Chapter 1: Part 1: The Wall
King Erwin knew he had made a mistake, but he didn’t voice his concerns for his soldiers to hear. His following of ten, now nine, of the best warriors in the north already knew, and they trusted their king would get them out of it. They had all sworn an oath and he knew they would follow him blindly to Helheim, had he asked them to.
The biting wind chewed at men and horses alike, weather gods showed them no mercy tonight. No twists or turns could save them from the icy winds; the falling snow was coming at them like sharp arrows from every direction.
“Everything looks the same. Maybe I’m going snow blind.” Hanji muffled as they tried to pull her thick, woolen cape around them tighter. “I wonder where we turned wrong.”
They were the first to mention that they were indeed lost. All the trees and fields around them were covered in snow. At one point they must’ve turned down the wrong, white road. As a trusted advisor of the king they felt guilty, too, for them ending up there. The sky was fading to black, the men needed food and their horses rest, but they hadn’t seen any homes or taverns since sunrise, not since Gunther had left them to travel ahead to the village of Trost.
They came to a halt where the road split into two. One road led into the woods while the other continued on the open field. Levi wouldn’t say anything, but he, too, felt himself blinded by the snow. If he never saw snow again in his lifetime, he would be content with that. Erwin would have to make a decision. Stay on the open road, where they were more likely to discover a farm or maybe even an inn, or head into the thick forest, which could provide shelter from the wind.
“Someone is coming!” Petra Ral’s raspy voice sounded from the back of the group. All heads turned to look and true were her words. Someone was approaching them on a brown horse, coming out of the large forest with high speed. Levi grew wary, slowly laying his hand on his sword in case it was a foe, though unlikely. One would have to be mad to venture out alone in this storm, and even madder to attack the King and his guards, one against ten.
“It’s Gunther.” Mike Zacharius spoke from the King’s right side.
“My lord,” Gunther stopped in front of them, almost out of breath, he looked even more worn out than his horse. His nose red, eyes watering. The bearded man lifted his hand in a balled fist, pressed it to his chest and bowed his head to salute Erwin. “I got worried when you didn’t arrive and I didn’t hear from you sooner, so I came back.”
“How far are we from Trost?” Erwin cut in, he had no time for formalities or explanations, they needed to find shelter quickly.
“Too far to reach before dark I’m afraid.” Gunther informed, though most of them had already figured as much. “But there is an inn up ahead where you can rest.” Now, this caught everyone’s attention. It was just what they had been hoping for.
“Lead the way!” Erwin commanded without hesitation. Gunther turned his horse around and led them all straight into the big forest. They didn’t have to ride for long, just long enough for the sky to turn dark, before they reached the inn Gunther had spoken of.
Two large assemblies of timber and logs made a stable and a house, both covered by snow, standing only three horse lengths apart. They were happy to find just enough space in the large stable to tie all their horses to a beam. They covered the poor animals with what rugs they could spare. The stable didn’t have doors to keep the cold out, but at least it protected them from the wind.
As the frozen men and women tumbled through the doors of the inn they gained stares from those already inside, not surprising, considering this was their king striding through the doors with red cheeks, water dripping from his fur coat with every step he took.
The Wall, as the inn was called by those who knew it well, had several levels. The main floor was raised only slightly above ground. In the middle of the room were two holes in the floor where they kept bonfires alive on the dirt ground, surrounded by benches for the men to sit. It was also filled with tables and chair, each table with a lit candlelight. Along the northern wall was a counter, and behind the counter a door that led to the kitchen. The Wall also had a second floor where one would find small beds made of straw, not separated by walls. Certainly, it was no stay fit for a king, but Erwin and his men were no strangers to such common conditions.
While Erwin, Mike and Hanji all went up to the counter and the others gravitated towards the fires, Levi stood back to take in the room and the people in it. 4 men and a woman, all dressed commonly shared a table in the middle of the room, talking seemingly cheerfully, one of them playing on a foreign instrument. Two men sat in a corner and kept a suspicious eye on the newcomers. Levi didn’t like the way they hid in the shadows, or how they kept staring at his king.
Closest to the door sat three young people, dressed in thin, bright clothing. Two men and a woman. The woman met Levi’s eyes and glared back at him with a look that said ‘don’t cause trouble for us and we won’t bother you.’ It was a statement Levi could agree with, one he typically favored, but it still took him a moment to tear his eyes away. Something felt off with the bunch. Next to the woman sat a blond guy, the archetypal northerner with blue eyes, long hair and stubs covering his face. The woman looked eastern, like himself, with dark hair, grey eyes and pale skin. The last man looked southern, almost, but not quite. Levi couldn’t place his alluring looks. Judging from his skin he could be a farmer. The young man looked like he had been out in the sun for hours, but much too clean and glowing. Brown, shoulder length hair, parts of it was braided back from his face, while the rest brushed against his thin, white, linen shirt as he moved and spoke, with green lively eyes. He was summer, spring, fall and winter, all at once. Levi, too, could admit this man was handsome. So much so, he was the entire reason Levi was struggling to force his gaze away, but he did, eventually.
When he found his company again they were shedding their coats, gathering around a large, wooden table, exactly big enough for all eleven of them to crowd around it. Gunther shared news from Trost with all of them, though nothing was of importance. Erwin had paid a fair amount of money to the innkeeper and his wife for food and ale and the beds they had available. They didn’t have to wait long before they brought their food and drinks out from the backroom.
“I’m afraid we don’t have enough beds for all of you.” A short man, the owner of the Wall, said as he and his wife, a brunette with large breasts and an even bigger smile, sat burned pork and mugs down at the table. “But we’ll keep the fire alive through the night. You’re welcome to stay as long as you’d like.”
“Thank you, friend.” Erwin said, “You’ve done more than enough. My men can sleep in most positions.” Then he added an unnecessary threat directed to his guards. If anyone caused any problems for the innkeeper or the other guests, they would sleep outside with the horses.
The innkeeper laughed and shook his head. “It is the least we can do. The king is always welcome here. I was hoping you’d come by sooner or later, just sorry we didn’t have more time to prepare.” He then proceeded to introduce himself. “My name is Connie, and this here is my wife Sasha. If you need anything else just let one of us know.”
“Well, thank you, Connie. Please let me introduce my friends.” A rehearsed gesture Erwin often exploited when he found himself in unfamiliar surroundings with unfamiliar faces, for several reasons. For one, it manifested agreeableness, willingness to associate and converse with all men, not matter status or linage. This had made him very popular in the North to begin with. “This is Petra, Gunther, Aurou and Eld, warriors from the Cold Mountain Tribe.” The four all straightened their backs proudly at the mention of their home tribe and curtly nodded towards Connie and Sasha.
