Hey guys! This is a bit late, but this is my entry for Rivamika Week, Day 1: Forget Me Nots. Hope you guys like it!
There was always something bittersweet about the sunset.
Another end to another day, allowing a bit of reprieve even if the war would start again tomorrow. Iridescent light beamed through his window, bathing the room in a soft, orange tinge. The scene would have been peaceful, even lulling, if hadn't awoken distant memories. It reminded him of ruby hair, and in turn reminded him of bright green eyes, of an exuberant energy that had never truly faded. Of a little sun that glowed with childish warmth, one that had long since been dimmed and extinguished. The thought made him grimace. It made him loathe the setting sun just a little more.
It was at that sunset that Levi sat alone in his office, shadows stretching across the floorboards as the light slowly vanished. A single drawer laid open at the very bottom of his desk, its contents overflowing with a morbid kind of grace. Countless crests lay sheltered in the little wooden bin, each darkened with age and time- perhaps with even bit of grief. They were reminders, he told himself, of faceless sacrifices. They were tokens of the fallen and the lost. He never thought the wings of freedom could seem so crude amidst the piles of sullied and broken badges, yet even now they reminded him what the cost of freedom truly was.
His fingers idly played with the crests in his palm, his thumb brushing along worn grooves even as his mind was elsewhere. Dried blood still caked the insignias' in his hands, but he made no motion to clear it away. They were the one thing he refused to wipe clean.
A sudden knock broke him of his reverie, and at his annoyed call the door opened to reveal a certain oriental soldier. Mikasa stepped into the room, a thick file of papers in her hands and a stoic expression on her face. He eased slightly, motioning her to come in with a wave of his hand. He preferred her quiet presence than that of the others, and right now he didn't feel like dealing with the brats' childish antics. Although he and Mikasa had initially started off on rough terms, years of working together had melted their animosity to a steady partnership and eventually mutual respect, even as their sharp wit never truly died with time.
"Ackerman," he acknowledged. She nodded in return, moving forward until she was right infront of his desk. Calmly, she tipped her head to the file in her hands.
"Captain," she greeted with a short salute, "Commander Erwin sent you some scouting reports to look over." Instantly, the man scowled. Of course he did, he thought darkly, as if I don't already have enough shit to deal with. Still frowning, he motioned to his desk irately.
"Just set them here." She quickly put the papers down and he reached forward and plucked a few reports loose. However, when she didn't immediately leave the room he looked up and glared at her, irritated. "What do you want, brat? You're dismissed."
"Are those your squad's?" The question caught him off guard before he realized she wasn't even facing him, instead looking down to his right. He found her staring forlornly at the open drawer beside him, a somber expression painting her face. Reports forgotten, he set them down and answered her with equal solemnity.
"Yes, among others." He said stiffly, tiredly. She turned to face him, eying him sympathetically.
"How long have been collecting them?" she asked quietly, now staring at the bloodied crest in his hand. Belatedly, Levi found that he still hadn't relinquished it from his hold, but continued to fiddle with it as he thought of his answer. For years, he wanted to say, since the very beginning. Instead he turn his head, staring at his collection of tokens.
"Long enough." he muttered, finally setting the crest in his hand aside. He gave a sarcastic smile, eyes dimming for a moment. "I should have burned them a long time ago- at least then they wouldn't be such a burden." The sadistic words were said dully, heavily, as if he had truly contemplated on doing just that, and it struck her speechless. A part of him actually wanted to simply set fire to the evidence and clear away all his grief, but a larger part of him- a resigned part of him- knew he never would. Faintly, he wondered if he was masochistic for keeping them locked away in his room, or if he too much of coward to do the deed- perhaps it was a bit of both. Suddenly Mikasa whirled on him, so quickly he was surprised she didn't receive a whiplash from the speed.
"Why would you say that?" she demanded sharply, staring at him with disapproval. "You shouldn't be speaking of their memory like that." Something in him froze at that, and for a second he couldn't stop himself from scowling.
The conversation was striking a little to close to home, he thought darkly, for her words were only echoing thoughts that had been haunting him for weeks. There was a tingling sensation at the back of his neck, or was it instead a clawing in his chest? He didn't know at this point, nor did he care. Everything numbed with time, he told himself, even if the turmoil burning in his heart reminded him otherwise.
"Nevermind,"He sighed, reigning in his agitation. The last thing he needed now was someone prying for a heart to heart, especially no when the last few weeks had been grating on his nerves. "It doesn't concern you, brat. Stop trying to play therapist and mind your own damned business."
She bristled at his condescending tone, but her next words were oddly quiet. "It's alright to grieve, you know. Even if you are mankind's strongest, you're still human." Her tone was soft, almost comforting, but it only prevailed to rile him up. He didn't want a fucking pep-talk, and he definitely didn't need the pity shining in her grey eyes.
A bitter laugh escaped him then, one that took her by surprise. "You think this is about remorse, Ackerman? That this is about misplaced sense of duty, or a case of survivor's guilt? Trust me, I've been through enough shit to be used to something like that." There was a sinister twist in his smile now, a kind of loathing she hadn't believed could be so palpable in someones' expression.
