptoed closer. Eren had duct taped a few of his football and track trophies to the shelves so they wouldn’t fall off. Levi felt his foot knock something and it clinked. He picked up a towel to look at a small pipe. So this was Eren. This was Eren’s life.

Levi looked back at the waterbed, his heart pounding again. What he wouldn’t give to push Eren gently onto that stupid bed and have him pull Levi down on top of him. He felt an ache he hadn’t felt in a long time. That longing for connection. To be touched. When was the last time he’d been touched?

“We’re just about ready to go,” Eren informed him, grinning ear to ear before disappearing again.

“What am I doing here?” Levi asked himself aloud standing in the middle of the messy cabin.

“Okay, so where do you want to go? We can go to the channel, we can go to—Levi?”

Levi was off the boat and on the dock.

“Where are you going?” Eren asked, looking hurt and confused.

“I can’t do this,” Levi said angrily, trying to pull the life jacket over his head and nearly knocking off his glasses in the process. Becoming tangled in the straps, he struggled like a moth in a spider’s web before finally managing to extract himself and fling it at Eren’s head.

“Why are you angry?” Eren asked as Levi made his way up the dock. “Levi!”

“I can’t do this,” Levi repeated, shouting at him.

“Levi,” Eren said calmly and it was the calmest voice he’d ever heard Eren Jaeger use. “Get on the boat.”

He held out his hand.

“I—“ Levi shook his head, tears started in his eyes and he couldn’t have Eren see them. He pulled his lips together and shook his head. “Bye Eren.”

He heard Eren calling behind him, but he didn’t stop until he was off the dock and on dry land. His feet carried him until he was home and he locked the door and threw himself on the couch and stayed there until it grew dark outside.

Stupid. So stupid. Why had he allowed this to go so far?

When he finally pulled himself up off the couch he tried to play some music to calm himself down while he made dinner. Then “Everybody Hurts” came on shuffle and he threw his slipper at his speakers.

He tried to paint. That didn’t work.

Levi admitted defeat. Picking up his phone, he made to text Erwin but instead he thumbed over and called him. He knew what it meant when he called that late.

“Hey, so,” Levi started, trying to keep his voice from wavering. “I’m a total idiot.”

“Why’s that?” Erwin asked groggily. Christ, even when he just woke up he sounded dreamy.

“I just found that sweater you were looking for in my closet. Looks like I do have it after all.”

 

 

[END OF PART 1]

Chapter Text

The Hindenburg that was LeviErwin2.0 crashed and burned just like the first. Faster than you could sing “Summer Lovin’” they were both single before Fall and happier for it. Levi liked to think getting back together with Erwin was that itch he just had to scratch. He thought he couldn’t move on unless he knew he’d given it all he had, just one more shot.

But the truth was he knew it was doomed.

This time he didn’t wait for Erwin to push him out of their relationship. He left on his own terms. A great deal of Levi’s time had been fighting for his own in their partnership. Every part of his self kept being sucked up into The Blob-like entity that was Erwin. Even Levi’s painting was just an accessory to Erwin’s life. Yes, my boyfriend, the painter. Levi was window dressing for the life that Erwin thought he should have. He was decoration. And really, if Levi allowed himself to be treated that way, he couldn’t put the blame solely on Erwin.

The funny thing was Eren—who came in like a hurricane, a fucking flurry of crazy and weird, a force of destruction directed at Levi—never took over Levi’s life like Erwin did. Sure, Eren had wormed his way into every aspect of Levi’s life (work, the café, the park, the gallery, and even his fucking apartment!) but he’d never overshadowed Levi. Well, everyone overshadowed Levi because everyone was taller than him, but Eren didn’t take Levi’s life and try to make it his own. Levi always knew who he was around Eren. The sad thing was a 23 year old college dropout trying to find his own identity and way in life had a stronger sense of self than Erwin, a 36 year old man with equity and a retirement fund.

His friends were great. They were happy for him when he and Erwin got back together, hiding their reservations, and they cried with him when it ended never saying “I told you so.” He didn’t need them to say it, he already knew it. Even when he told Erwin he wanted out Erwin hadn’t been surprised. Or sad. Just relieved. That relief crushed Levi more than he’d admit, but it was freeing.

He didn’t see his ADHD having, pot smoking, giant manchild busker anymore. Eren disappeared from his life about as quickly as he’d entered it. Every once in a while he’d pass by the pier and hear someone singing and he’d look to see if they had messy brown hair and green eyes or that toothy grin. But they never did. Hanji informed him that Levi’s photo was still up at the café and he was still permabanned, but that was all that remained of their time together.

As with most things, when one (or several) aspects of your life are in the crapper, others blossom. Levi’s job was still soul-sucking and his love life lacked the good kind of sucking, but his paintings took off. He’d never painted more. He painted the pier, the park, the view outside his window at work, the living statue, the wharf—really anywhere with a decent view.

And they sold!

The largest sold for $11k but soon the demand for his paintings went up and he started selling even the smaller ones for over $25k. A step up from the $2,000 Eren had tried to scrape together. A leap up from $50 in his pocket. One of his favorites was the atrium of his office building at Valentine’s Day, with the paper tissue hearts and red and pink tulle balls, and he was surprised when the owners of the building bought it and displayed it in the very same atrium. Aside from that he didn’t really pay attention to who they sold to, some corporate offices, some trophy wife, and a yuppie couple from out of state. All he knew was he had money. Good money. Money to rent studio space for him to paint in and store his paintings.

So that’s how life was for a while.

Jai Guru Deva. Om.

Daft Punk and gluten-free pasta and late nights at the studio. New brushes and paints and Lorde. Scooter home from the studio. Stare at the clock until sleep takes over. Almond milk in his cereal. Tea in a travel mug. Scooter to work. Work on the Balto account. Get yelled at by Balto’s people. Yell back. Save up vacation time. Save up sick days. Scooter home. Lana Del Ray, Kanye & Jay-Z. Rolling Stones and The Who. Anything that wasn’t silence. Binge watch The Sopranos, Sex and the City, and Lost. Happy Fourth, Happy Halloween. Go with Hanji to the Humane Society. Pick out two kittens. Let Hanji name them. Happy Thanksgiving. I’m thankful. Merry Christmas. I’m 33 and I’m fine. Happy New Year. No really, I’m fine. Happy Valentine’s. Yes, I’m still single. No, please don’t set me up with anyone.

Nothings gonna change my world.

He’d blinked and it had been a year. Everything had changed in a year and yet nothing had changed at all. Babies were born. Lives lived. Erd got married. Petra got engaged. Then Petra got unengaged. Then engaged again. Levi’s cats had changed from cute fluffballs to huge lazy pieces of furniture. They got cat hair everywhere and puked up hairballs and sometimes they’d sit incredible still like gross art installations and other times they wouldn’t stop running around the apartment in mad circles.

Nothings gonna change my world.

“I should have gotten on the boat,” Levi said quietly.

“What?” asked Hanji.

He didn’t even realize he’d said it aloud. He’d been staring out the window at the sailboat race and it had only then struck him that it had been a whole year since he’d last seen Eren Jaeger and had run scared from him and his houseboat.

“I should have gotten on the boat,” Levi repeated, still watching a catamaran with a yellow hull drift ahead.

Hanji turned to follow his gaze out the window.

“Were you listening to anything I said?” she asked.

“Nope.”

“I said I submitted your art to a contest.”

Levi pulled a face. Wasn’t he past amateur stuff like that?

“Some record label is looking for local artists for their new band’s album cover. I don’t think we’ll get it, but they post the entries online and it would be good traffic for your website.”

Erd and Gunter had started up their own website design team and had crafted a beautiful website for Levi to advertise his paintings and Hanji’s gallery. So far it had netted them two buyers—at a cool $30k each. Once the government and Hanji had their cut, it was less than one would think, but it was still quite a bit and validated the website’s expense. Levi tucked the money away in his never-touched vacation fund. He desperately wanted to go to Greece and camp out on some Mama Mia! island and paint there, but he hadn’t yet gotten off his ass to book it.

“Anyway, you made it to the Top 5. Winner gets $10,000 and to meet the band in person. I got us tickets to go see them if you wanted.”

“Wee,” Levi said, spinning slowly in his chair.

“I got a third ticket if you want to invite Petra along too. Girl’s night.”

“Girl’s night,” Levi repeated. Why didn’t she just cut off his dick while she was at it?

Ah fuck it. At this point he basically was the sex-less, neutered loser she implied he was. Levi had always been something like a sex-camel. He could go long times without sex, a long time without wanting or desiring another person. But he was in a drought. There wasn’t even anyone on his radar. He might as well get used to being alone for his whole life. He could get a house and be the creepy bachelor down the street like Mr. Rogers. Looking down at his cardigan, he realized he already looked the part.

“Or take the tickets and take the boys.”

“The boys,” he repeated slouching so low in his chair that his chin was touching his chest.

“Or just don’t go.”

“There’s an idea.”

“But you never go anywhere anymore. And I’m worried about you.”

“I’m fine,” he lied.

“I think you’re depressed.”

“That’s why I take the little brain pills. Can’t you tell by how happy I am?” he pointed at his face, completely devoid of emotion.

Christ, it was bad enough she made him text her once a day to see if he was okay.

“Well, please come out with us?”

He knew he’d cave eventually so just to save her bothering him any further he agreed.

<*>

“You didn’t tell me it was at Hannes,” Levi grumbled.

“I can’t believe you got us tickets for Rogue Titan,” Petra said for the millionth time, pulling on Hanji’s arm.

“Who is Rogue Titan?” Levi asked and some girl all decked out in Rogue Titan gear gave a shocked gasp.

“They’re like the first band from Sina to go big. We’re not exactly a music city. They play them all the time on the local radios and I heard they just got signed with a big record label. Most of their fans are online. It’s not like they’re on the Top 40, but I keep hearing about them.”

“Yeah, but are they any good?” Levi asked.

“Honestly if they weren’t a local band I don’t think I’d have heard of them at all. But I like them. I listen to their Soundcloud all the time.”

“How come I haven’t heard of them?”

Petra didn’t have an answer for that, she only shared a look with Hanji.

Because you never go out anywhere and you never try anything new and you never do anything. Remember when you used to be interesting? And not the only guy in a ‘girl’s night’ group?

Well judging by how crowded it was they must have been very popular. It was SRO. Most of their fans were teenage girls who weren’t old enough to drink. They were late for the show and the band was already more than halfway through their set. The bass was cranked way too high and Levi couldn’t even see the stage. He had to carve a path to get to the bar and order Hanji and Petra’s drinks. After shouting at the top of his lungs for a good two minutes to convey his order to the bartender he finally managed to get Petra’s piña colada and Hanji’s beer.

“It’s great to be back in Sina City!” the lead singer shouted and Levi was right by the speakers.

God this was awful. Why had he let them drag him out? And to Hannes? The last time he’d been here had been for Eren’s knee weakening performance. It was not a memory he wished to dwell on.

“And back in Hannes’ bar! Last time we played here we had a quarter of the crowd. Make some noise!”

Please don’t—goddamnit there went his eardrums.

“I’d like to thank Hannes, our manager for forcing us to play here tonight.”

There were some laughs.

“This next song is the one that’s really taking off online.”

There were screams from the entire female population of the bar.

“So I had a crush on a guy…” the lead singer confessed into his microphone. More screams.

Really? The girls liked him even better gay. Levi started cutting a path back to the standing table where he’d left Petra and Hanji.

“I love you, Eren!” a girl screamed

“I love you too, drunk chick!” he pointed into the crowd and laughed.

Wait, Eren? Levi was hearing things.

“And he was really dreamy. He could do a hundred pushups without breaking a sweat and, uh, he was a painter and he was just fucking gorgeous.”

“Ooo,” one of the other bandmates teased into the microphone.

“But, you know, neither of us made a move and nothing happened. So this is a song about regret and what might have been and moving on.”

Finally the crowd surged and Levi could move. Only he was right by the stage. Staring up at Eren Jaeger. Levi froze.

It was a sad song and the crowd settled down from the previous one, swaying together and singing along. Levi didn’t know the words, but he didn’t need to because he’d lived them. Eren was singing with his eyes closed but when he opened them he caught Levi’s gaze and those green eyes went wide. Levi couldn’t shake out of his shock, just staring up at him open mouthed holding that stupid fruity drink of Petra’s.

A drunk girl slammed into Levi, spilling both drinks all over himself and the spell was broken. When he looked back at the stage Eren wasn’t looking at him and maybe he hadn’t been to begin with. He staggered to Hanji and Petra like a drunk man.

“What happened to the drinks?” Hanji asked eyeing his soaking wet appearance.

“I’m wearing them.”

“I didn’t know Eren was in Rogue Titan, isn’t this amazing?” Petra asked, swaying along happily. “We know a rockstar!”

“I’m leaving,” he informed them.

“Wait, why?” Petra asked.

He was already gone and out the side door. The doorman tried to inform him that he wouldn’t be let back in but Levi didn’t care. He fell against the dirty alley wall and stayed there, his fingers running over the brick like it was his favorite blanket, and taking deep breaths, only to have them stuck in his throat when he made to exhale.

He had thought his feelings for Eren were one sided and unrequited, but apparently that wasn’t the case. And even if Eren did feel something for him once, he clearly didn’t anymore. Regret and what might have been and moving on. Levi had been singing that same song for the past year, only he hadn’t moved on.

“Why didn’t I get on the boat?” he shouted and kicked the brick wall, bruising his toe. “Ow.”

He had gone back to a relationship he knew would fail rather than take a chance. Why? Because he thought Eren was straight? Because Eren was ten years younger than him? So it might not have worked out. Relationships like that usually don’t. But fuck, he could have tried! And now he’d never know.

“I should have gotten on the boat,” he whispered, sliding down the wall.

There was no one to blame but himself. Once again he was the villain of his own story.

“Levi!” Petra shouted, stumbling into the alley. “Why’d you leave?”

“I want to go home,” he said staring at the wall above him so they couldn’t see how watery his eyes were.

“Why?” Petra asked.

“Okay, let’s go then,” Hanji nodded understandingly and came to lean against the wall next to him. “Want to wait here for a few minutes?”

Levi nodded, swallowing hard.

“Levi…” Petra said softly. “Did you and Eren have…a thing?”

Well if Petra had been listening to the lyrics at all she would know the answer to that was no. He shook his head, but the pinched line of his mouth and his furrowed brow gave him away and she wrapped her arms around him. They stayed like that for a good long time.

“Oh Levi…c’mon let’s get you home.”

The side doors opened and spilled light and noise into the empty alleyway. Eren and his band stumbled out laughing. Fuck. Eren pulled up short when he saw Levi, just like when he’d seen him coming off stage the first time.

“Eren, we gotta pack up and go,” Jean nudged him.

“Yeah, I’ll be there in a sec. Yo Levi!”

Levi nodded coolly.

“Eren!” Petra said giving him a large hug that he reciprocated. “I didn’t know Rogue Titan was your band! We’re all so happy for you!”

“Are you?” he asked, looking at Levi with a wary expression.

“Yeah, kid,” Levi managed. “You did good. You guys sound good.”

“Heh. Not bad for a stoner loser, right?” Eren asked shrugging with a crooked grin on his face, a hint of that smile Levi loved so much.

You were never that to me. You were always so much more and you know that. I’m sorry I didn’t say it. I’m sorry I’m not saying it now. I was a fucking coward then and I’m a fucking coward now.

Eren bit his lip, perhaps aware of how bitter he sounded.

“Anyway, how’re you? You still at the Survey Corp?”

“Yeah.”

“Cool, cool. You still painting?”

“Every day.”

“Cool.”

“Eren!” Jean shouted.

“Hey, I gotta go, but it was cool seeing you guys. Bye Petra!” he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek and waved at Hanji. “And you too Levi. Stay cool, dude. Bye!”

Dude. He called him dude.

“...Let’s go home and we can watch more Sex and the City,” Hanji suggested.

<*>

“How’d that go?” Jean asked as they packed up Reiner’s drums.

“I called him ‘dude,’” Eren said in a horrified whisper.

Jean shook his head. Ymir laughed and Reiner clapped him on the back sympathetically.

“It probably wasn’t as bad as you think,” Bert said kindly.

Eren groaned, rolling around on the padded blanket lining the van.

Chapter Text

Eren had spent so much time in his late teens and early twenties trying to find himself. Most days he wished someone would come up to him, put their hands on his shoulders and tell him exactly who he was and who he was supposed to be. The result was often he felt like there were many different Eren’s all hiding out within an Eren shaped form, each one fighting for dominance.

So it was strange when a record label executive stood up and told Eren exactly who he was. Of course, the Eren he described felt nothing like the real Eren. More like some homunculus-Eren. All of the traits the record exec described were Eren’s most “marketable features.” As the lead singer and frontman, he was the face of the band. He was the cash.

“Yeah, but not the talent,” Jean joked, leaning back in the expensive chairs, looking sideways at Eren.

Ymir gave an appreciative cackle. The record exec and his staff took that as their cue to laugh vacuously. Eren gave Jean a pained expression.

“Hey guys,” Hannes interjected. “Let’s keep the infighting to a minimum. Get big and then you can have a huge public break up.” He gave a hiccupping laugh, having imbibed far too much of the free champagne.

“That’s why I keep you around. To keep me humble,” Eren joked back. More fawning laughter.

Of course, they didn’t know what Jean really said was, “Dude, you good?”

And what Eren had really said was, “No, not really.”

Jean’s expression at this was, “Well suck it up.”

Eren sighed.

“Were you paying attention?” Hannes poked Eren.

When the bar manager came to them after their first few performances and said he wanted to represent them, Eren had brushed him off. The man was an alcoholic and besides they were just playing for fun. Hannes may have been a lush, but he knew talent when he saw it. He pushed them and now they were here. They had finished recording. This was really happening.

“Sortof. Sorry, the late nights are fucking with my ADHD meds. Say again?”

“They held a contest to pick the album art and they’re down to the final five.”

“Oh,” said Eren, his disappointment evident.

The record exec looked at Hannes for clarification.

“I think,” translated Jean. “We were hoping to have a little more artistic input. I mean, it is our band name on the cover.”

“Since most of your fanbase is online and local, we thought it was a good way to have the fans feel included and invested in the album. This way they’re more likely to purchase it than download illegally. Also for a freshman band releasing their first album, usually there is a lot more input from the record label into the artistic design.”

Eren couldn’t really argue with that.

“We’ve picked our two favorites of the top five and made mockups of how it would look as an EP.”

That’s right. They were releasing the EP first, then the album later. Eren didn’t understand what the point was. Why couldn’t they just release the album?

Money. Money was why. He hadn’t paid attention but the answer was always money.

“What about this one?” Eren asked, standing up and picking up one of the discarded prints.

Jean came over to stand behind him.

“I like it,” Jean said as Eren brushed his thumb over the print, expecting to feel the bumps of oil on canvas, but feeling only the posterboard. “Ymir?”

“I hate all of these,” she said dismissively, putting her feet up on the expensive chairs.

“Yeah, but you hate everything,” Jean said flipping her off.

“Well that was one of the Top 5 but not one of the—“

“Reiner? Bert?”

“If you and Jean both like it, then you know I probably do too,” Reiner said shrugging and Bert nodded.

Getting Jean and Eren to agree on one thing was always difficult.

“Ah well that wasn’t one of the two we had picked out for—“

“Well you said we needed artwork for the EP and then artwork for the album. So this can be for the EP and one of those two can be for the album,” Jean informed them.

“Of—of course.”

Jean was one of those selfish pricks who always got what he wanted and at times that could be very useful. Eren looked at the bright colors of the EP artwork, smiling. He held it for the other’s to see. Ymir finally grunted her approval. They voted unanimously on the album art and that was that.

“Who are the artists for these?” Eren asked.

“Uh, the winner of the contest is Mina Carolina and uh…” the assistant shuffled through a bunch of papers. “The one you picked for the EP artwork is a Levi Ackerman.”

Eren’s smile fell. He looked at the mock up again. Of course he liked it. It was perfect for the EP because the music’s inspiration had painted it. Eren looked around at his bandmates for help.

“Don’t let that asshole fuck with you anymore,” Jean said annoyed, picking the mockup out of his hands. “You liked it before you knew his name was on it. Do you still want it?”

“I don’t know.”

Jean made them take another vote. Ymir was the only one who voted against it. Eren breathed a sigh of relief. The great thing about having a band was that he didn’t have to make all the decisions. They kept it.

Standing outside, blinking in the bright spring sunlight and drinking in the scent of cherry blossoms, Eren thought the whole thing was very surreal.

“What?” his bandmates asked.

He hadn’t realized he’d said it aloud.

“The whole thing is just so surreal,” Erin repeated shrugging.

They agreed.

“I’m just glad to be a part of it all,” Bert said, smiling.

“Stop that,” Eren chastised and they all looked at him. “You were there with us every night packing up and all of those long car rides across country. Don’t act like you’re some stowaway on this ship. You worked hard just like the rest of us. This is our moment.”

Bert flushed a little.

“But it never would have happened without you Eren,” he pointed out.

Feeling guilty after berating the living statue after Levi called him on it, Eren had gone back to apologize. The next time he saw them in the park he invited them to his open mic and the two of them became part of their group of friends. Then he found out that standing remarkably still wasn’t Bert’s only skill. He was a great pianist and trumpet player. When putting together their band Eren had begged him to play keyboard along with Jean’s former band of Ymir and one of his college buds. Then when their drummer dropped out, Reiner filled in and really it just made sense. The five of them together felt right.

Then Jean started posting their videos and recordings on YouTube and Soundcloud using GarageBand as their only editing software. Eren was surprised at their popularity, he hadn’t realized there was a whole audience waiting for him. Thank god for Jean’s ambition or else they never would have gone anywhere. They didn’t have that electronic, overproduced sound that most people listened to these days, which must have been a plus. Then Hannes started getting them gigs out of the city at music festivals and things just got crazier from there. Eren never had more inspiration for songs in his life.

It would be a lie to say that Levi was on his mind the entire time. After Levi stormed off the boat, Eren had fumed and taken it out anyways. Fuck short guy, he’d cursed. Then he got out his bong and lit up a bowl and watched the sunset. Fuck Dad. He exhaled. Fuck cancer for taking Mom.

Then in a classic Eren tantrum, the kind he hadn’t had in several years, he threw all his pipes in the water. He stabbed at the water bed with a nail, popping it and he ripped the posters down from the walls of the cabin. He threw his trophies over the side and he had been about to throw his guitar overboard, but something stopped him and he was glad it did.

When he came down from his anger, the cabin was soaking wet and freezing in the early April air. He stayed out on the water for half the week, just him and the guitar he named after Mom. When he came back, Mikasa and Armin were frantic.

“I called the Coast Guard!” Mikasa screamed, tears streaming down her face. “I called the police! You can’t fucking do that shit, Eren!”

Armin didn’t say anything, he just looked at Eren knowingly and Eren felt that crushing guilt like when he’d gotten kicked off the team in high school. That look was too familiar. Eren hadn’t changed a bit from high school. Had Eren just been fooling himself that he had? He’d tried so hard to be different and then nothing happened.

Mikasa and Armin had helped him clean it out, picking the glass shards out of the carpet and tossing the remains of the mattress. Then the band picked up and he was never home. Not at Dad’s, not at Mikasa’s, and not at Armin’s, no his home was in the back of Annie’s old van that they bought for $500. Being on the road was strange. There was no privacy. Someone was always there. Whether it was washing their hair in the sinks at truck stops or curling up on the blowup mattress so Ymir could have the bed or fighting with Jean over who called shotgun, there was never a moment to himself. And yet he was always alone in his mind. He retreated back in there so often, Jean started calling him Space Cadet. But there was no Levi back in that headspace. He’d banished Levi and every thought and feeling that went with him. He poured that anger and sadness into his songs, like drawing poison from a wound. In that form they couldn’t hurt him. In that form they were only a ghost of the real thing.

Now it was a whole year since he’d trashed the houseboat and whole year since he’d seen Levi. This time Eren knew he had changed. He didn’t force it. It just happened and one day he woke up and looking within himself was like looking down the corridor of a mirrored funhouse. Rows and rows of past Erens lined up waving at him shyly like Levi that first night at the bar.

Levi had looked so shocked to see Eren on stage last night. Eren assumed Levi had been following some of his skyrocket to fame. Maybe that was the egoist of a performer, but he assumed Levi had at least heard of his band. Clearly not.

Then coming home to the houseboat and finding Levi’s book sitting on one of the shelves, it had all hit him hard. The problem with pushing your feelings to the side is sometimes they push back and knock you flat on your ass.

After the tsunami hit Japan, bits of flotsam found its way onto the west coast. Polished shards of plastic etched with kanji characters. Beauty product packaging, diaper containers, and the rubber soles of shoes. If it could float, the water carried it all the way to the West Coast and onto the Sina shore. Eren remembered picking up the pieces on the shoreline like they were polished beach glass and sticking them in a plastic bag to look over later. He ran a finger over the characters trying to divine their meaning. And maybe it was because he was high but he could have sworn they meant something. Something he was meant to find. There had to be some meaning to it to explain the tightness in his chest.

Seeing Levi’s book reminded Eren of the plastic mess on the beach. Faded from being left in the sun, the pages wavy from the salt-water in the air, it had seen better days. Eren picked it up and turned it over to read the back cover. He spent his first night home reading the book. Because it had to mean something, right?

But no. It was just a book. The lettering on the beach was just an old makeup compact. The wicker chair on the porch of Eren’s childhood home was just a chair. The worst thing to realize is that tragedy means nothing. We try to make sense of it, because there has to be a meaning behind something that hurts us. Otherwise why would God put us through that pain? The best answer Eren could come up with was that shit happens.

Yes, the shit that happened with Levi was upsetting and confusing, but only because Eren couldn’t figure out the meaning behind it.

It was time to stop with his self-imposed exile from Sina, his self-imposed exile from himself. He’d separated himself into his music and now he needed to claim that bit of his soul back. Time to stop waiting for life to have a meaning and start defining the meaning for himself.

“Hey Hannes,” he said into his new cellphone. He realized the first person he’d ever called was his manager. How fucked up was that? “Yeah. Yeah. No, I’m good. I like sleeping in the houseboat. No, I’m not sleeping in a hotel room, I’m so tired of cheap hotel rooms. Yeah, I blew up the air mattress. No, it’s fine, it works a lot better when Reiner or Bertholdt aren’t on it. Reiner just makes the whole thing tip to one side and Bertholdt sleeps like a Dutch windmill. Huh? Ew, no. That’s why we put a sock on the door, Hannes, so you don’t walk in on that shit. Hey, so I was wondering about the release party. Yeah. Are the artists for the EP and album art invited?”

He bit his lip hoping he didn’t sound too obvious. But Hannes didn’t know the story between him and Levi so he didn’t know why he was so nervous. Hannes said he didn’t know but he’d check in the morning and he’d invite them.

“I mean, I think it’s only polite, right?” Eren said.

He said good-night and fell asleep with a small smile on his lips. Take a step back. Figure out what needs to be done. Do that thing.

Chapter Text

“You were the runner up!” Hanji informed Levi cheerily.

“Wee,” Levi yawned.

“So your art is going to be on the EP! You’ll get a percentage of a point or something like that for each EP sold. I’m not sure what the breakdown is, but it’s not nothing. Cross your fingers and pray the EP does well.”

“Woo.” It was the most cheer he could summon.

“And you’re invited to the full album release party.”

“You go.”

“A chance to hobnob with the elite and make a whole new set of clients? You bet your bippy I’m going!”

Then walking down the street he passed a record store (a fossil if there ever was one) and saw his painting in the window. He did a double take before deciding to go in and buy the EP.

“How is it?” Hanji asked.

“Good. You know it’s funny because I’m pretty sure Eren doesn’t know what an EP is.”

“No one does,” Hanji chuckled on the other end.

“Did you change your mind about the release party?”

“Nah,” he said, paintbrush in hand. “I don’t want to be the big dark cloud that rains on his day. Let him have his big moment. I don’t want to ruin it.”

Hanji was silent on the other end and Levi could tell she was thinking of something nice to say, but really there are only so many platitudes you can give someone before you give up.

“I don’t like confrontation anyways,” he explained.

“If you’re sure.”

“I am. Be sure to text me from there.”

<*>

When he couldn’t sleep or when he couldn’t paint, Levi spent his time watching trashy reality tv shows.

“What’re you up to?” Hanji asked, calling him over the phone, having noticed he was still on chat and therefore still up.

“Housewives of something. I don’t know, I started it and now I can’t change the channel because these shitty cats won’t get off me.”

“You liar, you love that crap you just won’t admit it.”

“What’re you up to?”

“Watching Orange is the New Black and masturbating.”

“Natasha Lyon?” Levi guessed.

“She does it for me.”

Levi gave a small grunt of approval.

“Who was the first celebrity you had a crush on? Like the celebrity who sparked your sexual awakening?” she asked through a mouthful of something.

“I’m not telling you,” he said, trying to shift the cat off his lap because it was digging its claws into his balls. “Ouch, you stupid cat.”

“Okay, I’ll go first. Patrick Swayze (may he rest in peace) in Dirty Dancing.”

“Still not telling you.”

“You’re lame. Anyways, go to beddd. Then get up and paint more. Make me some money, bitch. Whippish!” she pretended to crack a whip.

“I’ve had enough of you pimping me out.”

“It’s hard out here for a pimp. Okay, go to bed. Love you!”

“Yeah, yeah.”

But he didn’t and when the phone rang again, he answered with a, “David Bowie’s stuffed codpiece in Labyrinth.”

“Huh?” said the voice on the other end. “Who is this?”

“Uhhh…” Levi paused to look at the phone and saw it was an unknown number. “You called me. Who is this?”

There was a great deal of noise and chatter on the other end.

“Okay so—“ his mystery caller started. “Don’t hang up. So, this is going to sound weird, but—quiet you guys—but okay um…”

Levi listened with growing amusement.

“My friend is transferring all of his contacts from my phone onto his phone. But he didn’t save them with their real names, just like “Red Head on Beach,” “Short Skirt Long Jacket,” and “Sexy Al Franken” so we are calling them and trying to figure out who they are.”

Levi bit his lip to keep from chuckling.

“So uh…who are you?” the mystery caller ended pathetically.

“Depends. What did he save me as?” Levi said, playfully.

“Why don’t you tell me who you are first?” his caller dodged artfully.

“Well, who is your friend?” Levi tried.

He hoped it wasn’t some guy he’d given his number to in the bar. Or maybe he did? It had been a long time since he’d talked to anyone new and he refused to sign up on Grindr or any of those other terrible dating or hookup sites.

“Why don’t you describe yourself?” the voice on the other end was very good at this game. “And we can guess?”

“We?”

“Oh yeah, we’re all just sitting here getting drunk and calling up the random names on his phone. He wouldn’t let us call you earlier, but he’s in the bathroom now.”

Levi could hear a few giggles on the other end and he got the feeling he was being pranked.

“Right, well I don’t think your friend would like it if he found out you were calling me, so I’m going to hang up unless you tell me who he is.”

“Uh wait! Let’s just say if you met him you wouldn’t forget him. He’s that kind of guy.”

Levi racked his brain trying to figure out the last few people he gave his number to but he came up blank.

“Maybe he entered in the wrong number, because I don’t give my number out to strangers.”

There was a loud voice in the background on the other line, “Hey, did we ever figure out who ‘Future Husband’ with ‘Occupation: Great Ass’ was?”

Then a bunch of people shushed the loudmouth. Wait, he knew that loudmouth and his braying voice.

“Wait, is this Armin?” Levi remembered the barista at the café whose phone Eren used all the time. Which meant the loud guy in the background was Jean.

“Uhhh…” said Armin at the same time he heard Eren in the background going “What are you guys doing? Shit! Hang up! Hang up!”

Levi’s playful mood soured instantly.

“Don’t call this number ever again.”

He hung up and dropped the phone like it were a poisonous snake.

When a second unknown number called he hit ignore. The number rang again and he answered it.

“Hey, sorry about my friends,” said Eren quietly. “They can be real assholes sometimes.”

“How did you even get my number?” Levi asked.

“Oh, Petra gave it to me on that day you tried to drown me.”

“Petra,” Levi growled, shaking his fist.

“Anyway I finally got a cellphone so this is my number.”

“Right.”

There was an awkward, excruciating silence and Levi just wanted to crawl into a hole and die.

“Well, sorry to have bothered you. It’s late so I’ll—“ Eren started.

“Wait, ‘Occupation: Great Ass?’” Levi asked, the weight of the words finally hitting him.

“Fuck off,” Eren gave a relieved laugh and Levi felt his stomach do several backflips.

<*>

“Guess where I am?” Eren said as Levi just walked in the door carrying several reusable bags of produce. Eren sounded wistful and morose. It had been a few days since their brief and awkward chat and Levi half expected them to never talk again.

“Uhhh…I don’t know, where are you?”

“I’m in Rose City at the Castle Towers.”

“Fancy,” Levi said, tucking the phone under his chin. “Fuck off, get out of the way you little shits.”

“Huh?”

“Not you, sorry. My cats are begging. They’re always underfoot.”

“You have cats now?” Eren asked excitedly.

“Yes and they are assholes.”

“What are their names?”

“Sawny and Bean.”

“Oh…why?”

“Oh, well. Hange named them. It was sortof an inside joke. I said something about how if I die alone at least I’ll have the cats for company and she said they would most likely eat my face after I died. So she gave them the names of some cannibal tribes, I don’t know. I have serious buyer’s remorse, they’re disgusting and get cat hair everywhere.”

“I bet you’re such a catdad,” Eren teased and Levi could hear him smiling over the phone. “I bet your phone is just all cat photos and you buy them super expensive wet cat food and spoil them.”

“Do not. I hate the little shits,” Levi said setting the grocery bags on the counter and putting the expensive cat food in the refrigerator.

“Send me a picture,” Eren prodded.

Levi thumbed through several pictures of the cats and landscapes before finding one where Sawny wasn’t hiding and hit send.

“The orange one with the smush face and underbite is Sawny. She’s camera shy. Bean is the fat black one shamelessly showing off his belly.”

“They’re so fluffy!”

“I have to vacuum twice a week because of them.”

Eren sent him a photo of the view from the Castle Towers, with the sun low on the horizon.

“We’re playing a concert tonight to promote the album,” Eren explained. “The record label put us up here for the night.”

“Nice of them to foot the bill,” Levi said evenly.

“It’s—it’s a little overwhelming.”

Ah, so that’s why Eren had called.

“But it’s nothing you haven’t done before,” Levi said in the same calm voice.

“I suppose.”

There was a pause and Levi started prepping dinner.

“What about you—what are you up to?” Eren asked and his voice sounded tight.

“I am making grilled salmon, with lemon and grilled carrots, fingerling potatoes, and a garlic cauliflower puree.”

“Shit that sounds good.”

“It is.”

“Much better than the room service here. I know the record label is footing the bill but a $15 hamburger is hard to rationalize.”

“Ugh burgers.”

“I didn’t know you could cook.”

“Of course I can cook. Everyone can cook. In this day and age it is neither cute nor endearing when a grown ass man can’t feed himself.”

“Well, yeah, but salmon is fancy. The only thing I can make is ramen.”

“Ramen, eh? Classy.”

“Hey, fuck you, I’m like on that Martha Stewart level I’m so classy.”

“You know she went to federal prison, right?”

“You want fancy Ramen? I will give you fucking egg Ramen.”

“Egg Ramen?” Levi laughed.

“You want extra special? I’ll give you two-egg Ramen.”

“Two-egg Ramen, just go all out.”

“What if I fuck up tonight?” Eren asked quietly, breaking their fun nonsense.

“Then you’ve got four other members up there to help you out. It’s not just you, you’re a team. You need to put your faith in them.”

“Just—I keep thinking how embarrassing it would be if I forgot the words to my own song. I don’t want to let the others down.”

“Well you know the old choir standby, right? Just mouth ‘watermelon’ and pretend your mic cut out. Or—my personal favorite—pretend to adjust your dentures.”

Eren snorted.

<*>

Levi spent all of the next weekend in the studio painting and his neck was sore so he drew a bath, using some bath salts and lighting a few scented candles. He felt very much like the protagonist of a Lifetime movie, but didn’t care. The water felt good and he could feel the knots working out of his neck.

When the phone buzzed, he assumed it was Hanji calling from the release party and answered it automatically.

“You’re not coming,” the other voice said in disappointment on the other end.

Levi blinked.

“Eren?”

“Yeah boyyy,” he slurred. Ugh, Flava Flav was the worst. “Why do you sound funny?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like you sound all echo-y.”

“Oh, I’m in the bathroom.”

“Are you taking a shit?” Eren asked, his voice teasing like a child at recess.

“What? No. I’m taking a bath.”

There was a sharp intake of breath as Eren comprehended was Levi was saying and Levi desperately wished he hadn’t said anything. He felt his face heat up and he was glad Eren couldn’t see him.

“A bath?” Eren laughed hysterically.

“It’s not that funny—“

“Rubber ducky, you’re the one! You make bathtime lots of fun!”

“Stoppp,” Levi laughed mortified. “So how drunk are you?”

“Not that drunk? I mean I’m carrying around this bottle of Glen something. Who is Glen? We just don’t know.”

“Glenlivet? That’s good shit. Don’t waste it.”

“Who is he? Is he famous? Is he like a golfer?”

“Well, it is Scottish, so you’re close.”

“Do you think Glen had dreams of being on a bottle? I want to be on a bottle. But like a bottle of stuff that doesn’t taste like burn-y shit. Like something for the people. Wine coolers and shit. No, but really I’m not that drunk, I’m just at that nice buzz level.”

“I know,” said Levi simply.

“You know?”

“Yeah. You’d rather play the fool than play it cool. I get it. What’s it like there?”

“Oh,” said Eren biting back a smile and taking a look around. “You know. Penthouse of the Historia. The fancy one, not the one with the neon flamingo.”

“I gathered as much.”

“It’s fancy. It has a pool within a pool. There were corporate assholes doing coke in the bathroom.”

“And you’re walking around with a bottle of Scotch in your hands?”

“Hey, that’s what rockstars do, right?” Eren asked, leaning against a wall. “To be honest I’m always worried I’m going to chip my teeth on a bottle. I like my teeth.”

I like your teeth too, Levi thought.

“Who all is there?”

“Everyone. Fucking everyone.”

“Is Hanji—“

“Yeah, she’s out here pimping herself. She’s talking to some magnificent creature of indeterminate gender. Could be Bowie, could be Swinton, could be La Roux. Oh shit, is it La Roux? No. No, it’s not, but still! Hanji has given her card to at least twenty people. I like that girl, she’s got moxie.” He hummed. “Let’s see. Well, Jean and Marco are off somewhere having a wee tiff. Owing to the fact that Jean is a manwhore and came on to two other people. Ymir—she’s our bassist—“

“Wow, female bassist. Haven’t heard of that in a band before.”

“Fuck off. She struck out again and is taking up residence in the hot tub fully clothed. She’s so evil and bitchy that we don’t even need to turn the bubbles on, she just heats it right up.”

“What are you saying about me?” Ymir asked in the background.

“I was saying how beautiful you look dahling. Ow, fuck. She threw her shoe at me.” Eren hummed the Jeopardy theme as he moved on. “Bert and Reiner are making out. Ew.”

“Who is Reiner?”

“He’s our drummer. You met him. He was the mime who shoved me off the wharf.”

“Oh. I just always called him Ernie in my head. You know, Bert and Ernie…?”

“Oh man, that’s good, Ima call him that from now on.”

“You’re welcome.”

“All my friends are here. Mikasa and Armin are haunting the tennis table which is good because last time Armin got drunk he took off his shirt and demanded we call him the Highlander. MCLEOD!” he shouted and Levi pulled the phone away from his ear as Armin answered back “THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE!”

“Umm, let’s see. All my friends are here. I have a posse now. Connie and Sasha brought shrooms and they’re tripping. Security is watching them so they don’t drown in the pool because apparently that is a thing that has happened before. And I may have been a lifeguard but I am not giving anyone the kiss of life. Ima put you on speakerphone so you can listen to this shit.”

There was a beep and Levi could suddenly hear a great deal of background noise.

“The dame walked in and I could tell she had a lot on her mind. She had curves in all the right places. A body like Lana Turner but the crazy to match—“

“Connie thinks he’s in a noir movie,” Eren informed Levi, taking him off speaker.

“Well tell Dick Tracy there to take it easy,” Levi said.

“Don’t shake it!” someone shouted in the background.

“And Sasha thinks she’s an Etch-A-Sketch. Or she sees everything as an Etch-A-Sketch? I’m not totally sure.”

“I can taste it!” Sasha informed them.

“Okay, she tastes Etch-A-Sketch. Oh, Marco’s here now. Annnd Dumb and Dumber here gave him shrooms too. Wow, thanks a lot guys.”

“Wilson!” Marco asked in a tiny voice. “Wilson!”

“I’m here, baby,” Jean said sweetly.

“What?” Levi asked as Eren dissolved into laughter.

“He’s on the Ottoman and thinks he’s Tom Hanks on the island.”

“This isn’t fucking funny dickmunch!” Jean shouted. “He’s really freaking out!”

“A bad trip can really fuck you up,” Levi said. “You can have serious PTSD.”

“Okay, hold on, I’m setting the phone down.” Levi heard the clink as Eren set the phone down on some flat surface and hit speaker again.

Levi could hear him singing lowly.

“And he’s off the island folks! It’s okay, you get to be with Helen Hunt now. Levi? You still there?”

“I’m here,” Levi said, resting his head on the back of his tub and looking at the crown molding on his ceiling.

“It’s crazy out here, hold on.”

The sound cut out suddenly.

“Now it’s just you and me,” Eren said softly. “And Glen.” He took a swig. “Ack, burn-y. So how about you?”

“Well there’s no one here. Just me and Mr. Ducky and the shitty cats.”

“I wish you’d come here tonight.”

“I know.”

<*>

Later in the week, Levi was hosting a boy’s night as they watched soccer since Erd claimed his television was the largest and his couch the comfiest. They no longer came over for poker since last Levi took them for all they were worth and soccer was the only thing to watch in the summer.

Eren texted him a picture of his face with the caption, “Reiner is rly good at eyeliner. years of mime practice. wat do you think? new look?”

“Johnny Depp? is that you?” Levi texted back with a small snort.

Gunter looked over at his phone and exchanged a look with Erd.

“This game is fucking bullshit,” Aururo groaned. “What are they paying you ref!?”

“fuck you. i look great. i was going for Keith Richards.”

Levi checked it and gave another snort. At Erd’s expression, he shrugged. But then his phone blipped again with a picture of Jean with a dick drawn on his sleeping face and the caption, “the many uses of eyeliner.”

“you should send that to his boyfriend,” Levi texted back.

“who do you think drew it?”

“So how’s Eren’s band doing?” Erd asked casually.

Levi shrugged. “Good, I guess.”

Eren and company were back in Rose City. They’d flown into Sina City for the release party and then back to Rose City for more promotion. Levi figured Eren and his band had cabin fever from being stuck in the hotel, only going out for interviews.

He thumbed through his phone and found the picture of Bean asleep in a ridiculous pose and sent it to Eren.

“bahaha, his tongue is out!”

“Right,” Erd nodded and Levi figured he should put his phone away.

He felt it buzz again and this time Eren was calling him so he stood up to answer it in the kitchen.

“You guys want anything?” he offered before swiping over to answer. They shook their heads.

“Hey,” said Eren.

“Hey.”

“I didn’t interrupt another bath, did I?” Eren asked.

“No, I just have the guys over and we’re watching soccer.”

“Futball,” Eren corrected. “And since when do you like soccer?”

“I don’t. I watch it for the hot guys.”

Eren laughed nervously. “Hey so…can I ask you something?”

“Go for it.”

“Why didn’t you come to the release party?”

Levi’s breath hitched but he saw no point in lying, “I didn’t feel like it.”

There was a pause and then Eren continued, “It’s just—I guess I really wanted you to be there and I got more upset than I thought I would when you didn’t show.”

“Whoopsie. Sorry.” Levi messed with the magnets on his fridge.

“I’m trying really hard not to be mad about it but it’s really hard. It was just like when you didn’t show up for my open mic all over again.”

“…I’m sorry I didn’t realize you were pissed at me for that.”

“Of course I was!” Eren blurted out, his voice rising slightly. “You practically pushed me into guitar and then when I finally perform you couldn’t bother to turn up!”

“I didn’t push you into anything! And if I did it was because I had tinnitus from your terrible drumming!” Levi snapped defensively.

“Why are you like this?” Eren shouted frustrated.

“I’m sorry I’m not psychic. I can’t tell when you’re mad at me if you don’t tell me.”

“I’m always mad at you! Because you say mean shitty things and then I always forgive you. Christ, why do I even bother?”

“Why do you?” Levi snapped and turned his back so the others on the couch couldn’t see him. “Why do you keep bothering me? You descended on my life like a fucking plague of locusts! You took over my job, my favorite café, my park! You left a flurry of jeans everywhere last time you were at my apartment! And now, my favorite part is that I can’t scooter to work without seeing your face on a billboard! What is it you want? What more could you want from me?”

“You’re mad at me?” Eren asked incredulously. “The fuck did I do?”

“Oh nothing. You just wrote a song about how I broke your heart like I’m some fucking criminal when I had no fucking idea you were even the slightest bit into me! Do you have any idea how humiliating that is? That my friends and coworkers know you’re talking about me? Jesus, why did you have to set up camp outside my office? Why?”

“Well, why didn’t you get on the boat, Levi!?” Eren’s shout was so loud the others turned around to look at him.

Levi’s breath hitched.

“You know what? Forget it,” Eren muttered and hung up.

Levi gave a small cry of frustration and threw his phone on the couch. He sat back down and glowered at the soccer match on the screen. The phone rang and he hit ignore. Then it rang again and he put a pillow over it and punched it once for extra measure.

“Everything good?” Erd asked.

“Just peachy!” Levi snapped.

The phone kept buzzing so he answered it with a rough, “What?” as he stormed from the living room and into the second bedroom that had previously served as his studio but now functioned as his study.

“I’m sooo sorry that I dared to be your friend,” Eren said mockingly. “I’m so sorry that I dared be nice to you.”

“Oh no, really, the pleasure was all mine. I loved being your little pity project. Must have felt good for you to focus on fixing my life instead of your own!”

“You know what? You’re a sad, bitter, old man and you better take care of those fucking cats because I guarantee you there won’t be anyone else because you push everyone away,” Eren said bitingly.

“How’s the view from the top of that mountain, Eren?” Levi asked, his voice low and dangerous. He was saying horrible things he knew he shouldn’t. “Better be careful, the higher you climb, the harder you’ll fall. How long do you think you’re going to play at rockstar? What will you do if the album flops? What will you do when your career fizzles or the band goes belly up? You have a high school education and no skills. You’re going to be an unemployed forty year old with no money and no prospects.”

The line went dead and Levi bit back a vindictive smile. He waited for Eren to call him back. Eren liked to have the last word.

But twenty minutes later he hadn’t. Levi sat on the couch, his arms crossed and his foot tapping anxiously. The others all looked at him uneasily and he tried to ignore it but damnit, why hadn’t Eren called back? A pang of guilt hit him. This was like his bet with Eren during the thunderstorm all over again.

He gave a frustrated sigh and left the room again, locking himself in his study.

“I’m sorry,” was the first thing he said before Eren could say anything first.

“Fuck you,” Eren said and his voice was wobbly, wiping his nose off on his sleeve causing static over the phone. Levi could practically see his swimming bright green eyes and the thought cut into him deep. “I get enough of that shit from my dad I don’t need it from you too.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“You think I don’t know all of that already? I’m so fucking scared that someone is going to pull the rug out from underneath me, that this is all some dream. I don’t need you in my head making it worse.”

“I know. I’m sorry. I—I don’t fight well. I get mean and nasty. It’s easier to just walk away and ice someone out because then I don’t say something I’ll regret.”

There was silence on Eren’s part. Just heavy breathing as Eren tried to calm down.

“And if it makes you feel any better, I really regret not staying on the boat with you.” Levi closed his eyes and leaned against the door, his throat constricting painfully as he ran his thumb over the doorknob.

“Do you ever think about how different it would be if you had?” Eren said in a froggy voice. 

“Yes. I try not to, but I do.”

“What if I hopped on a plane and flew out there tonight?” Eren asked hopefully. “I could be there by morning. We could go out on the pier and watch the sun rise over the bay.”

Levi hesitated. “I think you’d regret it halfway through the taxi ride to the airport.”

“Levi…”

“Look, kid. Right now you’re living the dream. You’re homesick and you miss your friends and family. And I think that now that you have everything, you keep thinking about all the things you don’t have. All of those things that could have gone differently. But maybe those things didn’t happen for a reason.  Maybe they didn’t happen so you could be there in the Castle Towers, living the life you wanted.”

“What if I wanted you in that life?” Eren asked slowly.

Did Eren even know how serious a question that was?

“I think,” Levi said hesitatingly because the words were choking him. “That you have a decision to make. I think you need to take time and think about what you really want.”

Because I can pretty much guarantee you that it isn’t a 33 year old jerk who makes you cry.

“Take time,” Levi continued. “Don’t call or text me until you decide. At least a week or two. And if you decide that you don’t want to—to pursue whatever this is and you want to be just friends, I can do that. And if you decide that you don’t want me in your life at all, I can do that too. But you are so young and have so much time to meet someone who loves you and can give you what you need.”

“You don’t want me to call or text you?” Eren asked in a small voice.

“Just take some time. Please.”

<*>

The boys decided to end their moratorium on poker and Levi once again took them for all they were worth, despite how distracted he was. They didn’t ask, but Levi predicted the second Aururo got home Petra would call him. And she did. He refused to tell her anything so they chatted aimlessly about some celebrity nonsense. She was far too invested in Kimye’s romance and their baby.

Levi couldn’t sleep that night. He thought he heard Eren knock at the door. He slipped out of bed and unlocked it and looked outside and down the hallway, but there was nothing. Eren couldn’t have even jumped aboard a flight that fast, he scolded himself.

And then in the morning he was able to glimpse the first rays of light through his shades and he still hadn’t slept. The sun must be coming up over the bay about now.

The first week passed and Levi felt he could at least take pride in what he’d asked of Eren. Really, it would have been selfish of him to ask Eren to fly to him. To be with him. The whole thing was ridiculous. They barely knew each other!

Somehow that thought hurt even worse. They hadn’t had time to get to know each other.

Then the second week passed. Levi had told Eren to ignore him until he made up his mind but Levi couldn’t avoid Eren. He was everywhere. He was being interviewed on the radio. He was on the television. He was still up on that fucking billboard.

“So this single, you said it was about a romance that failed to launch?” the interviewer asked and Levi turned it off.

But then it was mid-July. Over a month since he’d asked Eren to make up his mind.

“You know the EP has really helped to sell your paintings,” Hanji informed him. “You should thank Eren.”

“Hm,” replied Levi.

“Have you talked to him at all?” Hanji pried.

“Yeah, uh, he asked me if I wanted him in my life,” Levi said dejectedly.

“Oh?” Hanji’s eyebrows rose into her messy bangs. “…What did you say?”

“I told him to take a week or two to think if I was really what he wanted.”

“And?”

“That was over a month ago.”

“Oh.”

“So I guess he’s made his decision.”

“I see.” There was a long pause and then she switched topics. “Well I was going to suggest you talk to a financial planner because at this point you’re making a decent sum and you could afford to finally quit at the Survey Corp!”

“I’m not quitting,” he said quietly. Without a job he felt untethered and frankly he worried about his mental health if he weren’t forced to get up every day. Painting was his escape and he worried about what would happen if it became his job. Would he lose the love he had for it?

Yet as the July heat crept through the window and he stared at his screen and the Balto account, he desperately wanted out. Was he doing what he had done with Eren? Sticking with the devil he knew instead of taking a chance? He took a sip of tea and looked out the window. He could catch the outline of an ore barge, load bearing, judging by how low in the water she was. The pier was probably crowded with tourists and the sticky smell of ice cream and funnel cakes. Maybe he’d walk down there after work and snap a few photos for inspiration.

He could hear the cry of gulls over the water and he sighed.

“Short guy sitting in a window.”

Levi could almost hear Eren’s voice shouting over his dumb drum. To think it had almost been two years since they first met.

“Short guy is pretty fly.” Crack crack badum!

“What?”

Chapter Text

“Short guy, sitting in the window sipping tea, I’m starting to think he might be the one for me.”

Well his lyrical skills hadn’t improved any.

Levi stuck his head out the window.

“What are you doing?” Levi shouted down at Eren, his face pulled into a wide grin no matter how hard he tried to hide it.

“There you are!”

Levi laughed.

“I’ve been out here for twenty minutes!”

“What? I can’t hear you.”

“Will you marry me?” Eren asked getting down on his knees.

“What? No! You’re crazy!”

“Oh…well, will you go on a date with me then?”

Levi put his hand over his mouth before answering, “Stay there! I’m coming down!”

“What? I can’t hear you!”

Levi disappeared from the window and ran down the stairs, taking them two at a time. But when he got down there, Eren was nowhere to be found.

“Right,” said Eren from the elevator when Mike and Nanaba looked at him curiously. “He took the stairs, didn’t he?”

They nodded. He sighed and hit the button down.

Levi ran outside, then around the atrium, before scratching his head and heading for the elevators. Then they opened and he saw Eren—his Eren. Messy haired, green eyed, terribly rhyming Eren. That look he gave Levi made his knees go weak and he ran and hopped into Eren’s arms.

“Oh,” said Levi in surprise as he wrapped his legs around Eren’s torso and Eren held him up in the air. He looked down at the ground below him and then at Eren who didn’t appear burdened in the slightest.

“Oh yeah, I’ve been working out.”

“Oh,” said Levi in a voice that was practically a purr.

He leaned in and his nose brushed against Eren’s bangs drinking in his scent. He could feel Eren’s soft breath against his lips. Eren screwed up his face and then suddenly turned away.

“I’m home for two weeks before I go on tour for four months.”

Levi blinked.

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

The elevator doors opened again.

“I thought you hit the button—“

“No, I thought you did—“

A grey haired woman entered the elevator humming happily and hit the button for her floor. Levi crawled down out of Eren’s arms awkwardly.

“Six, please,” Levi coughed and she hit the button.

“But—“ Eren continued pleadingly, despite their third wheel. “I want to give this a shot. I want to give us an honest chance.”

“Okay.”

“So go on a date with me. Just one, maybe more if you like the first. If we find out this was just a fluke, we can say at least we tried. And if you like our date maybe we could go on one more.”

The woman hummed along with the elevator music.

“Realistically, where do you see this going?” Levi asked, doubt crushing down on top of him. “I mean, suppose the one date goes great. And the second and the third. And however many until you leave for four months. What do you see happening after that?”

“I don’t know,” Eren admitted. “Happily ever after?”

He gave a small cough and Levi shuffled his feet. The lady stepped off onto her floor.

“But I want you to know,” Eren continued. “I am all in.”

“For what?”

“All of it. Dating, Going steady. Moving in together, getting married. A couple kids, a dog. Fuck it, I want the whole goddamn package.

Levi looked up at him through his glasses and blinked.

“Um, that is…if you want that…” Eren flushed.

“No dog,” Levi said, turning back to the elevator doors.

Eren’s heart skipped a beat and he felt like he floated out of the elevator after Levi.

“I’m taking two weeks’ vacation starting now,” Levi informed Mike, Nanaba and Erwin, who had poked his head out of his office to see what the commotion was.

He grabbed his coat and his cellphone, powered down his work computer and then they were out the door.

“Where to, brat?” Levi asked once they stepped into the sunlight.

“It’s summer. The rides are finally open,” Eren grinned.

“Yes! Salt N’ Pepper shakers here we come.”

“Or—or we could try the arcade games.” Eren was not enthusiastic about Levi’s taste in rides. “Hey, I’ll win you a goldfish.”

“My cats would just eat him.”

<*>

Eren insisted on paying for their day passes. Eren with money was a new experience. Levi missed the moocher-Eren, but still had to admit it was a nice change. They wandered around for a bit. Eren tried his hand at shooting the tin ducks and missed all of them. Levi made every shot and was rewarded with a tiny green frog. He had no idea what to do with such an item and didn’t want to carry it around so he handed it to a small child on her father’s shoulders.

“You’re a big softie,” Eren informed him.

“I just don’t want to cart around a flea ridden, cheaply sewn toy. I’m being practical,” Levi rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, sure,” Eren smiled and nudged him with his elbow.

Levi elbowed him back and the back of Eren’s hand brushed against the back of his. Eren spotted the water guns and he grabbed Levi’s hand and pulled him along. Smooth, kid.

Turns out the Salt N’ Pepper shakers were down for maintenance because a kid had vomited all over the Salt portion.

“You know that is pure sugar, right?” Levi asked twenty minutes later as Eren stuffed a large wisp of cotton candy in his mouth.

“Mmm, tastes like unicorns. You want some?”

“No.” Then when Eren tried to shove some at him, “No! It’s disgusting. You’re going to get cavities.”

“Hey, at least I have dental insurance now. Do you think I need veneers?”

“No, your teeth are gorgeous.”

“Say it again,” Eren grinned and his teeth and tongue were blue.

“Your teeth are gorgeous,” Levi repeated, pulling at Eren’s shirt.

They wound up on the Tilt-O-Whirl. Each one of them seized the wheel and spun it as hard as they could.

“I always thought if I turned it far enough I might be able to spin off and to the moon,” Eren shouted over the screams of the couple next to them.

“That nearly happened in a YouTube video I saw,” Levi said and then gripped at Eren’s sleeve as the machine swung them around.

Eren slipped his arm around Levi’s waist and pulled him close.

“So you don’t fly away,” he whispered into Levi’s temple.

Levi gave the wheel another spin and Eren yelped, grabbing at the handlebar.

“—I don’t think they sanitize those handles,” Levi was saying as they got off the ride, Eren’s arm comfortably resting around his shoulders.

Gravitron, Levi.”

Levi sighed. “The Gravitron is just so…boring.”

“I like it. I was the only one who could stand straight up when the machine was going. It made me feel like a badass space warrior. Like Flash Gordon.”

“Truly, you are the chosen one.”

“Please?” he whined like a little kid into Levi’s ear with his blue stained lips.

“Fine,” Levi rolled his eyes, trying to ignore the shiver up his spine.

Then they were leaning back onto the mats, Eren giddy with excitement and Levi wondering if they could catch lice or bedbugs from the headrests.

“Alright, spacemen and spaceladies,” the cheesy-voiced ride controller spoke into his microphone. “Blast off in 3…2…1…Liftoff!”

The ride started slowly. Eren looked sideways at Levi, grinning. Levi sought out his hand and their fingers intertwined. Levi could feel the pull of G-force against him and he strained to turn as he looked up at Eren with his storm cloud eyes. For once they weren’t cool and disinterested, but instead the bright lights danced off of his frames, and his normally flat eyebrows turned upward hopefully. Levi felt a tug at his stomach that had nothing to do with the ride. Eren’s green eyes trained on his and Levi could feel him searching every part of his face, from his pointed chin to the small cut above his eyebrow, to the slope of his nose before settling on his thin but parted lips.

Fighting against the pull of the ride, Eren leaned down and Levi could smell the cotton candy on his breath and the DJ was playing the Bee Gees, of all things—why did he only hear the Bee Gees on park rides?—and then those lips met his own. His world exploded into a blur of neon lights and “You Should Be Dancing” and blue raspberry flavoring and he brushed his tongue over Eren’s own. The strain of the ride made it hard for him to bridge the distance and then, without warning, and just as they were adjusting to the sensation, Eren’s seat moved upward and he gave a shout.

“No PDA on the Gravitronnn,” the operator informed them in a sleazetastic 90s disc jockey voice.

Eren’s compartment continued to move up and down and Levi started laughing. He started laughing and he couldn’t stop. Tears formed in his eyes and he couldn’t tell if it was the pressure of the ride or if it was something inside him trying to escape. His eyesight blurred and salty droplets fell on his glasses. Eren decided to defy the controller’s orders and turn upside-down and his sneakers nearly hit Levi but he couldn’t stop laughing. He blinked and his view was a prismatic dance of color and his body was pressed against the walls of the machine and he felt euphoric—ecstatic even. He didn’t want to blink. He needed to immortalize this moment. To preserve it in his mind so he could paint it over and over again. The colors, the arcs of light over Eren’s contorting body, his own tears on his glasses. He was lifted outside of himself, outside of a body that had felt nothing but depression and helplessness for as long as he could remember. He could travel to the moon and back and he might have even done so because when the ride slowed and Eren’s attempt to stand resulted in him falling and being yelled at by the ride operator, Levi felt himself return to his body. He slipped back in and no one was any the wiser. His fingers brushed along Eren’s wrist as he was finally able to move his limbs. Then the ride came to a complete halt.

“That guy was a jackass,” Eren complained. “Since when can’t you turn upside-down on the Gravitron? That’s just like some litigious American bullshit. Don’t tell me what to do, man.”

Levi had been in space so long he forgot about the sun and he squinted his eyes closed and tucked his head into Eren’s chest. Eren’s eyes widened at the sudden gesture.

“Want to go on the big wheel?” Eren asked, his arms encircling Levi again. “I know it’s pretty boring but—“

“Yes.” Levi looked up at him.

The line for the big wheel was long, but Levi enjoyed leaning into Eren’s arms. The wait seemed short. Hell, any wait seemed short compared to how long he’d waited to be this close to Eren.

“Really, there are children on this ride!” a mother shouted down at them once they were in the air.

Levi flipped her the bird without looking, too busy sucking on Eren’s tongue.

“I’m going to complain to the staff and have you banned from the park!”

“They won’t kick us out for a little heavy petting.” Eren rolled his eyes. “But my friend Sasha did get kicked out and banned for getting out of the ride and scaling down it for her parkour channel.”

“Your friends are weird,” Levi said sucking at Eren’s neck.

“Also, there is a girl below us literally giving her boyfriend a handy, so I think we’re good.”

“Ew, really?”

They both leaned over to look down.

“Do we still have those peanuts?” Levi asked holding his hand out.

Eren dug around his in pocket for the bag of roasted peanuts and they started pelting the couple.

“One million points if you hit his dick,” Eren said lobbing one.

Levi’s hit the man’s snapback hat and he gave a, “What the hell!?”

“What? Who is throwing peanuts?” Eren shouted loudly as Levi hid behind him.

Levi pulled on Eren’s shirt and their lips met again. Levi ran his lips down behind Eren’s ear, softly nipping at the pinna, eliciting a yelp from Eren, who was busying slipping his hand down Levi’s back pocket. He gave Levi’s ass a squeeze.

“Damn,” he said in admiration.

“You better recognize,” Levi grunted, running his hands through Eren’s hair.

“What do you want to do next?” Eren gasped, coming up for air. “Bumper cars?”

“Yeah, bumper cars. I’ll bump your cars,” Levi muttered nonsensically onto Eren’s lips.

“The swings?”

“Swings. I’ll swing.”

“Or do you want to go make out in the park?” Eren chuckled and the noise reverberated against Levi’s lips.

“Mmm, I like that idea. Or, even better? We go to my place.”

“Oh uh…” Eren hesitated. “It’s just that I know I’m only here for two weeks, but…I wanted to take things slow. I don’t want to rush stuff just because our time together is limited. I want this to last.”

Levi pulled away and looked up at Eren’s flushed face.

“That’s fine.” Levi shrugged

“Really?” Eren was relieved. “I mean, I probably should have said something before I jumped you on the Gravitron, but…”

“That was as much you as it was me.”

Eren looked down at him with amusement in his eyes. Levi had to look away and out at the bay because every time Eren looked at him like that, he felt all the air sucked out of his lungs.

Chapter Text

Bumper cars were a forte of Levi’s.

“Fuck, I should have taken you on the bumper cars the first day you dumped water on me,” Eren said rubbing at his neck. “You would have gotten all your anger out.”

“It’s called Bumper Cars, not ‘No, you first, I insist!’ cars. Don’t get all butthurt just because you can’t keep up.”

Eren looped his arms around Levi’s waist and picked him a few inches off the ground to kiss him.

“Daddy, those two men are kissing,” a little girl pointed.

“Yes, we are,” Levi agreed with her, feet hovering over Eren’s own.

“Oh, okay,” she nodded and wandered away.

“You said swings?” Levi asked. “Or the park?”

“The park is going to be so crowded,” Eren complained. “Let’s just go to your place.”

“I thought you said—“

“I know what I said and I still mean it. I just—it would be nice to kiss you without an audience is all.”

But the second Levi unlocked his door, they were pawing at each other and fell over the back of Levi’s couch (which Levi thought was probably very bad for the integrity of his furniture). Eren fell on top of him, his body rolling against Levi’s and Levi couldn’t help but think how lucky he was to have this incredibly hot sexgod on his couch. Eren leaned back, his lips now a bright red from all of their kissing and he grabbed at the hem of his shirt to pull it off. He managed to get it halfway over his head before freezing as he made eye contact with Bean who was sitting on the edge of the couch having come out to see what all the commotion was about. Eren gave a yelp and fell sideways, nearly hitting his head on the coffee table.

“Careful!” Levi leaned over to look at Eren and his glasses slid all the way down to the tip of his nose.

“I thought it was a gargoyle,” Eren said laughing on the floor.

He leaned up to kiss Levi’s nose.

“You should take those off before you lose them,” Eren said, plucking them off his face and folding them closed, gently setting them on the coffee table. He looked up into Levi’s grey eyes and smiled. “I like your eyes.”

“I like yours too.”

Eren gave a happy noise before pulling Levi down onto the floor with him. They kissed for some time before coming up for air. Levi rested his head on Eren’s chest.

“Ew, I need to vacuum under the couch more. Look at all that cat hair.”

Eren tucked his fingers under Levi’s chin and tilted him up into another kiss.

“I never got to see your bedroom the last time I was here.” Eren tried to be nonchalant.

“You’re so cute when you try to be subtle and fail miserably.”

Levi got off his chest and pulled him to the bedroom. It was still blindingly bright out so he pulled the shades and when he turned around, Eren was already bouncing on his bed.

“Your mattress is really hard,” he complained.

“It’s good for you,” Levi dismissed his complaints. “And better than a waterbed.”

“Oh, I got rid of that,” Eren said biting his lip. “I actually had a grade-A tantrum and punctured it.”

“Sorry,” Levi apologized.

Then it was suddenly very awkward in Levi’s bedroom. It was very easy to pretend there hadn’t been hurt feelings on both sides. And Levi realized he wanted to make Eren feel good. He cupped the younger man’s chin in his delicate hands and kissed him. He wanted to kiss away all the mean horrible things he’d ever said and done.

Eren groaned into his open mouth.

“Fuck. Let’s—can we—“ he struggled.

“One sec, let me get some things.”

Levi rummaged around and then set out everything on his dresser.

“Huh,” said Eren when confronted with the neat line of items.

“Sorry, it looks a little intimidating when I set it all out like that,” Levi scratched at the short hairs on his neck.

“I just didn’t think you’d have a whole sex drawer,” Eren confessed. “What even are all of these?”

“Uh…well you know what those are—“ he indicated three buttplugs and a box of condoms.

“Why do you have three of them?” Eren asked, cocking his head to the side.

“I—for…reasons. Those are mine though. It’s not good to share toys of that nature.” Levi finished, his face flushing with embarrassment.

“No, don’t be embarrassed,” Eren apologized. “I just don’t know why you need all of these things. What are these?”

“Finger condoms.”

“I—what? What do you even use those for?”

“Fingering.” Levi had a hand over his face and Eren pulled it away.

“Why do you have so many different kinds of condoms?” Eren was so bewildered by this.

“I have non-latex, lubed, and, uh, flavored for blowjobs.”

“Dude, that’s like the whole fun of blowjobs is that you don’t need to wear a condom.”

“N-no. What? No. That’s not—I thought your Dad was a doctor.”

“And what is this?”

“Dental dams.”

“W-wha?” Eren picked one up and pressed it against his face, looking a great deal like some alien creature. “I thought those were for lesbians.”

“It’s for rimming.”

“You know, I forgot my hazmat suit,” Eren joked nervously.

“I know it’s a lot. But as a modern gay man I take my sexual health seriously. I get tested every year and I always make my partners wear a condom.”

“Very seriously,” Eren agreed, uncomfortably.

“Here, come here,” Levi said pulling him back onto the bed. “You said you want to move slow. We’ll move slow. We can just makeout and dry hump until the sun goes down.”

Eren made a contented grunt. Levi wrapped his arms around Eren’s neck and found his legs around Eren’s waist again. The notch of muscle on Eren’s body seemed made for Levi’s thighs and those shoulders were the perfect size to hold.

“You have two different types of lube—“ Eren was having a hard time pulling his gaze from the display.

“Well yes, there’s different ones for different things. Here, don’t look at them anymore, just—“

“You get tested every year?” Eren interrupted.

“Well every year I have sex, yeah. Look, it’s not like I expect we need to use all of those things, it’s just good to have them. It’s just so I have peace of mind. Also, keep in mind, for several years I had one partner and one partner only and we just used condoms. And honestly,” Levi had his head turned to the side and Eren thought his profile was the most glorious thing he’d ever seen. “I don’t really like or understand hook-up culture. It takes a lot for me to be comfortable around people.”

“I’ve never been tested,” Eren said thickly, swallowing hard.

Levi’s gaze was devoid of judgment and his tone even as he turned to look back at Eren, “Well, have you had unprotected sex?”

“Well yeah…because she was on the pill. And I messed around with this one guy in his car.” Eren hesitated then continued, “I mean it’s not like there have been many—“

“It’s fine, you don’t need to tell me every person you’ve been with,” Levi interrupted, trailing his fingers up Eren’s spine.

“I just don’t want you thinking less of me!”

“I don’t. I won’t. I don’t need to know. You want to tell me that’s your business, but it’s not like I want you to type up a list of all your past lovers—“

Eren made a noise of protest.

“—no matter how short or long it might be.”

“Do you think I should get tested?”

Levi shrugged. “If you haven’t had any symptoms, you’re probably fine. And it doesn’t matter because if we do something, we’ll be careful.”

“Right. You’re right. Sorry. I’m obsessing.” Eren shook that gorgeous head of hair and leaned back in to kiss Levi.

The kiss turned into a whine.

“You’re still thinking about it, aren’t you?” Levi guessed as Eren collapsed on top of him.

Eren nodded and Levi patted his back.

<*>

Some Kelly Clarkson song was playing on the radio and Eren hummed along nervously, tapping his knees to an imaginary beat. He was never going to break that bad habit.

“I kindof figured there’d be, like, protesters and shit outside.”

Levi grunted and continued reading a People magazine.

“But it’s actually really nice and boring in here.”

Levi grunted again. Eren continued tapping and Levi side-eyed him.

“Short guy is reading—“

“Stoppp.”

“Reading while I’m bleeding—“

“Stop tapping with your left arm. They just drew blood, leave it alone.”

He grabbed at Eren’s hand and pulled it into his lap.

And here’s to you Mr. Robinson,” Eren sang along as the song on the radio switched and changing the lyrics to irk Levi.

“I’m not that old,” Levi grumbled. “And hey, Anne Bancroft could get it.”

“That was a fucked up story. What do you think they told their children? ‘Well son, I banged your Nana but then decided your mother was hotter so Thanksgiving dinner is out of the question.’”

Levi snorted.

“Not that ours is any better. ‘Our first date? Well kids, we went to the amusement park and made out on the rides. Then your old man had a near meltdown because he couldn’t be bothered to wrap it and spent the rest of the day in the Planned Parenthood waiting room.’”

Levi tried very hard not to laugh because every time he did, the fat nurse glared at him.

Eren tapped out a beat. “Uh, what, we’re at the P to the P, Doc what’s it gonna be, do I got clap on trap? Yo hit me where it’s at.”

“Stoppp,” Levi held the magazine over his face, wheezing onto a picture of Sandra Bullock.

“That’s a good one, I’m going to send that one to Jean.” He got out his phone and texted Jean, his tongue tucked in the corner of his mouth as he did so.

“new song idea: waiting in the planned parenthood for std/sti results.”

“…no.” Then thirty seconds after the first one Jean added, “also ud need 2 have sex 2 get an sti.

“fuck you.”

hell no, i don’t want 2 catch nething.

“well as your frontman im being an adult and taking responsibility for my sexual health and you should be proud of me.”

Barely a minute after he sent the first text his phone erupted.

WHY ARE YOU GETTING TESTED? ARE YOU SICK?” Mikasa texted.

What are you up to?” Armin asked indirectly.

“goddamnit jean you prick.”

ANSWER IMMEDIATLEY.

hahahahaa, o man ur sister is piiiiiiiiiiiisssed.

“fuck goddamnit. i hate you.”

He then crafted a careful text to his sister. “Just getting tested as part of a band campaign to promote safe sex! [smiley emoji] No worries!”

Then to Armin, “I’m getting tested because I went bareback with that girl who said she was on the pill and because I gave Thomas a blowie in his dad’s station wagon. :/”

I thought you were going to go throw yourself at the feet of the mini goblin king?” Armin asked.

Armin was the only one who knew beforehand of Eren’s half-baked plan to win Levi’s heart.

Eren took a surreptitious photo of Levi, who was still absorbed in Jennifer Aniston’s pregnancy and sent it with the caption: “He’s so cute.”

“Did you just take a photo of me?” Levi set down the magazine.

“Whaaat? No. What? I would never—“ Eren stared at the ceiling, tucking his phone in his pocket.

“Jaeger?” the nurse called and Eren went pale.

“Good luck,” Levi said as Eren dragged his feet.

When Eren reappeared, he was still shaky and deathly pale.

“What?” asked Levi because Eren was making a frightening face. “…I mean, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to—I just—Jesus, what?”

“I—“ Eren ran his tongue over his teeth. “That was the first test I’ve ever aced.”

“Oh you asshole,” Levi struck him with the magazine as Eren broke down into laughter. “Fuck you asswipe.”

“Naw, she said what we thought, which is that I’m clean for all the major ones—and I have the HPV vac so no worries there. The herpes tests results I’ll get tomorrow, but if I haven’t had any outbreaks, I’m most likely good? I’m not worried about it.”

“Is that a weight off your shoulders?” Levi asked as they stepped out into the sunlight.

“Nope,” said Eren and he picked Levi up and threw him over his shoulders like Fay Wray in King Kong.

Levi gave a yell and after one spin Eren set him down.

“Just because I’m shorter than you doesn’t mean you can—“ Levi snapped, but was cut off as Eren kissed him and he forgot to be mad.

Chapter Text

“Take two,” Levi said, fiddling with his keys.

“Hurry up!” Eren whined. “I have got a stiffy so bad, my balls have passed blue and we’re on to purple.”

“Or was it this key?” Levi teased.

Eren pushed him into the apartment only to trip over Sawny. There was a loud hiss and a yowl and Levi flicked on the lights.

“Oh no, kitty!” Eren cried.

They spent well over ten minutes trying to coax Sawny out from under the bed.

“Come on sweetie,” Levi said soothingly shaking her favorite treats at her. “Papa needs you to come out so he can see if your leg is broken. Because if you’re hurt I need to take you to the vet.”

“I’m an animal abuser. I’m trash,” Eren said, the majority of his torso under the bed as well.

Sawny growled.

“Today has not gone the way I thought it would,” Eren admitted.

“Same,” said Levi. “But then again I had no idea you would show up at my work like John Cusack at the end of Say Anything.”

“Maybe this is a good thing?” asked Eren, putting his chin down on Levi’s soft carpet. “A sign that I should have stuck to my original plan?”

“Which was?” Levi asked, taking out his phone and snapping a picture of Sawny and sending it to Hanji with the caption, “Look at this fucking cockblocking asshole cat.”

“Whisk you away and romance you. Like, I thought we’d spend all day at the wharf and on the rides and then I’d take you to a nice candlelit dinner and then walk you to your door and give you a goodnight kiss.”

Levi gave a sigh and capped the cat treats and wiggled out from under the bed. Eren followed and they both sat down on top of the bed heavily.

“We can still go out for dinner,” Levi said quietly.

“Okay, well, we’ll wait and see if the cat is fine first. I mean, I waited a whole year to tell you how I felt, what’s another night, eh?”

“We’re not very good at getting this ship off the ground, are we?” Levi sighed, leaning back.

“Or in the water,” Eren muttered and then turned pink. “I’m sorry—I didn’t mean—shit.”

There it was, the elephant in the room.

“Why…” Eren tried. “Why did you get off the boat?”

“I—I don’t know,” Levi confessed. “I kept thinking about kissing you on that waterbed and I just felt so hopeless and stupid. And none of it made sense. It still doesn’t. I have no idea how this is going to work. How it’s supposed to work.”

“I have no idea either,” Eren’s shoulders slumped.

“How do we move forward?”

“Just…one step at a time?” Eren said hopefully, brushing Levi’s cheek with his calloused thumb.

Levi smiled into Eren’s palm.

“Here, let me take off your glasses,” Eren said, but when he went to go set them on the nightstand Sawny was sitting there, swishing her tail and licking her paw in a very offended manner.

“You little shit,” Levi scolded her.

She took off running down the hallway. Levi guessed her leg was fine then.

Eren took that as his cue and he pushed Levi back onto the bed. They parted for the briefest of moments for Eren to slip his shirt off and Levi hissed.

“It’s even better than I remembered,” Levi commended him, raking his nails over Eren’s ribs.

Eren gave a sideways grin and tugged Levi’s shirt up, sucking at a piece of pale skin. He breathed hotly onto the bulge on his dark denim jeans and Levi shivered as the heat hit him. Levi grabbed at Eren’s belt and Eren grabbed his hand.

“We should—uh—probably go over some Do’s and Don’ts.”

