Well, I'm having fun writing it, even if no one likes it enough to say so.
This is the final part. Hope it's all you wanted and more.
Chapter four: Smith
Levi rolled over and saw a form by his bed. Whoever it was had re-lit the lamp and he squinted in its low light until he was certain of his visitor's identity: Erwin Smith. Thank god.
"Welcome back, Commander," he said huskily. He probably looked and sounded pathetic, his hair completely disheveled and himself clothed only in a pair of shorts.
"Thanks." Erwin sat on the edge of Levi's bed and studied his face. "I thought I'd stop by and give you the update right away, but... maybe I should have waited. You look like hell. Recruits keeping you busy?"
"You could say that. It's been a long night."
"Well, this can keep until later."
Levi shook his head and propped himself up against the headboard. "I'm awake; you might as well tell me now."
So, Erwin informed Levi of the political climate, the state of their available resources, and instructions that they might or might not be able to follow to the letter, trickling down the chain of command. When he finished, he said, "I appreciate your filling in for me in my absence."
"It's no trouble, sir."
Erwin raised an eyebrow. "No? Looks to me like they've been running you ragged. You know, those circles around your eyes look darker every day. Don't you get any sleep?"
"Here and there. My insomnia allows me to sleep only when I'm truly exhausted."
"I haven't talked to any of them since getting back, but it seems as if you have a way with the new recruits..."
"You've said as much before."
"Before you became my captain, I used to have a couple of desertions each year, and an occasional suicide. None since you came. I don't know how you do it, but you certainly know how to handle them."
Levi considered that for the space of a couple of breaths, then answered, "I try to find what it is that bothers each recruit the most. Sometimes they come to me; often I have to corner them; but eventually I find their worst fears and strongest concerns. Then I try to communicate a sort of empathy that resonates with them, whatever it is they need, and usually they come out of it knowing their comrades are behind them and clearly seeing their goal in front of them. So far... it seems to be working."
Erwin stared at him a long time, and Levi looked straight ahead, calmly waiting for the appraisal to end. Finally, the commander said, "It's nearly dawn. You can sleep in a bit if you like."
"Thank you, but I won't be able to go back to sleep, especially once it's light."
"In that case, I'll see you on the training ground in an hour." He put his hand on Levi's shoulder briefly as he stood up. "Oh, and Levi," he added on his way toward the door, "be sure to get a bath... you smell like sex."
"Tch." Levi half-smiled. "Erwin," he called.
Erwin's face wasn't as clear as it would be when Levi saw him outside later, but now he had the chance to study it in private. His expression was inquisitive, his eyes bright. He was the best man Levi knew. The strongest, most selfless, most sure of his purpose. Levi felt honored to serve under him, but saying that in as many words would render the sentiment trite. This was the only person he had ever considered to be his leader, the only one who truly had his respect. He was also one of the few he had ever considered a friend, and the only close friend he had at present.
He had heard people talk about how relationships change; they would say they had been friends, but now they were thinking of becoming "more than friends." The concept was beyond Levi's grasp. What could possibly be more than a friend? To become romantic with Erwin would be to take a step backward in intimacy. They had nothing to prove to each other. They had no doubts for each other.
"It's nothing," Levi said at last, when he was sure he would remember Erwin's face like that forever. "I just wanted to say your name."
Erwin smiled even as his brow knit in confusion. "Miss me?" he asked.
Levi nodded minutely.
"Well... it's good to be back."
He shifted his weight, and for a moment Levi thought he was going to come back toward him, but then he turned and went out the door.
Nothing to prove. The strongest sentiments went unsaid.
Epilogue: about two weeks later...
Eren lifted his axe, waiting for Bertholdt's to move out of the way before he made his swing. They alternated hits until the tree trunk was cut nearly through; then Eren moved back and watched his comrade give the tree a shove. It came down with a drawn out crash and more soldiers came forward to begin trimming off the limbs. It was hard work, but at least working at night ensured that there was little chance of being attacked by titans. This lumber would go to make traps and weapons, and the scraps would be firewood. The trees outside the walls grew much taller and thicker than those inside. It seemed like dull work, but Eren knew it was important.
He got out his handkerchief and wiped his face, glad to take a short rest before he had to begin chopping down another tree. He walked over to Armin, who was in charge of water distribution, and gratefully took a cup from him.
"Thanks. This is sure different from gathering firewood by hand."
"I'll say," Armin agreed. "How are your hands?"
Eren looked around at the forms of his friends in the dim light of campfires, lanterns, and the half moon above them. He spotted Mikasa on the splitting crew. She had taken off her scarf and jacket, and she was going at her task as if her life depended on it. He almost pitied the tree. After a minute, Mikasa paused and took out a white handkerchief to wipe her brow.
That's funny... I don't remember her carrying a handkerchief before. But then... I didn't before a couple weeks ago.
Several groups were working steadily while others rested, and Eren noticed that Connie had also gotten out a white square of cloth to mop up his perspiration with. In fact, Christa had one out, too.
Hm. Maybe they're a military thing... maybe you can request them some way when you order your... His thought was cut short when Armin pulled out a handkerchief of his own to dry the water that had sloshed onto his hands. It was pure white, with a neatly hemmed border... just like the one Levi had given to Eren.
Bertholdt came over for water then, nursing a blister on one hand... with a white handkerchief. The same hemmed border.
Eren opened his mouth to comment on the seeming coincidence, but then stopped himself. What if...? He looked around again at what now seemed practically a sea of white cloth. ...No. No, that's just silly. I mean... ARMIN?! Yeah, right. And Mikasa? Nah. God, there goes Jean with one... and Marco. it's got to be a coincidence.
He chuckled to himself at the ridiculous thought that had entered his head. Of course there was nothing to it. Still... he decided not to ask anyone where they had gotten their handkerchiefs. After all, they might want to know where he had gotten his.
The End. Hope you liked it. Hope you were amused. (Maybe say so? Posting fanfic is pointless if there is no feedback. I might as well just write it, read it over once or twice, and delete it.)