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Christmas at the Ackermans

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December 23 rd

Mikasa hadn’t offered much description besides a cryptic, “You’ll know him when you see him, he’s weird,” but it turned out to be sufficient. The short guy with the out-of-fashion hair cut had to be his target. Still, he called out “Levi?” as he approached just to be safe.

The man looked up from where he was fussing with his luggage and oh no. His face was sharp, too much so to be conventionally attractive but also exactly Eren’s type. He gave Eren a once over and Eren felt like he was burning.

“I know it’s been a while since I last saw you,” Levi drawled. “But you’ve really changed, Mikasa.”

Eren flushed, though it had more to do with the man’s voice than his comment. How did a voice that deep and smooth emerge from such a short person? Pull yourself together, Eren. Don’t just stand around gaping. “Mikasa asked me to come pick you up for her.” Something unexpected had come up, the kind of crisis that could only occur around Christmas and the direness of which had gone right over his head. “My name’s Eren.”

One thin eyebrow arched high. “Parents died in a botched robbery during high school and Mikasa’s folks pretty much adopted him Eren?”

Eren bristled, but Levi’s expression was flat, expectant, and he realized that the man was honestly just asking. “Yeah, that’s me,” he replied. He didn’t really like to talk about his parents, but it was kind of nice to just get it out in the open right away. Besides, it seemed fair enough for Levi to know that much of his background considering what Mikasa had divulged about Levi just before sending Eren out the door.

“He’s my cousin. Sort of. My dad’s older brother fostered him for about five years.”

“I thought your dad was an only child.”

“Uncle Kenny’s in prison for holding women captive in his basement, raping, and then killing them. We don’t talk about him much.”

Levi hefted a bag nearly two thirds his size over his shoulder. It looked heavy, but Eren figured that an offer of help wouldn’t be well-received. Besides, even covered up by a heavy coat, he could see that Levi’s arms were thick. Strong.  “Come on. Let’s get out of this shitty airport before we catch some sort of disease.”

Eren swallowed around the sudden lump in his throat. “Sure.”


 

Eren’s car had never felt so small. Somehow, he survived the ride and maintained a casual air as he and Levi made small talk.

“So… what do you do?”

“Used to do MMA. Had to retire a few years ago, so now I train. Are you graduating with Mikasa?”

“Yeah, end of spring term. Exercise science.”

“That’s a real degree?”

“Fuck off.”

Finally, they pulled up at the Ackerman’s place and headed inside. As Levi went to greet Mikasa’s parents, Eren sidled up beside her at the cutting board and hissed in her ear, “You couldn’t have warned me?”

“What?” she asked.

“He’s hot as hell.”

“Is he?” Mikasa paused her chopping long enough to glance over to where her father was clapping Levi on the shoulder. Levi flinched a bit, hand clenching into fists at his sides, and the tiny smile he offered looked strained to Eren. Mr. Ackerman didn’t seem to notice and Mikasa didn’t either. She turned back to her work and continued. “He’s, like, nearly thirty-three years old and five foot three or something.”

“He’s hot,” Eren insisted, though it was probably a lost cause. Mikasa had never had an eye for guys.

“Didn’t know you liked them short.”

“Annie was short,” Eren pointed out. Mikasa just snorted. “Besides, it’s not the height, it’s—”

But he was interrupted by Mikasa’s mother calling over, “If that’s all right with you, Eren.”

Eren dropped his hold on Mikasa’s arm. “Sorry, what?”

“I was just telling Levi that he’ll have to share the living room with you.” She turned an apologetic smile to Levi. “I’m sorry, but everything else is full.”

“It’s fine, Keiko.” It sounded like he’d been repeating it. “Thank you for putting up with me on such short notice.”

She hugged him tightly. “We are glad you came. You are always welcome.” Levi went stiff and awkward within her grasp, but he nodded when she released him. “Show him where to put his things, won’t you, Eren?”

“Right,” Eren replied, waiting as Levi and Mikasa exchanged a silent fist bump. “Uh, over here.”

The house was packed full of relatives. Levi was apparently the only representative coming from Mikasa’s father’s side, but Mikasa’s mother’s parents, three sisters, and their families had all flown in from Japan for Christmas and New Year’s.Every single horizontal plane in the house that a person could possibly sleep on was being utilized. It would’ve made a lot more sense for some of them to just stay at a hotel, but Mrs. Ackerman would take that as a grave insult. Besides, it was fun-- in a way-- to have so many people around.

Eren pointed out the second, shorter couch in the living room. He’s already claimed the longer one and, besides, Levi could actually stretch out on it, unlike him. “Not a lot of privacy, but the couches are pretty comfortable. The bed linens and blankets are in the closet down that hall. And this closet…” He opened up what used to be a coat closet but had been cleared out in anticipation of a full house. “You can put your stuff in here so everyone isn’t tripping all over it. Oh, and hang up any clothes, if you want.” Eren kicked his own suitcase a little bit to make some more room.

Levi made a soft noise of acknowledgement and removed his coat to hang it up, revealing a thin and indecently snug sweater underneath. Eren looked away before he could get sucked in by the trim lines of Levi’s torso. “Yeah. I’ll, uh, leave you to it. I’m going to see if Mikasa needs help out there,” he muttered and beat a hasty retreat back to the kitchen.