“Uhhh…” Levi was having a hard time thinking and kept running his hands over Eren’s Apollo’s belt, dipping his fingers just below the boxer line. “Only light choking, only light spanking (for now at least) and do not, do NOT, I repeat, hit me in the face.”

“Jesus, fuck,” Eren’s mouth dropped open. “Why would I ever hit you in the face?”

“One guy tried it. Once. I kicked him out.”

“Wha?”

“That’s why I don’t pick up guys at bars.”

“Is that how you got this scar?” Eren asked, brushing his thumb over the cut above Levi’s brow.

“What? No that was from…” he mumbled and Eren couldn’t hear him. “Frisbee golf. I got it from Frisbee golf, okay? Not every scar has a tragic backstory.”

Eren laughed. “Only light choking, spanking, etc. No hitting in the face because that’s just rude. Anything else?”

“Well, uh no piss or shit and don’t spit in my face, I just, that’s just so—ugh. And regarding the choking and spanking thing, I actually like that kind of thing I just don’t think we should do it on our first time. That’s a later conversation.”

Eren grinned. “First time.”

“That is,” said Levi, writhing underneath Eren. “If there is a second time.”

“Let’s just take it one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, and see where we wind up.”

Eren released his hand and Levi yanked off his belt. There was a struggle as Levi tried to pull Eren out of his skintight jeans. His boxers already had a growing wet spot from where his cock wept eagerly and Levi bit his lip looking at it. Eren interrupted Levi’s appreciative gaze as he pulled Levi’s pants down as well. He mouthed up and down the length of Levi’s erection through the thin material of his boxer briefs and Levi tilted his head back and groaned.

“I forgot about this,” Eren said excitedly, spotting Levi’s unfortunate tattoo, half hidden by fabric. He kissed it with some reverence before hooking his thumbs in the waistband and pulling them off completely.

Before Levi could react, Eren’s mouth was on him, his lips sending cascading kisses up his length. A tongue swipe over to get the taste of him before he gave nice suck on his head. Eren had nice lips, soft and wet, and that tongue of his was as tenacious and curious as he was. He traced over every vein with that wicked tongue and smiled up at Levi with that self-confident smile of his. Shit. Levi didn’t know if he deserved this, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to give it up. Eren bobbed up and down a few times and Levi tangled his fingers in that thick head of hair. Cupping his balls, Eren pulled Levi’s shirt gracelessly over the top of his head with one hand and Levi’s first reaction was to flinch and cover his chest. Eren peered at him curiously, dropping down to give Levi a reassuring kiss.

Levi mirrored Eren’s gesture with open eyes, trying to communicate through kisses how vulnerable he felt. Lying there naked he was suddenly transported back to being that unhappy overweight goth teenager who resided within him always. Eren uncrossed his arms, lacing their fingers together above Levi’s head, and Levi felt the heat of his chest slip against him and there was no part of him that wasn’t touching Eren. He untangled one hand to brush his thumb over Eren’s lips. For a moment, he caught a glimpse of someone else in those green eyes. Levi could see that angry, frustrated athlete who punched holes in walls and kicked dents in lockers because it was better than grief.

“There you are,” Levi said, wonder in his voice.

“Here I am,” Eren said puzzled, but wearing a goofy grin.

He leaned down to kiss him, curving his hips and sliding their cocks against each other. Levi arched his back. Pleased by the reaction he got from him, Eren gave a smug grin and repeated the motion. The kid was getting bold. It was time for Levi to remind him that he had a good ten more years of experience than he did. Levi grabbed Eren around the middle, hugging his smooth torso to him, and switched their positions, pinning Eren’s wrists to the bed.

“I always forget how strong you are,” Eren gasped as Levi rocked on top of him. “Oh god—oh!”

Levi wasted no time trailing kisses down his torso and wrapping his lips around Eren’s cock. Lapping and sucking, Levi made sure there was no part of that cock that wasn’t slippery wet. God his cock was perfect; a healthy color and smooth as silk with a fleshy head. He pulled his mouth off with a little pop and Eren gave a throaty laugh. Well if you like that, Eren, you’re certainly going to like this. Holding his gaze the entire time, willing those green eyes to stay open, Levi slid his lips down agonizingly slow until he reached the base of Eren’s cock, burying his nose in the short hairs there. Eren cursed and gasped and Levi slid back up. He then blew lightly on his member and Eren shivered, remembering the time he’d asked Levi to blow on his scraped knee. He had been so ridiculous, sitting on Levi’s countertop in just his boxers. Levi should have gotten on his knees right then and they could have saved themselves a great deal of pain. Smiling at the memory, Levi took him in his mouth again, his tongue flicking lightly over the tip before descending down again with that purposeful pace, feeling Eren’s cock in the back of his throat, and then, just to show off, he gave another tongue swipe over his balls.

“Shit, you’re—wow—I gotta step up my game.”

“Mmhmm,” Levi hummed, wrapping his lips over his teeth, the vibration sending shivers up Eren’s spine.

Levi gripped him by the base and sucked at his balls, taking the skin in his teeth very lightly and giving them a small tug. Every motion by Levi was slow and delicate and this was no different. I want to make you feel good. I want to make you feel so good you won’t leave in two weeks. I want you to feel so good you never leave me again. Eren’s leg gave a little kick, like a dog having its belly rubbed and Levi nipped at his thigh, making him jump again.

Eren pulled him up to kiss again, pressing Levi’s body against his, Levi’s cock leaving sticky kisses on his chest.

“I need—“ Eren waved over at the pile of things on the dresser. “Hold on.”

He got up and grabbed a few of the items and put them on the nightstand.

“Do you want me to wear these?” he indicated the finger condoms.

Levi squinted at his nails. “I mean those look short enough…”

“Okay, fine I’ll wear them.” He slipped two on and then proceeded to make E.T. noises. “Phone home—“

“Stop that.”

“Elliiiiioooottt.”

Levi rolled over onto his belly impatiently, “If you’re not going to take this seriously then—“

Eren fell on top of him, rubbing his cock against Levi’s pale asscheeks before giving them a light slap. Levi gave a small noise and Eren sat back to admire his work. They looked better slapped pink. He gripped Levi’s chin and forced him to kiss him. Levi moaned and Eren slipped the two fingers in his mouth. Levi grimaced at the latex taste but sucked down the length. Eren seemed determined to test Levi’s gag reflex and Levi finally pulled his head away. Making small circles, Eren massaged at his opening.

“You’re still going to need lube,” Levi said, shaking his head.

“I know!” Eren protested.

He kissed the base of Levi’s spine as he worked with his thumb, before giving a tentative and cautious lick downward.

“Shit!” Levi gasped, the surprise making him fall forward.

“No like? Or?”

“Like! Very much like!”

“Oh good.”

He dipped his head and renewed swirling his tongue around with vigor, lightly stroking Levi’s cock as he did so. Levi squirmed and panted under Eren’s heavy tongue. Eren gave a throaty chuckle and grabbed the bottle of lube (he chose the clear bottle, hoping he was picking Levi’s favorite), using what he thought was a generous amount. Warming it in his hands, he pressed against Levi, coaxing his middle finger inside. Levi gave a little moan and Eren hoped that was a moan of encouragement.

“Um, you might need to give me a little bit of instruction here,” Eren said. “Because I’m not totally sure when—“

“You’re doing fine, just keep doing that,” Levi murmured, his head turned to the side, his grey eyes peering out from under his mussed hair. He had figured the kid hadn’t had much experience. So far Eren’s enthusiasm was enough to make him forget that, but now he could see Eren’s bravado fraying at the edges. “If you want to stop, we can always save this for another day.”

Eren clearly didn’t want to stop, but he didn’t really know how to move forward. Levi reached underneath himself, slapped Eren’s hand away, and slipped his own finger inside. He worked at himself, stretching and making quite a show of it. Eren bit at Levi’s asscheek, watching the scene with wide eyes. After a few moments Eren pulled Levi’s finger out and dragged his hand to Levi’s own cock.

“Touch yourself,” he commanded and Levi obeyed, sliding his hand along his length.

Eren slipped a second finger inside, working his way deeper until his fingers brushed against—

“Ah!” Levi jumped falling forward in surprise again.

Eren picked him up by his hips, setting him right and continued finger fucking him.

“Do you like that?” Eren asked in a guttural voice.

“Yes,” Levi panted, his muscular body straining under Eren’s heavy play.

“Do you want more?”

Levi cried out, his legs tangled in the sheets. Eren rewarded him by easing his third finger inside, watching Levi bite his own wrist in ecstasy.

“Are you ready for me?” he asked, nipping at Levi’s earlobe.

“Fuck me already,” Levi panted.

Eren disappeared for a moment, removing that pleasurable pressure and Levi saw him busying with the condom and the lube. Then he descended on him, sucking on his neck and brushing his cock against his entrance. Levi held his breath, fuck, he’d been waiting for this moment for so goddamn long. Then the slick sensation was gone as Eren pulled away, grinning when Levi protested.

“You shitty brat, you tease,” Levi cursed shaking his head.

With a firm grip on Levi’s hips, Eren pushed against him again, gasping when the tip of his cock slid inside. He was so sure he would come if he moved or if Levi pressed back against him that he squeezed Levi’s hips hard enough to bruise to keep him still.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Eren whispered to himself in a panicked voice. He started muttering something that sounded an awful lot like a list of the Sina City baseball team lineup.

With a sly grin, Levi reached back and tightly gripped him at his base until Eren felt the sensation pass.

“Fuck, you’re sexy,” Eren nearly apologized.

“I should have sucked you off first because I have a feeling this isn’t going to last long.”

Annoyed at Levi’s tone and wrecked smile, Eren gave a shallow thrust. Levi gasped a little and tried to lean forward, but Eren seized his shoulder and inched in a little more. It was slow going and Eren pulled out a few times to lube his cock again, now too focused to think of his own pleasure, but then he hit at Levi’s prostate and this time he let Levi fall forward in surprise releasing him from the iron grip on his shoulder. Hunched over, Levi cried out and Eren set out a slow rhythm. Each little sound that passed those thin lips of Levi’s made Eren’s cock throb inside him. Eren traced along Levi’s hard chest and stomach, wiping the wet from Levi’s cock onto his palm, before stroking the older man’s member. With each thrust he stroked and Levi’s cock pulsed in his fist when he hit that sweet spot and his toes curled and his thighs flexed. His whole body begged for Eren hungrily, greedily. This morning Levi had been desolate, wanting only to see Eren’s face once more and here he was in bed with him, wanting him, pleasuring him, and, judging by his shallow breathing, very close to release. Levi reached back clawing at Eren’s hip, pulling him in deeper and Eren swore.

“Shit, I’m close again—“ he said, sitting back onto his heels.

Eren’s arms and legs were shaking as he tried to stave off wave after wave of pleasure that was threatening to overtake him. His face was pinched and pained as he tried to take control over his body. Sweet kid, thought Levi. He didn’t want to come until he was sure he’d satisfactorily pleased Levi. Levi leaned forward and then slid back down Eren’s length.

“Wait, I—“ Eren tried to stop him pathetically.

Levi silenced him with a dark look cast over his shoulder. Let me give you this, that look said.

Levi wanted to please Eren as badly as Eren wanted to please him and so Eren remained still, leaning back, letting Levi fuck himself with his cock. His eyes were wide, twisting the sheets in his hands and biting his lip to keep from screaming. Levi looked back at him again, his stormy eyes darker than usual, as he rode Eren. That look was a command.

Come for me, kid.

And Eren came. He locked his forearm over Levi’s hips like the safety bar on the Tilt-O-Whirl and surged forward, pumping into him, stroking him as he rode out his orgasm. The intensity sparked white pinpricks in his vision and when he could finally uncross his eyes, he realized he was drooling onto Levi’s back.

“Sorry,” he murmured, wiping off his mouth, but Levi wasn’t paying attention.

The smaller man’s legs were struggling, twisting underneath him and Eren realized he’d never released his cock. Still hard, but fading quickly, he pressed against Levi as best as he could, his hand pumping him. Then Levi fell forward losing control of his arms as he came, his mouth open in a silent cry and Eren fell with him, lips on Levi’s neck, milking his come into his palm and onto the sheets.

With both of their faces pressed into the pillows, Eren said something that was very muffled and Levi agreed with a feathery grunt. Eren gripped the condom and pulled out, Levi kicking his foot up as he did so. He tied the condom off and threw it into the trash. Levi mumbled something into the pillow which Eren was pretty sure was “Don’t throw condoms, you asshole.” Eren face-planted back onto the bed, wrapping his arm over Levi’s prone form to hold him. Levi perked his head up when he heard the first snore and rolled his eyes.

Adopting a few yoga poses, Levi stretched and rolled out of bed to take a piss and clean himself. When he came back, Eren was sleeping like a starfish and Sawny was curled up on his naked ass and Bean stretched out along his side. Levi snorted and Bean responded by begging for belly pets. Levi sat down, tracing up and down Eren’s spine. Never did he think he’d see this in his bed.

“Look at you,” he said, smiling. Eren rolled slightly onto his side with a snore and Sawny readjusted her position.

Eren’s phone was buzzing and Levi knew he shouldn’t but he couldn’t help it. He picked it up and looked at the texts.

There was one from “He-Man” asking how the tests went. Levi had almost forgotten about that. He looked at Eren’s arm and the cotton ball from where they’d taped it. He needed to put a Band-Aid on that later. Then there were several from “Twisted Sister” which were in all caps.

“WHERE ARE YOU? ARMIN SAYS YOURE WITH THE MIDGET. PLEASE ANSWER OR IM CALLING THE COPS.”

“IM NOT JOKING EREN. PLEASE RESPOND SO I KNOW YOU ARENT BEING EATEN BY DANNY DEVITO DAHLMER.”

Levi looked sideways at the sleeping Eren, his private bits covered by two very obnoxious cats. He took a picture.

“not dead, just buried under cats. –the midget”

This only forced Mikasa to send several more texts consisting of only exclamation points and question marks.

Then he took a photo with his own phone and sent it to Hanji and Petra with the caption, “my bed is crowded.”  He could predict the content of their replies and he felt no need to respond to them when his phone blew up. Let them wait for an explanation.

“You taking photos of me?” Eren asked sleepily.

Levi flushed. “I’m getting back at you from earlier. You might want to answer your sister.”

“Naw, let’s nap,” he said, before closing his eyes again and passing out.

Levi lay next to him and Eren spooned him. The cats seemed to have taken quite a liking to Eren and spread over him like he was their own catbed (which funnily enough they never slept in). Levi couldn’t find it in him to rest though. His mind was too busy. He traced the veins in Eren’s tan arms and listened to his even breathing.

“I don’t think you know, Eren,” he whispered, kissing the younger man’s wrists. “I don’t think you know how strongly I feel for you.”

He only could have said it when Eren was asleep like that. Verbally expressing affection had always been difficult for Levi. “I love you,” was a phrase rarely heard in the home Levi had been raised in. His mother had left when Levi was young and his Pops was always on tour leaving him with his mom’s cousin and her four large children. The home was too crowded and the overwhelmed woman rarely gave Levi, the runt of the litter, her attention. And why should she? He was just there temporarily. Pops came home from the Gulf War. Then one day he waited until Levi was at school and the neighbors watched him go into the garage with his gun and he didn’t come out again and Levi was back with the cousins. The only time Levi heard people say “I love you” was on the trashy soaps Brenda watched. He would mouth the words back to the television screen as he helped her fold clothes. “I love you” was as much fantasy as Adelaide’s long-lost-twin-sister-previously-thought-dead-but-brought-back-to-life. He wanted to believe he loved Eren, but what did love even mean?

Everyone wants to fall in love so badly. People these days fell in love with open arms, easily, eagerly. Levi had always been cautious. When Brenda took the herd on a day trip to the lake, his four larger cousins ran full steam, the dock creaking under their combined weight and jumped in simultaneously, hugging their knees to their chests as they cannonballed. Levi followed them to the edge with a XXL hand-me-down shirt that reached his knees and dipped a toe in, but refused to go any further. They teased him, calling him a baby and when he started crying they told him he was too sensitive. It took him a whole hour to finally ease his way into the water and he spent much of the time trying to catch up to the big kids who by that point were out at the second sandbar. The water was over his head and he kicked frantically. He shouted for them to wait and lake water spilled in his mouth choking him. Too short to stand, too weak to swim any further, he was forced to turn back. He pulled himself up on shore, the t-shirt dragging him down with that heavy sense of defeat.

Love, he figured, was a lot like that day at the beach, everyone else seemed to have fun save Levi. Love felt a lot more like drowning.

You didn’t need to say it out loud several times a day, he reasoned, if you show it in your actions to the person. But that hadn’t been enough for Erwin. Erwin was out on that second sand bar and Levi was sitting on the shore, sunburnt, brushing sand off his PB&J sandwich, humiliated at his own failings.

But he only had two weeks with Eren to show him how much he cared before he left. Two weeks to prove he wanted Eren in his life. He’d fucked it up before. He learned long ago people don’t give you many chances. He couldn’t stop the frantic anxiety that Eren would come to his senses and realize he’d made a terrible mistake. If Eren didn’t love him, he could take that. If Eren woke up one day and decided he hated Levi, Levi could take that too. But to disappoint Eren, to see that disheartened expression on his face again like he had the day Levi ran from him, that he could not handle.

“And,” he whispered into Eren’s wrists. “I could really use some help.”

He closed his eyes and the lights from the park ride swirled over his eyelids. Joy like that didn’t happen often to Levi. Pops taking him to a baseball game, cooking his first omelet, selling his first painting, salsa lessons with Hanji, Erwin sliding his number towards him written on a drink coaster, riding the scooter for the first time, Eren learning his first chords, watching a mime shove Eren off the wharf, posing the kittens in Christmas stockings for pictures, Eren playing drums outside his office…

Then he was dreaming and the rhythm Eren was playing on his drums was the sound of his own feet running down those wooden docks.

boom, boom, Boom, BOOM—

And then he was in the air, weightless and free, jumping both feet first into the water.

Chapter Text

Levi didn’t sleep long before he slipped out of Eren’s arms. Eren, it seemed, was dead to the world. Levi quickly showered and dressed. He left a note on the nightstand next to Eren’s phone and texted him a message too before slipping out the door.

With any luck if he hurried he would be back in time before Eren woke up.

The fates were with him, because when he came back with his groceries, Bean greeted him at the door but Sawny was still curled up next to Eren. Levi busied about prepping dinner. He heard a soft “fwump,” the sound of a cat jumping off the bed, and then Eren staggered into the kitchen buck naked, rubbing his eyes.

“What time is it?” he asked, slipping his arms around Levi’s waist.

“Well, soon it will be dinnertime,” Levi announced.

“Mmm,” Eren hummed and Levi could feel him growing hard against him already.

“Put that away,” he scolded. “Go clean up and get dressed and we can eat.”

“Bossy,” Eren muttered, yawning again.

“And call your sister!”

Eren waved him off and Levi heard the shower going.

Levi didn’t have time to prepare a full course meal so he settled for one he could throw on the grill. He handed plates and silverware to Eren and they took the elevator to the roof of his building and Levi grilled the fish.

“What is this?” Eren asked, smelling it eagerly.

“Halibut with grilled veggies.”

The fish was fresh and the meat white and flaky and Eren made moaning noises as he ate. They watched the sunset over the water and then cleaned their plates. They changed and washed the sheets (because they were an absolute fucking mess). Eren snuggled up next to Levi as they looked through Netflix for a movie to watch. Levi picked a bad comedy he knew they’d get bored with so they instead made out on the couch with deep, languid kisses.

“I should probably head home,” Eren said when the movie was over.

“If you want,” Levi shrugged. “You could—I mean—if you wanted to it is possible for you to stay. Here. For the night. If you wanted.”

Eren looked up from his spot on Levi’s chest.

“But I know you don’t have clothes or a toothbrush even or—you know forget it, it was a stupid idea.”

“I mean I would like to stay,” Eren said. “But I don’t want to cross any lines.”

“You wouldn’t be,” Levi assured him.

“Are…are you sure?” Eren asked hopefully.

“Yes?” Levi’s voice rose at the end. Was he sure? “Yes. I mean, unless the hotel bed is comfier than mine.”

“Oh I’m not in the hotel, they only put us up for events. No, I’m at my place.”

“…Your dad’s?”

“No. My place.”

“Your sister’s?”

“No. My place.”

“Please don’t tell me you’re still in the—“

“You know the houseboat!”

Levi groaned.

“It’s really not that bad. Sure it gets cold in the winter and I have to stuff towels and newspaper along the edges for insulation, but it’s really nice in the summer! Security isn’t great though so I have to worry about people stealing shit but—“

“Then it’s settled, you’re staying here for the night.”

Levi was surprised Eren was able to fall asleep after the long nap he took in the afternoon, but apparently the hectic life of a rockstar had drained his inexhaustible lover. His alarm went off early in the morning and Levi slipped out of bed and made himself breakfast before shaking Eren awake.

“Mmm,” Eren groaned.

“Wake up, c’mon.”

“What time is it?” Eren asked then looked at his phone. Too early. He whined and rolled over.

“Eren,” Levi whispered seductively into his ear. “I need you to get up for me.”

That piqued his interest. He sat up and before Levi could blink had his boxers around his ankles.

“I’m up!” he indicated, his member standing at attention.

Ten minutes later, he wasn’t as happy.

“You tricked me,” he grumbled and yawned again. “Where are we going? It’s so early. It’s still dark out!”

“C’mon,” Levi pulled at his arm as Eren rubbed his eyes like a grumpy toddler.

Levi had steered him to the pier, which was deserted at this hour. Eren shivered and Levi handed him the cardigan he’d brought along predicting this outcome. They sat down on the edge of the pier, feet dangling over the edge and Levi handed Eren a small mason jar.

“What’s this?” Eren asked sniffing it cautiously.

“Breakfast. Overnight oatmeal. It’s got fruit, nuts, chia seeds, and some protein powder.”

Eren didn’t question it, still far too sleepy for words. Predictably he perked up after a few bites, most people do when they’re hungry.

They watched the sun rise over the harbor, Eren eating his breakfast and Levi sipping his tea. Eren slipped his hand in Levi’s and they enjoyed the silence together.

“We should probably make a list of things to do while I’m in town,” Eren said and Levi felt a pang. They both knew this relationship had a ticking clock attached to it. “You know, so we don’t spend the entire time in your apartment.”

Except that’s precisely what they did. They tried. They really tried. But then Levi had wanted to take another shower before they left for the art museum and Eren went on a rant about wasting water (“You just showered last night!”) and so they decided it was better for the environment if they showered together. Really, it was the EPA’s fault that Eren got on his knees and wrapped his lips around Levi’s cock. The real disaster had been when Eren lifted up Levi’s leg over his shoulder and Levi was strong and flexible but he wasn’t that strong and flexible and when he pulled on the shower rod for balance, the whole thing came crashing down.

“You could have broken your arm!” Levi chastised him as the shower head sprayed over both of them and the entire bathroom. “How would you play guitar then?”

They made it about as far as the hallway before tipping over again and really it was easier to just suck each other off right there than the bed. Levi liked this position, his hands grasping Eren’s muscular thighs leaving half-moon circles with his nails on the sensitive skin sucking Eren’s cock on top of him while Eren licked from his tip to his base below. Sixty-nineing it was hard. Mostly because it was very hard to focus on your own pleasure when you’re trying to give it.

“I think,” panted Eren, his hair still wet and slicked across his forehead from their failed shower attempt. “You just love shoving your ass in my face.”

Levi was too dignified to respond to this and informed Eren as much by sucking on his balls, which was really the only mature way to handle these matters. Now that Eren knew how deep Levi could take his cock in his mouth, he kept thrusting his hips up eagerly and Levi appreciated it, really he did, but he needed to breathe every once in a while. Also, this was definitely aggravating his TMJ. Oh how he envied those pythons that could dislocate their jaws. And propping himself up to stroke Eren was hurting his carpal tunnel.

He gave a huffing sigh, a strand of precome trailing from Eren’s dick to his lips. Getting old sucked. He couldn’t even get fucked properly without being reminded that his body was decaying around him.

“Fuck yeah,” Eren moaned and Levi was snapped out of his anxiety trip. Eren was digging his heels into the carpet, leaving marks against the grain on the perfectly groomed carpet. “God, you’re good at this.”

The bright warmth emanating from Eren underneath him was intoxicating. Youth had that effect.

“Teeth,” Levi reminded with a sigh.

“Mmsmry,” Eren apologized.

He leaned upward and Levi felt his cock hit the back of Eren’s throat. Eren pulled away gasping and coughing.

“Tch,” Levi criticized and slapped at his thigh.

“I like it when you’re mean when I’m fucking you.” Eren laughed and then coughed.

“Mean?” Levi asked. “Fuck you, I’m only ever nice to you.”

And to demonstrate he flicked his tongue over Eren’s head. Eren whimpered, his self-control and his dignity completely lost. He began begging for Levi in short frenzied gasps.

“Levi, fuck me Levi, suck me, Levi,” he murmured like a prayer.

Levi swallowed him down, feeling Eren’s balls tighten under his grasp and then release and then he was pouring out into Levi’s mouth. Levi swallowed as much as he could and the rest he caught in his hand and smeared on Eren’s thigh and belly.

Eren wasted no time enjoying his orgasm, instead intent on Levi’s pleasure. Levi closed his eyes and enjoyed every sensation. The pads of Eren’s fingers, rough from his guitar, ghosted over his back, his thighs, and his ass before gripping his cock. His hand worked the base and his mouth wrapped over the tip. Eren’s lips rolled with each dip and his tongue twirled down and around and Levi couldn’t take it any longer.

“Oh fuck, yes, Eren!” he shouted.

Eren pulled off him to stroke Levi as he came, leaving drops of pearls along Eren’s tan chest and belly. Levi rested for only a second before he got off of him and grabbed a towel and his toothbrush.

“Look at you, you’re a mess,” Levi said, wiping come off his hands and onto the towel, his toothbrush tucked to the side of his mouth.

Eren, shameless as always, stretched out on the carpet, was fully aware that he was a canvas for their lovemaking. He ran a finger down his chest and Levi rolled his eyes and threw the towel at him. God, he could stare at that nude form forever and never get tired of it. The gentle dusting of hair up his thighs, the dark curls glistening with his seed, the triad of freckles on his ribcage, and his favorite was the scruff along the jawline darkening his boyish face.

“I didn’t think you’d swallow all of me like that,” Eren said lazily, doing a shitty job of taking care of the mess on his chest.

“I just didn’t want to get anything on the carpet,” Levi said honestly.

Eren laughed.

“Come down here and kiss me.”

“Im bru-ing mah teef.”

“I don’t care, kiss me.”

Levi gave him a minty fresh peck, which was not enough for Eren because after Levi spat out the toothpaste his mouth was on him.

“You taste like ballsweat.”

“I taste like you and you taste amazing,” Eren whispered in his ear and if Levi weren’t already flushed red and pulsating all over he would have blushed. “You’re gorgeous.”

Levi snorted and rinsed with the mouthwash and spit it out.

“I’m serious,” Eren frowned.

He wrapped one possessive arm around Levi’s shoulders, the other tapping at his hips with those calloused fingers. Levi finally allowed himself to look at his reflection and cringed inwardly. His hair, wet from the shower and sweat was curling at the ends. Messy. His knees and elbows were rubbed raw, courtesy of the worst carpet in the world. His lips were a lewd color of red and he looked like he’d been sucking down a cherry Big Gulp instead of Eren’s pink member. His eyes were dark and heavy lidded, those circles and lines under them again. He hoped Eren didn’t find the eye cream he’d bought from the lady at the Macy’s counter. Tragically he was just as embarrassed about his vanity as he was about his appearance. The problem with being the guy who “doesn’t care about anything” is to admit you do care about the petty things. Eren wasn’t looking at his reflection, instead focusing on nuzzling Levi’s neck. Damn that boy. Effortlessly gorgeous and just as kind and loving. Asshole.

“You better fix that curtain rod,” he deflected, pulling out of Eren’s embrace.

<*>

“I-I’m not sure I can go anymore,” Eren panted.

“Pussy.”

“Fuck, this is hard. Ow.”

“It’s only hard because your body isn’t used to it. Suck it up and try again. Use your core.”

“My body can’t take it!”

“After a while it will feel good.”

“I give up!” Eren gasped, throwing himself onto the grass.

“Every time you stop, I’m just adding another minute to the clock,” Levi said, leaning over him with his hands on his hips.

“My nip-nops hurt,” Eren complained, ripping his shirt off and getting grass on his sweaty back.

“Oh, that reminds me,” said Levi, stopping and adjusting his shoelaces. “In the spirit of constructive feedback—“

Eren had begged Levi for feedback regarding their sweaty hump sessions. It was sweet. But not necessary. Then Eren reminded Levi that he was the one who emphasized hard work and he wanted to improve, damnit! Previous bits of feedback were: “less teeth,” “less teeth,” “what are you a goddamn woodchuck?” and “curl your fingers more, shit that’s good.” Eren absorbed this like a sponge.

“Oh?”

“Not enough nipple play.”

“Hm. Duly noted.”

“Good. Now, sit-ups.”

Eren rolled on the ground and whined.

“Sit-ups or I won’t do that thing you like.”

“That could be anything,” Eren grumbled but Levi grabbed his shoes and he started.

“Stop pulling on your neck. Relax your shoulders,” Levi coached as Eren gave a positively pornographic grunt.

A mother running by with a stroller stared at them. Eren flashed her a rakish grin.

“Wow,” said Levi, sitting back on his heels. “Just for that you have to do five more.”

“She doesn’t know we’re fucking, she just sees two hot guys working out in the park.”

She pretended to stop to adjust her baby’s blanket and looked over her shoulder interestedly.

“Yeah, that’s right,” Eren laughed.

“Stoppp.” Levi put his hand over his own mouth so the woman wouldn’t hear them.

Eren leaned up and kissed the back of Levi’s hand. The woman took off running again.

“Do I get a kiss for every sit-up?” Eren asked cheekily.

“Sure, so far you’re up to three. Three kisses. That should last us all winter, Pa.”

“You’re cruel,” Eren pouted.

“Heyo,” Erwin called, stopping near their side of the track.

“Erwin,” Levi nodded, still smiling, not bothering to look as Eren tried to go for another kiss and was pushed away by the Levi’s palm.

“Hey it’s Blondie!” Eren said.

“Drop and give me ten,” Levi commanded and Eren grumbled but did so.

“What’s this?” Erwin asked, indicating their workout.

“Someone needs to be motivated to work off all of those cheesy fries he ate last night,” Levi slapped at Eren’s midriff. “Nose to the ground, soldier.”

“Oh good, because for a second I thought it was a couple of gayboys being gross in the park. There are children here you know,” Erwin said, wrinkling his nose.

Levi laughed appreciatively.

“So this is how you’re spending your staycation?” Erwin asked as Levi brushed the grass off his backside and stood up.

“Pretty much. What did we do this week, Eren? We went to the amusement park, and uh, then the—“

“Aquarium,” Eren helped.

“Aquarium.”

“They have touch pools where you can touch starfish and urchins!” Eren said, propping his head on his arms.

“I can tell without looking that you’re not doing your cool down,” Levi snapped.

“You actually touched a starfish?” Erwin laughed.

“I was—tricked. It was disgusting. The octopus was cool though. Then we went to the art museum. What else?”

“Beisbol.”

“Oh, right. We caught the Sina versus Rose baseball game. Pretty intense.”

“They put us on the kiss cam.” Eren made kissy noises.

“Shit,” said Erwin, knowing how Levi would react to that.

“Yeah…security gave me a ‘talking to’ and said that flipping the bird is ‘inappropriate’ because it’s a family game and I’m like ‘don’t put that me on the spot like that!’”

“Then they put the kiss cam on us again,” Eren said brightly.

Erwin raised an eyebrow and Levi shrugged, hiding the blush that spread across his cheeks. He was becoming more used to being embarrassed because being embarrassed was part of being with Eren.

“And then today we’re going—where are we going?” Levi asked.

“It’s a surprise,” Eren said, looking very proud of himself.

Surprise,” Levi mouthed to Erwin. Then to Eren, “Do I not get any kind of clue?”

Don’t ask me about my business, Kay! Don’t ask me about my business!” Eren quoted, shaking his head. Levi had introduced him to the Godfather Saga earlier in the week.

Levi chuckled, “Wait, why am I Kay?”

“Because you love Diane Keaton.”

“Oh, he’s right,” Levi nodded to Erwin. “I do love Diane Keaton. She’d be a good contender for Gaia-spirit-mother.”

“What?” asked Erwin, completely lost.

“Like, if you had to pick your Gaia-spirit-mother—like your beautiful Earth goddess, protector, inspiration giver, guardian angel—which actress would it be? Mine is Annette Benning.”

These were the kinds of ridiculous conversations Levi had now.

“Mine is Goldie Hawn, because she just seems like fun, I like her energy,” Eren said giving a half-hearted pushup. “Like she’d be the kind to take you to the Alps to ski but you’d stay inside the entire time sipping cocoa.”

“Uhhh,” said Erwin, looking uncomfortable being put on the spot like that. “Meryl Streep.”

“Boo!” both Levi and Eren complained.

“Excuse you?” Erwin was offended.

“Everyone picks Meryl Streep,” Levi explained.

“Because she’s the best, obviously.”

“No,” said Eren impatiently. “She’s the Queen of all the Gaia-spirit-mothers. Like if there were a pantheon, she’d be the ruler.”

“Okay, okay,” Erwin said holding up his hands. “My favorite actress—“

“Spirit mother,” they corrected.

“Who is not Meryl Streep.”

“Yes.”

“Easy. Grace Kelly.”

Levi gave an inward hiss, “But she needs to be alive. If we were doing Gaia-spirit-mothers, alive or dead, that would be perfect but she needs to be alive.”

“Mine would be Ingrid Bergman then,” Eren said, picking at a clover. “Because we are both ingénues, obviously.”

“Who would yours be?” Erwin asked Levi.

“Isn’t it obvious?” Levi huffed and the two men looked at him expectantly. When none gave an answer he rolled his eyes, “Bette Davis.”

Erwin chuckled, and put a hand to his chin in mock thought. “So they must be alive—“ they nodded “—and must be an actress, who is not Meryl Streep.” He rubbed at his perfect chin, thinking hard. “Okay—how’s this—Diane Lane circa ‘Under the Tuscan Sun.’”

“Shit,” said Levi. “That’s good.”

“Actually, I’m gonna have to challenge that,” Eren said, dusting off his knees. “I don’t think she is old enough to be included.”

“The council makes a note of this,” Levi nodded.

“So Eren,” Erwin said as Eren had given up on his workout. “What are you up to these days?”

“Oh, you know,” said Eren, his lips twitching at the corners and Levi glaring at Eren in a ‘don’t you dare’ sort of way. “Just chillin.’”

“Still working on your music?”

“You could say that.”

Levi was going to break the skin if he kept biting his lip like that. It was all he had to keep his back from shaking in laughter.

Stoppp, his eyes begged at Eren.

“Where are you working now?” Erwin asked smoothly, either ignoring or not noticing Levi’s amusement. “Are you in school?”

School, Eren’s eyes said to Levi in annoyance.

I know, he’s trying, be nice, Levi’s own said back.

“Yeah, actually I’m earning my, uh, dental hygienist degree,” Eren lied.

“Oh wow really? Good for you.”

“Yeah, uh, I’ve always been fascinated with, uh, teeth, and the, uh, cleaning thereof.”

You little shit.

“Well keep up the hard work,” Erwin praised.

“Thanks!” Eren beamed.

I’m definitely not doing that thing you like now, Levi’s expression was murderous.

He was totally going to do that thing Eren liked.

“So you’re still coming to my gallery exhibition tonight, right?” Levi asked Erwin, his foot nudging Eren’s ribs to continue his cooldown.

“Oh yes. The whole office is looking forward to it.”

Levi caught sight of a man shifting from foot to foot impatiently in the distance. Without his glasses he couldn’t quite see his face, but he recognized that huffy stance as the current boyfriend disgruntled that Erwin was talking to his ex.

“Who’s your friend?” Levi asked, squinting.

“Oh, uh,” Erwin scratched the back of his neck. “Nile and I are seeing each other now.”

“Nile, as in takes-his-laptop-to-the-shitter Nile?” Eren asked.

“Nile, as in has-a-wife-and-a-kids Nile?” Levi asked.

“Uh, well he is sans wife now. He and Marie divorced almost a year ago.”

“Shit. How does Phyllis feel about that?” Levi asked, knowing Erwin’s mother was very old fashioned. She had trouble wrapping her brain around Erwin having a boyfriend, but a divorced boyfriend with kids? How would she explain that to her bridge club?

“She actually—uh—she actually said, ‘Where is that special friend of yours? Levi?’”

Levi gave a sympathetic smile, “I hope you said she drove me off.”

“You’re terrible,” Erwin shook his head laughing again.

“So are you like a step-dad now? Shit, how does that work out?”

“It’s uh…awkward. I mean you know I never really wanted or liked kids. So it’s an adjustment, but Marie has custody over the youngest and the 8-yr old is only over every other weekend so, you know.”

Levi nodded. Shit, a year had gone by and Erwin was dating Nile. Erwin was dating Nile and Levi was hopping into bed with a druggie-busker turned rockstar turned sexgod. What the fuck was this, the Twilight Zone? You are traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land—

“Well anyways, have fun on your mystery date,” Erwin said knocking Levi’s shoulder lightly with his knuckles. “I’ll see you both tonight?”

“Sounds great!” Levi said.

“And Eren, you take care.”

“See ya!” Eren struggled to keep a straight face.

“Bye!” Erwin waved and ran over to Nile.

“He knows when you’re fucking with him,” Levi chastised. “So you’re not nearly as clever as you think.”

“I thought I was fucking with you,” Eren said in a seductive voice and attempting a bridge-pose at the same time, failing at both.

“You’re a shitheel. Where are you taking me this afternoon?”

“It’s a surprise,” Eren repeated looking very proud of himself. “I’m going to go shower at Mikasa’s and grab some things. But remember you need to dress up.”

“Got it. Surprise date. Hopefully not with a chainsaw murderer. Dress up.”

Eren rolled his eyes.

“Just dress up and be on time.”

“I got it, kid.”

“And enjoy the romantical date I’m about to whisk you away on.”

Oh dear.

Chapter Text

Eren had told him to meet at the fountain outside the mall, but was late as per usual. Levi replied to a few emails, mostly those asking about the exhibition at the gallery, and waited. Eren ran up to him, panting a little. He was wearing a suit which looked pulled from his dad’s closet, save for the shirt which had a price tag poking out the back. He may have been a rockstar but he had no sense of style.

“Sorry! Sorry! I couldn’t figure out how to do this stupid tie so Mikasa had to do it for me, but she didn’t know how so we Googled it and this tutorial video was eight minutes long, I swear to god.” He leaned over and put his hands on his knees. “I’m fucking wiped out from that run this morning. And that stuff we did last night. And the stuff we did the day previous.”

“I’m building up your stamina,” Levi said, tugging on Eren’s tie to fix it and kissing him.

Eren wrapped his arm around Levi’s waist as they walked away from the mall fountain and to their destination. Levi had a strong suspicion where they were going, but Petra’s advice on the issue had been to play dumb and act surprised—and under no conditions was he to criticize or complain! Eren was so keen to impress him and Levi didn’t want to burst his bubble. So he complied with Eren’s request and looked perfectly stylish with a tie and suit coat and his favorite designer jeans.

“I thought you were going to dress up?” Eren asked, indicating Levi’s jeans as they strolled through the doors of the hotel.

Levi gave Eren’s ill-fitting suit coat a pointed look. Excuse you, kid.

“It’s just this place has a strict dress code and I don’t think jeans count!” Eren said nervously messing with his tie again.

“You can get in anywhere with jeans as long as they’re expensive enough,” Levi said rolling his eyes.

“Well fine then, if you’re going to wear jeans then I’m taking this stupid tie off!” Eren said, yanking it over his head and stuffing it into his pocket.

“Hello, sirs, welcome to the Historic Historia Hotel,” the maître d’ greeted them. Say that ten times fast.

“Uh, reservation for 2:30 for Jaeger? Party of two.”

“Yes, right this way, sirs,” the man led Levi and then paused and murmured delicately in Eren’s ear. “Sir, we do have a dress code for tea here at the Historia. I do have a spare tie if you would prefer?”

“No, I uh…” Eren pulled his crumpled tie out of his pocket sheepishly, avoiding Levi’s superior expression behind the man’s back.

They were led to a table by the window with plush chairs and an excellent view of the harbor. Their server walked forward, a brisk and purposeful man with a resolute face—the consummate professional.

“Hello, sirs, thank you for joining us for High Tea at the Historic Historia Hotel—“

“Historic Historia Hotel,” Eren said raising his eyebrows.

“Historic Historia Hotel,” Levi agreed.

“Historic Historia Hotel, Historic Historia Hotel, His Stork is doria—damnit,” Eren’s tongue tripped over the words.

“…I am Moblit and I will be your server today. Now you have booked a full High Tea, here is a list of our tea selections and we also have champagne and champagne cocktails available. Do you have a camera? I can take a photo for the two of you if you’d like.”

Eren handed him his cellphone and pulled Levi over for a picture, which he did not want to take. Moblit snapped a photo and Levi was pretty sure he’d blinked. Eren took back his phone and laughed.

“Let me see,” Levi held out his hand.

“Nope, you’ll just delete it.”

“Damn right I will.”

“I’m making it your icon for when you call,” Eren said happily.

Levi looked over the tea list interestedly.

“Do you want to get a bottle of champagne?” Eren asked.

“Not really.”

“Why not? We should be celebrating. A toast to us!”

One week down. Levi’s stomach churned uncomfortably at the thought.

Moblit returned. “Have you had a chance to look over our teas?”

“Yes,” Levi said and pointed to his order.

Eren did the same and then said, “We’d also like a bottle of this Brut, please—“

“No we wouldn’t,” Levi interrupted.

“Yes we would.”

“No. We wouldn’t.

“Yes. We would.” Goddamnit Eren could be a stubborn shit.

“I’m not letting you buy a $400 bottle of champagne.”

“It’s my treat!” Eren huffed. “And you’re not ‘letting’ me do anything. It’s my money.”

“How’s the saying go? A fool and his money are soon...?”

But Eren looked upset and angry, crossing his arms over his chest. “We’ll take it.”

Their server leaned down and whispered something in Eren’s ear and Eren flushed and said, “Oh, yes, here.” He slid over a shiny new credit card.

Levi really, really wanted to stop him, but Petra’s advice lingered in his ears so he didn’t. And besides, he couldn’t dictate how Eren wanted to live his life. So he bit his tongue.

“I can’t believe you just did that,” he said shaking his head when Moblit left.

“Look, it’s my money!” Eren said. “Why won’t you let me do anything nice for you? Besides it’s payback for cooking for me all week.”

Levi continued shaking his head.

“And besides,” said Eren, sliding his hand forward. “Isn’t that what rockstars do? Buy ridiculously priced bottles of champagne?”

Levi had to chuckle at that. He tangled his fingers in Eren’s own.

“And anyways I want to make a toast.”

Moblit returned and was uncorking the bottle.

“Well you can do yours with champagne and I’ll do mine with water.”

“…Why?” Eren asked, his face blank.

“You forgot, didn’t you?” Levi said, sighing and leaning into his palm.

“Forgot what?”

Levi gave a pained smile.

“Oh shit, I’m sorry—I totally forgot—wait—“

POP! Moblit popped open the bottle.

“Fuck,” Eren said in a small voice.

Levi hid his smile behind his hand as Eren’s shoulders slumped. Moblit poured them two glasses and Levi pushed his over to Eren.

“You could have reminded me sooner that you don’t drink,” Eren grumbled.

“Well drink up because that is a $400 bottle that you insisted on,” Levi toasted with his teacup.

“Bottle of champagne. Okay, I can do this. What is that like five glasses? Shit I can do that in my sleep. That’s easy.” He took a deep breath, summoning his strength.

Levi’s lips curled up around the edges of his teacup.

“I really shouldn’t have had that homemade limoncello Mikasa made,” Eren mourned. “Or that beer with Connie.”

“Did you pregame our tea time?” Levi asked incredulously.

“I was—“ Eren struggled for the words. “Nervous.”

“Why?”

“Because I—I don’t know. Because I had to wear the monkey suit and because I can’t tie a tie and look at you, you wore fucking jeans but you look so good in them they let you in without a second glance! Look at me, I am ten minutes into this stupid date and already I’ve made an ass of myself twice over. I just wanted to be cool in front of you for once in my fucking life.”

“…You don’t need to prove anything to me,” Levi reminded him. “You don’t need to prove to me that you have money by pulling stunts like this.”

Eren set his flute down, now empty, and picked up Levi’s.

“I know, I just…” he took a sip helplessly, then sneezing as the bubbles tickled his nose. “Ugh, why do you have to be so cool?”

“I’m five foot three, a quarter Japanese, and I have permanent bitch face. I have to be cool to keep people from making fun of me all the time. No one fucks with the guy who looks like he’s ready to go Mike Tyson on their ass. And what are you talking about? All I do is get embarrassed in front of you. Lest we forget the Kiss Cam incident.”

Eren grinned happily.

“Here you are, sirs, strawberries and cream,” Moblit said, setting down their cups.

Levi automatically scraped off half of his cream into Eren’s bowl, which Eren was very happy for. Levi ate his strawberries with the tiny fork they’d provided and when he looked over Eren had his spoon on his nose. Levi snorted.

“I figure if I’m going to be an embarrassment no matter what I do I’m going to lean into the curve,” Eren explained.

Two flutes down. Moblit came by and filled both glasses again. Eren belched loudly. Moblit didn’t acknowledge the rude gesture. Damn, he was good.

Levi looked around the tea room. The whole place was filled with soft chairs and the servers all wore little maroon vests as they pushed the tea trays around the room. Most of the patrons were AARP members by the looks of it. Older women with lipstick on their teeth and their large hats and their half deaf husbands. The younger people were all couples, the girls in pretty floral dresses leaning forward to talk to their beaus with a kinetic and palpable energy. The beaus all looked pinched with a different kind of anxiety, wiping their sweaty palms on their pants, making sure to tap at their pockets and the treasure inside.

Levi watched one man lean forward and laugh at his girlfriend’s joke in a forced voice and then he leaned back and then forward again. Shit. Really? The motion propelled him forward off the quicksand trap that was those lush chairs and down onto his knee. He mumbled through a few words and then the girl squealed with joy and threw her arms around him. Polite golf claps went around on all sides. One older woman slapped at her sleeping husband and he jolted awake to clap too. A server hurried by with two flutes of complimentary champagne.

“The FUCK,” Eren said loudly, shocked at this display.

The couple looked over at Eren who immediately picked up his flute and pressed it to his lips, gulping the liquid like he was saying the rosary.

“Yeah, most people come to the Historia Tea Room to get engaged or celebrate anniversaries,” Levi said.

Eren gaped at him, then swallowed heavily.

“I—I didn’t know that.” There was an awkward silence that followed this. “Shit, you didn’t think that—I mean—shit, I fucked up, didn’t I?”

“You mean, am I mad that after one week of sleeping with each other that you haven’t proposed?”

“Yeah,” Eren said earnestly, a little pink starting to show on his cheeks.

“Livid,” Levi deadpanned.

“I just—I knew that it was supposed to be a romantic place for couples and I know you like tea so I thought tea plus romance equals special midnight blowies. But clearly I’m out of my depth here. This place is too fancy for me. I mean, look at all these people here, looking at me and judging me.”

“Literally, no one is looking at you.”

“They all can tell that you’re too good for me,” Eren said despondently.

“You’re being ridiculous. No one is paying any attention to us.”

Which wasn’t exactly true because at that moment, the bratty teenager who had been dragged along on an afternoon tea with his grandmother leaned over his chair and looked down at Levi.

“Two dudes having tea?” he sneered. “Isn’t that a little gay?”

Levi looked up at him and blinked, then jerked his thumb at him and looked at Eren with a “can you believe this shit?” expression.

“No what’s gay is how hard I fucked your ass last night,” Eren said tapping his flute to Levi’s teacup again.

“Hell yeah you did, cowboy,” Levi said, holding his hand up for a high-five and Eren drunkenly returned it.

The teen looked shocked by this information and quickly sat back down.

“Finger sandwiches,” Moblit said. “Here we have a salmon and dill, then here we have a cucumber, and here is our home smoked ham. Enjoy sirs.”

“Shit, I’m actually feeling this,” Eren said looking at his now full again flute.

“The bubbles make you drunk faster,” Levi said, reaching for a sandwich. Shit that was good. “Okay, now look at the table by the door. The redhead in the green dress and the dude in the youth pastor khakis.”

Eren whipped his head around.

“No, don’t look like you’re looking. Look casual.”

“Okay,” Eren pretended to look at the chandeliers, pointing and going, “Look! How pretty!”

Levi cradled his head in his hands.

“He has been waiting for a break in their conversation for the past minute or so,” Levi said into his teacup.

“Oh shit, he’s tapping at his pocket,” Eren said, his mouth open.

They continued their surveillance shamelessly as the young man (who was practically green with nerves) leaned forward.

“DENIED,” Eren said as a server walked by and removed a plate from the couple’s table ruining the moment.

“No, no, wait. He’s got his hand in his pocket.”

They both inhaled sharply.

“He’s paying the check, damnit.” Levi shook his head.

“No, look, he’s going for it. Go! Go!” Eren urged.

Maybe the man heard them because he looked over his shoulder before sinking down onto his knee.

“Goal!” Eren shouted, throwing his hands up in the air. Levi pulled them down.

The woman threw herself around her boyfriend’s neck and once again applause broke out and the server brought by twin flutes of bubbly.

“This is actually a lot of food. I mean I expected as much because it is like $60 a head but—shit I shouldn’t have told you how much it cost. That’s rude, my bad, man.”

God, he was adorable.

“Hey Levi, dude, can I ask you something?” Eren winced at his use of the word “dude,” but continued anyways. “I mean, you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to but…why don’t you drink?”

“You mean, am I an alcoholic?” Levi asked him.

“I didn’t say it like that!” Eren protested.

“But that’s how you meant it, right? It’s okay, I’d prefer you ask more directly anyways.”

“I don’t think that of you!” Eren looked very upset that Levi might have misunderstood him.

“It’s okay, kid. I’d want to know if I were you. It’s a bit of a dealbreaker, isn’t it?”

“One of the things I like most about you is you act super bitchy—“

“Wow, thanks.”

“—and you’re super judgey.”

“You know how to romance a man.”

“But you’re also not? I mean you never made me feel like a loser when I was at my lowest. Not for having no job. Not for being fired. Not for smoking pot. And when I was freaking out because I thought I might have an STI—“

Moblit set down some scones with more cream and a small pot of jam at the most inopportune time, trying very hard to pretend he hadn’t heard the last part.

“You didn’t treat me like I was some filthy animal. Which is funny because it’s the exact opposite if I forget to wipe off my shoes before stepping in your apartment—but—um—I want to be able to do that for you. You accept me and I like that. And I—I accept you too.”

Eren reached out to hold his hand and it was a touching moment that was interrupted by Eren hiccupping.

“Hold your breath,” Levi said and Eren puffed out his cheeks but Levi could see him still drawing breath so he leaned forward and pinched Eren’s nose shut.

“I think they’re gone! Phew. Hic. Goddamnit.”

“Well to answer your question, no, I don’t have an Alcoholics Anonymous chip in my wallet and I haven’t given myself over to a higher power.”

Eren nodded, trying not to let another hiccup escape, but his body jumped each time.

“But when I got out of art school, I thought ‘finally, I’m free!’ No more projects for unappreciative teachers, no more deadlines, now everything I do is 100% me. I was the master of my own destiny.”

“And?”

“Oh, I hit a wall obviously. See what happens when you suddenly have free range of your own creativity is that it can be really hard to harness it. So I kept looking for ways to inspire myself. To motivate myself. You know how that is, right?”

Eren nodded. He had stuffed his cloth napkin in his mouth to stifle the noise.

“Well, I started noticing that my peak hours for painting were late at night. So I started staying up later and later and later until the birds chirping outside became my alarm clock to go to bed. Then after that wore off—because it always wears off—I started painting only after I’d had a cigarette. Then it was only after a cigarette and a coffee. Then a cigarette and coffee and beer after beer and it’s 6AM in the fucking morning and I haven’t painted a thing, just getting piss drunk and burning a hole in my favorite chair. Then I started gaining weight and even though I remembered how hard it was to work it off the first time, I somehow let myself be deceived that it was for my art. So then it was a whole bottle of wine a night and it was like a game. How drunk could I get before I couldn’t see the canvas? How many glasses does it take? If I don’t eat, how much faster does it hit me? I thought I was living the right life. The life of the starving artist. I mean, that’s what you’re supposed to do right?

“Well, the thing is, inspiration doesn’t come to you like a lightning bolt. It’s something you train yourself to do. It’s…routine.”

Levi tapped the spreader knife for his scone against the plate absentmindedly. Eren was hanging on every word as best as his little drunk ears could.

“One day I threw out all my cigarettes and booze. Started taking meds for my depression. Started eating three square meals a day. Part of me—well maybe most of me—thought I was throwing away my dreams too. I had to build myself up. Does that sounds stupid?”

“No.” Eren shook his head, leaning on his hand.

“So no, I’m not sure I would call myself an alcoholic, but if that’s what an alcoholic is, then I’m that. I’m not exactly someone who should be around mood altering drugs. Save tea. I couldn’t really give up all my vices.”

“You are a crazy tea addict,” Eren agreed nodding.

“But when you swear off stuff like that…people don’t always want to be around you. It’s funny because when you smoke, all your friends smoke. Then when you drink a lot, you feel better because there’s always that one friend who takes it too far and pisses themselves and you can point to them and say, ‘Well I’m better than that!’ You can’t do that. It doesn’t work like that. Now, I’m not the guy people want to go to a bar with, I’m not a party favorite, I’m not the person who gives toasts—“

“Cheers,” Eren tapped his champagne glass against Levi’s teacup again.

“—Cheers—but I’m healthy. As healthy as I can be, at least.”

Eren leaned over and kissed him.  

“I understand. I mean, I think I understand that feeling pretty well. After we started recording, I had this—uh—panic. Like what if I couldn’t write any more songs after the album? And I think…I think I used you.” He looked embarrassed. “I would call you and try to use you for inspiration. Jean got pissed at me and said I was ‘Swifting It.’”

Levi raised an eyebrow.

“You know like Taylor Swift? It’s just it is so much easier to write about heartache. It’s easier to hold onto that misery and pain. So when you said to give it a week or two before calling—I really did have to think about it. I couldn’t tell if I was pursuing this relationship because I was addicted to the heartbreak.” He had his arms crossed over his chest self-consciously. “I couldn’t tell if I was chasing the muse or chasing you.

“Then I remembered something my mom said when she was dying. She had all these tubes coming out of her nose and I just starting crying because I didn’t want to remember her like that and she said that it is much easier to remember the pain than to remember the joy, so you have to try all that harder to hold onto those moments.

“Two weeks!” Eren laughed, wiping at his face. “I thought, two weeks to shove a lifetime of joy into a relationship before I leave! It sounds really stupid now that I say it. I don’t even know what we are—what this is.”

“Well what do you want it to be?” Levi asked cautiously.

“I—I don’t completely know? I think I want to be able to call you my boyfriend, because it sounds a lot better than ‘man I have ridiculously great sex with.’ But boyfriend sounds silly. ‘Boyfriend’ ‘girlfriend’ all those titles outside of high school and college sounds really dumb. You’re my friend who is a boy. You’re my special friend who is a boy—“

Well Erwin’s mother and Eren had that in common.

“—but you’re more than that. Not like partner or spouse, because those sound too serious. You’re my time walker.”

“Time walker?”

“Yeah, the person I’m walking the Earth with at this particular time. If that’s a boyfriend, then yes, I want you to be my boyfriend. I want to show you off to my sister tonight and say, ‘this is my boyfriend.’ And I don’t want you to call me ‘kid’ anymore.”

“No?” Levi’s brow arched.

“No, you keep saying it and at first it was cute and I was all, ‘Sure you’re Butch Cassidy and obviously I’m the Sundance Kid’ and I liked it but now it just makes me mad.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know you felt that way.”

“I want you to call me ‘babe’ or ‘baby’ or ‘hon’ or ‘sweetheart’ or ‘puddin’’ or any of those disgusting pet names people call each other!”

“Sure…pumpkin…” Levi couldn’t help but be amused.

“I feel like you keep saying ‘kid’ to remind yourself that you’re older. Do you know how many times you repeat your age to me? At least once a day. It’s like one more barrier you’re putting between us. There was already a whole year in the way.”

“What’s four months more then?” Levi said with a shrug.

Eren blinked, then his face spread into a grin.

“Four months is nothing. Fucking child’s play. We’re experts at this shit.”

“Mmhmm.”

They clinked glasses again. Eren leaned across the table for a kiss but was interrupted by Moblit bringing another tray.

“How much fucking food is there?” Eren asked him, waving his arms about.

“You did book a full tea, correct sir?” Moblit asked concerned.

“I’m so full,” Eren cried into his plate. “There’s so much food. Why is there so much food?”

“That’s because you added a whole bottle of champagne on top. Just belch it all out.”

He did so.

“I don’t know how you can resist me when I’m this sexy.”

“Hmm,” Levi said and his foot slipped up Eren’s leg. The large chairs and the thick tablecloth hid this motion and he rubbed against the front of Eren’s pants.

“I think I’m too drunk to get it up,” Eren said. “I do appreciate the gesture though. Very thoughtful of you.”

“Do you see out there?” Levi pointed out one of the front windows that had a view of the huge lawn in front of the Historia. “I used to do chalk paintings out on that sidewalk between those two lampposts.”

“You…you used to paint out on the sidewalk?”

“Yeah, well I mean, just to get people’s attention to sell my oil paintings.”

“You…you used to sell your art on the sidewalk?”

“Yes? Why are you saying it like that?”

“Levi…you were a busker.”

“No, fuck you. I was nothing of the sort.”

“Did you have a hat out for change?”

“Well…yes.”

Eren made a face.

“That doesn’t mean anything! And at any rate I only did it until a cop came by and said he was going to give me a ticket unless I got a—holy shit.”

“You were a busker.”

“Fuck. Fuck.”

“It’s okay,” Eren said, leaning over to pat his shoulder.

Eren downed the last of champagne and let out a very long belch.

“Done! You all thought I couldn’t do it, but I did. Hahahaha!” he laughed very loudly, but his moment of victory was overshadowed by the man at the table next to them getting down on one knee. “Goddamnit.”

“Hannah, every day with you is magical,” said the man.

“Oh Franz!” the girl exclaimed.

“Goddamnit, again? Really?” Eren complained.

The couple ignored him.

“Would you do me the honor of making me the happiest man alive?” Franz asked, opening the ring box.

“Boooo,” called Eren, cupping his hands as he did so and Levi tried to pull them down.

“What is your problem?” Franz asked.

“You’re like the third or fourth couple we’ve seen get engaged here. Like be fucking original, why don’t you?”

“Look man don’t get pissy with me just because your boyfriend turned you down.”

“He did not!”

“Look you asswipe,” said Hannah. “Don’t you fucking ruin this for me. Don’t you dare!”

Levi found her more terrifying than her tall boyfriend. Never get between a woman and her ring.

“For your information I haven’t even asked him,” Eren said drunkenly.

“Why would you bring someone here if you weren’t going to propose? Who even does that?” she asked.

Eren pointed at Hannah and looked at Levi.

“Can you believe the disrespect? They think two men can’t get engaged.”

“I never said that!” she snapped.

Levi had both hands over his face, hiding it from the eyes of the curious bystanders.

“I’m sorry I thought this was the HISTORIC HISTORIA HOTEL not the WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH,” Eren said loudly. “Fine, I was going to wait until later, but here goes.”

“Don’t you dare!” Levi told him as Eren wrapped up a towel and winked at him.

“Babe,” Eren said, smirking at the pet name. “I don’t have a ring.”

“Oh!” Hannah said, her anger melting away as she witnessed the scene, clutching her hands to her chest.

“He’s joking. Ignore him,” Levi said to their audience.

“But I am giving you this,” Eren tied the napkin around Levi’s wrist. “As a symbol of my feelings for you.”

The elderly woman and her bratty teenage grandson were now paying close attention as Levi turned crimson. Eren was clearly having a great time, messing with all of these people.

“AND I DON’T CARE WHO KNOWS,” Eren said loudly, making Levi jump a little. “Let the world try to deny our love! I just want to make you happy every day. So today I’m making a pledge to you.”

He got down on a wobbly knee, grabbing Levi’s chair for balance.

“I’m going to murder you,” Levi muttered under his breath. “You drunken asshole.”

“I want to marry you, Levi Ackerman! Will you be my husband?” Eren shouted.

Eren’s eyes had a hard time focusing so he didn’t see the death glare Levi was giving him, not that he would have cared anyway.

“You’re such a dumbass,” Levi muttered.

“Oh please say, yes!” Hannah urged, bouncing in her chair a little.

“Sure, fine, yes. Whatever.”

There was a great deal of cheering and Eren stumbled back into his chair with a wide grin on his face.

“Was that necessary?” Levi asked.

“Hey, I’m the one who dragged you here to this place, the least I could do is give you an authentic experience,” Eren slurred, looking very pleased with himself.

“Well, I’m glad you had fun. But I want you to remember this,” Levi said in a calm and deadly voice, the kind that made Eren break out into a cold sweat. “That’s twice in a week you’ve faked proposed to me. The next time had better be for real.”

“I—understood.” Eren nodded wide-eyed.

“Ah, congratulations, sirs,” said Moblit. “Please enjoy two complimentary glasses of champagne on the house.”

“No,” Eren whispered as Moblit set down two fresh glasses of sparkling wine in front of each of them.

Levi slid his flute over to Eren, who looked like he might burst into tears.

Chapter Text

It took a great deal of work for Levi to drag Eren to his scooter and then drive them to the apartment. He went slow, worried Eren might fall off the back, but he clung tight muttering about how he was going to be sick the entire time. Once inside Levi’s apartment, Eren ran for the toilet and hurled.

Levi cleaned him up and threw him into bed, where the cats immediately climbed on top of him. Eren started snoring and Levi shook his head.

“You are a ridiculous man.”

<*>

Eren woke up to a sharp pounding in his head and a sharp sting on his hip as Sawny curled her claws into him purring happily.

He fumbled around, trying to sit up. His eyes focused on a large water bottle on the nightstand with a sticky note labeled, “Drink me” and a bottle of Advil labelled, “Take two.” He obeyed, his mouth incredibly dry. He grabbed for his phone and the bright light sent a jolt of paint through his eyes.

“Shit!” he cried falling off the bed.

“Good afternoon, Sleeping Beauty,” read Levi’s text. “When you wake up I’m down at the studio. The key code is 1066 if you want to join me. Otherwise, I’ll be home before we leave.”

Eren dragged himself out of the bedroom and into the apartment. Levi’s tidy living space had been growing messier and messier since Eren’s arrival. They hadn’t really had time to clean since nearly every moment was spent in bed or out on the town. His guitar and music were spread everywhere and his duffle of clothes spilled out into the kitchen and he’d knocked over the cat’s food dish more than once. But now the apartment was spotless. The sheet music stacked into neat piles. Levi had cleaned before he left for the studio. He’d cleaned up Eren’s mess that was totally Eren’s responsibility to clean. Shit.

Eren called a cab to drop him off at the studio, hoping he wasn’t passing Levi in the process. He kept remembering their tea time in waves of embarrassment and decided he needed help. He thought of texting Mikasa but she wouldn’t care. She already expressed her displeasure over Eren staying with Levi during the week. Armin was absolute shit at relationship advice. He was a great listener for when you needed to cry over your feelings but was too analytical and cautious when it came to advice. Jean would know what to do (or at least would brag loudly that he did), but he would also never let him forget it and make fun of him in the process. No, he needed a neutral party who knew how to keep a secret.

“hypothetical question,” Eren texted.

sure?” Marco responded quickly.

Oh thank god.

“suppose Jean took you to the Historia for high tea”

okay…

“and then ordered a $400 bottle of champagne”

oh god

“forgetting that you don’t drink”

but i do drink

“not in this hypothetical”

k”

“so he was forced to drink the whole thing and got drunk and then fake proposed to you to upstage some yuppie hetero couple”

“how mad would you be?”

“:/“

“that’s about what i thought :(”

Eren reached the studio, paid the cabbie and keyed in the code, then took the open elevator up.

“Levi?” he called, his gut churning.

He stepped around several paintings and then into the open space. Levi had his headphones on and was working on a new piece. Eren stepped around him to look at it and Levi jumped.

“Shit, you scared me!”

“Sorry, I called but you had your headphones on.”

“How’s your head?” Levi said, giving Eren a kiss.

“Awful.” How’s your mood? Are you super pissed at me? “So uh, what’s this piece?”

“It’s a commission actually. Some architecture firm wants a painting of their building.”

“Oh,” said Eren nodding.

“C’mere,” Levi said, pulling Eren’s hands underneath him. He put the paintbrush in Eren’s hand.

“No—I—I don’t want to mess it up!”

“You won’t. C’mere.”

Levi wrapped his hand over Eren’s and drew a light stroke down. Eren stared at the brushstroke. He had done that. With Levi’s help, of course, but now there was a permanent mark on the canvas because of him. Levi was sinking into Eren’s arms like they were made for him.

“I love you,” Eren said softly.

Levi tensed and set down the brush. “Eren, I—“

“I love you and you don’t have to say it back. I know it’s only been a week and I know you’d tell me to take time and think about how I feel, but I do love you. And I’m not going to pretend I don’t just because it’s only been a short while. So if I have to be that guy—the guy who says it first—so be it. I’m always going to be that guy. I love you, Levi.”

Levi cleared his throat.

“We should, uh, get ready for the showing,” he said standing up.

“What? This guy isn’t coming with us?” Eren pointed at the painting.

Levi had to laugh at that.

“This is a great space,” Eren said looking around. “You’ve got so many paintings here, how are there any left for the showing tonight?”

“I’ve been…prolific. We picked our favorites to show.”

“How do you even transport these with your scooter?”

“Carefully.”

Eren laughed, then leaned on a workbench.

“You know what would be super sexy?”

“If we had sex on the workbench? I thought of it, but we’ll be late if we do,” Levi pulled off the headband he’d been using to keep his bangs out of his face while he painted and Eren tried really hard not to smirk at that.

“No. I mean, yes, obviously, but—consider this: we get just a big bunch of paint.”

“Uh…huh…”

“And a huge canvas. And then we just roll around in the paint and bang.”

“What? You’re ridiculous.”

“Then you hang the canvas up and sell it for mucho dinero and no one is any the wiser that it is a bang painting.”

“That is the stupidest idea ever. Do you have any idea how expensive paint is? And most of this isn’t stuff you want to get on your skin, let alone—“ he shuddered “—inside you.”

“Haven’t you ever heard of that guy who shoots paint out his bunghole? He sells those for a lot.”

“Oh my god, stop talking, that is disgusting.”

“Then there’s this girl who shoots paint out her eyeball.”

“Don’t say that, I’m going to puke, oh god.” Levi gagged.

“I like how you can swallow a dick like a champ without choking, but god forbid someone mention mildew.”

“Ugh, mildew. C’mon, let’s get ready. I can’t be late to my own party.”

<*>

“So let me get this straight,” said Jean, leaning off of Marco’s shoulder. “You bought a $400 bottle of bubbly and got blitzed in the Tea Room of the fancy schmancy Historia Hotel?”

“Pretty much.”

Jean laughed. “You know the Historia is where my parents got engaged right?”

“Someone suggested it.”

“What moron thought taking your boyfriend of a week to the engagement room was a good idea?”

“And here,” Sasha said, across the room, flipping through her photos for Levi to see. “Is the first time we got fake engaged at the Historia. Here is the second. And then they caught on to us so pretended we were on our anniversary for the third.”

The first photo had her looking very surprised and shocked at Connie’s fake gumball machine ring. The second they both wore very large sunhats and sunglasses. And then third they pretended to be furious with one another.

“So you pay the $60 per head to go to the tea room...” Levi said tapping on his fingers and Connie and Sasha nodded. “And then pretend to get engaged.” They nodded again. “Just so you can get free champagne.”

“Yup!” Sasha said brightly. “We save up every year.”

She flipped through some more photos.

“This is a good spread,” Connie complimented handing a plate to Sasha which distracted her enough to put the phone away. “Way better than the mortgage seminar we went to.”

Sasha and Connie were apparently masters at getting free meals. They signed up for time share presentations at hotels or pyramid scheme seminars that promised free food and then continued on to annoy the salespersons with impertinent and distracting questions. Most of the time their free food antics involved dumpster diving, because “You wouldn’t believe what people throw away!” which Levi found appalling and when Sasha shared the story about how they once found a severed foot, he gagged audibly.

“Yeah, but we don’t do that so often anymore,” Connie said. “Because one time we got super sick off these bagels that the owner had filled with rat poison to kill his mice infestation. It was one helluva trip, I’ll tell you that. I swear I saw through time.”

“Good food,” Sasha complimented Hanji as she approached. “Did you make these little tomato roses?”

“Thanks, and no, that’s what the caterer is for.”

“Caterer,” Connie said. “Shit.”

“It’s for people who are interested in buying one of the paintings.”

“What paintings?” Connie asked.

Hanji indicated the walls which were quite literally filled with Levi’s work.

“Holy shit I didn’t even notice those.” Connie peered closely at them. “Who’s the artist?”

“Me,” Levi said.

“I thought it was like Picasso or someone, my bad.”

“Levi, can I talk to you?” Hanji said politely as Connie informed Sasha that it was, in fact, not a Picasso.

“Sure,” he said, having an idea what she wanted to talk to him about. Once Connie was out of earshot, “Look, I know, but Eren wanted me to meet his friends. And you said I could invite whoever I wanted!”

“Oh, no. It’s not that. Actually there are far more people than I expected because somehow word got out that all of Rogue Titan was going to be here.”

“Gee, I wonder who leaked that information.”

“Although, I don’t think Eren’s friends are really in the market for any artwork. Most of them look like they consider a stack of pizza boxes to be a workable coffee table. No, I wanted to tell you that I’ve already had two offers!”

“Shit, really?”

“The night is young, but I think we might clean house. Fingers crossed. And remember, be charming.”

“Fuck you, I am charming.” He attempted a smile.

“Well, okay, that’s disturbing. Don’t do that. Just say ‘Hello, thanks for coming,’ and point them in my direction.”

“Sure.”

She gave him a kiss on the cheek and then flew away about as fast as she’d appeared.

Levi looked around the very packed room. He could see Eren talking with Jean and Marco and heard snippets of their conversation.

“Well you’re not the only one who did something ridiculous with your money. Tell Eren what you bought, Jean.”

Jean flushed and looked embarrassed, “I don’t wanna.”

“He bought a Segway, Eren.”

Eren’s bright laugh filled the room and Levi smiled.

“I know the artist,” Connie said talking with a middle aged couple, leaning on a high rise table. “Yeah, you could say we’re pretty close. But, he’s no Picasso, ya dig?”

“I don’t know about artwork though,” Reiner was saying to his tall boyfriend. “I was thinking a small recording studio for the apartment.”

“Really? Because I was thinking a better investment might be a bigger apartment that we could share.”

“Like…move in together? I like my privacy, Bert. I’m not really the domestic type.”

“We have literally been living together in various hotel rooms and that skunk smelling van for a good six months.”

“I like having my own place! Besides you said I couldn’t keep my cardboard cutout of Dolf Ludgren if we did move in together.”

“That is the first thing that goes.”

“I don’t complain about your Charlie Chaplan posters!”

“It’s Buster Keaton. You know what? Forget it. I don’t want to have this conversation here.” Bert shook his head, walking to the other side of the room.

Okay, no way Levi was going to get in the middle of that. He picked the girl standing alone, sipping a flute of champagne looking at one of the pieces.

“Hello,” Levi said in a practiced manner. Be charming. “Thank you for coming.”

Ymir grunted.

“What do you think of this piece?” Levi asked.

“Sucks.”

“…Oh. I’m the artist.”

“I know,” she said, taking another sip and walking away.

“Mikasa! Armin!” Eren shouted and jumped up and down waving at them.

Oh god she looked pissed. Even more pissed than usual. Levi decided he would keep as far from her a possible. He turned on the spot, hiding.

“Did you know Dad has a new girlfriend? Her name is Kimberly. She is your age, Eren!”

“Uhhh…” Eren lowered his voice and Levi could hear him giving Mikasa the same speech he’d given Levi on the way over. Something about how it was important to him that his family get along with his boyfriend and to be nice. Mikasa huffed and crossed her arms.

“Man, I am so glad you’re here,” Eren said to Armin, who was looking around the room interestedly. “I could really use your help with—“

“…Sorry? Were you talking to me?” Armin asked, jumping a little in feigned surprise.

Eren blinked.

“Connie! Sasha! Hey!” Armin walked away abruptly.

“Levi! Hi!” Petra said, hopping up to give him a kiss on the cheek.

“Hello. Thanks for coming. Where is Aururo?”

Her face fell a little.

“Oh, he’s on some boys camping retreat.”

“Oh, well sucks to be him.”

Hanji flew over with a flute of champagne in her hands, “Here you go Petra!”

“Oh…thanks, I’m good though.”

Hanji and Levi stared. Petra never turned down free booze. Or any kind of booze for that matter.

“Yeah, I’m watching my figure for the wedding. Trying to cut back on my alcohol intake.”

They continued staring. Petra shifted from foot to foot, her bottom lip shaking.

“Would you excuse me, one moment?” she asked before speeding away to the women’s restroom.

“Eren!” Hanji said greeting him as he walked over to the two of them. “Would you like a glass?”

“No!” Eren said doing a Matrix move to dodge the glass she extended to him. “No thank you, I’m good.”

“I’ll take it,” Mikasa said, downing the whole thing. “Where’s the bar?”

“Over there.”

“Cash?”

“No it’s an open—“ Hanji started but Mikasa was already cutting a path there.

Levi caught Eren’s exasperated face and tried to say something comforting but was interrupted.

“Levi!” Gunter said as he and Erd moved toward them. “Nice show. And an open bar? Gonna get blitzed, man.”

“If you puke on it, you buy it,” Levi informed them.

“Look, it’s the Jägermeister!” Gunter said. “How you been, bro?”

“Ha, I forgot about that name,” Eren cringed. “Good. The album has been selling really well.”

“So you’re like a bigshot now. What’re you doing with this cranky asshole—I’m kidding!” Gunter put his hands up because Petra had reappeared and was looking at him sharply, a tissue in her hand.

“Are you two…actually…uh?” Petra asked and Levi felt the air still around them as people leaned in to listen. “Sorry was that an awkward thing to ask?”

“No, it’s fine,” Eren said, looping his arm around Levi’s waist. “We are official now.”

He looked down at Levi with a bewitched smile and Levi tried to return it, trying to shove his nervous energy to the side. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Mikasa give a disgusted sigh and down a glass of red wine. Erd and Gunter exchanged a look and Petra made a pained expression.

“So you’re like a cradle robber now, Levi,” Erd teased.

“Oh!” Petra gave a sniffle. “Cradle. Could you excuse me?” She ran off in search of the bathroom again.

“I told you they were,” Jean said loudly. “Why else would we be here for free?”

“The fuck is that supposed to mean?” Eren asked, whipping his head around.

“Dude, we’re celebrities now. We get paid to make appearances and endorse shitty booze.”

“I just wanted my friends to meet my boyfriend. That’s not an ‘appearance.’”

“Well now you’re setting the precedent that we have to show up for band member’s S.O.’s shindigs. Does that mean we’re all going to show up for Marco’s DJ-ing gig?”

“I don’t have—I’m not a DJ—“

“Well, just know you owe me one, Jaeger. I intend to cash in your IOU for Marco’s little cousin’s bar mitzvah and you will go and you will play a whole set and you will not be paid for it.”

“I’m Lutheran,” Marco said confusedly.

“Not when you meet my mother you’re not,” Jean said, sipping on his bourbon and coke. “She thinks I’m dating a cute Jewish doctor and that’s all a mother could ever want for her child.”

Eren and Jean continued making snide remarks to each other and Levi slipped out of Eren’s arm to greet more people.

“Hello,” he said giving a little wave at a couple he didn’t recognize. “Thank you for coming.”

Bert and Ernie—Reiner, he reminded himself. Reiner. Bert and Reiner had roped others into their disagreement, standing on opposite sides of the room glaring at one another.

“I mean, I’m not gonna give up my individuality!” Reiner was saying to Gunter.

“Yeah, man. Don’t let bitches boss you around.”

“I’m not getting rid of the cutout!”

“You shouldn’t! Drago is the fucking bomb.”

“And somehow that makes me the bad guy?”

“Women, man,” Gunter said sympathetically.

“Okay, again, I’m talking about a man.”

“Roommates,” Gunter nodded understandingly.

“Hello. Thank you for coming,” Levi said to Mike and Nanaba woodenly.

Mike sniffed out the bar and made a beeline for it.

“So tell me, how does that even work?” Erd asked Sasha. “Like is there any kind of trick to it?”

“The trick is not to fall or impale yourself,” Sasha explained. “And to use chunky yarn.”

“You spent all week at his place? Dude. I hope you called dibs on being the sperm donor because you don’t want little short assholes for kids,” Jean’s loud voice carried and Levi couldn’t hear Eren’s retort but he knew it was angry.

Kids,” repeated Petra, running into the bathroom again sobbing.

“Hello. Thank you for coming,” Levi said to Erwin as entered with Nile.

“Wow, that bad already, huh?” Erwin asked sympathetically.

Levi turned from Erwin to the couple behind him echoing robotically, “Hello. Thank you for coming.”

