Note: Hanji is a complex character so I couldn't quite capture her/him/them (curse you English, I can't call Hanji an it). And the story was getting really long so yeah. Also all the child!eren fanart was still tagged as rivaere/ereri/riren- so i figured it was okay here too.
So here's the deal. I'm going to be posting a lot of these (I don't have more right now, but I will). To all readers (even if you don't like the stories, this is mostly for you after all), would you rather I post all of them in multi-chapter story (kinda like drabbles, I suppose), or separately? Honestly, I'd rather post them separately but I don't wanna spam ya guys. :)?
The brat loves him only as a little boy can: clumsily, and with all his heart. Perhaps, of all the boy's different skins, Rivaille is most fond of this one. [platonic]
The sun is a streak on the edge of the world when Rivaille finds a little boy stashed in clothes too big for him, drooling and sleeping as all children are best at. That, and shitting. He stops first because children aren't supposed to be here, and lingers because the kid looked too familiar to be anything good.
"Eren?" He starts suspiciously, and green eyes blink up at him curiously, before stretching tiny fingers. Reluctant, Rivaille helps the boy up and blinks when it attaches itself to his legs. The shirt is drooping off, and he sees the boy shudder.
The boy stares up at him imploringly, as if he expected Rivaille to help comfort him. Children.
Still, Rivaille sheds his own jacket and wraps it around the boy. Maybe the brat had more forms than they realized.
The boy sneezes, and uses his jacket as a make-shift tissue. Shivers at something colder emanating from the man before him.
"I don't know," Hanji says.
"You don't know," Rivaille repeats.
"No clue," Hanji agrees, and watches, chin in hand, as Eren paws at Rivaille's legs, eager to climb onto his shoulders. A sly smile. "Look who's become attached."
"Don't play with me."
Hanji taps a finger against the tabletop. "You know what this is reminding me of? Animals imprinting. I've read about it before. He thinks you're his mother."
"I am a man."
"A very manly mother," Hanji concedes with amusement, before turning more serious. "When did you find him?"
"A few hours ago."
"It might be temporary, like his Titan form," Hanji says, and beckons Eren over. Eren listens, letting Rivaille loose for the moment, and pads over to Hanji.
After a while Rivaille speaks up. "So, what's wrong with him?"
"There's nothing wrong, that'd be saying something's wrong with Eren! I'll need to conduct more research."
A beat of silence only interrupted by giggles as Eren played with Hanji's boots.
"So why don't you do it now?"
"Well, for starters, it's really late, or early. I don't know what you've been doing up, and Eren's a child that shouldn't be deprived of sleep. Me neither, just so you know. You kind of interrupted me leaving."
"You need to take care of him for the time being," Hanji yawns, "and don't let anyone find out who he is before we find out why he's a child. Especially his friends. Especially your squad."
"People might not understand, and not understanding breeds fear. And we all know what that leads to."
Eren runs back to Rivaille as Hanji stands up, whines for a pick up.
"Annoying," Rivaille says, but concedes, winces as Eren giggles very loudly in his ear, cupping chubby fingers around his hair.
Eren is already under his watch, but now things are more delicate. He can't just stow the brat somewhere else. So he brings him to his room, makes a pathetic bed for sleep in the corner and turns off the lights. Things can't be that simple.
Eren drools in his sleep, or at least in this form. He is also very very clingy. Rivaille doesn't sleep for the night.
Mikasa finds out the next day. He's slightly relieved, though he doesn't know why she came stumbling in his room like she knew the boy was somewhere in it. Perhaps they had some weird connection.
"Eren!" she says, relieved but confused when she sees what he's become. The boy blinks at her before toddling over and demanding a ride on her shoulders.
"Up!" he demands and she concedes, smiling softly, before turning to him with a serious expression.
"What did you do?"
"Nothing," Rivaille answers blandly, "I found him like that."
She doesn't look like she believes him, which is fine, he doesn't really care.
"Hanji wants him," Rivaille says and she doesn't need to hear it twice. The room feels empty, and Rivaille waves away the thought.
Later, when Eren somehow finds him and attaches himself to his legs, and Mikasa is watching, arms crossed, he will groan but pat the brat's hair before he does something stupid like cry on him. If the answering smile is bright and happy and all delightful, well that's just a bonus.
