As Eren descends a flight of wooden stairs, he hears the voices of people chatting below, a light-hearted conversation taking place. When he's about to reach the bottom of the stairs, one of them notices him and stops midsentence to greet him. "'Morning, Eren." This brings the attention of the other two towards him and they both turn to look at him.
"Hey Reiner," Eren replies as he proceeds towards the dining table the rest of them are at and seats himself beside his lover.
"Good morning, Eren," the other man speaks, "It's rare that you get up so late. Did you, um, have a good dream or something?"
"Yeah right, Bertholdt" Eren scoffs as he cuts a slice of bread for himself. "I don't dream."
"Probably a good thing too," Reiner laughs. "If he did and he fantasized too much Annie would have to take care of his—" Reiner's sentence is cut off as he yelps in pain. "…Every… Morning…" he grunts out as he withdraws his foot from under the table and holds his throbbing toes that had just been stomped on.
"It is unnecessary to say such stupid things," Annie says venomously but she doesn't bother looking at him for she is passing Eren the butter.
"R-Reiner!" Bertholdt flusters as he tries to find a way to assist his best friend in some way.
Across the table, Annie has lost interest in the two and she gazes silently at Eren as he spreads butter on his bread. He notices after a while then meets her gaze with a grin. "Good morning, Annie."
"… Good morning." She doesn't give a smile but Eren knows for a fact that it's due to her personality and not pure coldness. "Coffee?" she offers, handing him a mug. Eren accepts, thanks her then lifts the mug—his fingers and thumb holding the brim on opposite sides—and takes a small sip of the warm liquid. Eren savours the taste of it on his tongue—bittersweet; Annie always places the right amount of sugar in for him—and lets the warmth fill his body. After a moment, he joins in the conversation between Reiner and Bertholdt, and soon all four are discussing their plans for the day; a routine they tend to share every morning.
Another day of Eren's peaceful life has begun.
Eren backed up against a wall with sweat trickling down his forehead as he stared at a pair of dark orbs that were filled with anger at close proximity. Rivaille's foot stomped on the concrete beside his arm and Eren flinched, scared. Fear-stricken, he couldn't bring himself to utter words of apologies to the older man.
"Well?" Rivaille finally spoke, his voice dripping with contempt. "Are you going to explain yourself?"
"I-I-I'm s-sorry, C-Corporal." The words came out in a rush from his trembling lips that had refused to move just a few seconds ago as he ducked his head, averting his eyes.
Rivaille studied him silently for a moment, noticing the guilt and terror in Eren's eyes. After a few seconds which felt like minutes, he gave a soft sigh and let down his leg from the wall. Eren watched him cautiously, the tension in his shoulders giving out slightly when Rivaille lowered his foot. However, he went rigid again the instant Rivaille commenced talking.
"I know you can do better than this," Rivaille said slowly. "Why did you do such a sloppy job this time?" When Eren didn't reply, Rivaille brought the mug in his hand up to Eren's face. "See this corner here?" he asked, placing a finger beside the unclean spot, close enough for indication but far enough to ensure he didn't touch it. "It's still dirty." He then lowered the mug to look Eren in the eye. "I thought I'd taught you well enough on how clean things have to be—under my orders."
There was a long stretch of hesitant silence before Eren said anything. "… T-The time limit," he said carefully, "I found it difficult to get it spotless in the limited amount of time you gave, Sir."
Rivaille creased his eyebrows. "Huh?"
Eren pursed his lips. "I was told that the dishes had to be washed in 15 minutes, Sir."
Rivaille's eyebrows furrowed further. "And?" he asked, unable to see the problem.
"All the dishes, Sir," Eren tried to emphasise without sounding rude. His mind reeled at the thought of the impossibility to clean the many dishes used by the whole squad in a quarter of an hour, with Rivaille's OCD standards.
"Are you telling me it can't be done, you shitty kid?"
"I…" Eren gulped as he racked his brains to figure out the right way to answer the question without sounding arrogant. "I—I—I lack the skills to do it, Sir!"
Eren found himself suffocating at the sharp gaze the Corporal gave him the next minute, the seconds ticking with deliberate slowness, a mental torture he found almost unbearable. Finally, Rivaille softened his gaze ever so slightly and let out a short huff. "Come," he commanded as he started to walk out of the room.
Eren gaped after him, surprised that he was let off without any punishment but then mentally reminded himself that there was still a possibility of it coming later on. He trailed behind the older man and followed him until they reached the kitchen.
"Here," Rivaille said, tossing Eren one of the two clean pieces of cloth he'd just obtained from the cupboard. Eren caught it in mid-air and hesitantly approached the Corporal, closing a bit of the distance between them. "Watch," he ordered as he lifted one of Eren's 'cleaned' plates, gingerly holding it by the sides where there was no remnant of oil or dirt.