“My trusted advisor, the skin burner, Hanji of the East.” Erwin got to showcase their infamous titles and who he was associated with. “Mike, the Blood Hound. Last living son of the Zacharius bloodline.
“Moblit and Nanaba from across the Virgin Sea.” It was no longer just Connie and Sasha they were being introduced to. Erwin performed to get the whole room’s attention. No one but him was speaking, so powerful was his voice. Not loud, but yet powerful. Music was still being played in the background and shuffling of glasses and plates from the other tables, useless distraction as they pretended not to listen in.
“Dita, a horse whisperer from Mitras.” Levi was outwardly very fascinated with the burned pork in front of him, which honestly tasted less like pork, more like ashes. The smell of it filled the room together with burned hair. The floors looked dirty, like they hadn’t been cleaned since they raised the house. Admittedly, he hated Erwin’s introduction speech.
“And lastly, Levi Ackerman.”
The music stopped. A loud silence followed and lasted for far too long, before the whispering began.
“Did he say Ackerman?”
Erwin let the initial shock set in with a satisfied, subtle smile only Levi and Mike would notice. Levi could only look up and give the innkeeper and his wife a polite nod, though it seemed to intimidate them more than anything else. It had never been his intentions to frighten them.
The silence was broken by ruffling of chair legs scraping against the floor. The two men who had been hiding in the shadows stood up abruptly, strove across the room and were out the door, into the dark, cold night before anyone could say a single word.
Recovering the cheery mood was impossible after that, but Hanji did their best by being social and starting up a friendly conversation with the group of five strangers. Music started up again once she had bothered them long enough to forget who else was in the room. Levi didn’t pay attention to his comrades’ conversations, instead kept a watchful eye on those surrounding them.
He was being watched himself. Green eyes were staring at him from across the room and didn’t waver when he caught them there. Levi could’ve, should’ve looked away, but frankly, he didn’t want to. For a moment he was staring into the eyes of spring and it made his heart skip a few beats, it made him long for warmer seasons when he could move around without the fur-lined cloak. The young, tan, man cocked his head and stared right back at him with a curious look.
Cozy evenings must come to an end, and it did when King Erwin stood up and announced he was going to retire to bed. Hanji, Moblit and Nanaba joined him upstairs to sleep in the beds. The five strangers Hanji had been talking to joined them soon after and the room grew quite, say for small conversations, which again died down when Aurou finished his ale and fell asleep with his head on the table. The trio by the door also seemed to have fallen asleep in a similar position; their heads resting on the table between them. Mike could quite literally sleep anywhere, in any position and dozed off on the hardwood floor. Soon it looked like everyone around Levi had closed their eyes and walked into dreamland, except for Levi himself, the innkeeper and his wife.
Levi was too on edge to sleep. Something was off, he could feel it in his guts, which rarely betrayed him. Intuition had saved him so many times, too many to count, he was not about to start doubting it now. The trio by the door had weapons with them. Three light, silver swords placed under the table. And he couldn’t be certain the two men, who had so abruptly left earlier, wouldn’t return with ill intentions.
“Where are you going?” Levi heard the innkeeper’s wife, Sasha, ask her husband. Connie was pulling a rug over his shoulders and yawned.
“We need more firewood from the stable.” They both looked exhausted, yet were determined to keep their promise of keeping the fire alive all night. The thought of leaving the safe warmth of the house made him grimace.
“I’ll go.” Levi stood up and pulled his cloak tighter around his shoulders. The heavy wolf fur weighted down on him, making him feel how tired his body really was from riding all day. Connie and Sasha shared a look of surprise. Not shocking, Levi had surprised himself when he opened his mouth and volunteered. “You two should get some rest. I’ll keep the fire going.” He left no room for discussion.
They both thanked him and disappeared back into the kitchen.
Halfway across the yard, almost at the stable, Levi realized he was being followed. He didn’t need to hear the crunching snow or even look behind him to know. His instinct told him and hairs on his neck stood up. Someone had followed him outside. Muscles tensed up naturally, a steady hand reached for his sword as he reached the stable. The night was completely dark, the trees surrounding them allowed no moonlight through.
Inside the stable was no different, once inside Levi could hide in the shadow of a corner. He pressed his back against a wall where he knew he could not possibly be seen. Who had followed him? What was their intentions? Was it a friendly soul, or one looking for trouble.
A person, a tall shadow stepped into the stable after him. At least a head taller than Levi. It was not one he recognized, so he tightened his grip around the end of his sword, ready to fight the hooded figure.
All light Levi could see now was two glowing, green orbs cutting through the darkness surrounding them, staring at him. How? How could they see him? How did they know he was there? But the eyes didn’t waver or look around, they found him instantly where he stood. Slowly, the king’s guard pulled out his sword, like the stranger was a wolf and he had to be careful not to let it attack first. He couldn’t see who it was, but he knew this wasn’t an ordinary person. Only cats have eyes like that.
“Why are you standing in the dark?” It spoke with a friendly voice. The voice of a man, but not one Levi could place. It was neither the innkeeper or one of his fellow soldiers.
“Why were you following me?” Levi asked back, readying himself for any movement, but the cat-like stranger was standing still.
“Why did you go out all by yourself?” It asked and cocked his head to the side.
“Who are you?” Levi was annoyed by his persistence, ignoring his fair question. The shadow made a move towards Levi and he reacted on instinct. He drew his sword and closed the distance between them, grabbing the stranger’s cloak, throwing him against the stable wall, answered with a painful grunt. The fabric felt thin and soft. All too thin to keep anyone warm in this weather, yet his skin felt warm against Levi’s fingers. The hood fell off and Levi found himself looking into the eyes on spring, slowly making out the features of the handsome, clean face.
“Who are you?” Levi darkly repeated, demanding an answer. This person was not a normal human, with glowing eyes and burning, warm skin. He was not human.
The stranger had been holding his breath and released deep sigh and gasped once for air, like a slow reaction to being thrown against the wall. He blinked rapidly at Levi with a look of disbelief and fear.
“E-eren!” He said loudly, trying to keep his voice from shaking, but failing to do just that. “My name is Eren Jaeger, son of Grisha Jaeger.”
“Jaeger?” The name wasn’t familiar to Levi. He’d met plenty of hunters in his days, but never anyone who went by the name.
