I hope no one thought I was abandoning this story again! I'm really sorry for not having updated in about a month! April was really hectic and May is just a little bit better. I have one more exam coming up and then I'm free for the most part! I'll keep updates as regular as possible.
Anyways, here's the next chapter! I sort of messed up near the end, but I'll fix it some other time. For now, this chapter is a little bit of a filler? Not quite, because there's two parts in this chapter. I'm just trying to introduce some character insight and development. ^^
Please review if you can! Also, I'd be happy if you stopped by tumblr and just say hi or something! I've got no friends. ^^;;
A crick in his neck signaled him to sit up and change his sitting position, a dull pain surging on the right side. As he placed both hands on the arms of the chair, there was a nearly soundless rustle as he lifted himself up towards a more comfortable arrangement. There was inner amusement on his part for having interrupted the monotonous atmosphere, but nonetheless, he reverted his full attention before him.
A joker card sat in between his middle and pointer finger, straightened except for one of its folded upper corners. The card was still very much intact, though, but its bent corner made it stand apart from the rest, even its other counterpart. With a kind of outward mirth in his eyes, he glided that corner against his left cheek repeatedly, slow and almost gently.
The room was dimly lighted by the ceiling chandelier hanging in the center, soft and covered under a cool blanket of shadows. He had his attention on a pyramid of cards that he'd just about constructed just minutes ago, nearly completed with the exception of one more unfinished triangle on the top. The missing pieces for its completion were the joker cards — one held between his fingers, the other lying flat on the desk surface. However, there was some sort of particular fondness for this card with the folded corner.
And that was also where the bulk of his amusement came from — it was cute, ironic, that a joker card—something viewed almost always as unnecessary in most games—was needed to reach the top. He found this to be funny.
Contrary to the lightning of the room, there was an unseen ember burning in his eyes as he focused on the pyramid. The corners of his lips were lifted upwards as he thought—searched, calculated—how he could about this without letting the pyramid tumble down.
"You look suspicious."
He pursed his lips together as he remained in his seat, unperturbed by the sudden voice that interrupted. A bout of light flashed against him for a moment, but he neither blinked nor faltered, his gaze steeled and heavy. He looked up just to meet the eyes of the male who had just intruded and was standing under the doorway of his office.
"I've been told worse," he responded. There was no coverage in his tone. He sounded truthful, earnest, when he had answered.
"That's fuckin' creepy, Erwin."
"You're right, Levi," he agreed, an obvious tone of playfulness as he spoke. Even Levi had to listen in harder to guess at the earnestness of it all. "I guess I can't really blame anyone, though, but what can I do if I have to come off as a little suspicious sometimes?"
Levi stood silent, arms crossed over his chest as he leaned against the door. Just behind him was something like a whole other world in comparison to Erwin's office. There were people bustling behind him, yells and shouts coming in all directions concerning criminal activity, police requests, and local troubles, any and all that kept the Trost Police Department busy this Monday morning. It was lively and loud.
Levi ran his gaze over the room, wordless. The blinds were closed, little sunlight barely seeping inside; the room was practically dark; and Erwin sat at his desk lone and with a glint in his eyes that loudly spoke volumes in place of the nerving silence of the room.
"It's pretty crude of you to leave the door open while looking so suspicious."
A step inside and Levi closed the door behind him, engulfing himself in the same darkness that Erwin had lived. At this, he clicked his teeth before he thought to make a step forward.
"Turn the lights on already."
There was a moment of silent before Erwin spoke up, "The notch is to your left."
Levi was wordless as he reached to his left and felt for a metallic notch on the wall. Once he found it, he swerved it to the right, causing the chandelier to gradually envelop the office in a soft, warm lightning that contrasted the earlier atmosphere. His vision was clear now — Erwin sitting at his desk under broad light, elbows propped up on the desk with his fingers laced together, a card held between his middle and his finger.
Erwin looked normal, like any other respectable man holding office. He stared at Levi unmoved and unaffected, slow blinks of his eyes and furrowed eyebrows entailing the entirety of his expression as if he seemed to be a simple man under a stern guise. Levi knew that Erwin was much more than that, though; much more frightening than simply not.
Levi strode towards Erwin with fluid but nonchalant footsteps, almost silent except for the dull thumps that sounded off. As he got closer, the pyramid of cards became a much grander sight than from afar, very well-placed and standing tall and strong. He stopped a foot or two before the desk, eyes flickering down at the pyramid.