In one swift movement, the remaining grime from the plate was cleared and the plate had a shine to it which Eren had never seen before on any crockery he'd used. Eren stared at his commanding officer in awe, speechless. He merely watched as Rivaille picked up another piece of crockery, handed it to him and gestured to the cloth in his hands. Eren's blood ran cold in his veins at the indication and he shook his head nervously.
"F-Forgive me Sir," he mumbled anxiously as he refrained from the urge to duck his head. "It's imposs—I can't do that."
Rivaille clicked his tongue and frowned, clearly irritated at Eren's response. "Are you fucking with me?" he hissed. "Just take the damn plate you shitty brat."
"S-Sir!" Eren immediately grabbed the plate and mentally cursed himself for not answering more intelligently. He pursed his lips apprehensively as he awaited Rivaille's chiding; perhaps even beating, depending on the degree of the man's annoyance.
For a moment, Rivaille just observed him and cold sweat trickled down Eren's spine as he withstood Rivaille's scrutinising gaze. He wasn't too sure what it was that caused it, but Rivaille's gaze suddenly softened after a while and the older man gave a sigh.
"You don't need to give such a scared look," Rivaille muttered under his breath, just loud enough for Eren to catch it but even then, he wasn't sure if he had heard right. He didn't have time to ponder over it, however, for Rivaille's next command grabbed most of his attention.
"Sit down there," Rivaille ordered as he took another piece of crockery which hadn't been cleaned properly. "I'll teach you."
"T-Teach me?" Eren mimicked, unsure. The moment the words escaped his mouth he regretted it though, thinking that Rivaille would snap at him again. To his surprise, the Corporal didn't. Rivaille's answer came out calmly with no traces of contempt despite his usual use of harsh words.
"That's right; I'm going to teach you how to clean your damn plates." Rivaille caught Eren's confused gaze and paused. "Eren," he eventually called, when the younger man didn't seem to budge.
"Y-Yes, Sir!" Eren responded, his thoughts revolving around his commanding officer's actions. Rivaille always appeared harsh. Crisp, direct and seemingly brutal. But then… Thinking about it now, there was always kindness underlying it. And it was at that point that Eren started to realise it; Rivaille's hidden gentleness. At that thought, Eren couldn't help but smile.
"It's really amazing, Eren," Bertholdt marvels as he examines the dishes and cutlery by the sink. "Every time you're on dish-washing duty, everything becomes sparkling clean!"
Eren laughs at Bertholdt's amazement. "It's not that big a deal."
"No, it is," the taller man insists as he reaches out to touch one of the plates which is practically glinting, "you do it in such a short time as well!"
Eren shrugs. "Nah, I've seen cleaner plates."
"Really?" Bertholdt asks, genuinely surprised, as he pulls his gaze away from the shining dishes to look at Eren. "Where?"
"That's—" Eren stops midsentence and stares into space. When it seems that Eren isn't going to break from his frozen state anytime soon, Bertholdt hesitantly turns to face the direction in which Eren's gaze is fixed at and finds that he's staring at the plate Bertholdt has his fingers on. He turns back to Eren and creases his eyebrows when he finds that the shorter boy still hasn't budged. "Eren?" he finally calls.
Eren blinks in response and slowly lifts his gaze to catch Bertholdt's. "I—" he begins but then he pauses and purses his lips as his expression turns into one of confusion. "Sorry," he says, his voice quiet as he muses over something. "I can't seem to remember."
"It's okay!" Bertholdt nearly shouts, causing Eren to jump. "Ah," he falters when he realises he startled Eren. "S-Sorry," he says quickly in between. "Don't worry about it."
Bertholdt shifts his eyes round the room momentarily before he suggests that the both of them join Annie and Reiner upstairs. Eren doesn't disagree and follows the taller of the two towards the stairs. However just as he's about to leave the kitchen, Eren turns around and stares silently at the washed cutlery and crockery, unable to shake off the feeling that cleaning dishes to reach that degree of glimmer was something that he'd often done before…
When he ignored the presence of the unsightly creatures below, Eren could only see the endless plains of green stretching out far into the horizon. He stared at the view, the high winds breezing past his face, as he wondered about the unknown parts of the world. How far did those plains stretch out? Were there other types of places that were much different left to be discovered? And that thought of an endless pool of saltwater, what did that look like? There was so much he wanted to know.
Rivaille's voice broke his train of thoughts and Eren turned to face the man who was approaching him. "We'll be patrolling up here for another hour," he said, "Hanji's doing some investigation below."
