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The Adventures of Little Erwin and Captain Grumpy-Pants

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Levi Ackerman could truthfully say he wasn’t an anime nerd.

When he was little, of course, he’d watched Pokemon like any other kid, but as he was older he just didn’t have time between school, kendo, Mathletes, Science Olympiad, and helping out in his dad’s auto repair shop. And now he was an adult with a job, and the time he did have for tv was dedicated to wilderness survival shows and NOVA.

He was definitely a nerd. He watched NOVA, for fuck sakes. But he wasn’t an anime nerd.

He just really happened to like this one character named Erwin Smith from this one show called Attack on Titan. That was all.

--

It all started one Thursday evening in early August during kendo practice, when he caught one of his younger club members staring at him.

“Why are squinting at me like that, Aaron?” Levi asked, hands paused pulling his face guard over his head.

“Ah-sorry!” Aaron flushed. “It’s just you really look like this character, Levi-heichou, from this show I just started watching, Attack on Titan,” he said in an awkward rush, voice getting louder the longer he spoke. “You have the same name too and you even kind of act like him!”

Levi tugged the headgear on and tied it behind his head. “Never heard of it, so I’ll have to take your word. Let’s just get started on this exercise.” Levi settled into his stance, his practice sword extended in front of him, ready to take on Aaron’s attack. It never came. Hanji and Jon had overheard and stopped their warm-up swings.

“I’ve noticed too Aaron! Our Levi really does remind me of Captain Levi.” That was Hanji, a goofy annoyance who was somehow Levi’s housemate and best friend. “He’s short and even scowls just like him.”

“Thanks,” Levi muttered, and damn it, he was scowling too, even if no one could see. What a dumb conversation, he thought. “Now that we’ve established that I look like this other Levi person, let’s start practice.”

It was like he hadn’t even spoken.

“You even know how to use a sword like him!”  Aaron jumped up and swung his bamboo practice sword in a dramatic slash through the air, face fierce. “Like that!”

“Well, technically Aaron, I think in Attack on Titan, they are 3D maneuver gear blades, not swords.” Jon corrected, standing with his hand on one hip and the other using his sword like a posh cane.

“Oh whatever, Jon. Blades, swords. It’s a sharp pointy thing, and that’s what matters.”Aaron retorted, knocking Jon’s sword out of his grip.

“Hey!” Jon whined, bending down to pick it up while fending off Aaron’s jabs at his head and shoulders.

“I’m going to stick a sharp pointy thing up both of your butts if you don’t drop this and start practice.” Levi snapped at them, ripping his face guard off to glare daggers at them.

They stopped their horseplay and gaped at Levi.

“Oh my god. You are Levi-heichou,” Aaron said in awe. Hanji started cackling and didn’t stop for the rest of practice.

--

By day Levi wrote economic policy at the Federal Reserve Board, one more government drone among many. When Levi was in college, his father amassed a huge amount of credit card debt from a scammy bank and almost lost his shop. The incident compelled Levi to switch his major from engineering to financial economics. Now he researched the credit card market so he could write regulations against hidden fees and astronomical interest rates, and all other kinds of asshole behavior. Levi loved it.  

Hanji was a researcher at the National Institutes of Health. Levi wasn’t sure what she did all day, and he didn’t really want to find out because it probably involved human entrails. The two of them had been friends and housemates since college. They met kendo club and both suffered through the same bullshit statistics class. They stayed friends during grad school and fell back into their old routine when they both ended up working in DC.

Hanji wasa huge geek, and through her Levi learned of things like the complete scope of the Star Trek franchise, World of Warcraft, trading card games, and fan conventions. Levi wasn’t an anime nerd, but Hanji certainly was. She covered her room at home in wall scrolls; her bookshelves burst with dvd sets, manga, and small but incredibly detailed figurines of anime characters. It was a mess, but it didn’t bother Levi as long it remained contained to one area that Levi vowed he would never step foot in.

--

The weekend after Aaron made the ‘heichou’ comparison, Hanji persuaded Levi to attend Otakon with her, in the spirit of “expanding his horizons.” Levi still didn’t know in exactly what way Hanji thought his horizons were so limited that going to an anime convention was the answer but it had been easier just to give in than argue with her. 

When they got there, Hanji pointed them straight to the dealer’s room “to do recon on the prices so I can bargain them down tomorrow.” While browsing through masses of people and tables cluttered with anime flotsam and jetsam, Levi’s eye caught on something. It would have been a normal chip bag if not for the drawing of a man in a brown uniform with straps all over his body like some sort of weird bondage thing.  A man with short black hair, thin brows, apathetic gray eyes, and a scowl that Levi could feel mirrored on his own face.

“Hanji, is this what I think it is?” He waved the chip bag in their direction accusingly.

“Oh-ho! You found him! Don’t you think it looks just like you?”

Levi had to acknowledge that, to his horror, the Captain Levi character really did have an uncanny resemblance to him. “You’re saying all this time, I reminded you of an anime character who wears a cravat?”

“Of course!” Hanji exclaimed, as irrepressible as ever. “Attack on Titan is super popular right now. I don’t know how you never heard of before. I’ve been watching it at home even. You just don’t pay attention. The merchandise is everywhere!”

“I can see that.” Now that he was aware of it, he noticed his weird anime doppelganger’s face on a lot of things in the room. In some of them, he was making an expression of what could only be described as a bored-yet-aroused. In retaliation, Levi frowned harder.

“I don’t know why you’re taking this like some personal offense. Levi is the most popular character! You should be flattered!” Hanji needled him.

“No way, it’s too weird,” Levi said as he turned the chip bag and examined it from another angle before putting it back.

“Suit yourself. But I don’t think that’s going to stop Aaron and the others from calling you heichou from now on.”

Levi could only let out a huff of irritation in response.

As they moved away from the table, Hanji running off to find some “free stuff,” Levi bumped into a man. “Sorry,” he mumbled, briefly glancing up and catching a hint of blonde hair out of the corner of his eye as he continued on. He heard a vague “no problem” drift back from behind him.

--

True to Hanji’s prediction, the kendo kids did start calling him heichou. After the first day, Levi decided not to care about it anymore. It didn’t get in the way of practice, which was really all that mattered. If they wanted to refer to him with a weeaboo nickname, that was their own problem.

But the snippets of conversations he overheard about the show were getting to him.

“I love Levi’s squad, they’re so awesome!”

Who were Levi’s squad? Why did he have a squad? Why were they awesome? Levi wanted to know against his will.

“Did you see that Female Titan! And while she was chasing them Levi was so—”

“I KNOW. I COULDN’T BELIEVE IT.”

So what?? What did this mean? Was it unbelievable in a good way? A bad way? Did this Levi really act like him?

“Heichou was so cool in the last episode! So fast, so scary. He’s definitely my favorite.”

“I don’t know, I think Erwin is the best personally,” Hanji jumped in, knowing it would grind his gears.

What? How dare someone not think Levi was the best? Who the hell was this Erwin person anyway? He probably sucked. Levi was insulted. And that’s when he realized he was going to have to watch this stupid show or else he’d always be perversely curious about his apparent double life as an anime character.