<*>

Prayer had never really been a part of Eren’s life. After Mom died, Dad didn’t really care if they went to church. Then one day in high school Eren shaved off all of his hair and decided he was Buddhist, despite having no idea what being Buddhist actually entailed. His day as a Buddhist ended when someone tried to rub his belly for good luck and he punched them in the teeth. So when he closed his eyes to pray for patience, he didn’t really know what god he was supposed to be praying to. He couldn’t even remember any prayers or hymns. So what actually happened is he started humming, “The Bed,” from Hair, which during his Hindu phase (fuck that was another embarrassing time of his life—before he learned about cultural appropriation) he had taken acid and listened to with Sasha and Connie.

You can lie in bed, you can lay in bed, you can die in bed, you can pray in bed…” rattled around in his brain. How he desperately wanted to be back in bed.

The thing about whisking away the man of your dreams and spending a week together in bed was that sooner or later you had to go outside. Eren assumed because they had spent time together out on dates that the evening wouldn’t be so difficult. But here’s the truth: It’s one thing to call yourself a couple when it’s just the two of you, it’s quite another to be a couple in a social setting, as Eren was all too quickly discovering.

Eren had assumed that since this was Levi’s big gallery show, and since Levi had invited him, and had invited all his friends, that this was their night. Levi was showing him how he cared. Except Levi had shut down five minutes into the night, after Hanji introduced him to several buyers. Eren wanted to show his friends the intelligent, talented (skill! not talent! Levi would chastise), and amazing Levi (Levi, Levi, Levi! He loved that name!) he’d fallen in love with, but what he got was a man with flat affect who froze every time someone talked to him. As the room got larger, people filtering in from the street to look at the paintings, Levi got smaller. Eren could practically see him shrink with every, “Hello. Thank you for coming.” His heart went to Levi. He wanted to be Levi’s anchor. His rock. His little island to escape to. But Eren had no fucking idea how to do that.

The worst was when he told people they were official. The looks on their faces! No one, not a single person was happy for them. Levi’s friends just exchanged a look—that look! He hated that look. That was the look he received from everyone when he told them he was busking. The “that is a terrible idea, but I’m not going to say anything about it” look of judgment. Even Marco’s reassuring smile was forced.

“Fuck you! I can make this work! I am going to make this work!” he thought. Did everyone really have that little faith in him?

It was the same stubborn attitude he approached everything with. And that scared him, because he had tried so hard not to be that Eren anymore.

For the first time he had a nagging feeling that maybe this wouldn’t work out. Sure, he and Levi both accepted the age difference. Eren accepted that Levi didn’t drink. He accepted that Levi wasn’t the best in social situations. He was off-putting and abrasive. Eren knew all this when he signed up for it, but dealing with it in-action was—well, frankly, exasperating. He had already repeated Levi’s age to Jean and Marco, and Sasha and Connie, and his own age to Levi’s friends. He was getting tired of raised eyebrows at the numbers.

“So that means, when you were born Levi was like…nine or ten?” they asked, like calculators were never invented.

Eren had hoped people would mind their own business. But if they came up to a bald woman clearly going through chemo to ask impertinent questions like they had with his mother, what was to stop them from asking about his and Levi’s business?

“So have you two, you know, bow chicka?” Connie asked.

He just nodded dumbly at that one. That was a bad idea, he probably should have said it was none of their business. Because it really was none of their business. To distract them, he told them how dumb he’d been on their surprise date.

“I don’t get it. Why did you drink it all yourself?” Annie asked.

“Because Levi doesn’t drink.”

“So he’s an alcoholic, great,” Mikasa muttered, like she was one to talk the way she was throwing them back tonight.

Eren’s new path to be less angry was to stop getting defensive about shit. And fuck was he defensive about Levi. How dare they hint that Levi was anything short from perfect? Poor word choice there. They could insult Eren all they wanted, but Levi was off-limits!

“I thought Eren was into chicks?” Gunter muttered to Erd and Petra.

“Maybe he’s into both?” Petra said quietly.

“Yeah, well he’s leaving to go on tour for four months,” Erd informed them and they all exchanged that look again.

Oh.

Apparently being pan meant that Eren would cheat. He felt so impotent with rage for a blinding moment before it mellowed out into despair. What…what if he did? Four months is a long time and it gets so lonely on the road.

“Oh the bed is a thing, of feather and spring, of wire and wood, invention so good.”

Eren wanted to grab Levi by the hand and drag them both out of there back to the apartment, lock the door, crawl into bed, and disappear into Levi’s skin until the world faded away.

“Hello. Thank you for coming.”

That’s it. Fuck this place.

He grabbed Levi’s hand and dragged him to the bathroom with an “I need to talk to you!”

Once they were alone (blessedly alone!) Eren blurted out, “I hate my friends!”

Chapter Text

Eren grabbed his hand and Levi felt himself being pulled along like he was a balloon on a string. He’d felt paralyzed all night. He was trying. He was really trying, but fuck this was hard. Then Erwin walked in, with that knowing smile of his and he remembered how the entire drive back from Erwin’s cousin’s wedding he’d been lectured by Erwin on how Levi had embarrassed him with his rudeness. If he wasn’t in shutdown mode before he definitely was now.

“Help, I don’t want to be who I am but I have no idea how to not be who I am!” he thought in a small voice.

“Hello. Thank you for coming,” Levi said to a couple as Eren pulled him into the men’s restroom.

“I hate my friends!” Levi sighed the second they were inside. “Wait? What?”

“Oh,” Eren blinked. He’d said the same thing.

“Petra keeps rushing to the bathroom to cry every five seconds and Gunter is out there giving the worst relationship advice ever and Hanji, where is Hanji? Don’t know, she’s here one second, gone the next! Why? Because she’s fucking Hanji and she does whatever the fuck she wants. This was her idea! I didn’t even want to have this stupid thing. I feel like some goddamn animal on display at the zoo.”

“That’s partially my fault,” Eren apologized.

“No, it’s not—“

“I wanted you to meet my friends and Mikasa and this is clearly a bad mix. Connie and Sasha are the only ones having fun and are raiding the food—I saw her stuff a whole tray of those…what do you call those minidog things?”

“Pigs in a blanket.”

“Pigs in a blanket into her purse. And Reiner and Bert are fighting which is great, really great for the integrity of our band, thanks guys. Jean is whining because he thinks we’re bigshots now. Motherfucker, if we were bigshots, we would have an actual tour van. Have you seen our new van? It’s fucking tiny, Levi. It’s going to be another four months of sleeping nose to foot in that fucker. And he never drives, Levi! He says he has night-blindness. Liar. And then Mikasa is apparently drinking for the entire population of Belgium!”

“Why Belgium?”

“I don’t know! I’m angry! I’m not making sense! Armin’s mad at me and is frankly acting like a fucking middle school girl about it.” He sighed. “Let’s just go. Let’s go home and fuck each other senseless and just—“

“I can’t,” Levi sighed. “We can’t.”

They both sighed and leaned into each other’s embrace.

“Maybe…” Eren said looking around at the bathroom.

“No.”

“We could get some leverage on the sink!”

“No. It’s filthy in here. Idiot.”

They sighed.

“We just need to suck it up.”

“No,” Eren said and Levi thought he was pouting, but instead he was pounding his hand on his fist, full of zeal. “No, we will not admit defeat! Honestly, if we can’t deal with our idiot friends, then how are we going to deal with family? With kids?”

“Hm,” Levi said humming and messing with Eren’s tie. “Kids.”

“Uh, sorry I shouldn’t have brought up kids. That’s a different conversation.”

“I want kids.”

“…Really?”

“Yeah. Why not?”

Eren smiled and his eyes flickered to the sink again.

“I think if I hoist you up—“

“No!” Levi flicked him in the side of the head. “Focus. What do we do about those kids out there?”

“I don’t know, I’m not a plan kind of guy. I’m a fly by the seat of my pants kind of guy. Hey, if I put my coat down on the ground, we could—“

“Wow, chivalry isn’t dead after all. You’ll put your coat down on the floor for me so I don’t get dirty while we bang on the floor. How romantic.”

“I can’t tell when you’re being sarcastic sometimes.”

“Tch.” Levi rolled his eyes and cracked open the door. “I’m not really a plan guy either.”

“I really wish Armin wasn’t pissed at me, this would be so much easier if he were running interference with Mikasa.”

“Well, first things first. Get Gunter away from Reiner.”

“Easy,” Eren brushed off his shoulders and adopting a very confident air strolled over. “Reiner! Dude! Have you met Levi’s friend Erd?” He spun Reiner around and clapped his shoulder. “Now what?” he asked walking back to Levi.

“Go tell the bar to cut your sister off.”

“On it.”

Levi watched him go over and mutter to the bartender.

“Hey man,” Erd was saying to Reiner. “You know what they say, ‘Happy Wife, Happy Life.’”

“Okay, but again, I’m talking about a man. My boyfriend.”

“Doesn’t matter. Relationships are all about compromise. Sure, she makes you get rid of all your Magic: The Gathering cards, but now you don’t have to deal with her sister every time she comes over. And trust me, Karen is unbearable.”

“That’s not very applicable to my particular situation. And I was talking to Gunter and he agrees with me—“

“What? No, don’t talk to that moron. I love him. He is a brother to me. But he is a moron. He is so perpetually single that our couple friends asked us to stop inviting him over for our get-togethers because he is so depressing.”

Reiner looked over at Gunter.

“That is the face of a broken, sad, lonely man,” Erd continued. “A man who doesn’t even bother to clear the porn from his search history. And it is weird porn. Do you want to be that guy? Spend your life scrolling OkCupid? The guy who goes to speed dating and gets thrown out?”

Reiner paled.

“I—no.”

“What is this thing you don’t want to throw out again?”

“My Dolf Ludgren cut-out.”

Erd squinted at him.

“The fuck is wrong with you?”

Levi turned away. Well that was going better.

“Okay, Mikasa is cut off,” Eren reappeared. “What next?”

“I used to be like you,” Petra sobbed onto Annie’s shoulders. “So young! So pretty! Let me tell you something. Don’t ever fall in love.” She grabbed Annie’s face in her hands.

Annie, who had nowhere to escape from the hysterical woman, was stuck.

“Don’t fall in love. Just sleep around. I could have fucked so many guys. I wasted so much time with this loser. And what do I have to show for it? I got the ring, yeah! But he doesn’t want to set a date!”

“That,” Levi pointed.

“I hate him!” Petra said. Annie tried to slide away, but Petra grabbed her again. “You’re a really good listener. Better than Aururo! I hate him! I hate him! I hate men! I’m done with men.”

“Showtime,” said Ymir, cocking an eyebrow, finishing her drink, and setting her sights on Petra.

“No, no!” Eren said steering her away. “Get! Go!”

“Clam Jam!” Ymir accused, skulking away.

“I don’t even know how to start with that,” Levi said.

“Help me!” Annie mouthed to Eren.

“One minute!” Eren begged silently.

“Eren! Eren don’t you leave me!” Annie hissed then patted Petra’s shoulders consolingly. “There, there.”

“Wow, are you Eren from Rogue Titan?” a woman asked. “Can I, like, get your autograph?”

“Oh, yeah, sure.”

Levi was pulled away by Hanji to meet a buyer, whom he was very disappointed to recognize.

“There’s the guy!” Mr. Balto, CEO of Balto Inc. clapped him on the shoulder with his fat meaty hands.

Levi could only stare at the offending member and its veal-like color. He gave Erwin a long-suffering glare. He definitely didn’t remember inviting Balto to the showing. Erwin only shrugged in apology.

Levi hadn’t noticed Pixis’ bald ass was here. Dawk was as well, although Balto didn’t like him much so he was sulking and sipping at some of the hard liquor. This was the first time Levi had been near him since he found out about him and Erwin and he wondered if Nile felt outshined by him like Levi used to. Did he mind it? Did he get along with Phyllis better? Had he even met Erwin’s parents?

“Dot,” Levi shook his hand. “It’s been a while.”

“I was just telling Smith and Pixis here how you’re one of my best employees,” Balto said.

Balto was under the delusion that Levi worked for him, when really Levi worked for the Survey Corp. But since Balto Inc. was their biggest client, Levi was basically Balto’s bitch.

“But I bet you knew that, Dot,” Balto nudged him. “It’s why I had to steal him from you.”

Fucking prick.

Pixis and Balto both laughed like they shared a hilarious joke and Levi could only stand there, frozen in the spotlight. Levi wasn’t good in the spotlight. He was more of a dark corner person. Be charming.

“But who knew you were so talented, Ackerman?” Balto said looking around. “Where’d you find the time to paint all of these? I must not be working you hard enough.”

“Ha,” Levi managed.

Eren bounded up next to him and Levi closed his eyes. No, please no. It wasn’t that Eren was embarrassing. Okay maybe it was a little that he was embarrassing. And it wasn’t that men like Balto ate boys like Eren alive for breakfast. Well it was a little that too. It was that he wasn’t quite ready to share that part of his life. Sure they had decided to tell their friends that they were official, but work was different. Levi didn’t want Balto knowing anything about his personal life.

“Hello,” Eren said brightly. “Thank you for coming.”

“Harris Balto,” Balto said shaking Eren’s had in a vice-like grip. “Are you Levi’s kid?”

Did he honestly think Eren was his son?

“No, I’m—uh—I’m the boyfriend. Eren. Eren Jaeger.” Eren said, his reassuring smile breaking the awkward moment. He looped his arm around Levi and Levi just wanted to shrink away.

“Huh. Didn’t strike you as a cradle robber, Ackerman,” Balto laughed.

God, what Levi wouldn’t give to go back in time and punch whoever invented that phrase in the mouth.

“Must have taken some lessons from this old goat here,” Balto ribbed Pixis again.

“My wife is 27 years my junior,” Pixis clarified for them, his eyes twinkling.

Levi knew he always liked Pixis.

“Eren, son,” Pixis said reaching forward and giving his hand a shake. “Nice to see you again.”

“And you,” Eren said. “How’s Maria?”

“Good, we actually bred her so she just had a litter. Would you like to see?” Pixis indicated his phone.

Eren’s eyes widened to the size of dinner plates.

“Yes!” he blurted out.

Pixis flipped through his phone and Eren awed at each and every picture of the puppies in a way that didn’t really help dissuade Balto from the idea that Eren was a child.

“I’m not much of an art person,” Balto informed Hanji loudly, under the impression they actually cared about his opinion. “Especially this abstract stuff. I don’t really see the point of it.”

“I have a nice one of dogs playing poker, if you’d like that better,” Levi thought and actually had to bite his tongue to keep from saying it.

“Levi has several landscapes as well,” Hanji said quickly and Levi knew she could smell the money on him.

“The owners of the building at work actually bought one he did of the Atrium,” Erwin informed him.

“Oh that one with pink and red splotches?” Balto asked and if Levi didn’t know him better he’d say he was impressed.

“Yeah, it was Valentine’s Day,” Levi said shrugging.

Valentine’s Day,” Eren repeated, grinning.

“So Eren, what do you do?” Balto asked.

Eren froze, not quite sure how to answer that. Unfortunately, Erwin took it upon himself to save him.

“Eren’s going to school to be a dental hygienist,” Erwin said, taking a sip of his wine. Levi forgot how he always had white wine so his teeth wouldn’t get stained for photos. It’s strange watching the habits of people you used to date outside of that relationship.

Balto looked bored by this information, as if Eren wasn’t quite worth his time.

“Oh, how does that work?” Pixis asked.

“Yes, Eren,” said Hanji, cocking her head to the side. “How does that work?”

Shit, he should have known that lie would come back to bite them in the ass.

“Uh, well, I just have to complete my courses and then I am certified to, uh, clean teeth,” Eren lied.

Would that Eren could have picked some field that he actually knew something about.

“Oh,” Erwin said, feigning interest.

“Yup, just have my exams and then I’m all set,” he continued, figuring he might as well commit to the lie.

Hanji looked pointedly at Levi and Levi could only shrug.

“How do exams even work for something like that?” Pixis asked.

“Oh, well they don’t really have written exams,” explained Eren, hands on his hips. “Which is good because I’ve always been good at oral.”

Levi was going to kill Eren.

“So it’s more of a field work type of exam?” asked Erwin. “A practicum?”

Fuck, he was going to kill both of them.

“Yes, that.” Eren pointed at him.

“Hi,” said a shy girl near Eren’s elbow. “I was just—are you—can I get a picture?”

Eren flushed. So much for his carefully crafted lie.

“Sure,” he said and he posed for a selfie with his fan.

“Eren is a bit of a local celebrity,” Erwin explained to Balto.

“Oh?” Balto asked, looking at Eren interestedly now.

“Wait, you knew?” Eren asked.

“There’s a billboard of you on 110th,” Erwin pointed out.

Before Eren could retort, Balto threw an arm around him.

“So tell me son, what label are you signed with? Have you considered endorsements? Sponsors? What kind of transportation do they have you in? You know, we have several products we’re trying to market to teenage girls and all you would have to do is—“

“Uhhh, my manager Hannes usually deals with that sort of thing,” Eren said, looking around for the old drunk pleadingly.

Thankfully, Hannes was like Beetlejuice, he only needed to hear “contracts, label, and endorsements” before he appeared.

“Go have fun, kid,” Hannes said. “George Hannes, and you are?”

<*>

Eren let out a sigh as he escaped from that encounter.

“I can’t believe you let me spin that whole dental hygienist story,” Eren said, shaking his head at Erwin, who looked very amused by the whole affair.

“I was interested to see what you’d come up with next,” Erwin said smiling around his white wine glass.

“You are such an asshole,” Eren laughed. “I’m still pissed at you for getting me fired. Did this dick tell you what he did?” Eren addressed Nile. “He told my boss I tried to sell him weed and got me fired. Which, by the way, I did not do!”

“No, you tried to sell me weed,” Mike said, having heard part of the conversation. “Right in front of my boss too.”

Right in front of me,” Erwin agreed.

“Okay, fuck you both.” Eren laughed. “I was not trying to sell you weed. I offered you a hit of my joint because I am what?” He cupped his hand to his ear waiting for a response. “A gentleman. And a gentleman always shares his weed.”

He felt a bump as Jean nudged him, headbutting his shoulder.

“Hey baby,” Eren teased, patting Jean’s bleached hair.

“Oh I thought of one!” Erwin said. “A better one!”

“Oh yeah?” asked Eren, trying to shove Jean off of him.

“It’s a good one too.”

“Good one what?” Nile asked confused.

“Okay, ready?” Erwin asked. “Dame Helen Mirren.”

Eren hissed. “But see—“

“C’mon!”

“They have to be American!”

“How come there are new rules every time? Fine. American, alive, over fifty, not Meryl Streep. Okay, okay, wait, I just thought of one. She’s the mother of a famous star—“

“I already called Goldie Hawn!”

“It’s not Goldie! Ready?”

“Yeah—what is with you Jean? I don’t have a sugar cube on me.” Eren shoved at Jean again.

“Blythe Danner,” Erwin finished.

“Shit, that’s good. That’s really good. We need to tell Levi—oh he’s talking to Pixis.”

“What is this game you’re playing?” Nanaba asked as Mike put his arm around her.

“Gaia spirit mother, you basically pick the actress you want to—what do you want? What’s up?” Eren asked Jean, struggling to get him into a headlock.

“Nothing, I heard you talking about weed and I thought you were offering,” Jean said and Eren sighed.

“So yours is Blythe Danner?” Nile asked Erwin thoughtfully.

“Yes. What about you?” Erwin asked his partner.

“I’ve always really liked Cher,” Nile said brightly.

“That’s…that’s good honey,” Erwin patted him and shared a look with Eren who tried not to laugh while also fending off Jean who was sticking his hands down Eren’s pockets searching for weed.

“I don’t have any, you jackass. See? This is what happens when you’re an only child, you can’t stand not being the center of attention for a single moment.”

“You’re in Eren’s band too, right?” Erwin asked Jean, who had now wrapped his arms and was hanging off Eren like he was a hoodie tied at the waist.

“Um, excuse you, this loser’s in my band,” Jean straightened up, his fruitless search concluded.

“How did you meet? College?”

“Oh man, this is a funny story,” Jean slapped at Eren’s chest. “So I got this job twirling those ‘Ca$h for Gold!’ signs—“

“And I was on the other side of the street,” Eren interrupted. “We were flipping signs for rival stores and got into an intense twirl-off and it escalated with me being fired because I hit a nun with my sign by accident.”

Jean cracked up at the memory.

“And then I got pissed at him for getting me fired so I hit him with my sign…” Eren continued.

<*>

Levi watched Balto drag Eren away only to be rescued by Hannes moments later.

“Sorry, Balto is here because I told him I’d be here,” Pixis said to Levi. “We have a little rivalry going on. He hates art, but he can’t stand the chance to show me up in public. Watch, he’ll outbid any offer I make. I bet I can get him to buy at least two tonight.” He winked. “Now, young lady,” he said speaking loud enough for Balto to hear him and taking Hanji by the arm. “Tell me more about this piece.”

Levi looked over at Eren who was laughing with Erwin. Well that was weird. Nice. But weird.

“Hey Gunter,” Levi said, stopping the man on his way back from the bar. “Can you do me a favor?”

“Sure bro,” Gunter said, sipping his beer.

“Can you go and see what’s up with Petra for me?” Levi asked.

Gunter gave a wary look in Petra’s direction. “No can do broski, I know a grenade when I see one—“

“Thanks, you’re the best,” Levi said, clapping him on the shoulder.

Gunter sighed and went over to relieve Annie of the crying Petra.

Levi watched them for a moment before deciding on his next move. Eren was wrestling with Jean and talking to Levi’s coworkers. Mikasa was sulking by the music speakers which were playing some pretentious artsy jazz music that Hanji no doubt thought would set the mood. He turned and caught sight of a blond head of hair hidden in a nearly empty corner of the gallery.

“Hello, thank you for coming,” Levi said and Armin jumped a little. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Oh, no, sorry, just lost in thought,” Armin said, turning back to the piece.

Levi leaned forward a little because Armin’s face was pinched in concentration, then looked at the painting.

“This one isn’t like the others,” Armin observed.

It was true. This one was a lot darker. The others were brighter and grouped into themes (Hanji’s idea) but this one stuck out and was tucked away in a corner. Levi didn’t really know why she’d chosen to showcase it, but he just did what she told him.

“You’re right. It’s much older.”

“It feels familiar,” Armin said, resting his bottom lip on his champagne flute. “But I can’t quite place it.”

“When I was in high school I was obsessed with painting sunflowers,” Levi shrugged. “I’d paint the same field over and over again. I think I was a little obsessed with Van Gogh and his struggle with depression. But mine kept getting darker and darker and messier and messier. I kept trying to perfect that same scene. I kept touching and retouching old works trying to get the petals just right.”

“And did you?” Armin asked, finally pulling his eyes off the painting.

“Fuck no. I just gave up. No more painting sunflowers for me.”

“Honestly, if you hadn’t said they were sunflowers I might not have realized they were. They’re blue.”

“Yeah…” Levi agreed. “Not really sure why Hanji picked it. It’s not one of my favorites.”

“I’m not sure if I like it,” Armin said honestly. “But that’s the point, right?”

Levi looked at him.

“I mean, good art should make you think right? It’s not just about being aesthetically pleasing. It should provoke thought, it should make you feel conflicted.”

If that was the case, then what thought had the painting wrested from Armin’s large head that caused him to stand there for a good fifteen minutes?

“Okay, I have to ask,” Levi said. “Did you really memorize my—“

“5555 7845 7345 8600,” Armin recited back his credit card information.

“Fuck.” Levi never had gotten around to changing it. “Do you have a photographic memory?”

“Eidetic memory? No, I just memorize all the numbers of all asshole customers.”

“Oh.”

“Uh, sorry. It’s just we always thought you were an asshole because uh…you know…”

“Yeah, I get that a lot.”

“You always tipped nice though.”

Levi gave a crooked grin that looked like it was being pulled by barbed fishhooks—that is to say, very pained.

“So why are you and Eren fighting?” he asked, figuring he might as well forge ahead.

“We’re not fighting,” Armin said, taking a purposeful sip of his champagne. “For us to be fighting, he would have to notice we are fighting and he has not noticed, therefore, we are not fighting, I am ignoring him.”

“Oh,” said Levi, training his eyes back on the painting.

“Okay, don’t Eren I said that.”

“Okay.”

“Or Jean.”

“Sure.”

“Or Bertholdt.”

“Right.”

“Or Marco—okay, can we just forget I said that?”

“If that’s what you want.”

“I—I don’t know what I want. I’m mad at him.”

Levi didn’t say anything, letting the bright eyed boy dig himself a hole.

“Don’t tell him I said that.”

Levi could not make that promise.

“I—anyhow, you two seem to have worked through your er…difficulties,” Armin switched subjects awkwardly.

“Yeah, I think tonight was the night we were supposed to tell everyone we’re ‘official.’”

“As opposed to what?” Armin asked, confused.

“Good question,” Levi agreed. “’Unofficial,’ I guess.”

Armin grinned. He had a funny grin, because it started behind his ears, which were hidden by his long hair, so by the time it reached his mouth, you found yourself smiling along with him, even if you were like Levi, whose picture day photos had always been a bit lacking.

None of Levi’s friends, including Hanji, who was excited over most everything, had been enthusiastic about their news. Well, Erwin had looked intrigued, but Levi couldn’t tell if it was solely out of rubbernecking, you know, the kind of schadenfreude when your ex makes a terrible misstep. None of Eren’s friends looked anything but perplexed by the news. But Eren’s oldest friend, his first friend, merely looked content.

Levi reflected that maybe if he’d had friends like Armin and Mikasa, high school wouldn’t have been so bad. Fuck, college wouldn’t have been so bad. Would that first day of college Hanji had been his roommate, instead of the prick who had pissed in his closet whilst completely shitfaced and when confronted about it wrote ‘fag’ in Sharpie on his mirror, then denied it. Would that his best friend in high school hadn’t been the school’s major ecstasy distributor and when she was arrested he was pulled into the principal’s office and grilled by police forever because no one could believe that Levi—with his two dollar eyeliner and Salvation Army combat boots—wasn’t a dealer.

“You know you’re Eren’s first boyfriend,” Armin informed him.

Levi’s first boyfriend had stolen Levi’s stereo, pawned it, and when Levi demanded its return, broke the window to his oven—Levi had lost his deposit on that apartment. Why did it feel like Levi learned all of life’s lessons the hard way?

“I didn’t know that,” Levi said evenly. But he had figured as much. Past-Eren really didn’t seem the relationship type, too up in his head to devote time to another.

“Not that Eren was really the dating type,” Armin shrugged. “He was usually too focused on what big-oil was doing than on forming new relationships.”

“Ah.”

“Uh, but, uh, that isn’t cause for concern. When Eren wants something he goes in full-throttle.”

Levi felt a little warm inside.

“Why are you mad at him?” Levi switched back to his original topic.

“Eren has always been a little like a wind-up doll. You know, wind him up and watch him go.”

“So?”

“So, look at him go,” Armin said sadly as he turned and nodded over at Eren who was still wrestling with Jean. Avoiding Levi’s eye he turned back to the painting and tapped his fingers on the champagne flute.

“Ah, I see,” said Levi.

Armin and Eren were drifting apart and there was little either of them could do to stop it. Eren was touring with the band and Armin was prepping for the bar. Life takes people to strange places.

Come to think of it, Levi was glad he’d met Hanji so late in life. All of his college friends were back in Trost. Losers. Not that he was bitter. Nope, not Levi. No bitterness there.

“He has all this time to call me up and beg for help in winning ‘the man of his dreams’—“

“Who?”

“You,” Armin said as if it were obvious and Levi felt another tug near his navel. “—but when I need to vent about passing the bar, all of a sudden, the band needs him or ‘gee sorry Arm’ but I have this really important meeting with the record execs’ and then posts pictures of him doing body shots off of Reiner’s abs. I mean, I know I’m not a rockstar, but my time—my life—is just as important. And this exam could determine my whole career! And it’s very hard to study when you’re working overtime at a café for your other best friend and taking Grandpa to his doctor appointments and doing Skype interviews for internships and—“

“Okay, I’m going to cut you off right there. Literally no one wants to hear about you prepping for the bar.”

“But—“

“No one. I know it’s a big deal and trust me, everyone cares how you do, but it’s really hard to be a party to your anxiety trip and pretend to be interested. Besides Eren tells me you’re a genius. You’ll pass easy and all this time you spent worrying about it will be a hazy dream.”

“But—“ Armin huffed.

“I’m sorry, I really don’t care. Asshole, remember?”

Armin exhaled, frustrated.

“Here,” said Levi, pulling out his wallet and Armin leaned away from him confused. “You know what you need? You need to get laid. Here, take this, find a girl or guy or whathaveyou and go for it.”

No one ever said he was good at pep talks. He handed Armin a condom and a little punch card fluttered out of his wallet with it.

“Whoopsie,” he said as Armin leaned down to pick it up.

“This is a punch card to TCBY,” Armin observed.

“Yes.”

“I didn’t even know there were still TCBY’s.”

“Yeah, there’s one over by the park with the yeti statue.”

“Oh. This is full you know.”

“So it is. I don’t really like froyo.”

“Who doesn’t like—“ Armin shook that thought off. “I don’t need to get laid! I need to pass the bar!”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. I didn’t realize it was like that.”

“I’m not asexual!” Armin practically exploded, then when people looked his way, he fussed with his hair.

“I didn’t say you were.”

“Good, because I’m not.”

“So take this and go get laid. Think of it as a special mission.”

Armin pfft’d and guffawed and made several noises before adapting a very dignified, straight-backed posture and regaining his composure.

“Thank you for your...concern, but it’s not as though I’m celibate by choice. I need to be focused on school and work and it’s hard to have a girlfriend when you have no free time and no money.”

“Who said anything about a girlfriend? Just go get laid.”

“Ha, because it’s just that easy! You and Eren have no idea what it’s like. Eren just walks up to chicks and they throw their panties at him—quite literally, one girl threw her panties at him and it hit me in the face and I got pinkeye! But it’s harder for guys like me. I don’t have that—that thing girls want. So thanks but no thanks.”

“If you’re sure,” Levi said shrugging and tucking the condom back in his wallet.

“Yeah, the only way I’m getting laid is if some girl comes up to me and says, ‘Let’s bang.’”

“Fine, but don’t stay mad at Eren too long, okay? He cares about you and I think that means I’m supposed to or something.” The last few words were muttered as if Levi were embarrassed to admit this tidbit.

“Yeah, well that depends on him.”

“I’m leaving now,” Levi sighed. “Enjoy the gallery!”

“Yeah, I’m staying right here!” Armin called after him. “Just waiting for some girl to ask me to do the do!” He shook his chin length hair and grumbled some under his breath.

“Yeah, yeah,” Levi waved him off. Well, he’d tried, right?

“Asshole,” Armin muttered into his still mostly full champagne flute.

“Hey,” said Annie breezily, coming up to him and leaning into his elbow.

“Uh, hey.”

Annie had been Armin’s supervisor at Mikasa’s café until she’d been promoted to managerial leadership at their second location, the kiosk in Levi’s building. He’d always found her punctual, hardworking, if a little brusque with the customers. Plus, he liked the way her button downs gapped between the second and third button and he could glimpse a bit of her lacey white bras, though he tried not to look. Or rather tried not to look like he was trying to look.

“Cool painting,” she said, not looking at the sunflowers at all, but at him.

“Yeah, I was just talking to the artist. He says they’re sunflowers but I don’t see it—“

“Wanna fuck?” Annie asked, cutting through the bullshit as usual.

Armin inhaled a great deal of his champagne and coughed, the bubbles burning his nostrils.

“Sorry?” he asked, figuring his conversation with Levi must have tainted his hearing.

“Do. You. Want. To. Fuck?” she repeated in the same crisp and icy voice she used whenever a customer insisted they asked for decaf when they, in fact, had not.

“…Now?” Armin asked, eyes darting around.

“Sure, why not?”

“Uh, because—“

“Look, I just spent twenty minutes stuck listening to some girl bitch and moan about her fiancé and how she wished she’d slept around more and I haven’t been laid in a year. Do you get where I’m going with this?”

“Uhhh…”

“You’re reasonably attractive, plus you look like you eat pussy.”

He blinked. Then put up one finger as he downed his glass.

“Okay, where to?”

“There’s a stairwell unlocked right behind you,” she said, pointing.

Ten minutes of heavy petting later, she asked him if he had protection. Shit.

“Wait here. Wait right here. Don’t go anywhere!” he begged, slipping back onto the gallery floor.

Chapter Text

“I mean, I could have any guy I wanted!” Petra cried to Gunter as Levi approached. “Right?”

“Yeah, I mean fuck that guy, he’s a dick.”

“Yeah, fuck him!”

“C’mon, let’s hug it out,” Gunter said, opening his arms.

Petra, who desperately needed a hug, leaned into it.

“Did…did you just try to cop a feel?” she asked a moment later.

“Is that not what we’re doing?” Gunter asked.

She punched him hard in the arm.

“Ow, crazy bitches here,” he grumbled to Levi. “Good luck, she’s in a foul mood.”

“Hey!” Petra said, attempting to smile. “I’m having a great time, this is an amazing showing!”

“What’s wrong?” Levi asked.

“Nothing! Everything is great!” she said with the fake smile, despite the fact that her makeup was streaked with tears.

He sighed and looked at her with his flat expression.

“It’s nothing! I don’t want to distract from your night!”

“Petra…”

Her chin wobbled. “I think Aururo and I broke up.”

“You break up every other week,” he pointed out.

“This time I think it’s for good. I told him he had to choose between the boys weekend camping trip and this and if he chose getting drunk in Mitabi’s canoe over being supportive then he might as well not come home!”

“And?”

“Well he’s not here, is he?!”

“Sorry.”

For some reason his voice seemed to calm her down. He didn’t know why. He wasn’t particularly reassuring. The low register he adapted seemed to have that effect on people. A calm note in the middle of a whistling hurricane is what Hanji called it.

“And…” she hiccupped. “I think I might be pregnant.”

“Ah.”

“I mean. I’m late.”

“How late?”

“Like, I skipped two periods.”

“That could be anything though, right?” Levi said, trying to be comforting. To be honest, he wasn’t really that comfortable with the female body. Gold star gay. Got kicked out of Youth Group for making out with the pastor’s son. Never had much interest in what lay underneath the pastor’s daughter’s skorts. “It could be the stress of planning the wedding?”

“And I took six pregnancy tests that all came up positive.”

“Welp, that’ll do it. What are you going to do?”

“No idea.” She gave a half laugh, half sob.

“Here, give us a hug.”

He enfolded her in his arms and they swayed for a little bit until she stopped sniffling.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to keep it. I’m still getting used to the idea. And I don’t know if I should beg him back so I don’t have to raise it by myself or what. I don’t want to be the pregnant bride! I don’t want to be the single mom! I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, we’ll figure it out together,” he said, propping his chin on her head and catching Eren’s eye from across the room.

Eren held up his thumb, asking if everything was good. Levi waved his hand in an uncertain manner and Eren nodded.

“And what kind of person am I if I don’t stick to my ultimatum?” she asked. “What kind of message does that send him? That he can ditch me whenever he feels like it? I don’t want that. I don’t want my kid to think that you can treat people that way!”

“Well maybe you won’t have to,” Levi said quietly.

“Huh?” Petra asked, lifting her head off his chest and he nodded over to a very annoyed and harried looking Aururo.

“The hell, Petra!” he snapped. “I’ve been calling you for twenty minutes! You gave me an address all the way on the other side of town. You mixed the cross streets again!”

Petra snuck a surreptitious look at her phone and then gave a sheepish, “Ha.”

“But I thought you were going on your boy’s trip?” she accused.

“Yeah well, you said this was more important,” he grumbled.

“Oh,” she said, her cheeks pink.

“Where’s the booze?” he asked impatiently and Levi pointed.

“I need to talk to you about something,” Petra said, skipping after him.

“Sure babe, what is it?”

“No, I mean, it’s really important.”

Levi took that as his cue to leave. He was stopped by a French-Canadian couple and greeted them. They chatted in French for a few moments before the woman gave him a kiss on both cheeks and left.

“Who was that?” Eren asked as Levi approached.

“No idea,” Levi shrugged. “Buyers, I guess. From Quebec.”

“Wow Levi,” said Nanaba in her shy voice, grinning at him. “You can paint and speak French. Do you have any other secret skills?”

“I know the lyrics to every single Nicki Minaj song,” Levi deadpanned.

“Bullshit,” said Eren.

He ill, he real, he might got a deal, He pop bottles and he got the right kind of bill, He cold, he dope, he might sell coke—“ Levi recited flatly in his low voice.

“Okay, I get it—“ Eren rolled his eyes, snaking his arm around Levi’s shoulders.

“He always in the air, but he never fly coach.”

Levi’s favorite thing that Eren did was wrap his arm around his shoulder, trace his spade-like thumb along Levi’s jawline, before tilting Levi’s head upward with that same thumb to meet his lips. He did that just then, maybe to prevent him from recounting any more of Super Bass, maybe just because. Eren never cared if anyone was watching when he kissed him. He’d kiss him in front of the otter tank, at the ballpark, in the back of the taxi, at the farmer’s market, and right there in front of Levi’s ex-boyfriend, coworkers, friends and Eren’s friends and sister. He’d always smile after each kiss as if he’d forgotten what Levi’s lips tasted like and was reminded in the best possible way. For Eren, everyone else ceased to be. For Levi, time stopped. Then Eren would pull away and Levi would feel a blush creep up his spine into the short hairs on his neck and then onto his cheeks. He’d adjust his glasses or tie or something to hide it. This was no different.

“Hey, babe,” Levi said, furiously polishing his glasses on his pocket square. “Can you get me some water?”

“Sure,” Eren wandered off in search of water.

Levi continued polishing his glasses, his cheeks heated, ignoring the eyes on him.

“Hey, babe,” Jean tried. “Will you get me some—“

“No,” Marco cut him off.

“You know,” Erwin said to them. “I don’t think I’ve actually looked at all of the paintings.”

He pulled a begrudging Nile behind him, leaving with a knowing smile on his lips.

“Yeah, we should probably do the same,” said Nanaba.

“They smell good, that’s all I need to know,” Mike said before his girlfriend pulled him along, leaving Levi alone with Jean and Marco.

“So why was your friend crying?” Jean indicated Petra.

“Oh, you know. Boyfriend drama.”

“See that’s why I gave up on bitches,” Jean said, raising his glass.

“Or maybe they gave up on you because you call them bitches,” Eren said, reappearing with a bottle of water.

“Everything is so much drama. ‘You didn’t call, you didn’t text, you didn’t blah blah blah.’ I have one woman who nags me all the time, I don’t need two.”

Levi raised an eyebrow.

“Jean,” Marco said evenly. “What have we talked about? You can love men without hating women.”

“Okay, well you don’t have a harpy as a mother—oh speak of the devil, she’s calling me. Never gives me a fucking moment of peace. Hold on, sorry.”

He answered his phone, rolling his eyes.

“Hi Mommy!” he sang sweetly. “I’m still at the art thingy! Yeah Marco’s here. I miss you too! No, we’re getting in late. No, don’t save me anything to eat. Okay, just wrap the cake and put it in the fridge, I’ll eat it when I get home.”

He pulled a face and mimed “yap yap” at them.

“No, there’s no drugs. Yeah, there’s free booze. No, we're taking a cab. You want to talk to him? Here he is—“ he put his hand over the receiver. “She wants to talk to you. Ugh, just humor her.”

“Hi Joy!” Marco said cheerfully.

“Do you see what I mean?” Jean sighed.

“She sounds just awful,” Eren said sarcastically.

“No, he’s wearing his Misfits shirt,” Marco was saying into the phone. “I agree the polo you got him at Kohl’s would have looked nicer. I love carrot cake. Sunday? I think I’m free. That sounds lovely. See you then!”

He hung up.

“Your mother and I are going antiquing on Sunday,” Marco informed him.

“Why does she like you better than she likes me?” Jean whined.

“Damnit! You hung up before I could ask her to make more of those lemon cookies. Those are the best on the road,” Eren sighed.

Jean redialed, then shouted, “EREN WANTS LEMON COOKIES!” hanging up before she could ask him anymore questions.

“Maybe because you do things like that,” Marco said, rolling his eyes.

<*>

Hanji loved dance movies. She dragged Levi to the dollar theatre for every movie in the Step Up franchise, always TiVo’d Center Stage, and insisted on watching Strictly Ballroom every six months. Her “casual” wardrobe (so not the high collared button ups and Katherine Hepburn trousers she wore during the day) consisted of tight leotards and ballet sweaters wrapped over her flat bust tucked into high-rise jeans and thick Doc Martens. She took every dancing class the local studios offered. And who was her beleaguered partner through every samba, salsa, tango, and swing class? Levi, obviously.

But here’s the rub: The bitch couldn’t dance.

He loved her. God he loved his Hanji. His Zoe. But the bitch was as graceful as a turducken in steel toed boots. He credited his speedy footwork to dodging her elephantine steps. The only dance she would ever be good at, he reasoned, was Irish Line Dancing, because she could clod hop as hard as she wanted. She wasn’t a dancer, she was a hoofer.

So when the artsy fartsy jazz music switched over into “In the Still of the Night” he felt his Hanji senses tingling.

“Shit!” Hanji yelped. “My iPod switched over to my Dirty Dancing playlist.”

Which was backwards. Because of course she’d put the playlist in backwards.

“No, leave it,” Jean insisted as she thumped at her music player angrily. “This whole thing is so boring, I need something to keep me awake.”

“What is your fucking problem?” Eren threw his hands up in the air.

“What’s yours?” Jean spat and once again Marco was forced to step between them.

“Levi!” Armin called, striding forward purposefully.

Without warning, he wrapped his arms around Levi in a big hug. Levi flinched under the pressure and then raised his eyes skyward as Armin felt around his back pockets.

“Hey Arm,” Eren said, raising an eyebrow as Armin continued to grope Levi’s backside. “Why are you grabbing my boyfriend’s ass?”

Armin pulled away frustrated.

“I keep my wallet in my front pocket,” Levi said in a flat voice.

“Who keeps their wallet in their front pocket?” Armin said, holding out his hand expectantly.

“I don’t want to block the view,” Levi said haughtily, before slapping it into Armin’s snapping fingers.

Armin rifled through the contents before shoving his desired item into his pockets.

“And I’m keeping the TCBY punch card!” Armin shouted, throwing Levi’s wallet back and leaving just as quickly as he’d approached.

Eren had several questions but was interrupted as Connie and Sasha joined them.

“Great party guys!” Connie said, slapping his arm onto Levi’s shoulders, making him jump.

“Did I say you could touch me?” Levi cried so loudly people turned. First Balto, then the French-Canadians, then Armin, now Connie—it was all a little too much for him. Petra had his permission, Eren had his permission, but who the fuck were they to grab at him?

“You…did not,” Connie admitted, removing his arm from Levi. “My bad homes.”

“Sorry, it’s just. I don’t like people touching me. Everyone keeps touching me and I don’t like it,” Levi said, staring at his shoes, his skin prickling in embarrassment.

Why was it people always groped at him? Especially tonight! Just because he was short people treated him was like the family pet and he hated it. Great. Now people were looking. Mikasa, sensing the awkward situation and her opportunity, left her pouty post by the speakers. Levi’s fists clenched and unclenched. Fuck. Fuck. This was the same shit that had gotten him in trouble at Erwin’s cousin’s wedding. He was supposed to be making a good impression on Eren’s friends and all he’d done was yell and berate them and pass out condoms. Why did they have to be so young?

“Sorry,” he repeated, staring at Connie’s shoes. “You startled me is all.”

“No problemo, dude,” Connie shrugged. “You don’t like to be touched, you don’t like to be touched. I’ll store that one away in the vault.” He tapped his shaved head.

And just like that Levi realized he liked Eren’s friends. They were obnoxious, but they seemed genuinely interested in Levi. They were here, weren’t they? And they bounced back from his barbs like a cat landing on all fours. Compared to Eren, Levi must have seemed extremely put together. Also judging by Armin’s words, Eren hadn’t had many partners. Levi was the mythical boyfriend who landed their wild man. Eren was touchy feely, Levi wasn’t. They just needed to adjust. Eren was loud, Levi was quiet. Eren was impulsive, Levi was methodical. Eren was messy, Levi was clean. Right, he got it. They were the odd couple everyone had come to gawk at. But really, they weren’t different at all. In fact, he realized, watching Eren’s mouth move as he tried to break the awkward moment with a dumb joke, Levi felt a stronger kinship with Eren than he had anyone in his life. Maybe it was because they both tried to hide their depression; Eren through his smiles and laughter and Levi through his prickly aura. Or how they handled their anxiety; Eren using every mirror to check to make sure his teeth weren’t falling out or Levi sanitizing the fridge once a week. Levi was Eren, he thought in a sudden moment of clarity. Or rather, Eren was Levi ten years ago. Angry, broke, and written off as a fuckup by society.

That’s right. Levi had forgotten. He was a fuckup. He’d always thought of himself as a fuckup.

But now this fuckup was gainfully employed, debuting his art in his best friend’s gallery, surrounded by his idiot friends and his gorgeous, successful boyfriend. Even Erwin, the man with whom Levi had the most important relationship before Eren, was here. Levi had considered that relationship’s demise as his own personal failure. But when he caught sight of Eren and Erwin laughing, Erwin’s new partner at his side…it didn’t feel like failure.

What do you call failure when it’s not really failure?

Growth?

Levi felt Eren’s hand flutter hesitantly at his waist, as if testing the water, making sure Levi was comfortable with its presence. Levi pulled it close and held it there. Fuck, if past-Levi had known this was waiting for him in the future he never would have spent so much time making terrible mistakes. But if he hadn’t made those terrible mistakes, he reasoned, he might never have met Eren to begin with.

Maybe Levi never was a fuckup. Maybe Eren never was either. Maybe there were just two idiots wandering this earth at this particular time trying to figure out what mistakes to do and what mistakes to definitely not repeat.

“You need to spend more time with your friends before you go on tour,” Levi whispered into Eren’s ear. “Specifically, Armin and your sister. They miss you.”

“I know,” Eren agreed. “I will. I just like spending time with you.”

“Well, they aren’t ever going to like me if they have to fight with me for your time and attention.”

“I’ll see if they want to hang tomorrow.”

“So Eren,” Mikasa said innocently enough, but her words were dripping with venom. “How awkward is it to have Levi meet your old flame?”

There was an awkward silence that fell on the group. Jean coughed and scratched at his nose, Marco looked very interested in the artwork, Bert and Reiner exchanged a look, Connie and Sasha appeared oblivious. Since none of them were giving anything away, Levi looked up at Eren questioningly. Honestly, Levi had expected this sort of situation. He told Eren he didn’t want or need a list of his past conquests, but it was bound to come up at some point.

“Uhh…what old flame?” Eren asked confusedly.

“Sasha,” Mikasa pointed at her.

“Huh?” Sasha asked. “Who? Me?”

“Yes, you guys totally hooked up in high school.”

“Pffft, no we didn’t,” Sasha laughed. “Wait, shit, did we?”

“No,” Eren said irritably. “We didn’t.”

“Uh, yeah you did,” Mikasa said, figuring they needed reminding because all that pot they smoked had rotted their brains. “She totally blew you for a cookie.”

“What?” Sasha laughed. “I wouldn’t blow a guy for a cookie. Wait, what kind of cookie?”

“Nope, that wasn’t me,” Eren said tonguing at his cheek now.

“Like are we talking snickerdoodle or…?” Sasha asked. “Chocolate chip?”

“That was just a rumor. It wasn’t me, it was another player on the team. Samuel.”

“Ohhh,” said Sasha remembering. “Right! Samuel! Okay, first of all it wasn’t a cookie, it was a Mrs. Field’s cookie cake because it was his birthday! Which makes it a birthday blowie and me a fucking humanitarian. Secondly, fuck all of you and your slut shaming nonsense!”

She made to storm off but Eren caught her.

“Sasha,” he laughed. “Sasha don’t be mad! Sasha come back! Hey, I’d blow a guy for a cookie cake too.”

“Really?” Levi asked, cocking his eyebrow and pulling out his phone. “That’s going on the list.”

“What list?” Jean said, yanking Levi’s phone out of his hand. “Do you have a blow job list? What is even on a list of reasons Jaeger would give BJs for? Air?”

He scrolled through the list as Levi’s eye twitched that someone had taken his phone.

“Wow…these are either super vague or very specific. ‘Sesame Street’—just the whole street apparently. ‘Boba Fett’—Hey! Me too! ‘Wesley Crusher sweaters, specifically the rainbow one.’ ‘Bubble tea’—there’s a lot of food on here. ‘Mr. Miyagi.’ ‘The women of Futurama.’ ‘Any dude in any vampire tv show or movie.’”

Jean shook his head and handed back Levi’s phone.

“’Beards’ should be on that list too,” Eren said.

“Beards?” Levi asked incredulously. “Have you looked at me? I can’t grow anything on here.”

“Aw, that’s too bad,” Eren sighed sadly. “Hey wait, maybe I can grow a beard!”

“Please don’t.”

The conversation had not taken the direction Mikasa had wanted it to and the group appeared wary of any more rude things she might say, so she slunk off into her time-out corner.

“Dude, she is supremely bitchy tonight,” Jean muttered to Eren who nodded in agreement.

Was she? Levi didn’t know Mikasa that well, but he trusted her brother and ex-boyfriend in their judgment. Levi watched her out of the corner of his eye, shifting from foot to foot, biting her lower lip and scratching at her right arm with her left. Then she sniffed and rubbed at her nose before turning and finding a more remote corner.

Levi left the group just as they were discussing which Star Trek captain they were more likely to get on their knees for, which was as good a time as any.

Mikasa was standing in the same corner and looking at the same picture as Armin earlier. Levi approached her stealthily. She was switching feet again. Her heels must be hurting her. She let out a long sigh, her fingers tapping at her side. She picked up one foot and stuck it in front of her, toe pointed, then behind in a practiced manner and Levi recognized it as a petit battement.

“You dance?” he asked quietly.

Mikasa turned around, not looking happy that it was Levi who had followed her.

“I started as a dance major,” she explained.

Started. Meaning, she hadn’t finished.

“I switched to business because I thought it would help me keep the café afloat.”

“I always thought you were a bit young to own a café,” Levi observed.

“It was mom’s big dream,” she explained. “But I worked at it enough so by the time she died I was basically running the place. I waited until I had enough saved up to buy out Dad’s share and took it from there.”

“Wow,” Levi said impressed. “Not too bad for someone under thirty.”

“I wish you’d tell Dad that,” she said with a little grimace. “His new girlfriend is under the opinion that he still owns it and that I work for him.”

“I hope you corrected her.”

“Oh, three times! Not that he bothered to say anything, of course.”

“Of course.”

“And he doesn’t even realize how silly he looks dating someone that young! It’s ridiculous.”

Levi only hummed at that.

“Oh, but he made sure to tell her that I’m adopted, not that it’s any of her business! And she was all, ‘Oh wow, you’re, like, really a part of the family if Grisha trusts you to run his store! Tee hee!’”

“She did not.”

“She did!” Mikasa insisted. “And Eren doesn’t want to hear one bad word about her. But, let me tell you, they are not going to get along.”

She let out a long frustrated sigh, shifting from foot to foot in tempo to the music and playing with the fringe on her scarf. When she looked up Levi had his hand extended for her to take and she bit her lip before taking it.

Now I had the time of my life…” Bill Medley’s voice started and it was cheesy and stupid but no one could see them being dorks in that part of the gallery.

They started slow, testing each other’s abilities, but soon she was twirling in his arms and he dipped her and for the first time that night Mikasa let out a genuine peal of laughter.

“Oh man,” she sighed when Levi pulled her back up and her cheeks were pink. “That’s what I miss most about having a gay boyfriend. The dancing.” She pulled a face and Levi laughed. “Here. Switch. My heels are killing me.”

Then she took the lead and dipped him just as Armin opened the door to the stairwell looking very much like he’d been through a wind tunnel.

“You saw nothing!” Armin said in a strident voice.

“What?” Mikasa asked in confusion.

“You saw nothing!” Armin repeated backing away with his hand in his pocket, standing in line for the bathroom.

Annie exited the stairwell a second later, freezing like a cat caught with the canary.

“Uh…good…art,” she said, scurrying back into the main gallery.

“Hey everyone,” came Eren’s voice over the speakers. “Thank you all for coming tonight.”

Levi and Mikasa poked their heads around the wall to see Eren had commandeered the speakers and that Bertholdt was setting up his keyboard. Hanji was watching her showing unravel with her hands on her hips and her eyes alight in amusement.

“Are you okay with this?” Levi asked her, pointing at Eren.

Hanji shrugged.

“My name is Eren Jaeger and my boyfriend is the artist, so, uh, all of you buy his stuff.”

There was a loud screech of feedback from the microphone and they all cringed.

“Now some of you may know me from the band Rogue Titan—“

There was a whoop from some of his stalker fans who had found out about the event and polite golf claps from those who had actually come to look at the art.

“Thanks, thank you. But those of you who know me personally know I’m all about big public gestures—“

“Oh god no,” Levi said, hiding behind Hanji and pressing his back into her so Eren couldn’t spot him.

“Oh no, babe, not you,” Eren waved Levi off.

“Oh thank god,” Levi gave a sigh of relief and looked around Hanji.

“You know I wouldn’t do that to you. No, there’s only one man here tonight I love enough to humiliate both him and myself right now. Armin?”

“Huh? What?” Armin asked in confusion, before being shoved into the center of the crowd.

“Ladies and gentlemen and everyone in between, Armin, my best friend of forever.”

Bertholdt began playing a familiar tune on his keyboard.

Baby, I didn’t love you quite as often as I could have—“ Eren crooned, taking Armin’s hand in his own and kneeling down before him.

“Please don’t!” Armin said clapping a hand over his eyes.

Baby I didn’t treat you, quite good as I should have.”

“WHY?” Armin asked. “Mikasa—Levi—someone stop him.”

But Levi was busy filming Eren’s serenade on his phone.

“If I made you feel second best—“

Armin was a shade of beetroot red.

Girl, I’m sorry I was blind. You were always on my miiiiiind!

“You asshole,” Armin muttered behind his hand as Connie and Sasha howled along to the song.

“C’mon, let’s middle school dance it out,” Eren said putting his arms around Armin, who muttered something. “What?”

Armin muttered it again.

“Well, just go throw it away,” Eren said, the mic still by his mouth.

“I can’t,” Armin muttered.

Jean, growing annoyed that no one was paying attention to him, decided to join in the slow dance, wrapping his arms around both of them.

“What’s wrong?” Jean asked.

“He’s trying to throw away a condom without anyone noticing,” Eren said, still very audible with the mic near him.

“Oh god,” Armin put both hands over his face.

“Just flush it down the toilet,” Jean said.

“You’re not supposed to flush condoms, dumbass!”

“I hate both of you,” Armin said mortified.

“Do I have to keep playing?” Bert asked.

“No, you’re good, thanks dude. Show’s over everyone, thanks!” Eren waved them off. “YO MIKASA!”

“What?” she snapped.

Eren jerked his head and she trotted over and joined their dance.

“Go away, Jean!” Eren said shoving him out of their trio and Jean stalked off angrily. Then, addressing Marco, “Dude, what is up with your boyfriend? He’s driving me crazy tonight.”

“Well it’s easier for you to do this sort of thing than him,” Marco said conciliatorily.

“What sort of thing?” Eren threw his hands up in the air.

“Well, you’re confident in any situation. He finds it a bit harder to have that confidence when he’s not onstage. Offstage he’s a little lost so he’s overcompensating.”

“Oh,” said Eren, suddenly understanding. “Oh, I see. Well too fucking bad! We’re not here to play, we’re here for Levi! Not everything is about Jean or the band.”

“I don’t care,” Levi said, shrugging.

“No I—I mean that’s sweet of you babe, but this is your night,” Eren leaned in to speak to him earnestly.

“My night ended twenty minutes ago. That’s when the gallery was scheduled to end.”

“Right, but I don’t want to steal your spotlight.”

“I hate being in the spotlight.”

Eren straightened and blinked.

“There’s a roof,” Hanji pointed upwards.

“Huh.”

“With lots of electrical sockets. There was a jazz band up there for one gallery showing.”

“Huh.”

“And we’re not in a residential area.”

“You don’t say,” Eren nodded. “JEAN!”

“WHAT?”

“WE’RE ON! GET THE BABES!”

“Fuck. Finally!”

Chapter Text

“Quit being a baby!” Eren shouted, throwing one of Armin’s shoes to the side.

“Get off me!” Armin kicked at him.

“I’m just borrowing them!”

“They won’t even fit you!” Armin yelled.

Armin had his arms around the handicap bar in the bathroom and Eren was forcibly removing his jeans by the hem.

“I need these! Band emergency!”

“What am I supposed to wear?” Armin asked, only to be rewarded with Eren’s dress slacks to his face. “These are too big on me! Eren!”

Levi was holding the door mostly closed and assuring people that there was nothing to see here.

“Finally!” Eren said, shaking out Armin’s jeans and stepping into them.

“They’re not going to fit,” Armin repeated, trying to cover his tighty-whities from Levi’s eye.

Eren stripped off his boxers and hopped up and down, his member flopping about before stuffing it down and carefully pulling the zipper closed.

“I like them tight,” Eren shrugged, exiting the bathroom very shirtless in those sinfully snug jeans that showed off the dimples in his lower back.

Whoever was up there in the sky looking out for Levi deserved a handshake and a raise.

“He looks better in my clothes than I do,” Armin sighed, tripping over the too long dress slacks.

“I don’t understand, what’s happening?” Erwin asked as Mikasa shoved an amp into his arms.

“Here, do something with those muscles,” she ordered.

“I need to accessorize,” Eren said, pulling on Mikasa’s scarf. “No.” He sighed and handed it back to her.

“The band is playing on the roof,” Levi explained as Erwin shifted the weight of the amp.

“Oh, fun. I haven’t been to a concert in a long time. Uhhh…” he trailed off because Eren was using Erwin’s full arms as an opportunity to relieve him of his bolo tie.

“No,” he sighed looking at the bolo tie against his bare chest. “Bolo ties just always look weird.”

“Hey,” flushed Erwin. “I think they’re cool.”

“They only look cool if you’re The Duke, ya pilgrim,” he adopted a slurred voice and a swagger.

“Was that your John Wayne?” Erwin asked.

“Yeah,” Eren said, giving him back the tie.

“That was pretty good.”

“Thanks,” said Eren plucking Erwin’s aviators out of his pocket. “Oh fuck yes. Okay, I’m taking these.”

“He’ll give them back, don’t worry,” Levi said as Erwin protested.

“You need to carry something, Jean!” Eren snapped, picking up Carla 2.

“I can’t, my sciatica!”

“C’mon Ymir,” Eren wheedled turning around to face her.

“No, I’m not playing. I’m not getting paid, so I’m not playing.”

“It’ll be fun! The first jam session in a long time!”

“No,” she said. “I don’t wanna.”

Eren’s voice dropped down to a whisper, “I’ll give you Mikasa’s phone number.”

“Fine, but I get to pick a song.”

Everyone grabbed something from the van. Reiner grabbed his drums and Sasha hopped on his back shouting, “Onward noble steed!” Bertholdt laughed, carrying his keyboard over his head, trying not to knock anyone over.

“Sciatica. You’re so full of shit, Jean.”

“Shut up! I’ll get a note from my doctor if I have to, Jaeger!”

“If you don’t hurry up and move, you will have sciatica from my boot up your ass,” Ymir said, kicking both their backsides.

“None of you people actually know what sciatica is,” Erd sighed.

“Honeybear, you shouldn’t be carrying anything in your delicate condition,” Aururo cautioned to Petra, taking the microphone stand from her hand and shoving it into Gunter’s.

“Why aren’t we moving?” Annie asked. “This shit isn’t light you know.”

“I’ll carry it for you!” Armin said eagerly, tripping over his too long pants.

“Here, give me something,” Levi motioned.

“No, Levi, you don’t have to carry anything. This is your night and you shouldn’t have to do the grunt work,” Eren said, missing the point.

“If he’s not carrying anything, then why the fuck am I carrying this?” Mikasa asked.

“If you’d all listened in the first place,” Hanji was shouting, stepping over the cases. “You’d have heard the part where I need to unlock the door first!”

“Here, step between my legs,” Reiner offered as she tried to get past him and found the way blocked.

“That’s what she said,” Eren laughed.

“Hurry up, why aren’t we moving?” Annie shouted.

“Giddyup!” Sasha bounced.

“We’re not moving because the stairway is narrow and I have to unlock the door first!” Hanji said.

Levi watched the firehazard waiting to happen with his hands in his pockets, then picked up a case, only to have it pulled from his hands by Armin.

“You could carry me,” Connie suggested laughingly.

Levi looked at him sideways.

“Only joking! I know ‘no touchy.’”

“Fine, hop up,” Levi sighed.

“Dude, I was joking.”

“C’mon, I don’t have all day.”

“I don’t want to squish you,” he said before hopping up on a step.

Connie settled on Levi’s back and Levi gave a small grunt.

“Oh my god, you’re so strong.”

“Stop wiggling.”

Hanji finally made it to the front of the queue, her glasses crooked as she leaned against the door.

“Now…which key is it?” she said looking at her very full keychain as groans sounded below.

Levi shifted Connie’s weight before sighing.

“Grab those water bottles over there,” he ordered Connie, turning around.

“Where are we going?” Connie asked, grabbing as many as he could hold.

“You’ll see.”

They turned the corner and Eren frowned watching them leave.

“How many keys do you even have?” Jean shouted.

“Okay, whose hand is on my ass? C’mon guys,” Marco said shaking his head.

“I—I am so sorry. I did not realize that was yours,” Armin said, removing his hand.

“This is so exciting!” Nanaba said, bouncing a little.

“Smell like ass and sex in this stairwell,” Mike grumbled.

“It’s gotta be this one,” Hanji said, shoving against the door. “Open you stupid—“

The door gave way and they all fell out in a pile at Levi’s feet.

“You do realize there’s an elevator, right?” Levi asked as Connie waved at them from a lounge chair.

<*>

For all of the equipment they brought up, Levi was surprised at how speedily they assembled their stage. He stood right next to the raised concrete step that served as their platform, watching their work. He didn’t know why but he felt like he should know how Eren did his work, so he watched them silently.

“Whoa, whoa, kid, what are you doing?” Hannes asked, stumbling up next to Levi.

“Setting up,” Eren said, adjusting a microphone.

“…Why?” Hannes asked.

“Because we’re going to play,” Eren said simply.

“As your manager, I can’t let you do this—“

“You don’t ‘let us’ do anything. You advise.”

“As your manager, I can’t advise you to do this. Not without some form of recompense or—“

“Relax Hannes,” Eren said, clapping his hand on the older man’s shoulder. “We’re just gonna have a little jam sesh.”

Hannes looked around at Levi.

“Did he put you up to this?” Hannes jerked his head at Levi.

Eren only laughed, uncoiling the cord to the mic as he walked away.

“George Hannes,” the man said, sticking his hand in front of Levi’s face.

“Levi Ackerman,” Levi took it.

“So you’re the boyfriend.”

“That I am.”

Hannes was sizing up Levi, but instead of saying anything just let out a small “Hm.”

“What?” Levi asked.

“Look, I don’t know what Eren has told you but the most important man in that kid’s life is his manager. Not his father, not his best friend and not whatever you are. His manager. Artists have stuck with the same manager through divorce after divorce, you know why? Because we’re loyal and we are the ones who truly want what’s best for them.”

“Well,” Levi said thinking it over. “What’s best for you.”

“That gorgeous kid is my investment so if you think you can get between him and the stage—“

“I have no intentions of getting between him and anything.”

That wasn’t true, he was very interested in getting between Eren and a bed about now.

“Good, just so’s we understand each other.”

“Actually I’ve been meaning to talk to you,” Levi said, lowering his voice.

“About what?” Hannes asked, narrowing his eyes.

“Money.”

“Oh, so you’re one of them. A gold digger, eh? Well let me tell you—“

“I’m not interested in his money. You see that ridiculous woman over there?” he pointed over at Hanji. “That’s my manager. And she informs me that I sold over fourteen paintings tonight and she expects more throughout the week. I’m interested in how Eren spends his money. You need to set up a meeting with a financial planner with him.”

“He doesn’t need a financial planner. I handle all the money.”

Levi’s eyes narrowed.

“I put all their money in trust funds so these idiots don’t blow it all on fast cars and women and actually have something for the future.”

“Yeahhh, I don’t think you have to worry about this lot spending all their money on women.”

“Check, check,” Eren said into his microphone. “Jean has raisin nipples, check.”

“Fair point. But he doesn’t need to see a financial planner because she’ll tell him the same thing I tell him. You gotta put it in equity. Not cars. Houses, land, something that appreciates over time.”

“Well the reason I ask is because he bought a $400 bottle of champagne today.”

Hannes chuckled at that.

“I’ll have a talk with him. I take good care of my boys. Same couldn’t be said of my manager back in the day.”

“Wait…you’re that Hannes? You’re the one who sang that—what was it? Teacher something…”

“Check,” Jean said into a different microphone. “Eren has a tic tac dick, check, check.”

“Teacher Wears Lace Panties,” Hannes said proudly.

I saw her through the window, she don’t know that I know, teacher wears lace panties, making all my fantasies come truuue,” Eren sang and Hannes puffed up.

“Yeah I made a lot of money on that song and then my manager cleaned me out and took my first wife and hopped a plane to the Maldives. Prick. Saved what I could and opened up the bar. I’m not gonna let that happen to my boys. Look at that face—“

He grabbed Eren’s face with his meaty hands.

“Have you ever seen such a handsome, marketable face? Mwah.” He kissed Eren’s cheek.

“What about me, Hannes?” Jean said, leaning down.

“Beautiful. All of you beautiful. All of you come down here, band meeting.”

Levi let them have their privacy but managed to overhear the part where Eren and Jean both exploded in anger.

“The fuck?” Jean snapped.

“But it’s our song. I wrote it!” Eren shouted.

“Well, you came up with it. I wrote it because you’re an illiterate mess who can’t read music,” Jean said. “But yeah, what the fuck Hannes?”

“I just don’t want you kids to be in breach of contract. Look I’ll call up the lawyer and see what he has to say on the issue. Just wait okay?”

“Fuck that, we’re all set to go!”

“So…what do we do now?” Reiner asked.

Jean and Eren turned sideways from the group, muttering furtively to one another. They seemed to reach an agreement.

Eren hopped up on stage and one of the stalker fans started screaming her head off. They were too shy to come close to the stage, but congregated in the back. The huddled mob seemed to know they’d snuck into a private event and every time someone who looked remotely like an adult walked by, they flinched. They were all so young. What were they? 16? 17? Babies. Did their parents even know they were here? Despite their screaming, Levi couldn’t find them annoying if he tried. One of them had a screen printed purse that read “Eren Jaeger is my Husband” in bright neon letters. Adorable.

Hannes noticed him eyeing the fans.

“Better get used to it quick,” he said, thumbing at the gin blossoms on his nose, phone pressed against his ear.

He approached one of the girls, interested in her shirt. They all stilled, intimidated by his presence.

“Where’d you get the shirt?” he asked, pointing to the picture of the band all wearing flower crowns.

“Uh…the official merch store,” she said stammering.

“Huh,” he said, thumbing through his phone. Annnd ordered.

“Are you a fan?” one of them asked shyly.

“You could say that,” Levi shrugged as Eren waved him over.

“Give me a kiss for good luck,” Eren ordered leaning down off the platform.

“You don’t need luck,” Levi muttered as Eren hooked his finger under his chin.

“You’re right, I don’t. I’m already the luckiest man in the world.”

Jean joined Levi in groaning at him.

“So cheesy,” Levi said, giving him a chaste peck. So dumb.

“You like it,” Eren grinned straightening up.

“Here, let me show you how a couple of pros handle this,” Jean said shaking his head. Then into the mic, “Marrrco. Marrrrco. Bring me Chipotle, Marco.”

“I’m not driving around trying to find a Chipotle open this late.” Marco shook his head, ignoring him.

“See, that’s what long term commitment looks like,” Jean said with a smug smile. “Pay attention and you’ll learn something.”

Levi left his spot by the stage, not wanting to be that close to the speakers, standing instead by Hanji, Petra and Aururo.

“So uh…” Eren said into the microphone and the same girl screamed. “We may have run into some contractual issues. Our manager says we can’t play anything from the album until he gets it sorted out. But! We can play covers and new songs!”

“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, get out your camera, they’re playing new songs, oh my god,” the gaggle of fans appeared to have lost their little minds.

“Can someone tell the brats to shut up?” Levi said loudly because he couldn’t hear Eren over their squeals and they all flinched and quieted immediately.

“They’re adorable, aren’t they?” Hanji asked beaming.

“I want ten of them,” Levi confessed. Why couldn’t painters get little fans?

“So, uh, it’s been a while since we’ve played any cover songs—“

Jean interrupted him, “We’re gonna play a song that’s Eren’s favorite because it features the only instrument he can play.”

Eren looked confused when Jean shoved a woodblock into his hands and then made a face at his audience when Jean started the first few riffs of “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” Eren covered the mic, said something to his bandmates and Jean halted.

“Hells yeah,” Jean said and started in on a different Blue Oyster Cult song.

Eren picked up Carla 2 and joined him.

“With a purposeful grimace and a terrible sound, he pulls the city’s high tension wires down,” Eren and Jean’s voices sounded, each making ridiculous faces. Eren had his hands up like he was the titular monster baring his teeth.

“Oh no, they say he’s got to go, Go go Godzilla!”

“They’re pretty good,” Aururo said, his voice barely audible above the music.

Petra let out a hellcat scream, forgetting her dignity, and they all clapped their hands over their ears.

Jean started into a long guitar solo and he might as well have been masturbating for all the ego stroking he was doing on that stage. Ymir and Reiner followed him along, keeping the beat dutifully, but Jean started improvising and they finally just let him do his own thing. Eren laughed at the way Jean contorted over his guitar and pretended to walk offstage until he’d finished. Jean was good. Not that anyone needed to tell him that. But the boy could make those strings sing. The fans got over their shyness and one started pawing at his shirt as he continued. Eren pretended to yawn and check his watch.

Marco caught Levi’s eye and gave a grin, clearly used to Jean baiting his female fans.

Then with a final, “Godzilla!” they finished.

Ymir wasted no time starting the next song, thumping on her bass, not waiting for the others to catch up. Levi recognized it and when Eren started screaming, “Suck My Kiss!” the girls lost it. Watching Eren practically make out with his fans was a little uncomfortable, so he sat down on some of the patio lounge furniture.

“It’s just the murdering meat industrial complex is wasteful and cruel!” Connie was shouting his argument at Nile, who looked very confused.

“How is it cruel?” he asked dumbly.

“Like, take veal for instance—“ Connie shouted.

“I like veal!” Nile said brightly. “Dad and I used to go shoot deer every hunting season.”

“…That’s venison,” Erwin corrected gently and Levi tried not to laugh at his expression.

“Then what’s veal?” Nile asked, scratching at his terrible goatee.

Levi felt someone punch his shoulder—hard.

“Hey,” Mikasa said.

“…Hello to you too,” he said, rubbing at his shoulder. “You know there are better ways to greet someone.”

“I’m mad at you.” And before he could ask for clarification, she continued, “Did you give that moron condoms and tell him to go hook up with someone?”

She pointed at Armin, who was awkwardly trying to sit on the arm of Annie’s chair as Annie purposefully ignored his presence.

“Yeah, I thought it might help him de-stress. Kid is wound tighter than a rubber band.”

“No, that is—no, he doesn’t hook up with people. Look at him. He’s just so…” she searched for a word.

Armin fell off the arm of the chair and attempted to regain his dignity. Rubbing his backside, he joined them.

“Are you talking about me?” Armin asked.

“Yes, I’m yelling at this asshole for forcing you to hook up with Annie.”

“Uh, he didn’t force me to do anything. I kills da pussy.” He made an attempt at gang symbols with his fingers.

“Wow,” Mikasa and Levi said in tandem.

“I know. I don’t know why I said that. I’m a mess. Don’t look at me.” He cringed and pulled his long bangs over his face.

“Do you see what you did?” Mikasa turned on Levi again. “The last time he had a girlfriend was band camp and when she broke up with him, he wrote her a novel length letter in Elvish.”

“Uh, it’s called Tengwar and Mary Beth doesn’t know what she’s missing out on!”

“He’s so smart but put him around girls is just—it’s a bad mix.”

“Is she looking?” Armin whispered to Levi.

“…Who?”

“Annie. Is she looking at me?”

“No,” Levi said looking over at the bored blonde who was listening to Sasha’s animated conversation with Erd. “She is most definitely not.”

“I just have a really good feeling about Annie and me,” Armin said. “I’m going to marry her.”

“Oh honey, no,” Mikasa said, shaking her head.

“This song is one that didn’t make it onto the album, but it’s one of our faves. Hopefully it’ll make it onto the second album,” Eren informed the crowd and then launched into a raunchy medley.

Levi caught sight of Balto and Pixis chatting with Hanji and she summoned him over.

“Well Dot, looks like I beat you to the chase this time too,” Balto was saying as Levi approached. “Ah Levi! I was just telling this old goat how I outbid him on two paintings. Unfortunate. I didn’t even know you were interested! Shame really.”

“Ah well, can’t win them all,” Pixis said, his eyes twinkling as he caught Levi’s eye.

“Yeah, I’m not big into art,” Balto repeated. “But I figured one for the missus and one for the mistress, eh?” He elbowed Pixis.

“I’ll have the paperwork faxed over to your office immediately,” Hanji said, putting her hand behind her back in a fist and Levi surreptitiously pounded it.

“Well, I’m off. This kind of noise isn’t my thing. My daughter loves this Rogue Titanic though. I don’t get it,” Balto said, clapping his hand on Levi’s shoulder again. “Levi, I’ll see you Monday.”

“Actually I’m out of the office for another week. Mike is handling my clients until then.”

Balto did not look pleased with this information.

“A week from Monday then,” he said. “Dot, can I see you out? I want to show you the Lamborghini I got myself as a Christmas bonus.”

Then he left and with his departure, Levi felt like he could finally relax. He was with friends now. No more clients or buyers. Just Eren’s friends and Mikasa and his fans and his own dumb friends.

“Dear Lord,” Hanji said, holding her hands together in prayer. “Thank you for old white men and their small penises and disposable income.”

“Amen,” Levi agreed.

Somehow now that the showing was over and the stairs and elevator locked up, there were more people? Levi couldn’t figure out how that was even possible until he saw teenagers crawling up the fire escape on the building next to them and then stepping down onto the shared roof. Checking the unofficial Rogue Titan fan twitter accounts (not that he was following them or anything) he saw that there were several tweets giving instructions on how to crash the party. God he hoped they were safe. He got Armin back by digging deep in Eren’s pants for his phone and tweeting a caution from the official Rogue Titan twitter account that read, “Don’t die trying to get here, we’re not worth it. Take the back stairs on 50th. Door is open. Stay safe, #LittleTitans.”

He hoped he sounded enough like Eren. On average it took Eren a good fifteen minutes to craft a tweet (and he did tweet at least twice a day) because he spent the majority of his time checking his spelling, with his tongue tucked in the corner of his mouth. There was a story there but Levi wasn’t one to pry, he would just offer correct spellings when needed or look it up if he didn’t know. Levi may have been a college graduate but it was Trost U, the biggest party school on the West Coast, so his vocabulary was limited. He once used the wrong form of “the/ir/re/y’re” in a work email and spent the rest of the week ruminating over it. The main reason he knew, “i before e except after c” was because Erwin corrected him so often (“or when sounds as a as in neighbor and weigh!”) because Erwin was pedantic like that. When Levi thought about the anxiety he used to get when sending a text to him it was amazing they had stuck together so long.

The band had been playing for a good 45 minutes straight. Hannes had finally gotten the go-ahead from their sleepy lawyer and they were playing their entire album. Eren was dripping with sweat, which Levi tried to find disgusting, but it just made him glow. The paltry LED patio lights baked that bronzed god shimmer onto his skin. Eren paid no attention to Levi on stage and Levi kept his distance. For all Eren knew, Levi didn’t exist. Fuck, the crowd didn’t exist. His band didn’t exist. There was just Eren and his Elvis hips and the music. He would just close his eyes, blinking out the sweat, and melt into that microphone the same way he would sigh down onto Levi’s cock. Eren literally could give zero shits if Levi was watching. And for some reason that only turned Levi on even more.

Eren wanted to share his music with Levi, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to share the stage with him. The band was his and his alone. Levi liked that. It wasn’t a far cry from him dragging a paintbrush down the canvas with Eren’s blunt fingers. The paint he could share—if for the briefest of moments—but he wasn’t going to share that canvas with anyone.

But should Eren chance to open his eyes and should he chance to find Levi hiding in the back, lingering against the limestone like the wallflower he was, his green eyes would flash for only a moment. That was all he would get, a millisecond of recognition.

“I don’t care, I would let him raw me,” a kid who couldn’t be more than fifteen informed his friends.

Okay, well that was disconcerting.

“Baby gays,” Hanji whispered to Levi. “Look at them in their natural habitat.”

“I wish I had more condoms to hand out,” Levi sighed. He was down to his last one. Next time he was at Costco he was going to buy them in bulk.

“I can’t even imagine being that young again,” Nanaba mused.

“I didn’t even know I was gay when I was that age,” Erwin agreed. “Kids these days are so sure of themselves. When I was that age there were only three men I loved: my daddy, Jesus, and Mr. Garth Brooks.”

“It was Hanson for me,” Petra sighed.

“Me too,” said Aururo and they all stared at him. “…I did not realize they were boys.”

“New Kids on the Block,” said Hanji wistfully and Petra and Nanaba agreed.

