The battlefield Shiganshina district had turned into laid quiet, for in that moment, it was a graveyard for the unburied. Uncountable numbers of corpses laid among the buttercups and forget-me-nots, how ironic. The sun still shone and a bitter wind still swept over the remnants of the once lively town, but somewhere far away, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters waited, all in vain. All the good men, who were once young boys with full of like, playing in the yard with sticks and laughed at each other’s tales were now nothing more than meat for the birds. Eyes dull and glassy, immobile just like their limbs. Souls departed to a celestial plane to walk with the ones who had sacrificed themselves for all the expeditions prior.
Just a little earlier, there was a moment of perfect stillness, eerie silence almost deafening.
Then, an overwhelming blast of sound and light engulfed the battlefield, overloading his senses.
It was the first moment during the Battle of Shiganshina for Levi to genuinely feel anxious. Things weren’t looking too good on their side, but just behind the walls, hearing and seeing an outburst of massive light knew it wasn’t some sort of deity taking sudden pity on humanity to help them out. It couldn’t be.
And it wasn’t.
Then, he’s kneeling on the rooftop, bloody, drenched, cursing in his mind of not being enough- of not doing enough. He had the Beast, and now, he let it go. Another reason to not be able to sleep at night.
Eren and Armin are there as well, with the decapitated body of Bertholdt, unconscious now without arms or legs. It’s a disgusting sight, his blood soaking into the wooden roofs. The casualties lost in the battle were uncountable; it was impossible to find every dead body and make sure they got back to their families. He knew.
Labored breathing sounds, and he hears someone climbing, then the recruit pants, “Captain... Levi.”
On his back, carrying a familiar figure. “I finally caught up to you...” He wheezes, carrying a fatally wounded soldier, blonde locks dirtied with a bright shade of red, unconscious.
“Commander Erwin is dying. He was hit in the belly... His organs are spilling out... He won’t stop bleeding...”
The surviving recruit’s face is of near fatigue, terror, and somehow, relief that he did make in time.
“I thought that injection might be able to help... What do you think?”
He asks, and Levi’s in silent shock.
The serum. The Titan serum. Erwin wasn’t going to die. That would be too big of a loss for the Scouts. Hell, for the entirety of Humanity.
His fingers are shaky as he retrieves the black box from his pocket, holding it close to his chest. Just as he kneels down, retrieving the syringe, the familiar whirring of the ODM gear fills his ears, and his gaze darts to the side.
It’s Mikasa, Jean, Connie, Sasha carried by the latter. There’s one person he doesn’t see.. Where..
Then, his heart sinks. To Mikasa’s chest, the same way the other recruit carried Erwin’s body, is precisely tied Hanji. Also unconscious, as it seems. Missing an eye, covered in blood, barely breathing.
“Hanji.. how..?” He asks, more from himself. How could he of all people let this happen? When they’d promised each other to live and see what’s in that goddamn basement?
Levi hesitates. Sudden panic takes over him, his ears are ringing, and there’s no more physical pain. Not in his legs that were trembling, and he doesn’t feel the overtaking stench of burnt flesh anymore, either.
He’s standing between the two of them, looking around. Sasha is injured, but not badly. Connie, Jean, Mikasa, Armin and Eren seem to be fine. Weary and a little burnt, but it wasn’t life-threatening. Why couldn’t Hanji be in one of their shoes, too...
“Captain?” Eren interrupts his thoughts, and he’s suddenly pulled back to the scene, standing. The sun, peeking out behind of the grey smoke clouds covering the sky was burning his skin. When Levi looks at him, he has tears in his eyes, almost pouring out. Mikasa’s the same. Armin barely breathes.
“What should we do?”, Armin asks, and Eren’s ready to pull the black box from him. Levi’s eyes are desperate, face covered in dried blood, softly panting himself.