So he borrowed Hanji’s Crunchyroll account and started watching one night when he got home from work. And his life changed forever.

--

Attack on Titan was a really entertaining show. It had enticing mysteries, thrilling combat action, the pace blistered, likeable characters, and the opening theme song was fantastic. It was so good that Levi downloaded it and put it on his running playlist. Even the Captain Levi character grew on him after a while. Sure, Levi still found it a little creepy, but at least Captain Levi was cool and it was fun to see a total badass version of himself, unleashing all of his subconscious violent impulses.

But mostly, there was Erwin Smith.

The very first scene of the show started with a striking soldier galloping at full speed through a dense forest. He had a commanding presence and even though he wasn’t on screen long, he set the tone for the pace and action of the series. Later, Levi realized that the soldier had been Erwin.

Erwin was important, interesting, and inspiring. His actions were ruthless, but he had no sense of ego. Everything he did he did for the greater good, and Levi found that he respected him and trusted his decisions just as much as his 2D counterpart did. Levi had never been the kind of person to get invested in fictional characters, but there was something about Erwin that made Levi sit up and take notice.

And that something somehow prompted him to buy all the official Erwin merchandise (OK, and, like, a FEW fan-made things) he possibly could.

He hadn’t meant to start collecting Erwin Stuff. Even if he had, it would have been difficult because there really wasn’t much of it, especially in comparison to the incredible amount of Captain Levi swag. Levi was actually starting to find it almost funny the sheer amount of crap that he saw his 2-D face on when he scrolled through tumblr. Or, he would have found it funny, if it hadn’t meant that they were shafting Erwin by putting out only Levi paraphernalia.

Because it was so unusual, when he saw the Erwin keychain at another anime convention with Hanji, he bought it before he had even stopped to think about it. And then since it was so rare, it wasn’t like he was going to actually use the keychain. What if he lost it? So he tacked it on the wall above his desk. After that it just became a habit. If he saw an Erwin item he would buy it. And so his collection grew. He had some small posters and artwork taped next to the keychain. He had a cute plushie that he had seen for sale online one night. He even had the Erwin perfume, which Hanji teased him about endlessly.

His Erwin Stuff wasn’t a shrine. He wasn’t obsessed. Well, not VERY obsessed. It wasn’t like he owned a body pillow or anything. He just had all of his Erwin Stuff neatly displayed on his desk in his room and that was it. He got inspired when he saw the face of the Commander of the Survey Corps, so it was only natural to have it out in the open where he could see it any time he was in his room. It motivated him to spend a little more time on his work to really make it perfect rather than just acceptable and to practice his kendo first thing in the morning no matter how tired he was.

His Erwin Stuff was just a motivational tool. That was all. Just because he sometimes caught himself talking to his Erwin Stuff like he was really there—in his defense, there are times you just needed to hear your own thoughts out loud.

So even though he wasn’t really a collector of Erwin merchandise, he couldn’t help but be disappointed that his assortment of Erwin Stuff seemed a little bit sparse. What he really wanted was a figure. Something tangible of Erwin that he would be able to hold in his hand, even if it was plastic, because nothing could bring a character to life more than a sculpture where you could see all of the heft of the body, the turn of the cheek, the way the shoulders flowed into the back which rippled down to the butt—UH, ANYWAY, Levi abruptly broke out of that chain of thought—obviously there was a lot to like about having a figure. It was a shame they hadn’t made one.

And then one day on tumblr…

There it was.

An Erwin Smith figure.

He had never preordered something faster in his life.

--

The wait was excruciating.

He threw himself into his work and kendo for distraction. He rewatched the anime and reread the manga multiple times, each time feeling the same weird mix of pride and embarrassment at the Levi character and respect and admiration for Erwin. Chapter 49 still punched him in the gut, even on the hundredth read-through. He couldn’t wait to see that part animated. He kept up with all the fandom developments, including new merch, sometimes with updates about the figure. The first time he saw it with color he gasped.

And then, one day, a few months after placing his order, on his doorstep appeared a small brown box.

Levi was grateful no one was around to hear his scream of excitement.

Once inside his house Levi methodically assembled his supplies. Sharp scissors. Camera to document the unboxing. Clean towel to place the figure on once it was out of the box. Just because Levi kept his room immaculate didn’t mean he was going to take any chances.  Then he carefully poked at the tape sealing the box with the ends of his scissors, making sure to make only the shallowest of punctures. He lifted the Styrofoam packaging away reverently to reveal Erwin Smith in all his eight inch glory staring up at him. He put on his glasses. He didn’t want to miss any detail. He gently pulled the figure free and held it up to his face. He reveled in his new prized possession.

It was magnificent.

Erwin was extending his right arm as if giving out a command. His stance was strong and confident. There was a feeling of purpose swirling around him for all that he was just a plastic figure.

Levi basked in contentment for several minutes, then uploaded his pictures to tumblr. He spent the next hour gushing with other fans about Erwin and the figure and taking more pictures from every angle imaginable.

That night, he put Little Erwin right next to his bed instead of his desk because he just needed to have it close to him. From then on, it became his habit to say goodnight to Little Erwin and pet his head before going to bed. At first he beat himself up about it for being such a weirdo, but eventually it got to the point where he didn’t even care anymore. So what if he talked to his Erwin figure? It wasn’t like he was in love with it or anything.

At least, not deeply in love with it.

--

In the middle of March, Hanji suddenly declared that she forming a trivia team and that Levi’s participation was mandatory. Levi was pretty sure that it was all an elaborate ruse so Hanji could spend more time with her co-worker, Martin. Hanji had a peculiar, longstanding relationship with him, but Levi had long given up trying to figure it out. So on Wednesday nights he and Hanji went to trivia night at their neighborhood bar with Hanji’s two other friends, Earl, and Gunther. Despite being pressured onto the team, Levi took it very seriously, probably a leftover from his high school days as a Mathlete and Science Olympian. And they were a good team. After they familiarized themselves with the routine in their first two outings they became unstoppable. But that particular night he had to leave early. His job had been brutal for the past few days, and he couldn’t concentrate as his mind raced with work problems while his body felt totally of gas. No, more like the one time he put diesel in his car’s engine by accident instead of gas. Tank ruined, full of useless junk, and the car just wouldn’t run. He excused himself from the table and stood up.

And when he saw him he couldn’t believe his eyes.

Erwin Smith, Commander of the Survey Corps was there. Right there, sitting at a table with four other people, laughing and sipping a beer, saying something to the tall shaggy-haired man next to him.

Levi shook his head. OK, he was so stressed out he was seeing things. Definitely time to go home. He grabbed his jacket and walked out of the bar.

“Little Erwin,” he said to Little Erwin when he crashed into bed about half an hour later, “I thought I saw you for real today. It would have been kind of amazing if I did, but I think it just means I’m exhausted,” he said, and then he promptly fell asleep.

--

The next week, he was back in top form. Work had calmed down, and he had relaxed over the weekend by rearranging his Erwin Stuff for maximum effect.