 

“So. How come I’ve never heard of a cousin Levi before?” Eren asked, careful to keep his eyes on his slicing. Mikasa had set him to chopping up some sort of vegetable he didn’t recognize while she methodically cut a pile of carrots into even pieces. Beside them, Mikasa’s grandmother, aunts, and the eldest female cousin were also cooking, chattering away in rapid Japanese as they worked. Eren felt like he was part of an assembly line.

“I don’t really see much of him. He used to travel a lot for work and then when that stopped I think he was sick of traveling for a while.”  She transferred some of the cut carrots into the large pot between them to make more room on her board. “My parents got me talking to him in middle school. You know, back when I was getting into all those fights.” She gave Eren a sardonic look and Eren grinned ruefully. Nearly all of those fights had been Eren’s fault, one way or another. “I guess they were hoping he could mentor me through my angry, violent child crisis or whatever since he’d kind of been there, done that.” She stopped for a moment and glanced up from the cutting board to stare forward at nothing in particular. “Actually, now that I think of it, I’m pretty sure he was the first person I came out to.”

“Really?” Eren barely knew the guy, of course, but he didn’t seem like the type you’d go to for sensitive moments like that.

Mikasa shrugged one shoulder. “He’s kind of an asshole, but he’s also probably the least judgmental person you’ll ever meet.”

“I just don’t care about bullshit,” Levi said, suddenly appearing at Eren’s shoulder. He jumped, swore, and nearly dropped the knife on his bare foot. The stream of Japanese stopped as five heads swiveled towards him to make sure no one was bleeding.

“I’m fine,” Eren declared. “Ah, daijoubu,” he attempted, side-eyeing Mikasa to see if he was correct, but she was too busy laughing into the crook of her arm. “Oh, shut it,” he told her. Levi picked up the knife and took it over to the sink to wash. He rolled up his sleeves, exposing his forearms, and how the hell is it possible for him to get any more attractive? Eren thought. He whipped his head back around and started throwing the vegetable he’d cut up into the pot with an unnecessary amount of focus.

Mikasa gave him a knowing smirk. He’s gay, she mouthed. Eren couldn’t decide if he loved or hated her for telling him that.

“What the hell are we making?” Levi asked when he returned, joining the assembly line along the counter. Mikasa started explaining the nabe they were preparing and Levi’s fingers brushed against Eren’s as he handed over the cleaned knife, making his skin crackle and buzz.

Eren didn’t know if he was going to survive Christmas this year.

 


 

December 24 th

Eren woke up the next morning with new resolve. So what if Levi was hot? So what if he had a body that look like it’d been carefully honed for two things: fighting and fucking. (In a moment of solitude the night before, Eren had made the grave mistake of pulling out his phone and googling for Levi in his MMA days.) Eren had seen plenty of gorgeous people before without making an ass out of himself. Maybe they’d hook up, maybe they wouldn’t. “Wouldn’t” seemed more likely. Just because Levi was attracted to guys didn’t mean that he was attracted to him. And Eren was, as he’d been told several times, spectacularly bad at flirting.

Besides, Levi was at an age where he could easily be in a committed relationship already— practically married, actually married, married with children even. Though he was pretty sure that Mikasa would’ve said something if that was the case. Anyway, the point of the matter was that most likely nothing would happen, so Eren might as well relax. There was no point getting attached, after all; Levi was leaving the morning of the 26th.

And there was no way he’d survive Christmas if he kept having a heart attack every time he was reminded of how attractive Mikasa’s “sort of” cousin was, especially since Levi was his only consistent companionship. Mikasa and her parents were being kept busy being good hosts and only two of her relatives from Japan spoke English well-enough to hold an actual conversation. The first was the high school aged cousin who wouldn’t talk much with Eren because she was (according to Mikasa) too embarrassed of her accent. The second was one of Mikasa’s uncles, a businessman in the steel industry and with whom Eren had absolutely nothing in common.

So Eren had been a little hard-up for conversation until Levi came along. Fortunately, Levi was actually pretty easy to talk to once Eren managed to keep his mind from drifting to… other things. He listened more than spoke and it was kind of hard to gauge his reactions to things, but Eren whittled most of the morning away exchanging gym horror stories with him. (Eren’s stories mostly revolved people using equipment terribly, terribly wrong while Levi seemed more concerned with people not wiping down equipment after using it.

It did not escape Eren’s notice that Levi seemed to find reasons to leave the immediate vicinity whenever Mr. or Mrs. Ackerman came by. In fact, besides greeting them yesterday evening, Eren could not recall seeing Levi speak to either of Mikasa’s parents. He didn’t comment on it though, just picked up the conversation where they’d left off whenever Levi returned. It was none of his business. And… he had a feeling that he might know why anyway.

Once upon a time, Eren had trouble dealing with them too.

Around noon, he spotted Mikasa’s youngest cousin, Haruhi, moping around and looking bored, so he dug out Mikasa’s old Gamecube and somehow managed to communicate a Mario Kart challenge to her with his limited Japanese and a lot of gestures. To his surprise, Levi joined the two of them on the floor to play. Eren had to explain how to drive and throw stuff to him, but he picked it up quick enough. Haruhi was pretty good and she squealed in delight whenever she came in first, chattering excitedly though neither of them could understand her. They played through two cups before getting bored with it and switching to Smash Bros.

Eren talked Levi through the controls again while Haruhi squirmed impatiently. They only managed a few matches before Haruhi’s mother came looking for her. Apparently Mikasa’s parents were taking all of Mrs. Ackerman’s relatives sight-seeing. Privately, Eren didn’t think there was much worth seeing nearby, but he supposed that if you came visiting from abroad, you might have a different opinion. Mr. Ackerman invited Levi along, but he declined.