"Don't call me just to play cards with you."
The worst thing about it was that it was almost all of the cards were aligned perfectly, as if each card had floated to its position rather than placed by human hand. The bottom row of triangles were the disarrayed batch, crooked by a tiny margin but noticeable upon closer inspection. At this point, Levi wasn't even the least bit surprised when the pyramid was formed with cards ranking from higher up to the lowest on top — the joker cards.
"You should know that I don't waste time like that, Levi," Erwin answered. He laced his hands closer together and leaned forward. "I just needed to talk to you." He held out the joker card.
Just then, he hadn't known what compelled him, but when Levi brought his gaze onto the table surface, the other joker card stared him right in the face, lone and somehow distinct.
"Then what are you doing playing with cards?"
There was a smile growing on Erwin's lips, one that was neither done out of delight or in greeting. It was honest, earnest, clear. It matched the glint in Erwin's eyes, the glint that was clearly seen and was glowing against the bare lighting of the room as Erwin looked up at Levi.
However, Erwin moved his gaze onto the card, turning it over and around. "A lot of people dislike the joker card. They say it's useless. Why need the joker when there are other cards that can do more?" His eyes returned to Levi. "What do you think?"
Levi just stood; lips still in a line. "I'm not the one who handles the cards."
"I guess you're right." Erwin brought his lips into a smile. "After all, it's the person who shuffles the deck that starts the game and ultimately decides which cards to hand out, but still," He said and leaned forward, looking at the joker card.
Erwin unfolded the bent corner and reached it out. "If we play our cards right and utilize each and every one correctly," He whispered, eyes glowing as he placed the joker card right over the two pyramids. The pyramid stood impossibly tall on the desk that was three times bigger than it. "We can reach the top."
Levi clenched his teeth.
"The meeting's in ten minutes."
"I can finish in five." Eren held his gaze, steely. He brought himself close to the desk and placed his elbows on it, propping up his arms. He rested his chin over his hands.
"There's something I need you to do."
A lot of the residents of the Shinganshina Apartment Complex were around or older than Eren's age group. There were very few kids that lived in Shiganshina just as when they had lived in the countryside, so Eren's perspective and lifestyle had only ever consisted of himself and his parents. That was why when Mikasa Ackerman had been adopted into the family not too long after they had moved into Shiganshina, it wouldn't be a lie to say that everything branched out differently. Although it's just a whisper of truth, Eren found himself being a little less lonely, per se, and his circle had suddenly grown larger to include more than just him and his parents.
Albeit, despite there being some rocky and odd patches along the way, it was obvious that more made an impacting difference on Eren's vision of things.
That being said, though, one was not enough after being accustomed to more, which was why Eren was currently finding himself bored out of his mind as he laid sprawled out on the carpet in his living room.
A portion of his navel was bare as he rubbed at his belly, his head turned to the side as he watched the television. He crinkled his nose when the cartoon show cut off into commercial and then sat up, stomach still revealed. He stretched himself, pointing his toes outward and then following it with his upper body, reaching forward to grasp his feet. After finishing up, Eren leaned back and smacked his lips, his gaze landing on his mother's back as she washed dishes.
"Mom," he started, coming out with a complaint in his tone. "When are Mikasa and Armin coming back?"
For a quick moment, Carla Jaeger—his mother—put the dishes in her hands down into the sink and then took a step back, looking up at the clock hanging overhead on the adjacent wall. "In a few more hours." And then she peered over her shoulder to look at Eren and then frowned. "Eren, honey, cover your stomach. Don't act like an old man."
As Carla returned her attention back onto the dishes, Eren pulled his shirt down and groaned, "How long will that be?"
"When it hits three o'clock, we can go pick them up." Carla responded and turned her head slightly towards him. "Until then, have you started on your homework? You know it's supposed to be done by the time you go back to school."
"Can I do it later?"
"Or we can start on it after I finish up here." She insisted.
"But I need Armin's help," Eren said glumly.
"You're not allowed to play until you've finished some of it, Eren." Carla said, finally finishing up and washing her hands. She wiped her hands off her apron. "Don't you think it would be better to finish it now so you could have more time to play later?"
"But mom," Eren started. "Please. I'll do homework later with Armin."
A bit reluctant, Carla pursed her lips. "Eren."
His mother ruled with an iron fist when it came to school work.
It had taken about thirty minutes for his mother to cave in when he complained of wanting a break. All she had done then was shake her head, rolled her eyes at the pleading look she was given, and forewarned him, saying, "Alright, but just for a bit. We need to get some homework done, Eren."