Yet the tension at his team’s table was palpable. Levi glared menacingly at the man sitting in the DJ booth, mentally compelling him to work faster. What were the results? They had just finished the sports round, which Levi was shit at. Thankfully, Martin was a fantasy league player in football, basketball, and baseball so he followed sports news obsessively. Levi knew he should probably enjoy at least fantasy baseball since it was all a numbers game, but he just couldn’t see the point. Martin was reliable, but one person couldn’t necessarily know everything, and they hadn’t done that well in the first round. What was the score? His trivia team had won for the past 5 weeks straight, even after he had bailed on them last week, and he wasn’t about to lose now.

At last the trivia night host drawled in the microphone, “Alright, here’s the results for the third round” and the bar quieted. He started reading the score from the bottom up. Levi tapped his foot impatiently until he got to the number two spot. “In second place we have Captain Grumpy-Pants and the Grump Cadets with forty-one points. And finally in first place is Quizilla vs. Mothra with forty-two points.” A cheer rose from across the room. “Close one tonight folks…” as the host continued to explain the rules for the next round, Levi did his best to locate these assholes who were endangering his perfect record.

And there he was again. He hadn’t just been seeing things last week. The man who looked just like Erwin Smith was there again. He was really, really handsome. The guy was beating his team by one measly point, which meant he should be Levi’s enemy.

But the man looked JUST LIKE his Commander and it was hard for Levi to maintain his animosity.

His face was in profile, with the perfectly proportioned features and high cheekbones standing out prominently. Broad shoulders, slightly tan skin, shining blond hair that Levi had only imagined the silkiness of once or twice or a million times.

Levi was staring and he couldn’t stop. He knew in the back of his mind he was being rude, but he just couldn’t stop. Where had he come from? He wasn’t a regular, or at least he hadn’t been since last week.

A blur waving in front of his face finally broke his captivated attention. “Levi, earth to Levi, the round started,” Hanji whispered. “It’s the next question. What are the top 3 largest coffee producing countries in the world?”

Who the fuck cared? He looked back towards there’s-no-way-it’s-Erwin’s table, just to confirm that he really wasn’t hallucinating. He was still there, his shiny head bent over the trivia answer sheet, pen furiously scribbling down the answers. He obviously knew the top 3 largest coffee producing countries in the world without even having to consult his friends.

“LEVI,” Hanji whispered-shouted this time. “I need an answer.”

“Brazil, Vietnam, and Columbia,” he rattled off, still not looking away.

“Why do you keep looking over my shoulder? Is there a strip show happening behind me or something?”

Levi instantly had a mental image of Erwin Smith naked from the waist down, chest and arm muscles gleaming in soft light, slowly unbuttoning his pants, while looking Levi straight in the eye. And now he had a real face and body to put to that image, instead of just hot fanart.

“Holy shit, is there? You’re face just turned beet red.” Hanji’s interruption snapped him out of his heady fantasy.

“Jesus, Hanji, no there isn’t a strip show.” Levi tightened his lips in an attempt to smother his embarrassment. “What are the questions?” he asked, adjusting his glasses, trying to get back into the game, but his eyes once again wondered to the far off table.

“What are you looking at?”

“I’ll tell you after the round.”

Hanji shoved the answer sheet over to Earl and Gunther to let them take over. “Tell me now.”

“There’s a man over there who looks just like—” Levi wavered, knowing he was still flushed, “well, Erwin Smith.”

“REALLY? Commander Handsome?” Hanji swiveled her whole body around to look, because why not be as obvious as possible?

“Hanji, it’s rude to stare like that,” Levi tsked.

“Oh please, like you weren’t doing just that for the last 5 minutes,” Hanji threw back.

“Yeah, but I wasn’t being horribly obnoxious about it. He’s going to notice.” But it was too late, the Erwin lookalike had turned his head and caught them in the act of gawking. He just raised his (HUGE, but perfect) eyebrows at Hanji. Then his eyes met Levi’s. And they were blue. Such a deep, beautiful blue that Levi could make out all the way across the crowded bar floor. His mouth parted in obvious surprise, just slightly, just making enough space for another set of lips to fit perfectly for a kiss, Levi thought suddenly, and Levi felt his own answering gulp for air, his breath suspended as they looked at each other until no-fucking-way-Erwin smiled. Right at him. Levi couldn’t move. The moment seemed to stretch into an era until not-Erwin furrowed his brows and looked away, distracted by the man next to him.

“So…” Hanji leered, not having missed any of this by-play, “you know, there’s actually a lot of kinky porn out there of Captain Levi and Commander Smith getting it on.”

“Thanks Hanji, I am aware of rule 34 of the internet.” Levi deadpanned, suddenly 100% focused on making sure not a trace of guilt showed on his face. He may have read all of the Eruri smut fics on AO3 in times of great personal need. But he was resolutely not going to think about any of them right now. Once again he fidgeted with his glasses and pitched himself back into the round. He vowed not to look in IRL-Erwin’s direction again. And he didn’t. Much.

In the end, hot-dude-who-really-looked-like-Erwin’s team beat Levi’s by one freaking point. He left before Levi could catch his eye again, and he wasn’t sure if that was a relief or if it pissed him off. That night when he got home, he collapsed onto his bed and stared Little Erwin in the face.

“Little Erwin, tonight I think I had eye-sex with a guy who looks just like you. That’s not an unhealthy projection, right?”

But of course, Little Erwin made no reply, so Levi just sighed and got under the covers, his mind filled with the blond man.

--

The week flew by and suddenly it was Wednesday again. Which meant trivia night. Which meant possible-real-Erwin. Who Levi had been anticipating seeing all week. And he was there. Levi had seen him as soon as he’d walked into the bar, his eyes drawn to him as if they were magnetized. The man had been watching him walk in and Levi’s whole body flushed with the realization. He joined his team, but he couldn’t concentrate, since he spent most of the evening sneaking glances at the far table. They lost, again by only one point. Amidst the grumbles heard around the table moaning their second straight loss in a row, the waitress came by with five beers that none of them had ordered.

“Compliments of the winning team,” she sing-songed. Levi looked over to find hypothetically-Erwin smiling at him. Instantly Levi glared back. Who buys drinks for the losing team? No one did that. It was cheesy and corny and an obvious excuse to try to get into someone’s pants. Levi wasn’t fooled or flattered. At all. Not one measly bit.

Somehow Erwin-not-Erwin was standing in front of him. Calm down, Levi chastised himself. He’s not your Erwin. He’s probably named something totally normal, like Ryan or Steve and utterly boring. Sure, now that he was up close, he certainly looked like the Commander. Tall, broad shouldered, all blond hair and blue eyes, impeccably dressed, and really more handsome than anyone had the right to be. Levi aggressively pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose to distract himself.

“Captain Grumpy-Pants, I presume?”

Sounds have shapes. This was both scientifically true (Levi had seen the experiment that proved it as a Science Olympian) and metaphysically true. The rich baritone of not-Erwin’s voice had a shape and a texture like a crisp down comforter that wrapped around Levi’s body and warmed it all over.