“I just wanted to see where you were going by yourself!” He sounded angry now, wiggling to get out of Levi’s grip, but to no avail. Levi was too strong for him.
“Will you let go of me already! I wasn’t trying to hurt you!” Eren Jaeger grabbed after Levi’s hand. The touch surprised Levi. Eren’s hands were warm, almost burning, but not painful. It still surprised him to the point where he loosened his grip and Eren bolted out of reach, glaring angrily back at Levi with glowing eyes. He wasn’t human.
“What are you?”
“What do you mean?” Eren asked, confused and angry, panting. Levi lowered his sword.
“What I said; what are you?” You are not human.
“I told you. My name is Eren Jaeger, son of Grisha and Carla Jaeger of Alfheim.”
Alfheim, home of the elves. Now it made sense. Levi had never been, nor was he likely to ever be able to go, but he had heard stories. Stories told by avid travelers who claimed to have been, to have seen large, evergreen forests, blue lakes and white, stone houses, and the most beautiful of people with pointy ears, glowing skin and soft hair. They say the sun always shine, even when it’s raining, and he water is always blue as the sky and clean enough to drink. Dust doesn’t exist and the elves never get sick. Or so the rumors say.
“You’re an elf.” Unsure whether it was a statement in revelation or a question. Elves are supposed to be fair and light, have big pointy ears. Eren didn’t look like that. Though Levi would admit he was more beautiful than most men and women he had ever seen, Eren didn’t have pointy ears or fair skin.
“Huh?” Confused at first, but suddenly it was like nothing had ever happened between them. Eren smiled and shook his head. “I’m not. My mother is, but my father is not. I am human.” He said, bringing his hand to his chest. He looked proud. Levi didn’t believe him. To him it only raised more questions. Humans do not have burning skin and glowing eyes.
“So, why are you out here?” Eren asked, dragging Levi from his thoughts.
“Getting wood.” Levi answered promptly. “For the fire.” The stack of firewood was placed behind Eren, stacked up against the wall in the corner. The horses were starting to move, the commotion from their loud first meeting having woken them up. Levi could hear the distinct nicker of his own mare.
“I’ll help.” With light steps Eren marched over to the pile and began rhythmically stacking wood in his arms, not waiting for or wanting Levi’s approval or permission. Recovering his mind and will, it took a moment before Levi tucked away his sword and decided to trust him, at least trust him to help carry wood and not turn around and hit him over the head with it.
“Are you really an Ackerman?” Eren asked bluntly as they were finishing up. Ah, Levi should’ve known it was about that. Being questioned about his heritage was not novel, in fact, it happened far too frequently, and he still had never found a good manner as to how to reply.
“What’s it to you?” Had his hands not been occupied by holding thick sticks he would’ve been reaching for his sword again. A rookie move, he cursed himself.
“I’m sorry, you must hear that all the time.” Eren laughed a short, manly laugh. “I was just curious. I’ve heard a lot about you.”
The Ackerman Clan had once been an infamous clan, known for its great warriors and strong fighters, shedding blood everywhere they went, saving none and showing no mercy. At first they had been a peaceful group of fighters, only serving the side they thought right, but greed had once corrupted the Chief and the clan was struck with a lethal split. Few survived the unavoidable clash of those with or against the chief in command. The clan ate itself up from the inside. Assassinations, head on head duels, all ended in one large battle which left a bloodbath and bodies sprawled across a large field. To this day, though it happened many years ago before Levi’s time, stories and songs of the great, horrid battle roamed in both north and south.
“I’m sure you have.” They walked out of the stable. Inside the house they stacked the wood against the wall close to the door. Levi threw a few cubes onto the fire and sat down in front of it. He looked around the room and figured no one but Eren had moved from his spot since he had left. Eren soon joined him, not leaving much room between them. Levi could feel more heat coming from Eren’s body than the fire in front of him. Both shredded their cloaks.
“Did you really slay a giant? Is that why they call you a giant slayer?” Eren asked with big, searching eyes. Levi the giant slayer was only one of his many nicknames. Not one he favored. Truth was, for all the animals, people and monsters Levi had killed in his days, a giant had never been one of them.
Hanji was first and foremost an excellent advisor, a clever alchemist and a trustworthy friend, but many seemed to disregard that fact that they were, on top of all of that, a supporter of aiming jokes at those they deemed worthy. And because of his reputation few regarded Levi as a person to be joked with.
Levi was short of stature. Really, being a head taller than him didn’t mean Eren was strikingly tall. Most, if not all, the people he fought were taller than him. So when Hanji had called him a giant slayer in front of people it was not because he had ever met, fought or killed any giants, but a mockery of his height. The name had stuck with him however, and Levi was not about to admit the real origin of the name to Eren or anyone else.
“That’s what they say.” He said dubiously.
“They also say you’re the son of Tor.”
“They say a lot of things?” Levi kept his eyes on the flames. It wasn’t the first time he had heard these incredible rumors as well. “People like to talk nonsense.”
“Not the elves.” Eren said sternly. “The elves do not like to lie and they say you have the blood of Tor in you.”
“The elves do?” Why would the elves of Alfheim concern themselves with the business and gossip of mere humans.
“Yes. Levi Ackerman, the last Ackerman, son of Tor, the God of Thunder and War. His sword forged by the iron used to chain and bound Fenrir. His shield blessed with the protection of-“
“I don’t even own a shield.” Levi interrupted. “I prefer to just be called Levi, if you don’t mind.” Levi, just Levi. No Giant Slayer, no Son of Tor, no Ackerman. Just Levi. And he had promised himself if one more person called him Levi the Short he’d cut all of the north at the knees, so no one but the giants of Jotunheim could ever look down upon him again. He sure knew how to pick his battles.
Eren Jaeger of Alfheim looked like he had just been hit with an arrow. Stunned. Maybe surprised that the elves were not as honest and good as they made him believe? Levi couldn’t tell. He was clutching his thin cloak in his lap, his white shirt had blood spotting on the front of it. He wore common, green pants and light boots. Everything he wore told Levi the sun would be shining outside.
“Are you not cold?” Levi asked.
“Your clothes are so thin.”
“It was made with linen and leaves from the never-withering tree. It’s warmer than it looks.” He held out his coat for Levi to feel. Levi felt the soft fabric, his hands brushing over Eren’s in the process.
“Your hands are burning.”