"Oh," Eren mumbled. He then backtracked once he realised what he had said and went rigid. "Uh, I mean, yes, sir!" he rephrased in a fluster, his fist slamming his chest quickly in salute. Rivaille just gazed at him expressionlessly before turning to look out into the horizon.
"No one else is around so you don't have to be so stiff," Rivaille stated, his tone considerably gentler.
"Oh." The tension in Eren's shoulders disappeared and he slowly dropped his hand from his chest. "Right." He then turned to resume watching the terrain along with Rivaille.
There was a short moment of silence between them before Rivaille spoke again. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm just looking at the scenery." Eren paused, expecting a snarky remark from the older man about the fact that there was barely much to see, but it didn't come. "I'm just… Thinking about things," he continued. It was a pathetic excuse of an elaboration but Rivaille didn't pry.
Silence filled the air as Eren continued to gaze across the plains, his thoughts consuming his mind once more. This time, however, the stillness wasn't disrupted by Rivaille's voice but the contact of his hand on Eren's which started off as a light brush then turned into a clutch. Eren flinched at the sudden grasp and turned to face Rivaille, alarmed. "Co-Corporal?" he exclaimed, his face flushing as he tried to jerk his hand away in reflex.
"Just shut up and watch the scenery," Rivaille commanded as he tightened his grip. Eren just gaped at the corporal incredulously, his mind reeling not with thoughts of the unknown, but in embarrassment. Rivaille paid his reaction no attention as he continued staring off into the distance.
It took many moments before Eren's brain started to function properly again and when it did, his eyes widened in realisation; Rivaille was trying to comfort him. Again, it was his typical, indirect way of doing so, but that didn't matter to Eren as his heart filled with emotion. His body relaxed from its rigid state and he gazed at the corporal with gentle eyes, his lips unconditionally forming a smile. He then slowly shifted his hand to interlock their fingers and gave a soft squeeze.
"Eren, let's take a break—that's enough firewood."
Using the axe in his hands, Eren snaps a log in half then carefully places the tool onto the floor before straightening up and wiping sweat off his forehead. "Yeah!" he calls out cheerfully and heads over to Reiner who is placing his load of cut logs onto the pile they've all created.
"Should we start carrying this back?" Eren asks as he reaches out to examine a piece of cut log.
"Nah," Reiner says as he gestures at a figure resting underneath a tree, "Bertholdt is pretty tired so let's just take a break around here for now."
Eren scans their surroundings before asking, "Where's Annie?"
"Up there." Reiner glances up a giant tree and Eren follows his gaze to see the blonde standing on a large branch halfway up the tree, staring out into the distance. "Why don't you go join her? I'll stay down here with Bert."
Annie only notices her lover as he starts to climb the last branch needed to level with her. "Eren," she voices automatically as she gives him a hand to hoist him up to the branch she is on.
"What are you looking at?" he asks as he turns his gaze to where Annie was looking at earlier. A gust of wind blows past at that instance, shifting the position of his hair and Eren's eyes widen as he stares at the vast stretch of green below.
"Not much," Annie replies with her usual calm, low voice as she too turns to gaze into the distance. "There's not much to see," she admits as she stares at the simple grass-coated plains that lie beneath the skies, "but it's not a bad feeling, being in high places." She pauses. "Right?"
"Eh? Ah… Y-Yeah," Eren mumbles, distracted. Annie doesn't question him though, and they both continue looking at the sight before them.
A few minutes pass by before Annie instinctively reaches out to hold her lover's hand but she is surprised when he gasps and goes rigid at her grip. She turns to face him questioningly but he doesn't notice her; his brow is furrowed as he stares into nothingness, his face clearly anxious yet at the same time it looks as if he is musing over something.
"Eren?" she calls out, but he doesn't respond. "Eren?" she calls again, this time more desperate and she squeezes his hand tightly.
Eren flinches slightly and the light returns to his eyes as if he just awoke from a trance. "H-Huh?" He turns to face Annie with a puzzled expression.
Annie studies him momentarily before speaking again. "Are you okay?"
"Y-Yeah," Eren says quickly. "I'm fine," he mumbles. "…I'm fine."
Lying on his shoulder, Eren shifted comfortably in his bed as he fiddled with his fingers nervously, finding difficulty sleeping with a presence lying beside him on the other edge of the mattress.
"C-Corporal?" he eventually called out.
The latter didn't respond but by his knowledge of character or perhaps intuition, Eren knew that his commanding officer was still awake. "Are you sure you want to sleep here?" When Rivaille refused to reply again, Eren continued to elaborate with reasoning. "Maybe you should sleep in your room rather than in a dungeon with—"
Rivaille clicked his tongue irritably, cutting off Eren's sentence. "I'm sleeping here to keep an eye on you," he snapped. The sheets then rustled as Rivaille changed the position he was lying in. "Don't make me repeat myself." At the sound of Rivaille's second sentence, Eren went rigid—from the distance of the older man's voice, it was evident that their bodies were nearly touching.