“Want to keep going?” Eren asked when the door closed behind the leaving crowd, picking up his controller again.

“If you’ll actually play,” Levi replied.

“What do you mean?”

“You haven’t won a single time so far,” Levi pointed out. “There’s no way you’re that shitty. The kid’s gone, so play for real. I’m not going to cry if you beat me.”

Eren chuckled, but he sat up and switched to Captain Falcon, his favorite character. “All right, if you’re sure.”

He creamed Levi.

“What the fuck was that?” Levi demanded, more impressed-sounding than pissed.

    “Ah, there was this guy, a friend of a friend, that use to kick my ass in Smash all the time in middle school. I got tired of him trash-talking me, so I went online and started looking up competitive Smash videos and practicing a lot.”

“Yeah, but then Jean did the same and the two of you started that ridiculous pissing contest,” Mikasa chimed in as she strode into the room, buttoning up her coat. “This one time, Eren--”

“--I thought you left with everyone else,” Eren interrupted. He knew exactly which story she was going to tell and it was not particularly flattering for him.  

Mikasa smirked rather evilly, but at least she stopped. “Levi, we’re going to the mall now,” she announced, acquiescing to the topic change. Levi grunted in acknowledgement and started putting his controller away. “Eren, you want to come?”

“So kind of you to ask, seeing as it’s my car,” Eren teased. “Might as well, I guess.”

Predictably, the mall was packed with last minute shoppers. The parking lot was a nightmare. Eren mumbled a curse as an empty spot was stolen from him a third time.

“You need to be more aggressive,” Levi advised from the back seat.

“No, don’t get him started,” Mikasa said. “Eren here already had to take a court-ordered road rage class.”

“Oh? Do tell.”

Don’t.” Eren glared at Mikasa, but she just raised an eyebrow. “No one was hurt. I was eighteen and a fucking idiot,” Eren explained to Levi.

Levi pointed to the stereo which was quietly churning out Brian Eno. “Is that why you always have this kumbaya shit playing?”

Eren considered defending ambient music, but decided that it’d just make him sound snooty. “Yeah.”

They managed to secure a parking spot eventually and their way inside. The moment they were through the doors, Mikasa spun around and cornered Levi against the wall.

“What do you want for your birthday? We’re not leaving until you tell me.”

Levi scowled. “Fighting dirty, Mikasa? I expected better from you.”

“Right, ‘cause you always fight fair,” she scoffed. “Come on. And don’t try to convince Eren to take you back. He won’t. Right, Eren?”

“When is your birthday?” Eren interjected.

Levi shifted his weight, hands sinking into his pockets. “Tomorrow.”

“On Christmas? Man, that sucks.”

Levi shrugged. Mikasa jabbed him in the shoulder. “What’s it going to be?” she probed.

“I’m about twenty years too old for birthday presents,” Levi grumbled. Mikasa stared him down though and he sighed. “I could use a new coat. A light one, not a winter one,” he relented.

Mikasa interrogated him about sizes and materials and colors until she nodded, satisfied, and vanished into the crowd. Eren watched her go before turning to Levi. “Well. You need to get something?” He must since Mikasa had managed to get him out to the mall in the first place.

Sure enough, Levi replied, “A present for Mikasa’s folks.”

“Cutting it kind of close there, aren’t you?”

“I usually just send them a card, but since I wound up staying with them this year, I guess I should get them a proper present.”

That made sense, Eren supposed, but it seemed kind of odd. “Even still… you put it off this late?”

Levi wandered over to the mall directory and examined it. “I didn’t know I was going to be flying out here until two days ago.”

Okay, that was really odd. “You didn’t know?”

“My friends kind of bullied me into coming,” he muttered distractedly, scanning the colorful map.

The obvious question rose up onto Eren’s tongue, but he hesitated. It really wasn’t any of his business. His curiosity won out though. Besides, if Levi got pissed at him, he was leaving soon anyway. “Why didn’t you want to come? The Ackermans… I mean, they’re family, right?”

Levi’s expression—already not particularly open to begin with—closed off. “I’m going to Sears,” he announced as he strode away, voice clipped. Eren didn’t follow, figuring that Levi probably wanted to be left alone, but the man tossed, “You coming?” over his shoulder and Eren hurried to catch up.

Levi headed straight for the home appliance section and started walking down the rows. “You got a gift in mind?” Eren asked after he got tired of the silence.

“A steam mop. Everyone should have a steam mop, especially when you have that much tile in your house.”

Eren had never even heard of steam mops before, but it was easy enough to figure out what they were based on the name. Levi meandered through the aisles, occasionally stopping to examine a product but never reaching out to touch anything. Eventually he found the steam mops and he stared at the display for a while, reading the information printed on the front of the boxes. His lips moved silently as he read and Eren had to start fiddling with his phone when he realized he’d been watching Levi’s mouth for a solid minute. Finally, Levi made his selection, pulled the chosen steam mop off the shelf, and headed up to the check-out counter with it.

“You got anything you need to buy?” Levi asked. Eren shook his head. He’d finished his Christmas shopping ages ago. He’d had a thought that he should buy something for Mikasa’s Japanese relatives, but there were so many of them and he had no idea what they would want since he’d never actually spoken to them. Besides, Mikasa had pointed out that they absolutely weren’t expecting anything from him and would actually feel kind of awkward to receive a gift from him.