“Okay, we’re taking a short break and then we’ll be right back,” Eren informed the crowd who let out a loud “aww” of disappointment.

Levi grabbed a water bottle.

“Here, you need to hydrate,” he muttered, shoving it at Eren.

Eren took it, gulping down half and dumping the rest over his head. That was one habit Levi sorely disliked in Eren. He didn’t ever use a towel when exiting the shower, he just shook dry like a dog. He gave a white-toothed grin at Levi before Hannes distracted him.

Levi wasn’t needed by Eren, which frankly was a relief because he didn’t know what he was supposed to do. He followed behind Bert, Reiner, and Ymir who flopped down in the chairs that Sasha and Connie offered up. Reiner was sweating through his button down and casually ripped off the sleeves. Over the din, Levi managed to hear part of Annie’s speech to Armin, which went a little something like,

“Look, I’ve been thinking on this for a long time…and tonight just sort of confirmed for me what I already knew. I didn’t mean to use you, but I…I’m pretty sure I’m more into women than I am men.”

Armin deflated like a balloon.

“So…yeah. Sorry. I’ll see you around?” Annie gave him an awkward pat on the shoulder.

 “But we—?” Armin said to Levi as Levi restrained him from following her. “I put my mouth—?”

“Heyyy Annie,” Ymir said, hopping out of her chair. “I couldn’t help but overhear—“

“No,” Annie said dismissively.

“Oh come on!” Ymir fumed at Annie’s retreating back.

“Oh god,” cried Armin, sinking onto the floor at Levi’s feet. “It hurts!”

“C’mon sport, you’re embarrassing yourself,” Levi nudged him with his Italian loafers.

“We were going to have a family!”

“Hey Mikasa!” Annie went up to Mikasa, Jean, and Marco. “I know it’s awkward because you’re my boss, but…give me a call sometime, okay? You have my number.”

“S-sure.”

And with that Annie left the party.

“It’s not fair!” Ymir sulked.

“It’s not fair!” Armin said, flopping into one of the lounge chairs between Sasha and Connie. “I want to die!”

“You two have this, right?” Levi asked them.

Sasha and Connie looked at each other and then nodded. Levi didn’t know this yet, but you should never entrust a heartbroken Armin to Sasha and Connie because they will only pass him drink after drink after drink. Since the caterers had gone home already, this meant they seized every half empty wine glass and tumbler and poured it all into one cup like a Long Island Ice Tea but with red wine under the guise of “recycling”, then set the contents in front of Armin, who was still half sobbing.

Levi padded back over to where Hanji and Erwin were standing because Eren was talking animatedly to his fans.

“How do you feel about all of this?” Hanji asked.

“What?” Levi asked.

“You know, all of this?” Hanji indicated the band and the fans and the whole uninvited crowd on the roof.

Levi didn’t rightly know. To be honest he felt a little lost. He didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing. He just needed to get used to it. He needed to sort out a routine while Eren performed.

“You made this shirt yourself?” Eren asked a fan who was wearing a puffy paint rendering of his face. “That’s amazing.”

Levi found the corners of his mouth tugging out towards his ears despite himself and he toed at the ground, stepping away from the group, feeling Eren’s eyes follow him toward the edge of the roof.

There was a slight tap at his elbow and he looked up to see Erwin had followed him. They shared a moment looking over the city in silence. He could see lights out on the water. August was the best for meteor showers. The Perseids weren’t visible in the city, what with light pollution and all, but get out on the water and they put on quite a show.

“I missed you,” Erwin said quietly.

Shit, not this again. Levi immediately tensed and looked for a way out, his grey eyes flickering around hoping someone would rescue him.

“I mean,” Erwin clarified. “I missed us. I miss this.”

“Look, Erwin,” Levi said, shifting his weight awkwardly.

“I mean, hanging out with Hanji and Mike and Nanaba,” he continued and Levi relaxed a little.

“Yeah, you kind of got custody of Mike and Nanaba in the big breakup,” Levi joked uncomfortably.

“Ha, and you got Hanji.”

“I got the shit end of the stick if you ask me,” Levi accused, still tense.

“Well, I missed all of us hanging out together,” Erwin said.

“You and Nile seem…” Levi couldn’t really finish that thought because he really didn’t know how well they got along.

“Yeah,” was all Erwin offered. “He can be a bit of a ditz but he is so good with his kids. He’s a completely different person. I mean he’s really…it’s really great to watch.”

But Erwin didn’t like kids. Or at least he hadn’t liked the idea of kids when he was with Levi. Huh.

“Well that’s good,” Levi said nodding and he went to turn around but Erwin seized his elbow.

“I forgot how much I missed you. I forgot how much I missed this,” Erwin repeated and Levi froze like a deer in headlights, his eyes flickering up to Eren on the stage. Eren was capping another water bottle and grabbing Carla 2, preparing for the second half of their set. “But most importantly, I missed seeing you happy.”

Levi snapped his gaze away from Eren and up to Erwin’s baby blues. God he looked like a young Paul Newman. Erwin brushed his thumb against Levi’s elbow before letting his arm drop lamely at his side, his eyes watering.

“Hey big guy,” Levi said, nudging him. “Don’t do that. Don’t cry. Don’t or I’ll—“

They both turned away from the stage and looked at the lights blinking over the bay, Levi digging his palm furiously into his eyes under his glasses.

“Here, c’mon you dumbass,” Levi offered a hug, which he seemed to be giving out a lot tonight. “Do me a favor?”

“Hm?” Erwin asked.

“Don’t try and make him into a project, okay?” Levi indicated Nile who was drunkenly swaying to the music, clearly enjoying himself. “No one is perfect. We can’t all meet your high expectations. Sometimes you just have to accept people as they are.”

Erwin blinked.

Levi left him there and Erwin didn’t move for a long time, looking over Nile as if trying to decide something important. Eventually his feet became unstuck and he moved haltingly up to his boyfriend, who was dancing a great deal like Elaine from Seinfeld, and danced with him.

Levi felt someone punch his shoulder again and he found Mikasa looking at him expectantly.

“Something something baby in the corner, yada yada, c’mon dance with me,” she poked him.

Levi wanted to be annoyed but instead he quickly pulled her close and they twirled there in front of the band. Mikasa had quick feet, maybe even quicker than Levi’s. They busted out a foxtrot and a waltz, ignoring whatever the band was playing and carving their own rhythm.

Eren switched over to “Tiny Dancer” and Levi rolled his eyes, throwing his Italian loafers at his dumb boyfriend and Eren laughed. Mikasa threw her shoes on the stage as well and Eren stepped into them, wobbling in four inch heels as he sang.

That night Levi wore holes in the soles of his silk socks and Mikasa tore through her hose. Several interested parties pulled Mikasa from his arms and so he graciously offered himself to the many waiting ladies. Petra giggled as he tried to show her how to do a basic step. Hanji let him stand on top of her boots so she didn’t break his toes.

Gay Mr. Darcy, my ass,” he thought.

Sasha and Connie were doing their own interpretation of the music and Levi really didn’t need to see Sasha twerking, but she was surprisingly good at it even in her overalls and granny square vest.

Then the band switched into their own music and suddenly Levi had no space to dance as the fans crowded the stage. There were under fifty people on that roof but it felt suffocating and crowded by the stage. Chest heaving, he flopped into a chair next to Armin.

“How you doing, bucko?” he asked the mop of blond hair.

“Unnngggg,” Armin groaned drunkenly.

“No, Levi, come back,” Mikasa begged, pulling him to his feet.

“Fuck off, I’m old as shit. I can’t be on my feet all night,” he panted.

But then he was up and dancing like he’d never danced before in his life. Uninhibited. Uncaring. When had he ever had that much fun dancing? Then the music slowed and Mikasa and Levi were cheek to cheek. Well cheek to chin. Levi didn’t even recognize the song as Eren’s sad ballad (entitled “Lighthouse”) to their ill-fated romance until the girls next to them started singing along.

“This one’s my favorite,” the sixteen year old said to her girlfriend.

Levi frowned a little. Mikasa was watching him carefully.

“You know I think this one is about you,” she said.

“Yeah, I’m aware.”

“Okay, what even happened with you two? Because all I knew was that you were locked in a duel of buckets and then suddenly he’s writing songs about how you broke his heart.”

“I don’t even know,” Levi confessed. “He invited me out on the houseboat and I panicked and ran.”

“Oh. That’s it?”

“I guess so,” Levi said holding out his arm and she twirled before he dipped her again.

“Well then, you know what you have to do.”

“I do.”

He just really, really didn’t want to.

Chapter Text

“The babes are getting tired,” a raspy Eren informed his fans a full hour and a half after they’d set up shop on the roof.

He wasn’t lying. Jean kept rubbing his tired eyes and Ymir’s hair hung limp against her face. Bert’s shirt was completely soaked. The only one who wasn’t flagging was Reiner. Exhaustion made Eren look like a man possessed and fans kept snapping photos. He was completely sober, but he looked drunk and spent.

The energy had calmed down quite a bit and it really was time for those little ‘uns to go home. Levi and Mikasa were the only ones dancing, but she was leaning on him heavily, scuffing the red nail varnish off her toes as she dragged her feet. Levi had retrieved his loafers during a short break and when he put them on he found he had large blisters on his soles.

Erwin and Nile, Nanaba and Mike, and a sleepy Petra and Aururo had all already taken off. Hanji couldn’t leave because she had to pack up. Erd and Gunter were locked in a drinking game that could only end in tears and beer shits. Armin had passed out on one of the patio ottomans and Connie and Sasha had created a ring of beer bottles and cans around him like the Maginot Line, a warning to all not to cross it and bother him.

“So we’re going to play one last song then I’m going to go make out with my boyfriend.”

When it was finished, Eren hopped off their makeshift stage and without warning threw Levi over his shoulder and took him to a secluded section of the roof.

“Put me down, brat!” Levi insisted, but Eren kept a firm handle on his ass. “You’ll hurt your back.”

Eren did eventually set him down but pressed him up against a wall so fast Levi felt the wind forced out of his lungs. Eren shoved him—actually shoved him—holding his hand against the back of Levi’s head so it didn’t strike the hard limestone cement.

“Eren,” Levi said, laughing deliriously, trying to push him away because he was gross and sweaty and smelled like B.O. “Eren!”

Eren tugged at Levi’s tie and thumbed the top few buttons open before burying his nose into the crook of Levi’s neck, leaving sucking kisses on his clavicle.

“Eren!” Levi tugged hard on Eren’s hair and Eren gave a hiss of pain, his cock throbbing against Levi’s thigh in response.

Oh no, my boyfriend likes pain,” Levi thought concernedly. That was worrisome. He decided to file this information away for a different day.

“Sorry, I just get so horny after a show,” Eren panted, lifting Levi up into his arms, cupping his ass in his hands.

“What are you going to do when you’re on tour?” Levi asked as Eren sucked at that same spot again.

“Probably just jerk off after,” Eren laughed throatily. “I’m going to fuck you now.”

No matter how tight his jeans were Eren could always wiggle his large hands past Levi’s belt. Those fingers of his were devilishly tricky. Calloused and clumsy, but demanding in the way they coaxed Levi’s member to life. Eren had undone the fly of Armin’s borrowed pants and Levi was having a hard time focusing on anything but those dark tangled curls.

Eren pulled at the belt loops of Levi’s designer jeans. There was a wonderful moment as the cool night air slapped against his sweaty ass. Fuck, he was gross from all that dancing.

“Anyone could walk in on us,” Levi muttered, his body prickling all over in excitement.

They weren’t even properly hidden. Anyone could walk around the corner and see him pressed against the wall, his jeans and boxer briefs bunched up and hanging off of one leg. He pointed his toe, trying to keep his shoe from falling off as well, its mate kicked to the side.

“Aren’t you tired of sharing me all night?” Eren asked teasingly, thumbing over Levi’s nipple. So those feedback chats were actually working. He did it again and Levi hooked his arm around Eren’s neck as he sagged against the wall.

“You’re dirty,” Levi scolded.

“Aren’t you tired of not having me all to yourself? I know I am.”

He raked his fingers through the trimmed hairs between Levi’s thighs.

“Eren, I’m serious,” Levi said, suddenly stern. This was all fun and games, but he didn’t want one of those little teenyboppers snapping a picture of them fucking and posting it on their fan messaging boards. “We can’t.”

Eren halted all of his play, panting, blinking his hair out of his eyes. It was getting quite shaggy.

“Okay,” he said dumbly.

“Good,” Levi said patting his back, happy that Eren was finally listening to reason. “Good.”

“You have to unwrap your legs if you want me to set you down,” Eren reminded him after Levi remained immobile.

Of course, now that Eren had stopped, Levi didn’t know if he wanted him to stop.

“Right.” Levi tongued over where Eren had bit his lip. “Right.”

Eren waited, cocking an eyebrow. Levi weighed his options, legs snug around Eren’s waist.

Thank god for lubed condoms, he thought a moment later as Eren fucked him up against that concrete wall, little pebbles falling into his hair.

“Fuck!” Levi gasped, losing his grip for a moment, but Eren hoisted him up and continued grunting away.

Eren’s shoulder kept pressing against his throat and Levi’s breaths kept coming in short ragged gasps.

“Am I hurting—“

“Fuck. Harder!” Levi ordered, slapping Eren’s bare chest.

Eren gave a twisted grin and did as ordered, lowly whispering dirty things in Levi’s ear.

“I want to come in your ass and lap it up after,” he said in a low guttural growl, his voice fried.

“You’re fucking filthy,” Levi gasped, clawing Eren’s back.

Dirty talk had never really been a forte of Levi’s, but he did appreciate hearing it. It didn’t hurt that Eren had a wild imagination and was completely shameless about the obscene things that passed his bruised lips. Levi heard a strange deep staccato sound before he realized it was his own delighted laugh that gave way into a low hum, reverberating against his ribs.

“I want to wake you up with my mouth on your cock. Fuck, I’ll fucking worship your cock. I want to throat fuck you in the shower.”

Eren was a goddamn animal. Levi had never felt so electric in his life, so desired. Eren’s breath was like a furnace and every thrust was like a goddamn earthquake. When was the last time he had let go of his self-control like this?

“Levi!” Eren roared in his ear as he came.

“What a wild ride,” Levi said dizzily, his glasses hanging off of one ear as Eren pulled out a few moments later, then dutifully slid down to his knees.

Levi’s legs shook and would have given out if Eren hadn’t helped him upright. Eren was stroking him with both hands as he sucked looking up at him with those big green eyes.

He pressed his hand into his crooked glasses, pulling at his own hair, and when he came the only sound he made was a long contented exhale. There was a sharp pain between his eyes as he felt a headache swing out of nowhere. Ow. Ow, the kid had fucked a headache into him.

Eren stood up wiping his mouth, tying off the condom. Levi couldn’t help but stare at him. His naked chest was covered in long scratches and Levi could see the outline of a button and his tie clip on his breast from where they had pressed into him.

Eren was speaking, but it took a while for Levi to process the words.

“I’m going to stay with Mikasa and Armin for the night,” he informed him, pulling on a ratty T-shirt he’d kept in his guitar case. The neckline was ripped and it was covered in holes but it was better than all of the hickeys and red marks Levi had inadvertently left while trying not to fall on his ass.

Levi nodded numbly.  He stepped into his jeans and tripped, hoping Eren hadn’t noticed. Actually he needed a break. Let the boy go and have fun with his friends. Hell, after sex like that Eren deserved it.

“Where is my other—“ Levi asked, crawling around looking for his shoe only to find it in front of his nose as Eren handed it to him.

With a yawn and a stretch, Eren left their secluded corner and rejoined the party, which was just as well to Levi because the second Eren was out of sight, he sank onto the ground.

“I can’t walk,” he gasped, pulling himself up on a picnic table. “Shit.”

He managed to struggle to his feet and followed him. Casting furtive glances around, he shuffled up next to Hanji.

“Oh, there you are Levi,” she said.

Had no one really realized they were gone? Really?

Levi watched Eren chat with his fans as he packed up. The 15 year old who had before boldly declared all the things he’d let Eren do to him became suddenly shy when faced with his hero. He kept getting within six feet of him before turning around and hiding behind his friends. Finally one of his friends shoved him and he stammered in front of Eren, holding onto his notebook and a pen.

“Hi!” Eren said brightly, not looking at all like he’d fucked Levi senseless against a wall moments earlier. Gorgeous, gorgeous man. “Did you want me to sign that?”

The teenager burst into tears.

“Aw, c’mere, kid,” Eren said sympathetically, putting his arm around his little fan.

Through the sobs Levi could make out a few words such as “My parents don’t understand!” and “They’d be happier if I was gone!” Eren said a few soothing words and even cracked a joke. Levi couldn’t hear what he said but it seemed to make the younger boy happier and he stopped sniffling. He was good with them, Levi reasoned. No wonder they loved him so much.

The band packed everything and sent their gear down the elevator. Eren kept collapsing and moaning “My sciatica!” much to Jean’s annoyance. Throwing his arm over his eyes, he collapsed dramatically into Reiner’s arms.

“You wouldn’t be laughing if you had it!” Jean said in a huff, throwing back what Connie and Sasha were calling “MoonShina” aka all the leftover booze they had poured into one glass.

Eren rolled his eyes and hopped out of Reiner’s arms to shake Armin awake.

“We’re gonna need to airlift this one,” he said and Reiner carried the drunk man bridal style.

“She was my everything,” Armin hiccupped, his head rolling. “The world is cruel.”

“Okay, but consider this,” Eren said consolingly, cupping his face in his hands. “Robots with swords.”

“Robots with swords,” Armin murmured happily.

“There you go.”

They all piled into the tour van, which was just a church van repainted with the band’s logo (a skinless Vitruvian man).

“You can sit on my lap, Mikasa,” Ymir offered.

“No. I’m good,” Mikasa deflected.

“I already called shotgun, Reiner! You can’t just ignore the rules of shotgun,” Jean protested.

“I heard Bert call it first.”

“You’re such a liar, you’re only saying that because he’s your boyfriend and you two are going to do that weird creepy thing where you feel each other’s leg up the entire drive!” Jean pouted.

“He’s on to us, Reiner,” said Bert. “Connie, you’re on the hump.”

Reiner was driving, Connie on the hump in the front seat, Bertholdt in the passenger seat, then Mikasa with Sasha on her lap, Marco, and Ymir, with Jean on the floor at Marco’s feet, and then Eren and Armin riding in the back with the instruments and equipment. Armin was moaning about how he might throw up and Eren was singing that Natalie Imbruglia song to him to calm him, trying not to laugh the entire time.

“You sure you don’t want to come with?” Mikasa shouted, looking over her shoulder at Levi.

“I’m good,” he said, hands in his pockets, his usual aloof expression on his face again. “Drive safe.”

Levi had one last fleeting look into Eren’s green eyes before Hannes closed the doors and pounded on the back. Then they were off.

Levi and Eren hadn’t had any real time apart since Eren had thrown himself into his life again. So there was an awkward moment where Levi didn’t want to be the one to text first. But then he realized that’s what a coward would think. To hell with it.

“fuck you brat. my ass hurt on every pothole the scooter hit,” he sent from his bedroom after feeding two very noisy cats.

Bean had taken it upon himself to take over Eren’s position on the bed, purring contentedly. Levi set his phone on the nightstand, telling himself he wouldn’t panic over whether or not Eren responded, because he should be able to go a single night without his new boyfriend, was he really so co-dependent that—

“aw i’ll kiss it and make it better [kissy emoji]” Eren responded.

Oh thank God.

And like that, what felt like the longest day of his life came to a close. Levi drifted off to sleep with one hand buried in cat fur and one on Eren’s pillow.

<*>

The next day was like any other lazy Sunday. He went for a run, vacuumed under the couch, went to the studio to paint, and got groceries on the way home. The only difference was he had someone. A someone who sent him of an effigy of Dolf Ludgren burning in a barrel with the caption, “RIP Drago” at 3:30 in the morning and “It is weird being the only sober person at a party” a half hour later.

Hanji came over in the afternoon and they went over business.

“GOOD MORNING VIETNAM!” Eren texted at about 3pm. “i have been bragging about your good cooking and all the meals we’ve made so now im going to cook for Armin and Mikasa at Armin’s place.”

“What are you doing?” Hanji said as Levi pulled several steaks from the freezer.

“Eren and friends may be joining us.”

“ABORT ABORT,” Eren texted at 5pm. “THERE WAS AN ENTIRE COLONY OF COCKROACHES IN ARMIN’S OVEN AND WHEN I TURNED IT ON THEY ALL CAME OUT.”

There it was.

“Dinner is at 7. Bring Mikasa and Armin if you want.”

“you’re the best babyyyyyy.”

Levi snorted and set down his phone and started pulling out items from the fridge.

“So I didn’t get a chance to ask last night, but how are things with your boytoy?”

Levi thought about how he tripped down the stairs at the gallery last night because his legs kept shaking like a yearling’s.

“…Uh, good. Yeah, things are good. I mean, it’s only been a week, but things are great so far.”

“Mmm,” said Hanji, doing that thing she did where she pretended she knew more about Levi’s feelings than he did.

“Hmm,” he answered back.

“Mmm,” she agreed.

“Hmm,” he insisted because she should mind her own business.

“Mmhmm,” she continued because if he really wanted her out of his business he wouldn’t have sent her a picture of a (mostly) naked Eren in his bed.

“Hm,” because pffft whatever.

“Hm,” because yeah that’s what I thought.

“And don’t call him a boytoy. He’s not a bobblehead I picked up at the airport, he’s my boyfriend.”

“Hmm,” she said, taking a sip of her beer and Levi felt the tips of his ears go red.

Eren divided people in his life into categories, Levi had found out. He had his sister, his “best friend in the entire fucking world” which was Armin, his “best frenemy” which was Jean, and his “best female friend” which Levi thought was Sasha, but was actually Annie (“because, she like, gets it, man”). Each one of them had their strengths and weaknesses. He’d go to one for relationship advice, he’d go to another to party, there was one friend for being sad and one friend for being happy, and really for being a space cadet loner like Eren was, he was blessed with a lot of people who loved and cared about him.

Levi never labeled the people in his lives into categories like that. It was unfair, he reasoned. He didn’t really have “friends” he had “people he hung out with” and there was something wrong with all of them. They all pissed him off in one way or another. Petra with her constant wedding plans and how she kept trying to bond with him the way she couldn’t with her sister, Gunter with his super serious Reddit chatter, Erd with his reassuring attitude on everything like sometimes people just want to be upset, let them have that, stop saying everything’s okay when it’s not, and Aururo, who Levi actually had a soft spot for because he was just so fucking awkward, but the poor bastard had no idea how to interact with Levi as a gay man. Aururo kept trying to “bro” around with him, which Levi was fine with, but then Aururo would bring up something about “chicks, bro” and Levi would be all “I wouldn’t know, bro” and then Aururo would turn six shades of purple trying to figure out how to move on from that incident. It’s like no one ever told him guys can be into guys and still be buddies. It’s not like Levi wanted to talk about bleached assholes all the time. He just wanted to hang. Why was that so hard to understand?

Mike and Nanaba were great or rather they weren’t so bad, but they were “couple” friends and the worst thing about couple friends is that if you’re not part of a couple, you’re no longer friends. He thought about all of the banal conversations they used to have about wine tastings (Mike was something of a connoisseur when it came to wine and cigars) and Levi would just blank out because he could only have so many conversations that involved Scandal and diets (“I try to keep him away from dairy, it doesn’t sit well on his tummy”) before he went insane.

Hanji was the outlier. The one who wormed her way into his life. He told himself he never asked for Hanji as a friend, that he instead was cursed with her friendship, but he loved that broad. He still remembered sitting on the sidewalk when she clunked up to him in her thick boots and told him she thought his work was good.

“No one asked you.”

“I just think you’re pretty amazing, is all,” she had said, scratching at the stubble on her chin and grinning with her crooked toothed smile.

“Oh,” he had replied, trying to not look flattered, but it had been so long since anyone had fanned the flame that was his ego and she was so weird and gangly and just…there.

But now, he realized the people who he tolerated were the people he wanted in his life always. In fact, he might kindof like them. Hell, he might love them.

His phone buzzed

“Armin’s landlord is doing emergency bugbombs, so i sortof said he could do his laundry at your place? is that okay? :/ there’s a weird homeless guy that keeps calling him his ‘girlfriend’ at the coin laundry.”

“np. I only take ca$h in nickels tho.”

:P

“fine, i will also accept bitcoins.”

“My babies!” Eren cried the moment he burst through the doors, falling to his knees at the sight of the cats.

They immediately froze and turned tail, but Eren caught Sawny and cradled her.

“Give Daddy a kiss,” he begged as she made several low guttural noises in her throat.

“Eren, they’re cats, not dogs.”

“Other Daddy wants a kiss.” Eren shoved Sawny into Levi’s face.

“Ugh, no, I’ve had enough scene brats come up to me and call me Daddy. I’d be Papa.”

“Aw, but I like it when you call me Big Poppa.”

“Where’s the laundry, Levi? Downstairs…or?” Armin said still holding the laundry bag.

“That closet over there.”

“What? You have a washing machine inside your apartment?” Armin exclaimed. “They do that?”

“Ow!” Eren yelped as Sawny clawed his face. “Fine! Go hide now.” But when he set her down she continued doing figure eights around his legs.

“This is a nice place you’ve got here,” Mikasa observed.

“Thanks,” Levi said, surprised by the compliment.

“Do you rent or own?” came the rapid follow-up.

“Own.”

“Hm. Nice tv.”

“Thanks.”

“And couch.”

Levi could start to see a pattern emerging.

“So just how much in debt are you?” Mikasa asked casually, taking the offered beer from Hanji.

“No debt,” Levi said evenly, exchanging a look with Eren.

“Yeah. Right.”

“It’s a front loader!” Armin informed Mikasa excitedly.

“What can I do to help?” Eren asked Levi, wrapping his arms around Levi’s waist and kissing the back of his neck.

“I’ve got it.”

“But I want to help.”

“Fine, wash the veggies.”

Eren slid into his usual spot to Levi’s left, peeling the zucchini. Levi tapped his knife on the cutting board, his brow furrowing. It had been nearly a week and already they had their little routines. Maybe they had rushed things. Okay, he knew they had rushed things. Levi did this. He fell into physical routines with his partners and then once they realized he couldn’t commit emotionally, they started rebelling. Shit. Go away anxiety. Go away.

“How was your day?” Eren asked Levi, forcing Levi’s attention away from his internal crisis. “We had a late start because someone was supremely hungover.”

“Okay, I’m sorry I don’t just bounce back from booze the way you do,” Armin rolled his eyes.

“Good, I got some painting done. Talked shop with Hanji.”

“So you’re like Levi’s best friend, right?” Mikasa asked Hanji.

“Iunno, am I Levi?”

“My oldest friend.”

“Oldest? Erwin’s way older than me, that’s not fair!” Hanji protested.

“I mean you’ve been my friend the longest. Put up with me the longest amount of time. What’s it been? Ten years?”

“At least,” she hummed happily.

Levi hummed back.

“Why is the cast of Honey Boo Boo framed in your office?” Mikasa called.

None of them had noticed her sneak off.

“And who is the—oh my god that’s you.” Mikasa flipped the photo around for Armin to see and he chuckled at the photo.

“Those are my cousins,” Levi explained, slicing through the zucchini with some vehemence. “I lived with them for a while.”

“A while? Like how long?”

“Until I didn’t,” Levi evaded.

“So what, are you an orphan? Are you secretly Batman?” Mikasa asked.

“Don’t look at me,” Hanji said, putting her hands up as Mikasa flipped the photo around for Hanji to see. “I’ve known him for nearly ten years and he doesn’t talk about it.”

“Mikasa,” Eren warned.

“What? I’m trying to show an interest in your boyfriend.” Mikasa shrugged. “Why is he dodging the question?”

“Mikasa,” Eren hissed, grabbing her by the arm and dragging her into the office.

He closed the door but they could still hear them argue.

“I know what you’re doing and you think you’re helping, but you’re not,” Eren said, pulling the picture frame from her hands.

“You don’t know anything about this guy and you’ve practically moved in with him!” she waved her arms at his duffle bag sitting next to Levi’s desk.

“I have not! I’m staying in the houseboat—“

“Oh Jesus, Eren, how many nights have you stayed there this week, hm?”

“Like…a few…”

“I can tell when you’re lying because the tips of your ears go red! You don’t know anything about him!”

“I don’t need to know anything about him!”

“Yes. Yes you do. That is the whole point of being in a relationship is you share shit. You carry a little off their back and they carry a little off yours!”

“Mikasa,” he said, grabbing her by the shoulders. “You can’t force people to open up to you. You can’t force intimacy. Right now he could read me the manual to his scooter and it would be far more intimate than anything you drag out of him. I tried that before and he—I just don’t want to press too hard, okay?”

Hanji, Armin, and Levi all looked around awkwardly. Armin coughed, thumping buttons on the washing machine loudly.

“Honestly? If he can’t put up with me, then he doesn’t deserve you.”

“Just please, back off?” he begged.

“Fine.”

The sibling conference seemingly over, they rejoined the group. Eren took his place next to Levi.

“Besides,” Eren joked, flushing a little as he realized they had heard nearly everything. “Levi and I are still at that ‘afraid to fart in front of each other’ stage.”

“You literally trapped me in a Dutch oven the other night after you had all those cheesy fries,” Levi pointed out and Eren laughed.

“Please let me help,” Eren said looking at Levi’s cutting board. “I can cut stuff.”

“I don’t want you to nick a tendon and not be able to play,” Levi grumbled.

“Whoa, we’re having steak? Levi, that looks expensive,” Eren looked around at the juicy cuts.

“We had a good night last night, didn’t we Hanji?” Levi said and Hanji grinned widely back. “I think I can afford a few ribeyes.”

“So Levi,” said Mikasa sitting down at the table and putting her chin on her hand. “Eren says you two have been cooking a lot. How did you get into that?”

“MIKASA!” Eren roared, losing his temper.

“WHAT?” she shouted back. “I can’t ask questions now?”

“It’s fine,” Levi said, tapping at Eren’s elbow. “Well, as you saw in that picture, I used to be a little chubby. And I hated it. So one day I was sitting in the cafeteria and I looked around and I thought, ‘What do the pretty people eat?’” he pointed with his knife at the invisible crowd. “And…yeah.”

“…That’s it?” Mikasa asked.

“Well no, but you don’t want to hear about the part where I passed out at school because I thought I could get away without eating for two days or how I fell in love with home ec class. Brenda, my mom’s cousin, she would come home with a bucket of KFC or put in pizza bites and it literally never occurred to me that drinking a two liter of Mountain Dew every day was unhealthy. So I watched the pretty people. What did their parents pack them for lunch? Sure as hell wasn’t a day old Biggie Fry, Brenda!”

Levi had a brief image in his head of the short, chubby, part Asian boy in a sea of laughing white and thin faces during lunch on the field trip while he eyed the greasy, paper bag filled with leftover fries and nothing else that Brenda had only remembered he needed that morning. As if he needed anything to make him more of an outsider. He was the odd man out at home, at school and, at the moment, even in his own kitchen.

He threw the knife into the cutting board with some vehemence, before attending to the oven timer. He opened the oven slightly, then closed it and hit the timer again.

“I started cooking at home, just a little at first. But Brenda didn’t buy fruit. She didn’t buy eggs. Sometimes when we were at the store, I’d sneak some stuff into her cart and hope she wouldn’t notice. I started saving up my quarters and dimes and rifling through the couch cushions just to buy groceries. I think Brenda thought I was buying cigs. Jokes on her because I would steal them from her purse. Anyway, Brenda was fine with me helping with laundry and she was fine with me cleaning around the house but apparently me cooking was ‘too faggy’ for her. ‘Men don’t cook,’ she said. So I said, ‘Then why don’t you fucking cook something Brenda!’”

He paused, checking the inside of the oven again, satisfied with the contents.

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. She called Child Protective Services the next day and then I was put in a foster home.”

He shrugged.

“Levi…” Eren started, his voice sad and those green eyes of his looking down at his lover in distress.

“Oh,” said Levi realizing he was being a pill again and backtracking quickly. “No, it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. My foster parents were great. I got to join the judo team and lost a bunch of weight. I mean, poor Brenda. She never really wanted me to begin with. I’m surprised she didn’t chuck me to CPS earlier. The woman tried, but she was so overwhelmed. No, it was good. I’m good. We’re good. I mean, I was the only one who visited her in hospice. Like, let’s see Bill is in jail for meth. Bud hit a postal worker while on a suspended license. Chelsea…she’s on parole for, I think mail fraud? Maybe? Anyway she couldn’t leave the state. Bridget is the good one but she has like five kids and couldn’t make it out. Oh, and then guess who got stuck with the bill for Brenda’s hospice stay? Me. Whatever.”

He opened the oven and pulled out the contents.

“You made dessert,” Eren observed wide-eyed. “You never make dessert.”

“I made a peach tart,” Levi dismissed, waving his oven mitt clad hand.

“You made dessert,” Eren repeated happily. “Wait, when did you have time for this? You didn’t have to do this for us.”

Levi looked up at Eren who was frowning, clearly upset at the idea that Levi had spent too much time crafting the artfully arranged peach tart.

“Oh, I did most of the prep work yesterday when you were passed out,” Levi said, pinching Eren’s nose.

“Well…you didn’t have to…”

“You’re right I didn’t have to.”

“I mean you didn’t need to go through that trouble.”

“It was no trouble.”

“Don’t say that because it was trouble!”

“You’re right. It was too much trouble,” Levi said picking it up and stepping towards the trashcan. “I’ll just put this in the trash—“

“No!” Eren protested. “It’s fine!”

Levi set it back down on the stovetop.

“Here, c’mere and slice the eggplant. No, don’t put your finger on the back of the blade, here—“ Levi placed his hand on top of Eren’s. “Keep your index finger off the top, put your thumb flat against the blade here. Good. Now push forward and down. Perfect.”

Millions of peaches. Peaches for me,” Eren hummed.

“ETA on dinner in about fifteen minutes folks,” Levi said. “I will need help getting all this up to the roof. Then I just need to throw the steaks on the grill and we’re set.”

It took a few trips upstairs, but finally they were all seated, watching the sun sink low on the horizon. Levi grilled the steaks to perfection. Mikasa requested hers well done because she apparently liked the taste of charcoal, Armin said he didn’t mind so Levi cooked his and Hanji’s medium rare and Eren liked his still mooing.

“Fabric softener and steak,” Armin cried. “Name brand dryer sheets. Today is a good day.”

Levi’s phone buzzed.

“Oh shit, it’s Shadis—work,” he said. “I gotta take this. Is that okay?”

“Uh, sure,” Eren nodded.

“Hey boss, what’s up? No. I mean, yeah, I’m eating dinner and I have company over. What’s up? Uh huh. Yeah. Hold on, let me get my laptop.” Levi put his hand over the receiver, “I’m just going to go downstairs for a bit, I’ll be back.”

But then he got out his laptop and one thing led to another and he was wading through a week’s worth of missed emails and before he knew it, he was squinting at the screen in the dark. Eren flicked on a light and Levi blinked.

“Sorry, I’ll be done in like five minutes,” Levi apologized.

“Naw, it’s okay, they all left anyway.”

“Oh,” Levi frowned. “What time is it?”

“After ten.”

“Oh. Sorry.”

“It’s okay, I promised Mikasa and Armin I’d spend the day with them anyways and then we came here so it was nice to have them to myself. And I like Hanji a lot. I have to say though? She is terrible at Taboo. She always says the word. That is the game. You don’t say the word!”

“You should get her to play Catan with you. She and Erwin just dominate the board.”

“I don’t play Catan anymore because the last time I punched Armin’s board in half.”

“Why?”

“Because no one would give me any goddamn sheep, those motherf—“ he took a deep breath. “Because no one understands loyalty and proper courtesy.”

Levi hid a smile.

“So uh,” Eren swung his arms. “Is…is it okay if I stay here for the night? It’s just I’m having the houseboat detailed and the fumes are pretty strong.”

“Of course. It’s fine. Here, give me like five more minutes on work, then I’m all yours.”

Except he kept going for another twenty, listening to the sounds of running water and meows as Eren did the dishes and fed the cats before sitting down with Sawny and watching television. When he finally came out, Eren rested his head on Levi’s lap and Levi ran his fingers through that hair and he should have been thinking about how lucky he was but instead he was still thinking about work and all he needed to catch up on.

Chapter Text

“I can carry that for you—“

“I’ve got it.”

“I know you’ve got it, but if you want I can—“

“But I don’t want.”

Levi was grumpy. Well, grumpier than usual. He’d taken so long packing his tiny camping grill onto the scooter, fussing with the bungee cords, thinking if he delayed long enough he wouldn’t have to go.

“I wish you’d let me bring at least one bottle of Clorox spray,” he grumbled.

“It’s clean.”

“Your idea of clean and my idea of clean are two different things.”

“I told you, I hired a cleaning service and they sent over two immigrant women, one spoke only Ukrainian, the other Spanish. They couldn’t communicate so all they did was clean. Hard mouthed women, with elbows like iron, armed with enough bleach to poison the reservoir. It’s clean,” Eren insisted, bouncing with excitement.

“What about the outside?” Levi asked, shifting the weight of the grill and adjusting his backpack uneasily. “What about all that mildew?”

“Tada! Houseboat!” Eren trumpeted. “See? So clean! Billy Mays is looking down with tears in his eyes.”

It did look better. He could see through the windows at least.

“Now you took—“

“I took the damn Dramamine.”

“Good because it needs time to—“

“I said I took it already. Christ.”

Eren kept grinning. Stop smiling, brat. He stepped over the edge of the boat and took the grill from Levi, set it down, and then held out his hand.

“M’lady,” he bowed.

“Fuck off.”

“M’lord?” he tried.

Levi slapped Eren’s hand away. Bracing himself on the dock, he made to step over, tapping the edge with his Sperries, cautiously scouting his landing zone.

“Or…I could carry you over the threshold,” Eren said cheekily, watching Levi’s hesitant shuffle.

“I just don’t want to have one foot on the dock and one on the boat and have the boat pull away and smack my balls in the process.”

“You’re such a graceful dancer,” Eren flattered, trying a new tactic. “I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

“The dance floor doesn’t move beneath my feet,” Levi said in a rush and felt a bit woozy only to realize he had been holding his breath.

Just do it. Just do it. Be like the Nike commercials. Just fucking do it. Do it. Do it now. NOW.

“And he’s on the boat ladies and gentlemen!” Eren cheered to an invisible crowd. “Here is your prize.”

He got out the orange lifejacket again. This was some déjà vu bullshit.

“I can get the straps,” he said, slapping Eren’s hands again to stop him fussing.

Eren snapped a photo of Levi in his bucket hat and jacket (one eye half shut, his lip curled unattractively, and a healthy amount of zinc on his nose) and sent it to Jean with the caption: “New cover art?”

“Okay, I’m going to start ‘er up and get us going. Feel free to sit and relax. Have some of your thermos tea.”

Levi patted down several of the chairs before daring to allow his rump down on one.

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale—“ Eren started singing.

“I swear, I will hop off this boat and run all the way back home,” Levi threatened, digging his nails into the chair.

“I will chase you,” Eren said serenely.

He would too.

Eren started the boat up and Levi shifted uncomfortably, the smell of gasoline not helping his nerves. C’mon. Get it together. Yoga breaths.

The boat started moving and Levi watched his only chance to escape fade from view.

“Still good?” Eren called from the helm.

Levi tried to answer with a “Yeah” but the reply dried up in his throat so he only nodded. He unscrewed the cap of his tea and gulped it down. This wasn’t helping. Tea wasn’t helping. Help.

Once the houseboat got moving (and it couldn’t move that fast), Levi’s grip eased up and he managed to pry his fingers from the chair. The way the wind rustled through his hair was almost like flying. He stood up and staggered towards the front of the boat. What do you call the front? The bow? He looked over his shoulder to find Eren at the helm, the wind tossing his locks about, his green eyes locked on the horizon.

The second week of Levi’s vacation had sped by fast, far too fast. Their hot and heavy action of the previous week had cooled slightly and the heavy petting gave way to easy silences. Levi would paint in the studio, all the windows open, and Eren would tap out a beat in the corner, writing down lyrics and scratching at his head with the pen. Levi read his book with his head in Eren’s lap as Eren listened to the samples Jean sent him on his headphones in the park. Levi tried to teach Eren a few dance steps and found he and his sister didn’t have that in common, but by the time Levi was done with him he at least understood the basic concepts. Eren was always willing to try new things. He was always willing to try hard. Levi decided he needed to try something for Eren. He needed to go on the boat.

“How we doing Gilligan?” Eren asked.

“Fuck you. I’d be the Skipper.”

“Well you can’t be the Skipper because I’m the Skipper of this vessel.”

“I will organize a mutiny.”

“The punishment for mutiny is twenty lashes.”

“Whoa now. Kinky.”

“Hey, you’re the one who said I couldn’t look in your second sex drawer. I know you have some kind of whip in there.”

“That’s the whip from four Halloween’s ago. Erwin suggested we go as Indiana Jones and Short Round.”

Eren’s mouth dropped into a little ‘o.’

“That is some racist shit if ever I heard it.”

“That’s why I was Indiana Jones,” Levi said, now leaning on the edge of the boat, his anxiety ebbing away.

Eren turned the wheel gently, taking them to a quieter part of the sound, his eyes far away in thought.

“What are you thinking about?” Levi asked, because a silent Eren was a rare being.

“Do you think The Professor and Mary Ann were banging?” Eren said, face still scrunched up in concentration.

“What would I give to be in your brain for a day,” Levi said shaking his head. “It must be like flipping through radio stations and Saturday morning cartoons.”

“That’s pretty accurate actually. And porn.”

“And porn,” Levi agreed.

He knew what Eren was thinking about. And it wasn’t TVLand actors and actresses getting it on. Levi had been trying to banish the same thought from his mind as well.

“You wanna drive?” Eren offered as Levi crawled up the steps.

“Hell no. What if I crash us?”

Oh god. That thought got his imagination going.

“What…uh…what happens if we crash and start taking water?” he asked casually, fiddling with the straps on his life vest, pulling them tighter.

“Then I radio the Coast Guard, then call the Coast Guard on my cell, and float in the water in my life vest. We’re fine. It’s a nice calm day.”

Levi wrapped his arms as best he could around Eren’s torso, what with the two life vests and all.

“I’m taking us somewhere a little more private,” Eren informed him as a tattooed woman on water skis waved at them, her bearded husband blaring “One Week” by Barenaked Ladies. They waved back, perplexed by the sight. “It’s where I went when—er—it’s where I go when I’m by myself.”

Eren dropped anchor and turned off the motor, stripping his shirt off in one fluid motion before diving off the back.

“Wait!” Levi shouted, leaning over the edge.

“Huh?” Eren bobbed to the surface, brushing his wet hair out of his eyes, droplets clinging to those thick lashes of his.

“You idiot, don’t just dive in like that!” Levi scolded. “What if you cracked your head on a rock? You could be paralyzed or—“

“Relax,” Eren said, leaning on the wooden offboard, his teeth chattering. “I’ve been here loads of times, I know how deep it is and where it’s safe to swim. Get in here.”

“It looks freezing.”

“Only until you get used to it.”

“I’m good, thanks.”

“I’ll keep you warm,” Eren offered in a sing-song voice, pushing away from the boat, offering Levi a long look at that sun kissed stomach.

Levi pulled off his shirt and shorts, folding them neatly inside the cabin (he didn’t want them to fly away). He took off the bucket hat too and rubbed away the zinc. He had already put on several layers of SPF 60. He already used a healthy amount of sunscreen in his daily routine, him being a fair skinned man who was meticulous in his skin regime and he hated it. Sunscreen was sticky and gross and never seemed to wash off, which he supposed was the point.

“Right, okay,” he said, standing at the edge of the boat in his black, square-legged swim briefs. “How do I do this?”

“Holy shit,” Eren said open mouthed.

“What?” Levi asked, looking down his torso. “Do I have something on me? Did I miss a spot?” He turned in a circle, squinting without his glasses on.

“No just—just get in here.”

“These trunks are more meant for lounging on the French Riviera not really for swimming,” Levi complained, toeing the freezing water.

Eren dipped his mouth and nose below water so the only thing visible were those green eyes, the water rippling out to Levi so there were many green eyes skimming the surface of the equally jade water, all trained on Levi. Levi sat on the wooden flat, letting the water flow up to his shins.

“I’m always worried about what’s down there,” Levi said, squeezing his eyes shut. “Worried that something will come up and grab me.”

When he opened them Eren was nowhere to be found.

“Eren?” he called as tan fingers rose up from the murky water and tugged his ankle. “Damnit Eren!”

“Tasty,” Eren said, biting at his left ankle.

“Stop that,” Levi ordered as Eren kissed up as far as he could reach, nibbling on Levi’s knees.

Eren shoved away again, disappearing backwards into the water. Levi felt his longing follow Eren. In one forceful motion, he launched himself into the water. He felt bubbles race past him tickling his arms and nose as the weight dragged him down before he was lifted upwards like a cork.

“Fuck it’s cold!” Levi gasped as he surfaced, swiping his bangs off his forehead.

“Hi,” said Eren next to him.

“Hi,” said Levi in a shy voice.

“There you are,” Eren said, pulling him close.

“Here I am,” Levi said, tracing the lines of Eren’s chest with his fingers.

“You made it on the boat.”

“That I did.”

“And off the boat.”

Levi’s response was to brush the tip of his nose against Eren’s stubbly chin.

“It wasn’t so bad was it?” Eren asked, squeezing Levi’s backside because those briefs were too tempting.

“I guess not,” Levi said, biting at Eren’s collarbone.

“Thanks,” whispered Eren.

Levi didn’t really have a way to respond to that, he just felt heat pool in his chest despite the freezing water.

“It’s no problem, brat. This was my idea anyways and—what was that? Something touched me. Oh god there’s something in the water. Eren!” Levi protested, crawling onto Eren’s back. “What is it? Eren!”

“It’s just some seaweed,” Eren laughed picking it up.

“No, no. Nope. No,” Levi said dragging himself out of the water and back onto the boat.

“I like how you were doing tricks on the zipline yesterday, but you act like a harassed cat when it comes to water.”

Levi sniffed and looked in the distance haughtily not really helping the notion that he was like a cat. Eren flung the seaweed at him.

“Asshole!” Levi said, flailing as he tried to dodge it, instead falling over the side and back into the water.

Eren pressed him against the ladder, his eyes quickly fading from that amused smirk to dark emeralds and his lips parted, tongue darting out to taste the saltwater on Levi’s own shivering mouth.

“I’m going to give you a reward!” Eren said decisively, taking a large breath and disappearing under the water.

“Reward?” Levi asked, but then he rolled his eyes as he felt Eren’s mouth against his swim briefs.

Eren surfaced, sputtering and gasping a few moments later.

“Okay, underwater head is harder than I thought.”

“Also, it’s freezing cold, so he’s not at his most impressive height,” Levi apologized. “He’s a scaredy turtle.”

“I like your turtle,” Eren said, kissing him again and Levi could feel his hard-on through his red board shorts.

“Okay, let’s forget I ever said turtle and never call him that again,” Levi said, closing his eyes as Eren kissed his neck.

Levi arched his back and looked upward at the floating clouds, their fluffy bottoms gilt with the late afternoon sun. The alcove Eren had parked the houseboat was mostly in shade now and they shivered at the lack of sun. The water mirrored the blue sky save for the shadows created by the large tree branches that stretched out from shore, cutting into the reflection and revealing the green depths below. As Eren ministered to Levi’s shoulders, burying his nose there, Levi found himself light and floating out of himself again. He tried to memorize the colors, tattoo them on his brain; remember this moment forever, when he was happy, because tomorrow Eren was gone.

Contrary to what some people thought, Levi didn’t have a knack for color. He didn’t see the world in bright palettes, splashes of green and neon flames of tangerine and all that bullshittery. He didn’t paint what he saw, he painted what he wanted to see. His own world felt dark and constricted. But with Eren there was so, so much of everything. Eren had taken him from that dark thunderstorm day in October to this blindingly white, humid day in August. Or maybe Levi had taken himself there.

They paddled around in the water before the cold finally forced them out. Teeth chattering they wrapped themselves in towels, which led to a small towel snapping fight (Levi coming out victor) before they stripped in the dark cabin. Levi rolled his wet suit in the towel, pressing out excess water.

“It’s so dark in here, have you seen my—“

“Levi,” Eren said throatily, the few rays of light trying to escape around the drawn shades, casting his form in shadow.

He reached out and touched Levi’s naked hip. Cold. Levi traced his hands over Eren’s torso. Warmer. Their feet bumped against the air mattress (which Levi was pleased to see was made up nicely). Levi’s hands found Eren’s shoulder and he gently pushed him back onto the bed, lowering himself down on top of the younger man. Eren pulled him forward, catching his mouth with his own.

There in the dark they made love, suspended in the dusk, captured in the moment that comes right before the sun winks and disappears.

Levi held onto Eren’s shoulders as his thrusts weakened and grew shallow and he panted heavily, his whole back shaking. Levi felt a salty drop fall onto his face and he knew it wasn’t the ocean water.

“Ah, kid,” he whispered, brushing Eren’s cheek. “It’ll be okay. You’ll be back before you know it.”

Levi’s strong arms encircled Eren until he stopped shaking.

They stripped the blankets off the bed and went up to the roof, making a warm nest to watch the meteor shower. Eren got out his guitar and softly played, pressing his freezing feet onto Levi’s lap as Levi filmed him on his phone.

“I should post this on YouTube,” Levi said. “And title it ‘Eren Jaeger from Rogue Titan plays Fast Car cover COMPLETELY NAKED.’ Your fans would go crazy.”

“They would. You should do it. Just don’t say I’m singing to you or they’ll start with the death threats.”

“We should head back soon.”

Eren’s smile dropped instantly.

“S-sure.”

He got up and turned the key in the motor. It made a pathetic noise.

“Shit,” said Eren, not looking worried in the slightest.

“Everything good?” Levi asked, cocking his eyebrow, snuggling down into the blankets.

“It’s not starting,” Eren shrugged.

“Uh huh.”

“Probably flooded it. I’ll give it a bit before I try again.”

“Sure,” Levi said knowingly. “But if you’re late tomorrow Hannes will lose it. And you really need to get a good night’s sleep.”

“I’ll sleep on the van,” Eren waved him off.

A few hours earlier, Levi would have panicked if the motor had failed to start. Now, he was content to curl up next to Eren and watch the stars shoot across the night’s sky. Make a wish. Wish your lover back home.

<*>

“Here,” said Levi, pushing a Tupperware container into Eren’s hands.

“Did…did you make me lunch?” Eren asked incredulously.

“It’s those Spring Rolls you liked,” Levi deflected.

“You did, you packed me a lunch,” Eren laughed.

“Yeah, well, I know you don’t eat well on these trips.”

“Okay,” said Eren setting down his duffle bag, guitar case, and the veggie rolls. “I’m going to do something. You ever see Armageddon?”

“Like Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck?” Levi asked confusedly and then when comprehension dawned on his face. “NO! Don’t you dare—“

Eren tried to pick him up.

All my bags are packed. I’m ready to go—“

“Eren Jaeger, I swear to god, if you try—” Levi warned, racing around the side of the van.

I’m standing here outside your door! Guys you’re supposed to join me singing,” Eren said to his band.

“Fuck no. This is some weird shit that I will not participate in,” Jean said.

Eren caught up to Levi and kissed him hard.

“I love you,” Eren told him breathlessly.

This was it. This was the moment.

But the moment stretched and thinned and then it was gone.

“So yeah,” said Levi rubbing at his nose. “There’s shrimp in there so make sure you eat them quickly before they go bad. I don’t want to hear I’ve given you food poisoning.”

Eren smiled, brushing his calloused thumb against Levi’s cheek.

Levi waved them off until they left. He stayed that way, with one hand in his pocket until he was alone in the cloudy grey Costco parking lot as the morning light struggled in through the clouds. Then he left for work.

The first day back was terrible. Balto’s people bitched him out for not giving them advanced notice of his vacation, because apparently Levi needed to hold their hands while they wiped their own asses. Then when he came home, the first thing he noticed was the lack of Eren’s mess. He sighed and scratched a cat ear. Making dinner, he opened up his laptop and waited. When he heard the first few bells of Skype ring, he broke out into a grin.

“Hey baby!” Eren waved, shoving Jean’s head out of frame.

“Hey,” said Levi, propping the laptop on his chest.

“I think I left my Slayer shirt there, have you seen it?” Eren asked.

“Nope.”

“Okay, well let me know if you find it. How was work?”

Levi could get used to this for four months. They could do this. They could make it.

Chapter Text

The first few weeks were easy. Levi was super busy with work and he and Eren would exchange texts throughout the day and then set up Skype dates at night. The days Eren had a show they observed radio silence, but the Rogue Titan official Twitter would be very active.

“Hello Minneapolis! Nice to be here,” with a picture of the band.

“Hello Nashville! Sound check! See you tonight!”

“Ann Arbor! See you at the Blind Pig!”

They weren’t in any huge stadiums. In fact, outside of Sina, few seemed to know who they were. They mostly played small venues. Despite the generous signing bonus and release party the label essentially turned a deaf ear to their needs. In fact, Eren explained to Levi, there seemed to be little difference from when they were on their own. Their gas was covered, sure, but they still took turns driving (Hannes following behind them in his beat-up Ford Taurus). They were upgraded from Motel 6 to Holiday Inn, but still had to share rooms. Ymir, being the only girl, automatically pulled her own, except for the one time they were at a college town during a major game and all had to share one cramped room. Bert and Reiner were a couple, so they had their own room. So Eren, Jean, and Hannes had to share, which was not ideal as Hannes snored loudly and had what Jean described as “devilled egg farts.” More than once Levi had Skyped Eren only for Eren to say he couldn’t talk because Jean was sleeping.

“Hey baby!” Eren said brightly.

“Hey baby,” said Jean.

“Uhhh, hello Jean,” said Levi.

“No, ignore him, he’s talking to Marco, even though I told him I was calling you. It’s my time, asshole!” Eren shoved at him. “Hey Marco!”

Levi could hear Marco’s voice through the other speakers say, “Hey Eren.”

“Switch!” Jean said, pulling Eren’s laptop onto his lap and handing him his own.

“How goes?” Levi asked Jean.

Jean was wearing his glasses and his two-tone hair stuck up wildly and was chewing on a stick of beef jerky. He looked very much like the Jewish mama’s boy he tried so desperately to convince others he wasn’t.

“Not bad! Mommy sent me a care package so I have kosher beef jerky—“ he held up another stick and Eren bit it out of his hand. “—and lemon cookies and Mikasa sent us her peanut butter blossoms. And Mom sent me a picture of Snickers—that’s our Corgi.”

Jean held the picture up to the camera for Levi to see.

“And we have just been cooped up here getting high and eating munchies,” Jean said and tilted the camera so Levi could see Eren on his vaporizer.

“Don’t show him that—“ Eren said, ducking out of sight.

Eren was very sensitive about Levi’s sobriety and made a point of not telling him when he smoked, although Levi could easily tell. It didn’t bother him. But that didn’t mean he wanted to have whole conversations on it.

“Gimme back my Marco,” Jean said and the laptops switched again.

“Sorry about that,” Eren said through a mouthful of jerky.

There was a scream or shout on the other side of the hotel wall that sounded a great deal like gorillas mating. Eren and Jean answered back, pounding on the wall.

“We have to display our dominance,” Eren explained, his eyes watery and red. “How’s your week been?”

“It’s been busy. And hard. Balto’s people are just so—“

“Hang on, I have to piss,” Eren said getting up suddenly.

Levi sighed and waited, listening to snippets of Jean and Marco’s conversation. There were more gorilla noises, this time at the door.

“Oh, hold on babe, Reiner’s at the door,” Jean said. “Here, talk to Levi.”

He turned the two laptops so they were facing each other.

“Uh, hi Levi,” said Marco, waving a little with his headphones in his ears.

“Where are you at?” Levi asked, seeing people moving behind him.

“Mikasa’s café.”

“Ah, I’m still banned there.”

They were both quiet as they listened to loud shouting and chest thumping. Reiner, for having worked as a mime, had a very loud Tarzan call. Marco puffed out his cheeks and sighed. Levi checked his watch.

“I think they forgot about us,” Levi said as the lights switched off in the room.

“Yup,” agreed Marco.

<*>

“And then they wouldn’t let us check in until Hannes got there. It’s some fucking bullshit. If you’re old enough to be drafted, you should be old enough to buy booze, rent cars, and check-in to hotel rooms. I am twenty-four! I have a job! You know what I mean?”

“Uh huh,” said Levi, tapping on his keyboard.

“Are you working?” Eren asked, a finger on his temple.

“Huh? Of course not.”

“Leviii,” Eren put his hands over his face.

“I’m sorry! This deadline is looming over my head like the sword of Damocles.”

“Aw, poor baby,” Eren said sympathetically, shifting in his bed. “You know, Jean and company are down the street at some bar…”

“Uh huh.”

“So we have privacy.”

“Uh huh.”

“Levi!”

“Huh?” Levi pulled himself away from his keyboard.

“Do you want to have Skype sex?”

Levi let out a short laugh before realizing Eren was serious.

“I don’t even know how that would work…”

“I do a little strip tease for you…you do a little strip tease for me…”

“Uh…”

“What?”

“It just seems so silly.”

“Well…can you at least show it to me?”

“Show you what?”

“You know,” Eren bit his lip seductively.

“I’m not exactly comfortable with that.”

It wasn’t that Levi didn’t trust Eren to not take a screenshot or record them. It’s just what if someone somehow got a hold of it? He didn’t want pictures of his face and dick floating around online. Also, to be quite honest, he didn’t really like his own cock. He thought it looked weird. It had a purple-y head and lots of veins and curved upward a little. It was not his best feature. His arms were. He liked his arms.

“Please?” Eren asked, stretching in front of the camera, showing a hint of bare skin. “I miss him. Does he miss me?”

“Of course he does. But---oh what now?” Levi sighed, digging around his pockets for his phone.

“Don’t answer it,” Eren pleaded.

“It’s work. I have to take it.”

Eren sighed.

“Yeah, boss, what’s up?” Levi asked Erwin. “What’s that? What? Slow down. You’re where?”

There was a knock at the door.

“Oh Jesus,” Levi sighed, hanging up the phone.

“What’s up?” Eren asked, from over on the coffee table.

Levi opened the door, cautiously.

“Nile and I had a fight and he kicked me out and—“ Erwin cried, throwing his arms around Levi for comfort.

Levi patted him awkwardly, looking back at Eren’s face on the laptop.

“Okay, that’s enough of that,” Levi said after a long minute, pulling the larger man off him. “I was in the middle of a call with Eren—“

“Hi Erwin!” Eren said waving.

“Hello,” Erwin said, stepping over the threshold and, despite Levi’s exasperation, the back of the couch to sit. “Nile threw me out.”

“Aw, I’m sorry,” Eren said sympathetically. “What happened?”

Why did he have to ask? Levi threw his hands up in the air.

“Okay so his ex-wife, Marie, is a piece of work, right? He had been trying to work up the courage to tell her he thought he was gay when she told him she was pregnant with their first—”

“I didn’t even know you two were living together,” Levi cut in. He hadn’t thought Erwin and Nile had been together long. Erwin and Levi had been together nearly seven years and never cohabitated.

“Yeah for about a month now,” Erwin said, shoulder slumping. “So, anyway, he thought he should man up and they got married and she had the kid. Then another. Then she cheated on him a bunch and got pregnant a third time, but Nile found out about the cheating and they got a divorce and it’s a whole mess. So he has joint custody of the eight-year old, but not the six-year old, I dunno, I don’t understand court stuff.”

“Uh huh,” Eren encouraged, rustling around for snacks.

“Now she just gave birth to the third one and decided she wanted nothing to do with any of her kids and just dumped them off at our place. She decided she wanted to ‘see the world’ so she left her kids with Nile—including the newborn, who may or may not even be his.”

“This is some Jerry Springer shit,” Eren said, chewing on a piece of jerky.

“It’s fucked,” Erwin agreed. “So, I never wanted kids, but I was okay with the 8-yr old staying with us every other weekend. I would just arrange to be out of the house then. But now there’s three of them. And the newborn has that uh—what is that thing? Colic. I don’t even know what colic is, but it keeps her screaming every morning and I can’t take it.”

“That’s rough,” Eren agreed as Levi massaged at his temples.

“So I’m suffering from sleep deprivation and the whole place smells like Cheerios and they got peanut butter on my The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly poster which I had signed by Eli Wallach—“

“Oh nice,” Eren complimented.

“It was, but now it’s covered in Extra Chunky Jif!”

“The best kind, to be sure,” Eren agreed solemnly.

“And I may have said some not so nice things to Nile,” Erwin finished, scratching at the back of his neck.

“Like what?” Levi prompted because he knew Erwin was skimming over the worst part.

“Like…it’s me or them?” Erwin said, wincing.

“There it is,” Levi said pointing at him.

“I didn’t mean it! I just—I was more than a little overwhelmed. Anyway, can I stay here for a week?”

“Of course you can!” Eren said enthusiastically.

“What? No—“ Levi started.

“Just until I can find my own place!”

“No!” Levi practically laughed, shaking his head. “Definitely not.”

“Levi, I’m begging you,” Erwin pleaded.

“Levi, he’s begging you,” Eren indicated.

“No—can you excuse us one second, Erwin?” Levi said, grabbing his laptop off the table and taking it into the second room, shutting the door behind him. “What the hell? I’m not letting my ex-boyfriend crash on my couch!”

“Why not?” Eren said. “He seems desperate.”

“I don’t care, he’s not staying here.”

“He doesn’t have anyone else!”

“Yes, he does! He has Mike and Nanaba!” Oh wait, that was a good idea. He cracked the door and shouted, “Why can’t you stay with Mike and Nanaba?”

“And crash on their faux leather Kmart layaway couch? Uh, I don’t think so. It’s so gauche.”

“He’s such a snob,” Levi said raising his eyes skyward.

“Please? It’ll only be a week!” Erwin begged from the living room.

“Why are you so okay with this?” Levi asked Eren.

“What do you mean?”

“He’s my ex-boyfriend.”

“He’s your friend.”

“But he’s my ex-boyfriend.”

“Oh, well, I mean, I trust you, babe.”

Levi reared back, blinking.

“One week!” Levi shouted at Erwin. Then at Eren’s proud expression, he clarified, “Their couch really is that terrible.”

<*>

Except a week and a half later Erwin had not found a new place and had made no efforts to do so.

“What up?” Eren shouted the second Levi accepted the call. He was wearing a sleeveless shirt and a sweatband (clearly stolen from Reiner) over his bangs.

“You look…sweaty,” Levi observed.

“Yeah, just got back from the gym. Gotta keep all this—“ he trailed his hands over his chest “—in peak condition for my man.”

“Your man appreciates it,” Levi said as Eren stretched, tucking his hands behind his head and fuck Levi didn’t think armpits could be sexy but somehow Eren managed.

“I made Jean go too. Reiner says he’s going to get us all pumped for our next performance in Rose City. He’s such a muscle head. It’s funny because Bert is just a beanpole. Anyway, how’s work? How’s painting?”

“Good, I finished that commission piece. They seemed to really like it.”

“Yayyy,” Eren yawned happily. “Erwin still there?”

“Yes, can’t you hear him singing in the shower?”

“Oh, I thought you had the TV on and were watching the Muppet Show.”

“Hold on, I’m gonna make tea,” Levi said, leaving for the kitchen.

Erwin finished and came out in a pair of clean sweats and a loose tee, stepping over the back of Levi’s couch and onto a cushion.

“Hey Eren,” Erwin said, rubbing a towel over his hair to dry it, before draping it on the back of the couch. “How goes?”

“Great, I just got back from working out. Gonna get pumped for our big concert in Rose City.”

“How is that concert different?” Erwin asked. Then to Levi, “Hey, Levi, while you’re in there, bring me some water?”

“Bigger venue. We’re opening for this really popular band and if it goes well they might want us to tour with them. So, it’s kindof a big deal.”

“Cool.”

“Oh hey, Once Upon a Time in the West is on right now.”

“Really? What channel—“

“So, we’re just leaving this towel here now are we?” Levi asked as Erwin flipped until Charles Bronson’s squinty face appeared on the screen.

“Hey, look,” said Eren grabbing his guitar. “I can play Cheyenne’s theme.”

He made clip clop noises with his tongue and Erwin laughed appreciatively.

“This is such a classic,” Erwin said excitedly as Levi sighed and picked up the towel to hang it up. “Levi hates westerns.”

“I don’t hate them. I just find them to be extremely misogynistic and racist. Your cowboys didn’t look like Clint Eastwood, they were mostly men of color and—so you’re just leaving your clothes right here on the bathroom floor?”

“I’ll pick them up later,” Erwin said rolling his eyes.

“Or, or you could pick them up now. And—oh my god what did you do in here?” Levi shouted from the bathroom.

“I just love Henry Fonda in this,” Erwin said, leaning back, hands laced behind his head.

“Hey, he’s the daddy of Barbarella so you know that gene-line is tight,” Eren agreed.

“It’s like a pube bomb went off!” Levi cried, then looked upward. “How did you get so many on the ceiling? How? I need to get my cleaning gear—“

He left and came back tying a kerchief around his face and nose and holding a large bottle of bleach.

“Ugh, oh, oh god, you—FLUSH THE GODDAMN TOILET!”

“Hey,” Erwin shouted over his shoulder, making no effort to move from the sofa. “You shouldn’t flush so much anyways, that’s wasteful. If it’s yellow let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down.”

“No! No! Flush it anyways because I got one of those European green toilets that has a pee button so you waste less.”

“Yeah, well I get them confused.” Then, to Eren, “How did you survive two weeks with him. He is such a clean freak.”

Erwin took a sip of water and set the sweating bottle on the coffee table.

“It’s not so bad. I got used to cleaning a lot when mom was sick and…you sure you don’t want a coaster for that?” Eren asked, pulling his brows together.

“I mean, the harmonica song, all of this is gold, I can’t believe you don’t like this movie, Levi,” Erwin continued, still focused on the film. “He has weird tastes in film, Eren. Like he tried to make me watch this Kurosabi guy.”

“Kurosawa? Awesome that’s—“

“We watched something about Seven Samurais or whatever. Like, are you kidding me? No one wants to read subtitles while watching a shoddy Japanese remake of The Magnificent Seven.”

“Uhhh…” Eren had no response to this.

Levi made a strangling motion behind Erwin’s back, tucking a Swiffer under his arm.

<*>

“Hey sexy thing,” Levi said in a bright voice, calling Eren as he took the stairs down to the garage. Another day he left work well after midnight.

“Hey…just finished our show. Can’t really talk. What’s up?”

“Sorry, I know you’re busy, but I had to tell you about my victory! Your boyfriend played Cupid today.”

“Is that so?” Eren said distractedly, fumbling with something.

“Yeah, I put in a meeting request for Erwin and Nile, but I did a blind meeting so they didn’t know the other was coming and then I locked them in the room together and took the rest of the staff out to Dave & Busters forcing them to work it out. So now they’re back together and Erwin is off my couch!”

“That’s great.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. It’s just—c’mon Ymir!” he shouted. “Knock it off! You know what Hannes said! No groupies in the rooms!”

“Eren?”

“I gotta go.”

And without a good-bye he hung up, leaving Levi looking at the phone in his hands and an uncomfortable churn in his gut.

The next morning was a Saturday and Levi woke early as usual, going for his run in the late September air. He made a tasty egg and avocado breakfast and made a kale smoothie (which was not as disgusting as he thought it would be) and tried to avoid calling Eren. It’s just that it was weird of him to not call. Levi did some work, trying to ignore the fact that Eren was online. He was always online because he never powered down his laptop.

“YO LEVI!” someone shouted pounding on his door.

“Uh, who is it?” Levi asked, standing on tiptoe to look through the peephole.

“Let me in! I gotta pee!” Mikasa said, squeezing her legs together and grabbing at her crotch.

Levi slid off the chain and opened the door. Mikasa breezed past him, making a beeline for the bathroom.

“Oh that’s nice!” she sighed and Levi could hear her tinkling through the door.

“Why are you here?” Levi asked.

“I was on my lunch break and I had to piss.”

“So why didn’t you piss at work?”

“Because,” she said opening the door. “I couldn’t do this at work and the 7-11 bathroom looks like a Silent Hill set.”

She waved an EPT box at him.

“Hollly shit,” Levi said as his brain recognized it. “Wait, then why are you here?”

“Because I saw how you handled your friend’s pregnancy,” she shrugged. “And I know you won’t say shit.”

For all of Mikasa’s tough girl attitude and despite her cavalier approach to the piss test, Levi could see the nervous restlessness of her mouth and the way she tangled her fingers in the fringe of her scarf.

“How long does that take?” he asked.

“Three minutes.”

They sat down at the table, eyes looking toward the light in the bathroom and the little purple test sitting on the counter.

“Just for the record, you are not to tell my brother about any of this,” Mikasa said crossing her arms over her chest.

“I don’t like keeping secrets from Eren,” Levi said, crossing his arms as well.

“Well, okay, but just give it some distance before you bring it up. Like, a decade.”

Levi sighed. “I’m not going to tell him your business, but if he asks me point blank about it, which I doubt he will, then I’m not going to lie.”

“Fine.”

There was a pause and the solar powered Maneki-neko that Hanji had gotten him clicked as it waved its paw. Click click click.

“I’m not going to ask,” Levi said, shifting his weight and crossing his legs.

“Good, because I’m not gonna tell.”

“Suit yourself.”

Click click click.

“I hooked up with this guy,” she blurted out. “It was a mistake.”

“I’ve found that when people say that it means the hookup was someone they work with or a friend,” Levi said evenly.

Mikasa offered nothing, she merely chewed on her chapped lips.

“Yeah, well, we both decided it should never happen again. Besides, I’m still not sure if I’m into women or not. How did you know you were…you know?”

“I never didn’t know. If that makes sense.”

“Yeah.” Mikasa let out a huff and tapped her nails on the counter. “Anyway, I hooked up with this guy and I’m on the pill so we didn’t use protection only I missed a couple of days so I’m just being careful.”

“…Like how many days?” Levi asked.

Mikasa looked over at her purse so Levi grabbed it and dug around.

“Oh my god.”

“I know.”

“Oh my—Jesus, Mikasa!”

“I know!”

“This looks like a public school scantron!” he said, holding it up.

“Stop yelling at me!”

“Sorry, sorry,” Levi said, calming down because Mikasa seemed determined to chew through her lip completely. “It’s just. Why didn’t you make him use a condom anyways?”

“Because I was on the pill!”

“What is with you Jaegers? You dad is a doctor! You can get a lot more than pregnant you know!”

“I know! It’s just—I only really remember to take the pill when I’m actually having sex and I’ve been in a bit of a dry spell.”

“Still why didn’t you go get Plan B?”

“I don’t know. Because I heard it can make you throw up and stuff.”

“What do you think morning sickness is going to be like? I mean there are options if you can’t remember to take a pill! Like there’s an IUD! There’s the implant!”

“Stop judging me!” she whined.

“Sorry. Sorry. It’s none of my business.” Except it kind of was his business now that she’d knocked on his door. He felt responsible.

She gave a loud noise and put her head down on the table.

“Have you thought about what you’re going to do?” he asked her jet black head.

She propped her chin up.

“Probably get it taken care of. I don’t know. I never really saw myself as a mom. I just don’t want to have a kid and have them think they were unwanted, you know? I spent most of my life being the unwanted one. Like Dad and Mom never wanted me, they wanted Eren. They only got me because they never thought they’d get an Eren. So they got their prize and I’m just the runner-up.”

“Well. Not that it makes you feel any better, but…I know exactly how you feel. And I’m sure they never thought of you as the runner-up.”

She gave a wry smile.

“That’s why,” Levi continued, now looking a little brighter. “I always figured I’d adopt.”

Mikasa gave a very loud “HA!” and snorted with laughter.

“Why is that funny?” he asked, glowering at her.

“It’s just the idea of you as a dad, it’s just, pfft,” she waved her hand and snorted again.

“I was being serious. I don’t see how that’s funny. I would make an excellent parent,” he said icily.

Her eyes widened and she nodded. Levi ground his teeth and looked at his phone. Had it been three minutes yet? Please say yes.

“You know what? You’re right,” Mikasa teased. “I can see you buying only organic apples and polishing them until they sparkled and always carrying around wipes for sticky hands and faces. And then when they’re older taking them to little baby bootcamp.”

Levi relaxed a little.

Click click click.

“So does Eren know you’re baby crazy?”

“I’m—I’m not—“ he sighed exasperatedly.

Her phone blipped. Three minutes up.

“Oh god. I’m gonna puke. I can’t do this,” she said from the bathroom doorway. “Can you—can you read it for me?”

“I don’t want to touch that, it’s got piss on it!”

“Please? Levi, please?”

He sighed and leaned over to grab toilet paper to pick up the test with.

“Now how does this work, is it like a plus or minus or is it like two blue lines or—“

“Just read the instructions, they’re right there on the back of the toilet.”

“Oh, it should just say ‘pregnant or not pregnant.’ That’s convenient.”

“Hurry up! What does it say?”

Levi picked it up and she covered her eyes with her hands, stamping her feet in the doorway.

“Congratulations—“

She let out a piercing shriek and fell to her knees.

“—you are not pregnant.”

“What? Why would you say it like that? Let me see that!” She ripped it from his hands. “Who says ‘congratulations’ when the person isn’t pregnant?” She continued muttering under her breath.

“I thought it was good news! Congratulations on good news!”

“You only say congratulations when the person is expecting! God, you nearly gave me a heart attack. Okay, that’s done, I gotta get back to work. Those morons never do anything unless I’m standing over their shoulders.”

She slung her purse over her shoulder and stepped out the door without so much as a “Thank you.” Levi watched her go and rolled his eyes. He shut the door and put the chain over it. There was a timid knock and he sighed and opened it. Mikasa gave him a quick peck on the cheek before hurrying down the stairs. Levi turned pink.

Levi occupied the rest of his day with cleaning, crossing his fingers that Eren might contact him. That green light was teasing him, promising Eren on the other side. Finally, he couldn’t ignore it any longer. He leaned forward and tapped the button, calling his lover.

“Hey—hi—can you hear me?” Eren asked and Levi’s heart jumped a little and he squirmed in his seat eagerly.

The whole room was sideways.

“Hey,” Levi said, once he was righted.

“Sorry, but I really can’t talk now.”

Levi’s shoulders drooped.

“No, problem, I just wanted to see how you were doing—“

“Sorry, Levi, I have to go.”

There was movement behind Eren and a woman lying in the bed stretched and yawned, shaking her hair over her very bare chest.

“Eren…why is there a naked woman in your bed?” Levi asked.

Chapter Text

Eren.”

“It’s not what it looks like!”

“Eren!”

“I can explain!”

“So explain!”

“I—Ymir!” he shouted. “Levi, I swear I don’t even know her.”

Which is when the blonde in the bed chose to ask, “Eren?”

“Oh god,” Eren said putting his head in his hands.

She crawled over the bed and squinted at the screen, still yawning and still topless.

“Hi,” she waved at Levi. “Who are you?”

“His boyfriend,” Levi said.

“Boyfriend?” she asked, waking up a little. “Really?”

“Can you please put on a shirt?” Eren begged her.

“Yeah sure,” she bent over to dig around in a pile of clothes, flashing her very frilly panties at them. “So boyfriend you say?”

“YMIR!” Eren shouted again as the blonde sat cross legged in front of the laptop.

“I’m sorry, who are you?” Levi asked.

“Oh, I’m Christa. I’m Rogue Titan’s number one fan, see?” She pointed to her shirt which did indeed read ‘#1 Fan.’”

“Right.”

“Yeah, I’ve been following them on their tour since they left Sina. I have the most popular unofficial Rogue Titan twitter and blog. So you said boyfriend? Wow, you just, like, made the day of all my followers.”

She tapped out a message on her phone.

“YMIR!” Eren shouted again.

“Boyfriend,” she repeated like he’d given her winning lottery numbers. “Wow. Awesome. What’s your name?”

“Levi…” Levi answered awkwardly. “Eren?”

“One sec, babe, I’m trying. YMIR! GODDAMNIT!”

Eren left the room in search of Ymir.

“What twitter did you say you run?” Levi asked.

“It’s @CutieTitanGrrl on Twitter and my tumblr is unofficial-rogue-titan.”

Levi followed her on Twitter, the most recent tweet being, “THIS JUST IN! EREN JAEGER IS OFFICIALLY GAY *AND* HAS A BOYFRIEND! #roadtrip2k14” She had a lot of followers and seemed to be posting live updates on every single Rogue Titan concert as she followed them from town to town with other groupies. There was one of her outside the Nashville venue. One of her drinking Starbucks with “Titanfan!” written on the cup by the baristas. Several shots really close to the stage. A selfie of her and Ymir backstage, sticking their tongues out and flashing peace signs. One of Eren sleeping. This was starting to get creepy.

“Levi? What’s your last name?”

“Ackerman…”

“Awesome. So what do you do Levi?”

“I’m a graphic designer…”

“Oh,” she said, thumbs still moving on her phone. She sounded disappointed.

“HIS NAME IS LEVI ACKERMAN! #whoishe #omg #roadtrip2k14” popped up his twitter feed.

“But I also paint—“ he said, feeling very confused.

“Oh,” she repeated, now sounding more interested. She had an amazing ability to maintain eye contact and tweet at the same time.

“EREN’S BOYFRIEND IS A PAINTER! #fansself #cries #squee #omgicanteven #roadtrip2k14” flashed on her twitter before several reply pings popped up underneath its screen.