That was all Eren heard as he went straight for the door while nodding his head at his mother rapidly. "I'll be back soon, mom! I just want some fresh air!"
Mikasa always scolded him for making any sort of lie. However, Mikasa wasn't here, and after Eren shut the door behind him, he leaned against the wall with a curious line on his lips, looking down the hallway to both ends.
Eren squirmed a bit as he remained still with his back pressed.
In all honestly, Eren didn't like being completely alone out in the hall.
It was always quiet — too quiet. For some reason, people came and went out of their apartments like ghosts, going in and out like there wasn't a sound to their footprints. Whenever it was like this, he sometimes felt as if someone would pop out of nowhere, which made it all the more unnerving for him to wander by himself. If Mikasa and Armin were here with him, he'd head down to the neighborhood park just across the street.
The only other time he'd ever find himself wandering the hall alone was when he went to visit Levi. In that sense, there was always a safe zone to come to whenever he left home. However, the problem here was that Eren had no idea as to whether Levi was home or not.
If other people were like ghosts, then Levi was a shadow. At times, even if it was least expected, he was always there, always around. It's a little far-fetched to believe, but Eren hadn't been wrong yet. Levi must definitely be home by now.
That thought alone was the only thing that ignited his legs forward into a sprint down the hall to Levi's room — Room 325. With any luck, Levi would finally be home.
He came to stop right in front of it, curling a fist together. He knocked. "Corporal Levi? Are you home yet?"
After hearing no response the first time, Eren tried again; this time, pressing his right ear against the door. "Helloooo? Corporal Levi!" There was nothing, and after a few more knocks, his guess was confirmed — Levi was not home either.
A small wail of a noise echoed from his throat as Eren pulled back, staring at Levi's door curiously. He reached for the doorknob again, jiggling it left and right just to see if he could get inside. It was no use; the door was locked as when Levi had left.
In the next moment, Eren dropped to the floor and then crawled in close towards the door. His face was practically against the small space underneath the door as he tried to peek in, seeing nothing but darkness and feeling a cool brush of air flowing against him.
It tingled him and his senses, making him shiver and letting an odd rush flood through him. However, he still remained in his place, pushing his face forward just for the sake of peeking into the room.
"Well, well, well. Do we have a criminal trying to break in, hm?"
At the sound intrusion of a voice, a yelp escaped his lips while he bumped his face against the door. He pulled away, landing on his bottom as his hands scrambled for the aching spot on his nose.
"Isn't he just precious?"
Eren jumped, realization finally dawning back into him as he then crawled forward quickly out of shock. When he turned, he blinked under an awkward tension when he looked up and came upon the sight of a girl.
A cackle escaped the girl's lips as she stood, rocking on the balls of her feet for a little before she came to stop, turning her full attention back to him. For a moment, Eren froze, dipping his head low as he watched her with furrowed eyebrows, careful.
The girl was older than him, dressed in a school uniform that could have been from one of the high schools within distance to Shiganshina — long, dark socks that went up to have her calves, a blue, plaited skirt that reached just a little over her knees, and a blue, vested-top with sleeves that touched at her elbows.
Her hair was black, but a dull shade of it. However, what set it apart from her uniform was the fact that her hair was neatly tied into braids that fell on both sides of her shoulders, clean and not a strand misplaced. And then it was her glasses that caught him funny — they were taped around the frames on both sides.
All those details, however, were short-lived to his attention span. His curiosity on them were gone from his mind as fast as they had done once his eyes landed on the smile spread across her lips, pointed towards him in a fashion that forced a bout of caution within him.
If her smile was stretched out any wider, Eren found that it would compete well with that of the Chesire Cat. Her smile was simple at surface glance; no sight of her teeth, no twitch at her corners. It was still, and Eren had the slightest urge to lean forward and look closer.
However, he had no idea what to think of this girl. She'd come from out of nowhere and he hadn't heard any footsteps thumping down the hall.
"Hello, you cute little thing," the girl gushed, clasping her hands together into a ball as she leaned in forward. Eren couldn't pull away any farther with the door behind him. She started to coo, "Were you trying to break in? What a bad kid!"
"I wasn't!" Eren argued, groaning low under his breath. "I was just checking to see if…"
"You could break in?"
"I told you that I wasn't!"
"You're so cute when you lie!"