He’d also briefly considered the idea of getting Levi something, but quickly disregarded it. Mikasa had had to trick him just to get him to tell her what he wanted for his birthday, after all.

“Mikasa says she’s still going to be a while,” Eren said, putting his phone away. “Want to go get some lunch?”

They wound up getting subs at the food court. Eren ordered Mikasa’s favorite for whenever she finally showed up and successfully twisted Levi’s arm to get Levi to let him pay for his food. “It’s a birthday sub,” Eren informed him.

“It’s not my birthday yet,” Levi pointed out as he wiped down the food court table with a napkin he’d dampened with water from his cup. It was kind of anal, but Eren had to admit that the tables did seem a bit dubious. Levi didn’t touch the chair with his hands, instead pulling it out far enough to sit on by hooking his foot around one of its legs. Eren wondered how he’d survived sitting in an airplane during the height of flu season. Then again, airplanes were probably kept cleaner than a mall food court. He hadn’t seemed nearly this fussy at the Ackermans’ house either.

“Take a picture,” Levi muttered as he finally unwrapped his sub.

“What?”

“Isn’t that what they say? ‘It’ll last longer.’ You’re staring, shithead.”

“Oh. Sorry.” Eren flushed and took a big bite out of his sub so he’d have an excuse to obscure his face. He redirected his attention to the holiday shoppers bustling around, bags swinging at their knees.  Mikasa sure was taking her sweet time. How hard could it be to find a coat?

The easy conversation from the morning was nowhere to be found. Eren polished off his sub and wadded up its wrapper with nothing but the chatter of the crowds passing and the sickly sweet crooning of the mall’s Christmas playlist between them. Levi was slower, picking at his food more than eating it.

“Don’t tell Paul and Keiko what I said earlier,” Levi said suddenly, voice as hard and uncompromising as rock. “About not wanting to be here.”

Eren had zero intention to do so and was actually kind of insulted that Levi felt it was necessary to command his silence. It’d been told to him in… well, not exactly confidence, but it was pretty obviously a private matter. He wasn’t some idiot that didn’t understand discretion. Besides, he was pretty sure he understood it, at least a little bit. Maybe. “I won’t.”

Levi pressed on as though he hadn’t spoken. “Paul and Keiko have always been very kind to me—”

“And kindness can be painful sometimes, I know,” Eren interrupted. “I won’t say anything to them.” He smoothed out his sub wrapper and began crumbling it again, needing something to do with his hands to calm down. Levi watched him with narrowed eyes and the feeling of them tracking his frustrated movements made him huff. “What?”

“Kindness can be painful,” Levi repeated slowly.

“Yeah. Look, I don’t know what your deal is, but after my parents were killed I was always so angry. And angry about the stupidest shit too.” The words came out in a torrent, mouth faster than his brain, but the rest of him was falling back under control— heart and breath slowing, fingers no longer itching with the need to wreck something—so he kept going. “Mr. and Mrs. Ackerman would do something nice for me, like… fuck, buying me new clothes or showing up to my games or whatever, and I would get mad about it, like I thought they were trying to replace my parents or something. I knew in my head that wasn’t right, that I was just all mixed up, but that didn’t keep me from getting angry whenever they were nice because— so, yeah. Kindness can be painful. I get it. I’m not going to say anything to them, so cut it out with that suspicious look.” He spat out the last part and crossed his arms over his chest.

Levi blinked and methodically took a bite of his sub, chewed it, and swallowed. “This isn’t a suspicious look.”

“Well, what is it then?” Eren demanded, though his remaining anger was fast losing steam in the face of Levi’s carefully blank expression.

Unfortunately, that was when Mikasa finally decided to show up, plunking her shopping bag down on the table and snatching up the sandwich Eren had gotten for her. “You better like this coat,” she warned Levi. “Because you do not want to know what I just went through to get it.” She tore open the sub and took a giant bite out of it. “So. Have you two been having fun?”

“I wouldn’t call it fun,” Levi drawled. “But I see what you meant about him.”

“What she— What did you say about me? Mikasa!”

Of course, neither would answer him.

The rest of Christmas Eve passed by quickly. After they arrived at the house, they all went jogging because Mikasa said she was tired of being indoors. By the time they returned from jogging, the rest of the family got back from sight-seeing. Haruhi and the other three younger cousins (Eren had forgotten their names seconds after they were introduced and was too embarrassed to ask again) ran up to him and tugged him to the backyard while telling Mikasa something.

“They’re challenging you to a snowball fight,” Mikasa explained.

“Four against one? That’s not fair,” Eren replied with mock indignation.

Mikasa relayed that to the kids. There was some back and forth for a bit—Mikasa’s name kept popping up, so Eren was pretty sure they were trying to wheedle her into playing too—but finally Mikasa switched back to English. “Levi, you’re playing.”

Levi paused in the middle of hanging up his coat. “Am I?”

“Yep. I’ve got to help with dinner and somebody needs to make sure these four don’t completely obliterate Eren. ”

Eren wondered when exactly he’d confirmed his participation.

Levi looked ready to decline, but the four kids were watching intently, practically bouncing with anticipation.  Who could say no?

So they re-bundled up and went outside. The kids immediately set about piling snow into a makeshift wall to hide behind. Levi, however, started packing snows into an arsenal of snowballs. “No way we’re going to manage a wall big enough for you. Let’s get a good stockpile going and then start pelting them before they finish.”