“Can…can you stop doing that?” Levi asked as @titanqueen91 posted “I found him on Facebook! He has a website for his art!” and then right under @mytitaneatsyourwholock wrote, “is he the mystery man from the secret rooftop concert? #boyfriendgate”

Damnit, he needed to text Petra now on how to fix his privacy settings.

“So, can I ask you a personal question?” Christa continued. “And I only ask because @littletitan69luvr on Twitter wants to know, but…who tops?”

Levi blinked.

“Uhhh…”

Christa leaned in interestedly.

“I’m not really comfortable discussing that with you and having you post it on Twitter…” Levi said leaning away.

“Oh, okay. I mean, I won’t post it, I just want to know for my fanfic. Because right now I have Jean topping and Eren bottoming, but they have such an interesting dynamic you know? So I think it could go either way.”

“What?” Levi was so confused.

“YMIR!”

“WHAT?”

“Get your groupie out of my room.”

“Christa,” Ymir purred. “Are you being naughty?”

She picked Christa up and threw her over her shoulder.

“Oh thank god. I’m really sorry about that, Levi. She has been camped out in my room all fucking night and I can’t get her to leave,” Eren apologized.

Ymir put Christa down on the bed and began crawling toward her.

“Oh for the love of—THIS IS MY ROOM!”

But Ymir and Christa apparently had no intention of stopping so Eren huffed and grabbed his guitar and laptop, heading for the hallway and other room.

“Jean let me in!” Eren said, pounding on the door.

“What’s the password?”

“LET ME IN!”

“Nope sorry.”

Eren turned to go back to his room but didn’t have his keycard. He gave a sigh and slid down the wall, setting Levi down in front of him.

“I’m not having a good day,” Eren explained, looking miserable and sniffing a little.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Levi said.

“Everyone was up until like six partying and I was really tired and just wanted to sleep and literally every time I found a bed to sleep on they burst in. And then Ymir brought her groupie fan up to the room which is expressly forbidden. Hannes had us write this like pledge to each other—it’s not really a contract but it’s like a Code of Conduct and one is no groupies because groupies means two things: drugs or sex.”

They heard Christa screaming in ecstasy on the other side of the door.

“I’m just so tired and I really wanted to get some songwriting done today,” Eren said rubbing at his eyes.

“I’m sorry you’re having a bad day. I’ll let you go and you can get some sleep.”

“I’m not going to get any sleep until we’re on the road, so we might as well talk. How was your day?”

Levi bit his lip, deciding against telling Eren about Mikasa.

“You know, just a lazy Saturday. Miss you.”

“I miss you too.” Eren looked miserable. “Wanna hear what I’ve got so far?”

“Sure.”

Eren tuned a little before picking out a serene melody, “My old man, he’s got cloudy eyes on a sunny day, he’s got the medicine to take my blues away…”

Levi hugged his knees to his chest listening to Eren’s grainy voice filter through his paltry speakers.

<*>

“Good morning starshine!” Eren said brightly as Levi answered the facetime on his phone.

“You seem chipper,” Levi observed.

“I slept for like sixteen hours. Wanted to catch you before you left for work.”

“How are you even up at eight?”

“Well, I’m on the East Coast, remember? It’s eleven here.”

“Nice. Here, want to see something really sexy?” Levi propped up his phone.

“Oh man, that is sexy. Sexy man putting looseleaf in his infuser. Wait, here let me play to this—“

Eren got out his guitar.

“He’s making black tea, he got the recipe, he can’t see what I see, that he’s standing in catpee!”

“What?” Levi jumped, checking his feet.

“Haha, made you look,” Eren smiled cheekily.

“So how’s things?” Levi asked, letting his tea steep.

“Ugh, Yoko is still here,” Eren complained, peeling the wallpaper off the wall behind him.

“Is that what you’re calling Christa now?”

Now that he was following Christa’s twitter and Instagram, he got to see all the pictures she updated. Nearly everyone was in her photos except for Eren who was often sulking in the background.

“She’s so obnoxious and awful. She’s a trust fund baby whose parents just let her do whatever she wants. So sometimes she’s a yoga instructor, sometimes she’s a blogger, and sometimes she’s a groupie who follows our band everywhere! Oh and did I mention she plays the banjo, Levi? Because of course she plays the banjo. She’s so twee I want to puke.”

“Okay, I got a banjo joke for you.” Levi turned and took a sip of his tea.

“Is it about Deliverance? Because I don’t think those jokes are funny.”

“No. Okay so, how do you tune two banjos?”

“Uh, I don’t know, how do you tune two banjos?”

“Shoot one.”

Eren laughed appreciatively.

“Okay, here’s another. How do you tell two banjo songs apart?”

“How?”

“The title.”

Eren fell over.

“I got like eight more of those.”

“Ugh, but she’s awful Levi. She also asked me which one of us tops. Who asks that?”

“Well, you’ve never been in a relationship with a man before, but let me tell you, that’s the first thing everyone asks.”

Eren threw his hands up.

“I agree. It’s rude,” Levi said in a placating tone.

“Why? That’s so private. I don’t go around to every straight couple and ask that! I don’t ask who wears the strap-on in a lesbian relationship!”

“Some people cannot see outside of a hetero power dynamic. They see two men and they immediately want to figure out who is the ‘woman’ and who is the dominant one. Not that topping equals dominance, but you understand.”

“That’s what I said! And Jean was all ‘so Levi’s a power bottom.’”

“Aw thanks Jean. You should ask him who tops in their relationship.”

“Oh I did. You know Jean, he can dish it out, but he can’t take it.”

“…Is that in reference to topping or is that because he doesn’t like being teased?” Levi asked.

“SH!” Eren said suddenly putting his hand up. He froze listening intently.

Levi waited.

“Sorry. Bertholdt has been playing this game where he just stands in the corner of a room and just waits. He stood inside the closet for an hour yesterday and I hung up like three items before I noticed him. Then earlier today he was in the shower while Jean took a dump. Jean screamed like a little girl.”

“Well, I bet he’s not constipated anymore.”

“It’s so creepy and he, Reiner, and Ymir think it’s the funniest thing ever. Anywho, yeah, Jean immediately clammed up and said it was none of our business—and it’s not! But that was my whole point.”

“Okay, I gotta ask. How much of this is because you’re outraged you were asked such a personal question and how much of it is because of the thing?”

“What thing?” Eren asked, picking at the hotel comforter.

Levi tilted his head to the side, knowingly.

They had talked about it of course. Levi loved Eren on top. He loved his eagerness and his smooth cock and the way he’d nibble on Levi’s ear as he plowed into him. But there were some things that Eren didn’t really have any expertise with and when Levi offered to show him, his brave lover balked. Eren was a great boyfriend (at least in the month or so that they’d been together) but Eren had never had a boyfriend and sometimes he forgot that Levi was a man. It was cute when Eren would hold doors open or offer to carry things, but Levi had been weight training since he was sixteen. He appreciated the gentleness, but just because Eren was his boyfriend did not mean Levi was his girlfriend.

“You know what thing,” Levi said taking a sip of tea raising his thin eyebrows.

“Yeah, it’s just—I’m not really comfortable with it.”

“And that’s fine, but you make it really obvious what buttons to push.”

“Or not to push,” Eren grumbled. “You know it’s not that I don’t trust you!”

“I know.”

“It’s just…that’s where poop goes out, Levi.”

“Which, as I pointed out before, never stopped you when you were fucking me.”

“Yeah, but you’re different. You’ve done…it…before,” Eren struggled.

“And I’ve done it to others before.”

Eren turned a little green.

“Sorry, I won’t bring it up.”

“No, it’s fine to talk about, I feel really inadequate like I can’t give you what you want.”

“Well right now you’re in a different time zone so I’m already not getting any.”

“Ugh, same. I’m so horny.”

“Well don’t get any ideas, because I’m on my way to the office soon.”

They hadn’t had any kind of phone sex or skype sex although Levi did receive a text from Eren that read, “just jerked it thinking of you ;)” which he supposed was meant to be romantic.

“I mean, are you okay that I can’t—that I’m not—you know.”

“Yeah. Are you?” Levi asked.

Eren’s breath hitched.

“I mean, what are you afraid of exactly?” Levi asked.

“Uh, hemorrhoids. Incontinence. Ripping something. I don’t know!”

“Well for the first one, just have a high fiber diet and don’t sit for too long.”

“Okay well, ninety percent of what I do is eat greasy junk food and sit on a bus.”

Levi laughed. “Well if you change your mind, we’ll start nice and slow. You know I wouldn’t hurt you.”

“I know!” Eren sighed.

“And it can be very pleasurable, I mean have you ever hit your prostate while fingering yourself?”

“No. I know you like it. Every time I hit it you fall forward like one of those fainting goats.”

“Don’t compare me to a fainting goat.”

“Baaa!” Eren said, pretending to fall over.

“Eren, don’t compare me to a fainting goat!” Levi protested as Eren laughed. “No, but have you ever tried fingering yourself? That might help you get over your fear.”

“No.”

“Not even in the shower?” Levi teased.

No,” Eren repeated more firmly, his mouth set in a hard line.

“Okay, well I clearly touched a nerve there. Sorry. I miss you.”

“I miss you too,” Eren said begrudgingly.

“I need to leave for work now.”

“Love you!”

“Your lamp has hands,” Levi indicated the lamp to Eren’s side.

“…What?” Eren asked and Levi turned off FaceTime just as Eren gave a piercing scream, Bertholdt having removed the lampshade from his head.

<*>

Eren was not having the best week. First of all, Yoko wouldn’t leave. Second of all, now everyone knew he had a problem with Yoko and they knew about his fear of being penetrated. Great. Perfect.

“No, seriously dude, I don’t know what your problem with Christa is. She’s cool,” Jean said. “I mean, she’s a little ditzy, but she’s got a pervy sense of humor. Like she’s twisted, you know?”

“No, I don’t know. I listened to her talk about energy crystals for a good half hour.”

“Yeah well, she’s pretty quirky.”

“No, she’s not quirky. Sasha is quirky. Christa is trying too hard.”

“I won’t hear you say a single bad thing about her!” Reiner boomed suddenly, making Eren and Jean jump. “That girl is an angel, you hear me? She’s like the Barbie doll my parents never let me have! She’s the sister I never had—“

“You have a sister,” Bertholdt reminded him, shooting the sniper on his Xbox.

“—She smells like Funfetti and Pumpkin Spice Latte’s and I want to do nothing but braid her hair and paint her nails, so Jaeger, if you’ve got a problem with her, you’ve got a problem with me.”

“I—“ Eren sighed. “I just don’t think that boyfriends or girlfriends belong on the tour. You don’t see Marco following us everywhere!”

“Uh, because Marco is in Haiti for a month, because that boy is a saint and I’m gonna have his babies.”

“Are you saying that Bert isn’t allowed on our tour? Because he’s my boyfriend,” Reiner asked hotly.

“Am I not allowed on the tour?” Bert asked, throwing a grenade in the game.

“Bert is in the band, so no, that’s not what I meant. You know what, forget it,” Eren muttered, pulling out his phone and flipping through his various apps until he saw one post that made him freeze. “What the fuck? What the—what the fuck!”

“What?” Jean asked.

Eren shoved the Instagram photo into Jean’s face. Levi was fairly quiet on social media. He had a twitter to lurk and follow other twitters, but never posted. He had his Facebook in lockdown mode because his old high school buddies kept trying to friend him and he was quote, “over those losers.” The one thing Levi ever posted to was his Instagram and it was mostly just where he collected his inspiration photos. The most recent post read “RIP Isabel Magnolia” and a photo of Levi’s leg in a brace.

“I don’t know what that means,” Jean said leaning away from it.

Eren punched in Levi’s number frantically.

“Hey Green-Eyes,” Levi’s familiar low voice made all of Eren’s frantic anxiety melt away into anger.

“What the hell? You’re in the hospital?”

“Well not anymore. I got discharged hours ago. They put my foot in a boot and sent me home with a shit-ton of painkillers. I don’t think I’m supposed to take stuff like this with my meds so I’m not touching it.”

“You’re missing the point! You were in an accident?”

“Yeah, some douchebag cut me off while I was on my scooter and sent me flying. Fractured my leg. Oh man, you should have seen my helmet. Farlan got split in two. Wear your helmet kids!”

“Why are you making jokes? This isn’t funny! You were hurt and I didn’t know about it until hours later!

“…Why are you making it into such a big deal?”

“Because it is a big deal!”

Levi was silent on the other end and Eren saw Reiner and Jean exchange a look and he took off for the hallway.

“I mean, you posted about it on Instagram before you told me.”

Fuck this was starting to sound like a middle school conversation. Like Eren was the jealous girlfriend who wanted to know why Levi didn’t like his post.

“I’m your boyfriend, you should be calling me first.”

“Well it was a little bit of a circus, Eren. Someone called an ambulance, I had to talk to cops, they don’t let you have your phone when you’re getting X-rays. Look, I had a really shitty day and I’m really tired. Can I go to bed or do you want to yell at me some more?”

“I’m sorry, I was just worried is all,” Eren mumbled. “For all I knew you were in a coma.”

“And I posted a picture while I was in a coma?”

“I should be there,” Eren said suddenly.

“No, you shouldn’t,” Jean shouted from inside the hotel room.

“Why?”

“To take care of you.”

Levi laughed. “I’m a grown ass man.”

“He is a grown ass man,” Jean shouted. “And we got a show.”

“I don’t care! I should be there.”

“Doing what?”

“I don’t know, you’d be in bed with your leg propped up on a pillow and I would bring you soup and I would clean and take care of the cats.”

There was silence on the other end.

“Eren…” Levi finally managed.

“No, I get it. You’re Mr. Independent. You don’t need me.”

“Wow.”

“What?”

“Nothing, it’s just that you managed to take my broken leg and make it about you and your hero complex.”

“Levi…”

“I’m sorry, I’m really tired and I want to go to bed now. Can I do that? Am I allowed to do that? Or do I need to ask permission?”

“Hey!”

“I’m sorry, next time I’m in the middle of the road lying next to my scooter which has been crumpled like a tin can, instead of calling for an ambulance with my last sliver of battery life, I’ll call you. How’s that?”

“I didn’t mean—“

“Right, I’m really going to bed now, so night!”

“Night. I love—“

Levi hung up.

“—you.”

Chapter Text

“Morning,” Levi said the next day.

“It’s noon here. What are you doing at home?” Eren could make out the bedframe behind Levi’s head.

“Well my lovely bosses thought that almost dying qualified as a good enough excuse to work from home. So here I am.”

“Oh.”

“Look, I wasn’t really happy with how we left things yesterday.”

“Me neither,” Eren grabbed both of his big toes, looking so young that it bothered Levi. “My mom always said you should never let the sun set on an argument, but I didn’t want to wake you up by calling. I’m sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry. I was tired and cranky and don’t know why I didn’t call you. I guess I thought if I down played the whole thing it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but it was…it was really scary. The doctor said I could have fractured my spine if I’d hit the sidewalk just one inch to the left. And I didn’t get any sleep anyways because I felt bad about us and my leg just kept throbbing and—grahhh.” He pulled off his glasses and rubbed at his eyes.

“Aw, sleepy baby.”

Levi gave a low chuckle.

“You know what was really weird? I had to update my information at the ER and Erwin was still listed as my emergency contact. I had to go through all of my accounts and change Hanji to my emergency contact.”

Levi waited a moment after that, letting the information land on Eren, hoping he wouldn’t get angry.

“Oh yeah. That must have sucked,” Eren said, throat tight.

Levi had for a brief moment considered putting down Eren for his contact information, but they had been together nearly two months and Levi thought that was asking quite a lot of him. Also, they needed an address and somehow Levi didn’t think the houseboat counted.

“It’s just that—“

“No, I mean, it’s cool. I mean, I wouldn’t know what to do anyways. Like, I don’t know your blood type or if you have any allergies. Family history of diabetes? No idea. I don’t know that much about you.”

There was an uncomfortable pause.

“There’s not really much to know. I’m pretty boring. You already know everything about me.”

“I know you organize your socks by color.”

“See? That right there is probably the most interesting thing about me.”

Eren gave a small laugh.

“Well, not to make everything about me again, but I’m not having a good week.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Well for starters Yoko is still here.”

“Naturally.”

“And I’ve fucking had it. She used up all my shampoo! And look at this bathroom—“ he turned the laptop to the bathroom. “—it looks like this everytime she uses it and at every single hotel we stay in.”

“Good god, man.”

“You see this towel? It’s like an exact replica of her face.”

“It does kindof look like the Joker.”

“Thank you! Anywho, I tried to get the band to take a vote to kick her out, except they instead voted to kick me out, which Hannes reminded them that they can’t do that so now they’re just all ignoring me. Everyone is Team Christa, no one is Team Eren.”

“I’m Team Eren.”

“Thanks. I really needed to hear that.” Eren said giving Levi a small smile.

“EREN!” he heard someone call.

“Oh god, she found me.”

“I just heard! Oh you poor thing!” Christa said throwing her arms around his neck.

“Uh, heard what?” Eren asked, really hoping she hadn’t heard how he’d tried to get her voted out.

“About your sexual difficulties,” she said pressing him into her bosom.

“Uh…”

She grabbed his face in her hands, squishing it slightly as Eren looked to Levi on the screen for help.

“Who hurt you?” she asked, petting his baby face. “Was it him?”

“No, I’m sorry what?

“They told me how you’ve never had sex.”

“I’ve had sex before…” Eren said uncomfortably. “With women as well as men. Which, by the way, is why I’m annoyed you thought it was your job to ‘out’ me on your twitter as ‘gay.’ I’m not gay.”

She reached into her back pocket for her phone and started typing frantically. Eren seized it.

“And I’m not bisexual either—you know what? Why don’t you ask me before you start assuming things about me! You might know my music, and you might know my band but you don’t know me!”

He chucked her phone across the room and onto a nest of pillows.

“Sorry, they made it sound like you were a virgin because of some traumatic event.”

“I’m definitely not a virgin. And even if I was, who the fuck are you to come and try and fix me?” he groused. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I was busy comforting my boyfriend—who I have sex with—because he was in an accident.”

“Hello Levi!” she waved at him.

“Hello Christa.”

“What happened?”

“Oh, I broke my leg. Some asshole was texting and tried to turn left from the rightmost lane and didn’t see me on my scooter.”

“Is that why your shoulder is like that?” Christa asked, turning her head to the side.

“Is my shoulder like what?” Levi asked, looking at it and rubbing it self-consciously.

“You just look out of alignment. I’m really good at looking at people’s chakras and helping them redirect their energy.”

“…Okay,” said Levi as Eren rolled his eyes.

“What were they talking about then?” Christa asked confused.

“Oh, he’s afraid of being penetrated,” Levi waved off the whole thing.

“Levi!” Eren protested.

“I’m on painkillers!” Levi shot back. He had finally broken down and taken one—only one!—Vicodin. And he was itchy already, it was a terrible idea. He’d rather have the throbbing pain than the itchy.

“That’s it?” Christa asked, wrinkling her nose.

“Well…yeah.”

“Oh,” she said. “…Do you want to?”

“Huh?” Eren said leaning away from her.

“I mean, if you’re afraid of it and are fine not doing it, that’s great. But do you want to do it?”

“Well, at some point. I’m just not sure how to get started,” Eren said scratching his head. “Or how to get to a point where I’d be comfortable starting with…” He waved at Levi who was scratching his chin with some vehemence.

Christa’s eyes lit up and she broke out into a wide grin.

“Eren,” Christa said, taking Eren’s hand in hers. “Levi and I are here for you on your journey of sexual self-discovery.”

“What’s happening now?” Levi asked. “I should not have taken that pill. My tongue is itchy.”

Christa rummaged around in her pile of clothes. For being a groupie, she had three full suitcases (that Ymir insisted they find room for in the van), her banjo, and a briefcase on wheels. Eren had assumed that was where she stored her drugs but Hannes and Reiner had verified that she wasn’t a dealer.

Christa pulled open the briefcase and set up the display.

“WHY DO YOU HAVE A BRIEFCASE FULL OF DILDOS?” Eren shrieked, jumping away from the wall of sex toys.

“Oh, so I do these parties for a lot of my yoga clients. I go to bachelorette parties, ‘book’ clubs, you know. Ever since 50 Shades of Grey, the suburban moms are all curious so I go and dispense sex positive and sex healthy information and try to steer them toward, uh, better material. You know material that doesn’t condone unhealthy relationships and abuse. And you know, I think it works. I think most of them are able to tell that there’s a difference between bad fantasy and real world kink. The women who I talk to mostly just want to try a little something different, add a little spice. They don’t want whips and nipple clamps, they just want to add a little excitement to the bedroom. One woman told me she’d never even tried lube before. I’m like the Avon lady of vibrators.”

Eren stared at the display. Pink, purple, clear, black sparkly, metallic, several different flesh colored ones that were a little too realistic for him, silicone, curved, straight, external massagers, internal massagers, and a double ended one. His face matched the rainbow in front of him going from pink to crimson then turning a little green.

“Oh, here,” Christa said, flipping something at the top and letting the panel drop to reveal more underneath. “Here’s all of the anal play stuff I have. I’ve got anal beads, butt plugs, vibrating butt plugs. All of these have a two year warranty and are easy to clean. If you order one today, I can have it shipped to the next venue in two days. I’ll even throw in a cleaning kit. But most of these clean easily with just a little soap and water.”

Eren made a little noise in his throat that seemed to go on for a full minute before he stood up and walked away.

“Too much?” Christa asked Levi.

Levi nodded, scratching at his scalp.

“Huh, I didn’t even get to the lubes yet…” she sighed, putting her hands on her hips.

<*>

“How’s the leg?” Eren asked a week later.

“Good, healing. It’s really hard to work out when your leg is in a boot. I’m worried I’m gonna lose muscle mass.”

“Sore?”

“Yeah, but I’m not taking anything. That was awful, look, I still have scratch marks on my neck.”

“How are you getting to work now that your scooter is out of commission?” Eren asked.

“Petra is driving me.”

“Isn’t that out of her way?”

“Oh no. I forgot to tell you! Shadis’ firm hired her! They wanted me to interview her but I thought that might be a conflict of interest since we’re friends but I gave her a good recommendation. So yeah, sorry, she started at the beginning of the month.”

“That’s nice that she’s there.”

“Yeah, well she needs good health insurance because of, you know, the baby and all.”

“Oh shit, right. That’s crazy. I can’t even, like, comprehend children right now. Like, how big are their heads? Baseball? Basketball? I don’t even think I’ve seen a kid in forever. They’re those little humans right?” he finished with a little laugh.

Levi nodded, giving a thin lipped smile, rubbing at his shoulder.

“…Whatchya up to?”

“Work.”

Eren sighed.

“Can you put it away and just talk to me for a bit?”

“Not really,” Levi grimaced. “I’m working on the biggest project of the year for Balto’s people and I have a presentation on Monday and I’m busy training Petra, so I’m catching up on the weekends.”

“Oh,” Eren said frowning and setting his hand on his chin.

“There, I closed it. How was your show?”

“Good. Empty. We didn’t get the crowd we were hoping for.”

“Sorry to hear that. How’s things besides that?”

“Yoko is still here.”

“You gotta stop calling her that.”

“I know,” he sighed. “But I’m mad at her. The other’s found out about her side business and they all ordered butt stuff from her so now they just keep leaving buttplugs and dildos everywhere. There was one in my guitar case and one tucked under my pillow like the tooth fairy left it for me.”

“That’s a dick move—er, no pun intended.”

“I’m just so far beyond pissed that I’m exhausted.” Eren rubbed at his eyes.

“Well, I was supposed to help Hanji move a bunch of paintings from my studio to the gallery, but since my leg makes that difficult she had to hire someone and they damaged it so we’re trying to decide if it’s worth salvaging or…” Levi held his hand up.

“That sucks babe. I know you put a lot of time into them.”

“A lot of time that I could have spent working,” Levi agreed.

There was the sound of a door slamming and a rubber fleshy dildo slapped the side of Eren’s head.

“…What was that?”

“Oh, it’s not really a day on tour unless I’m being struck with dildos all day,” Eren said, giving a pinched and bitter smile.

“I’m sorry, Eren.”

“It’s fine, I actually got a break from being the band punching bag yesterday. Jean locked us out of the van after our gig so everyone was mad at him.”

“Eh, it happens.”

“Yeah, but this was the one time Bert left his insulin in the van.”

“I didn’t know he was diabetic.”

“Yeah, he is. It’s not usually ever an issue because he’s really careful about it. And normally Reiner carries a backup with him but…”

“Let me guess it was also in the van.”

“Ding ding ding. So we called AAA and were trying not to panic when they said two to three hours. And Reiner picked up a brick and said he was going to smash a window but Jean said that’s like $300 and Reiner yelled at him like which is more important the window or Bert? And then Ymir, since she thinks she’s such a badass, decided she was going to use a coat hanger to break into the car.”

“What were you doing during all of this?”

“Uh, calling Hannes because he left before us and he has a backup of Bert’s medicine that he carries in a fanny pack at all times. So everything worked out, but it was tense. Now everyone’s mad at Jean so he’s being an ass and acting out.”

There was another slam of the door and Levi could hear someone in the background.

“Well you got into the van eventually, right?”

“Yeah but—“

Off the edge of the bed Levi could see the fleshy dildo again being held by a hand, its owner off camera.

“Booooooop,” Jean said poking Eren in the cheek with it.

Eren turned his long suffering gaze to Levi.

“One sec babe,” he said, setting the laptop aside.

Levi heard, “KNOCK. IT. OFF. ASSHOLE!” followed by a series of loud punches.

“Ow! Fuck!”

Levi waited, sighing. He really needed to get back to work. He clicked open his email again and started typing.

Eren got back on the bed and Jean joined him, rubbing his arm and cackling still.

“Sup Levi!”

“Hello, Jean.”

There seemed to be few conversations alone with Eren, Levi realized.

“Go away,” Eren hissed.

“Hey, I came in here to warn you. Hannes totally had the meatloaf at the diner around the corner.”

“Goddamnit,” Eren swore. “We need to get the fan out tonight then.”

“Won’t that just spread the smell around?” Levi asked.

“No, we have a strategy so it blows the other way,” Jean explained. “It’s just the worst though, you know? His old man farts are on a whole new level. I don’t know how much more of it I can take. Like kill me.”

He mimed shooting himself in the head. Eren agreed and mimicked the motion.

There was a pause in Levi’s typing.

“Don’t do that,” Levi said, returning to his work.

“What?” Eren asked laughing. “This?”

He made a gunshot sound with his mouth, the finger up to his head.

Levi paused again.

“Yes, that.”

Jean laughed.

“Dude seriously? Bang—“ he pretended to shoot at himself again. “Bang—“ he shot at Eren and Eren stuck his tongue out pretending to be dead. “Bang—“ he aimed at the camera.

“Yes, don’t do that.”

“Really, Levi? Who cares?” Eren said, rolling his eyes at his boyfriend.

Levi didn’t even have a response to that. He simply turned off Skype and went back to his email.

<*>

“Did he just hang up on me?” Eren asked.

Jean snorted. Eren glared at him.

“Dude, don’t look at me, it’s your pissy boyfriend.”

Eren sighed, shoved Jean off the bed and rang Levi again.

“Sorry, we must have gotten cut off,” Eren said. “Shitty hotel internet is shitty.”

“No, I hung up on you,” Levi said coolly.

“What? Why?”

“Because I asked you—very nicely I might add—not to do that and both of you did anyways.”

“I didn’t do it! Jean did it!”

“And then continued to do it after I asked him to stop.”

“Dude, what is the big deal?” Jean called from the floor.

“Seriously Levi?” Eren sighed. “You get bent out of shape by every little thing. I can’t control what he does.”

“I’m sorry, when someone says that something makes me uncomfortable and then persists, fully knowing it makes me uncomfortable, it makes me have no desire to continue a conversation with them.”

“Why?” Jean said and followed it up with something garbled that Levi couldn’t hear.

“Yeah, why is it such a big deal?” Eren shook his head.

Levi just shook his head and pursed his lips.

“Why?” Eren asked.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You brought it up!” Eren said exasperatedly.

“Well, you don’t know what people’s backgrounds are. Maybe they had someone they care about who was shot. It’s classless, it’s tasteless and I don’t like it!”

Jean muttered something from the floor but Eren overrode him, “So what are we just supposed to walk on eggshells around every single person? We can’t make any joke for fear of upsetting anyone?”

“NOT ANYONE, JUST ME!” Levi thundered so loudly he scared the cats off the couch and Eren jumped because Levi rarely raised his voice. “Because you don’t know what it’s like to be kid at school or church when everyone goes, ‘Oh is he the kid whose dad, you know—bang.’” He mimed the gunshot.

“Hoooly shit, dude,” he heard Jean say from the floor.

“Well how the hell was I supposed to know that?” Eren protested, looking just as shocked as Jean sounded from the floor. “If you would have told me I never would have—“

“I shouldn’t have to tell you for you to respect my request!” Levi exploded. “Connie would have respected that!”

“Jean isn’t Connie. Connie is a hyper-conscious social activist. Jean is an idiot. Look at him, he’s an idiot.”

“I am! I am an idiot!” Jean waved from the floor.

“I’m not just talking about him, I’m talking about you!”

“Again, how the hell was I supposed to know that? You don’t tell me anything about your life!”

“I asked you not to and you made fun of me—“

“Maybe if you actually talked to me about this sort of stuff it wouldn’t happen—“

“—and you would think with all you’ve been through this week that you better than anyone else would know when a joke has been taken too far—“

“—but nooo, you wait to spring this shit on me and start a fight in front of my friends—“

“I started a fight?” Levi asked offended. “I didn’t start shit. You know what fuck this. I have work to do.”

“Of course you do, because you use work as an excuse to get out of any uncomfortable conversation!”

“Grow up!” Levi snapped and hit the button.

Eren let him go and stared at his blank screen, mouth open. He looked at Jean, hoping to figure out what the hell had just happened. Jean shrugged, looking just as bewildered as Eren.

Eren waited a good ten minutes to let Levi cool down before texting him.

 [Eren:] i’m sorry Jean’s a moron.

[Eren:] i’m sorry i’m an asshole.

[Eren:] are you still mad at me? :(

[Levi:] no, i miss you. we both had shitty weeks. pain is making me snippy. i made petra cry on friday. :(

[Eren:] oh no what did you do?

[Levi:] i asked her to move out of the way. she took it to mean i thought she was fat.

[Eren:] ???

[Levi:] she’s preggo. she literally never stops crying. but i still felt like a dick.

[Eren:] can i call you? i know you’re working but i don’t like having these kinds of conversation via txt.

[Levi:] yeah

Eren called him on Skype. Levi looked apprehensive, nervous even. His eyes were red and puffy and Eren wondered if he’d been crying, but then again his eyes nearly always looked tired these days. Ever since the accident he had a permanent ring under his eyes. Eren wondered if he should have flown back to Sina just for a few days.

“Hey,” Eren said.

“Hey,” Levi said clearing his throat.

“I kicked Jean out so it’s just us.”

There was an awkward moment.

“How are the cats?” Eren asked brightly. He just wanted to see Levi smile. Just once.

“Oh, uh, I don’t know what my boot is made of, but Sawney keeps sniffing it and rolling on it and getting super high and then just takes off running around the apartment like mad.”

“Aw, stoner cat like her Daddy,” Eren said, meaning himself.

Levi cracked a small smile.

“How long do you have to wear that?”

“Only like three more weeks? Then I get an aircast.”

“Look Levi,” Eren said, rubbing at his eyes. “I know you’re scared about us.”

“I’m not scared.”

“I know you are because I’m fucking terrified and if you’re not then you’ve been replaced with a cyborg.”

“What kind of cyborg? We talking Data or—“

“Like the T-1000 from Terminator 2.”

“Ah.”

“But I love you. I don’t like it when you’re upset. Sometimes knowing why you’re upset is just as important to me to keep you from being upset and that’s hard when I don’t…when you don’t…I guess what I’m trying to say is—“

“EREN! I just heard!”

“Goddamnit!” Eren swore.

“I know you’re stressed what with the big gig coming up and the big fight with your boyfriend and I’m here to help!” Christa said, smiling widely.

“Why are you here?” Eren shouted.

“To help!”

“You are the opposite of help! You are a goddamn plague. You are always here. Why are you here? You don’t contribute anything. You just cling to Ymir and Reiner and get everyone to carry your shit. I am so sick of your constant new age hippie bullshit and your ‘life philosophies’ that you clearly ripped from the OWN network!”

She sniffed.

“Oh Jesus. Okay Christa look—“ Eren backtracked, pinching the bridge of his nose.

“I don’t understand why you don’t like me. Everyone likes me.” Her chin wobbled.

“It’s not you. It’s uh, it’s just you do this weird fake nice thing and it drives me fucking insane. Like, just be honest!”

“…I should go,” Levi said from the laptop.

“I’m not being fake! I’m being supportive! I’m Rogue Titan’s #1 fan and I will always defend you guys even when everyone else says ‘Wow, how many times can you use ‘baby’ in your lyrics for one song?’ or ‘Stomp Claps, we get it, you think you’re the new Queen.’”

“…’Baby’ rhymes with a lot of things…” Eren mumbled.

“It makes ‘I’m so 2008, you’re so 2000 and late’ look like Keats,” she snapped.

“Oh,” he said, looking downcast.

“See, you really wouldn’t like me if I gave my honest opinions!”

“I guess not,” Eren said, still looking upset about her dislike of his lyrics.

“That’s why I choose to be supportive. And I will do everything in my blogosphere power to make Rogue Titan the Number One band in all of America!”

“Thanks. I guess.”

“Which includes doing the necessary, ironing out the tension between us.”

She got up and stepped behind him.

“What are you—“

“—I’m going to give you one of my special massages.”

“What? Why are you—oh my god.”

“Right?” she said, rubbing her thumbs in circles on his back.

“Oh my god.”

“I offered my massages earlier and you didn’t take me up on it.”

“Oh my god this is amazing,” Eren moaned, disappearing from view. “Levi! Her fingers are magic!”

Christa flashed Levi a thumbs up and he mirrored her gesture and then hung up, figuring Eren needed a little time to relax.

<*>

“I’m telling you, I think I actually cried,” Eren whispered, his back to Jean.

“I told you man. I think it’s because her hands are so tiny. She like, gets in there.”

“It hurt, but I never wanted it to end.”

“Okay, well Reiner, Bert, and I have a theory you’re a masochist, so that’s only helping.”

“Fuck off.”

He kicked at Jean.

“Nail clippers, have you heard of them?” Jean complained.

“Hey man, I’m sorry about earlier.”

“Dude, no, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get you in trouble with your boyfriend.”

Eren tried not to sigh and he tried not to let the sigh sound so dismal and hopeless so he instead turned it into a yawn. The restless way Jean shifted his pillow let Eren know he was not exactly convinced.

“I don’t know what to do,” Eren whispered quietly.

Jean didn’t really have an answer for that.

“I didn’t know any of that about his dad.”

“Sorry man, don’t know what to tell you.”

“What do you do when the person you care about won’t share anything about themselves? I just…I thought if I was patient and waited, eventually he’d confide in me.”

“I think he just did.”

Eren frowned.

“I guess I didn’t really see it happening like that.”

Jean was silent.

“Does Marco do that?”

“Eren, I’m trying to sleep,” Jean whined. “And no, Marco isn’t a physically and emotionally stunted bag of dicks. Marco is perfect.”

“No, I mean—shut up—does he share things about his life?”

“Well, not really. Most of the time he asks me what I’m up to.”

Eren wasn’t quite sure that was true. More like Jean talked about himself at great length and spaced out whenever Marco talked about his work in Haiti.

“But with Marco I never have to hide how I’m feeling. Everything is always out in the open. If I’m sad, I tell him I’m sad. If I’m upset with him, I tell him.”

“We’re not…we’re not really like that.”

“That’s more how Mikasa and I were. She would never tell me when she was mad at me. I was always guessing. Every day it was like a grab bag of what I was going to get. Just fighting nonstop.”

“Yeah, I think most of that has to do with the fact that you were also hella gay.”

Jean conceded that.

“I just don’t know what it is he’s hiding from me. Like what is it he’s afraid I’m going to find out?” Eren sighed.

“Look, Eren, I don’t know Levi. Frankly, I think he’s short and weird and I don’t get it. But people, most people, don’t have these huge skeletons in the closet. But for most people I think maybe it’s just a string of painful or embarrassing things. And sharing that is hard because then that person can use it against you. Like, ‘You’re only saying that because your dad walked out on you’ or ‘See? This is why you never completed business school, because you just give up on everything because you’re lazy.’”

Eren chewed on this bit of information.

“And no offense, but you can be really intimidating. You approach everything full steam. You’re like a bullet train from hell. I think I knew everything there was to know about you within a fortnight.”

“You don’t know me,” Eren said, growing heated.

“Ehhh, I think I do.”

“No, you don’t.”

“I know you better than you think,” Jean said softly, sounding a little disappointed. “I got to know you through your sister’s eyes. I know how much you mean to her.”

“You don’t know shit about me,” Eren grumbled.

“Fine, you’re right. I don’t. Can I go back to sleep?”

Eren didn’t respond so Jean sighed and punched his pillow again and closed his eyes.

Eren let out a long sigh, not even bothering to conceal it as a yawn this time.

“Dude, you gotta stop thinking about it,” Jean shook his head.

“I can’t.”

“Just…just think of it—your relationship with Levi—as like a raft. Yeah. Like you’re stuck on an island and you guys gotta build a raft. And each stick is trust. And you only find out how good your raft is when you hit choppy water.”

Eren snorted hard with laughter.

“What?” Jean asked angrily.

“Man, just like, never try to be deep again. Love is a raft made out of trust sticks. Fuckin’ a, Jean,” Eren tried hard not to wake up Hannes but he was shaking with laughter.

“Fuck you.”

“Not until you build us a beautiful bed made of trust straws to lay down upon,” Eren wheezed.

“You asked me asshole! Fuck you. Figure out your own shit with your weirdo boyfriend.”

Hannes rolled over and they both stilled. There was a sound like a squeaky window being forced open and Hannes grunted in his sleep.

“What was that? Was that a whistler? Or a tooter?” Eren asked as Jean was closer.

“Whistler. Definitely a whistler.”

“Shit. Evasive maneuvers!”

They threw the covers over their heads but the smell still permeated through the hotel bedspread and soon they were gagging and laughing over the stench.

Chapter Text

There’s a moment in all bad relationships or even in the bad parts of good relationships where you start counting the days in between fights. Like a giant sign hanging overhead that reads, “It has been 92 days since our last incident.” For Eren and Levi that counter was at a respectable 5 days. Not that 5 days was great, mind you, but it was long enough that hurt feelings from the previous incident had nearly healed. Texts from Eren were lovey-dovey and full of emojis and Levi responded with pictures of the cats. There was peace.

[Levi:] Erwin has baby puke on his suit coat and no one has worked up the nerve to tell him all day.

[Eren:] we all dared Bertholdt to get a tattoo of a potato and he might actually get it. [roasted sweet potato emoji] i never get to use that emoji.

[Levi:] things that made Petra break down crying today: we ran out of tissues because she cries so much.

[Eren:] this just in, Reiner can bench-press Christa. she has amazing core strength from yoga so she’s the perfect person to press.

[Levi:] Bean got out on the porch when I wasn’t looking and brought me a murder-present. why thank you cat, i’ve been craving moth all week.

[Eren:] we are taking acid with Christa. Reiner is going to watch us so we don’t try to fly off the roof. if you get weird texts from me, just ignore them.

There was a lull for a while and then within the space of an hour Eren sent several consecutive texts.

[Eren:] i jsut got te sounds of Music! the hills are ALIVE with the sounders of music!!!!

[Eren:] your so baetiful like a galacsty thas not discoverd.

[Eren:] i didn’t get interstellar. does that maek me a bad person?

[Eren:] no btu really your so good looking i am looking at you right now on my phone and I can see you and you can see me but your not smiling in the photo but i know your smilng behind the photo.

[Eren:] there is a fly in here and he landed on my hadn and ive been blessed.

[Eren:] i’m crying now. this fly is so little and he chose me and life is so beautiful.

[Eren:] this is Reiner, I took Eren’s phone away because he got a speck of lint on him and has been crying about how fragile life is.

The next day.

[Eren:] wow, okay. I’m reading over all my texts to you last night and I’m so glad Reiner took my phone away because it was getting weird.

[Eren:] you are really beautiful though. just like a galaxy. [kissy emoji]

[Levi:] what kind of galaxy though?

[Eren:] fUCK.

That’s how it was for a while. Levi still relied on Petra for rides and work was busy. Lately his shoulder had started to cramp up. Levi blamed Christa. If she hadn’t pointed it out, he might not have noticed it and started rubbing it. But rubbing it only made it worse. His carpal tunnel was so bad he had to wear his brace, his shoulder clicked all the time, his leg still ached, especially when it rained which was always in Sina. There was also this slight pinching sensation at his neck and the base of his spine. He hadn’t picked up a brush since his one painting was damaged and he was simply miserable. But there were bright spots.

“Hey babe!” Eren said.

“Hey.”

“I can’t talk long, but look!”

“Oh wow.”

“I finally broke down and got a mini butt plug thing from Christa. It’s so tiny.”

“It’s cute. It looks like a Ring Pop.”

“Oh my god it does. Here, look, when I do this…”

Eren turned off the hotel room lights and when he hit a button it lit up.

“Disco plug.”

“I like it. It’s nice. How was work?” Eren asked, twirling the plug by its ring.

Levi relayed the day. It was mostly complaints, but Eren didn’t seem to mind, he was busy making loops with the plug like he was having a mini rave.

“Don’t mess around with it like that,” Levi said amusedly as Eren spun it so fast Levi was worried it would fly off and strike his laptop screen. “It’s not a toy.”

“Uh…”

“Shut up you know what I mean.”

“By definition it is a toy.”

“You’re a dork. Have fun with your new toy. I gotta work.”

“Same. Miss you!”

“Miss you.”

“Love you!”

“Night.”

And Levi liked it when things were left at that. Short, sweet, conversations where nothing went wrong. Now that Eren got along with Christa, things seemed to be going better for him. He shared a few songs he’d written. Bert had stopped lurking in corners to scare people after Hannes faked having a heart attack. Jean stopped smacking him with dildos. In fact, Eren relayed to Levi, all of the sex toys had mysteriously disappeared and Eren suspected they were being employed elsewhere.

For Levi, things weren’t so great. He tried to keep the anxiety out of his voice during their calls, trying to avoid a repeat of the Jean-incident. Levi knew that he was snappish by nature and was careful not to redirect his work related stress onto Eren, but that mean that outlet had to go somewhere. He couldn’t run it out and with his shoulder and back hurting the way they were he couldn’t lift it out. People at work had started avoiding him in the hallways. Nanaba literally turned the other direction when she saw him storming past her cubicle. When he went to hand Nifa a proof she flung her hands over her face like she thought he might hit her. Petra’s sniffles and morning sickness were not helping things.

“I just don’t understand why we have to put up with his bad mood,” Rico was talking to Ian as Levi went by on his crutches.

“I think we should be a little more understanding, he was literally hit by a car,” Nanaba sighed. “Give it some time.”

“Speak of the devil,” Mike muttered, not needing to look to know Levi was steering his crutches to the break room.

He tried not to let the silence bother him, but it did. He locked himself in his office for the rest of the day, thinking if he didn’t have to talk to anyone then they wouldn’t have anything to complain about. It was well after ten when Eren called.

“Baaaby,” Eren sang.

Great, he was drunk.

“What?”

“Hey,” Eren said, giggling a little.

“Hey, what’s up?”

“Do I need a reason to call you?”

Levi grunted. He supposed not.

“…What are you doing?” Eren asked.

“I’m working.”

“You’re always working.”

“That’s how I pay the bills.”

Eren sighed.

“So I was thinking…”

“Yeah?”

“I have the room all to myself. Hannes is staying with some old tour buddies and Jean is still at the bar so it’s just me.”

“Nice.”

“Well, me and you.” He giggled again and Levi sighed. “And well I’ve been thinking about us—about you.”

“Uh huh.”

“And I’ve got this new toy…”

“Yeah, you showed me.”

“Ahhh, I’ve been hard like all day thinking about you. It’s so distracting.”

“Okay.”

“I’m just in this bed…all alone…touching myself.”

Levi continued clacking away on the keyboard.

“Levi!”

“What?”

“I just want to hear your voice so I can get off. Say something sexy.”

“I can’t. I’m at work.”

“…No one is still at work at this time of night. You shouldn’t still be there.”

“Well I am, Eren. This is what people do in the adult world. They work. Some of us have real jobs. We can’t just smoke pot or drop acid all day and rake in a paycheck!”

There was a click and Eren hung up.

“Oh shit,” Levi said, covering his face with his hands. Of all the things to say to Eren he had to pick the one Eren was the most touchy about.

He called Eren back.

“Eren—“

“Fuck you! This is my job. I know it’s not some nine to five corporate bullshit but I work just as hard as you!” Eren shouted. He was crying. Fuck.

“I know, I’m sorry, it’s just work is really stressful and—“

“You can’t just say whatever dick thing you want and then blame work!” Eren gave a little scream of rage and then hung up.

Levi rang him a few times but he didn’t pick up.

[Levi:] please answer.

Silence for a good half hour. Levi packed up and stuffed everything into his messenger bag, slung it over his shoulder and started the long hike to the bus stop on his crutches, stopping at intervals to see if Eren had texted back.

[Levi:] i’m really sorry.

Still nothing.

[Levi:] home now. please call me back.

Then right before he was about to head to bed, he finally got one text:

[Eren:] i know you’re stressed and i know you’re sorry but i’m still really upset. my career is really important to me and i need you to at least pretend to be supportive.

[Levi:] i know that and i am. you work really hard.

[Eren:] i’m still really upset and i don’t think i want to talk to you for a few days. i still love you, but right now i’m not sure that i like you. please don’t call or text me.

[Levi:] okay.

<*>

Eren threw his phone down on the bed and opened the door to the adjoining room. Reiner and Christa were sitting on one of the beds, both in hotel bathrobes and wearing identical green face masks. Christa had foil in her hair and was painting her nails. Bert was in the next twin bed, completely asleep in his usual windmill position. He didn’t know where Ymir was. Probably doing a 7-11 run and grabbing more microwavable burritos.

“What’re you guys doing?” Eren asked glumly, crawling onto the foot of the bed.

“Girls night,” Reiner grunted.

“You’re watching Legally Blonde the Musical again?” Eren asked, recognizing the show on the television.

“Yeah,” they both said, Reiner feeding Christa popcorn while her nails dried.

“Can I join you?” Eren asked, already making himself comfortable.

He consoled himself in their presence, trying not to cry as he sang along softly with the chorus. Christa patted his head with her foot.

<*>

It was probably the most agonizing two and a half days of Levi’s life. He check his phone obsessively. He felt it buzzing when he went to take a piss and nearly dropped it in the urinal, but when he finally grabbed it, there was no message. He checked it during meetings and the second he woke up. Just when he was starting to think the worst had happened he finally received one text.

[Unknown number:] this is jean. did u n eren get in a fight or sumthing? he has been playin the same song over n over again. ~*~wHaT mAtTeRs m0sT iS h0w WeLl U wAlK tHrU tHe f1rE~*~

[Jean:] ignore that last bit. that’s my signature. ~*~wHaT mAtTeRs m0sT iS h0w WeLl U wAlK tHrU tHe f1rE~*~

[Levi:] what song?

[Jean:] idk sum sad tracy chapman shit iunno man. ~*~wHaT mAtTeRs m0sT iS h0w WeLl U wAlK tHrU tHe f1rE~*~

Levi sighed.

When he didn’t have work to distract him, he stalked the Rogue Titan official twitter and Facebook pages. Christa posted an update on her twitter. She had been having financial difficulties (her daddy cut off her credit card) so she was finally forced to stop her groupie-ing.

“Last day with the band,” she tweeted with about twenty emojis following it. Then another, “End of #roadtrip2k14.”

Then she posted a video with the caption, “Eren and me singing. Very emotional day. #brbsobbing #gottafixmymascara

Against his better judgment, Levi clicked on the video. Christa picked on her banjo and Eren strummed along on Carla #2 singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Christa had a sweet voice, clear as a bell, but a little breathy. She harmonized well with Eren. Jean joined leaning over from the back seat, Reiner was driving as usual, but eventually added his deep bass to the mix. Levi could tell Ymir was filming because the camera was a little shaky as she tried not to cry.

“Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong…”

“Knock knock…didn’t strike you as a Denver fan,” Erwin said.

Levi wiped at his face furiously.

“You okay?” Erwin asked.

“I have to put in these new eye drops twice a day because I do nothing but stare at a computer screen,” Levi snapped

His elbow tapped the space bar by accident and they wrapped up the song.

“Miss you!” Eren said into Ymir’s camera, blowing a kiss.

It was most likely for Christa or the fans, Levi knew, but how he wished it was for him. He sighed.

“Ah,” said Erwin. “So I have to hand out Halloween candy this year. Do you want to come over and help?”

“Hell no.”

“It’s just so boring, I don’t want to do it myself. I have to stay home while Nile gets to go out with the kids. Why does he get to do the fun part?”

“Sucks to be you.”

Levi didn’t go into the office on Saturday, which proved to be a bad idea, because he kept looking at the Skype green light on his laptop and it was making him miserable. There was a rap at the door. If it was trick or treaters a whole week early, well they were in for a huge disappointment.

“Hi!” Christa said brightly.

“Uh. Hello.”

She was very short in person.

“I’m bought and paid for so we have a whole hour!” she said cheerily.

“Uh…you know I don’t swing that way, right?” Levi asked, very confused.

“No, silly, Eren paid me to be here.”

Levi stared at her. She tapped on her folding table.

“Oh!” he said, finally understanding. “Um, this is very…something of you, but I’m not—“

“You’re not totally stressed out and in need of a relaxing massage?” she asked, cocking her head to the side.

He let her in. Eren was right. Her fingers were magic.

“I can tell you spend most of the day at a computer desk,” she said digging her elbow into a knot. “You’ve got quite a bruise here.”

“Yeah, I hit the sidewalk pretty hard.”

“Did they take X-Rays?” she asked.

“Well of my leg, yeah.”

“How’s PT going?”

“Oh, I’m not doing that.”

“Why not?”

“Spend two hours of my day twice a week stretching? No thank you. I can do that on my own.”

“Ah, well. I’m not a doctor, but you should get your back looked at. Also, maybe consider going to PT.”

“Yeah well, as you said, you’re not a doctor.”

“And try to not spend so much time in front of a computer.”

Levi sighed.

Christa turned out to be a chatty masseuse. Her constant blathering was actually relaxing in an odd way. She talked about the tour, about Ymir. She talked a lot about Ymir. No really, a lot. She told Levi how she and Eren bonded over being his pansexuality and her bisexuality. She shared her parent’s complaints. How they thought the thing with Ymir was a fling or just experimentation. How they acted like she was the black sheep of the family, which wasn’t fair because her sister had “like three DUIs, and me kissing girls is somehow shameful?” Levi didn’t really have much to contribute, he found himself drooling onto the massage table.

Christa, he found out, also competed in dressage and other equestrian competitions. She had a homemade soap business. She seemed, quite honestly, a lot like Eren before the band, just floating around doing whatever suited her interests. The difference was whereas Eren failed at nearly everything he took up, Christa was charmed. Everything she touched turned to gold. Yet she couldn’t commit to one and when she grew bored with the success from one business she turned to another. She use all of the money from the previous endeavor to fund the next one and when she needed an extra cash infusion she turned to daddy. But Eren had inspired her to not take any more cash from her father because Eren claimed it helped make him more self-reliant. Levi didn’t have the heart to tell her that Eren’s father still funded Eren’s living space, the houseboat, and that he still relied heavily on Mikasa and Armin.

Christa was one of those people who seemed perpetually optimistic, always sporting some new good luck charm or doing her daily yoga devotions. But then she also talked a great deal about all of the self-help books she read. About achieving ones inner strength and the like. It felt like maybe she was so happy because she was trying too hard to keep away the sad. When she asked Levi about his back pain and if he’d considered acupuncture (uh, sharp needles in his back? no thanks) he said he had a bottle of Vicodin but had taken one pill and hadn’t touched the rest.

“Ah, that’s good of you. You have to be careful with that stuff. My mom has been in and out of rehab for her OxyContin addiction.”

“Sorry.”

“Yeah, it’s a bummer, but we love her.”

So that’s the kind of person Rogue Titan’s #1 fan was. If they were all like her, Levi reasoned, he could stand to meet a few more.

It felt great. His shoulder didn’t click anymore. Christa left and he lounged on the couch, drinking tea and ignoring work and his laptop. His phone buzzed and he didn’t look at it at first, but eventually Bean got off his legs and he checked it.

[Eren:] feeling better? :)

[Levi:] much.

<*>

Eren and company were playing a big gig on Halloween so they got to the hotel in Rose City a full week before. Eren was going stir-crazy and when he wasn’t writing songs or practicing with the band, which they had already been yelled at by hotel management about, he called Levi. So when Levi saw him online, he figured he’d call.

“Hey baby,” Eren whispered, his laptop on his chest and he was…in the tub?

“Hey…where are you?”

“We’re sortof trapped in the bathroom,” Eren said and Ymir poked him with her feet. “Jean and Marco are in a huge fight so we’re trying to give them some privacy but also totally eavesdropping.”

He turned the laptop around and Ymir waved from the other end of the tub, Eren nudging her with his feet. Bert was sitting on the closed toilet lid, trimming his nails and Reiner had a hotel glass to the door.

“Guys, this is bad, he’s crying in there,” Reiner whispered, or rather tried to whisper. He had a very loud voice that carried no matter what.

“Uh oh,” Levi said.

“What’s that noise?” Eren asked.

Levi was in bed, laptop propped up on a lapdesk, leaning against his headboard.

“Oh, my back is killing me again. I don’t think I realized how bad it was until Christa worked out all the kinks. Then they all came back after I pulled an all-nighter at the studio trying to fix that painting. I wedged a vibrating buttplug between me and the headboard and it’s helping.”

“Christa?”

“Yeah, I caved. She’s such a good salesperson. I should get a real back massager though.”

“Did you try Bengay?”

“Ugh, no. The last thing you need to hear is how your old boyfriend is rubbing Bengay on his back.”

“Mmm, just wait until I get there in December and I’ll rub it on for you.”

Levi chuckled.

“Uh oh. That’s it. It’s over,” Reiner said and they all stilled.

“What’s the situation?” Levi asked.

“Marco got back from Haiti and wanted to have ‘a talk’ with Jean. He’s in Sina and they’re on the phone so we can only hear one side of it, but it’s not good.”

“Should you guys be listening in?” Levi asked.

“Probably not,” Eren winced.

“He’s begging Marco to take him back,” Reiner continued. “Marco’s not buying it.”

Ymir’s feet disappeared and she joined Reiner by the door listening in.

“So how’s the prep for the big show coming along?”

“It’s good. We got to meet some of the other bands. There’s one band that we’re really hoping to tour with. It would be a good fit and it would mean a lot of exposure for us. We would go abroad with them to Japan.”

“That’s exciting,” Levi said.

“Yeah, but—“

“Shit, he’s coming—“ Reiner said.

Levi heard Jean stomp toward the bathroom, pull open the door, and then he crawled into the tub with Eren, sniffling and wrapping his arms around him.

“I gotta go,” Eren mouthed, patting the crying Jean.

Levi waved and closed it.

Chapter Text

0 days since last incident. Repeat. 0 days since last incident.

Eren was cranky from being trapped in the hotel. Rose City in late October was freezing and so they were cooped up in the hotel with nothing to do. To make matters worse, Jean had bought himself a new guitar and named it Carla 4 which pissed Eren off to no end. Levi was sore and sleep deprived and now he felt an eye tic coming on. And Levi wasn’t quite sure how it happened, but from the moment he called things just went south. Every little exchange ended with some harsh barb.

“How’s work?”

“Busy.”

“What a surprise,” Eren muttered.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Levi snapped.

Why? Why did he say that? Why couldn’t he just have let Eren be surly and not escalate? He should have just left it at that, said a few pleasantries and then called it a night.

Jean and Marco were the first casualty of the tour and everyone was a little thrown by it. The couple had been so sure and strong when the van pulled out of the Costco parking lot. It was scary. There’s a strange thing that happens when one couple breaks up in a small group of friends. Levi had witnessed it first hand when he and Erwin had broken up. Some, like Bert and Petra are cautiously curious. They ask if there were any road signs on the path to destruction. Any major potholes that could have been avoided. Others, like Ymir and Erd, are overly smug, confident that their relationship is stronger than one that has recently failed. They could read the signs. Ymir spent a great deal of her time on the phone with Christa explaining how they were so much different than Jean and Marco and that’s why theirs was sure to last. Then there were those who worried their relationship was going to fail too. One person becomes needy and the other becomes distant and then fights ensue and it’s a mess.

Of course, Eren was needy and Levi was distant and fuck, he didn’t want to be but he honestly had no reassuring words for Eren. He knew that if he were there right now, everything would be fine. A hug, a quick peck on the cheek, just simply taking Eren’s hand would be all he needed. But he wasn’t there. Levi was stuck in Sina and Eren was stuck in Rose and it was so hard to give Eren what he needed. It wasn’t just Eren either. Levi needed reassurance too. He needed someone to come put their fingers to his temples and rub away the stress building there but instead Eren was causing a migraine. Levi didn’t ever know how to convey to Eren just how upset or anxious he was.

So there they were in the trenches. Eren’s bandmates were drunk, jumping from each of the twin beds, throwing around a football while Eren simultaneously yelled at them to knock it off and yelled at Levi. He wasn’t really yelling, he just had to yell to be heard, but it still made the whole thing extremely uncomfortable.

“But I feel like you jump on things—things that you might have a legitimate reason to be mad about—and you see any disagreement as some sort of…augur that we’re not gonna make it. Like do you really doubt us that much?”

“No!” Levi protested.

“I just, we gotta work out a better system because this isn’t working for me.”

“I know I’m difficult but I really care about you…” Levi mumbled.

“But you don’t love me right?”

“I—“ Levi started, but was cut off by Jean shouting something.

“Asshole! Cut it out! Guys, this is my room get out!” Eren shouted, throwing stuff at them. Then back to Levi, “I’m just starting to think this whole thing was a bad idea,” Eren said.

Levi didn’t know if he meant their relationship or the tour, but he knew if he could just reach through the screen, he could make all of those doubts go away.

“You…you want to break up?” Levi asked quietly. He sounded tired and bored when he said it, but inside his stomach was writhing like a tangled mess of snakes.

“I don’t know! Maybe! I mean, if I’m the only one struggling for us here, then what happens when I give up? Guys, get out of here! I just. I’m so tired of feeling like a fuck up. I can’t fill a venue, I can’t make you happy, I—“

“—have a tiny dick!” Jean laughed.

“FUCK OFF. I just…Levi?”

“I’m here.”

“Oh I thought it froze. I mean, do you still want this?”

“I don’t know,” Levi said morosely. “I just feel like I keep disappointing you and if I’m the one making you unhappy then maybe we should break up.”

He didn’t want. He didn’t want to break up.

“I never said break up. You said it. You said it twice now. And if you want it so badly then maybe we should!”

“If that’s what you want,” Levi said miserably.

“Fine—“ Eren snapped and the screen went blank.

Levi stared at his laptop in horror and started tapping on it.

“I don’t want! Eren! Come back!” he shouted but his laptop refused to cooperate. Eren wasn’t online.

Levi surged out of his bed and grabbed his phone, dialing Eren frantically but it went straight to voicemail every time.

<*>

Of course on Eren’s end, what he had been about to say was “Fine! But I’m so furious at you! You just give up! I’m not giving up! I don’t want to break up! I’m going to keep fighting for us and you need to too!”

He had a whole speech planned out. He never got to give it, however, because Jean’s butterfingers missed the powerful throw Reiner gave with the football and it hit Eren’s laptop with such force it went through the screen and shorted.

There was a moment of silence as everyone gaped at the broken laptop and Eren’s face. Then Jean broke out into a titter.

“Holy fuck,” he laughed.

“What. The. Fuck,” Eren asked, staring at the wreckage of his two month old laptop. “What is wrong with you assholes?”

“Sorry,” Reiner apologized, scratching at his head.

“Sorry? You’re sorry?” Eren asked throwing his hands up. “We were in the middle of a huge fight!”

“So? You’re always fighting! That is literally all I hear you two do on Skype is fight!” Jean rolled his eyes.

 Now he thinks I’ve broken up with him! Oh fuck, I need—where’s my phone—”

He grabbed for his phone and dialed furiously, but it went straight to Levi’s voicemail, because, although he didn’t know it, Levi was trying to call him at that exact same moment. Then his phone magically decided to power off, the red battery symbol blinking right before shutting off.

“What the fuck? How is it dead? I was charging it all—“

He looked over to see that his charger had been pulled from the wall so Jean could plug his charger in.

“…Oops,” said Jean, laughing awkwardly.

“Oops?” Eren asked dangerously, dangling the charger in his hand.

“It was an accident,” Jean shrugged.

“An accident? This wasn’t an accident. This was sabotage!”

“Don’t be so dramatic. Here, plug in your phone and then call your weirdo boyfriend.”

“Don’t call him weird!”

“He is weird. He’s got some creepy Napoleon complex and weird little shifty eyes and his paintings are shitty.”

“You have been against us from day fucking one!” Eren raged. “Why can’t you just accept that he makes me happy?”

“Because he doesn’t!” Jean shouted. “Because you spent a whole year pining over him and now that you’re together you still pine over him. You’re not happy!”

“Don’t project your bullshit with Marco onto me!” Eren shouted back pointing at him.

“What did you say?” Jean said and Reiner stepped between them.

“Okay guys, let’s chill and take a breather—“ he said placing a hand on each of their chests.

“Fight! Fight! Fight!” Ymir crowed.

“Not helping!” Reiner grimaced.

“You heard me! You know why Marco dumped you? Because you’re selfish! You’re a taker Jean. You don’t give a shit about anything or anyone but yourself. You just take and take and take.”

“And you obsess! You don’t have relationships, you have obsessions! Everything is an obsession to you! Levi! Your stupid bucket drum! This band!”

“I have given my everything to this band!”

“We’ve all sacrificed a lot—“ Reiner began diplomatically.

“No, fuck all of you!” Eren slapped at Reiner’s hand on his chest. “You don’t respect me, you don’t respect what I do for the band, you don’t respect my things, you don’t respect my feelings or my personal space and so as far as I’m concerned you can all go fuck yourselves.”

“Well right back at you, jackass,” Ymir said, hurt, flipping the bird.

“Typical Jaeger tantrum,” Jean rolled his eyes as Eren slammed the door behind him.

“What I miss?” Bert asked, sitting upright, his hair sticking to his face. Somehow he’d slept through the jumping on the bed and the football tossing and all of the shouting, but woke up when the door slammed.

“Nothing, babe, go back to bed,” Reiner said wearily and Bert rolled over.

Jean sniffed and went to grab his guitar and Ymir pouted and shut herself in the other room.

Eren stormed to the hotel pool and jammed his phone charger into a plug. He didn’t want to go to the hotel lounge, there were too many other bands there and he didn’t want his first impression to be him crying on the phone to his boyfriend. Since it was nearly Halloween and cold the outdoor pool was empty.

“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon,” he muttered as it booted up.

He dialed Levi but it went to voicemail because by this point Levi had crawled into the shower to console himself.

“Please!” he shouted at the phone.

“Hey, this is Levi. Leave a message or you know, just text me because this is 2014 and no one leaves voice messages anymore.”

Eren gave a little scream and instead of listening to Levi’s voicemail and texting him, he chucked his phone into the pool in a fit of rage. It curved back and forth as it slid to the bottom. Eren watched it arc and sink, its features distorting under the rippling water, tears streaming down his face. Stupid. Why was he so stupid? He leaned over the edge of the pool and stared at it. The screen lit up, Levi’s picture on the call screen.

Eren dove in face first, clothes still on. Eyes open in the chlorine, he grabbed the phone just as it died from being water logged. And finally all of the frustration Eren was carrying around with him burst. He screamed. He screamed and it all came out in strangled bubbles around him. He screamed and screamed under the water until it choked him and he was forced to surface. He rose out of the freezing water, leaves and bits of debris clinging to his hair which was dripping over his eyes like a curtain, clutching his dead phone. He pulled himself out of the water and sat down heavily in a pool chair. He felt a towel drop on his head and he pushed his bangs up to look. He figured it would be Jean or even Reiner but it was Hannes.

“Ah kid,” he said sympathetically, rubbing at Eren’s wet head.

The next day, the trip to the venue was quiet. Eren sat in the back seat, his phone in a bag of rice in a cupholder, looking out the window, idly plucking at his guitar. Despite the closeness of the hotel, the trip still took a good forty-five minutes. Eren could feel his bandmate’s eyes on him uneasily, but Eren was strangely calm.

Jean tried to broker peace as they started unpacking the van.

“Hey look, Eren, I’m sorry I said that about your relationship with Levi. I don’t know him that well and I don’t have any right to talk about you two. Especially not with how things are with me and Marco right now,” he gave a self-deprecating joke.

“It’s fine,” Eren said, grabbing a mic stand.

Jean looked at the others worriedly.

“I get it,” Eren said quietly. “You don’t understand my relationship with Levi, and really how could you? I only come to you to talk about the bad, so you don’t know any of the good. And it’s really hard to explain how I feel about him.”

He slung Carla over his shoulder and hoisted the equipment to their closet sized greenroom.

“It was like, for the first time, finding my path. Like, when I looked at him it was like looking into a mirror and seeing myself for the first time. And not just myself but me and all the things I could be. To him. To Mikasa. To my dad. To Armin. For the first time I saw myself as someone worth being. I didn’t really fall in love with Levi, I fell back in love with myself.”

Eren never knew why he stuck it out that rainy day in October. He could have just packed up his buckets, admitted defeat, and gone home. He never would have had to deal with Levi again. Yet when Levi issued that challenge, Eren felt a spark. Then when the rain started, he felt his stubborn streak kicking in. He just had to see it through. He had to prove to Levi that he deserved to be there. He had to prove it to himself that he deserved to be there. He had to prove that he deserved to be there, that he deserved to exist, that he wasn’t just a stoner waste of space. And somewhere in that two and a half hours he spent in the deluge, he found it.

Eren shrugged.

“Here, we’ve got some time,” he said backstage. “I wrote a new song.”

They practiced the new tune unplugged for a little bit. It helped calm their nerves. There were so many bands here and plenty were far more talented than they were. Reiner had started doing pushups to pump himself up. Ymir was fussing with her bra.

“See and then Reiner, you would come in with a low roll and then it crescendos…” Eren said and Reiner nodded from the floor.

“Why did I wear this?” Ymir howled. She picked up her shirt and looked at her stomach in the mirror, sucking in her gut, creating a concave swoop, then jutting it out and looking slightly pregnant. “I look stupid.”

“At least you’re not wearing a cardigan,” Bert said, sweating through his sweater “I thought it was kindof alternative, like Weezer’s Buddy Holly video, but I just look like my grandpa.”

“Christa thought a lacey bra might boost my confidence, but it is just bunching everything the wrong way.”

“Fifty-five, fifty-six, fifty-seven…” Reiner grunted from the floor.

Jean, for once, was quiet, simply mapping the chords Eren had laid out for the new song.

“Ymir, just put on your sports bra.”

“How?” she asked. “There’s nowhere to change back here.”

“You spent all of those years in soccer, I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” Eren said and she grumbled.

“Oh my god, it’s stuck, I hate this fucking thing,” she whined.

“Alright, all of you, turn around,” Eren instructed as Ymir hiked her shirt up. “Now, it’s been a while since I unhooked a bra…”

“I bet the only bra you’ve ever unhooked was your sister’s while you were practicing on a chair,” she grunted.

“Got it,” Eren said and she slipped it off and he looked in the other direction.

“Hey! Boobs!” one imbecile shouted passing by their corner.

“Fuck off!” Ymir shouted, pulling on her sports bra. “You know in my college band we once played an entire festival topless and no one thought it was weird or made lewd remarks.”

“Yeah, but we can’t do that because Reiner needs the underwire support,” Eren joked and Ymir cracked a grin tugging her “FREE PUSSY RIOT!” shirt down.

“Seventy-eight, seventy-nine—“ Reiner continued.

“I need a banana or something before we go on,” Bert said, fanning himself.

“Eren your phone,” Ymir pointed at the bag.

They all stilled. It was Levi calling. Eren slipped it out of the bag of rice and answered it.

“Eren?....It’s….Hanji….Levi…”

“Hanji?” Eren asked. “What’s wrong?”

His speakers were fuzzy and crackling and between that and the noise from the stage all he could make out next was a garbled,

“Levi… …. … …hospital…”

before his phone finally gave up the ghost for good this time.

They heard it. They all heard it. There was an uneasy silence as they all looked at Eren.

“What do we do now?” Jean asked.

“We go on,” Eren said still looking at the dead phone in his hands. “I’m going to go check with the stage manager and see how much longer.”

He left their corner.

“You heard ‘hospital’ right?” Bert asked nervously and they nodded.

“Someone call Hannes, where the fuck is he, he should be here,” Jean said panicking.

The way Hannes ran into the room, holding a banana and a juice box, he must have thought Bert was having an episode. They flung themselves on him.

“What do we do?” they asked.

“You go on,” Hannes said, handing the banana to Bert.

“Ready?” Eren asked, returning.

They were going on right before the headliner. While some of the previous bands were better known, Rogue Titan undisputedly had the greater energy. By the time they were done, the crowd was hyped with excitement cheering on Rogue Titan and calling for the main event. Eren raced off the stage, handed his guitar to Hannes.

“There’s a cab out front and I got you on the red eye to Sina,” Hannes said as Eren peeled off his sweat soaked shirt and grabbed a new one. “See you in a few days?”

“Thanks guys!” Eren shouted, running out front.

He was in Sina by morning.

<*>

Levi woke up on Halloween, feeling sore and sad. It took him a few moments to realize the second part however. He rolled over and looked at Eren’s bunched up Slayer shirt, pulled it to him and took a whiff. It didn’t even smell like Eren anymore. It smelled like Levi and the cats. He sighed and dragged himself out of bed.

He was just going through the motions he knew. Maybe he should call off work today, say he was sick, but they’d all find out about the breakup eventually and he needed a distraction. He was mad at himself. Honestly, looking at himself as he brushed his teeth (which he had been doing for ten minutes, not actually brushing but just staring in the mirror), he looked rough. No wonder Eren had dumped him.

“I am so stupid,” he said to his reflection.

Stupid to think a relationship with someone ten years younger than himself would work, stupid to think that the long distance thing would work, stupid to think that any relationship with him would work. He sighed. He spit out the toothpaste and didn’t even bother to rinse it down the drain. When he grabbed his clothes he looked at the unmade bed and left it. Why bother? He thought.

Except when he got to work it started to nag at him. He couldn’t just leave his bed like that all unmade. Why did he do that? He started blaming the unmade bed for strange things like the fact that he left his tea in Petra’s car and for the not so great response he got from Balto’s people about the project.

“See Levi,” his dad had said. “The key is in the corners. That’s how soldiers make their bed.”

“I don’t want to stay with Brenda,” Levi whined. “I hate her.”

“Hate is a strong word, kiddo.”

“Do you have to go?”

“Yes. You be good for Brenda. I’ll know if you’re not. Make your bed every day just like this and I’ll be back before you know it.” He pinched Levi’s nose. “You got that?”

“Yes, sir!” Levi saluted.

Levi started awake, his heart hammering in his chest.

“Shit, sorry, I was trying to close the door before you woke up,” Erwin said. “You look like you needed the rest.”

“Sorry, I didn’t get much sleep last night,” Levi said, clearing his throat and sitting upright, rubbing at his back.

“You still haven’t seen a chiropractor about that?” Erwin asked.

“It’s fine,” Levi waved him off.

Truth be told he couldn’t remember if the memory with his dad was an actual memory or if it was a dream. There must have been a kernel of truth to it because he remembered obsessively making his bed, thinking if he did it perfectly his father would come home safe from the Gulf. And he did. But after he died Levi kept making his bed, creasing the corners with careful attention and if one of his cousins came in and interrupted him then he had to start the whole thing over again. After three weeks of him missing the bus and being late to school because Brenda had to drive him, the guidance counselor recommended he see a shrink. He only went once but after that, Brenda set an egg timer and he had under a minute to finish his bed or she’d come in and force him to school. He couldn’t remember how he resolved that obsession, but he must have because it hadn’t bothered him since he was thirteen. No, ten? Fuck, he couldn’t remember. At any rate it hadn’t bothered him until this very day. He had this intrusive thought that if he didn’t race home on his lunch break and fix the bed, then Eren wouldn’t come home.

Finally he begged Petra for a ride home early. He physically couldn’t stay at work any longer, he was too sore. She dropped him off and Levi checked his mail and lugged a heavy package from the mail room all the way up the stairs. The elevator was out because once again his horrible neighbor Carol’s dog had shit in it. He opened the package, sifted through the box and took the little cactus out and set it over his sink window. Then he flopped on the couch, waiting for the pain to subside. When he finally decided he needed to get up and make lunch, he swung his legs off the couch and heard something crack, or maybe pop—either way it was something Rice Krispy related.

“Oh shit,” he said. “Ow ow ow.”

Breathing hurt. Everything hurt. He was stuck half on the couch, half off the couch. The cats thought it was incredibly fun and walked across his face. If he could just touch his phone maybe he could get Siri to call Hanji for him.

“Siri, call Hanji.”

It rang but when the person on the other end picked up they answered, “Hunan’s Chinese Kitchen?’”

He groaned.

Hanji arrived the same time as his cashew chicken.

“What’s the emergency?” she asked and broke out into laughter.

“It’s not funny!” he protested.

“Hold on, I’m getting a photo, oh man this is priceless.”

“Hanji!”

“This is what happens when you ignore all of your friends and burn the candle at both ends,” she said, hands on her hips.

“Just help me to the bed.”

“Sure.”

She went to pick him up and he hissed in pain.

“Okay, you’re a little heavier than I anticipated. I gotta start working out again. Hold on, I’m calling reinforcements.”

“No—don’t—“

“I need a picture of this,” Erwin said when he got there.

“Sorry I ruined trick or treating,” Levi said.

“I put the candy bowl out on the porch. Really you got me out of a boring assignment.”

“Well, sorry and thanks.”

“C’mon Funsize, let’s get you up.”

“Thanks, if you just leave me on the bed I think by morning—“

“No, we’re going to the ER.”

“The ER on Halloween? Are you fucking kidding me? Here, I’ll go tomorrow—“

“I don’t believe you,” Erwin said, hoisting Levi up easily.

“Well, we can’t go until I make the bed,” Levi said.

“What? No, it’ll be there when you get back.”

Levi glared at him.

Between the two of them they were able to get Levi into a car and into the ER. Both sat on either side of him so he couldn’t escape and he was very grouchy about the whole thing. He glowered at the nurses and turned his gaze to a little girl in an Elsa costume who was sitting next to her father. She smiled at him and Levi felt his eyebrows contract. Then she calmly picked up her pillowcase and vomited and then wiped her mouth on the back of her hand. Disgusting. The ER is the worst. Hanji went in the room with him and one X-ray and one MRI and several wasted hours later they sent him home doped up on a cocktail of painkillers.

“My health insurance better cover all of this,” Levi groused.

“It should. Do you have the flex plan?” Erwin asked.

“Yeah.”

“I mean, your deductible is pretty high, but after that you should be good.”

Halfway through the car ride whatever it was they had given him kicked in. Hanji didn’t notice at first. She was sitting in the backseat with Levi and he was staring at her open mouthed.

“Feeling any better?” she asked kindly.

He started giggling.

“What the fuck is that?” Erwin asked, taking his eyes off the road.

“Oh my god this is the best,” Hanji said, holding her hands to her mouth. “He’s stoned out of his mind.”

“What did they give him?” Erwin asked.

“Iunno, but I have to go pick it up from the pharmacy for him.”

There was a pause and Levi continued giggling groggily.

“As his friends, it would be really awful to take advantage of this…this situation,” Hanji said.

“Agreed,” Erwin said nodding.

“People with less integrity than ourselves would perhaps use this as an opportunity for blackmail,” she said.

“Undoubtedly.”

There was a pause.

“I’m getting my camera out, I gotta film this,” she said.

“Please! And send a copy to me.”

Hanji got a good ten minutes of Levi trying to explain to her why herbal tea wasn’t really tea.

“So I still don’t understand,” Hanji said, stifling her laughter as she filmed him. “What’s the difference?”

“It’s just ignorance,” Levi repeated for the fiftieth time. “It’s just you can’t—it’s just ignorance. Like you can’t be ignorant.”

“So tell me more about Chai Tea,” Erwin prompted, knowing that would goad a response.

“You’re—you are being so ignorant right now, Erwin. You don’t even—it’s like we as Americans—you’re ignorant. It’s just ignorance.”

“How is it ignorant though?” Hanji asked, giggling.

“I can’t even explain it but it is. It just is. You’re being ignorant Hanji.”

At first his loopy behavior was funny. He was surprised by the cats.

“It’s just they were so small and now they’re so big,” he said as Hanji and Erwin tried to wrangle him into Eren’s Slayer shirt mistaking it for his sleep shirt.

He refused to lie down in the bed until Hanji had made fit first.

 “You need to crease the corners!” he said agitatedly.

“I am!”

“You need to make it perfect or else Eren won’t come back.”

Hanji and Erwin exchanged a look.

But it quickly got creepy. Hanji, thinking Levi was good sleeping in bed, waved off Erwin and went around the corner to the 24 hr pharmacy but when she came back, Levi wasn’t in the bed but had dragged himself out to the porch and was looking over the railing. She tripped over the box by the door rushing to grab him.