What the fuck was happening to him? He was thinking in poetry now. About this guy’s stupid voice. Sure he sounded like the Commander, but a lot of men had deep voices. There was no reason to get riled up. Also, Levi had just been insulted. Sort of. Being assumed to be grumpy was an insult, wasn’t it? Whatever. He needed to respond in kind.

“Uh, yeah.” Wow, a blistering rebuttal, good one.

“Do you have a real name?”

“Uh, Levi,” Kill me now, Levi thought. What kind of dumbass prefaced their own name with uh? “Ackerman,” he added as an after-thought.

“Nice to meet you Levi, I’m Erwin Smith,” the man said, smiling and offering his hand for a shake.

In the span of time Levi lost when he brain completely shut down, the universe had apparently rearranged itself, because the impossible had happened and his fictional crush was standing in front of him in the flesh. Because not only did he look just like Erwin Smith, and sound like Erwin Smith, but he was also named Erwin Smith. Levi was so stunned he left Erwin-not-Erwin-who-actually-was-Erwin’s hand hanging in empty space for too long. Get it together, he mentally snapped at himself. This was still just a coincidence. He was no more Commander Erwin Smith than he was Captain Levi. He quickly slid his own small hand into Erwin’s much larger one, too late realizing how sweaty his palm was. It didn’t matter. A rapid combustion flared over his skin where their hands touched anyway. He gave a firm shake, then pulled his hand back and coughed to clear his throat and his mind. “Not Quizilla? Or are you Mothra?” OK, good. That was better. He actually sounded like he had a functioning intellect.

“No, just Erwin.”

“Are you sure? You’re big enough to be Godzilla.”

“I’m not that big. You’re just short.” Erwin gave his body a once over that he didn’t even try to hide.

“How do you get an old person’s name like that?” Levi deflected his thoughts away from his pounding heartbeat.

“It’s a family name. How’d you get to be Captain Grumpy-Pants?”

“My friend thinks it’s funny.” Which was when Levi realized he’d been having this entire flirtation/mental breakdown in front of all of his teammates. They were looking at him with various degrees of interest, Hanji grinning like an idiot. He glowered at her extra hard. “You’ve beaten my team twice now, Erwin,” he forced out. Saying his name out loud, to his face was harder than it should have been.

“Mmm, so I have.” Jesus, that tone of voice needed to be outlawed for obscenity.

“We had a perfect record before you showed up.” Levi hoped he sounded petulant, instead of desperately turned on.

“Are you saying I’m not welcome here?”

“No,” Levi said, giving away his interest far too plainly.

“Good. I wouldn’t like to be unwelcome.” That hung in the air for a solid moment, freighted with innuendo.

“Well, it’s about time for me to go home,” Martin broke into the heavy tension. He stood hastily and threw some money on the table for his tab. “See you all next week!” Earl and Gunther also seized the opportunity to leave, Gunther smirking at Levi and Earl going as far as making lewd hand gestures to him behind Erwin’s back on their way out.

Hanji of course didn’t move. “So, you said your name’s Erwin?” she asked, way, way too nonchalantly for Levi’s current state of mind. “I’m Hanji, this little fuss-pot’s roommate and usual partner in crime.”

“A pleasure.” Erwin turned his attention to her, away from Levi, and he was definitely not jealous. Definitely not.

“Oh, no, I can most definitively say the pleasure is mine,” Hanji laughed, winking at Erwin. Levi was livid. How dare she wink at him. He was obviously here to talk to Levi, not her. Not that Levi was really doing a great job of holding a conversation beyond painfully stilted teasing, but still.

“So first it’s Captain Grumpy-Pants, and now a fuss-pot? I believe I’m sensing a pattern here.” Erwin teased, still not looking at him.

“It’s sad but true. Levi’s a huge grouch, it’s a wonder he has any friends at all,” Hanji sighed with resignation.

“I am not a grouch,” Levi interjected, in the grouchiest voice he’d ever heard come out of his own mouth.

At least he got Erwin to look at him and smile again.

Hanji ignored him, per usual. “Erwin, I have a good feeling about you, so I’m gonna cut to the chase. His number’s 202-555-7894, we’re here every Wednesday, and he definitely wants to see more of you, if you know what I mean.”

“Hanji!” Levi was mortified.

Erwin also seemed stunned for a moment, but he recovered swiftly. “Thanks, I think?” He shot Levi a questioning look.

Levi groaned but then figured there was nothing to be done but roll with it. It was all true after all. He nodded to Erwin. “If you aren’t scared off by my totally inappropriate friend, you can sit down. We might as well kill the rest of these beers.”

“And on that note, I’ll see you back at the house, Levi. Have a great night!” Levi glared at her. First she humiliated him, then she abandoned him. But he wasn’t complaining when Erwin settled down across the table, his body heat radiating off of him and making Levi’s temperature rise in the process. The scent of his cologne floated in the air, and Levi distantly noticed that it smelled a little like the Erwin brand perfume he had at home. Levi had to grudgingly admit, Hanji had done him a favor. Her total disregard for standard social etiquette meant that he had been shocked out of his own embarrassment and able to regain some of semblance of composure.

“So, Erwin.” He forced the tremor out of his voice. “What makes you so special that you keep beating our team? We had a five week long winning streak you know.”

“I can assure you, my team wins through collective effort of which I am a very small part.”

“What a steamy pile of bullshit,” Levi said it before he even thought to filter it.

But if anything Erwin smiled his widest smile yet. “Care to elaborate?”

“I’ve seen you play, and you answer at least half the questions yourself.”

“Been watching me, Levi?”

“You know I have.”

Erwin’s expression went predatory. OK, so much calming down the mood. But that was as far as Levi’s nerves could take him. Levi shifted into a more neutral topic, “how long have you lived in the city?” and they were able to continue with the getting-to-know-you small talk like relatively normal people.

When Levi got home, he was a little bit tipsy, from the beer and his bubbling feelings. “Little Erwin,” he pronounced solemnly to the figure, “I think you and I just went on a date.”

--

The next day Levi had lunch with Patricia, the first work friend he’d made when he started at the Board. She was a bubbly woman in her fifties, with a seemingly endless fount of knowledge about the world of federal financial regulation and a huge love for gossip that couldn’t be satisfied just by her own family. Somehow she always got him to cough up details of his love life (or distinct lack thereof). Thankfully, he’d still been able to keep his infatuation with a fictional character private. It wasn’t something he wanted spreading around at work.

It was a beautiful spring day, so they decided to get some fresh air and grab lunch from their favorite Mexican food truck. They had just collected their food and scored a bench when Patricia pounced.  “Levi, you’re all smiles today! I can’t believe it. You must’ve met someone last night.” She was just so direct and genuinely interested, he couldn’t not answer.

“Um, well, kind of…” Levi stammered, millimeters from taking a bite of his burrito.

“You did! You’re blushing! Tell me all about him! Most important thing first, does he have the 3 S’s covered?” Patricia asked gaily, waving her fork like it was a wand that could conjure answers from him.