Eren chuckled, but he started forming balls too. “You’re pretty serious about this.”

“I don’t believe in going easy on children.”

That was an understatement. Levi was merciless. He started firing at the kids with an inordinately good aim, like he’d won gold in Snowball Fighting at the last Winter Olympics or something. The kids screamed, but Eren was pretty sure it was with glee judging by the manic grins on their faces. They started returning fire and Eren was regulated to being a full-time ball-maker and a part-time human shield. The four kids tried to hit Levi, but he was too quick for them. Whatever he couldn’t dodge, he’d duck behind Eren and allow him to take the hit.

Yeah, merciless was the word for it. Not a very good team-player either. Still, the look on his face as the kids chased him around the backyard…

It was just a smile, but it still managed to flip Eren’s stomach into somersaults.

Eventually, the four kids recognized Levi as the formidable foe he was and gave up on him, instead focusing on Eren. Rather than come to his aid, Levi help them take him down, knocking him over into the snow and then sitting on his back while the kids shoveled snow over him. Eren would’ve been kind of peeved at the betrayal if he could manage to stop laughing for a moment.

“All right, I give up! I give up!” Eren shouted between laughs, pounding the ground with one hand. “Geez, you’re heavy. Get off me!” Not that Eren was that opposed to having Levi’s weight situated over him, but not in this position, not in the snow, and definitely not with four elementary school aged kids watching.

“I don’t know, I kind of like where I am,” Levi said airily. Eren could practically hear his smirk.

Haruhi stuffed a fistful of snow under the neck of Eren’s coat and he shrieked, trying in vain to throw Levi off his back, but he was sitting in just the right spot to prevent Eren from getting any leverage.

“It’s getting kind of dark. We should head in,” Levi mused.

“Yeah, so get off me!”

 


 

Christmas Eve was spent with a lot of eggnog and the house divided into adults sitting around the fireplace talking about whatever (Japanese politics, according to Mikasa) and “the kids” crowded around the television watching Ghibli movies. Eren was unsurprised that he and Mikasa were counted among the kids-- at least they still got the alcoholic eggnog-- and he was equally unsurprised that Levi elected to sit with the kids too, though he didn’t seem interested in the film at all. He just sipped steadily through mug after mug of eggnog, slowly getting more and more buzzed.

Eren learned two things: first, that Levi was a bit of a lightweight. He’d never seen anyone actually get drunk off of eggnog-- though, to be fair, eggnog wasn’t many people’s drink of choice to get smashed with. And second, Levi was a sleepy drunk and it was really kind of cute. Thirty minutes into the first movie, he was leaning heavily against the arm of the couch, frowning fuzzily at the screen. An hour in, he was nodding off, blinking awake whenever the music swelled. By the time they’d watch two movies and the kids were yawning and stumbling to bed, he was dead to the world, barely stirring when Eren and Mikasa heaved him onto his own couch for the night.

“Pfft, look at his face,” Mikasa snickered, a little too loudly. Neither she nor Eren were unaffected by the eggnog themselves. “He looks weird when he’s not at least half-frowning. Hold on, this is too good an opportunity to pass up.” She disappeared for a moment and came back with the Santa hat and beard her father had been wearing earlier.

“I’m having nothing to do with this,” Eren said. “I didn’t memorize all that anatomy only to die before graduation.”

“He’s not going to kill us.” Mikasa plopped the hat down onto Levi’s head and carefully arranged the beard over his face. “He’ll be five states away before he finds out.” She quickly took the picture with her phone and then whipped the contraband away when Levi stirred at the shutter noise. They both held their breath, but Levi only rolled over and buried his face into his pillow.

“Okay,” Mikasa whispered, thumb flickering over her phone. “I’m sending a copy to you in case he somehow finds out and tries to delete it on my phone. And because I know you want it.”

Eren didn’t bother trying to deny that.

Finally, Mikasa went to bed and buried himself under the blanket on his reclaimed couch, pulling out his phone to check if he’d received the picture. He had, and he’d also gotten a text from Armin. Eren stared at it, counting back timezones in his head and trying to decide whether Armin would still be awake.

 Probably.

>>Hey! How’s it going out there?

>>p good hows ur grandpa

>>A little better than he was at Thanksgiving, I think. His doctor prescribed a new medication that seems to help a bit.

>>have u just been driving him to appts all break.

>>Maybe. Have you just been sulking around the house with no one to talk to all break?

>> heh mostly tho 1 of her dads relatives came so ive been talking to him.

>>Really? I thought she didn’t have any relatives on that side of her family.

>>apparently she does and hes really hot

>>like really hot

>>kinda a jerk tho

>>but i think i like it

>>You like that he’s a jerk? I’m discovering a new side of you, Eren…

>>i didnt mean like that

>>he gets quiet and creepy polite around mikasas parents

>>so the jerkiness is kinda like a compliment

>>or at least hes not as uncomfortable w me

>>Why do Mikasa’s parents make him uncomfortable? They’re really nice.

>>anyway I said kinda a jerk hes not cruel or anything

>>Are you sure you’re not just being forgiving because he’s attractive?

>>yessss

>>mikasa likes him you know she doesnt put up with bad people

>>hes a good guy just rude

>>he looks really nice when he smiles

>>Oh no.

>>what

>>You’re smitten.

>>am not shut up

>hes just really hot ok

 

 


 

December 25 th

Christmas morning was a free for all. Between the house being packed full of people all waking up at different times and Christmas apparently being celebrated very differently in Japan, everything was a confusing, glorious mess.