“Y-yes, I have that from my mother’s side. She was always very warm.” Eren’s face looked heated, flushed, his cheeks and nose red. Maybe that’s why they had been sitting so close to the door, Levi thought. Because Eren was naturally warm and staying close to the flames made him overcook.
“Is that an elf thing?”
“I’m not an elf!” It was endearing how intense Eren became at the small accusation. Levi didn’t mean it in any bad way. Why was Eren so against being called an elf?
“Half-elf.” Levi concluded quietly with a smile, and Eren smiled too. Then he laughed again. His laugh was entrancing. Not soft like one would expect when looking at his complexion, but manly and hoarse, yet still entrancing like the honest laughter of a child.
Together they kept the fire alive all through the night. The eerie feeling that something was wrong evaporated from Levi’s body without him taking note of its leave. They talked until they didn’t anymore and sat in a comfortable silence until Eren fell asleep with his head resting on Levi’s shoulder. Whether Levi had a heart or not, he knew he didn’t have the heart to wake Eren and make him move. Instead he sat quietly and watched him out of the corner of his eye, how his face glowed in the light of the dying ember, until Levi, too, fell asleep. His head using Eren’s as a pillow.
When Levi woke again it was to the sound of wordless buzzing around him, alone and covered by a cloak that was not his own. Thin, light fabric, but still warm. The fire in front of him had burned out and smoke was still rising from it. He laid on his side, in a hurtful, awkward position, wondering how he ended up there before the event of the previous night dawned upon him.
The wordless buzz came from the tribesmen. Petra, Aurou, Gunther and Eld had gathered around a table and were eating a heavy breakfast. They were all laughing together, talking. Poking fun at each other as they usually did. Levi relaxed, knowing he could be at ease when his comrades showed high spirits.
Outside the sun rose with the most pitiful grace, ashamed it had allowed such terrible weather to rule the earth the night before. The air was still frozen and biting up Levi's nose as he stepped outside with two cloaks, but the sun was foreshadowing warmer days ahead. Mike, Dita and the innkeeper were all shoveling snow around the stable. Footsteps had corrupted the pure snowfall.
Levi hurried across the yard, greeting the people outside. He was expecting to find the rest of his company saddling up the horses, getting ready for departure. He was hoping to find Eren alone so he could return the cloak without any onlookers. He was not expecting to find Hanji and Erwin devoted in friendly conversation with Eren and his two friends, but that's what he was met with. He made to turn before he involutely got engaged in the conversation, but King Erwin must have heard him come in and did not hesitate to reach out.
"Ah, Levi, glad to see you're awake." Erwin said casually, smiling gently, and drawing everyone's attention to Levi, who had one foot inside the stable and the other one ready to head back out. He stayed. Hanji greeted him with a wide smile, Eren with a more cautious one.
"This is Armin, Mikasa and Eren." Of course, Levi already knew that. "They will be traveling with us to Trost." But that was news to him.
The woman, Mikasa, would most definite be the strongest of the trio. She might be a woman, but Levi could see the fierceness and danger in her eyes and strained stance, like she was always ready for battle. She was a wolf. Armin was less of a wolf, more like an innocent, naive puppy, but Levi still wouldn't trust him. He made a point of not underestimating anyone.
"And what is your business in Trost?" Levi asked. Eren was standing there wearing only his white shirt, his sword now tied around his waist. He regretted taking Eren's cloak outside with him with the purpose of returning it silently. It now seemed like an impossible task, handing it back without questioning stares from half the fellowship. But he was holding it, and he had to return it sooner or later. Just looking at Eren made the chill more intense, like Levi was now feeling the cold for the both of them.
"Our business is our own." Mikasa answered. Her tone was neither rude nor disrespectful, just cautious. Even if Eren didn't seem to understand the precaution behind Mikasa's words when he elbowed her side, Levi respected it.
"We are safer in numbers." Erwin said. "We leave shortly. It'll be a long day."
The chill suddenly became too much for Levi and he stepped closer to the group and held out the cloak for Eren, who smiled and accepted it. As his fingers brushed over Levi's in the process the world was filled with warmth again.
"Thank you." They both said, at the same time. Silence. Levi turned quickly and marched out of the stable. It really was turning out to be a long day.
All the horses had been saddled and they were ready to ride for Trost. Levi and the rest of the King's guards lined up in their usual formation, designed with the purpose of protecting their king to the best of their ability, prepared to be attacked from any direction. Mike and Levi in front, Hanji and Moblit covering the right flank, Dita and Nanaba taking the left. The four tribesmen made half a circle, following closely behind.
However, there were a few small changes this time. Gunther took a position up ahead so he could lead the way, as he knew it best. Levi took his place in the back. This, as well as with the new trio joining them, the formation got disrupted. They were more of a cluster than a strategically planned company. Most of them paid no mind. No one had tried to assassinate the king since the last attempt 2 winters go, and even then the culprits had been wise enough not to try it on an open road.
Years had made them wise. Made them prepared for almost anything. But no, no one had prepared Levi for this feeling. Everything felt new, messy, disoriented. And all he knew when they left The Wall that morning, and as he watched Eren mount his horse with easy grace and inquisitive smile, was the Levi had never in his 30 winters wanted to touch another man so badly.
Chapter 2: Part 2: The Evergreen Path
You might want to take notice of the added tag: Violence. There's "a bit" of that in this part.
Also decided to split the last part into two because it turned out longer than expected. I have part 3 written, I just have to edit it.
+ went back and changed Hanji's pronouns to they/them, because it's better like that.
Ok, so I hope it's not terrible
Gunther estimated it would take them half a day to reach their destination. In the forest the snow was not as deep, easy enough for the horses to dance across, but out of the forest the snowfall would get deeper. The road to Trost was not a long one from Mitras, where King Erwin and his guards lived. In the warmer seasons they could cover the distance in a single day, but due to the unfortunate circumstances they were now on their second day. All they could hope for now was that no more unlucky events or dreadful weather to slow them down.
Eren had taken to riding close to Levi, continuing their conversations from the night before. Levi didn't mind. The new sun had given them all new courage and smiles.
When it became known to the fellowship that Eren, Mikasa and Armin had traveled there from Alfheim, Hanji made sure they stayed close to Eren. Hanji tried first to push Mikasa on valuable information on Alfheim, but Mikasa was very much like Levi in her sense of caution and would only reply with simple words, not nearly enough to satisfy Hanji's curiosity.