“What are you doing?” she hissed at him, pulling him back inside.

It only got worse. After she steered him back to the bed, he sat so still, propped upright by pillows and matter-of-factly informed Hanji that the cats were talking to him.

Finally after he spent a good ten minutes staring at the wall, tracing a small crack with his eyes, Hanji grew a little panicked and called Eren.

“Hey Eren! It’s Hanji. So our dummy Levi threw out his back and—hello Eren? You’re really garbled I can’t hear much! Anyway Levi got these pills from the hospital and they made him really loopy and I was just wondering if you knew if he had any allergies or if you thought maybe I should take him off of—oh.”

She sighed and propped her feet up on the barricade she’d rigged across his door. She fell asleep there and only woke up when a very tired Eren knocked on the door.

Chapter Text

Dear Levi,

I’m writing this because I don’t think you’re going to wake up before I leave. Don’t be mad. Yes, I flew back. I don't know why. I know you'll say it's because I need to be the hero, but I just needed to know you were alright. I know you're used to being on your own and I know you're a strong independent man with an ass that won't quit who don't need no man in your life telling you what to do or pampering you but I just needed to be here for you. By you. With you.

Before this band the only thing I was ever good at was taking care of Mom.

We (Hanji, Erwin, myself and my dad on speakerphone) made an executive decision to take you off the painmeds because you were reacting badly and it was scary. Sorry. We would have asked your permission but you thought I was Bean and kept trying to pet my ears.

I don't know how we left things so I slept on the couch.

[here Eren had drawn a tiny couch being pulled like a chariot by Erwin's eyebrows]

I didn't want to use you being sick as an excuse to force myself into your life. I hope you know I wouldn't do that shit. But you kept grabbing my shirt and clinging like a baby sloth and it was so cute.

I like your face.

Part of me, the exhausted part, wants to just call things quits. Like this little man standing on my eardrums shouting at me saying how I did right by you by coming out and now I can wash my hands of this relationship saying I did everything I could. I got so exhausted because we kept fighting all the time and I just thought it's not supposed to be this hard. The good things in life are difficult, sure, but they're supposed to be worth it right? I don't know if I'm just persisting in a fantasy or if I'm just truly committed to us. I know the long distance thing is really hard when we're so new but it doesn't have to be.

The other part of me, the fighter part, tells me to hold on to this with every part of my being. Ignore everyone shouting in the background how we're taking on water. I want to force this to work because what we have is special right? I mean, we found each other again. There was a year where we grew. I grew, you grew. You did Levi, you really did. And I know this because the Levi I met all those days ago never would have done the things you did. I mean, I wasn't just a distraction, was I? Maybe at first. I know that's what you were for me. I used to stare up at your window, thinking of ways to annoy you so you'd look at me. Then I just wanted to make you happy. Because I thought if I could make you happy, then I could fix everything else in my life. If I could make you love me, then I would be invincible. I feel really fucking stupid saying that now.

I'm glad I came back even if it was just so could watch you snore (the cutest littlest snores!). It helped reaffirm how I want to fight for us. If you'll let me. But I need your help.

I need you to:

1) Remember I love you. When you get scared: I love you. When you get nervous: I love you. When you freak out because I said I love you twice in this letter: I love you. I don't want to stop loving you, which is convenient because I don't think I can. When it feels like everything is a shit sandwich on a hot plate in July: I love you.

2) Make room for me in your life. You don't need me. You've never needed me. You've always forged your own path. And it’s really sexy. But it would be nice to be wanted once in a while. I know you're used to doing everything your way, but sometimes you make things harder for yourself when you don't have to. You can ask for help. From me. From Hanji or Erwin or Petra. Don't wait until you're backed into a corner to ask for a hand. I mean, I'm not going to tell you what to do but, Baby, you ignored everyone for weeks about your back. You consider yourself so independent that you divorced yourself from your body. You convinced yourself you knew better than your own spine.

3) That's my shirt you liar. You can keep it. You look really cute sleeping in it.

We got the gig! We’re going on tour in Japan! I have no cellphone and no laptop so we won’t be able to talk for at least two weeks unless I find an internet cafe but I’ll probably be too busy to do so. Two weeks is a lot I know, but it’s great for the band.

I'm leaving Mikasa and Armin here to watch over you. I told them it was because I need them to be your "guardian angels" while you recover but really I'm worried about them. They're really down a lot lately. I need you to keep an eye on them. Mikasa is depressed over her career and dating life. Armin is upset because he had to put his grandpa in a home. APS came by his house and they talked it out and agreed it's time. He has dementia and so it's really hard on him. Can you watch out for them for me?

Hanji said you two had a big fight the other day. You didn't tell me that. Is everything okay?

I love you. Get better. Get well. Rest up. Heal up.

Love,

Eren

<*>

Levi for his part didn’t remember much out of the hospital. He remembered thinking the cats were so big. Bean curled up next to him and Levi started petting him but then Bean grew larger and larger, stretching out and curling beside him, tail flicking back and forth.

“Are you feeling any better?” People-Bean asked.

Levi only stared.

“I called my dad—because, you remember, he’s a doctor—and he said we should wean you off of the meds. That will help your nausea. Once your tummy settles what do you want to eat?” People-Bean asked.

Levi closed his eyes and tried to will away the vision and People-Bean wrapped his arms around Levi, but when Levi woke up, the room had stopped swirling, his stomach felt better and Bean was normal sized again. Cautiously testing his footing, he swung his booted foot out of bed and onto the carpet. Walking splay-legged he limped to the bathroom and took what must have been the longest piss of his life. It was midafternoon and he could hear the click-click-click of the Maneki-neko as it soaked up the sparse rays of light from the cloudy Sina sky.

“How did you sleep?” Armin asked him pleasantly, lifting his pen off the paper where he’d been taking notes.

“You’re still here?” Levi asked.

Broken leg plus thrown out back plus a terrible stomach flu (thank you, tiny Elsa) made Levi’s recovery difficult so Eren had set up a rotation. At first Levi protested, especially since Armin had taken it upon himself to buy Levi groceries and now his pantry was stuffed full with bread, but now he was forced to admit that having people about was nice. Erwin refused to let him work from home (he confiscated Levi’s laptop and changed the WiFi password) so all he could do was enjoy their company, too weak and tired to do anything but watch television.

Mikasa came by in the mornings:

“Classic Pheebs,” Mikasa said, licking yogurt off her spoon.

“I fucking love Phoebe,” Levi grunted, sipping his tea.

“Monica is my favorite.”

“That’s because you are Monica,” Levi pointed out.

“…Shut up.”

Armin came by in the afternoon:

“I don’t understand, who is he?” Armin asked, eating his PB&J.

“D’Angelo,” Levi sighed.

“And what does he do?”

“He’s a lieutenant, just…just watch it.”

“Which one’s Bubbles again? Is he Bubbles?”

“No, just...watch it. Now shut up, Omar comin.’”

“Omar…is he the gay one?”

Levi sighed.

Hanji came by in the evenings:

“And did you know that the numbers that appear again and again have ties to the Illuminati?” Hanji continued excitedly.

“Oh my god, shut up.”

“4 for instance, is bad luck. It means death.”

“STOP.”

“Then the flight is Flight 815. That’s the next two numbers 8 and 15.”

“I swear, I won’t watch this if you continue.”

She was silent for a moment and then, “And then 16—“

“Okay, Miss Conspiracy Theory, tell me this: do we ever figure out where the polar bear came from?”

She hesitated.

“Right, okay, new show.”

“It’s just, it’s a very complicated answer!”

Then sometimes it was Petra:

“I don’t understand. Why is their hair like that?”

“The dad likes it long and curly,” Petra said munching on popcorn.

“Why is she doing yoga in a skirt?”

“They only wear skirts or dresses. No pants.”

“This show is so bizarre. People watch this?”

“People love this,” she said, eyes wide as she devoured every moment and her extra butter popcorn.

“And how many kids again?”

“Twenty. Number twenty-one was stillborn.”

“Aw, that’s sad.”

Or sometimes it was Erwin:

“Please?” Erwin held up the boxed set of Gunsmoke.

“No.”

But mostly it was Armin:

“Basically it takes hypermasculinity and puts it on its head. By exaggerating the qualities of “maleness” and what it means to be a man, it actually helps subvert the patriarchal system that allows such a show to exist! It’s farcical!” Armin said excitedly, his eyes wide as John Cena’s face appeared on the screen.

“Does anyone ever buy that reason?” Levi asked critically.

“…They do not,” Armin admitted. “But the storylines are incredible!”

Right now, Armin was studying. He was always studying. He had to pass the bar sometime before Christmas and was in panic mode. Levi grabbed his tea from the cupboard and started up his kettle, Armin watching him from the corner of his eye.

Levi pulled up a chair and started with some easy tricep dips.

“Should you be doing that?” Armin asked, allowing himself to become distracted for a moment.

“My muscles are atrophying, so yes.”

“…Have you considered,” Armin started, closing his textbook. “That your obsession with exercise is just another form of your anxiety and OCD?”

“Who says I have OCD?”

“I just watched you tap the thermostat three times to make sure it was at the right temperature.”

“So? And at any rate, exercise is the best medicine.”

“No,” said Armin firmly. “Medicine is the best medicine.”

“Look Skippy, don’t ruin this for me, okay?” Levi said, finishing up. “I’m going to take a bath.”

There’s something quite wonderful about soaking in water. Levi reacquainted himself with his body. He’d been purposefully ignoring the way the stress was affecting him. He’d broken his own promise to himself all those years ago, which was to take care of himself first. He’d been so focused on work, thinking that if he threw himself into it completely, time would go faster and Eren would be back before he knew it. Just close his eyes and wake up four months in the future.

He’d be lying if he didn’t say he was a little touched that Eren had flown out to see him. But mostly he was embarrassed and ashamed. He had let things get so out of hand that his boyfriend was forced to fly out to take care of him. The worst part was Levi had been so out of it that he didn’t even recognize Eren’s presence until he was gone. He got to spend almost two days with his long distance boyfriend and didn’t even get to enjoy it. Levi looked over at Eren’s letter sitting on the toilet lid so it wouldn’t get wet. When was the last time someone had written him a love letter? Had anyone ever written him a love letter?

He didn’t get to savor the feel of Eren’s hands over his body so he let his own fingers walk down his thighs. Time to pledge his love to his body again. Time to renew that commitment to himself. No more asking permission to love himself. Eren loved this body so why shouldn’t he?

He pulled his fingers out of the water and let little droplets fall along his translucent skin and blue veins and dark hairs. He imagined Eren kissing up his chest before dropping to lay his head on his shoulder. He cupped his cock in his hand before releasing it and sighing, staring at the crown molding.

Get better. Get well. Rest up. Heal up.

He heard someone—probably Mikasa on her lunch break—knock at the door. He sighed and drained the water before toweling off.

“Yo Levi! Sushi!”

“Where from? Because if it’s the bodega on the corner, I am not touching it,” he shouted through the door.

“No, it’s from the expensive sushi place, so pay me, bitch,” she said snapping her fingers impatiently.

Levi came out in a tee and sweats, rubbing at his hair with a towel and slapped some cash on the table for her.

“Ugh, tempura.”

“That’s for me. Blue fin for you,” she said, rubbing her chopsticks together, muttering under her breath, “…Like we’d want a repeat of the bread incident.”

They ate in silence.

“Well, this has been satisfactorily awkward,” Mikasa said when her plate was cleared and took off.

“She’s got a point,” Armin sighed pulling out his laptop.

“About what?” Levi asked.

“We have literally nothing in common. We have nothing to talk about.”

It was true. It also didn’t help that Levi was severely lacking in any social grace. He knew when things were awkward, he just couldn’t do anything about it.

Armin thought.

“Movies? What’s your favorite movie? I just watched this really great documentary about fracking and—oohhkay,” he stopped because Levi was pulling a face.

There was a lull.

“Music,” Levi seized upon the word.

“Music!” Armin agreed.

They stared.

“I…okay don’t tell Eren but I don’t really listen to his band. I mostly just listen to classical music,” Armin confessed.

Levi sighed and put his head down on the table.

“See?” Armin sighed, putting his head in his hands. “This is what happened between me and Mikasa! Eren was the glue that stuck us together. Without him she and I have literally nothing in common.”

“You know this isn’t a bad thing,” Armin said suddenly. “Who says we have to get along?”

“I’m just trying not to screw up this whole thing with Eren,” Levi said, putting his chin in his hand. “More than I already have.”

“Yeah, but…you two are dating. You and I aren’t dating. We don’t have to like each other we just have to be civil,” Armin motioned between the two of them.

“Civil,” Levi repeated, pointing at Armin. “I like that.”

“Ah, looks like the band landed in Japan…” Armin said looking at his laptop screen.

“Eren has a Facebook?” Levi asked.

“Well, I was looking at Jean’s page, but yeah…it’s in lockdown though because his account got phished. Here—“

Levi clicked through some of the pictures. Several of Eren, Armin and Mikasa. Eren with a Hello Kitty hat on. That made him smile. Eren in his football uniform and Armin in his marching band uniform. Prom. Backpacking somewhere. There were several of Eren wearing a rhinestone dog collar with his name on it.

“Why is he wearing a dog collar in so many of these?” Levi asked.

“It’s such a long story,” Armin sighed.

“Hold on, let me get my tea started first.” Levi got up and then slowly turned on the spot. “Did you want some?”

“Oh…sure.” Then at Levi’s surprised expression he clarified, “If it’s not too much trouble.”

“No, it’s not…I mean I’ll have to make two servings…”

“Oh, sorry. I thought it was like a teapot kind of deal.”

“Oh, I don’t have a teapot.”

“…Why not?”

“Because no one ever wants to drink with me.”

“Well, don’t inconvenience yourself!” Armin said exasperatedly.

“No, it’s no trouble, I just…hold on.”

A few minutes later he set down a steaming mug in front of Armin. Armin eyed it awkwardly and then caught sight of the expression on Levi’s face.

“Go on, try it,” Levi urged.

Armin took a hesitant sip.

“It’s hot.”

“Well, let it cool.”

Armin set it aside and continued with his story.

“Anyway, so Eren had a hard time getting into college. He was waitlisted at Sina University but his dad has legacy there so he got in. Now Eren didn’t really do that great in school but he really liked writing. He used to write all of these short stories. And like, he would get so dejected in high school because the teachers weren’t very supportive. Like, once he wrote this really great essay for class and the teacher gave him a C- because they said it was obvious I wrote it! But I didn’t! I only proofread it!”

“Is his stuff any good?” Levi asked.

“I…It’s uh…well…it’s not really my kind of writing,” Armin admitted. “I think he was going for a Hunter S. Thompson kind of deal and that’s just not really the sort of stuff that I’m into. I like Civil War nonfiction anthologies…so…yeah.”

“A lot of pot?” Levi prompted, squinting his eyes over his tea mug.

“Oh my god, yes,” Armin said nodding. “Anyways Eren told his dad that he was going to get an English degree and Dr. Jaeger was not happy with that. He was all, ‘I’m not paying for you to go to college to be an English major!’ and Eren was all ‘Fine! Then don’t pay for me!’” So he cut Eren off without a cent. I think he was hoping that a dose of reality would sortof shock Eren into getting a business major degree like his sister but, uh, it did not. With no money for housing or food, Eren moved into my dorm room. My roommate was never there so Eren just started living there. We could have gotten into a lot of trouble if the school found out he was living in my room without paying money so we had to sneak him in and out and then my neighbors noticed me taking extra food in and finally my RA confronted me about how I always had my door closed and how they were worried about me so I…lied. I told them I found a dog in the street and took it in and was nursing it back to health. So this dog sortof became our hall mascot. The whole hall was in love with this dog that didn’t exist and because they heard me call it Eren, they just sortof assumed that was the dog’s name so they made a collar—because nothing was too good for the hall’s favorite pet. Have you ever had a little white lie just spiral out of control?” Armin paused, slightly hysterically.

“No,” Levi said bluntly. He wasn’t exactly one to lie to make people feel better about themselves.

“Anyway,” Armin continued. “The end of the semester was coming up, and people were starting to get suspicious that no one had ever seen Eren the blue heeler/lab mix so I…I had to kill the dog. I lied and told everyone that someone snitched about Eren the dog and that animal control had come and put him down. People were sobbing. There was a candlelight vigil and a wake. People wrote petitions asking for criminal action to be taken against the school, the dean’s office had no idea why it was getting all these letters, it was a mess.”

Armin clutched at his head as if reliving a nightmare.

“But Eren kept the collar?”

“Oh, yeah he loves that thing,” Armin shook out of it.

“Huh,” said Levi, sipping his tea. He stared pointedly at Armin’s ignored cup.

“But yeah, I’ve got a million stories like that of Eren,” Armin shrugged, blowing on the steaming mug. Then at Levi’s sudden change of expression, “Would you…would you like to hear them?”

“Yes,” Levi blurted out.

<*>

“Are you staying for dinner?” Levi asked Armin, shuffling around the kitchen. “I want to know what I should make.”

“Um, Erwin told me not to let you stand too long with your back and leg like that.”

“Standing’s fine,” Levi said, limping around. “Sleeping’s fine. It’s sitting that hurts.”

“Oh! Actually, I’m sorry, I forgot! Hanji said not to make anything because she’s coming by to cook for you,” Armin smiled.

“What?” Levi said, turning his head slowly to glare at Armin.

“She’s going to cook for you?” Armin said, his voice rising at the end and shrinking in his seat.

“Hanji is coming here, with food, to cook, for me?” Levi said, spitting out each word with particular vehemence as though he were extracting the exact codes to disable a nuclear bomb.

“Yes?” Armin squeaked.

“I can’t believe you only told me about this just now. I have no time to prepare—“ Levi grabbed a fire extinguisher from under his sink.

“Oh come on, she can’t be that bad. Wait, can she?”

“You’ve no idea,” Levi grumbled.

He continued slapping things on the counter, hiding all of his good pots.

“I think you should maybe take it easy—“ Armin said, watching the display with worry.

“I think you should mind your own—ow, ow, fuck,” Levi said as his back twinged reaching for the baking soda.

Armin pulled it down for him as Levi limped around to lean against the sink.

“I hate this. This is so stupid,” Levi rubbed at his back.

“Why do we need baking soda?” Armin asked, looking at the rest of the items Levi had pulled out, including a first aid kit.

“You don’t put out a grease fire with water,” Levi said in annoyance, hissing in pain.

“She can’t be that terrible at cooking.”

“Have you ever seen that YouTube series My Drunk Kitchen?” Levi asked. “It’s kindof like that, but without booze—wait, no it’s exactly like My Drunk Kitchen. Except there are more fires and explosions. Have you seen anything by Michael Bay?”

Armin suppressed a smile.

“How’s this? You got sit on the couch, because you need to rest your back and I’ll watch Hanji.”

“You are not even prepared for the storm coming your way,” Levi said, shaking his head.

“I think I can handle it,” Armin said, rolling his eyes.

“Levi!” Hanji sang out merrily, opening the door to his apartment, carrying five plastic grocery bags in each hand. “I hope you’re ready for a feast!”

Armin was not prepared.

Three fires, two alarms, one burnt pot and one melted plastic bowl and seven very attractive firemen later, she finally finished.

“Haha, you gents are just dolls. Thank you so much, bye! Bye Julio, you cheeky bastard.” Hanji shut the door after the firemen. “Oh man, that tall one was pretty sexy, no? Okay then Levi! One grilled cheese for you!”

“I don’t eat cheese. Or bread,” Levi reminded her from the sofa, his eyebrow twitching.

A flour, grease, and baking soda covered Armin was standing shell-shocked by the door, holding a spent fire extinguisher in his hands.

“Armin! Grilled cheese?” she offered.

He stared at the proffered item. After all the hassle they had gone through for just this one sandwich he couldn’t really turn her down.

“S-sure,” he said taking the plate from her.

She watched him, her nut-brown eyes wide and excited behind her chunky frames.

“Mmm,” he said taking a bite and giving her a thumbs up.

“Excellent!” she exclaimed spinning on the spot and joining Levi on the couch.

The moment her back was turned, he pulled the plastic wrapper to the cheese out of his mouth.

“Sorry, I started a mini fire,” she apologized to Levi. “But hey, at least this time you don’t have to repaint the kitchen!”

“Too bad,” Levi sighed. “I’ve been thinking of redecorating for a while now.”

“I just wanted to pay you back for all the meals you cooked for me when I was laid up after my surgery,” she said with a sigh, putting her head on his shoulder.

Armin was sure if he ever got that close to Levi the shorter man would sock him in the jaw.

Levi patted the top of her hair and they started on an episode of Battlestar Galactica. Halfway through, Levi stretched and got up to make dinner.

“Don’t overexert yourself!” Hanji called. “But if you do! I would like some of that black forest ham I bought.”

Levi made them all omelets in under ten minutes, retrieving his good skillet from its hiding place. Armin didn’t know you could make things so delicious with just eggs.

“Oh, hey, I forgot, I can’t give you a ride to your appointment tomorrow, I have a special buyer coming in, he wants me to pick out art for his law office. So, you know, lots of generals on their horses looking all important and shit.”

“Shit, I already asked Petra and she can’t.”

“I can!” Armin said, because the omelet was starting to change everything he’d ever thought about Levi. “I have a car! I just need to do some errands so if you don’t mind tagging along…”

“Problem solved!” Hanji crowed.

<*>

“What is that?”

“My granddad’s car. We call it The Beast.”

The Beast was right. A beat up Buick with mismatched panels, peeling paint and a great deal of rust it looked more destined for a junk heap than human transportation.

“No,” Levi said turning on the spot.

“Hanji said you might say that. She also said to remind you that if you don’t go to your appointments and take the doctor’s advice to rest you’ll take even longer to heal and you will wind up spending Eren’s time back stuck in bed but not the good kind of stuck in bed.”

Armin had figured out fairly early that Levi would ignore anything he said unless he invoked Eren, Hanji, or Erwin’s names.

Levi grumbled. Using his gloves he pinched the door handle as if he were a detective picking up a murder weapon and opened it, half expecting a mountain of fast food wrappers and college textbooks and bluebooks but instead found it clear of debris, but could still use a vacuuming and the floors a shampoo. There were a few cigarette burns on the ceiling and for some reason Levi believed Eren was the likely cause. Levi swiped at the seat a few times, brushing cheez-it crumbs onto the floor. He cautiously stepped in. It wasn’t so bad once he got situated. He tried to adjust the seat.

“Don’t touch that—“ Armin said a second too late.

The seat slid all the way back and stopped with a jolt. Levi hissed in pain.

“Sorry,” Armin apologized. “Sorry, sorry. First we’re going to the Physical Therapist right? Then while you’re in there I was going to drop off some things at the nursing home and then come back and get you. Then we have to go to the Co-op because I said I’d help Connie and Marco move some stuff and then you have your second appointment at the hospital and that’s when I was going to drop off the stuff from the Co-op and then I’ll take you back home! Sound good?”

“…Sure,” said Levi. “Busy day for you.”

“Oh, no, this is one of my lighter days. Usually I have to open up the shop and then do my eight hour shift. Yeah, so Tuesday was work, do a load of laundry at the laundromat while studying, then go see Grandpa, then drive back, do another load of laundry while studying, then make dinner for me and Mikasa for when she closes the cafe and—“

Levi interrupted him, “I really don’t care.”

Armin dropped him off in front of the PT building and texted Levi that he was waiting out front when he finished.

“How was it?” Armin asked.

“A lot of stretching,” Levi said in a bored voice.

In truth, Levi was a little disappointed in his progress. PT was boring and filled with a lot of exercises he already knew, but he’d promised himself he’d give it a shot. He told himself it was for Eren but knew if he continued to think that way, he’d never make any steps toward recovery. He needed to do it for himself, but the idea made him grumpy.

“Uh oh,” Armin said, struggling with the stick shift as the car made a grinding noise.

“Uh oh, why uh oh? No, uh oh.”

“No, it’s no big deal, here, hold this—“ Armin indicated the stick. “And don’t let it move, just hold tight.”

Levi did as ordered and then, without warning Armin stepped out of the slow moving car and began pushing it.

“The hell!?”

“Oh, yeah, it does this from time to time,” Armin grunted, leaning heavily on the door. “I just gotta push it until it decides to shift.”

Levi still had both hands around the stick and watched as Armin’s Converse slipped on the wet asphalt.

“Do…do you want some help?” he asked, watching Armin struggle.

“Nope!” Armin said cheerily.

“I can get out and push…”

“Not with your back like that, no, I’ve got it!”

There was a grinding noise and then the stick in Levi’s hand suddenly stopped fighting him.

“There we go!” Armin said running in a little hop to catch up before jumping back in the seat and slamming the door. “Thanks for that.”

“No problem, I’m really good at handling sticks,” Levi said flatly.

“Was…was that a joke?”

Levi shrugged.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard you make a joke before,” Armin pointed out.

“What are you talking about, I make jokes all the time. I’m a funny guy.”

Armin opened his mouth, perhaps to disagree but then shut it.

“So where are we going?” Levi asked as they headed into a part of town he’d never been before, somewhere between the bougie condo development and the bearded-hipster portion.

“The Co-op where Connie works.”

The second Armin parked the car, Levi pushed the door open with his foot so as not to touch the dirty handle and stepped out.

“Oh, you could stay put if you wanted, I won’t be long,” Armin said watching Levi stretch.

“I can’t sit in that car any longer,” Levi rubbed at his back. “There’s a spring digging into my ass.”

“Right, well…you do what you want.”

Levi gave him a sardonic thumbs up, indicating that he would do exactly that.

“I’ve gotta go help…well you know—“ Armin indicated.

Levi quickly stepped around him with brisk steps, opened the door to the Co-op and entered the building, letting the door slap Armin in the face. Rubbing his nose, he glared at the back of Levi’s head.

“How come I’ve never seen this place?” Levi asked.

“I’m not sure how you want me to answer that,” Armin said. “Connie!”

“Armin?” Connie called, his buzzed head peering over a shelf. “Hey man, thanks for doing this.”

“No problem!” Armin said cheerily, but Levi knew it was a problem—the kid was stretched too thin.

Connie walked around the shelf and did a double take when he caught sight of Levi, not being able to see him earlier due to his height.

“Oh! And Levi! Nice to see you bro, heard you were laid up with a bum leg.”

“Something like that,” Levi said stiffly, hands in his pockets looking around the store.

“Oh well, you should probably pull The Beast around to the back, Arm’,” Connie said.

Levi followed Connie to the back.

“Hey Marco, look! It’s Levi!” Connie indicating Levi.

Levi nodded and Marco waved cheerily.

“Why are we here?” Levi asked, squinting through his frames.

“Oh, the Co-op is helping us out by donating some food and other goods,” Marco smiled.

“Us?”

“I volunteer at a shelter for homeless gay youth.”

“Oh,” said Levi blinking because Marco had amazingly white teeth.

“Alright, The Beast is all ready to be loaded up!” Armin said, hopping over.

“Look at these,” Connie said reappearing with a few paper bags of apples. “We got a shipment of Honeycrisp apples from this orchard right outside the city. Like, I can get there on my bike. Look at how beautiful these babies are. Talk about locally sourced. You should have seen Sasha’s face. Her eyes were like dinner plates.”

He pulled a knife out from his pocket and cut into one, offering a slice to the others.

“You want some?” he asked handing a wedge to Levi.

“I did, but then you put your thumb on the blade,” Levi said and Armin rolled his eyes to Marco.

Connie only laughed and tossed a whole one at Levi.

“Don’t give me one for the shelter,” Levi grumbled. “I’ll pay for it.”

“Eh, free sample to get you to come back,” Connie shrugged.

“These are really good,” Armin said, taking another slice. “I could eat a whole bushel.”

“You shouldn’t though,” Levi said, rubbing his apple furiously and then at their confused expressions, he clarified, “Because you’d get a bad case of the runs. Probably shit your pants.”

“I wasn’t actually going to eat a whole bushel in one sitting,” Armin said around the apple slice in his mouth.

“Good because you shouldn’t.”

“I won’t!” Armin insisted, growing increasingly frustrated.

“So don’t.”

Connie laughed and left to grab the produce. Levi trailed behind him, intent on helping.

“What are you doing?” Armin asked as Levi bent down to pick up a large bag of rice, ignoring the twinge in his back.

“I thought we were loading up the cars?”

We are loading up the car,” Armin motioned between himself, Connie, and Marco. “You are sitting in the car.”

Levi gave a little snort and tongued at the corner of his mouth before stepping over the sack of rice swiftly for someone who had a giant brace on his leg. Despite the fact that he was (slightly) taller than Levi, Armin felt as though Levi towered over him and he tripped backwards.

“Look, we don’t really know each other, and I’m really, truly grateful for the ride today, but if you ever—ever—tell me what to do again or treat me like I’m some naughty pet who diddled on the carpet, bum leg, bad back, or not, I will break you in half. Understood?”

“Y-yes?” Armin stuttered his back pressed up against the window which was littered with old band posters, avoiding looking at the angry finger in his face.

“Good,” Levi nodded, stepping back and Armin finally dared suck in a breath.

“I wasn’t telling you what to do,” Armin said, rubbing at his chest because his heart was pounding against his ribcage mercilessly. “I was merely suggesting that you rest up your back especially since you just came from PT and might be a little sore.”

Levi snorted and walked away.

“…And cranky,” Armin muttered to no one in particular.

“So…Sasha,” Levi was saying to Connie as Armin dragged the bag on the floor. “Does she work here at the Co-op with you?”

“Sometimes. When we need the cash for rent. But no, she’s a nutritionist. She’s part of this group that goes around to schools and they put on skits about healthy eating. The kids love her because she’s so animated.”

“Are you two married?” Levi asked, his eyebrows furrowed together.

“No.”

“Oh, sorry, it’s just whenever Eren talks about you it’s always ‘Connie & Sasha,’ ‘Sasha & Connie.’”

“That’s cool man. No, we’re not dating. I mean we live together and sleep in the same bed but we don’t use labels like ‘married’ or ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend.’ Sasha is her own person and I respect that. Besides marriage exists solely to impose patriarchal gender roles by completely erasing and robbing a woman of her own identity,” Connie said confidently.

“Hah,” Levi snorted.

“Oh god, here it comes,” Armin muttered to the bag of rice.

“What?” Connie asked Levi.

“Nothing,” Levi said, running his finger over a shelf and looking at the dust there. “It’s just that sounds a lot like something someone who can get married in every state would say.”

Armin sighed and Marco gave Armin a commiserating grin. Connie blinked, mouth open like a goldfish.

“That’s what I love about you, man,” Connie said to Levi, shaking out of it. “Just when I reach too high, you pull me back and keep me grounded.”

He made to give Levi a hug, then stopped putting his hands up.

“Right, sorry, no touching. You, dude. You,” he snapped his fingers and pointed at Levi, who was watching him with a bemused expression.

Connie grabbed the other side of Armin’s bag and helped him carry it to the car, still chuckling to himself.

“So how’s that going?” Marco nodded at Levi’s figure pacing in the store as soon as they were out of earshot.

“He is so weird. And terrifying. And rude. He reminds me of those little Pomeranian dogs that get all nippy when they don’t get enough exercise.”

“He’s hilarious,” Connie laughed. “Like the thing with the apples, I’m still cracking up.”

“How are he and Eren?” Marco asked. “Because Jean said all they did was fight.”

“I don’t know really,” Armin said frowning slightly. “I don’t get to talk to Eren as much. But you know him, he’s…well he’s Eren.”

“Wow, he’s got it bad, then,” Marco said grinning. “How about Levi?”

Armin turned around to see Levi wiping down the windows.

“No idea. He’s hard to read.”

They went back inside to grab more stuff for the cars.

“I mean, there are posters from like two, three years ago on here,” Levi was explaining to Connie as he scraped tape off. “Who wants expired yoga coupons?”

“Oh hey look,” Connie said interrupting Levi and pointing. “Rogue Titan’s first poster.”

When he thought no one was looking, Levi carefully pulled it from the window and folded it, tucking it away inside his coat. The rest of the posters and dog walking business cards he dumped in the recycling bin.

“So Levi,” Marco said. “How do you feel about Eren being in Japan?”

“I think it’s great. Good for the band.”

“I thought—I mean I remember Jean mentioning that if the tour in Japan went well they would extend it though the holidays?”

Levi took a while before answering, “I guess I hadn’t heard that.”

Armin avoided Levi’s probing stare, instead messing with his bangs.

“I don’t know if Eren would like that,” Levi said, when Armin continued staring at the sky with an annoying persistence. “He is already pretty fed up with tour life. I’m surprised he and Jean haven’t killed each other by now.”

“Yeah, well,” Marco’s face flickered darkly. “They certainly butt heads quite a bit. Or at least want it to appear that way.”

The way Connie suddenly disappeared and the way Armin was focusing hard on some potted plants let Levi to believe that there was something they all knew that he didn’t.

“You know they kissed, right?” Marco asked.

Armin tripped over the stack of terra cotta pots, then futilely attempted to restack them.

“No, I didn’t know that,” Levi answered quietly.

The ride to the hospital clinic was silent. Armin anxiously turned on the radio before remembering the antenna was rusted shut. He tapped on the steering wheel, shooting Levi sideways glances.

“Right so I need to drop this stuff off at the shelter and then I’ll be back to pick you—“

But Levi was already out of the car and he slammed the door with some vehemence.

“You’re welcome,” Armin said to himself.

Unpacking the Beast took less time than he thought so Armin texted Levi that he was outside, but when Levi didn’t answer and it was a half hour after he was supposed to be out, Armin went inside.

“Hey, I’m looking for my—I’m looking for Levi Ackerman, his appointment was supposed to be done—“

“Armin?” Levi called from a room, hearing his timid voice through the door.

“Oh, there you are, for some reason I thought you might have left,” Armin said, pushing the door open.

“Ah, well they wanted to draw some blood to run some tests and—“

“Is that—?” Armin took one look at the cotton ball Levi was holding to his forearm and then to the vials of blood the phlebotomist was packing up before spinning on the spot and fainting.

“Well, now I know why he didn’t go to med school,” Levi said to the shocked nurse.

“You okay to drive?” Levi asked as Armin slid back into the driver’s seat.

“Oh yeah, being terrified by blood and being Eren and Sasha’s friends meant I got really used to fainting. One time we were playing kick ball and Sasha ran right into the parked school bus’s mirror and knocked out her two front teeth and oh—“ Armin looked woozy again.

“Yeah, don’t think about that. Want me to drive?”

“No, I’m fine. Also, you don’t know how to handle the Beast.”

Levi rolled his eyes, but sure enough, as they were heading up a hill, the car started making that grinding noise again.

“Okay, hold the stick and I’ll—“ Armin said stepping outside the car again and pushing it. “C’mon…”

“This is ridiculous. This car is a traffic hazard,” Levi shouted at him as a car honked at them.

“Go around!” Armin waved at it, nearly losing his balance and slipping against the frame.

They let out a long sustained honk as they sped around him.

“There we go,” Armin said cheerily as it shifted over.

“This car is a piece of junk.”

“Hey that’s what Luke said about the Millennium Falcon and she could make the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs,” Armin chuckled to himself.

“What the fuck are you taking about?” Levi snapped.

“S-star Wars,” Armin looked disappointed Levi hadn’t gotten the joke.

“I know Star Wars, you dumbass, but this car can barely reach 40mph going downhill!”

“Yeah, I know the Beast has some flaws but it’s dependable. It starts every day and gets me where I need to go.”

“This is the sort of car that is dependable until you really need it, then it craps out on you and leaves you fucked.”

“Well thanks for the advice but it’s not like I can just go out and buy a new one.”

When the grinding started a third time, Levi was done.

“Just pull over here,” he instructed.

“It’s well over 5 miles to your apartment!” Armin protested.

“I’ll be fine,” Levi said, shutting the door and heading for the car dealership. “Thanks for today, it was…interesting.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Armin said as Levi limped onto the dealership lot.

Except when the Beast groaned on a particularly steep hill and Armin got out to push, he heard a car beep twice at him and Levi waved from the driver’s seat of a brand new car before speeding off and away, leaving a panting Armin.

“What an asshole,” Armin said through gritted teeth.

Chapter Text

Levi’s prediction about The Beast proved to be scarily accurate and came true that following Tuesday.

“Levi!” Armin pounded on the door frantically.

It was early. Early enough that Levi hadn’t yet showered or made his tea and Armin was pounding on the door so hard Levi was afraid there’d be dents in it. Thank god Mrs. Kowalski across the hall was nearly deaf.

Fearing an emergency, Levi pulled the door open so fast Armin almost tumbled into his arms.

“My exam starts in 20 minutes and the car won’t start and you’re the only person I know who has a car! Please!” Armin threw himself on Levi’s mercy.

“What’s in it for me?” Levi asked, one thin eyebrow raised.

“Levi please!” Armin begged.

“Fine, let me make my tea and then—“

“No time!” Armin protested, grabbing Levi’s wrist and attempting to pull him into the hall.

As Levi pulled on his loafers, Armin hopped from foot to foot like he had to urinate, then tripped over the box by the door as he practically shoved Levi out.

“Oh god, if I don’t take this now then I’ll have to wait until the summer and if I wait until the summer then I can’t get this internship and I just can’t work at the café any longer, I can’t!” Armin said, practically vibrating in his seat. “Oh god, can you drive faster please? Please?”

Levi was already speeding along at a good ten miles above the posted limit.

“It’s just I was the guy who was going places, you know? I was the smartest in my graduating class. summa cum laude, valedictorian, full scholarship to Sina University! I was fucking going places! But I was too freaked out by blood to go to med school, and wouldn’t make any money if I pursued a research career in physics—and I really need money to take care of Grandpa—and why didn’t I get that engineering degree? Oh because the engineering school would have been on the North Campus and then I wouldn’t get to see Eren and Mikasa. Stupid. Fucking stupid. What kind of idiot makes huge decisions like that based on if he’ll be able to see his friends? So now I’m going to law school with every other English and Poli-Sci major! Now I’m stuck in a highly competitive field, sure to be doing internships for a good two years before I can finally get an entry level position making barely 25k a year! Fuck! I’m so fucking worthless and weak and…” he finished, staring off into the distance, his eyes bright. Then he glanced at his phone, “HURRY! DRIVE FASTER!”

“I can’t go through the car in front of me,” Levi pointed out.

“Oh god, we’re not going to make it. I’m going to puke. Oh god, I can feel it.”

“This is a new car, don’t you dare!”

“I can’t help it, whenever I get anxious there’s all this acid in my stomach and—“ he belched. “I can feel it starting—“

“DON’T YOU FUCKING DARE.”

“I can’t help it! I’m—hurk—“ Armin clapped both hands over his mouth.

“Swallow it,” Levi ordered.

“Ah ant!” Armin protested, shaking his head, cheeks puffed out.

Swallow it,” Levi glared.

Armin gulped.

Levi squealed to a halt in front of the testing building.

“Don’t bother. We’re already late,” Armin said after a moment, looking at his phone.

“Well, you can still go in. I’m sure they’ll let you take it.”

“They won’t,” Armin said dismally. “You need to be there at least fifteen minutes early to check in and after 8 they won’t let you in. I’m fucked. I’m fucking worthless. I’m a fuckup. It’s over. Hello a whole other six months of barista work. Can’t get a job anywhere else because my only skills are torts and lattes.”

“…It’s five after seven.”

“No, it’s five after eight.”

“Did you never set your phone back after daylight savings time?”

“I don’t need to, it’s a phone, it should do that automatically!”

Levi showed Armin his phone lock screen with the correct time. Armin hit the power button on his phone and rebooted it.

“Oh my god, that means I opened up the café at five AM all this week,” Armin said in a hushed voice, melting in his seat. “Oh! I can still take the test.”

“Yes,” Levi nodded.

Instead of being relieved, Armin slid down so far into his seat he was nearly sitting on the floor.

“You know, I only stayed at the café this long because Mikasa needed me and I liked being around for Eren. But now, the café has picked up since we added almond and soy milk to the menu so Mikasa doesn’t need me either. Everyone just takes what they need from me and never gives back! I just. I really need things to go well for me. Everyone else’s career and lives are taking off and I’m doing…what with my life again? Nothing? I spend all of my time doing things for other people and I’m just—scared stuck. I think I’m just telling myself that people need me when they really don’t. Too frozen to move. Too worthless to really be much of any real help. Just a big joke.”

“Alright, here’s what you’re going to do,” Levi said, rolling his eyes. “You’re going to get out of my car, first. Second, you’re going to go rinse your mouth with water because your breath stinks. Third, you’re going to learn how to say, ‘No.’ ‘Armin, come help us move!’ ‘No. I’m busy.’ ‘Armin, can you cover my shift?’ ‘No.’ You can say no to anything, the trick is not to give a fuck. And fourth, you’re going to go pass the bar exam and then you can panic about everything else. Just tackle each big problem one at a time. Everything seems bigger from the ground, you just need to get some distance and the high ground and get out of my fucking car.”

He reached over and opened the door and then when Armin didn’t move, he pushed him out with his Italian leather loafers.

“Wait! I need someone to pick me up!” Armin shouted as Levi peeled out the parking lot. “Goddamnit.”

Except when Armin got out several hours later, Levi was sitting in his new car in the parking lot.

“How was it?” Levi asked, putting away his phone.

“Good. I have to take the second half tomorrow, but…good.”

“Here, I got you this—“ Levi said, passing him a card and a dish of froyo.

“You…got me something?” Armin asked and opened the card cautiously.

Inside was a picture of a mouse holding onto a small inner tube with the caption, “Hang in there!”

Armin snorted and then wiped at tears.

“So I figured out how you can repay me for the ride,” Levi said, hiding a sneer.

“Oh yeah?” Armin said, dipping his spoon into the frozen treat. “I fucking love frozen yogurt.”

“Good, because PT said once I get my aircast I can finally start running again, but I need someone to keep pace with so you can start working off all those froyo calories.”

Armin paused with the spoon in his mouth and glared. Damnit. He should have known there was no such thing as free froyo.

<*>

[Unknown number:] Hey Levi. This is Marco. I got your number from Armin. I was wondering if we could meet up sometime this week?

Levi stared at the text on his phone. He considered ignoring it. Pretend that Armin had given Marco the wrong number and Marco had sent his request to some random suburban dad who shrugged it off as he piled his shitty kids into his gas guzzling SUV. What could Marco possibly have to talk to him about? Nothing good, he imagined. Levi sat on it for a whole day before finally replying.

[Levi:] sure.

He’d let Marco pick the date and time. While he waited, he had plenty to keep him busy. His physical therapist had said he could do some low impact activities so on Monday he joined Petra at her pregnant yoga group, where he was quite the celebrity being the only male (and the only one to attempt and execute a perfect handstand). One woman asked if Petra was his and his partner’s surrogate. He couldn’t even respond to that. Not that it stopped him, mind you.

“I can’t believe you said that to her. Now, I can never show my face here again,” a mortified Petra said, holding her mat in front of her face like she thought she was Taylor Swift exiting a salon.

Things went better at Hanji’s Pilates class. He liked the straps on his feet and tried to focus on his core strength, but Hanji was so excited he’d finally taken her up on the offer and tried to maintain conversation as she jostled the springs on her machine in excitement.

“So Mr. Sannes has asked me to be his personal art buyer for his entire office and for his home office and—“

“And shift into mermaid pose,” the instructor’s calming voice was overridden by Hanji’s loud chatter.

“I get a huge commission for each painting! He might let me pick art for his other homes!”

“Breathe in through your nose and out—sir, we don’t throw the Pilates rings, please,” she said because Levi had pretended he was playing one of the ring toss games down at the boardwalk with Hanji’s head.

Since the inflammation had gone down and since Levi’s recovery was finally heading in an upward direction, Armin lingered at the apartment less and less. They instead met down at the park at 4:30 in the morning.

“C’mon,” Levi encouraged, lapping Armin. “Four minutes walking, one minute of running!”

“I can’t!” Armin gasped.

“Pick your feet up!”

Then he made Armin help him with his cool down since some of the stretches PT had him doing were rather difficult without a partner, which was mainly why he’d dragged the kid out to begin with.

“I really hope your shorts have netting,” Armin said, training his eyes on an oak tree in the distance as he leaned on Levi’s calf.

“They do. I keep the boys on a tight leash.”

“Well that’s something,” Armin sighed.

And of course he forced Armin to follow his cool down regime.

“Your knee should be right over your ankle. Do you see that? You’re over your toe, that’s too far forward for your lunge. Here’s stop where my hand is. Do you feel that?”

“Yes,” Armin wheezed, his leg shaking violently.

“Good!” Levi said and Armin couldn’t tell if he was smiling because he was a sadist or because he thought it was encouraging. Well it was encouraging in a terrifying way.

Then came the follow-up text from Marco.

[Marco:] How about Friday at Sina Coffee at 11? Sorry, that’s the only time I’m not on call.

[Levi:] I’m still banned there.

[Marco:] Mikasa usually does inventory at that time so I’m sure it’ll be fine.

Levi wasn’t as confident. He wore his grey pea coat and popped the collar and pulled his scarf over the bottom half of his face and wore his dark prescription sunglasses. Incognito. He hoped Marco would get there before him, but he couldn’t see him inside. Damn. Maybe he’d get lucky and Armin would be behind the counter and he could bully him into making him a drink. He stepped inside cautiously. Well his picture was still there above the specials. There was a new curly-haired barista at the counter and he hoped she wouldn’t be able to match his face with the polaroid.

He stepped up to the counter, pressing his sunglasses into the spot between his eyebrows and staring at the counter rather than at her face. After several long seconds of her staring at her phone, he finally cleared his throat.

“Yo. What up?” she asked, not bothering to look at him.

“Uh, I’d like an Assam for here and a pound of loose leaf?” he said, hiding his mouth with his hand and still not looking at her directly.

“Oh we don’t do that.”

“…Sorry?”

Had Mikasa given up on her tea selection?

“It says on your menu you do…” Levi pointed out, turning to the side.

“Oh, yeah, we’re out.”

“You’re out,” Levi repeated, looking at the fully stocked containers behind her.

She shrugged, continuing to look at her phone.

“You’re holding up the line,” a man behind him complained and the line behind bumped into him. He felt a hand brush up against his backside.

“Look, I don’t want to interrupt your conversation, which I’m sure is very important, but it is honestly the easiest thing for you to prepare. It’s just hot water,” Levi said in annoyance, the words feeling like a betrayal of all tea drinkers as he took off his sunglasses.

Only then did he recognize her.

“You!” he accused pointing.

“Oh hey! It’s you!” she said cheerily. “How’s it going, man?”

“You,” Levi repeated, letting out a low growl.

“Hitch, did you refill the bean canisters like I asked you?” Mikasa asked, walking around from the back then stopping when she caught sight of Levi.

“Hey, look, it’s the guy!” Hitch said excitedly. “How you doing, guy? I haven’t seen you in forever.”

“You know you’re still banned, right?” Mikasa reminded Levi.

“Why is she here?” Levi asked, pointing at Hitch.

“She works here. Why? Do you two know each other?”

“She used to work at—Mister, if you don’t take your hand off my ass, we’re gonna have a problem!” he snapped, turning around to strike the groper behind him. He froze with his fist raised in the air when he saw it was Hanji. “Oh, it’s you.”

“Sorry, I couldn’t help it. You have such a cute butt,” Hanji winked.

“Hey! It’s you!” Hitch pointed at Hanji. “How you doing?”

Hanji turned her head to the side and exchanged a look with Levi.

“Good…how are you doing?” Hanji asked in amusement.

“Oh great, you know, just working at this shitty café. Really don’t want to be here today, but I have like two hours left still.”

“You know I sign your paychecks, right?” Mikasa reminded Hitch.

“Oh hey, Mika, look. It’s the guy,” Hitch said, pointing as if only then remembering Mikasa were there.

“She’s the one who—“ Levi started, pointing his finger again and then stopped.

“Who?” Mikasa prompted because Levi had frozen in place.

“Who…got me kicked out of Rainy Day Café…” Levi mumbled.

“Oh that’s where I know you from!” Hitch said, slapping her palm against her forehead. “Man, that was hilarious!”

“What did you do?” Mikasa asked, now curious.

“I didn’t do anything!” Levi protested.

“Oh Mika, oh man, oh it was hilarious,” Hitch said. “So whenever I don’t know how to do something I just tell them we don’t serve it. Or that we’re out. Then when they get mad and demand to talk to a manager I just start screaming that they groped my tit and then they’re thrown out. It’s hilarious.”

“…I threw out a man yesterday because you said he groped you,” Mikasa said, glaring at her employee.

“Oh yeah, I just didn’t want to make that matcha crap.”

“Do you not know how to make the matcha lattes?” Mikasa asked incredulously.

“It’s not my fault!” Hitch protested. “The guy who trained me, never taught me how!”

“I trained you!” Mikasa said.

“Naw it wasn’t you, it your boss.”

“Armin?” Mikasa pointed at Armin who had come out to see where Mikasa was as they were in the middle of their inventory count.

“Yeah.”

“Hitch. You know I own this store right?”

“Sure. Hey, since, it’s dead in here, can I take off early?”

“Hitch, just…just go fill the bean canisters!” Mikasa said, hand to her head.

“And then I can go?”

“Sure. Why not!”

Hitch bounced off cheerily.

“I have the worst fucking employees,” Mikasa said shaking her head. “You’re still banned, Levi.”

“That’s not fair! Mikasa, I’m dating your brother. When are you going to let bygones be bygones?”

“Okay, fine, I’ll let you back if you answer me this: How many stores have you been banned from?”

Levi’s breath hitched and Hanji started counting on her fingers, stopping when she got to eight.

“A lot, okay!” Levi said, slapping Hanji’s hands down without even looking at them. “Look, I didn’t even want to come in here—“

“Why not? You too good for my business?” Mikasa shot back.

“Sorry Mikasa!” Marco said from the back of the line as the man in front of him huffed in annoyance. “I asked him here! I didn’t realize he was banned.”

He gave an apologetic grin and even though Levi knew and Mikasa must have known it was a lie (because how many times had he seen the large sign pointing at Levi’s picture?) it was such a sheepish, earnest look that Mikasa relented.

“So I’ll take an Assam for here—“

“Don’t push it!” Mikasa warned, but rang him up anyways.

“Wow,” said Marco once they were situated (Hanji having waved Levi off, saying she was only there to give Armin his birthday present). “Mikasa really doesn’t like you.”

“Eh, she’s just overprotective of her brother,” Levi shrugged.

“Yeah, how’s that going?” Marco asked.

Marco, Levi realized, was the only person (besides Christa) who understood what it meant to be the partner of a Rogue Titan member.

“Good. It was tough at the beginning, but it’s good now. They’re in Japan.”

Levi didn’t say that the reason everything was copacetic was because he hadn’t heard from Eren in nearly a week and a half.

“Yeah, Bert said they were extending it for another week.”

“Oh,” Levi nodded.

He hadn’t heard that but he sure as hell wasn’t going to let cute freckles, white teeth know that.

“Look Levi, I don’t know you and I don’t know anything about your relationship with Eren. We were all really happy for him when he said he was seeing someone because honestly we thought he just wasn’t interested in relationships, but…he and Jean have a bit of a history.”

Levi nodded again slowly, his eyes drifting over to where Armin was sitting with Hanji. He opened her gift to him and then danced around excitedly when he saw it was Lord of the Rings Risk. Levi snorted.

“I don’t mean to sound like the bitter ex. I broke up with Jean for a lot of reasons. We were going in different directions, he’s selfish, he didn’t listen…” Marco paused here because Levi had gotten distracted by Hanji’s Gollum impersonation. “There was a lot that just wasn’t working for me and I think it all sort of hit home when I came back from Haiti and a coworker gave me this—“

He pulled out his phone and showed Levi the picture on the screen. Levi felt his heart skip for a second and then fall out his backside. There was Eren and Jean caught in a tight embrace under a street lamp.

“I don’t know when this was taken so I don’t know if it was before or after you two started but I just thought—“ Marco stopped. “You okay?”

Levi was trying very hard to suppress a laugh.

“It’s shopped.”

“Huh?”

“It’s these stupid photoshopped pictures these fans do on their websites. It’s photoshopped.”

Marco looked at it again.

“You’re…sure?” he asked because it did look very real to him.

“Yes, very sure. Here, hold on—“ Levi dialed his phone. “Christa! Yeah, so there’s this picture on Eren and Jean—yeah—yup—that’s the one—here, I’m putting you on speaker.”

“—Like, her fic isn’t even that good and people shop all of this art for it and I’m like, ‘hellooo?’ Like, she claims to be a fan but then misquotes the lyrics to ‘Lighthouse’ so excuse me for not taking her seriously.”

“So it’s shopped?” Levi prompted.

“Duh. I have a great one of them attempting the splitting bamboo if you—“

“Nope, just checking,” Levi cut her off.

“Cool, you coming to yoga on Friday?”

“Yup. I’m bringing Hanji too. See you then.”

He hung up before she could continue her fan ranting.

“Oh,” said Marco, looking at his phone. “But you know they share a bed right?”

“Yeah,” Levi said shrugging.

“That doesn’t bother you?”

“Not really, no,” Levi said, not sure where Marco was going with this.

“Armin caught them making out,” Marco continued.

“Look, I don’t really care what happened in the past. And I’ve had relationships like Eren and Jean’s. At first it’s fun because every conversation is super charged and the sex is great but then it’s just exhausting with the constant bickering. I don’t see Eren wanting something like that. I don’t think Jean wants that either.”

Marco chewed on this, then looked at his phone.

“I mean…did you really think he cheated?” Levi asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“I—no.” Marco looked uncertain.

“Besides you said there were a bunch of other reasons, right?”

“Right. Well, sorry to drag you out all the way for…whatever this is. Now I’m embarrassed.”

“BYE!” Hitch waved, running out the door, slapping Levi’s chair with her backpack. “Bye guy!”

Levi waved her off.

“Yeah, well, if you thought Jean cheated you should take it up with him,” Levi shrugged.

“Well the point is moot because I’m seeing someone else.”

They chatted for a while longer, swapping stories of the band. Marco had several stories of their antics, including some Levi hadn’t heard yet from Eren.

The door opened and Levi recognized Annie’s dour face.

“Hey! Hey, Boss!” Hitch said, rushing back in the store, hot on Annie’s heels.

“Alright, let’s get this over with!” Annie said to Mikasa, throwing off her coat. “I left Marlowe in charge of the stand and he is not good with the customers. He called an executive a ‘capitalist pig’ the other day and we had to have a talk about what’s appropriate so I don’t want to leave him for too long.”

“Oh. Shit! Sorry!” Mikasa said, leaving her spot by the counter where she had been watching Hanji and Armin set up the board.

“Hey, Boss, so…” Hitch began, trying to get Annie’s attention.

“I’ve got to go,” Marco said putting on his coat. “Thanks for listening. You know the shelter always needs volunteers.”

“Oh. Okay. I’ll look into it.” Levi nodded to him, before shuffling over to the group. “What’s going on here?”

“We’re doing the books,” Armin said, clacking on his keyboard. “We’ve been adding every little charge into this form and now we’re combining the kiosk with the main store and…”

Armin hit the space bar.

“Oh, I can’t look,” Mikasa covered her face with her scarf.

“Hey, what’s it say?” Annie poked Armin.

“Hold on…”

Annie tugged his hoodie down off his face and when Armin still didn’t respond, she tugged his ponytail.

“Hold on! It says…ladies and gentlemen and everyone else…we are…drumroll please!” Armin said, hitting the enter key.

Hanji tried her best at a snare roll.

“In the black!” Armin said and they all cheered, Hitch throwing her arms around Annie and Annie shoving her off.

“Awesome,” Annie nodded. “Okay, I gotta head back.”

“Cool, I’ll come too,” Hitch jumped and followed Annie out of the store.

“In the black,” Mikasa sighed, stroking the fringe on her scarf with some reverence. “We haven’t been in the black since…since…over a year, right after we…oh my god, right when we banned Levi.”

“Do you think he’s good luck?” Hanji asked out of the corner of her mouth.

“He could be,” Mikasa whispered back.

“Or! Or since we opened the kiosk,” Armin reminded them, but Mikasa was still eyeing Levi interestedly.

“Why are you wearing Levi’s shirt?” Hanji suddenly asked, pulling on Armin’s black v-neck.

“Oh he gave me his cast-offs. It’s all part of his plan to remake me in his image,” Armin said sardonically. “That and running me ragged every morning.”

“Hey, Levi,” Mikasa said. “So I got all of these Groupons last year as part of my New Year’s Resolution to try new things but I didn’t do any of them and now they’re all set to expire by the end of December. Want to tag along? I don’t want to go by myself.”

“Sure,” Levi nodded. He felt a weird feeling in his chest. For the first time he really hoped things between him and Eren would get better and not just because he wanted Eren in his life, but because he wanted these dorks in his life as well.

<*>

“Hey.”

It was weird how at seven in the morning those words could completely knock Levi flat.

“Hey,” Levi answered back, his throat dry.

“Sorry, I haven’t been in contact. I tried to send you an email at an internet café but I misjudged how much yen it was per hour and so I was cut off before it could send. I had to steal Jean’s phone to make this call so I don’t have long. How are you?”

“Good.”

“Your leg? Back?”

“Leg is in an aircast. They said I could do some light running as long as I wore my cast while doing it. I’ve been dragging Armin along. Back still twinges. I’m not supposed to carry things over 20lbs or sit for long periods of time. Work got me one of those large exercise balls to sit on and I keep hitting Mike in the head with it.”

“Good.”

“How’s the tour?”

“The fans here are great. The other band is…well they’re not what I thought they’d be, but yeah, I’m loving it.”

“Cool.”

“I mean, it’s lonely here.” There was a pause. “I really wanted to call you earlier but I kind of said some really nasty things to the band before I left to come see you so I’m trying to repair my relationship with them. I made a commitment to them first and I…need to see things through.”

“I understand.” A pause. “Oh, don’t tell Jean if he’s in the room, but I totally ran into Marco.”

“Oh Jean’s not here. No, the band decided to give me my own room. I think the lack of privacy was starting to wear on me. It’s an extra cost but if it prevents fights…”

“So you’re alone, in your own room?” Levi asked and a slight hint of mischief crept into his voice.

“Yeah…but I left my toy in my bag in the States. I got all paranoid that customs wouldn’t let me enter the country with it.”

“I guess you’ll just have to use your hands then,” Levi drawled.

There was a loud THUMP on the other end.

“Eren?”

“Fine! I just tripped over the bed trying to lock the door.”

“Take off your pants.”

“Shit. Shit shit shit,” Eren hissed in Levi’s ear.

“And get on the bed for me.”

“Holy fuck, shit,” Eren’s breath was loud and static-y and every exhale crackled through the speakers.

“Describe your cock to me,” Levi growled, using the step stool that Erwin had gotten him to reach his plates.

“Fuck, I’m so hard. Shit, this is embarrassing. I haven’t…I mean, wow, okay, your voice is just—it should be illegal to be that sexy.”

“I want you to reach up and pinch a nipple for me,” Levi said, cracking an egg into half an avocado.

He heard Eren hiss in pain or maybe it was delight.

“You’re mean,” Eren whined.

“Who treats you better than me?” Levi purred lowly. “Who sucks your cock better than me? Hm?”

“No one,” Eren said shakily. “You’re so good, feel so good.”

“You know what I’m going to do to you when you get back?” Levi’s asked huskily, as he grabbed the spices with his free hand.

“What?” Eren asked panting heavily.

“I’m going to spread that ass—“

“Fuck!” Eren gasped.

“And first, I’m going to fuck you with my tongue,” Levi said, licking a bit of cayenne off his thumb.

“Oh god, I’m already so, fuck, I’m nearly, Jesus Levi.”

“And I’m going to take my time getting you ready for my cock. I’m going to have you on all fours begging for it and—“

“Oh my god, I’m—”

There was a clunk and Levi figured Eren had dropped the phone during his orgasm. He waited a few moments before the call dropped.

“Oh my god,” Levi laughed to himself, cutting into breakfast. “Phone sex is easy.”

“I am right here!” Armin protested from the couch, mouth half full of food and a disgusted look on his face.

“Whoopsie, sorry,” Levi shrugged. He’d forgotten he’d invited Armin up for breakfast after their run. The kid was just so damned forgettable.

Levi and Armin’s phone buzzed and they both went to check it. Eren had updated the official twitter to say, “A good night’s sleep is only a phone call away ;)”

“Oh gross,” Armin wrinkled his nose.

<*>

Levi was paid back later in the week when during a meeting with Balto’s team, he received a snapchat from Eren’s number. Eren never sent snapchats. Furrowing his brow, he looked around the table. No one was paying attention so he carefully opened it, holding it close to his nose.

“Guess who just got stateside? :*” the title asked with a shot of Eren’s fully erect cock, covered in several thick strands of pearls over his stomach and hand.

Levi let out a yelp and his phone shot out of his hand like a slippery bar of soap. It clattered on the table and when Petra went to retrieve it for him, he jumped on it like it was a football and shoved it in his coat, his face burning bright red. Erwin, Rico, and the rest of the team only looked at him in confusion.

“It had a spot on it,” Levi explained, relying on their knowledge of his fastidiousness to cover that lie.

“Ohhh,” they all nodded and went back to the meeting.

<*>

Levi got so used to having people around that come Thursday he completely forgot that it wasn’t just your average Thursday, but rather Thanksgiving Thursday and that people wouldn’t be over at his house to watch How to Get Away with Murder and eat his food. Granted, some part of him must have known that it was Thanksgiving, because he wasn’t at work and he had gone out and bought a whole fucking turkey.

And a tofurkey just in case Hanji actually stuck to her new vegetarian diet.

And three different kinds of starch.

And green beans.

[mass text-Levi:] I’m making dinner if anyone is up for it.

He received several declines to his invitation and only when it was 6pm and he was staring at an entire feast did he realize he had overdone it. It was just him and the cats and a mountain of food. Sawney hopped up on a chair and sniffed the turkey hopefully.

“Don’t even think about it. You’re both on diets,” Levi chastised.

He sighed and figured he might as well eat some and then maybe he could box up the rest and take it over to the shelter tomorrow.

“Okay fine, but only because I want you to like me better than your Daddy,” Levi said, dropping a little nibble of turkey on the floor for the cats to fight over.

There was a knock on the door and Levi thought it was Mrs. Kowalski because she always brought him sweets on holidays, but instead it was Armin.

“Hey, can I chill here for a bit? Mikasa is having a family dinner at the apartment and I don’t really want to talk to anybody right now,” Armin said, pushing past Levi, carefully avoiding tripping over the box by the door and sitting on the couch.

He didn’t say anything or turn on the television, he simply folded his arms across his chest and chewed on his lip, his eyes bright and every few seconds he would suck in a large breath and close his eyes as if trying to keep from crying.

Levi wasn’t good in these kinds of situations. If people were sad, he always thought it was best to leave them alone. If they wanted to talk about it, well then, that was up to them.

He tapped his chair awkwardly for a few moments before finally saying, “I’ve got some food if you’re—“

“I’m not hungry,” Armin said through his teeth.

Then Levi truly didn’t know what to do. He started on some tea when his phone started buzzing.

“What’s up?” he asked.

“Are you home?” Erwin asked.

“Yeah…”

“Good.” Erwin hung up and then ten minutes later he knocked on the door.

“So Nile and his wife decided last minute that it would be ‘too confusing’ for the kids if I was there and they wanted to do a ‘family’ dinner. I’ve just been sitting at home watching football and just fuming about it and I can’t any longer,” Erwin breezed in, stepping over the back of the couch and sitting down next to Armin. “But of course, her new boyfriend, Randy, is going to be there because it’s at his house. I’m sorry, was I not ‘family’ all those times I packed lunches or stayed up with earaches or—“ he let out a low grunt. “I can’t fucking believe him. He always caves to her demands.”

“I made food if anyone wants any,” Levi indicated the tin foil covered turkey.

“Sure, bring me a plate and I’ll take some gravy too.”

“I didn’t make gravy.”

“Then some of those green beans,” Erwin waved him and Levi felt his eye tic. “I was supposed to go to my parents, but I gave that up because I thought it was more important to support my partner but apparently that only goes one way. Can you fucking believe it?”

“Oh, I can believe it,” Levi said, handing Erwin a full plate.

“Fork and napkin too please,” Erwin requested. “I just…I’m the odd person out. The kids hate me, even the baby, and Nile has been going on all of these conferences and I’m stuck with them all the time. I just, I am trying so hard and this is just a slap in the face, you know? I just thought things would go differently.”

“Yo Levi!” Mikasa pounded on the door.

Levi cautiously opened it.

“I spent all day making a vegan, gluten-free dinner because Jillian, Dad’s new girlfriend, is on a special diet and then they decided not to show and go up to the casino for the weekend instead! So here, everyone, dig in to my Sweet Potato Surprise! I’ve got plenty of it at home!” She dropped it heavily on the table.

“What’s the surprise?” Erwin asked.

“The surprise is that I cooked anything at all,” Mikasa said as though it were obvious. “I brought a bottle of wine, is that okay? It’s mostly for me.”

“Doesn’t bother me,” Levi shrugged and Mikasa looked relieved. “Don’t get any on my couch or carpet.”

“Oh, pour me a glass,” Erwin said waving from the couch. He nudged Armin, who still had his arms crossed, “You want some or are you good with tea?”

“I’m fine,” Armin said through clenched teeth.

Levi’s phone buzzed.

[Hanji:] date is over. coming up.

[Levi:] door is unlocked.

“Well, that was interesting,” Hanji said, leaving her purse by the door and grabbing a plate.

“Oh man, then this really isn’t enough wine,” Mikasa said, pouring Hanji a glass.

“I actually have two bottles in the trunk of my beetle,” Hanji informed her.

“Oh thank god.”

Mikasa went to go sit by Armin and he finally moved, putting his head on her shoulder.

“I just don’t like seeing him in that place,” Armin sniffed. “He didn’t even recognize me.”

“I know,” Mikasa said patting his head.

“I know it’s the best place for him because they can watch him 24/7 but every time I go back I can see him getting worse and worse. He didn’t even get dressed. He was just wearing his bathrobe and slippers and we ate in the cafeteria and the food is so bad—actually I will have some turkey, please.”

Hanji leaned against the table next to Levi listening to their conversation.

“Well Hanji,” Erwin said, patting Armin on the shoulder and looking back at her. “Welcome to the misery party. Please feel free to divulge your terrible evening. Let’s see, Nile doesn’t want me celebrating Thanksgiving with the kids because it’ll give them the ‘wrong impression.’”

“My Dad insisted I cook for him and his girlfriend and then both failed to show,” Mikasa said as Armin got up to get food. “So please, share. How was it?”

“It was…a date,” Hanji nodded, tapping her fingers on the glass. “Actually…it was really good. My friend set me up with a guy she works with at the Historia and neither of us have family nearby so we thought Thanksgiving was a fun day for a date and we really hit it off.”

“…Then what happened?” Erwin prompted.

“Nothing. I came here.”

“Well it couldn’t have been that good of a date if you came here instead of…you know,” Mikasa insisted.

“No, it was really great. Really! I really like him. I just don’t want to get into anything too serious because I’m…uh…moving soon.”

“What?” Armin asked. “You’re moving?”

Levi left his place by Hanji’s side and went into the kitchen to grab some more napkins and silverware and Erwin’s eyes followed him.

“Yeah, I got an offer with a big gallery in Rose City and I think I’m going to take it,” she nodded.

Then when she noticed Erwin’s eyes on Levi’s stiff back, she gave a little laugh, “Levi thinks it’s a terrible idea.”

“I just don’t know why you would want to go all the way across the country where you don’t know anybody,” Levi shrugged. “But you do what you want.”

“That’s my Levi,” Hanji said, hooking her arm around his neck. “He’s always so supportive. When I wanted to get my scuba certification, he said go for it. When I said I wanted to start HRT, he said go for it. When I wanted to take dance classes, he signed up with me. When I wanted to get my nose fixed, he said ‘Your nose is perfect, but go for it.’”

“You got a nose job?” Mikasa asked.

“No, but he was supportive about it!” Hanji laughed as Levi continued with his bored expression, unable to escape her arms. “But he really doesn’t think I should go to Rose.”

“I didn’t say that,” Levi corrected in annoyance, untangling himself from her. “If you want to go to Rose, go for it.”

“That’s my Levi,” Hanji said patting him on the head fondly.

“Sorry Levi, we’ve been complaining all night,” Mikasa apologized. “How has your Thanksgiving been?”

“Better, now,” he said, giving everyone an extra serving of the butternut squash risotto he’d prepared. “Everyone come sit at the table, I don’t want to find bits of food mashed into the couch.”

He heard the soft chimes of Skype ring as Eren called and, for the first time all day, Levi smiled.

<*>

December or “Groupon month” as Mikasa dubbed it, flew by. She dragged Levi to every jazz class, teeth whitening, laser hair removal she had previously bought on sale. Levi didn’t mind. It was fun trying out all of the different restaurants, especially the Brazilian eatery.

When Levi wasn’t at work or attending pole dancing classes with Mikasa, he was at the youth shelter. He still couldn’t lift heavy objects, but had no problem cleaning the bathrooms, dusting the banisters or sorting through donations.

Now that Eren was back in Rose City, he and Levi texted all day and chatted all night on Skype. They didn’t fight. It was as if they’d hit the reset button on the long distance thing. They both knew how close they had gotten to losing each other and neither wanted to get that close again. Of course, that meant they didn’t address the issues in their relationship. And for Levi, sometimes saying, “Good” when Eren asked him what his day was like, started to feel like a lie. Things were better, sure, but he was so reluctant to complain lest it lead to a fight. And he knew Eren was the same way. They avoided unpleasant topics. In that way, things were perfect. Much like Levi’s armchair. Sure, it looked wonderful from the front, but if you turned it around you could see where his stupid fucking cats had clawed the shit out of it. Levi was trying to take Eren’s mother’s advice and focus on the positive.

For example, Eren was going to be home in two weeks.

Then it was one week.

Hanji and Petra had started the countdown by sending Eren pictures they’d snapped of Levi without his knowledge.

[Petra:] o he thicc

This was accompanied with a picture of Levi nearly doing the splits in yoga class.

[Eren:] those are not the pictures i meant, but you are doing god’s work.

Hanji’s text included a picture of Levi on the Pilates reformer, his feet in the straps, legs spread apart and eyes closed, clearly focusing on the exercise and not Hanji’s spying.

[Hanji:] XD it looks like light bondage.

[Eren:] you are killing me!!!

Unexpectedly, the best came from Mikasa.

“Are you ready?” Levi asked Mikasa’s camera.

“Yeah, it’s filming, go,” she said.

He jumped up on the pole, shirtless and sweating slightly and then completed a few body rolls before swiveling down to the bottom.

“How was that?” Levi asked the camera, slightly breathless, brushing his damp hair off of his forehead.

“Great, I think you nailed it this time.”

[Eren:] YOU’RE THE BEST SISTER EVER. I LOVE YOU. [here he had inserted nearly forty sobbing emojis]

Then Levi made the mistake of telling Eren he had a “surprise” for him when he got back. Now, Levi had figured Eren would handle this information like an adult, with a nod and excited anticipation. However, as Mikasa and Dr. Jaeger could both testify, Eren was the kind of child who ransacked the house looking for his Christmas presents. So he pestered Levi nonstop about what kind of surprise.

“Is it a sex surprise?”

“I’m not telling you anything.”

“Is it like a physical present?”

“I’m not telling you!”

“Is it for Christmas?”

“No.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll stop asking if you just answer this: is it bigger than a bread box?”

“Eren! I’m not going to tell you what it is! You’re just going to have to be patient. Be a good boy for me, okay?”

“Woof. I like it when you tell me to be good for you. I’ll be so good for you. But, is it like something you wrap or—“

“Eren!”

<*>

“Good morning!” Eren sang into his phone’s receiver early on December 20th. “It’s Mikasa, my favorite sis, the sis I hate to miss, the miss I’d be remiss not to miss!”

“What up!” Mikasa sang back, in a rare good mood.

“We just got in!”

“Nice.”

“What are you up to?”

“It is the first day off I have had in over two months,” she drawled into the phone, giving a long whistling exhale. “You know what that means?”

“Wake, bake and masturbate?” Eren guessed.

Mikasa only laughed.

“Look, sis, I gotta get over to Levi’s studio. He has some kind of surprise for me and I am losing it.”

“Okay, have fun!”

“So I’ll just come up and drop some of my things off, okay?”

“What?” she asked, freezing a little. “No, now’s not really a good time for me.”

“You just said you weren’t doing anything. I’ll just drop them off and you can get on with your day.”

“Just drop it downstairs at the café!”

“No, I’ll just come up.”

“I’m…naked!” she tried.

“Pfft, so put on a bathrobe. We used to bathe together, ‘Kasa.’ See you in a min!” he hung up.

“Shit,” Mikasa cursed, then lifted up the covers. “You gotta hide.”

“See?” Eren said a minute later. “That wasn’t so hard.”

“You’re right, sorry,” she said, kicking a hoodie behind the couch.

“Okay, so I’m leaving this here. What else do we need for the party? Because like after today, I am going to be practically unreachable, if you know what I mean.”

“I think we’re good,” she said, grabbing a pair of underwear and hiding them behind her back.

“What are you…oh my god, do you have a guy up here?” Eren teased opening up a closet and shoving his bags in without looking.

“Uh,” Mikasa froze.

“A girl?” he prompted, poking her in the ribs. “Okay, fine sorry, I’ll get out of your hair. Have fun with your mystery lover. I’ve gotta go see my boyfriend. Bye!”

Mikasa shut the door heavily on his retreating form, then went to open the closet door.

“You know, it’s ironic that out of the three of us, I’m the straightest one and yet, I’m the one shunted into the closet,” Armin said, holding a pillow over his junk.

Mikasa squinted her eyes and then slowly closed the closet door on him.

<*>

“Levi!” Eren sang out stepping off the freight lift. “Holy shit, it’s warm in here.”

He pulled off his parka and looked at all of the space heaters littered about the place.

“Levi? Jesus, it must be like 80 degrees in here.”

“Yeah, I am not going to like my electric bill this month,” Levi said, stepping out from the storage closet with two buckets in each hand. “So I have blue and I have red. I almost got green and red but then it would just make like a brown color and that would be like shit but now we’re stuck with purple and I don’t know, what do you think?”

“Uh…what?” Eren asked, not following.

“Bang painting,” Levi said as if it were obvious.

Eren looked at each of the buckets in Levi’s hands and then to the canvas spread out on the floor behind him comprehension dawning on his tan face.

“Yes!” he shouted, dropping his bags and pumping his fists into the air. “YES!”

Chapter Text

“I call red!” Eren said jumping up and down.

“Then I guess I’m blue,” Levi gave a little laugh indicating the bucket in his right hand. “So, yeah, go ahead and take off your clothes. I got a bunch of carpet remnants for free so I put those under the canvas since it’s just concrete and, um…yeah. Hi.”

“Hi,” Eren said, having closed the gap between them. “I missed you.”

“I missed you too.”

Eren went to kiss Levi and Levi jumped a little, so Eren missed his lips and only caught the corner of his mouth.

“Sorry, I don’t want you to get any paint on your jeans,” Levi explained, stepping back.

“Levi…” Eren said, his voice a little raspy from the show they’d played the previous night.

He wrapped his arms around Levi and held him. Levi took a deep breath, inhaling Eren’s scent. He could smell stale cigarettes and beer from the venue last night. Eren placed his hands over Levi’s and took the buckets from him, setting them on the ground. He embraced Levi again, burying his face into Levi’s neck. Levi felt his knees go weak and he dug his fingers into Eren’s flannel shirt, because here was his idiot, his dumbass busker who made terrible rhymes about people out walking their Yorkies (rhymes with “porkies”) and who was so incredibly sensitive he cried over movie robots and dogs and whose laugh was contagious and crinkled at the corner of his eyes and—

“What?” Eren asked, laughing a little despite the fact that there were wet drops on Levi’s shirt. “Are you still cold even with all these space heaters? Aw, baby, let me warm you up.”

He rubbed at Levi’s shoulders, despite the fact that Levi was incredibly warm and his face and eyes burned. Then, Eren traced along Levi’s jawline with his thumb and lifted his pointed chin up to his lips and if Levi’s knees weren’t shaking before, they were definitely knocking against each other now like a wooden puppet’s.

“Fuck,” Levi cursed. “I really missed you.”

“I know, I don’t ever want to let you go,” Eren said setting his chin on Levi’s silky hair.

“Well you’re gonna have to so I can set this up,” Levi said, picking up the buckets and slapping Eren’s hands away.

Levi set about pouring the paint out into roller pans on opposite ends of the canvas and then he and Eren were standing, facing each other and though it was only a few feet it felt like several football fields between them. Eren shook his shaggy hair and locked eyes with Levi in what felt like a defiant challenge. There was a suddenly flurry of motion as each raced to see who could strip the fastest, preparing for battle. Eren’s chipped neon green nails tugged at his flannel shirt. Levi pulled off his own hoodie with a static-y crackle. By the time he’d flung it aside, Eren was already pulling off his waffle knit. Levi’s breath hitched a little when he caught sight of Eren’s happy trail and he hastened to unbutton his skinny jeans.

“Oh, uh…” Eren said, his shirt picked up to his navel. “Don’t be mad.”

“Why would I be…holy shit.” Levi’s jaw dropped open.

“So as like a band bonding thing we all went and got tats,” Eren explained sheepishly, holding his shirts in his hand and running the other through his hair nervously.

“That…certainly is a tattoo. Wow,” Levi nodded.

Sweeping across his left breast and trailing onto his arm was the large black outline of a wing.

“Are you mad?” Eren asked wincing a little.