The Japanese was in full swing, leaving Eren and Levi out of the loop unless Mikasa or one of her parents dropped in to translate. No matter. Haruhi, who had apparently taken a liking to Eren and Levi, kept running up to them to show off presents she’d received. Eren just nodded along to her excited exclamations while Levi cleared away some of the wrapping paper and torn packaging that was being scattered everywhere. Mr. Ackerman was wearing the Santa hat and beard again and Mikasa kept making wry faces at Eren from across the crowded room.

It was chaotic; it was great fun. By the time Mrs. Ackerman ushered everyone to the dining room for a late brunch, Eren's mouth was sore from smiling too much. Too bad because it turned out he had a lot more smiling to do.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY LEVI was stretched across the wall in bright, glittering letters and written in green frosting across the giant sheet cake dominating the center of the table. "Happy birthday, Levi!" Mr. and Mrs. Ackerman cheered in unison, setting off a chorus of it from the rest of the guests.

"You--" Levi started, eyes wide. It was a strange look for him; Mikasa snapped a picture with her phone. He closed his mouth and recomposed himself. "Thank you, Paul, Keiko. You really didn't have to."

Mr. Ackerman laughed and wrapped an arm around Levi's shoulders. "Mikasa said you said you’re too old for presents, but you're not too old for cake, are you?"

Levi was stiff under his arm, but his answer was carefully wiped of any discomfort. "I suppose not. It looks good. Did you make it, Keiko?"

"Yes, while you were playing with the children yesterday. Mikasa helped."

"The food is getting cold," Mikasa announced. "Let's eat."

The dining room wasn’t big enough to actually seat all the guests, so everyone got their food and spread out across the house after a rousing rendition of the Happy Birthday Song that made Levi adorably flustered even if he pretended not to be. As soon as it was polite to do so, Levi fled to the kitchen. Eren tailed him, setting his laden paper plate down on the bar counter next to Levi.

"Did you know they were planning this?" Levi demanded. He actually looked kind of... not mad. Betrayed, maybe. Or maybe Eren was just reading too much into the thin line of his lips or maybe you should stop staring at his mouth and answer the question, Eren.

"If I did, I would've warned you," Eren replied, distracting himself by cutting into the cake with his fork. It was carrot cake, which Mrs. Ackerman rarely made. He suspected that it must be Levi’s favorite or something.

Levi was staring at him, a fact that Eren tried to ignore because his gaze felt heavy and Eren had no idea what to do with it. “You would’ve,” he said finally.

Eren wasn’t sure if that was a question or not, but he answered it anyway. “Well, yeah.”

Eren’s response seemed to appease Levi because he started eating his food instead of poking it. “They mean well,” he murmured, so quietly that Eren was certain that Levi was talking to himself. He revised that opinion because the next statement was definitely directed at him: “Mikasa told you about Kenny, didn’t she?”

Eren winced, wondering whether to lie or to tell the truth and potentially throw Mikasa under the bus. Then again, she’d been throwing Eren under the bus an awful lot the last couple of days. “Just a bit,” he admitted.

“What did she tell you?”

Once again, Mikasa possessed an almost uncanny sense of timing, though this time Eren was grateful for the interruption. “Sorry if Mom and Dad went a little overboard,” she apologized as she sat down across from them. “They’re just really excited that you’re here this year. So it’s your own fault for not visiting more often.”

“I’ve survived surprise parties before, I’ll survive this one.” Levi said, eating a very generously-sized bite of the carrot cake. His phone buzzed with a text message and he took it from his pocket. “Speak of the devil and ze shall appear,” he muttered.  

And, as if that was some sort of signal, text messages began flooding into Levi’s phone.

 


 

Eren really hadn’t meant to eavesdrop.

He’d been playing Monopoly on the living room floor with Mikasa, Levi, Haruhi, and her older brother Yujiro (Eren was slowly getting better with everyone’s names) when Levi’s phone started ringing. He’d been ignoring his text tone for the last hour, but this was the first time someone had actually called. Levi glanced at the screen and got up to take it outside on the front porch, telling Mikasa to play his turn if he wasn’t back by the time it came around to him again.

He really hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but he swore he’d heard Levi saying his name and his ears went on high alert.

Eren missed what Levi had been saying about him though because what he caught was “Paul looks more like Kenny than I’d remembered. Maybe ‘cause he’s older now.”

Eren checked Mikasa to see if she’d heard that, but she was too busy explaining something to Haruhi and Yujiro. Good. She hadn’t seemed very bothered about “Uncle Kenny” when she mentioned it to him-- it sounded like she’d been a little kid when he was arrested-- but he doubted she’d feel comfortable hearing that her father reminded Levi of him. Hell, it made Eren uncomfortable.

No wonder Levi never visited.

There was a long pause and then Levi said indignantly, “I told you I was fine.” Another pause, shorter this time, and then, somewhat reluctantly: “It’s been better than I thought it would be…. Yeah, okay. Thanks for the fucking tickets. Satisfied, asshole?”

“It’s your turn, Eren,” Mikasa suddenly said, snapping his focus away from straining his ears and back to the game.

“Oh, sorry. Let’s see…”

His mind was miles away from the game though and he wound up bankrupt in five turns.

 


 

By the time everyone else was heading to bed, Eren was still too wired to sleep and Levi said he wasn’t tired yet either. There wasn’t much to do in a sleeping house, but neither of them felt like going out, so Levi sprawled out on Eren’s bed/couch while Eren brought Netflix up on the TV.