The 3 S’s stood for straight, single, and solvent, “although in your case of course the straight thing doesn’t apply, so it can stand for same sexuality instead,” Patricia had chirped when she had first explained this concept to Levi. He never had the heart to tell her that it more commonly referred to what men did to get ready in the morning (shit, shower, shave). Besides, he liked her version better.

“Yeah, he does. He’s a lawyer for the ACLU.” Levi bit into his burrito to hide his warm face.

“Ooh, a man of principle, I like that,” she paused to take a sip of bottle water. “OK, so he’s got the 3 S’s. Dealbreaker question: is he a GU?”

GU was another word from Patricia’s weird dating lingo, a ‘geographically undesirable.’ Which, point taken, traffic was bad in DC, so geography was important.

“No, he isn’t a GU either. He lives in Chevy Chase.” Levi replied in between bites.

“DC side or Maryland side?” Patricia asked, before finally using her magic fork for its intended purpose of salad utensil.

“Maryland side. He said he liked being represented in Congress too much to actually move into DC.”

“Hmm,” she said, mulling over that tidbit before apparently dismissing it as unimportant, fork tapping against her bottom lip. “And you’re in Friendship Heights, right? So you’re close. What’s his name? How’d you meet him?”

“His name’s Erwin, and I’ve seen him a few times at trivia night.” Levi realized he was eating his burrito way too fast. It was almost halfway gone.

“A man after your own heart then with the trivia I see,” she brought another bite of salad up to her mouth, then put it down abruptly. “Wait, Erwin? How old is he? That’s an old person name.”

Levi couldn’t help laughing at that, lifting his head up from his intense burrito contemplation. He’d said the exact same thing last night. “Yeah, I know, right? But he’s only 35. And he showed me his driver’s license to prove it.”

“OK, so 35 and you’re how old now? 25?” She repositioned herself on the bench and resumed eating.

“Pat, I was 27 when I started here 2 years ago.” Levi said, giving her a pointed look. She always thought he was younger than he actually was. To be fair, most people did.

“I guess a 6 year age difference isn’t too bad. OK, he’s still viable. So why is he still single? What’s wrong with him?” 

Nothing, Levi almost blurted out. “It’s not like he would just tell me that,” he mumbled, looking back down at his food, focusing hard on a particularly large spot on the tortilla.

“Is he afraid of commitment? Married to his work?” She suggested, paying more attention to her salad than him, picking the onions out and throwing them onto the grass.

“Maybe he just hasn’t found the right person yet!” Levi sputtered, burrito nearly flying from his hand in indignation, and a huge portion beans, meat, and lettuce plopped to the ground.

“Oh, you’ve got it bad.” Patricia instantly looked up and narrowed her eyes at him, her smile delighted.

“I-I don’t even know if I actually like him yet. We just met,” Levi protested weakly as he balled up the sad remainder of his burrito into the foil wrap. 

“Oh, Levi, you need to work on your poker face. You like him. A lot.” Patricia proclaimed, punctuating her final words with her fork.

 --

Despite Hanji’s disparagement of his dating game, Levi wasn’t used to being so passive in a relationship. He felt like he needed to regain some of his typical self-possession and bravado, especially since the situation with Erwin was odder and far more loaded with expectations than usual. So he took some initiative and texted him that night after he got home from kendo.

To: Actual Erwin - Hey, how are you?

It was hardly scintillating but better than nothing. Send.

A minute later his phone buzzed.

>>From: Actual Erwin - Levi! I’m glad to hear from you. Still at the office since I left early yesterday to make it to trivia but I’ll be finishing up soon. What’s up?

Wasn’t that the question of the hour. Oh you know, not much, I’ve had wild fantasies about an anime character that looks just like you for the past 8 months and now that I’ve seen you for real I can’t wait to jump your bones?

Yeah no. And it didn’t escape his notice that Erwin mentioned he had made a point to get to trivia last night, which was not helping his emotions.

To: Actual Erwin - Hanji and I are going to the baseball game on Saturday. Do you want to join?

He waited impatiently for the response.

>>From: Actual Erwin - I’d like that.

Levi might have swooned.

To: Actual Erwin - OK, Hanji and I will pick you up at 2.

Speaking of, he could hear her puttering around in the kitchen. “Please remember to unload the dishwasher, it’s your turn this week!” he called.

“I know, I know,” she yelled back. Levi was pretty sure he heard muffled “fuss-pot” amid the sudden clattering of china and silverware. His phone’s vibration distracted him from worrying about the mess she was surely making.

>>From: Actual Erwin- I look forward to it.

“Ooh, are you texting Commander Hot-Stuff?” Hanji asked, coming into the living room. “You look like they just announced that Christmas would come early this year.”

“He’s going with us to the game,” Levi replied, choosing to ignore Hanji’s commentary. “Please don’t get us kicked out like last time.”

--

Before he got into bed that night, Levi attended to his evening routine: wash face, brush teeth, floss, chat with Little Erwin.

“Little Erwin, I’m going on a date with you on Saturday. Or close enough to a date, at least. Are you excited?"

Little Erwin stayed resolutely mute.

“You’re much more fun to talk to in real life.”

--

On Saturday he attended to the usual masculine 3 S’s and dressed with extra care, despite sticking to his typical weekend outfit of a loose t-shirt and dark skinny jeans. His concessions to the baseball game were a navy shirt and his Nationals cap. And then he debated with himself for AGES over glasses or contacts, even though he knew Erwin wouldn’t have a preference and he should just make a goddamn decision, but he didn’t want to disappoint him, finally settling on contacts because he didn’t miss any details when he saw Erwin again. And then he wondered exactly where he’d gone wrong in life that this was now part of his thought process.

“Time’s a-wasting, short stack! Let’s go!” Hanji called. He gave his appearance one last glance in the mirror and figured that he was as good as he was going to get.

--

They picked up Erwin and his shaggy-haired friend, Mike from Erwin’s house. At first Levi had been disappointed Erwin wanted to invite Mike but then realized another person would keep Hanji from interfering too much. Hopefully. Levi drank in the sight of Erwin as he walked to the car. He still couldn’t believe he was real. Actual Erwin wore a red and white baseball t-shirt, his muscled arms and chest clearly defined through the fabric. Levi’s hands itched to feel the solidness of those biceps, to drag his nails down those pecs, slide his palms along his stomach – the sound of the car doors opening cut short his reverie. He refocused his attention to the temperature gauge on his dashboard. 85 degrees. There. He was back to normal. Totally normal and totally in control of his libido. Totally. He could do this.

“Erwin!” Hanji greeted brightly as the two men got in. “And you must be Mike! I’m Hanji, nice to meet you,” Hanji exclaimed, twisting around and grabbing Mike’s hand and pumping it rapidly. “Are you guys ready for some baseball action?” she continued, bouncing up and down, despite how many times Levi had told her his car seat was not a trampoline.

“Definitely.” Mike sounded overwhelmed at his first encounter with Hurricane Hanji.