Although Eren had noticeably scowled at her, he did a double-take when he noticed that the girl herself hasn't spoken at that moment. Rather, it had come from the side, and when Eren gave a sideways glance, he was stunned to see a replica of the girl in front of him also walking towards his direction from the left.
He blinked once, then twice, and shook his head furiously, returning his gaze back to his left and getting his curiosities confirmed when he indeed saw that same girl there, stopping just a foot away from him. She was wearing the exact same thing, hairstyle completely similar, with the exception of the glasses — no tape.
"Twins…?" Eren said, incredulously.
His question went unheard, however, as the two girls ignored it and burst out into laughter, doubling in cackles and giggles. If there was a joke going on, Eren hadn't heard it. They were laughing as if he wasn't there, as if a secret jab of humor had run telepathically between them.
"Isn't he so cute?!" The taped-glassed twin in front had exclaimed.
"He is, he is! So naïve!" The other agreed, guffawing.
"I'm not helpless!" Eren interrupted crisply, a little annoyed. He had no idea what was going on, but he could guess that they were making him sound like a baby.
"Oh?" The one with clean glasses raised an eyebrow, bending forward with both of her hands on her lap. Her twin had mirrored her movements, leaning in too close to him.
A small gulp ran down his throat, but Eren hadn't yielded to them, pulling back the upper part of his body away from him while remained grounded in the same spot. They were more than just weird. They were creepy beyond belief.
The girl continued, tilting her head and allowing a wide grin to creep up on her lips. Her eyes were first closed and then opened. There was something in her eyes that caught Eren off guard. Sounding sickly sweet, she spoke, "Does that mean you're not afraid of monsters?"
What did that mean?
Eren returned the gaze, his eyes gleaming. "I'm not afraid of monsters. I'm seven."
"And you're already brave?"
His eyes flickered to the other twin, who shared the same look in her sister's eyes — something gloomy. "Isn't that cute, sis?"
"Really cute." The other agreed. She raised a finger and motioned him close. Eren complied, but a little hesitantly. It's almost as if something about them changed. "It's super cute how you think you're not even scared of any monsters. Oh gee, if only everyone can be as brave as you."
Things were starting to turn weird as far as Eren can understand. He had no idea why they were going on and on about monsters. He's gotten over them the first day when Mikasa started being his sister. He's gotten over them when someone had to face the scary, green thing in Armin's closet. He's gotten over them because boys weren't supposed to be afraid of anything.
"Monsters aren't real," he said, just a little put off because he really has no idea what was going on at the moment. But he wasn't scared; this, he wasn't afraid to admit.
Both twins shared a look, letting a silence grow between them. Eren's head was pounding. Looking between both twins was making him dizzy. Their lecture towards him was making him lost.
"Don't you even know about the monsters around us?" one had spoken in a hushed tone.
It was almost like a secret.
"The monsters around us?" He repeated, curiously.
The other continued from there, "Yeah. The ones around us." She nodded. "They're everywhere."
"No, they're not!" Eren argued, an annoyed pout forming on his lips. How old did they think he was? Five again?
"Yes, they are." They both growled back. "They could be anyone and everyone! Your neighbors, your friends, your teacher, your mom—"
This time, Eren made sure to glare. His mom always told him to be nice when it came to girls, but these people were getting annoying with how they were trying to make him believe in monsters again. He got over them when he was five!
"My mom is not a monster!"
It felt like déjà vu to him, like he's said it before.
One of the girls sneered, "She could be. You never know."
"And you're not cute at all!" The twin with broken glasses snapped. "You're going to regret everything if you don't protect yourself from monsters, kid! I'm telling you that everyone is a monster!"
"And what if they are? I'm not scared of them!" He jabbed a thumb against his chest, poking his tongue out at them.
"We're just warning you not to let yourself trust others so easily." The twin with clean glasses 'hmphed.' "I guess that's the only real cute thing about you. You're still so young and naïve that you think everything in the world is nice and find." She then spat. "You're the kind that monsters go after first. You're dead meat, kid."
Eren blinked and then his eyes widened. "Huh—?"
A slight load was lifted off his shoulders the moment Eren turned his head towards the left and met with the sight of Levi, clad in his police uniform and finally looking to be returning home.
"What are you doing out here?" Levi said.
His eyes flickered over to the girls on the side, their eyes drawn to a blank as they looked at him with a deadened stare. Their lips, however, had given way to what they truly felt — the corners pulled back into the slightest scowl. It was obvious that he wasn't welcomed.
Though, Levi had no care for how they felt towards him.
