Summary: Acceptance is a slow process; recovery never truly happens.

Disclaimer: Shingeki no Kyojin © Isayama Hajime

Notes: Written for Day 6 of RivaMika Week Cycle 4, the prompt for which is Kà. I wrote a rough draft of this a while back, but tweaked it a little to fit the prompt. Not sure if there are any mistakes, since I barely proofread it, but feel free to point them out in case. I hope it works, and that you enjoy. Happy new year.


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PAPER HEARTS

mlikasa


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Every night, he'd leave the window open; every night, she'd crawl in.

The view never changed, nor did the smell or sounds or the feel of the cold wooden floorboards beneath her feet. Everything was the same - the room consumed by a smoky fog, the scent of burning cigars and the wretched shards of broken glass on the floor. She knew the glass had its reasons for being there, but she never asked.

Instead of speaking, she curled up next to him on the bed, staring into unreadable eyes hiding more stories than hers did. She knew nothing about the person they belonged to, she really didn't—yet, for some inexplicable reason, she found herself running back to him whenever she needed support, or comfort,or love. She was prey for pain.

But he'd had enough of pain, it was fear that desired him more now. She shielded him somehow, along with the wind, along with the quivering candle flame, along with the burnt, sour taste in his throat and the smoke that pricked his eyes.

He never asked for her help. But he never asked for her to go either. Maybe that's why she stayed. She didn't know.

—•—

"Why do you come here? Why do you stay?"

She raised an eyebrow. Two months. He'd never asked.

"A little late for that, isn't it?"

"I'm not fucking joking, Mikasa. Why? Give me a good reason."

Mikasa leaned over. Her lips hovered above his, an inch away.

Or less.

"You never protest," she whispered. "Besides, everyone's dead anyway."

He was silent.

"And..." She brushed her lips against his. "I like the taste of your cigars."

She pulled away quickly, and then she was gone, the window still wide open.

—•—

Four months. His room was cleaner now, emptier; it had changed. The broken glass was gone, his cigars had been sent to some old relative, his clothes had finally been washed and ironed, and he'd moved a few things around. Only one thing remained.

Her.

"Tell me about yourself."

"That's a strange request." He paused. "And quite late, actually. You've been here for four months. You should've asked this long ago."

"I've been here longer," she said. "I just never cared until four months ago."

He stayed silent.

It took him a quarter of an hour before he finally spoke. "Levi Ackerman."

"What?"

"My name."

"Oh. You're an Ackerman."

"Surprised?"

"Not really. I knew."

An eyebrow went up. "Really?"

"Surprised?"

"Not really. I knew you knew."

"But you hid it from me."

"I had no choice."

Mikasa rolled over in bed. "Tell me more."

"Some other time." Levi sighed. He pressed his lips to her forehead and murmured, "Sleep."

—•—

"Tell me more." There it was again, that soft, innocent request. Lower than a whisper.

Levi thought. "I've only loved one person before."

"Oh?"

"You won't ask who?"

"I think I know. I've only loved one person before, too."

"Interesting. Have you ever thought of opening your heart and letting someone else in?"

"No."

"Neither have I."

Mikasa bit her lip. "But I'm starting to feel like it's the right thing to do now."

He frowned. "Why now?"

"Well, the titans are dead, and you're the only human I know who's still alive, so I don't think we have much of a choice." Mikasa paused. "Besides, as much as I hate to admit it, I do care about you."

Levi snorted. "Took you long enough."

—•—

Nine months in, and they finally decided to clear up the marks and memories, left in every room by the shadows of their past, for good.

Mikasa gently ran a finger over a faded brown jacket, and over the little symbol on the left. Wings. A symbol depicting wings, something that'd once given them hope and strength and courage; something that gave them nightmares right now.

And that thing in the corner—that filthy piece of maroon cloth, with its frayed edges and dried-up blood stains and a pungent odor that made Mikasa want to cry or perhaps even puke. She grabbed hold of it, stared at it for a moment, and pulled at the edges. Nothing happened. She pulled harder, causing it to tear a little. She screamed. She screamed again, and pulled even harder, until she finally ripped it into two uneven pieces. And, a third time, the screaming began. It escaped her in a desperate, frantic rush. Memories and nausea flooded her senses, numbing everything else, until she grew accustomed to her screams filling up the silence.

By the time Levi got there, the screaming had receded into small sobs, and she'd curled up into a fetal position, still clinging onto the scarf like her life depended on it, and although her voice was small, he could hear her say one word, clearly, over and over again.

Eren.

Eren, Eren, Eren.

—•—

The eleventh month began. The scarf had been fixed. Well, not exactly, but they couldn't have done better.

Her head lay on his chest, his arms around her waist, small yet genuine smiles on their faces. She shifted a little. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"We've come far, haven't we?" she whispered. "We have changed ourselves, we've healed. All those sacrifices weren't in vain; Eren's sacrifice wasn't in vain. Our town wasn't destroyed pointlessly. The walls, which were temporarily our only form of protection, aren't necessary anymore. The titans are gone. We survived."

He stroked her dark locks. "This isn't survival. It's more than that. Mikasa, we're breathing. And you know the frightening bit? We're enjoying it. This isn't survival. I think this is turning into living."

Living. The word was foreign to them. She used to live at some point in her life, with Eren and Armin. After a while, living was a luxury. Survival was a daily challenge. Every breath was something to be thankful for.

Levi's entire life had been survival.

"Living," she repeated, tasting the word in her mouth. It was strange, like having something unusual for the first time yet still enjoying the flavour. She savoured it, wanting it to last forever.

—•—

A year and a month had passed. Her mind was no longer chipped paint and ripped cloth, but a fresh little machine with thoughts and emotions and a curiosity that was almost never satiated. She cut the weeds in his backyard. She replaced them with flowers that she'd only read about in books years ago. He stood in the doorway, watching her as she moved about with this irresistible glow. Her cheeks were apples and her grin was always there. He'd started to think that she wasn't capable of smiling, let alone grinning. She had really come back to life; so had the garden, and so had he—all because of her magic.

She skipped—really, skipped—over to him, grabbed his hand, pulled him into her arms and tumbled into the sweet-smelling grass. He went down with her; he always would. The sky was a million shades of blue, with large white cloud-splashes of various sizes, tinted with grey. Looking up meant looking at endlessness; the sky was infinite. If one looked hard enough, perhaps one could see how far it stretched.

"It's beautiful," Mikasa said softly.

Levi hummed in agreement. "Where did you find out about these flowers?"

Mikasa's smile faltered a bit. She inhaled once, sighed, and said, "Armin."

"Well, next time you meet him, whenever that might be," Levi murmured, "you thank him and tell him the flowers smell very nice."

"Mm," Mikasa said, smiling gently. "So what now?"

Levi seemed to be thinking about it. "We could go to the ocean. We never went there."

Mikasa's eyes widened. "Oh yeah. Oh, yes, of course."

Things were changing. Going to the ocean would be one last tribute to them.

He reached out, and held her hand. Her fingers curled around his, and there was something different in the way it felt. It was almost comforting and protective. It was stronger than ever before.

"Thank you for staying," Levi said.

Mikasa squeezed his hand. "Thank you for letting me."

It'd taken forever, but they had healed.

It'd taken forever but, finally, they were alive.


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