Noticing Eren's unmoving body, Rivaille furrowed his eyebrows. "Hey, Eren," he called as he propped himself up using his elbow before leaning forward to glance at Eren's face. This only caused Eren to become edgier and he huddled up against the wall beside the bed. "Are you okay?"
"… G-Go to the other edge," Eren pleaded, his body curling up.
Rivaille narrowed his eyes. "You damn brat…" There was a brief span of silence as he just stared at Eren's back, observing him. "Are you sulking?" he then questioned, a hint of amusement present in his voice.
"You're wrong!" Eren answered vehemently. "I-It's just…" There was a long pause before Eren continued his sentence, his voice a lot softer when he did. "… It's really embarrassing hearing your voice so close, Co-Corporal."
Rivaille's eyes widened at that comment and he quietly lay there for a few minutes before he slowly wrapped his hand around Eren's waist and snuck it up his subordinate's shirt. Eren's breath hitched at Rivaille's touch on his bare skin and the rigidness of his body dispersed. "W-W-What are you—" Eren gasped as Rivaille gently slid his fingers up Eren's stomach. "W-Wait—!" Eren pleaded, nearly breathless, as his face burned with embarrassment. Rivaille's hand didn't stop, however, and Eren squirmed powerlessly, his skin reacting to every touch.
It was only when Rivaille's fingers reached a sensitive spot that the harmless teasing turned into something much more.
In a split second, Eren was on his back, Rivaille hovering above him, his usually blank eyes glistening. At the sight of those eyes, Eren knew exactly what was coming. "W-Wait, Corporal—"
"But h-here? Shouldn't we—"
"Shut up," Rivaille repeated, his voice low. "It's your fault for being so fucking seductive."
And thus, he leaned forward.
Eren watches as Reiner lets out a howl of pain when he's sent tumbling to the ground by Annie. Annie hasn't broken a sweat all morning even after taking on all three of the guys multiple times for sparring practice. Eren chuckles inwardly to himself, amused at the countless holds his girlfriend knows, and though he is proud of her, there is still a part of him that wants to become stronger.
He rises from the tree stump he has been sitting on and approaches the two who have started bickering as they always do. "Will you spar with me again, Annie?"
The blonde breaks her conversation with Reiner without a second thought and turns to Eren. "I don't mind," she says, "but aren't you tired, Eren?" She's looking at his bruises, he notices, and he just gives her a shrug.
"One more won't kill me," he states simply.
Annie is hesitant for a brief moment, but soon enough, they're facing each other on opposite sides of the field in their fighting stances.
And soon enough, Eren is flat on his back from being thrown by Annie.
Eren groans as he rubs his sore muscles. Annie sighs softly as she helps Eren up from the ground. She apologises for being too rough but Eren tells her that he's fine and gently gives her hand a reassuring squeeze.
"That should be enough for the day," Reiner calls to the both of them from afar. "Let's go back!"
"Let's go, Eren," Annie says as she walks ahead of him by a short distance.
"Yeah." Eren follows, but just as he takes his first step, a gust of wind breezes by and Eren shuts his eyes momentarily as his hair shifts onto his face.
Eren's eyes widen at the call and his heart skips a beat at the sound of the voice. Immediately, he swerves around to search for its source, however there is nothing but the silent wind passing by. Even so, his eyes continue to survey his surroundings diligently, almost as if obsessed, and his heart beats in anticipation.
It is a different voice this time, but Eren spins around once more nevertheless and sees Annie looking at him quizzically. "Is something wrong?"
"Did you hear that?" he asks.
"Hear what?" Annie's expression doesn't change very much but Eren can tell she's confused. And truthfully, Eren is pretty confused himself.
"… No, never mind," he says quietly. "I must've imagined it."
Annie still looks unsure but she doesn't press the issue and continues walking with Eren back towards their other two friends. There is no conversation as they walk for Eren's mind is preoccupied.
It was unrecognisable, but it belonged to a man; that much Eren was sure of. But what Eren couldn't understand was why it made him edgy and the fact he couldn't shake off the feeling that the voice was somewhat familiar…
A/N: Sorry for the long delay! I'd meant to get this done sooner but I'm a fairly slow writer and I've been busy the past month or so. I'll try get the next chapter done faster! This fic may seem somewhat confusing so far but I assure you it'll make a lot more sense later on. If you have any questions please feel free to as though. I hope you've liked this chapter! Please do leave a review to let me know what you think. It'll be greatly appreciated!