Levi took pity on the guy and pushed Hanji’s hand aside. He couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of Mike and Erwin’s bulky bodies squished into the tiny back seat of his car. Erwin’s head pushed against the roof, and Mike actually had to bend his neck slightly to fit. “Hi Mike, I’m Levi. Sorry about the tight squeeze.”

Mike took his hand in a surprisingly light handshake. “Nice to meet you Levi. I’ve heard a lot about you,” he said, slanting his eyes in Erwin’s direction. 

Levi sucked in a quick breath, mustered his courage, and looked at Erwin directly. “Telling stories about me?” Nice, Levi praised himself. He managed just the right tone between offended and flattered.

“Only good things, I promise.” Erwin said, eyes crinkled with mischief.

“I see.” Levi cocked his brow at Erwin before turning back around to the steering wheel and starting on their way. While he concentrated on the traffic, he let Hanji do all the heavy lifting in the conversation.

“So how do you guys know each other?” She was still contorted around so faced Mike and Erwin.

“Erwin has been my best friend since we were idiot teenagers.” Mike said.

“We were both on the football team. Mike was an amazing wide receiver.” Erwin explained.

“What Erwin wants me to say is that it’s just because he was such a good quarterback. But honestly, your throwing mechanics were always kind of weak.” Mike replied easily.

“I was good at play calling,” Erwin protested, in a hurt voice that Levi could hear the smile in.

“Yeah, true, that’s the only reason we ever got anywhere.”

“Ooh, did you guys win a state championship or something?” Hanji asked, bouncing again.

“We went to the state semifinals senior year, but we got our asses kicked,” Erwin answered. “Mike played well enough that he got scouted though.”

Levi looked in the review mirror to try to see Erwin’s face, but all he saw was the top of his head and the car behind him. Hanji and Mike kept up a spirited discussion of college sports until they reached the park.

They found seats high in the nose bleed section. Hanji manipulated the seating arrangement expertly, so that the order went Mike, Hanji, Levi, and finally Erwin on the end. The stadium had a general stench of sweat and old beer, but Erwin smelled good, with the same faint hint of Erwin perfume Levi remembered from before. Their knees brushed each other’s’ and Levi was pathetically excited by it.

They stood for the national anthem. Levi mouthed along, more interested in watching the man next to him. He stood straight and tall, hand over heart and sang every word aloud, poorly.

When the song ended, Erwin looked down at him, his mouth a thin line of disapproval, effect completely ruined by the sparkle in his eyes. “How can you call yourself a respectable government employee if you don’t even sing the national anthem, Levi?”

Levi felt his lips twitch involuntarily. “I never said I was respectable,” he countered, flopping back into his seat.

Erwin followed him down. “Oh, right, I forgot about your sordid past as a Mathlete. The whole neighborhood was probably terrified of you.” Erwin said, full of good-natured sarcasm, wriggling to get comfortable and repeatedly bumping Levi’s shoulder.

“Better than being a dumb jock.” Levi said, flicking nonexistent dust off the shoulder Erwin had fondled.

“Hey, I resemble that remark,” Erwin pouted.

“I know, that’s why I said it.”

“All right, bottoms up!” Hanji cheered, disturbing their banter. She produced her contraband flask and took a swig. She passed it to Mike, who dutifully took a swig, and then quickly handed it to Levi.

“Shit, Hanji, is this straight vodka?” Levi objected, almost spitting out his mouthful. “We have real, adult alcohol at home you know.”

“So Erwin, you work for the ACLU? Doing what exactly?” Hanji picked up the interrogation from the car like it had never been interrupted, blithely ignoring Levi’s complaints.

“I’m a civil rights lawyer, generally. But mainly I specialize in criminal sentencing reform with a hope of ending mass incarceration.” Erwin replied. Levi had heard this before, and it was just so Erwin, to want to free people from prison walls, he couldn’t stand it.

“Interesting!” Hanji proclaimed. Levi could tell she was filing away the information so she could examine it at length later. “And Mike?”

“I’m a chef.” Mike said. “I just opened a new restaurant area.”

“What’s the name of your place? What neighborhood is it in?” Hanji sent the flask around for a second round.

“It’s called Survey and it’s in Logan Circle.” Mike said, declining the offer.

“Really? I think I’ve heard of that place! Levi, we should go sometime!” She thrust the container into his hand.

“Yeah,” he responded, noncommittal. For all that Hanji seemed to be trying to help him with his crush, she was kind of unthinking. Mike’s restaurant would be a perfect place for Erwin to take him, not Hanji. He choked some of the liquor down then nudged the flask into Erwin’s hands. In the second of contact, Levi felt the deep grooves of the tendons, the soft hairs, the smoothness of skin. He jerked his hand back.

“Here, have some of this. Trust me, you don’t want Hanji to drink it all herself.”

“If you insist.” Erwin pulled the flask from Levi’s hand, his long fingers ghosting over Levi’s. Levi watched him sip; the bob of his throat as he swallowed, and Levi felt the nasty vodka he hastily imbibed rush to his head. Erwin noticed Levi watching him and he smiled his incandescent smile. “This tastes awful.”

Levi couldn’t help smiling back. “I’m pretty sure it came out of a plastic bottle.”

“Classy.”

“Oh, quit your whining,” Hanji scolded them, yanking the flask away. “At least it isn’t an $8 can of Miller Lite.”

--

The game proceeded quickly. Each team scored in the first five innings, but Levi spent much of his time quietly observing Erwin and laughing at Hanji and Mike, who were incredibly rowdy spectators. The crack of a bat connecting to the ball ignited the stadium. The runner on third flew towards home, sliding in and scoring the third run of the day for the Nats. ‘We Will Rock’ you blasted through the park.

“Alright, we’re in the lead,” Erwin said, extending his arms over his head, pulling his shirt tight. Levi swore the bastard was flexing. It didn’t stop him from drooling at the sight. “Do you want to get some food?”

“Yeah, sure,” Levi agreed.

“We’re gonna get something to eat, do you have any orders?” Erwin asked the others. Hanji and Mike yanked their attention away from the game just long enough to answer him.

Levi stood and edged out of the aisle first, making sure to stick his butt in Erwin’s face as he went. The concession lines snaked long everywhere. Levi turned and shrugged at Erwin, who shrugged back and queued up at the end of the closest line.

“Seems this is the same as anywhere else.” Erwin said.

Silence between them lengthened. The announcer’s voice and the cheers of the stadium retreated into white noise.

“So.” Levi said finally, crossing his arms.

“So.” Erwin mimicked him.

“Is this an official date?” Levi wanted – no, needed to be absolutely clear on this point.

“I assume so.” Erwin replied, equally serious.

“Good.” Levi grinned. “That means you’re paying for our food.”

Erwin burst out laughing.

At last they made it to the counter. “Two hotdogs, two chips, an order of nachos with extra jalapenos, and a chili cheese fries,” Levi recited the order.

“You know, Mike is going to think less of you for eating hotdogs.”

“Because his order for chili cheese fries is the epitome of gourmet eating?” Levi fired back, collecting their food.