On the other hand Eren didn't mind sharing. He told them they were travelers, not hunters, creating maps of the worlds, villages and all the land from North to South, Alfheim and Jotunheim. They even wanted to cross the Virgin sea, but had yet to get so far. Eren seemed to think he would be able to draw maps of it all in one lifetime, however Levi knew better. He'd seen enough of the human world to know the task was impossible.
"Tell me about Alfheim." Hanji rudely demanded. "What's it like there?"
"It's uhm..." Eren hesitated.
"...Green." Mikasa mumbled into the hood of her red cloak. It wasn't much, but Hanji reacted like someone had just asked for their hand in marriage.
"Yeah, it's green." Eren confirmed before adding with pronounced displeasure; "and they have very strict rules." Levi snorted.
"Have you never been?" Eren asked.
"Oh by Odin, no." Hanji said, though the question was not intended for them. "But I would very much like to. Who wouldn't? It would be remarkable to go to such a place." They couldn't sit still in her saddle, their horse looked mildly annoyed, but it was used to their sporadic movements.
"I read in a book that elves all sing a collected song every night before they sleep. Is that true? Would you sing it for us?" Hanji looked to Eren with anticipation. Eren and Armin both burst out laughing.
"They do no such thing." Armin giggled from the front.
"What book did you read that it?" Eren asked.
"I can hardly remember." Hanji said disappointed with a pout.
"Do you like to read, Levi?" Eren whipped his head towards Levi with an idiotic grin. A peculiar silence followed his question and Levi had to blink a few times at the young man riding next to him, like he couldn't believe Eren would ask such a question. Did Levi like to read? At first it felt like Eren was mocking him, but Levi could tell by his hopeful expression that was not the case.
"I can't read." The answer was so obvious to him and his fellow guards, but to Eren it seemed outlandish. Now it was his turn to stare and blink in disbelief. Levi couldn't read?
"The King and I are the only ones here who can read." Hanji shot in like an arrow. Eren looked at all the equestrians around him, they all nodded. "And Moblit of course. I thought him myself."
"Not everyone can read here, Eren." Armin explained to his friends. Mikasa and Eren both looked dumbfounded. "In fact, there are very few who can." Only lords and priests had the privilege of books and education in the world of mortal humans. To Eren, this was astonishing. He explained to Levi how the elves demanded everyone be thought how to read and write at an early age. Against his will Eren had been made to sit still, patiently as he could, as his teachers thought him how to write letters, and forced him to read out loud from books he did not care for.
"I like to read, but books are rare and expensive." Hanji said proudly. "We have a small library in Mitras. I can only dream about the books you must've read."
Pine trees stretched high above them on the well-traveled path in the evergreen forest. The sun got everyone in high spirits. Eren was sharing stories from Alfheim, Gunther telling tales from his upbringing in the mountains, Hanji and Armin were discussing the rarity and wonder of books. King Erwin enjoyed the company around him, pleased with how well the travel was going to far. Even Levi and Mike smiled conspicuously.
By mid day, when the sun stood high up in the sky, Erwin suggested they'd take a short break and sent Gunther ahead to scout for an opening, somewhere to tie their horses up and stretch their legs for a short while.
Gunther rode ahead of the group. His horse was by far the fastest. With the exception of Dita he was the best rider among them. His agility, speed and good perception of the world around him made him the obvious pick for scouting missions, or to travel ahead an announce the king's coming to villages.
But he didn't get far this time. They still had him in sight, although he was too far away, when he stopped. He turned his head and yelled something, but he was too far away, they couldn't make out the words. Too far away for any of them to help or save him.
Suddenly Gunther was thrown off his horse like a boulder had hit his side. He fell with one foot still stuck in the stirrup. A motionless body hanging down from the saddle, dragged around by his horse. The stallion became frantic, jumping and spinning around itself, trying to release itself of the inert rider.
"Gunther!" Petra's shriek roamed through the trees and her voice cracked. They all stared in horror as the horse turned back to where it came from and ran towards them, bruising and stepping on Gunther and leaving a trail of red behind it.
"Auruo, stop it." Eld said to his friend. Auruo moved to do just that. To stop the horse before it crushed Gunther's body entirely, but Levi stopped them.
"HOLD YOUR POSITIONS!" Levi yelled loudly. Only when the horse got closer did he notice an arrow stuck in Gunther's head. Someone had shot him. By the redly tinted snow around Gunther, it was too late to save him, and now it was apparent they had an enemy close by.
Out from the shadow of the trees, far in front of them, stepped ten men. Three riders and seven on foot.
"You bastards!" Auruo screamed on sight. Petra and Eld both drew their swords.
"Hold your positions!" Levi commanded again, tuning out the noise from the nature around him, listening only for the voice of Erwin, awaiting orders. They got caught in a stand-off, nobody moved. The only moving being was Gunther's horse, still desperately trying to shake off the rider. The ten men in front of them were too far away to hit them with arrows. The seven footmen all wore their hoods up, hiding their faces, while the three riders didn't even attempt to hide their identities, like they were proud of their doings.
"Prepare for battle." Erwin said calmly, loudly, drawing his sword as well. It was painful to all of them to watch their fellow soldier painting the snow. Levi couldn't, he refused to watch the scene in it entirety, but studied the enemy in front of them. They had to save themselves first.
With clenched fists, the tribesmen all bit back their tears and focused their anger ahead. Levi moved up ahead, made sure he stood in front of Erwin, blocking him from the possibility of arrows heading their way.
The enemy moved first, lifting their bows to the sky and fired.
"Shields!" Erwin commanded. Those who had shields lifted them up. Levi lifted his sword, like it would provide any protection. The arrows landed 2 horse lengths before them. The forest went eerily quiet, like it, too, held its breath. Levi studied himself in the reflection of his sword. It was clean, so clean he could completely mirror himself, his pale face and dark circles, the small scar on his cheek. Too clean.
He could see Erwin thoughtfully behind him, he could see the tribesmen barely containing their lust for blood, he could see Eren, and Mikasa. They positioned themselves in front of Armin, like he stood in front of Erwin. Eren looked back at him in the reflection of the sword, with a brave and strong, troubled frown.
"Attack!" Erwin yelled loudly. Levi shot up ahead, riding full speed towards the enemy. They raised their bows again, but with the fast movements, they were not able to hit a single target. Before they could lift their bows to shoot a third time, Levi had separated a head from its body, slit a horseman's chest open and stuck his sword through the chest of another. He watched as his comrades overpowered the enemies. All but one footman was slayed, the last one fell on his ass, begging Nanaba for mercy. Red leaves floated in the air and settled on the ground, but autumn was yet a long time away.