“Anything in particular?” Eren asked when the screen finally loaded with all the movie covers. It was his account and even though he didn’t think there was really a chance of anything embarrassing being revealed, he hastily clicked past the “suggested for you” section.

Levi shrugged. “Nothing sad. I fucking hate sad movies.”

“‘Cause you cry every time?” Eren quipped as he flopped down next to Levi and kept clicking through titles.

“Heh. Piss off.” He sat up suddenly. “Wait, go back up. They have Star Trek?”

Eren selected the show, opening the information. “Yeah. I think they have all the different series. And the new movies.” He looked sideways at Levi, who was reading the show details intently. “You’re a trekkie?” He had to admit, he didn’t see that coming at all.

“Not really.” Levi took the remote from Eren’s hand and took a moment to figure out the controls. “More like William Shatner was my… what’s it called? Gay awakening or whatever.”

Eren laughed. “I thought Star Trek was from the sixties. You’re not that old.”

“Reruns,” Levi said dismissively. He clicked open the first season and started flipping through the episode descriptions. “And for a little bit, I stayed with a woman who was obsessed with Star Trek. She had it on all these VHS tapes she’d recorded herself. Now she was a trekkie.”

One of his foster parents? Eren wondered if this was before or after Uncle Kenny. Well, really, he wondered about a lot of things, but he knew that if he started prying, Levi would just clam up. So he just prompted him with a quiet, “Yeah?”

Levi snorted. “Oh yeah. I found this box of hers full of these… magazines with nothing but Star Trek porn stories.”

“Did you borrow them?” Eren asked, waggling his eyebrows.

“Please. I was, like, six when I stayed with her. By the time I was old enough to be jerking it to Shatner, I had nothing left of him but my memories.”

Eren’s brain treated him to a vivid image of Levi “jerking it”— color high on his pale face, hair mused, short, soft breaths as his hand worked—and he dug his fingernails into his thighs as he attempted to banish the vision. Levi didn’t appear to notice Eren’s struggle, wrapped up as he was in searching for some particular episode. By the time he found it, “the one with that ugly-ass unicorn dog,” Eren had regained control of all of his facilities.

They watched the episode with the captions on and the volume muted, in deference to the sleeping household. The only Star Trek Eren had ever seen was the reboot movies and a few episodes of Deep Space Nine that Armin had made him watch, so it was pretty interesting to the see the famously campy effects and Shatner’s melodrama for the first time. He was just as hammy as Eren had heard. He told Levi that much and Levi murmured, “You haven’t seen nothing yet.”

The episode ended and Levi picked a second one, playing through the first few minutes of two different episodes before realizing they weren’t the one he wanted. Eren’s legs were getting cold, but Levi had claimed Eren’s blanket. Eren was too comfortable to get up and steal Levi’s blanket from the other couch, so he tugged at the blanket wrapped around Levi until he relinquished half of it for Eren to use.

Eren leaned back on the couch and tried to focus on the new episode rather than Levi’s body heat beneath the shared blanket. He didn’t know if it was the warmth or the gentle chirping noises of the spaceship’s gizmos, but he found himself blinking with heavy eyelids, sleepy despite everything.Were they still on the second one or was this the third now? Eren had long lost track of the plot. Mr. Spock was talking about science or something, but Eren couldn’t understand a single word of the subtitles.

“Are you awake?” Levi asked quietly beside him.

“Yeah,” Eren mumbled, squinting at the TV and wondering when the crew had beamed off the ship. Half awake, at least. Levi’s shoulder pressed against his and Eren turned to look at him, surprised.

“I’m fucking terrible at subtle,” Levi announced. He rubbed the back of his head, smoothing out the hair that had been ruffled from resting in the couch and glancing up at Eren through his hanging bangs. “But it seems like you might be too.”

That was more confusing than whatever Mr. Spock had been saying earlier. “Maybe?” he hedged, unsure of whether he’d actually been asked a question and, if he had been, what it actually meant.

“So. You want to make out?”

One hundred percent awake. Eren sat up, mouth suddenly devoid of all moisture. “Um.”

“You keep staring at me,” Levi went on. “It’s kind of annoying. If you want to fuck or whatever, just say so.”

“Yes!” Eren blurted and then immediately cringed. “But, I mean— honestly, I’d rather not fuck on the Ackermans’ couch, that just seems kind of weird to me, not to mention sort of rude,” he babbled.

Levi mouth twitched for a moment and then he actually laughed, one hand balled up into a loose fist concealing his open mouth. It was deep and throaty and Eren couldn’t help staring. “I was kidding about the fucking.”

“Oh.”

Levi finished laughing and reached out to run one hand lightly over Eren’s shoulders. “Not the making out though.”

“No?” Eren checked, heating up beneath Levi’s touch.

“No.”

“You’re not just horny from Shatner, are you?” He regretted the question the moment he said it. It felt like he was expecting too much. Honestly, he wasn’t opposed to making out just for the sake of making out. Levi was—as previously established— hot as hell and apparently willing.

Levi grinned though. Eren thought so, at least. Hard to tell with only the TV casting light. “Not Shatner, no. You… you’ve been decent company.”