They jostled for place at the condiment stand around a family with a screaming baby and two other small children. The tiny girl bumped into Erwin and dropped her hotdog on the ground, immediately tearing up. Erwin stooped down and gave her his own, “Here kiddo, hold on to this one tighter OK?” The girl was no more than 6, Levi thought, and tears didn’t go away that easily.

“Hey,” Erwin said gently, still at eye level with the girl. “What kind of dog has no tail?”

She sniffled in reply, but her curiosity won over the tears. “What?”

“A hot dog.” Erwin winked at her, and she gave a tiny chuckle. 

Her distracted parents finally noticed the distress and profusely thanked Erwin, but he refused their offer of compensation “It’s really nothing.”

It was endearing. Grossly endearing. Levi felt like his heart might be actual danger of breaking out of his chest.

Erwin’s gallantry meant they had to get back in line but Levi didn’t mind much.  As they waited another ten minutes, Levi dredged up a stupid joke from his memory, figuring Erwin would appreciate it as a reward for his heroism. And Levi needed to hear his laugh again. “Erwin,” he started in a deadly serious voice. “What do you call cheese that’s not yours?”

“Hm?”

“Nacho cheese.”

“Levi, I didn’t know you were such a corndog!” Erwin said, admiring.

“OK, that’s enough now.” Levi realized too late he had unleashed a monster.

“Levi, what did the hot dog say when he crossed the finish line?” Erwin asked, all joyful enthusiasm.

“No, seriously, this is over.”

“I’m the wiener.” Erwin said in falsetto, his fist half-raised in victory. 

Levi rolled his eyes. “You are a wiener.”

Erwin didn’t even miss a beat. “I can show you a wiener.” He waggled his giant eyebrows at him.

Levi groaned into his hands. “I walked right into that one, didn’t I?”

“Yup.”

“But still - that was awful.”

“Then why are you laughing?”

“I’m not,” Levi protested, knowing full well he was.

--

 “Little Erwin. It is official. I am disgustingly in love with you.”

--

By Wednesday, Levi was anxious to see Erwin again. They had texted throughout the week, small exchanges, neither of them was inclined to long text chats, and they seemed to have come to a mutual, unspoken understanding that they would save up their significant conversation for when they saw each other again. Even if they wouldn’t be able to talk during trivia, at least they would be able to see each other and then catch up afterwards. But when he got to bar, he didn’t see Erwin, or anyone from his team. He wouldn’t miss it, would he? Levi joined Hanji and the others at their usual table, his scowl deeper than normal. He was a bundle of fractious energy. A few minutes later, Erwin walked in and headed towards him. Levi perked up instantly. Erwin was still wearing a suit and tie from work and seeing him all dressed up did things to Levi. “My team had to cancel. Can I join yours?” He addressed the table at large, but looked straight at Levi.

“Yeah, sure,” he answered. Gunther scooted down a chair so Erwin could sit next to Levi, which was kind of obvious and unnecessary since there was a free chair at the end of the table but he wasn’t about to draw even more attention to it by saying anything. Erwin sat down and even more things were done to Levi when he loosened his tie and casually unbuttoned his collar. It was maddening because it revealed nothing, yet it made Levi think of him taking off everything.  

The waitress came by and they all placed a quick food order over the sounds of the host coughing into the mic. “Alright folks, thanks for coming out to trivia!” The host blared. “Our theme tonight is dirt. Hmmm, what could that mean? I wonder…” He continued on, reminding teams to write their names on their answer sheet, that there would be 10 rounds, etc. Levi tuned it out.  

The first round were the typical questions on current events that they all pitched in for. The second round was ‘dirty politics’ which had a lot of Nixon questions that Erwin knew and environmental regulation questions that Gunther clinched for them. Erwin had a habit of pursing his lips while thinking of the answers, and Levi slowly lost his mind as he watched Erwin and his big dumb mouth pucker then relax. Pucker than relax. How could one person be so distracting? Even if he was the corporeal incarnation of Levi’s fictional crush. How?

The picture identification round was a relief. They were all unlabeled cleaning products, and Levi flew through it, which seemed to amuse Erwin. After the third round there was always a break, and everyone at the table straightened from their hunched positions in unison. Erwin stretched his arms over his head and yawned hugely, using the move to sneak his hand behind Levi’s back and give the nape of his neck a long, tender stroke. Levi shivered. The touch sped down his spine straight to his crotch. He was already horny, he didn’t need this.

“Erwin,” Levi frowned at him.

“Hmm?” his tormentor answered, the picture of innocence.

Levi couldn’t actually think of anything to say. Except ‘put your hand back.’ Which was the opposite of what he wanted. Right? Right. He was saved by the arrival of the waitress. She set their plates down and handed them all their silverware wrapped in napkins. And then Levi got an idea. A wonderful, awful idea.

“I’ve just finished tallying the scores…” the host intoned. Levi made a show of busying himself with his food, unwrapping his napkin with a dramatic flourish. His fork and knife clattered to the table close to the edge. Perfect. It took just a small nudge for his fork to fall off.

“Oh piss, would you look at that, my fork fell,” Levi said in fake dismay, just loud enough for Erwin to hear him. “That’s OK, 30-second rule still applies.” He bent down to pick it up, scooching his butt hard against Erwin’s leg, then wiggling it, once, twice, three times for good measure.

Two can play at this game, Levi thought.

He sat back up. Erwin swilled his beer and gave Levi an assessing look. Levi dug into his burger, ignoring him.

“And in first place, Captain Grumpy-Pants and the Grump Cadets. OK, sound check. Can everyone hear the music? Louder?” the host asked before starting the music round. It turned out to be snippets of songs with ‘dirty’ in the title.

“Chest to chest, tongue on neck - International oral sex - Every picture I take, I pose a threat,” Erwin chanted with absolutely no shame, even after the sample from the song ended.

“Stop it. White guys shouldn’t rap. Especially old white guys like you,” Levi said, appalled to find out that Erwin knew the lyrics to “Talk Dirty” by Jason Derulo – the uncensored lyrics – and equally appalled to realize he found that hot.

In response, Erwin placed his hand around Levi’s thigh. And then. Electricity. Sparks. Ignition. It was all Levi could do not to launch himself into Erwin’s lap. Asshole, he thought. Erwin was playing…dirty. Shit, now Levi was making terrible puns too.

“Oh? This criticism coming from a man who recognized ‘Dirrty’ within one measure?”

“At least that song came out when I was a teenager. Why are you still listening to Top 40 stuff?”

“Levi, you’re exposing yourself by admitting you know that.” Erwin’s eyes grew wide, realizing what he’d said. And then smiled, the smug bastard.

The host resumed the game before Levi could retort. “OK, we’re at the half-way point now. The next round is four-letter words,” the quizmaster announced. “Basically every answer will be a four letter word but is not a dirty word. Got that? Even if the clues sound dirty, the answer is innocuous.”

 “Oh, this will be fun!” Hanji practically fizzed with enthusiasm.  Yeah, Levi thought, bring it. Then we’ll see who wins this war, Erwin.

“First question: What is a four letter word ending in "k", which means to have intercourse?”