"Eren, what are you doing standing in front of my apartment?"
It was barely noticeable but Levi saw them take a half-step. They wanted to leave; all Levi needed to do was figure out why.
"Corporal!" Eren trotted up to Levi, hands immediately grasping onto the police officer's shirt. He gave it a few tugs before continuing, "I just wanted to see if you were home yet." And then he pointed at the girls. "And then they came out of nowhere and called me cute! And they started talking about monsters and how everyone is a monster, even my mom!"
For a moment, Levi was silent. His gaze remained down on Eren. There was nothing wrong with the seven-year old at the very least; a little frantic and put off by what he's been told, but Levi could gather that Eren was more annoyed than freaked out.
That was good.
Levi reached his hand out to ruffle at Eren's hair, messing with the boy's brown-colored locks. A couple of groans and whines came from the young boy as he did so, but Levi didn't stop until he finally decided to look up at the girls and meet their gaze.
They hadn't faltered. They looked him dead in the eye.
"You two are from that all girls' high school."
If Hanji was here, she would've told him that his eyes had darkened a little. If Petra was here, she would've told him that it wasn't right to glare at young girls like he was, especially since he was a police officer.
Police mannerisms; it mattered.
"Did you two just come back from school?" he said as he crossed his arms over his chest, remaining firm and unyielding to their obvious apprehension towards him.
They deserved an award for keeping up their appearance.
"I see." Levi then placed a hand on Eren's head, patting him. "He's not supposed to be outside by himself. It's a wonder why he's out here so long."
Hanji had told him once that sounding sincere wasn't his strongest point. He never cared for that anyways.
"Shouldn't you two girls be home doing homework?"
"Of course, sir." At least, he had no habit for getting easily provoked. Auruo had to face countless lectures for that during Police Academy years.
"It's not like we were thinking about doing any criminal activity that would make you look at us so suspiciously," one spat out sounding so innocently sickly. "We'd much rather be doing homework than do any heinous crime against Trost." The twin with the broken glasses finished, her lips stretched into a thin line.
If Levi was any other person, he'd be concerned for them.
"I've never known you two were this talkkative."
He's always thought that they were quiet as a mouse.
"We have been taught to not talk to scary-looking people," one of them piped up, arms crossed. "And I hope this doesn't dampen your ego, but you look more like a thug than a good officer of the force," she spat.
Levi hadn't faltered one bit. His eyes glistened with a steel gaze.
"I've been told worse."
They sniffed their noises annoyed, pushing up their glasses simultaneously. It was then that Levi noticed the difference in their glasses. Well, it wasn't as if it mattered at this point.
Levi looked down at Eren once again and noticed the boy watching the two girls attentively. As much as he'd like to keep this game of twenty questions going, he needed to return back to the police department soon. However, there were still questions that needed answers, and if it meant cutting corners, then so be it.
"What were you two talking about?"
At this, Eren looked up at Levi.
The girls sneered, but nonetheless answered.
"Just about monsters," they said.
"He said you were telling him that everyone he knows is a monster." Levi said, eyes narrowing. "Why?"
"We were just trying to get him to know what the world is like!" They argued. "It's a scary place! Monsters do exist!"
"And what's your point?"
They were hesitant, a growl low under their breaths. There was something, Levi could tell. Whatever it was, they were hiding something.
"Our point is that we want him to know to trust us. People like us are the good guys here."
"What do you mean by 'us'?" Levi took a step forward, loomed close with a glint in his eyes. The girls faltered with a bout of uneasiness obvious on their expressions.
"My sister and I," It was the twin with the broken glasses that spoke — but with a crack in her voice. "We can watch out for him since we're so close and all, right, Eren?" They turned their eyes towards the seven-year old.
Eren blinked, completely lost for words. He managed to follow through for most of the conversation, but it was starting to go through one ear and out the other.
He was about to speak when Levi had interrupted him, speaking with a tone that Eren knew very well. Whenever he was lying, Levi would always speak in this tone.
"That's fine and all, but it's not necessary for you two to do that." Levi spoke, voice clear and tone suddenly magnified and echoed in the hallway.
"I can watch over him myself just fine."
Not the best chapter, I know. One of the mistakes I made in the old version of this story is that things went dark really fast without any introduction into the characters. Things will get dark and suspenseful soon, I promise.
And in other news...Anime North! I really wish I could go! Some of my favorite tumblr artists will be there and I want their merch. D; (I'm sorry. Please don't mind me.)