The last horseman went up against Petra. Petra drew circles in the air and cut the neck of his horse. The poor animal fell over, crushing its rider's legs underneath it.
The forest let out a long breath. All but two of the enemies were now dead, the last two immobilized. Nanaba standing over and pressing her large sword against one's threat. The other one screaming in pain as his legs were being demolished under the mare's large and heavy body.
When Levi turned to look for Gunther he saw his shape left of the ground, his horse long gone, nowhere in sight. Broken and bruised. The tribesmen hurried over to his lifeless body.
Eren dismounted his horse quickly and ran over to the man being crushed by his horse, while Erwin and Hanji went to question Nanaba's prisoner.
Levi dismounted and followed Eren, who was now trying to pull the helpless man, cursing and yelling, out from under. It was pointless, even if they could the man would never be able to walk again. But Eren tried nonetheless to help the enemy thus. Levi recognized him from the night before, one of the men who had stormed out. Bloodshot, violent eyes of a bear having been woken from hibernation. Someone had disturbed this man's peace and he was out for vengeance.
"Get away from him, Eren." Levi warned.
"We have to get him out! He'll die!" Eren said. He had taken to pulling at the mans rough shirt, but to no avail. The man was unmovable.
"Eren!" Mikasa screamed as the man pulled out a sharp, silver knife from his shirt and swung his arm, trying to cut Eren as a last desperate attempt to hurt their company in their unknown vendetta. Levi was faster and threw himself at Eren, pushing him out of the way, getting cut in the process. It was just a scratch, but his arm had been cut.
When he looked back at the man who had just cut him he was dead, with an arrow between his eyes and Mikasa hovering over him on her horse, looking more fierce and angry than Levi ever could've imagined. Armin ran to his friend's side to make sure he was okay. Levi got up from the ground and brushed dirt of his cloak, blood slowly crept down his arm. It stung like nothing he had ever felt before.
Things settled down a bit. The last footman had gone from begging, to not saying a word and Erwin sentenced him to death for betraying the crown, attempt to harm the king.
The cut in Levi's arm hurt. An uncanny pain that felt like it was slowly spreading to the rest of his body. Maybe the fall to the ground had a bigger impact that he had thought. He was no longer the young man he used to be.
Levi climbed onto his horse while trying to concentrate of the people around him. Their voices sounded like low whispers, he could barely make out what they were saying.
"... the bodies?"
"We'll send for them once we're in Trost."
"...keep moving... Gunther..."
He was too focused on his own pain. It was just a scratch, barely any blood, still hurt more than any cuts or punches Levi had ever received. His vision became blurry, the world felt colder, his cloak too heavy. Sitting steady was difficult and he could feel himself swaying from side to side, and his body shaking. The trees and people around him lost color, or maybe he was losing color. What happened to the air? Why couldn't he breathe?
"...Levi!" Eren's voice cut through to him. "What is wrong?" Levi couldn't find the words to answer, and no matter how much he focused around him he couldn't find Eren's face. Just faceless shapes, all looking at him. Words and slime clogged his throat. He couldn't breathe.
"Levi!" Hanji yelled and someone yanked him from where he sat and pulled him to earth, or maybe he fell on his own. He wanted to stand up, but couldn't find the energy to do so. The last thing he saw was two eyes, glowing green in a colorless world, before it all turned dark.
Chapter 3: Part 3: The Road to Trost
Thank you so much for reading. I hope this last part does not disappoint.
Less action, more ErenxLevi
In some way, Levi wished the world would have stayed that way. Dark, at the brink of nonexistent, painless. The pain was no longer contained to his arm, but had spread throughout his entire body. Freezing cold and sweating oceans, twisting in agony the very moment he woke up. Drowning in a cold lake of his own sweat.
All he took note of was that he was no longer outside. Treetops had been replaced by the yellow shine of a filter tent raised above him. Two people were sitting at his sides, but he couldn't make out who it was. They held him down as he tried to sit up and move about, run away from the torture his own body was performing on him.
"No, you have to rest." Hanji's voice ordered him and he lacked the strength to fight them.
"We've done what we can. The rest is up to him." Armin spoke only to Hanji like Levi wasn't there. He barely was. Drifting in and out of his own mind, he wanted to ask them what had happened, but couldn't find the words in the wild river that was his thoughts.
"We have to keep him warm." Hanji said.
"Eren should stay with him."
Levi was shirtless, his arm bandaged and covered with rugs. Too many, but still not enough. He was confused, in pain, angry and couldn't understand what was going on. Why couldn't he talk? He was laying on something soft, but it felt uncomfortable nonetheless.
He wanted to move, sit up, ask about Gunther, ask where they were, talk to Erwin, see Eren, but every time he tried to sit up, Hanji would push him back down with the power of their little finger. Overpowering Hanji had never been an issue before, why was he struggling so much now? And who's tent was this? They hadn't brought any.
"Go get him." Hanji said. "We should get some rest too."
Before long Eren crawled into the tent. Levi had given up on moving or talking, but rather focused on keeping his body from shaking too much, which proved impossible. The more he strained himself, the worse it got. Hanji and Armin did not return to them.
"Hey." Eren said with a soft voice and curled himself up in a sitting position next to a shaking Levi. A long drawn out silence followed as Levi could not greet him back.
"Thank you for saving me." Eren whispered. The older man wanted to shrug, tell the younger one it was nothing. Levi had been hit with way worse before. "I'm sorry I caused you so much trouble. This is my fault."
The yellow light in the tent was slowly fading as the sun was going down outside. It felt so far away, a different world from inside the tent. The air was stuffed and smelled like dirt and sweat. It was disgusting. Even bathing in the icy snow struck him as a livable option.
How it was Eren's fault he could not phantom. How? Levi had so many question, but no way to ask them. The frustration made him angrier. Somehow it seemed Eren noticed.
"Did they not tell you?" Eren asked. Levi did his best to shake his head, but all he managed to perform was a ruff grunt, then clenched his teeth to contain the pain again. He tried to look at Eren, but Eren was but a distant figure, a haze of colors.
"You were cut with a poisoned blade." Eren said, reaching out and touching Levi's upper arm over the covers. A poison blade? "You could've died because of me." He sounded remorseful.
"I think I am dying." Levi surprised both himself and Eren when he spoke in a soundless whisper. Every bone in his body ached at the smallest movement, which, because of his body shaking constantly, there was a lot of. His vision still rather fuzzy. He felt paralyzed, and the only thing he had control over was his mind.