Eren doesn't change back, and slowly Rivaille doesn't mind as much. Hanji is still diligent, but the 'cure' seems less and less likely to appear. Somehow, Mikasa has waned off his concerned friends so they aren't suspicious. Rivaille is curious about what she has told them but doesn't pry. If she is slightly bitter that Eren prefers Rivaille over her, Rivaille also doesn't pry, though he is smug and he lets her know it.
And one day when he returns with blood he can't get out of his shirt, and Eren grasps it with too pale fingers, and chants, "I missed you! It's icky, what's wrong? I missed you, why didn't you come back? Where did this come from, it feels weird. Did you miss me? I missed you."
No one will fault him when he hugs Eren to his chest, and breathes in a world he wishes he could be a part of instead of this one, for it is obvious now that Eren is in a different world, for how could he still smile, still breathe without choking on the dead in the air?
The boy looks at him without blood streaking his face, without some hidden sentimentality in his gaze, without admiration for what he's done and what he will (kill, kill, kill) without anything but honest affection, and Rivaille wishes it'd stay like that for a while (forever is a stream of want in his mind, but he's not willing to admit it). A curve of small fingers around his own, and Rivaille's never been fond of kids, especially idiotic ones, but this is not the same, he thinks to himself. This world has no patience for childish innocence, but Rivaille does, this time around. He'll make sure Eren grows up with all his heart (he's already built the reality in his mind).
"Eren," he says, kneels down to be eye level with the child. Eren only tilts his head, and grabs Rivaille's face with both hands, giggling as he pinches. Rivaille lets him.
"Eren, listen to me," Rivaille says, and Eren, hearing the tone, stares at him imploringly.
"You like me."
"Love, love, love!" Eren corrects with enthusiasm, throwing his arms around Rivaille's neck and struggling to climb on. Rivaille chuckles slightly, and straightens, wrapping his arms around the small body.
"If," Rivaille says, hesitates, "if we couldn't get you back to your former self. Would you like to stay with me?" It is a foolhardy request. Rivaille is gone half the time with blood stitched in one hand, and death sewn in the other. He is certainly not the best figure for anything than what he is now: mankind's strongest soldier. But let him be selfish this one time, and for the rest of his life if things go right.
Eren is silent for a long time, and Rivaille wonders if Eren is seriously contemplating what he's about to do. Maybe he underestimates the childish mind.
"Eren?" He asks softly, and pulls back to look at him.
"Tch," Rivaille says, and hugs Eren back to his chest, cradling his head softly, "falling asleep on me. How arrogant." Despite his words, a small smile lingers on the corporal's face. The world owed him this.
He wakes up to a room that's too quiet and too empty.
"Shit," Rivaille says.
He finds Eren with Mikasa hugging him closely a few minutes later. Except it is not the Eren Rivaille was hoping for. A blanket is wrapped around the boy's too big shoulders, and his too old eyes glance up at him.
"Eren," Rivaille says.
"Corporal," Eren replies, anxious, and Mikasa pulls back to stare at Rivaille as well. "I don't remember much, but Mikasa told me what happened, and ah, thanks for taking care of me."
Rivaille stopped listening at 'I don't remember much'.
"Good," he says, turns away because there is nothing left in Eren's eyes that suggest he remembers, and that is for the best, it is best, it is better this way. The words are hollow, carved out by disappointment and despair and all the unwanted things that accompany living.
"Good," he lies.
He almost expects to wake up to warm tiny fingers latched on his shoulder, and drools that he could barely tolerate, but he doesn't. He expects to wake up to childish adoration, and a smile that could top the world if it pleased, but he doesn't.
Rivaille expects he will forget the child, because it seemed it has forgotten him, but he doesn't.
It is better this way. Besides, he never said yes, did he?
The sun is a curve on the edge of the world when Eren stumbles upon Rivaille. The corporal is wiping his blades clean.
"Corporal," Eren greets politely, and frowns when Rivaille doesn't look up. He moves to leave when Rivaille finally speaks up.
"Eren," he says, and Eren turns around. Rivaille searches for something, anything. But there is only a trace of fearful admiration where childish adoration used to be, a world of pain and death in the eyes where childish innocence should lay, and everything Rivaille misses.
"Is something wrong, Corporal?" Eren prompts hesitantly.
"Nothing," Rivaille replies, turning back to his blades and ignoring Eren. Eren picks up the dismissal.
"Love, love, love!"
"Nothing," he says, to taste the word on his lips and the ashes of could have been's.