"Then enlighten me," she said, irritation lacing her tone, "what is it about?"
His patience wearing thin, the man glared at her. "It's about growing up, Ackerman. As screwed up as it is, thinking about the dead doesn't change anything, and the faster you realize that the better your chances of surviving this shithole of a life will be." Something in his words must have triggered her, because suddenly her eyes flashed angrily, spitefully down at him.
"And yet here you are, tarnishing their memory with bitter words and morbid reminders." She snapped, eyes blazing with some emotion he couldn't decipher. With more spite than she intended, she sneered at him,"Because that's exactly how they would want you to remember them, isn't that right, Captain?"
She regretted the words the moment they were said. She had no right to speak of them, to pretend she had known them as well as he had, especially now when it was obviously a tender topic. She saw his eyes flashed dangerously, and immediately realized she had crossed some line she shouldn't have.
Suddenly he was standing, palms slamming hard against the wooden table. His words were cold, but the anger in his gaze was scalding. "
Levi knew in the back of his mind that she was only trying to help, that he shouldn't be lashing out so harshly, so cruelly. But the grief was still pungent despite how many years passed, and the resentment in his chest refused to stay coiled within any longer. Instead the serpent struck, with everything lethal, and poisonous, and damaged.
"Hypocrisy really doesn't suit you, Ackerman. I don't see you parting with that precious scarlet collar of yours." He stated icily, mercilessly. " You of all people should know what if feels like to lose your family, and to be utterly helpless to stop it- or are you going to pretend you don't wear reminders in this cruelly beautiful world of yours?" The reaction was immediate, and for a second there was unaltered pain and grief in her expression. But it was quickly drowned under the wave of rage clouding her vision.
"That's unfair." She said lowly, fingers curling against her scarf defensively.
"The world's unfair, Ackerman. We both know how fucked up it really is, and living in the past isn't going to change a damn thing." It was harsh, and it was cruel, but it was the truth, and neither could deny it. Fists clenching, Mikasa pinned him with a cold stare.
"If you hate it so much, then why do keep a hoard of badges locked away in your desk?" she fired back, her arm motioning to the open drawer beside him. For a moment nothing was said, only the sound of harsh breathing resounded in the charged room. Then he sighed lowly, and his image abruptly shifted in her eyes. He suddenly seemed drained, frustrated, and more than a little damaged.
"Because it hurts to remember," he muttered quietly, heatedly, " but it pains me more to forget." The anger faded from her gaze, but he didn't acknowledge her and instead stared at the weathered crests in his hands. "I can handle the regret, I can handle the skeletons in my closet and the blood soiling my hands-" but he would never forgive himself for this, for the limitations of his own human mind.
Because he couldn't remember Isabel's laugh. He couldn't remember Farlan's quiet sighs.
He couldn't remember Petra's warm smiles, or Oluo's condescending smirks, or the ring that Gunther always wore and never failed to adore. He couldn't even remember Erd's steady gaze, or the final time they sat in headquarters and laughed their tragedies away.
All he could remember were snippets and pieces, of blood, and loss, and grief. And it killed him to know they were slipping away from him even after death, that certain things would always be burned into memory while others would be stolen by time. And he hated it. He hated the memories, he hated remembering, but most of all he hated himself for forgetting.
"Then you're just as much of a hypocrite as I am." she said softly. It was only a hollow statement, the bite no longer present in her voice, and he couldn't deny her words.
"Maybe I am," he conceded, "and maybe you're right." He grabbed his military jacket and shrugged it on, his gunmetal blue eyes blazing. "But you still don't know what it feels to grow up with nothing, to gain almost anything, only to break and lose everything you touch." He stalked towards the door, only halting momentarily when his hand touched the knob. "So don't try to play the goddamn saint here and pretend you understand what it means to feel remorse." She didn't respond and the door slammed shut behind him, echoing harshly in the silent office.
It was at that sunset that he left her standing there alone, reports clenched in her hands and the open drawer staring back at her impassively.
For several days after, they didn't speak. There was a quiet tension lying thick in the air, but neither of them acknowledged it as they swept past each other. She would follow her orders obediently, if not a little stiffly, and he would spare her an occasional glance, but otherwise their interactions remained minimal. The two continued on as if nothing had conspired between them, until finally the animosity had lessened and the atmosphere became a little less laden. They weren't one for apologies- their pride was too fierce for that- and instead tended to leave those words unspoken between them.
It wasn't until exactly a week later that she returned to his office, a file tucked under her arm and a tray of tea in her hands. For a moment their gazes locked, sizing up one another warily, before she sighed and entered his domain. He watched as she strode across the room and placed the assortment onto his desk, but rather than leave as she normally would, she instead pulled out a chair and sat down. In the following silence, Levi noticed several aberrant things. He noticed that there were two cups on the tray instead of the usual one, and that the girl before him lacked the usual snark that she withheld on a daily basis. But most of all, he noticed the tiny vase at the center of the tray, bright blue petals glaring at him from across the desk. His gaze turned away from the flowers just as she broke the heavy silence in the room.