“No, why would I be mad?” Levi asked, his eyes still adjusting to the dark lines on Eren’s tan chest.

“Well…I know how you feel about tattoos,” Eren still had one eye closed as if expecting a reprimand.

“Eren I’m your boyfriend not your dad, you do what you want with your body.”

Then Levi started chuckling unexpectedly.

“What?” Eren asked, tapping the tattoo nervously.

Levi hooked his thumb under his pants and pulled it down just enough to show his bare hip.

“No! Your ankh! Where’d it go?” Eren gasped.

“I got it lasered off,” Levi said and Eren covered his mouth.

“This is like the Gift of the Magi,” Eren managed after a few stunned moments.

Eren quickly shimmied out of his jeans and Levi noticed he had forgone underwear, most likely in anticipation of sexytimes.

“Uh, I should warn you,” Levi said, hesitating with his shirt. “The tattoo wasn’t the only thing I got lasered off…”

“Oh no, but I loved your chesties!” Eren pouted at Levi’s smooth torso.

Levi kicked off his sweats.

“Whoa, you really went all out on the laser hair removal,” Eren’s eyes widened at the lack of curly hairs down there. “I mean you didn’t just trim the lawn, you had the lawn completely…wow.”

“Yeah your sister had a lot of Groupons and they had already expired so they simply gave her credit and she wasn’t going to use it so…yeah.”

“Oh…why though?”

“I…dunno, I wanted a change.”

Eren looked even more confused.

“Same with the contacts,” Levi indicated his face.

“I thought you didn’t like touching your eyes, you said it was filthy.”

“I’m just trying them out. And…I thought it might make me look younger,” Levi finally admitted.

Eren laughed, tossing his shaggy hair back. Levi suddenly felt very silly. Eren didn’t care if he looked younger. Eren continued chuckling, before examining the red paint tray. He cautiously dipped a toe in it. He slipped one foot in and then pulled it out dripping red in a little stream before slapping both of his palms into the tray like an overeager toddler finger-painting. Levi eyed his blue tray and then lightly skimmed his hands over the surface, not keen to get any paint under his fingernails. It felt wet but not like water, the resistance too strong. No; it was thicker, but it still ran down his wrists and over the back of his hands. Levi stared at both of his blue stained hands as he took a cautious step forward. Eren’s path was marked with red footprints and they met in the middle.

“Now what?” Levi asked, wrinkling his nose as he looked at the droplets pooling under their hands.

Eren reached forward with his fingers curled and pressed his knuckle against Levi’s chest, leaving a red stain.

“Ha!” Eren said in a victorious whisper.

Levi looked at it and then gave a slapping swipe across Eren’s chest, spreading his fingers out so it looked like blue claw marks.

“Ha,” Levi countered, feeling smug.

Eren shoved at his shoulder, leaving a paw print of red.

“Hey!” Levi protested. He hadn’t wanted to get completely covered in the viscous substance.

“Simbaaa,” Eren said drawing his thumb across Levi’s forehead.

“Stop that,” Levi slapped away Eren’s hands but only succeeding in getting more paint on himself. “You got your red on my blue!”

“Levi, I’m going to get my red all over your blue,” Eren said in a low growl, looking like he might pounce.

Levi knew that look. So he ran. He ran back over to his tray and slammed his hands in the sticky paint accidentally splattering his chest with droplets and when Eren seized him around the middle Levi wasted no time getting his hands all over Eren. Eren put his hands on either side of Levi’s face and kissed him hard.

“Don’t get paint in my mouth,” Levi cautioned breathlessly.

He wrapped his arms around Eren’s neck and Eren laid him out on that blank canvas, running his hands and red streaks down Levi’s sides, leaving red fingerprints on Levi’s thighs and Eren’s back was covered in blue scratches.

“Wait!” Eren said, pulling away with some difficulty because Levi had his bottom lip in his teeth. “Should we be doing this?”

Levi’s bangs were swept off his forehead and Eren was eyeing his pale clavicles and all the ways he could mark them.

“What do you mean?” Levi asked, tilting his head back further, his eyes dark and sultry, despite the rare sunlight streaming through the windows.

“Your back,” Eren asked, sliding his leg between Levi’s knees.

“Oh, well that’s what the carpet remnants are for. As long as we’re not doing anything too crazy. Also, I’m in the best shape of my life. I’ve been doing all of these low-impact core activities and feel this.”

Levi patted his hard chest. Eren slid his hand up it. Already the colors were mixing together in a dark swirl of violet on Levi’s pale chest.

“Mmm,” Eren said sinking back to Levi’s lips and his leg gave a little kick as Levi’s tongue slipped in his mouth.

Levi grabbed Eren’s ass and laughed when he saw how blue those pert cheeks were. They rolled and Levi placed his hands on the canvas on either side of Eren’s head, arcing his hips and rubbing his firm ass against Eren’s hard member. Eren grabbed his hips and rubbed until the friction became uncomfortable.

“Ohhh,” Eren said looking at his stained hands in disappointment. “How am I supposed to prep you?”

“Don’t worry about that, I got myself all ready,” Levi shrugged.

Eren stared.

“I…I really missed you,” Levi confessed like it was an apology.

“Levi…” Eren murmured in a hushed whisper. “Levi.”

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be so mushy and—WHY?” Levi protested as Eren, stretched his fingers out and upset his entire tray, rolling Levi into the spill.

Eren only laughed.

“This is hard,” Eren confessed a second later, sucking on Levi’s neck. “I want to kiss all parts of you, but I also want to cover all parts of you in paint.”

He settled for both, kissing and sucking at a spot and then leaving a red thumbprint over the love bite.

“Eren…” Levi gave a little moan and bit his lower lip. His thighs were wrapped around Eren’s waist and they flexed in rhythm with his heartbeat. “C’mon…”

“You did miss me,” Eren laughed, giving a crooked grin. There was a spray of blue across the bridge of his nose like freckles and Levi had never seen anything more beautiful.

Levi nodded.

“You dumped water on me,” Eren reminded him. “You used to hate me so much you called the cops on me. You tried to give me pneumonia…and now you miss me.”

“Hell yeah, I missed you.”

“You missed my cock,” Eren laughed, trying to angle his erection away from the paint on Levi’s thigh.

“Yeah,” Levi agreed, angling his hips and pressing the heel of his foot against Eren’s blue ass, pulling him closer.

“Say it,” Eren teased. “Say you want me.”

“I want you,” Levi’s response came so quickly Eren blinked a little in response. Usually this little teasing game went on for quite some time, Levi being so loath to confess his desire for Eren for fear it made him look desperate.

“I want you.”

He sucked at Eren’s lower lip.

“I want you.”

He nibbled on Eren’s ear, brushing his nose into the split ends of his messy hair.

And then it was Eren’s turn to tremble in Levi’s arms.

“Shit, Levi,” Eren gave a shuddering gasping breath, and before Levi knew it there were tears leaving streaks in the paint on his face.

“No, no tears.” Levi hadn’t anticipated this. “Eren…”

Seeking a diversion, Levi stretched out his fingertips and slapped at his tray, running his blue fingers up and down Eren’s chest. He paused and drew a little dick right above his right pectoral.

“Ha, blue balls,” Eren said weakly.

He drew a red heart on Levi’s chest and then smiled at it.

“What is that?” Levi asked. “A butt?”

“You’re a butt.” Then a thought struck Eren. “Wait…how am I supposed to put on a condom?”

“Uh…”

Eren pinched the wrapper with the very tips of his finger nails and tore it open.

“Okay, I think, if I just—nope…nope, no don’t touch it, that’s a paint-condom now.”

Before long there were three condoms in the paint making little octopus sucker marks on the canvas.

“Even if you get it out of the wrapper you still have paint on your—damnit Eren stop wasting condoms!”

“This is harder than it looks!”

“Then give it to me, Christsake Eren—“

“—No, I think I’ve got it this time!” Eren ripped the wrapped open and it fell on the canvas. “Still good! It didn’t fall in the paint! The ball is still in play!”

“Stop! Don’t touch it!” Levi held out his hands. “I’ve got this one!”

He knelt down and put his head close to the canvas like a man at prayer but when he came up he had the condom between his lips.

“’Ay ‘ill!” Levi ordered, grabbing Eren’s hips with his blue hands.

Eren couldn’t figure out what he was doing at first and then those thin lips passed the head of his cock and Levi looked up at Eren through his ink black hair which was now mussed and in his eyes. Eren had to bite his wrist to keep from tangling his fingers in that hair and fucking that mouth, knowing that if he got paint in Levi’s hair the game would end right there.

“Hhnnn, who would’ve thought your ability to deepthroat would come in handy?” Eren asked as Levi rolled out the condom all the way to the base.

“Look at that,” Levi crowed, pulling his mouth off. “First try. Just like my ability to parallel park.”

“Get on your knees,” Eren ordered.

Levi briefly considered disobeying and teasing Eren some more but he was already so hard it was difficult to think properly. Eren spread him and before Levi could even speak, delved his tongue in deep. No shame, that one.

“You did get ready for me,” Eren said, looking pleased. “I like the idea of you just sitting in here, fingering yourself, looking at your phone every few moments like it’s torture.”

“It was torture,” Levi grumbled. “I swear Eren if you get paint anywhere near my asshole, I will—oh fuck, yes, yes, yes…” he hissed in pleasure as Eren entered him slowly. “Wait, wait—“

“Need more lube?” Eren asked, wiggling his tongue between his teeth, his cock pulsing pleasantly inside Levi. “I’ve got plenty more right here…”

“You’re filthy. No, you lie down on your back.”

“Oh, sure. Why?”

“Because I cleaned the windows is why.”

“Huh?” Eren asked, pulling out and tilting his head to the side like a confused puppy.

Levi gracefully climbed on top of him and pointed upward. Eren followed his gaze. Those windows were polished so brightly they were more like large mirrors. Eren could see the entire canvas of foot and hand prints and even a perfect outline of Eren’s ass. Levi perched back on his heels before lowering himself carefully, his jaw falling slack in bliss.

There was color all over Levi and all over Eren, bleeding together. Levi closed his eyes and tangled the fingers of his right hand in Eren’s left. He’d never felt so in tune with his own body and with Eren’s. Eren’s head was thrown back, watching Levi ride him in the reflection on the ceiling wide-eyed and open mouthed. Eren’s free hand held onto Levi’s hip, smearing red across the v-shaped dip of his torso. Without warning, Eren let out a wild delirious laugh and sat up, pulling Levi closer.

His strange outburst forced Levi to follow along in giddy, ecstatic laughter. Eren grabbed his hips and after several loud and enthusiastic thrusts Levi surprised himself by coming just from Eren’s cock. He felt it boiling in his belly and then he gave a weak cry spilling out onto Eren’s paint-slick chest. Enthralled with the idea that he could make Levi come without even touching his cock, Eren followed soon after. Gasping and covered in sweat and come and itchy from the paint Levi slid off and rolled to the side. Eren was flat on his back, one of his knees bent, making little humming noises.

“That was…good,” Levi tried cautiously.

“Yeah, it was great,” Eren agreed.

They stared at each other’s wrecked forms on the ceiling.

“A little fast…” Levi added.

“Yeah.” Eren frowned.

“But still good!” Levi reassured him quickly.

“Oh yeah, still good.” Eren nodded. “But yeah fast. I mean…you put all this effort into this canvas and the whole actual humping part was over and done with in under five minutes. Seems like a waste.”

“Yeah, well the important thing is foreplay.”

“True…” Eren trailed off.

“…Wanna go again?” Levi asked hopefully.

“Oh god yes.”

Several minutes of aggressive kissing and paint slapping later, Levi was on his back looking at the quickly darkening sky and Eren’s perfect ass and the way his cheeks dimpled before he thrust.

“Slow now,” Levi instructed, running his blue thumbs down Eren’s ribs. “Do you feel that? You’re using your legs and hips to thrust. Here, it comes from right here…” he angled Eren’s hips “if you pull from your center you won’t tire as quickly…there…that’s perfect…now stroke…”

He arched his back as Eren managed to find Levi’s pleasure. Eren learned so quickly. All it took was a small tap on his shoulders or thighs and then he corrected his stance. Levi could feel it starting again in his belly and he brushed his nose into Eren’s Adam’s apple. When he fluttered his eyes open again Eren was watching him with perceptive green eyes. Eren had known Levi long enough to read between the lines of his brows. Levi loved how quickly Eren adjusted to his moods, it made for fewer apologies for misunderstandings and hurt feelings. But when they made love, it was a completely different Levi, a completely new set of emotions to read. Here was the only place Levi would allow himself to be vulnerable. And the strange part was Levi was fine with it.

“I love you,” Eren whispered, his bruised lips gently taking Levi’s own.

He linked their fingers in a bright purple mess and Levi urged him to completion. Eren gave a shuddering gasp, curling his stained toes and then he pulled out and kissed his way down Levi’s chest smearing his lips with color and took him in his mouth. He pulled off the second Levi gave a throaty moan, instead running his lips up the side until Levi’s cock quit pulsing under his curled tongue.

He curled up next to Levi, who felt very warm and cozy with the eight space heaters. Eren let out a little hum and Levi hummed back.

“…Again?” Levi asked and Eren slowly turned his head to look at his lover in surprise.

Except after a good twenty minutes of foreplay, Eren’s member couldn’t be coaxed back to the stage to perform.

“Ah, it’s my fault, I jerked it like all week so I wouldn’t come early,” Eren apologized, looking embarrassed, but also a tad relieved—three times was a bit much. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Levi yawned and stretched. “It’s not like we don’t have more opportunities.”

He got up, pulling his arms over his head and Eren heard his spine pop.

“Where are you going?” Eren asked in disappointment.

“You stay there, I’m just grabbing these.”

Levi returned with a bunch of smaller body paints and an assortment of brushes.

“It was too expensive to buy all in bulk so I just bought little samples of the other colors,” he explained. “Lie on your front.”

Eren rested his head on his forearms as Levi began mixing brighter colors onto his back, using his fingers as brushes, having resigned himself to dirty fingernails.

“…Then Jean thought we could use the mattress as a pool toy and it did work for a little while, like thirty seconds, and then it started taking on water and slowly sinking and so we’re there with our beers and our guitars in the deep end of the pool trying to paddle to the edge of the pool before we sink…” Eren laughed.

He jumped from the brush in Levi’s hands.

“That tickles!”

“…And then he had the actual gall to pull out his phone and show me a photo of you and Jean kissing,” Levi said, swiping a wide swatch over Eren’s arms.

“What?” Eren practically yelped. “How would he even get such a thing?”

“It was photoshopped!”

“I can’t believe he thought it was real!” Eren cried indignantly.

“Some people see what they want to see.” Levi shrugged, blowing on Eren’s back. “Kay, don’t move, let it dry. I’m going to take pictures.”

“Oh so, when I went over to drop stuff off at Mikasa’s she totally had a beau up there.” Eren grinned.

“Oh really?” Levi asked.

“Yeah, she got all embarrassed. Like, I walked in on her and Jean doing it once. It is probably some dudebro and she thinks I’m going to judge his meme shirt. Whatever.”

“Okay you can roll over,” Levi said, nudging him with his foot.

“…Oh well, yeah, we kissed, but it was awful. Remember when I had my ‘housing crisis’? Well Jean got in a fight with Mikasa so we both crashed at Armin’s and then iunno…things happened. I whacked my nose so hard against his horse face and he like kissed my canine teeth? Like how bad at kissing do you have to be to kiss those teeth? And I bit his tongue and God that was awful. I had blocked that out. The only reason anybody knows about it is that Armin walked in and then got pissed at us and threw us both out. I think that was maybe the first moment that either of us thought we could be into guys? He and I have that in common, you know. Jeanbo and I are both late bloomers. But yeah, that’s like when I realized maybe I liked you more than in a friend kind of way. And that’s when Jean broke up with Mikasa for reals and went for Marco. So I don’t know why Marco has his panties in a twist. The kiss was a good thing. Bad kiss, good thing.”

More blue.

Then Levi started talking about his home growing up and it was the longest he’d ever talked about himself.

“No! I’m not lying!” Levi laughed, straddling Eren’s waist and filing in the lines of Eren’s tattoo with color. “Brenda had a ‘gentleman friend’ and his name was Buck and we were supposed to call him ‘Uncle Buck.’”

“You did not have an Uncle Buck!” Eren laughed, his hands behind his head, watching Levi’s progression on his torso.

“I did so! He was the school janitor—“

“You’re so full of shit!”

“—he was! And he taught me how to drive a stick and how to roll a cigarette. He called all of those little knobs and lights on your dashboard ‘idiot buttons’ for people who didn’t know how to take care of their cars. One day, he made me change a tire in the pouring rain just so he knew I could.”

“What a dick. Fuck Uncle Buck.”

“No, he was alright. He didn’t talk much, but whenever he did it was like ‘everybody shut up and listen,’ you know? Like this man had an eighth grade education, he was just a dumb redneck, but he was the smartest man I knew. He had two shirts and two pairs of jeans, but he never needed to buy new ones, you know why? Because he took care of them. They didn’t have holes or stains because he was careful with the laundry. Dirt poor janitor who went to church every Sunday and still came to all my Judo tournaments even after he and Brenda stopped seeing each other. Even after I was in a home.”

“Aw.”

“Yeah. I think he was just a little sad. His only son died in a car accident I think.”

“Awww. Is he still alive?”

“You know, I have no idea. I don’t talk to anyone from my hometown.”

“What are you painting?” Eren asked, dropping his chin to look.

“Don’t move,” Levi chastised, pushing his head back onto the canvas.

“Here, look, I’m painting too,” Eren said, tapping the canvas.

“I see. Two sets of balls.”

“Mine have the hairs, yours are the smooth ones.”

“Your attention to detail is inspiring.”

Eren giggled.

“Okay, more pictures.”

“You better be careful,” Eren said, flexing his muscles unnecessarily for the camera. “People might hack your Cloud account and put these out on the internet.”

“You wish. You’d love to have your dick plastered all over those fan pages. I’ve seen the pictures you put on your Instagram. You’re lucky they haven’t banned you for obscenity.”

“I’m just not that shy about my body anymore,” Eren shrugged.

“I’m not complaining,” Levi said, fussing with his phone. “Ugh, I need a real camera.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying! One with adjustable lenses!”

Levi set it aside when he was satisfied and then curled up in the crook of Eren’s arm.

“Welcome home,” he whispered sleepily. “I missed you.”

“I’m glad,” Eren said setting his chin on Levi’s hair. “Can I be honest? I…I think some part of me was starting to feel like this was one sided.”

Levi frowned.

“Eren, I—“ he started.

“It’s okay,” Eren said soothingly, tracing his thumb against the dry paint on Levi’s cheek. “It’s just, I chased after you for so long, it never occurred to me that when I caught up to you, you might not want me.”

“I do want you, Eren—“ Levi said, sitting up a little.

“I know,” Eren pulled him back down, smiling a little, even though Levi was worrying a crease between his brows again.

“I mean, I felt really bad about running away from the boat. I felt like an old creep who developed an unhealthy attraction to a straight boy just because he was nice to me. I was embarrassed. I looked everywhere for you, you know. To apologize. You weren’t in the park, you weren’t by the pier, or outside the old office. It was like suddenly all of these familiar places were empty.” Levi tucked into Eren’s chest, tracing the lines of his tattoo and frowning.

“I saw you,” Eren said, shrugging.

“What?” Levi asked in shock. “And you didn’t say anything?”

“You were with Erwin at the Farmer’s Market. You seemed happy. I didn’t want to intrude.”

Levi was silent at this revelation. Eren put his forearm around Levi and Levi ran his thumbs across his wrist. They lay there for some time.

“I think I got paint in my mouth,” Eren said staring at the dark sky above.

“It’s body paint so it’s nontoxic,” Levi said, eyes closed.

He felt Eren’s arm stir.

“Don’t eat the paint, Eren.”

“I wasn’t!” he lied.

Finally, Levi roused himself. He’d spent so much time anxiously awaiting Eren’s arrival and expecting to be dumped the moment Eren caught sight of him, that now that he had his beautiful busker he was emotionally exhausted. If he stayed on the canvas any longer he’d pass out completely.

“Let’s wash up,” he said, nudging Eren.

“I’m stuck.”

“What?”

“I can’t move, the paint dried and now I’m stuck,” Eren said in a little voice, flapping the canvas like a bug on flypaper.

Levi laughed so hard he slipped in a still wet puddle of red and Eren caught him, the canvas still stuck to his back. Levi wrapped his arms around his neck, brushing his fingers against the dried yellow streak on Eren’s neck.

“Whoopsie!” Levi said. “Hold still, I’ll cut you free.”

By the end of it only about a third of the original bang painting remained. Levi decided to let it dry and then hang it later in the week.

They filled a bucket with water in the janitor sink and dipped towels in it to rinse them. While the space heaters kept the room warm, the water was definitely not.

“Cold, cold, cold,” Levi hissed, hopping from foot to foot.

“Come here,” Eren said, pulling him close.

Eren was always warm, his body felt like sunshine on a spring day, especially when he pressed against Levi like that. Levi felt his shivers lessen and Eren dabbed the washcloth against his cheek and then under his chin. The water carved out little paths on Levi’s body as it dripped down his chest and legs before swirling down the drain. Eren made a little humming noise as he stroked at Levi’s clavicle.

“What?” Levi asked because Eren was smiling to himself.

“I like this. Being able to see a little bit of you at a time.” Eren tapped Levi’s small nose. “It reminds me of when you dragged me to see your painting. I had this picture of you in my head, this image and then suddenly I had to look at it again in a new light. At first, there was one color and now there are many.”

Levi didn’t know how to respond to that so he hastily picked up a towel and began scrubbing the dried paint off of Eren. Eren grabbed his wrist to stop him.

“Levi, I like it. I like seeing you. I like being with you. I like—“

Levi pushed the dirty washcloth over his face.

“Stop,” he said in a little whisper. “Please. Because I’m not…I’m not as good with the words as you are and I can’t—I’m not—I’m not this amazing person you think I am and when you say things like that it just makes me worry that I’ll only…you just shouldn’t say things like that about me.”

Eren pulled the washcloth off his mouth and set it on his chest and Levi continued wiping away the mess, his head to the side in embarrassment. Eren hummed and stroked Levi’s shoulder.

“I mean, you don’t have to stop talking,” Levi mumbled, dipping the washcloth back in the water.

Eren wrapped his arm around Levi’s front, washing between his shoulder blades.

“He lay me on a canvas, said ‘We’re not in Kansas,’ and danced me like a Technicolor dream,” Eren sang softly in Levi’s ear.

“Your lyrics are terrible.”

“’Your lyrics are terrible’ he said, so I dumped water on his head.”

“What?”

Eren upended the bucket before Levi could react, dousing him in freezing water, but effectively rinsing the paint from his body.

“What the hell?” Levi said sputtering, his bangs over his eyes, looking like a harassed cat.

“A Sicilian message,” Eren said smugly before Levi flung the wet rag at his face.

Then Eren sprayed Levi with the small hose attached to the nozzle and really, cleaning up after the painting made even more of a mess than creating it and both fell into bed exhausted while the cats climbed all over Eren, stabbing at him with their sharp little claws, purring madly.

Chapter Text

“Eren…”

“Just give me a moment!”

“Eren, just come over here already!”

“I am!”

“Eren…”

“I just, okay okay. Okay.”

“If you don’t want to, that’s fine, but you said you wanted to. Here, I’ll put this away and we can just cuddle.”

“Don’t you dare put that away! We’re doing this!”

“Then come over here.”

“I’m working on it!”

Eren was pacing Levi’s bedroom, very naked and very determined not to look at the tiny plug in Levi’s hand. Levi’s mouth was all red and wet from the work he’d been doing earlier. Eren decided he liked rimming, he liked the sucking and the way Levi’s tongue circled around him, but the second that tongue started probing, he jumped up. Then they tried just letting Levi massage at him—no poking!—and it was nice. He relaxed again and Levi massaged some numbing lube and it was all heavenly until Eren felt Levi shift his weight to grab the plug. He hadn’t been about to put it in, he was just keeping it from rolling onto the floor. But any calm they had was broken. Now he was like a skittish colt.

“I mean, do you not trust me?”

“Babe, I trust you! I don’t trust that…that thing!”

“Do you want to do it yourself?”

“No, hell no. It’s like a flu shot, you can’t do it yourself.”

“Funny, because I was doing it by myself while you were gone…” Levi leaned back onto his elbows.

Eren paused and his cock twitched and he tongued at the corner of his mouth.

“I mean, I know it may seem like nothing to you, that’s like a little jalapeño sized toy, but, it just seems very big to me.”

“Do you want my fingers?”

“No, I keep picturing getting caught by a nail and it’s weirding me out.”

Levi displayed his perfectly manicured and closely trimmed nails with some annoyance. There was no need to insult them like that.

“Do you want me to wear the finger condoms?”

Eren thought about it. Levi couldn’t figure it out yet, but Eren really loved the finger condoms and thought they were funny.

“No. It’s just. I think that angle wasn’t working for me. I feel too exposed. I—I don’t really know how you do it.”

This was from the man who had once posted a picture of himself wearing nothing but a sock and an inner tube to his Instagram.

“What would make you comfortable?” Levi asked.

“Um, you go…here,” Eren motioned Levi to sit upright. “And I’ll sortof um…”

He fell over Levi’s knees awkwardly like a child expecting punishment from a parent.

“Yeah, this feels right,” Eren nodded. “How about for you?”

“Great. I get the best view.” Levi gave Eren’s cheeks an appreciative squeeze. “Ready?”

“Yes, totally.”

But then as Levi reached for the lube, Eren said, “Are you sure you don’t want me to like, shave down there? I just feel really gross and hairy.” Not to mention a little sticky from the lube.

“It’s fine. Hold still, you keep wiggling.”

“Is it on? Because you have to turn the lights on the plug first!”

“Eren, stop moving.”

As Levi slapped Eren’s backside two things happened: the first was that Eren let out a yelp and Levi realized the slap had been harder than he intended, and the second was that his cock throbbed in Levi’s lap. Eren stilled and clapped both of his hands over his mouth.

“…What?” Levi said, mostly to himself. “Sorry, did that sting?”

“Yes,” Eren managed through his laced fingers.

“Sorry, baby.”

Levi rubbed at it in cautious circles, soothing away the pain, and then massaged at Eren’s entrance with the tip of the plug. Eren pushed away from it instinctively.

“Okay you need to stop moving,” Levi rolled his eyes.

“Why, are you going to slap me again?” Eren asked, looking over his shoulder and biting his thumb.

“No, I’m sorry if I hurt you. You okay?” Levi asked, running his clean hand through Eren’s thick head of hair. “Want us to stop?”

“Maybe…maybe you should slap me,” Eren wiggled his backside suggestively.

“Do you want me to slap you?”

“Iunno. Maybe.”

“Maybe?”

“Yes. I mean. Not too hard just—Yes.”

“Yes what?”

“Yes…please?” he asked, fidgeting on Levi’s lap, looking up pleadingly.

“Stop moving,” Levi ordered giving a lighter, closed-hand slap.

“Ah!” Eren gasped. “Yes!”

Levi pressed the tip against Eren’s slick entrance and slowly pressed in.

“You’re not breathing, remember to breathe, just relax,” he instructed. “How’s that feel?”

“Weird,” Eren said with a screwed up face.

“How about that?” Levi said taking the small toy all the way to the base. “Need more lube?”

“I don’t even know how I would know that. It feels…like I have to poop, honestly. Not bad. Just weird.”

Levi slid the toy gently in and out, slicking him up. Eren still looked like he was awaiting a doctor with a syringe to pop around the corner, so Levi dropped his other hand down to stroke him.

“I’m going to grab the beads, okay?” Levi said, coaxing a little life out of Eren’s member.

“Sure,” Eren said, eyes still shut tight. “Just don’t…don’t like pull them out fast, okay?”

“I won’t,” Levi promised, slicking up the beads and warming them under his hands. “How’s that?”

“Um, well it feels different, how many do you have in? You know, don’t tell me, I don’t think I want to know.”

“Stop moving.”

“Yes, sir,” Eren said giving a cheeky grin.

Yet he continued twisting out of Levi’s hands.

“Do you not want to do this?” Levi asked, waiting patiently.

“I do…I’m just not very good at listening. You might have to tell me again.” Eren nibbled on his thumb. “Please?”

“Be still.”

A sharp slap and Eren gave a loud sucking gasp and a little sobbing laugh.

“Oh man. Hooo, okay. Yes!”

“Clench. Now relax,” Levi said running his hands over the reddened skin and blowing cool air. “How’s that feel?”

“Full. Big. These are the small beads?”

“Yup.”

“I don’t know how I’m ever going to take your cock,” Eren said in a worried voice.

“Hey if you don’t like this, then we don’t need to worry about that.”

“No, I like it. I do, I just…could you…um, please?”

Levi gave another slap.

“Ah! Yes. Fuck, yes. Yes,” Eren shouted, digging his nails into Levi’s legs.

Levi slipped in another bead with relatively easy resistance.

“HA! Ah! What’s that, okay what!” Eren exclaimed.

“Oh, there we go,” Levi said to himself, pulsing gently with the beads. It had taken long enough, but Levi was fairly sure, given Eren’s reaction, that he’d found his prostate.

“Oh god, what is that, okay wow, wowwie wow, that is new! That is—please, Levi?

Levi gave another little slap.

“Fuck!” Eren cursed. “I’m really…it’s too much, Levi! I need—can you—?”

Levi slipped his hand back between Eren’s legs and stroked him in time with the little pulses he was sending with the beads. Then he slowly pulled them out one at a time. With each bead he removed, he drew his hand up and over Eren’s head, brushing lightly with his thumb.

“Levi, Levi,” Eren gasped, arms shaking. Levi couldn’t tell if he was trying to communicate something or had simply found a new god to pray to. “Oh god, Levi. One more, please baby! Please!”

Levi delivered one last slap, stroking Eren fast, precome slipping between the knuckles of his fingers. It wasn’t a hard or stinging slap but Eren opened his mouth in a silent scream, his body convulsing. Levi pulled the last bead out and Eren spilled into and over his hand and Levi saw with some annoyance there was come on the carpet.

Levi set the beads on a towel to clean later and wiped his hand off as Eren trembled on his lap.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, I’ll get the carpet cleaner,” Eren said in a small voice, standing up.

“Hold still, let me clean you up!” Levi said trying to reach him as lube slid down his leg.

“Sex is so weird and so gross,” Eren said standing on one leg, letting Levi minister to him. “Ugh, can I just…now I know why you go right for the shower—okay let me—“

There was a loud fwump and Eren collapsed on the carpet.

“Ow,” he said in a muffled voice.

“Legs go jelly?” Levi guessed.

“I was not expecting that.”

Eren struggled to the shower, half-crawling, rinsed and then was back in bed in under a minute.

“You’re going to get my bedspread all wet,” Levi complained. “Use a towel.”

Eren tucked into the crook of Levi’s arm and looked up at him. There was a moment of silence as Levi stroked his wet hair.

“How was it?” Levi asked because Eren still had his large eyes trained on Levi’s muted expression.

“You’re thinking about how weird the spanking was, aren’t you?” Eren asked, looking scared and small and a little vulnerable.

“Nope,” Levi said, tightening his arms around Eren to reassure him.

“Sorry, it’s weird. I know it’s weird.”

“I just think we need to have a talk about those kinds of things next time. Before. Not during.”

“Sorry,” Eren apologized again.

“Don’t apologize. How was the rest of it?”

“New. I still don’t think it’s my favorite, sorry. I mean, I’m willing to give it another try, but I just don’t know that I ever want to try it with your dick. Sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologize. We’ll wait before we try again, if you want to try again.”

<*>

Levi was loath to drag himself out of bed on Monday, and the only thing that kept him going was that he knew Eren would be there for him when he got back.

Eren and Jean decided to busk down by their old corner as a way to “get back to their roots.” Levi had doubts that they would be very successful or productive in the cold. And sure enough, they sent out a tweet telling their followers to come find them before giving up for the day.

“This is Levi,” Levi said answering his phone.

“Hey baby! We’re taking a break and getting coffee because it is freezing cold! I don’t remember it ever being this cold!”

“It’s supposed to snow tomorrow.”

“Fuck, that’s cold.”

“EREN! COME BACK TO BED BABY!” Jean shouted despite the fact that Levi could also hear an espresso machine whirring and people’s voices in the background.

“That’s Jean, ignore him. I told him about the shopped photo. He claims he doesn’t remember our previous kiss.”

“SO HIGH!” Jean shouted.

“He doesn’t remember the beautiful night we spent together and how we held each other close and—ow, fuck! Don’t pinch me! Ow! I hate being pinched, Levi. I hate it.”

“I’ll remember to never pinch you. Only spank. How’s busking?” Levi asked.

“Amazing. Maybe it’s because it’s so close to Christmas or maybe my drumming has just really improved but—“

“Wait, you’re drumming?”

“Uh, duh.”

“Where did you even get a bucket?” Levi asked, tucking his phone into his neck as he sent an email.

“Trade secret. I’d tell you, but you’d need a permit first.”

“Well I hope you’re wearing ear plugs because I worry about your hearing, all those nights on stage—“

“Huh? What did you say?” Eren shouted over Jean.

“I said, ‘I hope you’re wearing ear plugs because—‘” Levi raised his voice.

“What? Speak up!”

“Oh, I see what you’re doing. Very clever.”

Eren giggled.

“Are you still in the same office? With the Mad Men couch?”

“Yeah.”

“Look out your window.”

Levi did as asked and headed to the window.

“Hi!” Eren waved, holding a cup of coffee from the kiosk downstairs.

“Hi, I can’t come down, I have a lot of stuff to get done before Christmas break,” Levi said sadly pressing his hand against the window in a Vulcan salute, Eren responded in kind.

“That’s fine, I just wanted to show you The Bucket Drum 2.0. Jean here is modeling the latest version. Custom designed for mobility and comfort so you don’t have to sit in the snow, the Bucket Drum 2.0 has a sleek transportable frame with a fashionable neck strap that—“

“You cut holes in a bucket and strung a rope through it.”

“You’re goddamn right I did.”

“Okay, well you have fun. I’ll see you soon.”

Levi received a few Snapchats from Eren as the day wore on.

“now Jean has his own version of The Bucket Drum 2.0,” read the caption with a picture of Jean posing with his bucket, his name written on it in duct tape.

Then another around 2:30pm: “this one is called The Levi because he’s tiny but you can bang him all niiight long” and several kissy emojis.

[Levi:] how do you have access to all these buckets?

“MECHA BUCKET,” Eren captioned a picture of himself wearing a bucket on his hands and legs and head, standing in what looked like a basement.

[Levi:] no seriously, where are you finding all of these?

“BUCKET BATTLE!” with a picture of Jean and Eren, covered in buckets looking like they were about to joust. Judging by the thumb over a corner of the camera, it was probably taken by Reiner.

[Levi:] HOW DO YOU HAVE SO MANY BUCKETS?!?!?

<*>

When Levi finally made it home, he could tell something was a little off. For one, Eren wasn’t making sound effect noises to his videogame and for two the cats didn’t greet him at the door, which could only mean they were following around their overfeeder.

“Hello?”

“Yo!” Eren called from the bedroom.

“Whatchya up to?” Levi asked.

“Who is junglejim4322@yahoo.com?” Eren asked with a cheeky grin, twirling a rubber mask in his hands.

“Going through my drawers?” Levi asked, hands in his pockets, leaning against the wall.

Eren had pulled out everything from his “sex drawers” and laid them out on the bed, doing what appeared to be an inventory check.

“Yeah, sorry. Did you ever use this?” he indicated the mask.

“No,” Levi confessed. “It was an impulse buy.”

“So take it back.”

“You can’t return sex toys. May I ask why you’re emptying out my drawers?”

“Oh, I was bored. And curious. Did you ever use this?” he held up a flogger.

“No. It was part of a kit I bought at three in the morning. I didn’t even remember I’d bought that stuff until it showed up on my doorstep.”

“Oh. Huh. Okay then.”

“What’s up? What are you looking for?” Levi asked.

He didn’t mind Eren searching through his things. He might if it were under different circumstances, but it looked like he’d only gotten as far as his dresser drawers. He knew it hadn’t occurred to Eren that it might be seen as a breach of privacy. When Eren got focused on something, details like that escaped him. Which is why, on Mikasa’s advice, Levi had Eren’s Christmas gift delivered to the office.

“I was just looking for something that might be…fun. But I don’t really know what to do with all of these.”

“Honestly, I have no idea either. I got them after Erwin and I broke up. Thought I might try something new, but then…nothing happened.”

“Oh. It’s just,” Eren scratched the side of his head. “I feel bad that I can’t give you what you want.”

“You’re what I want. I have you.”

“Yeah, but you don’t have all of me.”

“I told you, that doesn’t bother me. We only do it if you want it.”

“I do! Just not…yet. I don’t feel ready yet. But I want to give you something, so I was looking for…inspiration?”

Levi gave a gruff laugh.

“Eren, you don’t need to make it up to me. I don’t keep a running tally in my head of Eren, six orgasms, Levi, five. It’s not like you owe me one.”

“Oh.”

“And you don’t need to get into kink stuff just because you think that’s what I like. I bought all of this stuff and never used it. To be honest, I was thinking of tossing it. I’m not sure I even like it.”

“Oh. Well…what if…I like it?”

“Do you?”

“Maybe? Maybe yesterday was really nice.”

“Maybe?”

“Levi, let’s do something kinky!” Eren blurted out. “Another new thing!”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know,” Eren said, pausing with his finger in the air. “Hold on, where’s your laptop?”

Levi felt a little thrill go through him and a fluttering sensation in his stomach. Eren was always pushing him. Pushing him just to the edge of his comfort level and then with a tug of his hand Levi was off the docks.

“Okay, now how do I open a new tab…” Levi said, squinting at his computer. Despite working with computers on a daily basis, he was by no means tech savvy (he had to call Petra to ask her how to retrieve his forgotten password on more than one occasion).

“Go to the incognito window,” Eren indicated.

“I am! I just don’t know where to find it…”

“You’re the worst at this, scoot over. Let me show you how to look up porn like a pro.”

“Don’t you dare download anything onto that computer, Eren!” Levi reprimanded. “I don’t want some virus that steals my credit card information!”

“Relax. Okay ‘kinky porn.’ Whoops, backspace…’kinky gay porn.’ There we go.”

“Well click on that one,” Levi pointed.

“No, you seriously don’t know how to porn, stop. What you do is you open up a bunch of tabs and pause all of them, letting them buffer, then you go through and when you get bored you close that tab!”

“Well I’m sorry, if I like my own imagination better,” Levi grumbled.

Levi didn’t really like porn, but he knew Eren did. That was probably the difference between them. Eren had all of these unrealistic expectations of love and sex and Levi blamed Disney and porn.

“Ooo, master and slave…that sounds kinky. Right?” Eren asked.

“Sure?”

When he had about twenty tabs, he clicked on the first one.

“Huh,” said Levi.

“Huh,” said Eren.

“It’s rather zoomed in, isn’t it?” Levi tilted his head to the side.

“See, he clearly shaves down there, and bleaches. Do you think—oH MY GOD!”

“Close it! Close it!” Levi shouted slapping his laptop closed. “Why is the sound still going?!”

“I can still see it when I close my eyes! God why!” Eren cried pressing his palms into his eyelids.

“Why won’t it stop playing! Stop playing!” Levi slapped at his keyboard in panic.

“I can never play pool ever again, Levi!” Eren said hands still over his eyes. “Is it gone? Is it off?”

“There. I think it’s gone.”

There was a long sigh from both of them.

“Serves us right,” Levi said. “I don’t think we were ever going to find anything that would work for us in porn.”

“Yeah, I suppose you’re right,” Eren sighed. “I just got excited. I had like an awesome safe word picked out too.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Archipelago.”

“Nice.”

They both thought for a moment, tapping their fingers on the table.

“Here, let’s each make a list. We’ll put stuff into categories: NEVERS, our Maybes, and our Yes’s,” Levi suggested.

They both sat at Levi’s kitchen table, scribbling with the small golf pencils Levi kept on hand for playing Boggle with Hanji and Erwin. Eren kept burying his pencil in his hair and scratching at his temples, his tongue in the corner of his mouth. He looked up to see Levi staring at him.

“What?” Eren asked.

“You’re cute.”

Eren stuck out his tongue and went back to his list.

“Okay…done!” Eren said in a sing-song voice.

“Okay, let’s compare.”

They stood up and put the lists side by side. After several long moments Levi sighed.

“Ah,” Levi said, hands on hips. “There’s not much overlap is there?”

“I don’t know what a lot of the ones you put on here are. What’s breathplay?”

“Like choking.”

“Wait, why is spanking in your ‘Maybes’? We did that already.”

Levi turned his head to the side.

“You didn’t like it?” Eren asked crestfallen.

“I don’t like violent acts like that,” Levi said uncomfortably. “I don’t like feeling like I’m hurting you.”

“But you’re not!”

“I know! It’s just…okay my cousins had this game where they used to pretend to punch me all the time and each time they’d catch their fist in their hand right in front of my face just to see me cringe and I got really good at learning not to flinch—“

“What does that—“

“Let me finish! And it became this mark of pride that I would never flinch when someone came for me. And it made me really good at judo. And then when bullies heard I was on the team, they decided it was their job to test me. They would come for me and I would defend myself. And there is nothing more satisfying than dropping a jackass twice your size on his fat ass. I liked it. Maybe that’s a little fucked up, but I liked doling out punishment like that. It felt good and I was good at it.”

Eren waited a moment before speaking to make sure Levi was finished.

“And how is that like this?”

“I liked the violence. I liked the rush of power. Or at least I thought I did. But I don’t want to hurt you. You’re precious to me. You’re not—“ he struggled with the words. “You’re not part of that.”

“Of what?”

“That old me. My past. You’re part of this right now and this tomorrow. The future me, the future us. I just don’t want—ah I don’t know,” he finished lamely with a shrug. “You understand?”

“I think so,” Eren said, thinking hard. “But Levi, I think the fact that you’re aware is good. It means you know where the line is.”

He smiled kindly and a little too understandingly and Levi shrugged, rolling his shoulders.

“Unlike me, I don’t know about breathplay, Levi. I am not good at telling when things are too tight. Ask Jean! I broke three strings my first week playing guitar!!!”

“I’d teach you,” Levi said, stepping forward, tucking his toes in-between Eren’s.

“Yeah, but do you think you could do that? Just drop everything and put your trust in me like that?” Eren asked self-consciously.

“Of course,” Levi said, running the side of his finger along the stubble on Eren’s jaw.

“Hm,” Eren hummed, wrapping his arms around Levi’s shoulders and resting there.

“Here, I have an idea,” Levi proposed.

They dumped the remainder of Levi’s drawers on the bed.

“Now, whatever you don’t like, put back into the drawer—neatly!” Levi said. “I’ll do the same and we can get some ideas with what’s left.”

Except they weren’t left with very much.

“So that’s a blindfold, an ostrich feather and disco plug,” Eren tallied.

“Yeah, that feather isn’t supposed to be in that drawer, that’s just a gag gift Hanji got me from Pier 1.”

“I just love disco plug,” Eren cooed picking it up. “It’s so happy and—hey! It’s not working! Goddamnit the battery is dead. This is lame, Levi! We were supposed to be doing kinky things!”

“Did you expect to be hanging from the ceiling in bondage ropes our first time doing this?” Levi asked.

Eren’s eyes glazed over as he fantasized on that image.

“Stop that. Let’s just make this an exercise in trust.”

Chapter Text

Levi started a fire in the never-used fireplace as it was freezing in the apartment. He cleared the coffee table from the living room and placed a bunch of pillows in the center, then a down comforter on top of that. As a final move, he set a bowl of ice cubes on the table with a towel underneath.

“Okay, I’m ready for you. Are you ready?” Levi called.

Eren opened the bedroom door and stepped out, one thumb hooked under the blindfold so he could see. He had grabbed Levi’s silk robe, which was far too short for him, the bottom edge barely making it past mid-thigh.

“No peeking,” Levi ordered. “Now from this point forward we are in the scene. Green means go, yellow means pause or “too much” and red means we stop everything altogether. You don’t need to explain your reason for wanting to stop or convince me, we’ll just stop. You understand?”

Levi wanted to remind him. They’d talked about it before, but he just wanted to make sure Eren understood.

“Yeah,” Eren said in a dejected voice.

“What’s wrong?”

“I wanted ‘archipelago’ to be my safeword, but red is okay I guess. I just never get to say archipelago.”

“You need to treat the safeword seriously, Eren. And remember you can say ‘no’ to things. You can say ‘stop.’ It doesn’t only have to be the safeword. Really, if you don’t like the blindfold, then you can take it off and we’ll stop. I don’t think we need a safeword for this, I just want us to practice in case we decide to go into something more serious later on. And you’re sure you’re okay about the other thing—”

Eren interrupted him with a kiss.

“Levi, I’m fine. Let’s do this.”

There was a pause as Levi waited.

“Oh! Green.”

Levi stepped forward and secured Eren’s blindfold.

“You look beautiful,” Levi whispered, toying with the hem of the robe. “I want you to get on your knees. Can you do that, Eren?”

Eren obliged, slowly sinking to his knees. Thinking he had a good idea where this was heading, he pressed his nose into the crotch of Levi’s jeans. Levi stepped away. And then he was gone. He padded backwards until he was sure Eren couldn’t sense his presence any longer. The only sound was that of the Duraflame log crackling as it caught fire and Eren’s quickened breathing. Levi could see his throat tighten as he swallowed and he craned his head around, listening intently for another command. Beautiful.

“Now,” said Levi softly and Eren whipped his head around focusing in on his deep voice. “I want you to crawl toward the sound of my voice.”

Levi watched a grin tug at Eren’s mouth and he spread his hands out on the carpet and leaned forward, arching his back. But when he reached the end of the carpet and hit the hardwood floor he yet out a yelp.

“What’s wrong?” Levi asked, rushing forward.

“Uh, is crawling absolutely necessary? I have a nasty bruise on my knee from the bucket fight with Jean. Sorry. Probably should have mentioned that earlier.”

“Lemme see. Oh wow. That’s a nasty bruise. Yeah it’s fine if you stand.”

“Okay awesome. Uh…green!” he said struggling to his feet.

Levi helped him find his balance and once he was standing, he slid his palm along Eren’s until only the tips of their fingers touched and then he disappeared again, slipping into the darkness under Eren’s eyelids. He padded around toward the door watching Eren listen. The borrowed robe had slipped off his shoulder when he stood up and was pulling to the side baring his bronzed clavicles.  He stretched his arms out, searching for Levi and took a shaky step forward.

“Don’t move until I tell you,” Levi ordered and Eren whipped his head around but stilled, his throat bobbing.

He circled around behind Eren and stood up on tiptoe and whispered, “Now walk toward my voice.”

“Shit!” Eren whirled around. “You’re so quiet.”

He took a few shaky steps forward, holding his hands out in front of him.

“Over here,” Levi directed.

Eren turned and then realized Levi’s direction had the desired effect, he was already turned around in the tiny apartment. He twisted the hem of the robe in his hands anxiously.

“C’mon baby, over here,” Levi whispered and Eren reached for him but came back with air. “You’re doing so great.”

Eren lurched forward but frowned when he was met with air again instead of Levi’s arms.

“Okay, now stop.”

Eren felt his toe hit a cushion on the floor and he stopped as instructed.

“Now reach out…”

Eren splayed his fingers, searching for Levi and then he flushed with relief when Levi took his hands. Levi helped Eren navigate over the pillows and then lay him down. He sank into the cushions, his teeth chattering a little, running his hands over the down comforter, tapping his fingers anxiously. Just when he felt he was losing focus in the game, he felt a tug somewhere near his navel as the loose knot he’d tied across the robe pulled free. He then felt one end slip slowly away from him, taking its tail with it. He felt like a large snake was slowly uncoiling, releasing its grip around him and he instinctively gasped for air.

Levi wrapped the tie around his palm, the silky fabric gliding against his skin. With that same hand, he grasped Eren’s left had, taking his wrist and gently setting it above his head. He repeated the motion with the right hand so the silk brushed against Eren along with his nimble fingers. Eren’s hands relaxed, the fingers curling toward his palms and he made a small noise with his mouth very much akin to his cymbal noises and Levi suppressed a smile. Eren had a hard time focusing and Levi knew he needed to keep things moving forward to command his attention. He took the corners of the robe and pulled them open, unwrapping Eren like a present.

Levi appreciated beauty. He liked boxes stacked in ascending order of height, sharp lines of skyscrapers, the way the horizon kissed the sky over the waterfront, and that beautiful shot of perspective one gets standing at the bottom of concrete steps. He loved perfectly round shapes and his brush strokes were sweeping arcs across the canvas. And he found pleasure in symmetry. Here, right now in front of him, Eren was spread out like a butterfly opening its wings. Levi drew his finger down the middle of Eren’s body starting at his hairline and brushing over his lips, eliciting a slight moan of urgency from his lover that Levi felt vibrate against the pad of his finger when he touched his throat. He traveled down Eren’s sternum and over his chest until he stopped between his legs.

Eren licked his lips and moved his hands down to his sides, playing with the fabric of the robe and trying to crane his neck to see through the blindfold. Levi picked his hands back up and set them above his head again.

Levi ran both hands down Eren’s body, his fingers lightly touching him like a rock skipping over a still pond. Goosebumps broke out all over Eren’s body and he began to shiver, biting his lip. Eren moved one hand down between his own legs, cupping himself and Levi took that hand and placed it above his head.

Eren made a little noise of frustration.

“It’s hard not to move them, you should tie them,” Eren suggested, putting his wrists together in front of Levi’s face.

Levi picked up Eren’s wrists once more and set them gently above his head, leaning down to whisper in Eren’s ear, his hair brushing against Eren’s cheek.

“You know how to keep them here for me like a good boy, don’t you?” he asked and Eren inhaled sharply and nodded.

Levi massaged and kneaded at Eren’s thighs, taking care not to touch him between his legs just yet. Despite the cold, the soft but firm way Levi’s thumbs rubbed in circles all over Eren’s body warmed him up. Levi pinched at his nipples and Eren let out a little squeal, then he softly rolled the hardened nubs with the pad of his fingers until they tingled. Eren hummed happily and Levi got up to grab something. Eren turned his head, trying to hear what it was but felt Levi slick his cock with lube and then he was shaping him, molding him to stiffness. Levi pulled deftly at the skin of his balls and rolled him around in his hands and then with both hands began stroking him up and down.

“My god you are so beautiful,” Levi said in a low voice, watching Eren writhe, keeping his hands above his head. “You know after you sprawled out on my work couch that one day I couldn’t stop picturing what it would be like to fuck you on it? You’d wheel the little coffee cart in and I’d shut and lock the door and we’d have a quickie before you’d continue your shift. And when you were on that stage. The way you looked at me. You could have pulled me up there and had your way with me in front of all of those people.”

Eren let out a needy whine.

“Mostly I can’t stop thinking about your eyes. You could get me to do anything with those eyes. That’s why I had to cover them.”

Levi pressed his lips to Eren’s eyelids.

“So gorgeous,” Levi said, spreading one hand out over Eren’s chest while stroking him with the other.

“Hah, hah, I’m—“ Eren struggled.

Levi removed his hand and stood up, leaving Eren fighting to chase his orgasm. He gasped and cried, his chest heaving, but release never came. Yet he kept his hands above his head. Levi smiled.

He heard Levi grab something and jumped, still oversensitive, when he felt something brush his cheek. Levi ran the feather up Eren’s neck and down his chest and up to his palms, enjoying working his way over Eren’s body.

“HA! No!!” Eren insisted suddenly. “Please don’t tickle my feet! I will actually kick you! I won’t mean it, but it’s just a reflex and I don’t like it especially with my missing toe and—“

“I didn’t touch your feet—goddamnit Bean! Get out of here!”

Bean had come out, curious to see what was happening and was busy sniffing Eren’s feet. Levi quickly locked the cats away in the bathroom.

“I’m sorry I feel like the mood is ruined,” Levi returned, glad Eren couldn’t see the cat hair on his shirt.

“Not it’s not! Keep going! Green!”

Levi grabbed the melting ice cubes from the bowl he’d set aside earlier and picked one up in his fist, squeezing it so the ice water dripped from his hand and then held it over Eren, a few drops landing on his nipple.

“Hah!” Eren flinched and then Levi blew cool air on it and the goosebumps returned.

Levi repeated the action on the other side and Eren’s toes curled. He left a trail of ice water down Eren’s chest. With each cold drop he breathed hotly on Eren’s cock. Eren’s face was red from exertion and his cock was leaking and bright with color. The heat from Levi’s mouth alone had him writhing, his hands twisting above his head, struggling not to touch himself.

“I’m so cl—I can’t—please touch me, please please please,” Eren begged over and over again.

Levi ran the feather up Eren’s thighs and then under his cock, trailing upwards to flick it gently over the tip and—

“AH!” Eren gasped, arching his back and lifting off the ground as he spilled out onto his stomach.

He lay there panting for several moments as Levi let him ride out his orgasm. Then, when Eren’s breathing had regulated some, Levi pulled up the blindfold, kissing each of his eyelids as he did so. Eren opened his eyes, fluttering and squinting against the fireplace.

“How was it?” Levi asked nervously.

“It’s snowing,” Eren said looking out the windows.

So it was.

The sound of the cats crying to be let out interrupted their moment, so Levi got up to open the bathroom door. The two of them curled up against each other under the blanket, kissing and cuddling and the cats pranced around getting comfortable on their new human-sofas. Eren laughed about the ice cubes and Levi bemoaned the fate of his now sticky ostrich feather and asked what he could have done better but mostly they were quiet watching the soft flakes stick to the window and melt.

“I wouldn’t mind trying it again,” Eren said softly, growing sleepy as he usually did post-coitus. “Although, next time you wear the blindfold.”

“Deal,” said Levi, threading his fingers through Eren’s hair.

The log died down and Eren fell asleep on his chest, the cats snug between them.

<*>

“Which sweater?” Levi asked, holding up a dark navy and a grey sweater.

“Don’t you have something Christmas-y?” Eren asked.

Levi gave Eren a pained expression.

“Here I’ll check for you,” Eren said, standing up and sliding clothes along the rail.

“Your present isn’t in there,” Levi said flatly.

“Damnit,” Eren stomped away and flopped on the bed.

Levi dug around in his closet and pulled out a brick red sweater he never wore and a forest green he’d forgotten he even owned.

“When you find a style you like, do you just buy it in every color?” Eren asked eyeing the near identical cardigans.

“Not every color,” Levi mumbled. “C’mon red or green?”

“Green because I’m going to wear red,” Eren said, messing with his phone.

Levi ironed his shirt and fussed over which tie to wear while Eren tugged his on.

“Alright, which shoes? I was thinking just loafers but is that too casual? You know what never mind, it’s snowing out, I’ll wear boots,” Levi grabbed his scarf and began tying it.

“…What’re you doing?” Eren asked, watching him.

“Let’s go!” Levi indicated the door.

“It’s like forty minutes before the party starts,” Eren said.

“Yeah, and I didn’t spend all yesterday frosting cookies to be late, so let’s go.”

“It’s a ten minute walk. Like two minutes in the car.”

“I know, it’s just your sister and I got off to a rough start and now I think she might actually like me so I’m gonna get there early to help her set up. So, c’mon let’s go. I’m going to take the gifts down to the car.”

“No!” Eren said suddenly flinging himself in front of the door. “I…uh…it’s early let’s fool around.”

“I just ironed this, I’m not getting it wrinkly,” Levi shook his head grabbing his coat.

“Levi!” Eren grabbed his shoulders and spun him around and Levi stared at his hands in confusion. “I’m ready.”

“Not without a coat you’re not,” Levi said pointedly.

“No. I mean, I’m ready.”

“…Really?” Levi asked eyes widening. “Well if we get to the party early, we can sneak home early and get things started!”

He began buttoning his coat.

“Levi, let’s have sex right now!” Eren said falling down on the floor, blocking Levi from opening the door.

“What are you doing?” Levi asked, laughing at him on the floor.

“I’m seducing you,” Eren said, propping his head up on his arm. “Is it working?”

Eren exaggerated his pout.

“Kinda yeah,” Levi said. “But we don’t have time.”

“It’s just I don’t know when I’m going to want to try again sooo…” Eren said biting his lip.

Such a nice lip.

“Okay, yeah, sure,” Levi said taking off his coat.

“Wahoo!” Eren whooped, jumping up.

He stripped himself of his clothes, leaving them like a trail of breadcrumbs for Levi to follow as he picked up each garment and brushed off the cat hair.

“So?” said Eren in what he must have thought was his sexiest voice, lying on the bed in only his boxers. “Care to join me?”

Levi for his part thought he was fairly quiet in bed. He usually only called out at the time of orgasm, except for that one time he got a case of giggles over some joke Eren had made earlier. Eren was not quiet. He was always making some kind of noise, usually his creative dirty talk that Levi loved. Sometimes he’d laugh, sometimes he’d sing or make songs up on the spot or hum—god, Levi loved the humming. One time he was very keen on making lightsaber noises until Levi asked him to knock it off.

But Eren fucking is one thing, Eren being fucked is another. He was loud. Oh god so loud. Not breathy moaning loud, but shouting loud.

“Oh my god you are really good with your fingers, oh shit—holy god—what is that what are you doing that feels great do that I like that more of that—“

“I’m just scissoring them…” Levi explained, growing amused at Eren’s shouts.

“Don’t like that word, but I like this. You need to teach me. Teach me to fuck you like this.”

“What and give away all my good moves?” Levi asked.

“Oh you have the best moves the best ah—ah! Do I have moves, Levi?”

“Of course,” Levi said, turning Eren’s head back and kissing him.

Eren leaned hungrily into the kiss, hissing into Levi’s mouth as his fingers rutted into him.

“You ready?”

Eren nodded and Levi slipped a third finger in. Eren let out a shout and smacked his fist against the headboard. Levi was pretty sure he wouldn’t see the cats for a week after all of this noise.

“That feel good?” Levi asked lowly, calmly.

He was steady and sure. Eren’s enthusiasm always helped him to find the best in himself, cut through the insecure bullshit and find what he was good at.

“Mm,” Eren said by way of agreement.

“You want me now?” Levi asked, sucking on Eren’s shoulder and nipping at his vertebrae. “We’ll go slow.”

“Yeah, okay,” Eren nodded, eyes still screwed shut as he tried to focus on the sensation of Levi’s fingers.

Levi pulled them out and Eren let out a sigh. Levi slipped on a condom and then messed around in the drawer, grabbing a ring and putting it around himself.

“What’s that?” Eren asked, eyeing it warily, almost suspiciously.

“Cock ring. This might take a while and I don’t want to lose it.”

“It looks scary. Does it hurt?”

“No,” Levi snorted. “Ready?”

“As much as I’ll ever be,” Eren said and then when Levi looked unimpressed. “Yes.”

Eren got on his hands and knees facing the headboard, a look of fierce concentration on his face. Levi gave another little snort and grabbed his ankle, pulling him to the edge of the bed and flipping him. Grabbing both of Eren’s calves, Levi pushed Eren’s hips back and pressed his member against him.

“Shit, I forgot how strong you are,” Eren gasped as Levi flung Eren’s legs over his arms.

Levi kissed him, biting at his lip then dragged his lips down to suck on a soft nipple. Levi felt it harden under soft flicks from his tongue and with one hand on his cock he brushed against Eren’s entrance and the soft hairs there before he pressed in.

Eren made a strangled yelp and put the soft mound of his palm in his mouth to stop from making any more noise. Levi stilled, letting Eren adjust to the sensation.

“How’s that?” Levi asked, watching Eren carefully.

Eren nodded, still biting at his palm.

“Do you feel that?” Levi asked.

Eren snorted, breathing shallowly.

“Do you like it?”

Eren nodded. His brows were furrowed, but slowly they began to relax and his breathing regulated.

“You’re just swallowing me up,” Levi said, easing in gently. “Here, quit biting yourself.”

Levi pulled Eren’s hand out of his mouth.

Eren mumbled something, throwing his arm over his eyes, his other hand pulling his balls out of the way and rolling them in his hands. Levi pulled Eren’s hips a little closer and Eren let out a low moan. He pulled out a few times to get more lube and each time Eren gritted his teeth and panted, gasping again as Levi reentered him.

“Ah, you’re taking me all the way to the hilt,” Levi said as his bare skin touched Eren’s. “I’m gonna move, sound good?”

“Yeah.”

Eren leaned up to watch Levi’s cock slide out eyes wide as he bit at his thumb and then when he felt Levi thrust inside him, he keened rising off the mattress. Levi put his hand on Eren’s chest to steady him.

“Oh my god,” Eren laughed delightedly. “You’re so good at this.”

“Eh, I’m okay,” Levi shrugged, giving another slow thrust.

Eren swore, throwing his head back, scratching at Levi’s headboard. When Levi hit that spot, Eren cried out, his foot jiggling where it was caught over Levi’s arm. It was thrilling to Levi to watch Eren’s erection grow from each thrust, his nail bitten fingers cupping himself and then he began stroking in time with Levi’s thrusts, anticipating his movement.

“Nnn, I want more of you,” Eren gasped, squeezing Levi’s ass and pulling him in deeper. “I want all of you.”

Levi did his best to oblige (although there wasn’t much more he could give), rolling his hips and snapping up with short powerful thrusts. Eren was leaking, pooling on his belly.

“Oh my god, yes!” Eren gasped, tossing his head back.

“Hold on,” Levi said, pulling out.

“Levi!” Eren protested as Levi took off the cock ring.

“Sorry, hold on!” Levi said, inspecting the condom for tears.

Eren made an impatient noise and then Levi was on him again, lifting Eren’s hips up to meet him. Eren hooked his ankles over Levi’s shoulders. Levi had him nearly bent in half and Eren’s gasps were loud. Levi wanted to make sure Eren enjoyed it, so he held off as long as he could but then Eren started urging him on.

“Levi, come in me, I want to feel you come in me, I want to watch you come in me,” Eren begged as Levi’s movements became erratic.

With a loud grunt, Levi came. Eren watched Levi’s cock as it pulsed inside him with wild eyes and then with one last stroke, he spilled onto his own belly. Levi could feel Eren’s body spasming and clenching around him, milking the last of him. Levi’s chest heaved, his eyes closed and when he opened them Eren was look up at him through his dark lashes, giving him a lazy smile.

“That was good,” he yawned, nosing at Levi’s chin. “That was really…ah, sorry, yawn…really good.”

“Yeah,” Levi said panted, holding the condom as he pulled out.

Eren rested his chin on his folded arms humming contentedly as Levi cleaned up the mess.

“I mean it. That was good. Let’s do that again sometime. I mean, maybe give me a few days, but we should try it again. Was it good for you?”

“Yeah, great,” Levi said.

“…What are you doing?”

“Getting dressed. We are so late, Eren. We are so fucking late. It is…Christ, it is 7:55. We are supposed to be there in five minutes,” Levi said in an anxious whine.

“I just gave you something really special!” Eren fumed. “We are cuddling!”

Five minutes later, Levi was still caught in Eren’s vicelike attempts at spooning.

“This is nice,” Eren sighed happily.

“What? Being late?” Levi grumbled.

“The afterglow,” Eren continued, arms and legs still wrapped around Levi like he was an octopus. “Feel me. I’m glowing.”

“You’re glowing,” Levi agreed grumpily.

“I hope you realize I’m going to be very needy for the next few weeks or so,” Eren continued, breathing hotly on Levi’s neck.

“I don’t mind needy,” Levi said. “I do mind late.”

“Was I…was I good?”

“Of course.” Levi gave a little snort. “You were pretty amazing actually.”

“Thanks for waiting for me,” Eren said after a few moments. “It means a lot.”

Levi grunted in answer, but kissed Eren’s palm where there the bite marks were still visible.

“Okay fine,” Eren said, rolling his eyes before finally releasing him. “I love you.”

Eren kissed him and Levi kissed him back. And then Eren kept kissing him, even as Levi tried to dress himself. They kissed while buttoning up shirts and pulling on slacks. Levi had one finger hooked around the back of his loafers trying to pull them on as and another hooked under Eren’s tie pulling those lips to him. Goddamn, they were so late.

<*>

[Twisted Sister:] Where are you guys?

[Eren:] almost there! we’re leaving now!

[Twisted Sister:] Everybody is here!

[Eren:] he wanted to leave forty minutes early so i had to stall him!

[Twisted Sister:] What? Who does that???

It didn’t snow often in Sina, so when it did, the entire city practically shut down. Levi would have preferred to walk in such conditions rather than risk damage to his new car, but with the snow as high as it was, trudging across the park with presents and Erwin’s mother’s punch bowl seemed unwise, especially since they were late. Eren made mooneyes at him the entire time and if Levi didn’t have to stare at the road, he might have tried to conjure up some of his own. As it was, he took it slow lest there be any icy patches, ignoring Eren’s fingers tracing the lines on his dress slacks. Levi braked for a stop sign and the wheels locked, sliding them forward a foot.

“Watch it!” Levi said, throwing out his arm protectively, almost catching Eren in the front teeth.

“You been driving with my sister?” Eren asked in annoyance, rubbing at his clavicle where Levi’s arm had struck. Yet, he went right back to sliding his hand up Levi’s thigh and Levi liked it there.

They parked—parking was easy enough to find as the roads were nearly abandoned—and exited the car. Levi booked it, walking nearly half a block ahead of Eren.

“Oh god, we are so late,” he huffed, his short legs somehow moving very quickly as Eren lurched after him, texting sneakily on his phone.

[Eren:] walking up now. get ready.

Across the street Eren recognized a familiar face and Erwin crossed briskly, an infant car seat in hand.

“What the hell, what the fucking hell, Erwin!” Eren hissed.

“I know!” Erwin apologized.

“We are twenty minutes late and you show up after us?”

“I know, I’m sorry!” Erwin insisted. “But someone—“ he glared, motioning across the street, hurrying the two elementary school kids, “—thought it would be fun to throw my keys in the garbage so I had to dig through two whole bags to find them.”

“Oh,” said Levi, looking over his shoulder and catching sight of Erwin. “I didn’t know Mikasa invited you.”

Eren and Erwin exchanged a look.

“Yeah, well we got to know each other pretty well while you were sick,” Erwin fudged. “Boys, come on! No don’t touch the yellow snow!”

“I asked you one thing, one thing, Erwin,” Eren continued as Erwin waved the boys across the road. “Just show up on time. And you brought the kids?”

“Oh what was I supposed to do with them?” Erwin asked. “Nile’s flight was cancelled!”

“So get a sitter!”

“You guys, come on!” Levi said, marching furiously toward Sina Coffee.

“Oh and how was I supposed to do that, Eren? It’s Christmas Eve eve!”

“Oh right. My bad. Sorry, I didn’t even think about that,” Eren scratched his head.

“It’s okay, it’s just…I am very frustrated right now. Boys! Hurry up!”

“All the lights are off,” Levi said looking through the dark windows of Sina Coffee. “Is it upstairs? I thought it was here…”

Eren and Erwin exchanged the same look as they caught up with him, Nile’s sons playing in the snow banks behind them.

“Oh hey, the door is unlocked,” Levi said, pushing it open and stepping over the threshold.

“SURPRISE!”

“AH!” Levi screamed, throwing his phone.

Chapter Text

“I am so sorry,” Levi apologized, dabbing at Oluo’s nose.

“No problem, I shouldn’t have stood so close to the door,” he said thickly, having bitten his tongue when Levi struck him.

“Armin?” Levi asked. “How you doin’ buddy?”

“You got me right between the eyes,” Armin said, rubbing there.

Levi picked up his phone.

“Hey, it still works!” he said, pushing the battery back in and turning it on.

“That’s…great,” Armin said, holding a cup of ice to his forehead.

“Please, Gracie, please…damnit, you woke the baby!” Erwin said in frustration.

“Again…what did you think was going to happen?” Eren asked.

The scene inside was chaotic. Apparently Mikasa’s demands that everyone be on time were meant only for those she’d told to arrive fifteen minutes early. Levi had misunderstood not realizing it was so they could throw him a surprise birthday party. Thinking they were intruders, Levi thought he reacted appropriately. After all, who jumps out of the dark at a man???

Since they were late most people already had their drinks and the arrival of the birthday boy meant they could get back to their chatting. Levi recognized several faces. Had Erwin invited the whole office?

“Were you surprised? Huh?” Eren nudged him.

“Yes,” Levi nodded.

Erwin picked the baby up and began bouncing her as the two boys wrestled in the doorway, throwing mittens and boots everywhere.

“Boys!” Erwin shouted and they ignored him.

“So who is this?” Eren asked as the baby wailed.

“This is Grace,” Erwin said and Eren wiggled his fingers in front of her face.

Levi caught sight of the chalkboard where his picture reading “BANNED 4 LIFE!” still hung. However now there were several more pictures joining the unflattering Polaroid. Levi and the mimes after they’d shoved Eren off the docks. Levi and Hanji before she started HRT, god that was forever ago, where did she find that one? From the looks of it that was during his body glitter phase. RIP body glitter. One of him and Eren at the baseball game, he remembered that one because Eren had asked a middle aged man to take the photo and the guy spent over five minutes trying to set up the perfect shot, stepping in his chili fries in the process. One with Levi’s back to the camera, covered in paint. Goddamnit Eren. The kid needed to stop taking pictures of him when he wasn’t—no wait, that was from eight years ago. Hanji had taken that one. Levi and Erwin at Disneyland. Erwin made him wear those stupid mouse ears just once for a photo. At Mike and Nanaba’s wedding. At Erd’s wedding. Wow, there were so many. And then, tucked up in a corner, he caught sight of one he hadn’t looked at in a very long time. He was holding up a fish he’d just caught next to his dad who was holding up a large bass of his own.

Here it was, a mural of his life in pictures.

“Happy Birthday,” Eren whispered in his ear, coming up behind him and pressing a kiss to his temples.

They stood there for a moment looking at all the photos, swaying a little as Eren rocked him.

“Did you know Nile’s kids are William, Grace, and Jack?” Eren asked in a pained voice.

“Oh god.”

They headed over to the counters where the cookies and desserts Levi and Mikasa slaved over were spread out. Levi was now realizing he’d been conned into making desserts for his own party.

“Happy Birthday,” Mikasa said distractedly, having rinsed the punch bowl and began filling it.

“It’s not my birthday,” Levi mumbled.

When was the last time someone had thrown him a birthday party? Never. He never allowed it. How had Eren even found out when his birthday—Hanji, the answer was Hanji, why was he even pursuing that thought?

“Armin!” Eren cheered, throwing his arms around his best friend. “I missed you! Mmm, you smell like coconut shampoo. Mikasa has the same kind. It’s nice.”

Armin gave a panicked expression, which was obscured as Eren sat down in his lap and nuzzled at him.

“You butt feels nice!” Armin complimented as Eren continued to sit on him.

“I’ve been working out! Your arms are so strong, what have you been doing?” Eren asked.

“Levi has been training me!” Armin said brightly. “He thinks I can run a 5k!”

“You?” Eren snorted.

“Yes. Me,” Armin said with a hard edge to his voice.

Eren’s laugh died quickly when he saw the fierce expression on his best friend’s face.

“So when’s the 5k?” Eren quickly changed the subject.

“Why are you wearing a crown?” Levi asked, pointing at Armin’s head.

“Oh? This?” Armin said still under Eren’s lap.

“And a cape?” Levi noticed it now, walking around the back of the chair they were sitting on.

Now that he looked closer the cape was actually a blanket he’d tied around his neck. And he was wearing pajamas.

“You are looking at Party-Armin,” Armin said.

“Oh god.” Levi wasn’t sure he wanted to be looking at Party-Armin.

“I passed the bar, I got the internship and now I’ve got a month to just chill. So I’ve got my party hat on—“

“It’s beautiful,” said Eren.

“My party cape—“

“Blue looks stunning on you,” Eren sighed. “Say Arm’?”

“Yeah?”

“…Not that I mind or anything, but um, what’s in your pants? It’s poking me,” Eren asked, climbing out of Armin’s lap.

“Oh that, I’m wearing a cup.”

“Why?” Eren asked.

“Sack attack!” Jean shouted, coming out of nowhere and launching his fist between Eren’s legs.

“That’s why,” Armin said, taking a sip of his drink.

“Ow, fuck, fuck you Jean!” Eren writhed on the floor, holding his balls.

Jean bounded up to Mikasa and gave her a large hug, picking her up off the ground.

“Jean spent all day with his frat buddies,” Mikasa explained to Levi who was horrified.

“It was awesome, just me and the guys, shooting hoops and hangin’ tight. Just like the old days. Just chillin’ with my dawgs, know what I’m sayin’?”

Oh god. A few hours with his old frat buddies and Jean’s entire pattern of speech changed into douche.

“Tell Levi what else you did,” Mikasa instructed in her flat voice, but Jean whined so she continued for him. “Then we went to the park and had a snack and then he took a nap.”

“I want some juice,” Jean begged, leaning on her.

“You want some punch?” she asked him.

“Yeah, with vodka, pleeease,” he insisted, blinking his amber eyes at her.

“Okay, I’ll get you some punch.”

Jean grinned smugly at Levi.

“I can see the appeal of your relationship and why you two lasted so long,” Levi said flatly, his eyebrow twitching.

“I’d like some punch,” Armin said, raising his hand.

“You know where it is,” Mikasa said coolly, ignoring him and attending to other guests.

“It’s…I…she’s mad because I’m quitting the café…” Armin whispered with a sigh and they nodded.

“Mikasa’s mad at you?” Eren slowly stood up, still rubbing at his balls. “I don’t think that’s happened since…since we destroyed her Skydancer when we tied it to some bottle rockets. So…second grade?”

Levi watched Erwin walk up to Petra.

“Here, can you just hold her for like, one minute so I can take off my coat?” he asked, holding Grace out to her.

“Uh-uh. No. Nope. We have a good four more months of baby-free bliss and we are not going to start early,” Petra said shaking her head and rubbing her belly.

“Rico—could you—“ Erwin sighed, offering Grace to Rico.

“What? Just because I have a vagina I’m supposed to hold the baby? You said this wasn’t a work function and I’m on vacation,” Rico shook her head.

Nanaba stepped behind her husband so Erwin couldn’t see her.

“You don’t like kids?” Levi asked her.

“Oh, I love them,” Nanaba said, eating a stuffed olive. “I just don’t want to be the one stuck holding the boss’s baby the entire night.”

“Mikasa, there you are—could you—“ Erwin extended the screaming child to Mikasa over the dessert table.

Mikasa’s eyes widened and she backed away until she touched the café’s brick walls, flattening against them like she were caught in a spotlight. Erwin and Levi watched her feel for the swinging doors to the back of house before disappearing. Erwin sighed as Grace screamed.

“Here,” Levi said extending his arms. “I’ll take the baby, you go get a drink and sit down.”

“Really?” Erwin asked, looking relieved.

“Yeah, sure,” Levi said.

He took her in his arms and suddenly the wailing stopped and she blinked up at him with large eyes, chubby fist in her mouth.

“Whoa, you’re like the baby whisperer,” Eren said in awe.

“She’s terrified,” Jean snorted.

“Hi,” Levi said to the baby and she let out a sudden shriek of laughter, grabbing his glasses.

“Babies like me,” Levi said, walking her around.

“You’re short,” Billy, Nile’s eldest, sneered coming up to Levi.

Levi looked down at his freckly face and his blond hair which must have come from Marie.

“I am,” Levi agreed. “But it’s not nice to comment on people’s appearances. You might hurt their feelings.”

“Whatever, you’re probably a loser like Erwin,” Billy said with his hands on his hips in defiance. Maybe he inherited Marie’s personality as well.

“Why would you say that?” Levi asked evenly in the same calm voice.

“Because…because he is,” Billy stammered. “He likes boring stuff!”

“Like what?” Levi prompted, putting some food on a small plate.

“Like…like…old movies! Black and white movies! And no cartoons!”

“What do you like?” Levi said, picking up his plate and moving away from the table.

“Power Rangers Dinoforce!” Billy blurted out, eyes wide as dinner plates.

Levi offered him a cookie and he chewed it and proceeded to explain the entire plot of Dinoforce to him, spewing crumbs everywhere.

“And and, the T. Rex is the—the Red Dragonzord and he and he has a Tyrana-Biter like HYAH! and KPOW! and he, he is all WHAM! to the baddies and then—“ Billy babbled, following Levi around.

Levi felt something tug at his pant leg.

“Mister,” Jack whispered. “I have to go potty.”

“Oh,” said Levi as Billy continued blasting away imaginary foes. “Well let’s find Erwin for you—“

Except poor exhausted Erwin was busy nodding off on the couch already.

“I think Gracie needs a change too, so let’s all go,” Levi said, picking up the diaper bag.

Jack held onto Levi’s pant leg, other thumb tucked in his mouth Levi ushered them all into the bathroom, Once inside, Levi leaned against the door heavily and let out a long sigh.

“And then the Green Ranger is the Stegosaurus! Like Spike from Land Before Time!” Billy continued as Levi pulled down the diaper change.

“Jack do you need help?”

“No, I can do it,” Jack mumbled, toddling into a stall.

“There we go, fresh diaper,” Levi said to Grace, who was busy gurgling.

He heard the flush of the automatic toilet and Jack came out.

“I missed,” he said unconcernedly.

“And the Yellow Ranger—“

“You missed?” Levi asked in confusion and then pushed open the stall door.

He couldn’t swear in front of the kids, but inside him a very loud Levi screamed several different obscenities at once.

<*>

“Marco’s here,” Jean said, nudging Eren. “You know what that means.”

“No?” Eren did not.

“He and Kevin broke up and now he’s here? Obviously he’s looking to get back together.”

“Obviously,” Eren said exchanging a look with Armin.