"You're not dying!" Eren said, too loudly. Remembering the rest of the fellowship were all close by resting, he lowered his voice. "I won't allow it.
"Armin said they got some of the poison out, though most of it has already spread. They made you drink something, I don't know what. All you have to do is sweat the rest of the poison out. You'll survive, Levi."
Just sweat the poison out? Eren made it sound so straightforward, and if that was all he had to do, Levi knew for a fact he was doing excellent, completely effortless. Sweat was running down his face and body. Being so cold and so warm at the same time was irrational. Even with Eren's reassuring words, Levi was not convinced he wasn't already half dead, only steps away from Valhalla. If he would be allowed to dine with the Gods.
Being compared to Gods so many times had made Levi think less of them. If he, a bastard, could be thought of as the offspring of one, Gods were not much to begin with. So he had never offered up food and animals to the Gods. Never asked them for strength, never begged them for mercy.
Should he be so lucky to dine with Odin and Tor in Valhalla (and he was indeed looking forward to the big feast believers promised), at least he would learn if what they said was true? Did he have the blood of Tor in him?
Levi hadn't noticed the shaking getting worse before Eren covered him with his own cloak again, gently put on top of everything else that had been thrown over him while he had been out cold. Cold being the right word. It had gotten dark outside already, hence dark inside the tent as well. Levi forced his vision to adjust just enough to make out the shape over Eren, and see the dim light of his glowing eyes.
"I should've let it cut you." Levi whispered thoughtlessly. Eren did neither agree nor disagree. For once he didn't know what to say. He looked hurt, at first, but when Levi put forward his reasoning, he could only laugh. "Elves don't get sick."
"That's ridiculous." Eren laughed. "Of course they get sick, they just heal a lot faster. Besides, I'm not an elf."
"Oh..." Was all Levi let out.
"I would've suffered just like you, but you're right. It should have been me." Eren said, wishing he could take the pain away from Levi. His suffering was so apparent, and it was painful just to watch.
"No, I didn't mean that. It's good that it's me." Levi looked away. He hadn't meant he wanted Eren to get hurt. He would never want that, no matter how bad the pain got, and it was increasingly unbearable.
As time went on, Levi found it impossible to rest. Sleep was now a distant memory of yesterday. One he cursed himself for not enjoying more when he had it.
Like a loyal dog, Eren didn't move from his spot, just hoping his presence was enough to warm Levi, if only a little. Evidence suggested it didn't do much. Levi kept shaking, groaning lowly, and muttering out the word 'cold' until Eren simply couldn't take it anymore.
"I have to do something." He whispered mostly to himself.
"Just stay with me. There's nothing to do."
"By the Gods, Hel or Odin or whoever is listening, I'm not letting you die like this." Eren crawled closer in the dark. Levi watched the light from his eyes coming closer until they were right next to his face, and he could smell Eren's presence. So close.
"What are you doing?" Levi breathed out.
"Just be quiet." Eren answered. Levi could not see Eren face flushing red, as Eren crept in under the rugs and his body touched Levi's. The warmth of Eren's body next to his was the first real release Levi had gotten since the fight. It lulled the pain and he found himself worming even closer, pressing up against him. Eren rolled over on his side and threw an arm around Levi to hold him still. Levi's face rested against Eren's chest, and he felt Eren's breath brushing by the top of his head. Never had Levi felt so small. Never so protected and safe.
Had Eren told him then, that he was already dead, Levi might have believed him. His heart beat so fast it felt like his chest was on fire. Painless fire.
"Will you write a letter for me?" Levi whispered. His voice wouldn't sound louder if he tried. He could only hope Eren heard him.
"A letter? Why?"
"In case I don't make it." Levi wasn't afraid of death, whether it be a feast with the gods, burning in Helheim, or just complete darkness, it did not scare him. He never had the need to know how to compose a letter before, but now that his voice was failing him, he wish he knew. He still had last words he wanted to reach the people closest to him. People he did not wish to leave behind without a proper goodbye.
"No." Eren answered. "I will not."
Levi wanted to plead with him, but it turns out even on his deathbed, Levi was unwilling to beg. Besides, the tone in Eren's voice left little room for argumentation, nor did Levi have the energy to start one. He knew what Eren would say if he did, "You're not dying, Levi."
A sudden wave of pain cast over Levi, from the scar on his cheek down to his toes. In a fit of desperation he grabbed Eren's shirt and clawed his nails into the soft fabric. He didn't notice his nails were tearing holes in it until the wave passed.
Eren had taken to stroking his back in an attempt to sooth him, but it did little to help. He was quietly singing in a language foreign to Levi. Calming words, a rough yet beautiful voice and a tune Levi did not know.
Something about the song was calming, and almost romantic, but yet sad. He snuggled in even closer and wondered to himself if he had any more regrets or wishes to make up for before he died, if he died. That morning he had told himself he wanted to touch Eren, just like he was doing. Wanted to be close to him, but even with his desire fulfilled, he wanted more.
And what did manners and protocol, rules and norms matter anymore when he might never wake again. Maybe the pain was taking over his brain as well and he wasn't thinking straight, but something told him it was now or never, and the last thing he wanted to do was die with regrets.
With what little energy he had to spare he hoisted himself up, came face to face with Eren and put an end to the sad melody. Levi pressed his lips against Eren's. Eren didn't refuse him, he was surprised, but welcomed it. When Levi pulled back Eren's lips were chasing his and Levi let him catch up. With a hand tangled in Eren's hair, the kisses became deeper, both's breaths getting heavier. He could not see it, but he could feel Eren smile. It ended there and they fell asleep, finally able to rest in each others arms. Soft and warm, like everything else about this man, half-elf, decedent of Sól.
At the first light Levi woke alone. his personal source for heat gone, but judging by the warmth still radiating from the spot next to him, Eren had not been gone for long. Levi rolled over and hoped to himself that Eren would return. What for? He had to ask himself. Talk? About what had happened? Hopefully not. Do it again, maybe. More of it. Murmurs could be heard from outside, so Levi got up with too many unanswered questions. Starting with; where were they?
All energy drained from his body by the simple task of dressing, he ascended the tent, head bowed, knees weak. It felt like all blood had left his body and he was a walking ghost, the cold wind hit his face and he wondered for a brief moment if he really was dead and in the underworld, what he got for not worshiping or presenting offerings to the Gods.