"My mother loved to sing." The statement was so abrupt and aimless that for a moment he was taken aback by surprise and even a bit of irritation. Had it been any other person he would have immediately flung a scathing remark, but if he had learned anything over the years working with her, it was that Mikasa rarely said anything without a purpose. So he remained quiet as she continued her tale, her eyes glazed and her tone affectionate. "She used to sing songs from the east every morning at breakfast, and my father would laugh at how off key her pitch truly was. She would tell me old tales that her own mother had recited to her as a child, and she would string a melody of stories for me to hear each day." Vaguely, he was fascinated by the rare smile that adorned her face, but then just as abruptly the smile crumbled away. Suddenly her tone fluctuated, and even he could see the flash of pain in her dark orbs. "I remember every tune, I can re-count every story, but I can't remember the sound of my own mother's voice."
The words hit him harder than it should have. He had heard stories far worse from other comrades, had known the more gruesome and traumatizing points of her past, yet that last sentence seemed to strike a chord in him he hadn't known he had. Perhaps it was the way he recognized the anguished emotion in her voice, or the way she seemed to physically reflect the very turmoil in his bones, but in that moment she looked like him- reminiscent and remorseful all at once. It was almost like looking at a mirror, and he wanted her to stop.
"My father loved to hunt." She continued, staring down at the teacup in front of her. "Once I was old enough, he would take me into the woods and teach me how to skin a rabbit or shoot an arrow. He would always adjust my grip, and laugh when I couldn't pull the string. Then e would patiently demonstrate the technique over and over again." He had a sudden urge to interrupt, to demand why she would tell him such personal tid bits, yet he could only listen numbly. He knew what came next, but the guilt in her voice didn't sting him any less. "I remember his calloused hands and the strength he used to direct me with- but I can't remember the feel of his touch." He saw he subtly flex her fingers, but still said nothing. She took a breath, then motioned to the blue bouquet she brought in.
"My second mother loved to garden. Her favorite flowers were Forget-Me-Nots," She tilted her gaze to the vase n his desk. "She told me memories were bitter blessings and reminiscence was a sweetened curse, but even if it was painful it never hurt to acknowledge the past." Her lips twisted ruefully before she sighed. "So every year we would set a few flowers on our doorstep for those we'd lost. Eren would put one down for Grisha, and I would put two down for my parents." She smiled again, this time a bit more softly. "Even if I wasn't hers to begin with, I loved Kalura dearly. It's funny, really, that I've known her the least, yet I remember her the most." She heaved a heavy sigh, and when he still said nothing she lifted her orbs to face him.
"The point is that I have no right to tell you on how you should remember them." she briefly motioned to the locked drawer beside him, a subtle apology in her tone. "I can never comprehend what you've been through, or what you've experienced." Grey eyes glinted like steel in the waning light, a challenge and assurance in their depths. "But that doesn't mean I don't understand what it means to remember, or what it feels like to forget."
She ended her little speech, her finger playing lightly with the flower petals before her. For a long moment, he didn't know how to respond. It was probably the most he had heard her say in one conversation, and by far the most delving. It was obvious that she was uncomfortable for her to speak of said memories, because like him she was private, closed, and relatively untouchable. The fact that she had shared anything quite honestly amazed him, but slowly the initial surprise wore off to reveal a startling revelation. In a rather skewed kind of way, he realized, the two had opened up to one another.
It was odd, and rough, but most importantly it was an establishment of trust- and maybe even a bit of support. Of true understanding and communion. A rush of contentment seemed to suddenly blanket the room, and for the first time in a long time he felt at peace. Perhaps it was the way the room glowed warmly in the setting sun, or perhaps it was the way the Forget-Me-Nots seemed to soften their glare into an empathetic blue, but suddenly the grief in his chest didn't feel quite so stifling.
Finally, he reached over and grasped his cup, inhaling the calm scent of green tea. " Bitter blessings and a sweetened curse," he murmured, contemplatively. "How fitting." he scoffed, a little exasperatedly, but she seemed to read the underlining message of his words. Appeased, she reached for her own cup. The two remained still in the following silence, reveling in sense of comfort and companionship in the atmosphere. The sun continued to set, and they were lost amongst their own thoughts and minds. It wasn't until the room had faded from orange to a darker amber that she broke the silence again.
"Does it get any easier?" she asked, hesitant. He looked at her languidly, though his reply was immediate.
"No, it doesn't." Pacifying lies were pointless to them, for they both knew it was the bitter truth. Forever would they be haunted by tragedies and their own limitations, yet it was simply the reality they lived in. "But everything fades with time, eventually." The words were spoken softly, almost reassuringly, and though the irony wasn't lost on them he saw her ease back into her seat.
She simply nodded and sipped her tea. It was to those words that the two sat and reflected in nostalgic silence, bathed in evening light and memories they refused to relinquish.
There you have it! Hope you guys like it, reviews are appreciated! ^_^