“We have to administer the serum to the Commander,” Eren grits his teeth, pulling the box from him. Even Levi’s unsure why he’s so stubborn, holding onto the box. It was clear as day that Erwin needed it more than any of them.
However, his personal feelings...
“Captain, you have to look past your own feelings. Without the Commander, humanity loses it’s last hope.”
Without Hanji, I’m losing my last hope. I can’t expect you to understand this.
Eren’s tugging on the box once again, and Levi’s had enough of his stubborn impatience; he punches him in the face with all he has, so the boy goes flying. Just like any other time, Mikasa isn’t late to take action, either. She pins him down, a hand holding his wrist tight, the other pushing a blade into his throat.
“You must know it too. Humanity can never defeat the titans without the Commander’s strength.”
Mikasa’s right. She’s so right. Even though she’s tearing up over losing someone close once again, she’s not as hesitant as he is. She doesn’t have the same feelings he does. She wasn’t saved by Hanji the same way he was.
Eren, from the edge of the roof is gurgling something, some teeth missing, blood drenching down on his chin covered with saliva.
Levi’s hold on the box weakens a little. “If we don’t have Hanji, we can’t win.” Levi states, and the same thought strikes through everyone’s minds.
This is insane. Commander Erwin is singlehandedly the best strategist out there. An outstanding commandant, motivator, one who brings people together and is able to send them into their deaths, even if the outcome is certain.
But Hanji... Her existence is miniscule, irrelevant. She’s brilliant, but replaceable.
“Without Hanji’s mind, we wouldn’t have had the explosives to stop the Female Titan. Or create safety measurements on the Walls. Or have the equipment we do. Without her, we’re stripped.”
Mikasa grabs the box from his hand.
“You don’t know it yet, but there isn’t a single living soldier left on the other side of that Wall. The Beast Titan killed them all. He threw crushed rocks through them. They were all smashed.. to a pulp.”
Mikasa’s staring into his face. Eren’s silent.
“Every one of us thought we were goners... But Commander Erwin was the one exception. He figured out a plan that would let him get his teeth into that monster’s neck... And carried it out.”
No... They couldn’t... He shouldn’t allow his brain to be sentimental right now...
“When I found Commander Erwin still breathing... I was going to put him out of his misery... But then... I decided I was treating him too gently. Perhaps he did need to spend more time in this hell...”
Without Hanji, everywhere he went was hell. She was like a painkiller he needed to survive. Nothing felt right if she wasn’t around. Not anymore. She’d carved her way into his mind without him ever saying yes, and before he knew, everything was about her.
Humanity needed Erwin to survive.
Levi, however, needed Hanji to survive.
“...The only one who can destroy all the titans... Is the devil himself. And my mission is... To bring the devil back to life!”
Levi’s heard enough. He lunged forward for the box that Mikasa had taken from him, and then Floch launched himself for it, too.
Levi had it in his hands again. Jean had two arms hooked under Mikasa’s to keep her back from fighting for the box, while Floch stood back from the sudden wave of the blades.
Mikasa’s screaming, and Jean is shouting something. It’s all too jumbled for Levi to follow. Any way he chose, he knew, it’d be wrong. Wrong for different reasons. Of all times, now, he shouldn’t be selfish.
”You know, I wished I could stay cooped up in my room, ears shut. But, If I did that, those burned bones would never forgive me.” Jean mumbles once again, and it reminds Levi of the loss they had to endure over and over again. The pain was neverending. With every day passing by, the people he wanted to bring back only grew.
Ever since I joined the Survey Corps, every day has brought a new farewell. In the end, though, everyone you meet will be parted from you one day.
That’s what Hanji used to say, as some sort of a comfort to him when they’d returned safely.
I know it’s difficult to accept. It’s hard to stay sane, living like that. It’s painful. So painful. But even so... We need to move forward.
Did her words include herself, too? Levi couldn’t help but wonder.
Thinking of all the times they’d spent together. Happy. Sad. Mostly happy, though.