As far as compliments went (or, fuck, declaration of feelings) that was pretty weak. But Levi didn’t exactly seem like the… mushy type. And maybe it was only the cast-off colors from the soon-to-die red shirt security guards on screen, but it looked like Levi was blushing just a bit and, damn, it was a good look on him and Eren’s dick was about ready to stage a revolt if he didn’t do something, so he curled one hand around the back of Levi’s neck and leaned forward to kiss him. He meant for it to be quick and soft to start out, but Levi responded eagerly, tightening his arms around Eren to keep him in place. That was fine with Eren.

More than fine.

He shoved the blanket out of the way, nibbling on Levi’s bottom lip as his hand traveled the wide expanse of Levi’s shoulders. When his fingers slipped down his back and just beneath Levis waistband, Levi groaned softly and pressed into Eren further, pushing him down until Eren was laid flat across the couch with Levi spread out on top of him. The kisses became open-mouthed as Levi hiked up Eren’s shirt. His fingers were warm as they trailed over his stomach and Eren shuddered, bucking up lightly. He kissed along Levi’s jawline and neck until he reached the junction of his shoulder where he started sucking a bruise, making Levi gasp, fingers flexing tightly on Eren’s bared hips and—

The light in the kitchen clicked on.

Eren and Levi both froze, all too aware of how easily noise carried from the living room to the kitchen. Sure enough, they could easily hear feet padding on the tile and quiet Japanese between two people; it sounded like Haruhi and her mother. Eren and Levi waited, breath mixing. Eren’s heartbeat was pounding in his ears, slowly winding down as the pair in the kitchen continued on, unware that anyone was awake in the next room over. Haruhi sounded like she’d been crying, Eren thought, and he remembered Mikasa mentioning that she’d been having nightmares. He couldn’t understand anything they were sounding, but he heard water running and then the electric kettle clicking on. Making tea? They might be a while then…

Levi apparently got the same idea because he rest his forehead against Eren’s for a moment, dropped a kiss on the bridge of his nose, then slid off of Eren and crossed the living room to his own couch silently. Eren laid motionless for a moment, quieting cursing the universe. Eventually, he resigned himself to his sad fate and rolled over to find the remote on the floor and switch off the TV. He shivered a bit without Levi flush against him and he begrudgingly threw the blanket over himself again. Might as well go to sleep, he supposed. The moment was kind of ruined and they did have an early morning coming.

Levi’s flight left at 9:30.


 

December 26 th

There wasn’t any point in getting attached, but Eren, like a big idiot, definitely had because driving to the airport the next morning was a bummer.  He tried to convince himself that what he was really going to be missing was someone to talk to since all the other guests were staying through for New Years, but that wasn’t completely true. He could pretend it was just a bad case of blue balls, but wasn’t completely true either. And what Armin had said also wasn’t quite right-- he wasn’t “smitten.”

Eren brooded the entire way to the airport, but Mikasa was there to make up for his silence. He half-listened to their conversation, wondering if the fact that Levi hadn’t said anything to him about last night meant that they just weren’t going to talk about it ever. There wasn’t really a reason to; after all, they’d probably never see each other again after today. And it wasn’t like they were abandoning some great, tragic romance. He wasn’t smitten.

He thought maybe he could be though, with time. But time was nearly up.

They’d already pulled into the drop-off zone and unloaded when Levi suddenly asked, “When is graduation?”

Mikasa blinked in surprise, then grinned widely. “Are you coming? I thought I’d have to wait another dozen years before you’d visit again.”

Levi shrugged, the set of his shoulders awkward. “Christmas wasn’t too terrible.”

Mikasa squeezed him in a quick hug. “I’ll get the details for you,” she promised as she pulled away.

Eren’s heart was drumming in his chest. Graduation was only a few months away. Levi was coming back for graduation. Of course, it wasn’t like Levi was coming back just for him, not if what he said to whoever was on the phone was true, but-- Eren would see him again.

But graduation was still months away and now that “never” didn’t seem to be happening, months felt way too long.

Levi turned towards Eren and stuck out his hand. “You--”

“Can I have your number?” Eren blurted. “Or-- your email or… Facebook or... whatever,” he trailed off. Mikasa looked like she was trying not to laugh, so he muttered, “Shut it.”

“I didn’t say anything,” she protested.

Levi snorted. “You’ve said plenty about him.”

“What did she say?”

Mikasa cleared her throat. “I’ll just go wait in the car then. Hope no one sneezes on your on the plane, Levi.”

Once she was gone, Eren rounded on him. “Seriously, what has she been saying about me?”

But Levi had his phone out. “What’s your number? You realize you could’ve just gotten my number from Mikasa instead of embarrassing yourself, right?”

“I wanted to get it from you though,” Eren grumbled. For some reason that made Levi grin just a little and Eren’s brain went blank in the middle of reciting his phone number. Levi raised an eyebrow at him and he started over, checking Levi’s screen to make sure he’d gotten the number right.

Levi tucked his phone away and shouldered his luggage. “I’ll text you before I get on the plane.”

“Okay.” Eren shoved his hands into his pockets, unsure what else to do with them. Levi had gone for a handshake, but that felt kind of impersonal considering Levi had been in his lap last night. Trying to kiss him goodbye felt presumptuous though. And he was pretty sure that Mikasa was watching them in the rearview mirror. He settled for, “Have a nice flight.”

“See you later, Eren.”

 


 

A little while later, Eren got three text messages from an unknown number in quick succession. He read the first one aloud, but the other two were just for him.

>>Tell mikasa she was right and to keep her smug nose out of it.


>>Text me back.


>>If you want to.



Eren did.