“Well, I would think you guys would be happy about the idea of us getting back together, because otherwise I’m gonna have to ask you guys to pick sides.”

“I choose Marco.”

“Now hear me out, if Marco and I are broken up for good, who are you going to pick to stay friends with?”

“Marco,” Eren repeated.

“Okay, well, you can’t pick Marco, because I’m in your band. So which of us are you going to pick?”

Eren and Armin looked at each other.

“Marco,” they both said grinning and Jean fixed them with an annoyed expression.

“Hey Eren!” Marco called, having heard his name. “Been a while.”

“You too,” Eren said giving him a one-armed hug as Jean slunk away, pretending he didn’t see Marco.

“Thanks for inviting me, even though…” Marco cast a sideways look at Jean.

“Thanks for coming,” Eren said enthusiastically.

“Hey,” Marco tugged at his elbow. “I didn’t realize this was a surprise birthday party for Levi.”

“Oh, that’s okay, it’s sortof half Christmas party, half birthday party so you didn’t have to get him anything.”

“No, I mean…Levi doesn’t really seem like the kind of guy who likes surprises.”

“That’s what I said,” Armin muttered darkly.

“What are you talking about? He was super excited!”

“Eren, he injured two people,” Armin pointed out, pressing his cup of ice into his head.

“Like I said…excited.”

“Well…you know him better,” Marco gave a small smile. “Hey, Jean doesn’t think I’m here to get back together with him, does he?”

“No idea,” Eren lied.

Except when they both looked over at Jean, he was bragging loudly about his new guitar clearly hoping to gain Marco’s attention. Eren smiled sheepishly and turned to greet other guests.

“Connie! Sasha!” Eren said giving them both a large hug as they bounded over.

They exchanged a few pleasantries, talked about the tour and the co-op when Connie said something out of the blue.

“Levi’s okay right?” Connie asked.

“Yes…why wouldn’t he be?” Eren asked.

“No reason,” Connie said looking at Sasha.

“Yeah, his back and leg are a lot better. He’s jogging and stuff so you know.”

“I meant more about the surprise party,” Connie said, investigating the contents of his cup rather than look at Eren directly.

“He’s fine,” Eren said smiling reassuringly.

But he immediately sought out Erwin, only to find him asleep on the couch, the cookies on his plate dangerously close to slipping onto the floor so he located Hanji next.

“Levi’s okay with the surprise birthday party, right?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Hanji nodded.

“Good,” Eren said with relief.

“I mean, look at him, he’s got the mop out already, he’s having a great time.”

“Huh?” Eren asked, looking around to see Levi maneuvering the mop bucket one-handed with the baby in the other, while Jack held onto his pant leg and Billy followed behind him. “Shit.”

He left Hanji’s side quickly.

“What are you doing?” Eren asked.

“Jack, uh, Jack missed the toilet and I didn’t want to leave a mess for your sister,” Levi said steering the soapy mop bucket into the bathroom.

“Here, let me do that,” Eren said taking the mop from him.

“It’s okay, I got it,” Levi said.

“Hold on,” Eren stopped him. “Christa!”

“Yeah?” she called form across the room.

“Help,” he mouthed at her and pointed at Billy and Jack.

“Hi boys!” she greeted a few seconds later, showing up and taking Jack’s hand away from Levi’s pant leg. “Want to go play football with us?”

Billy proceeded to explain to her the exact same plot of the show he had been explaining to Levi and Jack grabbed a corner of her skirt as she steered them away.

“What are you doing?” Eren repeated hands up, following Levi into the bathroom.

“Oh Jack pissed like all over the wall, look at this nonsense. I can tell he is Nile’s kid, because this is what the toilet looks like every time I use it after him.”

“Oh my god,” Eren said craning his neck to look at the ceiling. “How did he even reach up there?”

“I don’t know!”

“Levi, what are you doing?” Eren said, tearing his eyes away from the wall. “C’mon all of your friends are here.”

“I know, Eren,” Levi hissed, trying not to disturb Grace. “Because you invited all of them and everyone from work, I mean, what the fuck Eren? What the fuck?”

“You’re not happy?” Eren asked.

“I didn’t say that, it’s just…” Levi sighed, bouncing Grace absentmindedly.

“Shit. Shit, did I fuck up?” Eren asked.

Levi didn’t answer him.

“Fuck, I fucked up,” Eren deduced. “Okay, well do you want to leave?”

“Leave? I can’t, you invited all of these people for me!”

“So? Fuck ‘em! We’ll tell them you’re sick.”

Levi shook his head and stared at the ceiling.

“We’ll tell them I’m sick,” Eren tried and that did sound a little better.

Levi frowned.

“Or here, we’ll just sneak out the back. C’mon, I’ll hand Gracie off to someone else and you go first and then I’ll meet you by the car.”

“No, it’s okay, I’ll just…I’m really not good at these kinds of things Eren.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I mean, I kindof knew. Now I think I get it.”

“I can’t keep up in conversations and I just feel like everyone is concentrating a spotlight on me and now it’s even more focused because it’s my birthday. I just feel so out of place, so I try to find a thing to do because if I’m helping or working on something people will leave me alone.”

“I know. I just thought it would be easier because it’s all people you know, not strangers.”

That did make it somewhat easier.

“Yeah, but Rico, Eren?”

“Okay I outsourced that part to Erwin, my bad,” Eren said putting up his hands. “I don’t know who you’re friends with at work besides Petra.”

Levi sighed.

“Just tell me…are there any more surprises I should know about?”

“Like what?” Eren asked.

“Eren, you fake proposed to me twice in the first week we dated.”

“Oh! Oh no. No, you don’t have to worry about that.”

“Good,” said Levi, still bouncing the baby. “Good.”

“Do you want to stay or do you want to leave? Or do you want to stay in here and we can…y’know…” he waggled his thick eyebrows.

“I’m holding a baby, you dick,” Levi kicked at his ankle playfully. “I’ll…stay. It’s just I need like an out if I get overwhelmed. I can’t have you abandon me to these people.”

‘These people’ meaning his closest friends.

“Archipelago?” Eren suggested.

Levi hid a smile.

“Okay. Archipelago.”

“She’s asleep,” Eren said and Levi looked down at her peaceful face.

<*>

They exited the bathroom and put Gracie in her car seat on the coffee table by Erwin who was snoring loudly as Connie and Sasha lobbed fish crackers at his open mouth. Outside Reiner had Jack on his shoulders, football in his tiny hands, and was running him to the snowbank that was their end zone while Armin slipped on the ice, pulling Jean down with him.

“Oh, Levi!” Christa said. “I brought your birthday presents!”

In her hands she held two very uniquely shaped wrapped gifts. Eren and Levi eyed them warily.

“Can…can I open these in public?” Levi asked uncomfortably.

“This one is ‘The Sword in the Stone’ from the peninsula,” she said enthusiastically, beaming as Ymir came up and put her arm around her.

Levi cautiously tore open a corner and squinted inside.

“Oh,” he said once he realized it wasn’t a sex toy.

“It’s because you did that series on Lighthouses and you know, because ‘Lighthouse’ is like Eren’s anthem to you,” Christa explained.

“It’s beautiful, thank you Christa,” Levi said as he tried to think of where in his apartment he could feature it. Probably the end table by the fireplace.

“And this one,” Christa said, picking up the other strangely shaped present with reverence in her eyes. “Is Excalibur! The biggest, blackest—“

“Thank you Christa!” both Eren and Levi interrupted.

“Thanks, I’ll just…set these over here…” Levi said, tucking them into the other presents he’d brought.

As he straightened from sorting his pile, he felt someone very large grab him and lift him.

“Birthday hug!” Mike said, lifting him off his feet.

“Don’t you dare!” Levi tried as Mike dragged him over to sleeping Erwin and Nanaba and Hanji crouched down so they could all take a selfie.

“Smile Birthday Boy!” Hanji grinned and Nanaba threw up a peace sign. “Nice even got Erwin in that one.”

Mike released him and Levi gulped down a great deal of air.

“We didn’t know you were a Christmas baby, Levi!” Nanaba said, holding a gift in her hands. “We just thought you were like a Jehovah’s Witness or something. So here’s several years of birthday gifts in one.”

“Oh no, you guys didn’t have to,” Levi said uncomfortably.

It wasn’t that Levi didn’t love Mike and Nanaba but they had never been similar in terms of taste. He took it from them and nearly dropped it. What was it? A fucking bowling ball?  Knowing them it probably was a bowling ball with his name engraved on it.

“Besides I’m not sure there’s anything I want…unless it’s the Le Creuset 5 ½ quart round dutch oven in mineral blue! How did you guys know?” Levi exclaimed, excitedly hugging the cookware to his chest.

“What is it?” Eren asked in confusion.

“Don’t look at me,” Mike grunted. “I only bought it.”

“It’s perfect,” Levi said happily. “I gotta show your sister, where is she?”

“Hey, can I get a hug too?” Eren asked Mike.

Mike picked him up in a large bear hug.

“Oh my god this is amazing. Levi!” Eren said as Mike shook him. “He’s so warm.”

“Where’s Mikasa?” Levi asked as Eren’s feet dangled a foot off the ground, but Eren was too distracted.

Levi found her in the kitchen in the middle of rinsing out the already empty punchbowl.

“Hey,” Levi tried because she was staring at an overflowing sink.

She jumped and turned it off wiping at her eyes.

“Hey!” she answered, turning her back to him. “How’s it going so far? You having a good time?”

If she wasn’t going to acknowledge it, he wasn’t going to ask. She nodding in approval at his gift from Mike and Nanaba and returned to her normal reserved self so he didn’t push it.

When Levi exited the kitchen, he found Eren on the raised step that usually housed the decrepit indoor plants Mikasa never watered. He had set up Bertholdt’s keyboard and was quietly playing Christmas music.

“What’s this?” Levi asked as Eren played on. “I didn’t know you played piano.”

“Bert taught me. Lots of time to learn while on the road,” Eren explained, fingers tripping over keys expertly like he’d been doing it for years.

Levi found himself grinning.

Oh I wish I had a river,” Eren sang softly, his voice carrying gently over the chatter. “I could skate away on.”

No one seemed to be paying Eren much attention. Petra was cooing over the baby because she “likes them when they’re sleeping.” Gunter and Erd were busy showing Oluo the webpage they’d made for the baby’s birth announcement. Outside the football game had finished and a very sleepy Jack was nodding off, tucked into Erwin’s side. Armin was busy showing Nifa his cape.

“Thanks, thank you, I made it myself,” he said twirling in the blanket as Nifa giggled.

And Levi started to relax. It was like his own private concert. Just like when they were on the houseboat and Eren played for him.

“Hey guy, hey,” someone said at his side.

“Uh…hello,” Levi greeted Hitch.

“I haven’t seen you in forever man, how you been?” she asked.

“Good?” Levi answered, not quite sure why she was asking him.

“That’s cool. That’s cool. You like the party?”

“It’s okay so far,” Levi nodded.

“Yeah, it’s a surprise party, you know. I’m getting bored waiting for the birthday boy to show up.”

“I know…it’s my birthday,” Levi reminded her. “You yelled ‘Surprise!’ at me.”

“That’s where I know you from! From earlier!”

“I…yes. Hey, can I ask you something?” Levi started, knowing he really didn’t need to know the answer, but it was niggling at him. “Why do they call you Hitch?”

“Oh, because I have these big-ass thumbs,” she indicated, waving her very large thumbs about. “Hey Boss! Hey!”

Hitch spotted Annie, and waved enthusiastically. Annie tugged up her hood and pretended not to see her.

“See you later dude,” Hitch said chasing after Annie.

Eren switched over to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and Levi swayed a little on the spot, ignoring Rico complaining how it wasn’t a real office Christmas party, but at least the punch was good.

“Here,” said Armin, handing Nifa his crown and she put it on and giggled.

Mikasa glowered.

“Mikasa,” Marlowe said, grabbing her shoulders. “I can’t. I fucking can’t. I can’t listen to any more fucking Christmas songs I swear to god, I will fucking lose it. I’m forced to listen to that capitalist bullshit at the kiosk on repeat for hours on end and I can’t do it anymore!”

“Jesus, calm down Marlowe,” Mikasa shook him off. “Eren!”

She made a cutting motion with her hands and Eren nodded in understanding.

“Here’s a song dedicated to Jean,” Eren said. “You walked into the party, like you were walkin’ onto a yacht—“

Jean launched the football at Eren’s head and he ducked it expertly. Levi grinned and looked over to see Mikasa’s reaction but she was storming into the kitchen.

“Okay, what’s going on?” Levi asked following her into the kitchen.

“I fucked up,” she said pacing. “Remember how I said I hooked up with a guy and it was a mistake?”

“Yeah,” Levi snorted.

“Well uh, we kept hooking up. Just a casual thing and then his apartment lease was up and he couldn’t really afford to stay anywhere by himself so he moved in.”

“…You let the guy you were hooking up with move in?” Levi asked.

“And uh, since his mattress had bedbugs, we just tossed it and the second bedroom is more like our office so you know, he just kindof slept in my bed.”

Uh oh.

“And anyways, we decided it was best to break things off before the holidays. No more hooking up. But…”

“But he’s still living there and still sleeping in your bed?” Levi asked.

Mikasa nodded. She sighed and slid down to the floor. Levi joined her, their backs against the door of the storeroom.

“Do you need me to kick him out?”

“No. No, I just…I knew it was just a friends with benefits kind of deal, I just didn’t really think it would end.”

Levi groaned and rubbed his eyes.

“Look, you knew what it was when you entered into this relationship. You tried to make him your boyfriend despite that and he’s not. You need to accept that and move on.”

“I know. I know that. But…”

“No buts,” Levi said firmly.

“The only reason why it was just hooking up is because I refused to let it be anything more,” Mikasa said wrapping her arms around her knees. “I…for a while now have been trying to figure out where I…” she struggled for the word. “…fit.”

Levi didn’t say anything. He understood. Mikasa was adopted and still felt like the odd person out in her family. Levi had experienced that firsthand with his cousins. Mikasa took over her mother’s business, but it wasn’t really her passion. She was good at it, sure, but it’s clearly not where she saw herself. The one role Mikasa felt secure in was being big sister to Eren. She was his rock and support and bailed him out whenever he needed it. She spent most of her time worrying about him, but now that the band was doing well Eren didn’t rely on her as much. She wasn’t needed anymore.

“Like you said you always knew you were gay,” Mikasa asked, squinting at the sink.

Levi nodded.

“I’ve never really known. Like I’m 26 and I have no fucking clue. Do I like guys? Do I like girls? No idea.”

“You can like both,” Levi pointed out.

“Yeah. Yeah, I know,” she trailed off. “I just thought I should sortof swear off relationships until I got my shit figured out. I mean, I went out on a date with Annie but uh...yeah.”

“Didn’t go well?”

“It’s…complicated. But now I’m thinking, how much longer is this going to take? How many more people am I going to wave out of my life? How many more partners am I going to have who get fed up with my bullshit? Who get tired of waiting?”

She sighed and tangled her fingers in the fringe of her scarf.

"Look,” Levi said, clearing his throat. “Figuring out your sexuality doesn't magically solve all the mysteries in your life. There's still going to be questions and things you don't understand and finding out which you prefer isn't closing the book on the issue. But don't let waiting for an answer keep you from living your life. If you want something or someone go for them."

 

She thought this over, tonguing at the corner of her cheek.

 

“Okay?” Levi asked.

 

“Yeah, alright.”

 

“Good.”

 

Levi got up and brushed dirt off his backside and helped her up.

 

“Do I have anything on my pants?” he asked turning around.

“No, your ass is fine,” she said rolling her eyes.

They made it out in time to see Jean walk onto the stage with Eren. At first Levi thought he was wearing snow pants but instead he was wearing a pair of hideous neon pink and neon orange Zubaz pants. They bulged in unexpected places and when Jean caught Levi’s curled lip, he grinned.

“Don’t hate,” Jean said, posing for Levi’s benefit.

What an eyesore. Levi needed his sunglasses to look at them.

“Oh good, he’s here,” Eren said. “Okay everyone, can I have your attention!?”

Sensing trouble, Levi took a step to the side, intent on hiding behind Mike.

“Please, just wait,” Eren pleaded quietly to Levi.

“If I could have your attention please!”

“I swear to god, if he starts singing Santa Baby, I’m out of here,” Rico muttered and Levi privately agreed.

“So back in the day, Jean and I were our own duo. And under advice from our management and our friends we decided it was best if we disbanded. But we decided to reunite to play for our one and only fan, my boyfriend! So without further delay I’d like to reintroduce us as 2 guys, 1 and a half guitars!”

Connie and Sasha groaned.

“Please no,” Armin sighed.

Marco pulled a pained but polite expression.

“Can we leave now?” Ymir asked Christa.

“Not this again,” Reiner muttered.

“Yes,” Levi blurted out. “Yes!”

Chapter Text

 

“Jean, shade me,” Eren instructed and Jean dug around in his far too large pants and pulled out a couple of shutter shades, slapping them into his palm.

They both donned their neon shades and Jean picked up his guitar.

“It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark…and we’re wearing sunglasses,” Jean narrated in a very serious voice.

“Hit it,” Eren agreed.

“It’s Britney, bitch.”

Petra let out a whoop and Levi gave a sharp whistle, then immediately regretted it in case the baby woke, but it appeared she and Erwin both were down for the count.

“You know Jean,” Eren said conversationally, standing behind him and adjusting his fingers. “There’s only two kinds of people in the world.

“Oh really? I didn’t know that, Eren,” Jean nodded.

The ones that entertain and the ones that observe.”

“Which one do you think you are?”

Well Jean, I’m a put on a show kind of guy.”

“If you can call it that.”

Don’t like the backseat, gotta be first—“

“And yet you never drive when we’re on tour, when are you getting your license?” Jean queried.

I’m like the ringleader, I call the shots—“

“Don’t tell me what to do!”

I’m like a firecracker, I make it hot. When I put on a show!”

Eren started strumming and Jean yawned at the lazy chords, letting Eren dance behind him. Eren kept catching Levi’s eye out in the audience and it was all Levi had not to burst into laughter. The rest of the group seemed unimpressed or sang along softly like Petra.

All eyes on me in the center of the ring just like a circus…” they both sang.

They continued through the chorus, Petra dancing along from her spot by the daily specials. They finished to polite applause. Armin got up to get more punch and brought back a cup for Nifa.

“Well now that we’ve got your attention,” Eren said, smiling. “I am Eren Jaeger. You may know me from the band Rogue Titan of which I am the lead singer—“

“And I’m Jean Kirstein, lead guitarist of Rogue Titan, also known as the handsome one.”

Eren started picking at the strings as Jean managed the chords, striking a soft and gentle melody to match their voices.

“And you know, life on the road is hard,” Eren said and Jean nodded in agreement. “There’s a lot of time staring out the window contemplating life. I’ve written a lot of songs that way. And a lot of short stories too.”

“Oh really? I didn’t know that,” Jean said, looking interested. “Care to share?”

“If you insist,” Eren nodded. “This is the story about a girl named Lucky. Early morning, she wakes up, her roommates all are assholes. It’s time for soundcheck, keep in tune, it’s you they’re all waiting for. And she goes—

“This girl, Lucky, is it? It seems like she has a real difficult life,” Jean said rolling his eyes.

“Oh she does,” Eren insisted.

“I also have a story about a girl named Lucky. Late afternoon, she’s still asleep. Her crap is all over the floor. When she wakes up, she hogs the shower, for twenty minutes at least. They go isn’t she bratty this lazy ass girl—“

“Okay, I have another story about a girl named Lucky. Early morning, two AM, knock knock knock on her door. Because her roommate forgot his key and locked himself out again—“

“You know what, I only did that once.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about Jean, this is a story about a girl named Lucky. Any resemblance to real life persons is purely coincidental.”

“You want a Piece of Me, Jaeger?” Jean threatened.

They paused for laughter, but the only sound was Levi stifling his own, with his hand clapped over his mouth.

“That was what we call a bit there folks,” Eren explained unnecessarily. “Since Piece of Me is one of Ms. Spears’ songs.”

“Eren you don’t need to explain it to them Everytime,” Jean pointed out.

“Oops, I did it—“

“Stop,” warned Jean.

They paused, staring each other down, but their fingers traced over familiar notes, and then turned back to the audience, “I’m not that innocent.”

You see my problem is this—

Eren and Jean slipped into a casual, lazy version of the song, swaying side to side.

“Eren,” Jean said, continue to hold the chords as Eren strummed. “There’s something I want you to have.”

Jean dug around in his neon pants as Eren patiently continued playing. He found what he was looking for and handed it to Eren.

“Wait a minute, isn’t this?” Eren paused, taking his hands off the guitar to hold up a sparkly fake necklace. “But I thought the old lady dropped it into the ocean in the end?”

“Well, Eren, I went down and got it for you,” Jean smirked.

“Wait Jean! There’s something I want you to have!”

Eren reached around inside Jean’s pants and Levi heard nervous giggling behind him from Petra and Nifa. Levi looked over and Marco was fixing the stage with a very unamused expression.

“Watch the family jewels there, Eren,” Jean grimaced.

Eren pulled out a tiara and set it on Jean’s head being careful not to mess his carefully coiffed mane.

“Aw you shouldn’t have!” Jean beamed.

They finished the song and bowed for applause.

“You know, I’ve notice that Britney repeats quite a few lyrics throughout her songs,” Eren observed.

“I think I’ve noticed that as well,” Jean agreed. “For example, Oh baby, baby how was I supposed to know—“ at the same time Eren sang “Oh baby baby, have you seen Amy tonight?”

“I thought we were doing classic Spears,” Jean complained.

“No we agreed post-2007 Spears,” Eren insisted.

“Why do you always do this?” Jean muttered out of the side of his mouth.

“Why do you never listen to anything that I say?” Eren murmured back.

“Yeahhh,” Armin said leaning over and whispering in Levi’s ear. “It usually ends with them arguing.”

“I’m just saying, we should give the people what they want,” Eren said loudly.

“What do you think I’m trying to do?” Jean spat.

Marco sighed and Mikasa rubbed at her temples.

“Sorry folks, excuse us a second,” Eren smiled at the audience and then both he and Jean turned their backs arguing furiously.

Jean reached down the front of his pants to grab another prop as the audience tried to figure out what was going on. Levi sat there, hands folded, waiting expectantly.

“Right so Jean and I decided that we’re just going to play both at the same time and see which you like best.”

Jean pulled out a ukulele and positioned it under the guitar, wrapping his long fingers around both, while Eren stood on tiptoe to reach over and under to strum both guitar and ukulele at the same time.

Far from a battle, the two turned it into a wonderful mashup duet.

I must confess, that my loneliness—“ Jean’s singing broke off as he nearly lost his grip on the ukulele.

All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to If U Seek Amy,” Eren sang.

Petra and Hanji whooped. Mikasa stomped her feet on the ground in appreciation. Jean almost dropped the ukulele and Eren was forced to kneel down to try and catch it, laughing so hard he couldn’t keep singing. Erwin apparently woke to the loud music and quietly pulled up a chair at the edge, giving Levi an apologetic grin before turning back to the stage and laughing. Eren’s smile as he tried to gain control of the situation lit up the whole room. Levi traced the shape of his bare forearms and rolled up sleeves and then to his sharp jawline darkened with stubble despite the fact that he had just shaved earlier that day. He tossed his hair out of his eyes and played for Levi.

Oh no.

Oh no no no, thought Levi.

He’s different. Eren was different. This wasn’t the same Eren who Levi had watched get on a stage and sing his sappy little original songs apologizing for each one, this was an artist completely in charge of the stage, even when he was basically sitting on the floor to play his ukulele. What if they woke up in bed tomorrow and Eren was a different person again? What if that version of Eren didn’t love Levi? Levi sucked in a breath, gripping the underside of his chair and removing his fingers when he found gum there. Eren was so young, he probably honestly thought that Levi’s anxiety at parties would go away in time. He saw the best in Levi and thought he’d only get better and Levi didn’t have the heart to tell him that he’d probably only get worse. And Eren…Eren was so perfect. And so full of potential. And fuck, he deserved someone who could give him everything. Levi loved him, but love was all he could give.

Love. Huh.

When it came to love, Levi had always felt like someone who has stepped into an elevator and faced the doors only to find everyone else was looking backward. Was there something they all saw? Was there something he should see? And now, here, he had chanced to look over his shoulder and saw the view clear as day. There was Eren. There was everything he wanted. Levi hadn’t really admitted that to himself yet and he didn’t know if he could ever say it to Eren, but he did love him. The thought wasn’t as knee-trembling or heart-palpitating as he thought it would be. It was quiet. It was soft. It calmed him.

 

Levi was distracted from his thoughts as Jean and Eren broke.

“No ukuleles were harmed in the making of this show!” Eren shouted. “Everyone, meet my new companion, Carla.5, the smallest, but sassiest ukulele out there!”

He stepped up to the mic.

Baby, can't you see, I'm calling, A guy like you should wear a warning, It's dangerous,
I'm falling,”
Eren sang as Jean played and he gave a sexy wink to all those watching. “Oh wait—“

They paused and Eren dug around in Jean’s pants. He pulled out a large fake pearl necklace and kept pulling it for some time, the strands just kept coming. Eren dropped the necklace on the ground. Then he pulled out a small toy trumpet and dropped that too. And a cowboy hat—Christ, no wonder Jean’s pants were so bunched up- they were overflowing. Jean’s strange garment was like a clown car.

“Found it!” Eren crowed, seizing a pull whistle that Jean popped his mouth. “Where was I?”

It’s dangerous, I’m fallin’!” Erwin, cupped his hands and shouted.

It’s dangerous, I’m fallin’,” Eren sang and then leaned over and pulled the slide on the toy whistle as Jean piped.

There's no escape, I can't wait, I need a hit, Baby, give me it, you're dangerous, I'm loving it,” Eren sang, then leaned over again and pulled on the whistle again.

Too high, can’t come down,” Eren said walking to the edge of the stage. He played his ukulele as he gyrated his hips, singing to Christa as she danced, delighted to be in the presence of her favorite lead singer.

Eren hopped off the stage, walking through the audience but everyone knew where he was going and climbed into Levi’s chair.

With a taste of your lips I’m on a ride,” Eren purred, straddling Levi.

Levi covered his eyes in embarrassment and there was little he could do but wait for the song to end, which it did to loud enthusiastic applause.

“Thank you, thank you!” Jean bowed.

There was a flash from Connie’s Polaroid, catching Eren’s impromptu lap dance. Eren pried Levi’s fingers away from his face and smudged glasses to kiss him.

“How was it?” Eren asked, a little unsure.

“I think I like the first one better,” Levi confessed.

Eren laughed and kissed him again, wrapping his arms around him.

“Also, I’m disappointed,” Levi informed Eren, cheeks still flushed. “That you missed out on the opportunity to go for ‘Carlita.’”

“Fuck!” Eren groaned, brushing Levi’s bangs off his forehead with his nose.

There was a polite cough and Eren and Levi turned to see Rico watching them both, her small nose wrinkled in disgust. She gave another polite cough, her eyes flitting between the two of them.

“I think she wants you to get off my lap,” Levi whispered.

“Oh I know exactly what she wants, but I’ll leave when I’m good and ready,” Eren whispered back, a little edge to his voice.

“You’re such a little brat, you know?” Levi laughed against Eren’s collarbone.

“Wait…” said Rico like she were solving a very hard puzzle. “Weren’t you the coffee trolley guy?”

Eren sighed into Levi’s ear.

“Rico, nonfat latte?” Eren remembered, making finger guns with his hands.

This appeared to satisfy Rico. Eren tucked in to Levi’s neck and wrapped his arms around both Levi and the chair.

“Levi…” Eren whined. “Can I open my gift now?”

“Oh my god,” Levi rolled his eyes and stood up, dropping Eren out of his lap. “You’re incorrigible.”

He found the bag of gifts and began handing them out.

“Connie!” he barked, throwing out an unwrapped box of Polaroid film.

“You’re the best!” Connie crowed, giving Levi a hug.

Eren was about to warn Connie before they embraced, then winced when it happened.

“He uh, doesn’t like to be touched,” Eren reminded Connie.

“Oh no, it’s fine,” said Levi, arm around Connie.

“Yeah, we see each other all the time when Levi stops by to help Marco load up the van for the shelter,” Connie explained.

“And he’s my favorite,” Levi said flatly. “Out of all of your friends.”

“Wait, he’s your favorite?” Armin asked, becoming distracted from Nifa. “After all I did for you while you were recovering? I snaked your drain for you!”

“You did what now?” Eren asked, turning to glare at Levi.

“He offered,” Levi said shrugging.

“He’s right, I did offer, because of his back. And Hanji had just had surgery and Erwin couldn’t do it because of his tennis elbow,” Armin agreed.

“Tennis elbow?” Eren accused Erwin, who was walking by with a full plate.

“I like watching him bend over and clean the drain,” Erwin protested his mouth full of Mikasa’s cookies. “He’s got a cute butt.”

“Oh yeah, that was a good day,” Hanji remembered. “It’s just so bony and flat. Adorable.”

“You two are terrible,” Eren chastised.

“So I should be your favorite,” Armin continued to Levi, not hearing Erwin and Hanji. “What’s Connie got that I haven’t?”

“I like his hair,” Levi deadpanned, patting Connie’s shaved head.

“Okay, well you didn’t know him when he had dreads, so,” Sasha laughed.

“Sasha,” Levi grabbed a giant 5lb gummy bear. “Your gift.”

Her eyes went wide and she was taking giant bites not seconds later.

“Oh right, I got you some reusable shopping bags. I crocheted them myself when I spray painted that mustache on Eren’s billboard,” Sasha said, handing them over.

“That was you?” Eren asked. “That’s awesome! High-five! See Levi? I told you I could rock a mustache.”

“Armin,” Levi said reaching in the bag.

“No, nope,” Armin shook his head. “There had better not be anything for me in there. Not after my birthday present.” At Eren’s confused expression, he muttered, “Your boyfriend bought me $300 running shoes and then took off all the tags so I couldn’t return them.”

“Aw, that sounds like him,” Eren sighed fondly.

“Armin, find Mikasa so I can give her our gift,” Levi sighed.

Armin didn’t move.

“I’ll get her,” Jean sighed at Armin’s frozen expression.

“Hanji!” Levi said, handing her a card.

She opened it and cackled then gave him a kiss on his temple.

“What is it?” Eren asked.

“Oh, we didn’t have any money the first time we celebrated Christmas together so we just gave each other a card and now we just pass back the same card every year,” Hanji said.

“Can I see?” Eren asked.

“Nope,” both Levi and Hanji said at the same time.

“Mikasa!” Levi handed her an envelope as Jean dragged her over.

She opened it and her eyes went wide.

“Are you serious?” she asked.

“Yeah, sure,” Levi shrugged uncomfortably.

“What is it?” Eren asked leaning over.

“He paid for our entrance fee to the dance competition this March! Thank you!” She gave Levi a kiss on the cheek.

“Oh, Levi, here’s one from me and Mikasa,” Armin explained. “Well, it’s mostly from her, but uh, here you go. Careful, it’s fragile.”

It was a teapot.

“Glass, so you know, you can see the color. You know, so you can share.”

“Oh,” Levi held it up.

Armin and Mikasa looked at Eren.

“He likes it,” Eren translated, his whole head in the gift bag, searching for his own gift. “Where is it?”

Levi dug around in the breast pocket of his winter coat and Eren gave an impatient sigh.

“Here,” Levi handed it over. “That’s only one of the two gifts I got you so—“

“It’s small,” Eren complained.

“What did you think I was going to get you?” Levi asked. “A giraffe? Besides all the best gifts are small. Good things come in small packages—“

“Is he talking about his dick?” Jean asked loudly, still wearing his ugly pants.

“—iPhones are small,” Levi continued.

“Is it an iPhone?” Eren asked excitedly, ripping the wrapping paper off.

“I—no.”

“Oh,” Eren said looking extremely disappointed at the gift.

“You don’t like it?” Levi asked.

“Oh…no I mean, it’s great it’s…what is it?”

“A harmonica,” Levi said, biting his lower lip.

“Oh…cool.”

“A really nice harmonica,” Levi tried as Eren rolled it around in his hands to see if there was more to it. “But you know, if you don’t like it I still have another gift for you so…”

“No, it’s great, babe,” Eren said giving him a kiss on the cheek.

“Well, I fucked that up,” Levi muttered to Hanji as Eren went in search of refreshments.

“Eh, first Christmas gifts are hard. I remember one of my dates gave me a t-shirt cannon as a gift. No t-shirts, just a cannon,” Hanji said.

“That sounds like an amazing gift,” Connie said wide-eyed. “Do you still have it?”

Eren stepped back up to the keyboard, a fresh drink in his hands.

“Jean!” he shouted. “Elton me!”

Jean pulled out a pair of large glasses and a feather boa from his orange pants, before stripping them off completely, kicking them to the side.

“Yo Mikasa,” Jean called grabbing another drink for himself. “I’m good for staying at your place right?”

“Yeah, the couch is all set for you,” Mikasa gave him a thumbs up.

“Awesome and I shall repay you in omelets,” Jean said, setting a sea captain’s hat on her head.

“Fuck yes,” Armin said. Then to Levi, “His omelets are amazing. It’s the only thing he can cook but they are great.”

“You’re eating his omelets too?” Levi pointed to Jean, looking offended.

“We never said we were exclusive,” Armin said.

“Huh?”

“Ignore him, he’s been saying that a lot lately,” Mikasa said with a grimace.

“Don’t start with me,” Armin muttered.

“Well maybe don’t ask for girl’s numbers in front of me, because frankly it’s embarrassing,” she shot back in a low whisper.

Levi exchanged an uncomfortable look with Jean.

“I’m not doing this here,” Armin said through grit teeth.

Mikasa shook her head and left for the kitchen, Armin on her heels.

“So!” Jean said after a long uncomfortable silence. “What did you get me?”

Yet another drink and Eren had suddenly decided Levi’s gift of a harmonica was the best thing ever. Jean was sitting on Eren’s bench, trying to push him off as he played his guitar and Eren accompanied, already wailing on the mouth harp.

“Babe,” Eren said running over to kiss Levi through the harmonica. “This is amazing thank you so much!”

“Is there more punch?” Oluo asked, looking at the empty bowl.

“Oh, here let me…I don’t know what Mikasa put in it, let me go find her.”

“Yeah, I need to ask her for the keys so I can drop my stuff off upstairs,” Jean nodded following behind Levi.

“Mikasa!” Jean boomed as Levi pushed through the swinging doors.

“Oh…I thought she was back here with Armin, where did they—THAT IS WHERE THE TEA IS KEPT YOU MONSTERS!”

“Whoops,” Jean said, pushing Levi away from the storage room. “Let’s give them a little privacy.”

“No, that’s awful, there are kids here!” Levi gesticulated at the exhausted children, who had not woken up despite all the noise from the party.

“Okay well you can at least extend to them the same courtesy we all gave you and Eren on the roof,” Jean said rolling his eyes.

“…What? You knew about that?”

“Oh yeah, it’s hilarious. We talk about it all the time. Reiner! UH!” Jean imitated a loud grunt.

“UH!” Reiner echoed back.

Levi wasn’t sure which one of those was supposed to be him so he narrowed his eyes at Jean.

“Yeah, hey, you owe your friend Hanji a lot. She is a great wingwoman. UH!”

“UH!” Reiner answered.

“You guys better fucking knock it off,” Eren warned. “Where is the punch? Is Mikasa making more? I’ll go make more then—“

“No!” both Levi and Jean grabbed him.

“More punch right here!” Mikasa called, face a little flushed, Armin trailing behind her tugging his makeshift blanket cape and looking incredibly happy.

“You better have washed your hands,” Levi grumbled taking a cup to Petra.

“I have a girlfriend,” Armin said to Jean bouncing a little on his heels.

“Yeah, we saw,” Jean rolled his eyes. “Glad you made up.”

“You don’t have a girlfriend or a boyfriend and you know who has one? Me,” Armin said proudly.

“I’m just gonna remind you that she still has that strap-on,” Jean said irritably, pushing away from him, leaving Armin frozen in place.

Levi didn’t say anything, but he could only imagine the shitstorm that would occur when Eren found out. He didn’t like having access to other people’s secrets and yet people always trusted him with their personal business. His feet growing sore, he sat down on one of the couches and put them up on the table, content to let the party happen around him.

“Oh…hi Bert.”

Levi hadn’t noticed the taciturn man sitting quietly and minding his own business.

“Hello, Happy Birthday,” Bert said with a little wave, not looking up from his book.

“What are you reading?” Levi asked.

“Christa gave us all copies of her fanfic as her Christmas present. I just got to the part where Rogue Titan defeats ISIS with a power ballad.”

“That’s…okay.”

“But Prince Eren was kidnapped again by the evil imp Eli so Jean is off to save him.”

“Ooo, don’t say anything, I’m not there yet!” Armin waved him off.

“Evil imp Eli?” Levi asked, eye twitching.

“Oh, sorry Levi, that was before I knew you,” Christa explained. “Later, it turns out that the evil imp was really under a curse and is also a prince.”

“You know I long to live in a society where we no longer worship the outdated and classist institution of monarchy,” Connie interrupted.

“Ooo, did you see Kate’s maternity clothes?” Petra gushed.

“I did!” Christa joined in excitedly.

“Excuse me!” Eren said, pulling Levi from his seat and dragging him over to where the coats were piled on a different sofa past Annie and a very enthusiastic Hitch.

“Okay so we can watch the one where the rubber tire comes to life or we can watch the Japanese Grindhouse one where the female villain has like a drillbra and she like zzzck! like totally fucks people up with it!” Hitch prattled excitedly at Annie. “It’s like blood just gushing everywhere, like gush gush blahhh like complete bloodbath. Totally great Christmas movie. Or we could go with the more thematic Santa’s Slay, totally amazing.”

“Look, I’m sorry, you’ve been doing this for a while and I just gotta come clean with you,” Annie said tiredly, pulling her hood down. “I’m not interested in you. I mean, I’ve done a lot of soul searching this year. I thought I was into girls, but after a date with Mikasa, I’ve just realized I’m…not into anyone. I thought if I wasn’t sexually attracted to guys, then maybe I was attracted to women, but nope, that’s a nope. I mean, sex is nice, orgasms are nice, but I’ve just never looked at someone and gone whoa mommah. Or…whatever it is people think when they see someone attractive. I mean, Mikasa is gorgeous, like I could stare at her all day, but she just does nothing for me. You’re awesome. You’re amazing. I mean, you talk a lot. A lot. You’re cool. I like you, but…no. I’m sorry no. So we could keep doing this dance, but I promised myself I would never put myself into a situation just because I felt I had to because that’s what other people do—sorry Armin—“

“No worries,” Armin waved.

“But…Hitch, I need you to understand that I will never be interested in you that way. And it’s not you. It’s me. And…there’s nothing…there’s nothing wrong with me.”

Annie’s head perked up a little.

“There’s nothing wrong with me and I’m happy. So yeah. Sorry.”

Hitch stared.

“Okay, but…” Hitch squinted at Annie. “Did you want to watch the one with the tire or the drill bra?”

Annie thought about it.

“Which one is your favorite?”

Hitch rambled about the plot for both, giving away all the spoilers as Annie grabbed her coat.

“Okay, we’re leaving!” Annie said, giving Armin and Mikasa both hugs. “Thank you! Bye Eren!”

Eren waved from underneath the coats he was camped under.

And as always, Annie was the first to leave the party. This time with Hitch.

“Right, one more time because I think it takes a lot to have things sink in with you, but I’m asexual and aromantic, understood?” Annie paused with the door half open.

“Yeah Boss, you’re aces, I got it,” Hitch rolled her eyes. “Ooo! Black Christmas. Sorority sisters just get, like, hacked up left and right! Gretchen Wieners gets like schick!

As they left, a man pushed in through the doors after them.

“Sorry, we’re closed—oh,” Mikasa said, leaving to intervene. “Hannes. What’s with the Santa getup?”

“My daughter had Christmas dinner tonight and invited me but they found a replacement Santa so I’m not needed. You kids don’t mind if I crash your party do you?”

“No, Hannes, you’re always invited,” Mikasa said, patting him on the shoulder.

“You’re a peach,” he said knocking her chin lightly. “Where’s your Pa?”

“Oh he spends all of Christmas at some singles resort in Cabo now,” Mikasa shrugged.

“Where’s Eren?” Hannes asked.

“Busy,” Mikasa said indicating the pile of coats.

They heard Levi’s low laugh and Hannes got the message.

“More punch!” Eren bellowed, flinging off the coats, pulling Levi with him.

Levi had never really experienced the obnoxious PDA part of relationships. He’d never really been big on kissing before Eren. Now it was all he ever wanted to do. Kiss under the mistletoe, kiss under coats, kiss for no reason at all.

“Your hair is uh—“ Erwin indicated and Levi quickly brushed it back in place, the redness in his cheeks not diminishing in the slightest. “Sorry Marco, you were saying?”

“Well the shelter does get a great deal of help during the holidays, but we also have so many more people to take care of especially with this snow. So we really need all of the help we can get. That’s why we’re so lucky Levi stops by all the time. Eren you’re coming on Christmas Day too?”

“Yup!” Eren said embracing Hannes, who was busy messing with Armin’s hair.

“Me too!” Jean blurted out suddenly.

Levi hadn’t seen him there, sulking in the background, annoyed that Marco wasn’t paying any attention to him until he spoke.

“You?” Marco asked, eyebrows raised pleasantly, sharing a sideways look with Eren.

Jean was notoriously lazy. Eren said he didn’t bother to do laundry the entire tour, he would just throw out his underwear and buy new pairs.

“Yeah, I’m gonna be there too,” Jean said defiantly.

“Great,” Levi said, lips curling into an unpleasant grin. “We’ll pick you up at eight.”

“In the morning?” Jean’s confidence faltered a little.

“I’m so glad shelters like this exist,” Hanji said.

“Me too. I mean, my parents are incredibly supportive, but you know, not everyone has that. And when you’re so young and don’t have a community to support you it’s hard,” Erwin agreed.

“How’d you come out?” Eren asked Erwin curiously, holding his punch out of reach of Mikasa’s clawing hands.

“Oh you know, I went home for Thanksgiving with my roommate and they just kindof worked it out themselves.”

“Oh gotchya, ‘roommate,’” Eren winked, having won the battle with Mikasa over punch.

“Wait, I was your roommate,” Mike said, brow furrowed. “Is that why your mother sends me cookies every Christmas and birthday?”

Erwin looked a little embarrassed.

“It was easier than coming out!” Erwin protested as Mike howled with laughter. “So I just let them assume what they wanted!”

“What does she send you every Christmas, Levi?” Nanaba nudged.

“A basket of pears because Erwin’s mother has exquisite taste,” Levi said, flicking a bit of lint off his shoulder.

“Is that why we have all those pears?” Eren wrinkled his nose.

“How’d you come out Levi?” Petra asked.

“I didn’t,” Levi said gruffly and they laughed thinking it was his deadpan humor again. “My pastor outed me in front of the whole congregation.”

The laughter died immediately and Levi shifted uncomfortably.

“I mean…he kindof walked in on me and his son in the church bathroom,” Levi clarified, now looking at the ground.

Eren kissed his temple as he slipped his arm around Levi protectively.

“We weren’t even doing anything.” Levi frowned, polishing his glasses. “I just wanted to see it.”

 “That sounds like something you’d do,” Erwin chuckled at Levi’s sheepish expression and that seemed to diffuse the tension.

“I didn’t really come out either,” Marco said. “I mean, I was writing all the boys Valentine’s in second grade so my family just always knew.”

“My mom still hopes I’m straight,” Jean laughed. “She thinks one day Mikasa and I will get back together and have beautiful interracial babies. But I think she’s mostly come around to it.”

“What about you, Eren,” Erwin nudged him. “How did you come out?”

“Ha!” Eren chuckled to himself. “Well you see…”

He trailed off and then shot Mikasa a look of sheer panic.

“Uh oh,” Eren said in a little whisper.

“You didn’t tell Dad yet?” Mikasa asked him, shifting the box of pictures in her hands.

Eren answered by finishing his glass of punch and going in search of more to Mikasa’s exasperation.

“Here you go Levi, I scanned all of the pictures so we didn’t get them all gummy with tape, but here’s the originals and the copies.”

“I’m still trying to figure out how and when you all stole these from me,” he said, taking the box from her.

“Remember when me, Petra, Hanji and Annie said we needed to use your place for scrapbooking day and you and Oluo escaped when you thought we weren’t paying attention?”

“Yeah,” Levi said, thinking back.

“Well…” Mikasa trailed off.

“Ruse!” he accused Mikasa and then pointed at Petra. “RUSE!”

“Oh,” Mikasa said, peering into the box and pulling out a picture of a smiling white haired woman. “One of my photos must have gotten mixed in with yours.”

“No,” Levi said, taking it from her hands. “That’s my grandmother.”

“No, that’s my grandmother,” Mikasa said, taking it back from him. “Memaw—“

“Memaw Ackerman,” they both finished at the same time.

“Oh god,” Levi said, all of the color draining from his face and Mikasa dropped the picture back in the box, also ashen.

“We must never speak of this again,” Mikasa instructed and Levi nodded.

“I like punchhh,” Eren sang happily, lips stained red.

“Hey, Eren, maybe that’s it for drinks?” Levi asked him quietly.

“Right. Last one, promise,” Eren reassured him.

“Now there’s someone I would love to see drunk,” Jean said as Armin shook his head. “Hanji! What was Levi like drunk?”

“Pretty much the same as he was sober,” Hanji said, nodding a little.

“Oh…well that’s boring,” Jean complained.

“He doesn’t drink, so that’s the end of it,” Armin said softly, but there was a warning edge to his voice.

“Actually it was kindof scary,” Hanji continued, now inspecting her cup.

“How so?” Jean asked, laughing.

“Because he’d have six or eight beers and tell you he was fine to drive and you’d believe him,” Hanji finished.

“Oh.” That shut Jean up.

Armin and Mikasa shared a worried look.

“Okay, well I need to be getting these guys home,” Erwin said, indicating Nile’s sleeping children. “I’m just glad they passed out because they were running around like crazy earlier.”

“Mikasa,” Hannes asked. “Do you have anything harder? I don’t like this fruity stuff.”

“Yeah, it’s in the cooler under the table.”

Hannes found it and grunted.

He turned around just as Erwin shook Billy and Jack awake.

“Santa,” Jack whispered in reverent awe.

“Santa!” Billy blurted out, rubbing sleep out of his eyes.

Hannes quickly adjusted his fake beard and two minutes later the two boys were crawling all over his lap as Erwin chatted up his employees, Grace’s car seat in his hand.

“And then I want a sword, but a real one, not a fake one,” Billy rambled as Jack continued to bounce on Hannes’ knee wide-eyed.

“C’mon boys, get your coats on,” Erwin insisted.

Billy looked like he might disobey, but then thought better of it under Hannes’ twinkly gaze.

“Bye Santa!” Billy waved.

“Bye Santa,” Jack flopped his mittens about.

Hannes waved back at them, looking happier than he had when he first arrived.

Eren took far more convincing than Nile’s kids. First he tried to wrestle with Reiner. Then he decided to retaliate against Jean for his earlier assault on his junk. Then he crawled into Armin’s lap and they sang that Natalie Imbruglia song again. Then he spent a good ten minutes hugging Hanji and whispering a ‘secret’ in her ear. Levi guessed it was about the Christmas present Eren had gotten him. It was a camera. Levi had found the receipt in the garbage earlier that week but had chosen to pretend to be surprised. Finally Levi dragged him to the door.

“That boy is so in love with you,” Hanji said as Levi shoved him out.

“I know,” Levi said, foot on Eren’s ass, kicking him out the door.

He gave her and Mikasa a quick hug and then they were out.

“Shit,” Eren cursed, slipping on the ice, holding tight to Levi. “I’m way drunker than I meant to be.”

Levi didn’t bother agreeing, he just supported Eren’s weight to the parking lot.

“Shit, shit,” Eren cursed. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Levi said, helping him into the car.

“No, I’m sorry, I fucked up. I’m sorry,” Eren cried a little.

“Stop that,” Levi scolded, leaning over to buckle him in.

“You’re so beautiful,” he said, panting a little, eyes squeezed shut.

Levi put the car in gear and pulled forward, the car sliding a little on the slick roads.

“Hm, mm, mm,” Eren hummed, eyes shut and world spinning.

“You doing okay?” Levi asked, brushing Eren’s hair off his forehead at a stoplight.

“I love our friends,” Eren mumbled, laughing to himself.

“Me too,” Levi said, fondly.

 

Chapter Text

Christmas Eve they spent indoors as the snow continued to fall. Levi started to worry about his pipes freezing so he cranked the heat and curled up next to Eren. The boy was like a goddamn furnace and Levi was glad to have him to keep warm.

“Morning,” Eren sang cheerfully Christmas Day, nuzzling Levi’s frozen nose.

“Mornin’,” Levi said, having some trouble rolling over because the cats decided to camp on him for body heat.

He sleepily ran his hands over Eren’s naked back until his fingers reached the edge of lace.

“I see you found your other Christmas gift,” Levi said froggily.

“You hid it under the bed,” Eren tutted, wiggling under Levi’s touch. “Amateur. I love them, they’re gorgeous. Thanks.”

He gave Levi a tentative peck on the cheek, almost shy.

“Merry Christmas, Happy Birthday,” he said, nuzzling Levi, his eyelashes brushing against Levi’s cheek.

They turned on the fireplace and Levi took Eren through all of Christa’s favorite yoga poses for them to limber up. A little after they started, Jean knocked on the door.

“Sorry, I’m really early,” Jean apologized bleary eyed to Levi. “I had to get off of Mikasa’s couch, because she and—oh hi Eren, didn’t realize you were up.”

Levi snorted and stepped away from the door, letting him inside.

“We’re almost done, think about what you want for breakfast,” Levi said, adopting a warrior pose.

He leaned over for downward dog and Eren shot Jean a look, biting his knuckles. Jean threw Eren a sarcastic thumbs up.

“Wow Levi, yoga pants, cooking, and cleaning,” Jean said sneering at Levi’s attire, which was rich considering Levi never said anything about his terrible Zubaz. “A little girly don’t you think?”

“Or maybe you just have a limited view of masculinity,” Levi said unconcernedly, stretching towards the ceiling. “No talking please.”

Eren bent down again, following Levi’s example and Jean snapped the strap of his lacy panties.

“Nice thong,” Jean teased.

Levi gave a pained sigh.

“I guess we’re done,” he sighed, stretching his arms out. “I’m going to shower, be out soon.”

Levi shut the bathroom door and heard them talking about him.

“What the hell? He is ripped as fuck,” Jean said.

“I told you!”

“He doesn’t look it in those cardigans and suits!” Jean insisted.

“He has a hard time finding clothes that fit him because he’s short, but has wide shoulders.”

“He’s built like a tiny Russian gymnast!”

“I know, I love it,” Eren sighed.

Levi snorted and turned on the shower.

Freshly cleaned, he set about making eggs for Eren.

“You want any, Jean?” he asked setting the plate down in front of Eren.

“Naw, I made a bunch of omelets for Armin and Mikasa yesterday.”

“Ketchup please?” Eren batted his eyelashes at Levi.

“Do you know how much sugar is in ketchup?” Levi snorted, slamming the bottle down.

“Thank you baby!” Eren sang.

“Do you see this?” Levi said to Jean as Eren shook the bottle vigorously. “I spend all this time making him a healthy meal and he just covers it in ketchup and hot sauce.”

“That’s how he’s able to eat all that crappy diner food,” Jean yawned.

Eren laughed, continuing to shake the bottle.

“You’re having a lot of fun there,” Levi indicated the ketchup.

“Yeah? You like that? I’m really good at shaking it, you know why? Because I always remember to pay attention to the base,” Eren said cupping the bottom of the bottle as Levi snorted. “Mm, oh yeah. That’s the good stuff right there. Oh baby.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” Jean snapped, taking the bottle out of Eren’s hands and digging a knife around inside until it finally poured.

“Being single has made you cranky,” Eren said, pointing his fork at Jean.

“Being around gross couples has made me cranky,” Jean smiled thinly.

They got in the car, Levi carefully loading the food he’d spent all yesterday preparing.

“It is too damn early,” Jean complained, tugging on the strings to his hoodie. “I want Starbucks. I want coffee.”

“You don’t want any tea?” Levi asked, holding his steaming thermos.

“No I don’t want tea. Nobody likes tea except for old English professors and grandmothers,” Jean turned up his nose. “Eren hates tea.”

“I don’t mind it,” Eren quickly said to Levi.

They arrived at the shelter and unloaded the car. Sina was quickly reverting back to its more temperate climate and all of the ice had turned to slush and was slowly disappearing from the sidewalks. Eren and Levi took great pains to not track the muck through the shelter, but Jean shuffled straight through.

“So, they’re labeled,” Levi informed Marco. “I uh, made one with meat sauce, one vegetarian and one vegan and gluten free.”

“How do you even make gluten free lasagna?” Jean asked, rolling his eyes.

“Zucchini,” Eren explained. “I watched him shave them into large slices. It was beautiful.”

“Oh wow, I hope you didn’t spend too much time on these Levi,” Marco said, accepting the large dishes. “These look great.”

“So what exactly are we doing?” Jean asked, scratching his head.

“We’re having a big Christmas dinner at noon, so uh, you could help Levi get the dining area ready. Hey, Eren? Sorry, Levi volunteered you to fix this one window. I’m not much of a DIY person and Levi says you’re good at that kind of stuff.”

“Well, I am good with my hands,” Eren said giving Levi a wink.

Jean groaned.

“But I’ll take a look.”

Levi led Jean to the tables where they were stacked against the wall. They pulled them out and extended the legs.

“Fixed it!” Eren crowed. “Marco, give me another!”

Then they set up all of the chairs. Jean got halfway through his chairs before giving up and sitting in one and propping his feet on the other, pulling his hoodie down over his eyes.

“Fixed the leak under the sink,” Eren said, twirling a wrench on his finger as Levi placed the red and green disposable tablecloths on the tables. “Call me Mr. Fix-It.”

“Mr. Fix-It,” Jean mumbled.

“Really? It’s been under an hour and you’re already quitting?” Eren asked exasperatedly.

“Oh no, he gets up every time he sees Marco coming,” Levi muttered death threats under his breath.

“Yup,” Jean said, slouching lower in his chair.

“What else you got for me, Marco?” Eren called and Jean shot out of his chair and pretended to prettify the already perfectly symmetric tables.

“Oh hey, Marco,” Jean said casually.

“Jean,” Marco nodded. “It’s been an hour and you’re still here. I’m impressed. If you stay the entire day, I’ll be really impressed.”

“Yeah, well I care about the…kids.”

Levi was fairly sure Jean had no idea what this place actually was.

“So don’t be afraid to give me the hard tasks. I’m good at fixing stuff too. Repairing things. Putting things back together and the like.”

Eren and Marco exchanged a look.

“Didn’t you break a microwave because you put a burrito in with the tinfoil on?” Eren asked and Jean surreptitiously punched him.

“Well actually, I’m not going to be here, I’m going to be on the other side of the building and out on the street so I’ll defer that to Levi,” Marco said, waving.

“Oh don’t worry Marco. I’ve got plenty for him to do,” Levi said, eyes flashing.

Levi banished Jean to the pantry. He handed him a broom and a mop and told him to sweep it out entirely. But when he checked on him later, he was sleeping on a bag of rice. Eren came back downstairs a few moments later with a hammer and Levi didn’t say anything but he did mime throttling an imaginary Jean. Eren got the message.

<*>

“How goes it?” Eren asked, tapping on the wall of the pantry.

“Everything is pointless,” Jean moaned. “And Napoleon out there is cracking the whip.”

“Here, why don’t I help you out,” Eren said, shifting the shelves. “Okay, this is easier when you’re not in the way.”

Jean rolled out of the way and very slowly got to his feet. They got into a routine, Jean moving things out of the way as Eren swept up cornmeal and dust and the occasional slimy lettuce leaf.

“I guess I thought if I could just talk Marco he might change his mind,” Jean said, holding the dustpan as Eren swept into it.

“I know.”

“But he’s not even here, so I don’t know why I’m bothering.”

“Sorry man.”

Jean sniffed in the cold pantry and wiped at his nose.

“Well, maybe try…actually doing something here today? Just to take your mind off of it?”

Jean sighed and nodded. Eren clapped him on the back.

“Okay, I know you’re miserable but I have to tell you something,” Eren said suddenly. “And I haven’t been able to talk to Armin because he’s all weird about me seeing his apartment. I think it’s because we’re making money and he’s embarrassed about his crappy apartment, but like, he has to know I don’t care about that, right? Anyway, I haven’t been able to talk to him and it’s not something you can talk about over text so…”

Jean groaned loudly.

“Do you mind?” Eren asked, biting his lip nervously.

“Go for it,” Jean waved.

“Okay so Levi and I did…like…stuff.”

“Eren!” Jean whined. “I’m drowning in loneliness here! I don’t need to hear about that!”

“Please?” Eren put his hands together.

A good twenty minutes later Jean was trying to understand it.

“Okay when you said kinky stuff I thought you meant like…tied to a four poster bed with a vibrator shoved up your ass. I don’t really think that counts as kink. That’s just boring sex.”

“It was about trust! Trust straws, Jeanbo!” Eren blushed.

“Okay…I dunno man, that’s still weird.”

“No, it’s not!” Eren huffed defensively. “And at any rate, I ordered a book from Christa and we’re gonna maybe try some more serious stuff. I’m just so excited.”

“Okay,” Jean snorted because Eren had that daydream-y, super enthusiastic expression on his face he’d grown so used to over the years.

“He makes me so happy,” Eren said sighing wistfully. “You know?”

“Yeah, I know,” Jean nodded. “It’s what I thought me and Marco had.”

He rubbed his eyes under his glasses tiredly and Eren patted his shoulder.

<*>

They finished sweeping and mopping the pantry just as Christmas “dinner” started at noon. Several high school students showed up to help. Most of the high schools in the area had a community service requirement for graduation, but the high schoolers were even more useless than Jean and despite the orders Levi gave them, they spent more time on their phones or flirting with one another. Under Levi’s fierce gaze they quailed and did what he asked, but the second they completed a task, they could be found lingering by the stairs or laughing with friends. Soon there were dishes flying into the back and Levi was a flurry of motion, quickly wiping down plates and putting them into the sanitizer. When the sanitizer finished, he shoved the rack down to Jean who dried them with a towel and then stacked them for Eren to take back out to the cafeteria.

When Levi went to shove another rack into the sanitizer only for the previous one to not budge, Levi’s eye twitched.

“C’mon!” Levi snapped, drying dishes next to the lethargic Jean. “The sanitizer should always be going! You’re holding up the line.”

“Oh my god, nobody cares,” Jean complained. “I have a real job, this isn’t like McDonald’s.”

“Hey, fuck you, I worked fast food and it’s incredibly difficult,” Levi snapped. “They made me management. I had that place gleaming. Corporate fucking loved me.”

The last bit was said with a bit of pride.

“Here, Jean, why don’t you switch with me,” Eren suggested.

Jean took a stack of plates out, walking slowly and carefully in his Converse on the slippery floor.

“I know he’s being obnoxious, but could you go easy on him? He’s trying,” Eren asked, slipping his arms around Levi as he scrubbed beneath the water.

“I dunno, can you not talk to your friends about our sex life?” Levi grumbled.

“I tell my friends everything.”

“I’m just a very private person and I don’t like that—“ Levi pointed through the open doors at a Jean who was lazily stacking dirty plates. “Knowing about my business.”

“Okay, I won’t tell my friends stuff,” Eren nodded understandingly. “Wait, not even Armin?”

Levi sighed, the sound swallowed up by several high schoolers shoving each other playfully. Ugh hormones.

Marco didn’t eat with them, he was too busy coordinating activities in the game room. Jean slid his plate along the line.

“Turkey donated by Bodt Dentistry!” the sign read cheerily.

Jean stared at it before tipping the little sign over, obscuring the happy molar on the card. Eren looked at Levi, who was busy helping himself to some salad.

“Good lasagna babe,” Eren said as Jean picked at his food, then pushed his full plate aside.

Levi glared at the offending plate.

“This place is really great,” Eren continued, taking Jean’s plate and helping himself. “I didn’t even know it existed until you told me.”

“Yeah, the group bought it two years ago and Marco only started working with them over the summer,” Levi said as Eren polished off Jean’s meal.

“I’m glad it exists. I mean, I don’t think Dad would ever kick me out of the house for being pan, but when he cut me off for that semester I really could have used a meal or two. I’m glad I have Mikasa and Armin to help me.”

“I wish I had a place like this when I was younger,” Levi agreed.

“Why?” Eren asked. “Wait…Levi were you homeless?”

Levi paused. His eyes flitted sideways to Jean, not entirely comfortable discussing it in his presence.

“For like…two weeks, maybe a month.”

“Levi…” Eren said, looking upset.

“Right so I got a full scholarship to Trost but uh, they completely close down the dorms for Christmas and the holidays so I had nowhere to go for two weeks. The state said I was an adult and so I couldn’t stay with my foster family. I just couch surfed or when my asshole friends got sick of me I slept in churches or on buses.”

Levi picked at his food.

“Eventually I moved in with this guy for summer break…that was a bad idea. He was an asshole. I want to tackle the stove after this, so let’s get moving.”

The crowd began winding down, Levi was back at the dishes, Eren busy kissing the back of his neck, both up to their elbows in suds. Jean sat at an empty table in the cafeteria, chin on his palm, playing with a little votive candle.

“He looks so miserable,” Eren said to Levi.

“Hi Mr. Ackerman!” bounced one perky student who was quickly becoming Levi’s favorite. “We sorted out the donation box! What next?”

“Here, come here,” Levi motioned to her. “Do you know the band Rogue Titan?”

“Uh…sortof?” she said, awkwardly.

“Are you a fan?” Levi asked.

“Not really, I mean they’re a little too white mangst for me.”

“Mangst?” Eren asked, wrinkling his nose.

“Man angst,” she explained.

Eren tutted, looking insulted, but Levi continued, “Do you see that guy with the weird hair over there? He’s the lead guitarist.”

She looked around, “Okay…”

“I bet he’d give you an autograph if you asked.”

“That’s uh, not necessary.”

“Here,” said Levi taking off his gloves. “Make it convincing and I’ll sign your slip and you can go home early.”

She ran over to Jean.

“Oh my god! Are you from Rogue Titan?” she asked. “Can I, like, have your autograph?”

“Mangst!” Eren grumbled murderously.

Word got out that Jean was famous—and that Levi was signing slips—and before long he had his guitar out and was playing for a small crowd having cheered up considerably.

“He wastes no time,” Marco snorted as Jean crooned to his new fans.

Strangely enough none of them recognized Eren, which made him jealous. Eren had even walked by several times and interjected, “Yes, when I wrote this song—“ and “This is much better live than in the studio recording—“ and “Well of course, being lead is just so much harder than guitar, it takes a lot of energy to make the crowd love you.”

Then their volunteer shift was over. Levi handed the reins over to a different coordinator and the three of them packed up their gear to leave.

“Yeah, but I guess that’s just the cross I have to bear as a celebrity,” Jean drawled, explaining to Levi, Eren sulking behind them.

“Wow, Jean…you actually made it to the end of the day,” Marco said, coming up to them as Eren hopped into his boots.

“Yeah, I mean, I’m just putting in my time, trying to give back to the community, no biggie,” Jean said rubbing at his nose.

Both Eren and Levi suppressed eye-rolls.

“That’s great!” Marco said, beaming. “Look, I was thinking maybe we could get coffee sometime and talk.”

Eren and Levi tried to move as quietly as possible towards the door, shoes squeaking on the wet floor. Eren bit back a grin but as he looked over his shoulder to see Jean’s expression, he was surprised to see it wasn’t happy at all.

“Wait…” said Jean, shoulders slumped, looking like a deflated balloon. “Was this like a…test?”

Marco laughed. “If it was, you passed!”

Eren had to physically grab Levi from turning on the spot angrily. Levi wasn’t that fond of Jean, but nobody deserved to be treated like that.

“It’s none of our business,” Eren whispered as Levi glowered at Marco.

“Look Marco…I really miss you,” Jean said scratching at his shaggy hair. “A lot. But it fucking crushed me when we broke up. I mean, you thought I cheated and instead of talking to me about it, you jumped to conclusions. And I just think for you to have that little trust in me then something was broken a long time ago. So no. No coffee.”

“Jean…” Marco started, taken aback.

“Bye,” Jean said curtly, exiting the building.

They got into the car. The silence was awkward and both Levi and Eren had to pretend Jean wasn’t sniffling in the backseat.

“I like this car,” Eren said awkwardly. “Like this dashboard looks like a spaceship.”

“Yeah, it’s got satellite radio,” Levi said distractedly, fiddling with the knobs.

They drove through the slushy parking lot and stopped waiting for cross traffic, despite the empty streets.

“Oh look Marco is behind us, hi Marco!” Eren gave a wave which Marco wearily returned.

Jean let out a whine and slouched lower in his seat. They drove in awkward silence to the next stop sign.

“Does it, uh, have child locks?” Eren asked casually.

“Yeah,” Levi answered slowly. “Why do you ask—oh my god!”

“Fuck!” Eren swore as Jean unbuckled his seatbelt and rolled out of the car. “Goddamnit Jean!”

“What the fuck is with your friends jumping out of moving cars, Eren!” Levi shouted, as he squealed to a halt and struggled with his seatbelt.

“Jean!” Marco shouted jumping out of his car. “Are you okay! Are you hurt? Why did you do that, you idiot!”

He slapped at him with his gloves as Jean half laughed, half sobbed, soaked in the slush, before grabbing Marco and pulling him down for a kiss.

“I missed you so much!” Marco cried on top of him.

A car honked at them.

“Go around!” they all shouted.

“I’m sorry!” Marco sobbed.

“No, I’m sorry!” Jean said.

“Why are you apologizing?”

“I don’t know!”

“Are you guys just gonna roll around in the dirty snow all day?” Levi asked, lip curling in disgust.

“Are you hurt?” Marco asked.

“I think I bruised my tailbone,” Jean said, giving a fake wince.

“Oh here, let’s get you home. Mom is keeping leftovers warm for me. We’ll get you wrapped up into blankets and you can have some cocoa, okay?” Marco asked, helping Jean to the car.

“With marshmallows?”

“Of course!”

Eren and Levi watched them leave. It was a weird feeling, watching other people fall in and out of love. And somehow now that Levi had Eren, it all felt all the more important. He loved Eren, with all his heart and now that he had that love, he wanted to see everyone be that happy. Not everyone was going to find the love of their life, Levi reasoned, or even hold on to it for long, but they might find that love they needed—from themselves, from friends, from a community—and learn to be good to one another. You know, peace on Earth, goodwill toward men, that kind of schmoopy bullshit, Merry Christmas, Happy Birthday, yada yada.

“I guess it’s just you and me then,” Eren said, holding Levi’s hand as he struggled over the slush back into the car.

“Yeah,” Levi snorted.

Eren didn’t say anything, but Levi found himself pressed up against the car, Eren’s gloved hand under his chin, pressing his warm lips to Levi’s freezing nose.

“It gets a little red when you’re cold,” Eren said smiling and blinking snowflakes out of his lashes.

Levi’s cheeks flushed.

Chapter Text

 

They spent the rest of Christmas Day inside. Eren gave Levi his gift. Levi pretended to act surprised.

“You knew,” Eren deduced.

“You were pretty obvious,” Levi pointed out. “You asked me what kind of camera I’d like about fifty times.”

He aimed the lens at Eren and snapped a picture. God he was cute. Levi wanted to cover him in paint again and snap a few more photos.

Levi’s back was sore from all the work earlier so he drew a bath. Eren curled up on the floor next to the tub, running his fingers up and down Levi’s arm until he grew annoyed and took off his clothes and hopped in with him, splashing water over the edge. He tucked his feet under Levi’s backside, wiggling his toes obnoxiously.

“Here, come over here,” Levi said repositioning Eren behind him, then stretching out, resting his head on Eren’s tan chest.

“Mmm,” Eren hummed happily.

Except he kept wiggling.

“Wanna play Up Periscope?” Eren asked wickedly, playing with the soft hairs on Levi’s inner thigh.

“What is that?” Levi asked, chuckling lowly.

“It’s where I give you head underwater,” Eren said, skating his fingers over Levi’s ribs.

Levi laughed a little as Eren kissed at the water droplets on his neck.

“You know you don’t have to fit a lifetime of sexual activity into the few weeks we get to spend together. It’s okay to just be like this. Just quiet and enjoying each other’s company,” Levi said, feeling Eren’s heart beat against the back of his head.

“I know,” Eren said, smiling sadly.

Eren’s band was playing a gig for New Year’s and he was flying out the following Tuesday.

“I just don’t want you to forget about me,” he mumbled against Levi’s cheek.

“Hard to forget you when your billboard is still up,” Levi pointed out.

Eren snorted.

“I guess I just want to make the most of our time together,” Eren said, grabbing Levi’s loofa and rubbing between his shoulder blades.

“I know. But I like you for more than sex. I actually enjoy your company,” Levi said, pulling Eren’s arm across his chest.

Eren hummed again, wrapping his arms tight. Levi enjoyed resting there. He probably would have enjoyed it more if Eren weren’t tapping his fingers to an imaginary beat, using Levi’s chest as a drum.

They curled up in front of the fireplace again, Eren playing his guitar for two curious cats as Levi read his book. Eren seemed content to pick out keys while the cats tripped over him. Levi knew whenever he was writing a new song because he’d get that faraway look and scratch at his head with a pencil or pen. Often he’d lose that same pen in his hair and then go digging for another, scribbling notes. When he was more confident, he’d record a small sample and send it over to Jean. But the rough drafts were all for Levi and he carefully stepped around crumpled sheets of paper to pour himself another cup of tea.

“Spank,” Eren mumbled. “Rank, tank, stank, mank—hey Levi is ‘mank’ a—“

“No.”

“Crank, plank. This is hard, where’s my—“ Eren paused and threw stuff up in the air, searching under his paper mess. Bean attacked his hand as Sawney watched from her perch on Levi’s chair.

“Rhyming dictionary is under the couch,” Levi pointed.

Eren flipped through the dictionary before throwing it aside and collapsing on the ground.

“Levi write this song for me,” he begged.

“I said I didn’t want you telling your friends about our sex life, so you’re writing a song about it?” Levi asked picking up a scrap with barely decipherable lyrics.

“You’re not allowed to look,” Eren said, pulling the sheet from his hands.

“C’mon, take me to bed,” Levi said holding his hands out to help Eren off the rug.

Eren slipped under the covers and pulled Levi toward him. Eren’s breath evened out almost immediately as he slipped into sleep. It was all very warm and pleasant until Levi’s phone rang.

“Who the fuck…” Levi grumbled, fumbling for his phone.

“Is that your family calling you to wish you a Happy Birthday?” Eren asked groggily.

Levi snorted. Not likely. He check the caller ID and paused.

“Who is it?” Eren asked yawning.

“Hello?” Levi asked, suddenly awake.

“Levi?”

There was a swish of static on the other end and Levi sat up.

“What’s wrong?” he said immediately.

“Can you come over?”

“What’s wrong?” Levi asked.

“Who is it?” Eren asked.

“Erwin,” Levi mouthed back.

“Nothing…can you just come over?”

“Are the kids okay?” Levi asked, panic rising in his chest.

“Yeah they’re fine.”

Levi let out a sigh of relief.

“Please come over?” Erwin begged.

“I can’t. I have Eren with me,” Levi said looking sideways at the empty spot in bed as Eren had stumbled toward the toilet to piss.

“Bring him.”

They made it to Erwin and Nile’s townhouse in under five minutes.

“Thank you so much!” Erwin said, ushering them inside.

“No problem,” Levi grunted, taking off his coat.

He eyed the mess of crayons and Cheerios all over the floor.

“You’re gonna get mice with all of that,” Levi said, pointing.

“Sorry about the mess, but I just got the kids down for the night and haven’t had time to clean yet,” Erwin apologized.

“Daddy! Daddy!” Billy and Jack came running out at the sound of footsteps in the hallway.

The pulled up short when they saw it was Levi.

“You boys need to be in bed,” Erwin said sternly, but they ignored him and went straight back to playing with the toys they had been using before bedtime.

“Where’s Nile?”

“Still driving.”

“Still?” Levi asked incredulously. “He’s been at it for two days!”

“They closed most of the roads and traffic is horrendous. He sat on the highway for 3 hours yesterday not moving.”

“Should he even be driving in this weather?” Levi asked quietly, turning his back so the kids couldn’t hear him.

The slush was due to freeze over the night making the roads incredibly dangerous.

“Probably not, but he promised the kids he’d be back for Christmas Day,” Erwin whispered.

“He’s got—“ Levi checked the time on his phone. “Twenty minutes to keep that promise.”

“Oh well, he explained to them that some years you have two Christmases like Leap Year. So Santa is visiting the house tonight instead of last night.”

Levi didn’t know if he hated Nile for that lie or was impressed.

“They spent all day with Grandma and Grandpa who just hyped them up with sugar and toys.”

Billy was busy shooting at Jack with a silver toy gun. Erwin sighed.

“Hey boys,” Eren said walking over. “Whatchya playin’?”

“Cowboys and Indians,” Billy said.

“What?” Eren asked mouth falling open. “Oh no, nope, we’re not doing that, that is some racist nonsense. Here’s let’s play a new game.”

“What’s the emergency?” Levi asked now that Eren had them distracted.

Erwin led him down the hallway.

“I plotted everything,” Erwin explained grimly. “I took every precaution.”

He opened the door to a brightly covered paper mess. Wrapping paper and ribbons were strewn everywhere and the presents were thrown haphazardly around the room.

“I even bought one of those little Marth Stewart gift wrapping stations,” Erwin said rubbing at his face exhaustedly. “I set up a plan of attack but the enemy outwitted me.”

He waved at the mess in defeat. 

“Well it doesn’t look too bad,” Levi said, examining the wrap job. “I mean, they’re kids, they care more about the gift than the paper.”

“Nile promised me that he would wrap all of them before he left, but then his flight was cancelled. I spent over six hours, Levi. Six hours working on this project.”

“Right,” Levi nodded.

“Six hours creasing each corner and tying bows and…I forgot to put tags on them,” he finished in a horrified whisper.

Levi blinked and looked around at the packages.

“Oh,” he said, understanding finally.

“It’s not funny Levi!” Erwin protested because Levi was trying so hard to keep a straight face. “I have to unwrap every single present to figure out what toy each toy is and which child it goes to. And I can’t. I can’t do that again Levi, please help!”

“I gotta tell Hanji and Mike,” Levi said, pulling out his phone.

“Stop that, I’m serious,” Erwin said.

[Mike:] is he talking like a general again?

[Hanji:] pix plz

Levi snapped a photo and sent it.

“Will you help me or not?” Erwin asked as Levi put away his phone.

“First of all, you don’t need to unwrap every single one, you can just pull the tape off at the corners and check. Here you get the list and we’ll get started.”

With the two of them it went by quickly. Some did need to be rewrapped which Levi did with an expert flourish.

“How are you doing that?” Erwin asked.

“Doing what?” Levi asked.

“Doing that thing with the scissors?” he pointed. “How do you curl them?”

“You just press the ribbon against the blade like so,” Levi said, dropping a tightly coiled green curl.

Erwin tried and failed.

“No wonder my mother liked you so much,” Erwin said as Levi continued fixing the bows on all of them.

“I never got the impression she liked me at all,” Levi said stacking the packages. “What does Phyllis think of Nile’s kids?”

Erwin sighed.

“She hasn’t met them yet. She’s still hoping I’ll have my own. She wants grandkids. She said, ‘Well at least with Levi there was a chance!’”

Levi snorted.

“By the way, I sent in that form for you,” Erwin said, finger to his temple following Levi around the room with his perceptive blue eyes.

“Good,” Levi nodded and began cleaning up the wrapping paper mess, folding the larger pieces to reuse and placing the rest into a garbage bag. “Don’t let Eren see you’re just tossing wrapping paper like this, he thinks it’s terrible for the environment—and it is. He wrapped my gift in used newspaper from the café. Some had coffee rings on them, but you know, it’s the thought that counts.”

Erwin watched him closely.

“So I looked in that box by your door,” Erwin informed him.

Levi paused as he reached for a piece of paper then grabbed it anyway, shoving it into the bag with some vehemence.

“Do you want to talk about it?” Erwin invited.

“Nope,” Levi said icily.

“Have you talked to Eren about it?”

Levi shrugged.

“Don’t you think you should?”

“You snooped,” Levi accused pointing at him. “You went through my things while I was sick.”

“I was trying to help you by cleaning,” Erwin said putting his hands up. “And it’s not like you to leave a box by the door for weeks. So yeah, I peeked.”

“How much did you see?” Levi asked, crossing his hands over his chest defensively.

“Just enough to get an idea. I didn’t mean to invade your privacy. But you know you can talk to me about that stuff, right?”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” Levi said, shutting him down.

“Okay,” Erwin agreed.

They cleaned the room in silence, Levi’s mouth set in a hard line.

“Are you going to Hanji’s going away party?” Erwin asked.

“No.”

“Why not? She’s your best friend.”

“I don’t like parties, you know that.”

“I think it would be good for you.”

“No,” Levi cut him off. “You do not get to determine what you think is good for me.”

“You’re right, sorry,” Erwin apologized smoothly, like he hadn’t just prodded all of Levi’s buttons. God, he pissed Levi off sometimes. Here Levi was doing him a favor and Erwin was using it as an opportunity to psychoanalyze him.

“Besides…I’ll make it up to her,” Levi said, rubbing at his hair.

They opened the door and shut it tight so the kids wouldn’t see the brightly colored ribbons. Seated in t