In the dead of the night, her holding him so close he could hear how even her heartbeat was. Her scent fresh, locks of hair accidentally ending up in his mouth, or when they shifted, under his armpits. He found it annoying, but now, he wished they laid together in those clean sheets, listening to the steady pitter patter of the rain...
Or when she was so drunk she kept kissing his nostrils instead of his lips because her coordination was gone...
Or when he tried to pick her up, but she was heavier than he first expected, so he lost his grip adn they both ended up on the ground in pain...
To think those moments would never come back...
To think those eyes that meant for the world wouldn’t open again...
Levi didn’t want to live like that. He couldn’t.
Finally, he had dreams.
Dreams he.. had to give up on.
Levi glances over at her. He hands the box over to Mikasa, willingly, then says, “I’ll be a minute.”
They’re short on time.
When Levi kneels down next to Hanji, the blind eye that opens up to glance at him is bloodied and there are miniature pieces of the Thunder Spears in it. When recognition reaches her brain, she reaches out, and he’s shattered.
“You’re surely beaten up, Shorty...” she coughs, a hand steadily staying on her side, probably to avoid a wound’s severe bleeding. It’s no use, though.
Levi can’t find his voice. Instead, he cups her cheek with his left, his thumb desperately stroking her skin as if it was magically going to heal her.
“I’ve seen you cry one time, I remember...” Hanji begins again, voice heavy and raspy and dry, “It was the day when you’ve lost your Squad. Terrible, terrible crocodile tears... I’ve been feeling your pain since, every single day.”
She coughs again. Levi’s now holding both sides of her head. From her uninjured eye, a stream of tear runs down, right into her hair.
He thinks of Kenny. The way the old bastard was talking to himself, back against the tree, grey eyes so dull and lifeless already. He held a hand on his stomach, the same way Hanji does, knowing there’s no help coming with their condition.
He sees Hanji cough up blood the same way Kenny did.
“I don’t wanna die.”
Kenny said that. Hanji does, too. When she laughs, he hears them both.
“Everybody I’ve met... was all the same. Drinking... Women... Worshipping God, even. Family... The King... Dreams... Children... Power... Everyone had to be drunk on somethin’ to keep pushing on. Everyone was... A slave to somethin’.”
When he asked Hanji the first time what she wanted once they found out what was in the basement, she didn’t say anything specific. She wanted to examine, whatever it was down there, put it under a microscope, and connect the lines in her brain. Shallow and vague, he thought, but then she kept going, and he listened.
“If we ever got out of here... Followed our path all the way to the end... There’s something I want. I don’t wanna die until I get there.”
Typical of her, she left whatever she wanted to be unknown for him. He didn’t give it much thought, however, right now, as he had a hand under her neck to alleviate, he’s thinking again.
“Hanji... Once you said there was something you wanted. At the end of the road.”
She smiles. How desperate, bittersweet, heartshattering of a smile it is. Levi’s tearing up.
“Ever since I’ve met you, I always.. always...” She coughs again, and Levi’s cleaning her chin of the blood with a dirty handkerchief. “Always dreamed of us, together. Like a family.”
She laughs, because what she’s saying is nonsense.
Hanji closes her eyes.
“I can’t wait to find out what’s on the other side, Levi.”
When she says that, her grip on his hand weakens a little.
“I’ll see you there.”
There’s too much on his mind. When he wants to say something, he doesn’t have the voice for it.
He would scream, but his lungs won’t let him.
Teardrops fall onto her cheeks.
At first one. Then, two. Three. A couple more follows.
When Levi lets go of her body, he’s not crying anymore.
He’s the one that carries her body.
Right there, he’s playing with the thought that she’s overworked herself and she’s just sleeping in his arms, like she would often. If he looked down, she’d open her eyes, cognac with a drop of honey.
When he does, she doesn’t.
Carrying the bodies of fallen comrades had never been easy.
Carrying the body of Hanji Zoe was the most difficult thing he’d ever done.