“Fuck,” Levi smoldered, staring Erwin dead in the eye. Erwin’s hand was so hot on his thigh it felt like he was going to brand him. Let’s see how he liked this additional reminder of sex.

“The answer ISN’T a swear word, Levi. I know your vocabulary is extremely limited but do try to stretch yourself, please,” Hanji said in her most condescending and annoying tone. She probably didn’t intend to insinuate anything by saying stretch yourself. Hanji wasn’t usually that crude even when she was teasing Levi mercilessly. But Levi’s mind had taken up residency in the gutter and all he could picture was himself, naked on his bed, ass high in the air as he fingered himself open for Erwin.

Wait, what? He wasn’t supposed to be getting this flustered. Levi hastily gulped down his beer and then flipped off Hanji once he recovered.  “Earl, hit her for me.”

“Talk,” Erwin supplied over their bickering. “The answer is talk, not fuck.” Levi had no idea how he said it so calmly, as if he wasn’t slowly sliding his hand higher up Levi’s inner thigh, getting closer and closer to his –

“Next question! I come in many sizes. Sometimes, I drip. When you blow me, it feels good. What am I?”

Levi froze. His mind threw up graphic images of Erwin on his knees, taking Levi’s cock into his warm mouth –

“I know!” Martin said, grabbing the pen from Gunther and scribbling ‘nose’ on the answer sheet. His outburst jolted Levi out of his fantasy and made Erwin’s hand retreat down to safer territory. Even better the server came by to clear their table. With his mind clear, Levi decided if Erwin was going to get handsy, he could get footsy. He rested his calf against Erwin’s left leg and ran his foot up and down Erwin’s right shin.

Erwin squeezed his leg in response then started drawing thoughtless shapes with ticklish touches along his thigh.

Erwin definitely didn’t play fair. Levi needed to up his ante.

The next round was illness, Hanji’s specialty. Levi wasn’t needed for answers, so he excused himself. As he stood up, he deliberately rubbed his crotch all up against Erwin’s arm. Unfortunately, the contact backfired and just made Levi even more turned on. Erwin gave him a look that said ‘I know exactly what you’re doing and it amuses me.’ How had Levi lost all control of this game? He ran to the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face. “Get it together,” he mouthed to himself in the mirror.

“Welcome back, Levi,” Erwin said to him when he rejoined the table. Erwin’s smile should have been smarmy, but it just dazzled with warmth instead. Levi’s impromptu cold shower was powerless against it.

“OK, so most of you are probably familiar with the show Dirty Jobs, and that’s going to be the theme for our next round,” the host kept the ball rolling.  

Levi took his seat and couldn’t help taking a jab at Erwin. “I guess that means all of the questions will be about lawyers then, huh?”

Erwin shrugged. “I’ve long made my peace with it. Still not as bad as a financial economist. That’s one step away from investment banker.”

Levi poked him in arm. Erwin kneed him right back.

“Wow, get a room, you two. Nobody here wants to know who’s dirtier than who.” Gunther said, looking mildly disgusted.

“Just ignore them,” Hanji advised. “They’re hopeless.”

Levi curled his lip at her. He glanced at Erwin. There was no other way to describe his expression except shit-eating.

Erwin thinks he’s won. Hell, he has won, Levi admitted. I’ll show him. He needed to change tactics. The last rounds were blessedly short, and he kept hands to himself. At last they got to the final question, something about landfills. Of course their team won spectacularly. When the table erupted into cheers, Erwin met Levi’s eyes, beaming.

“Congratulations,” he said.

Levi pounced. He grabbed Erwin’s head and pulled him into a kiss. It was clumsy and uncoordinated since he’d caught Erwin off-guard; still – Ha, gotcha, Levi thought. When he recovered from his surprise, Erwin ruined the kiss further by smiling so hard that his lips disconnected from Levi’s. He grinned at Levi foolish and love-struck for a second, and Levi felt his own small smile answer back. And then Erwin gathered Levi into another even sloppier kiss and from there it escalated. Levi didn’t pay attention to how they got out of the bar, but through some combination of half-dragging Erwin and getting half pulled along by him they managed it.

Levi’s place was closer and there was no way they could wait longer to get somewhere with a bed. They crashed through his bedroom door, lips clinging to each other and he didn’t even think about what was in his room until it was too late. Fumbling in the dark, Erwin bumped them into Levi’s desk hard enough to push them apart. His eyes opened and he smiled down at Levi, cupping his face in his large hand. Levi smiled back, still oblivious of the danger, when he saw the exact moment Erwin noticed the posters behind him. Erwin dropped his hand and pulled away from him slightly, taking in the entirety of the wall filled with images of his anime self. Levi cringed; his breath stopped. He knew exactly what Erwin was seeing. Six posters of Commander Erwin Smith, one with a hand-written speech bubble taped next to it that said “Good job, Levi ❤.” Another with pink hearts and sparkles drawn around Erwin’s head. Hanji was to blame for that one, but Levi had willingly left them there. His precious Erwin keychain and plushie, and his newest addition, the ticket stub to the baseball game.

“Levi, is this what I think it is?” Erwin asked, with a lengthy pause between each word.

“I can explain,” Levi choked out.

“No, it’s alright,” Erwin redirected his gaze to fix on Levi. He actually seemed pleased. “Look,” he pulled out his phone. The background was a photo of a Captain Levi figure. “This is sitting on my desk at home.”

“…No way.”

“Now you know why I was so surprised the first time I saw you at trivia. I was struck by how much you resembled my favorite character.” Erwin said.

Several reactions warred in Levi’s head. Shock that Erwin was a huge nerd too. Well, actually it wasn’t that shocking. Gratitude that he wasn’t alone in having a strangely requited otaku crush. And most of all, huge overpowering happiness. But eventually all he said was “Just don’t get any cosplay ideas. I don’t do dress up.”

Erwin didn’t even miss a beat. “Not even in private?”

“Pervert.”

“That’s not a no.”

Levi shut him up by kissing him. They stumbled across the room and fell into the bed but accidentally knocked over Little Erwin on the way down. Levi yelped in distress. “Little Erwin!” He leaned off the bed, picked up the small plastic body, and repositioned him on the table just right. Abruptly, he recalled where the night was heading, so he turned the figure around to preserve Little Erwin’s innocence. Erwin’s hand engulfed his from behind and rotated the toy back to face its original direction.

“I can assure you, he has no problem with seeing this. And there’s nothing about me that’s little.”

Levi buried his incredulous groan into Erwin’s warm, real flesh and blood neck. “You are such a dork.”

--

--

Epilogue

Levi woke up warm and content. His eyes fell on the dresser at the foot of the bed where the figures of Little Erwin and Captain Grumpy-Pants had pride of place. Between their hands hung a paper sign. He knew if he put on his glasses, he would be able to read the tiny letters that spelled out “Just Married.”

Levi wasn’t an anime nerd. He just really happened to like this one character Erwin Smith from this one show Attack on Titan.

And he just really happened to like being married to the real Erwin Smith even more.

He smiled and snuggled deeper into Erwin’s arms and fell back asleep.

FIN