Familiar pine trees surrounded him, they were still inside the thick forest, on an unfamiliar camp ground. Four bright tents were spread out in a circle, with a bonfire in the middle. The snow around the ground had been pressed down, stepped on. The camp must have been there for some time, it was more than just a day old.
Around the bonfire sat five people in the snow. Hanji was creating a roaring fire, and above the fire hung a tin pot, held up by three sticks tied together with a rope.
"You're very good at that." Eren muttered as he watched the flames being born to life and grow up. Levi was glad to see his vision was back to normal, even if the rest of his body was still lacking.
"Oh, my dearest," Hanji began. They too were watching the fire emerge, orange and red flames reaching out for them, with a grin spreading across their face and wide, crazy eyes. "They don't call me the Skin Burner for nothing."
"Why do they call y-" Mikasa was not allowed to finish her question, denied the opportunity by her Friend. Eren rudely interrupted her when he caught sight of Levi.
"You're awake!" He said loudly.
"You're alive." Hanji sighed with a gentle smile, crazy gone, replaced by worry and relief.
"Barely." Levi answered with a husky voice and stumbled up to them. Eren, Hanji, Mikasa, Armin and Moblit. No Erwin, no Mike, no tribesmen. "Gunther?"
Levi already knew the answer, but he had to ask. Nobody said anything, all of them looked down. None from the tribe was up yet. Levi wondered how they were all doing. He knew well the four tribesmen had all grown up together and the Cold Mountain tribe had long standing traditions of always taking care of their own. Losing Gunther would effect them gravely.
"How are you feeling?" Eren asked. Levi sat down next to him, where he knew he'd be warm.
"Dead." Levi answered, before he could realize how inappropriate his words were.
"You look dead. Even paler than usual." Hanji confirmed. Levi didn't doubt it.
"Where are we?" He asked and looked around. All their horses had been tied to trees, feeding on pine needles, drinking the snow. Armin threw snow into the pot and began stirring, adding dry leaves and powder into it as the snow melted.
"The miscreants campsite." Moblit was the one to answer. "It is not far from the trail."
"You would not have made it to Trost." Hanji explained. "And the traitors won't use it anymore." Obviously.
"Who were they?"
"Supporters of the late King. Some of them outlaws. This most have been their home for a long, long time."
Levi kept glancing over at Eren, looking for any expression, but got none. He was worried Eren might regret it, or had Levi pushed himself onto him. Or just confirmation that it had happened at all. Levi was starting to doubt it. His imagination might have run wild. Hallucinations could be an effect from poison he had heard.
"Here." Armin filled a wooden cup with whatever he'd been cooking and put it forward to Levi. "Drink this. It will make you feel better."
When Levi hesitated Eren smiled and said; "Don't you worry. I assure you it's not poison." Hanji laughed quietly. Even Levi had to crack a smile and accept the cup from Armin. He brought it to his lips.
Eren leaned close and whispered only to Levi "If it is we can always repeat last night."
Outwardly unaffected, Levi drank the contents of the cup. Whatever it was, it tasted like bitter flowers. It was good. Very good. The warmth followed all the way to his stomach, the flavor lingered on his tongue. After finishing it the warrior felt more alive, more awake.
"See, not poison." Eren said, looking confident.
"Too bad." Levi whispered to himself. He was relieved to find he was alive, he had not been hallucinating, Eren was teasing him, but he was still unable to feel happy when counting all the events leading up to this moment.
The rest of the fellowship woke not long after. They didn't have much in the means of food left, so their breakfast was cut short and they left the campgrounds like they had found it. The mood, as they made their way back onto the trail and continued on the road Gunther had lead them, was mournful. Dismal silence followed them along the way. Petra, Eld and Auruo had not said a word since they mounted, but kept looking over at Gunther's usual spot, expecting him to ride out from the trees and join them on their journey.
Through the quiet forest, out on open fields, by the time the sun was high in the sky they reached a mountain pass Levi was familiar with. They were close now. Through this pass they would finally reach what they had fought so hard to get to. Riding into it everything felt much more real. The two worlds that had been separated were merging back together. It wasn’t just Levi who felt it. Reality and the fact that Gunther would not return to them dawned upon everybody.
A sudden melody unfolded. The calm, melancholic song came from Petra, who had her eyes closed, a tear rolling down the cheek. Eld and Aurou began to hum along as Petra's voice surpassed raspy and grew in power, flowing like a river, overshadowing the crunching noise of hooves in the snow.
"You fought bravely, young warrior of here,
Rest your head on the mountains- drop your spear.
Freya will melt the snow wherever you roam,
Rest your head on the mountain, always your home."
Levi had only heard the song once before. An old lullaby from the Cold Mountains. He heard Eren picking up the tune and sang with them. Levi would've joined in too, but never quite got the melodies of lullabies right, and the last thing he wanted was to ruin it for the others, as everyone else, even Erwin, hummed. The mountain pass echoed their voices, made them louder, sang with them, like it knew the loss and felt the heartbreak too. Levi was sure the mountain would carry the song to their home, so the rest of the tribe would know.
"Sleep soundly, young warrior of us,
With the forest as your quilt- rest thus.
Be strong for the morrow, wherever you roam,
Rest your head on the mountain, always your home."
Out of the pass, the music stopped and the barriers of Trost came into view. Clouds blocked the sun and cast shadows over the large wooden logs build as a fence around the village, their banner hanging over the sticks. The banners of Trost, gray and blue like the sky, next to the banner of King Erwin, green and blue. The road to Trost had been too long, too cold.
"It's been a long ride, my friends." Erwin stopped and looked at the barriers of Trost with sad eyes, at the disappointing sight of the village, contemplating if it would ever be worth it. "If we've learned anything from this; let it be that life is too short. Gunther was a fine man, a fast rider, good fighter, a friend, who fulfilled his duty with honor. May he dine with Odin in Valhalla."
Erwin's words stuck with Levi. All the days he deemed too long in a world where life simply was too short, Levi found himself not ready to let go of Spring. He held back his horse, let the others ride in front, unsure what to do. Eren did the same. They rode next to each other, creating distance between themselves and their party.
"Will you stay with me in Trost?" Levi asked carefully.
Eren looked surprised. There were unspoken words between them, but neither would speak of the inevitable. Levi knew, too well, that Eren, Armin and Mikasa had a mission of their own, and would not follow them forever, and he could not leave his duty or break his oath to King Erwin. But who was to say this gravitating feeling Levi felt towards Eren would last forever.
Eren cocked his head and smiled, cheeks and ears red, not from the cold nor the heat.