His mother had a firm hand on the subject of bedtime: eight-thirty sharp, wash your face, lights out, under the covers. No if, ands, or buts about it, not even if Armin was over with a brand new book he'd found. Armin never even complained, even though bedtime at his house was at nine. Lucky.

But he and Armin had developed a system.

His mother and father went to bed at ten, sharp. He would hear their muffled voices from their bedroom after - if they got to stay up, why shouldn't he and Armin? It was only fair. So, he and Armin would lay quietly under the covers, until the clock struck ten and Eren heard his parents' footsteps creak up the stairs.

(Sometimes Armin would drift off to sleep while they waited, chin resting on the book he grasped against his chest. Eren would have to pinch him awake, making him squeak and whisper a hasty apology for messing up their plans.)

With the coast clear, Eren grabbed the candle and matches hidden under his pillow, and set to work while Armin flung the book open, eagerly searching for a specific page.

"...right here! This is what I was trying to tell you about," Armin whispered, urgently, as Eren drew the candle close. "Rainbow birds. They live in huge, hot forests."

Eren didn't bother hiding his amazement as his fingers traced the lines of its feathers on the page. Wow. Sometimes it was hard to believe the amazing stories that Armin told him, but he'd always come through with a dusty old book to back him up.

"Look at those trees," Eren breathed. "Huge. Bigger than the wall even."

Armin nodded eagerly, pointing to the writing next to the picture. "It says they're hundreds of years old. Can you even imagine?" he murmured with reverence.

There was nothing that old in the walls, nothing. Except maybe their schoolmarm. Eren scowled at the thought, and pushed it away to continue marveling at the hot forests, with rainbow birds, and ancient trees, and rivers that tumbled from dizzying cliffs on their journey to the ocean...

Eren's eyes grew heavy, and he leaned his cheek against Armin's hair, listening to his soft, whispered voice. He couldn't really pay attention to the exact words anymore - but it was alright, Armin would tell him about it again later, when they would make their plans for the trip.

Soothed as he was, he hadn't been paying enough attention to the candle in his steadily drooping hand. Armin's sudden yelp snapped him out of his drowsy daze with a start. Armin clutched at his hand, whimpering. Eren glowered at the dripping candle, and plonked it on his bedside table with perhaps more force than necessary. That would show it.

"Let me see," demanded Eren, grabbing onto Armin's wrist and dragging it to him.

Armin blinked back the tears in his eyes. "It's f-fine...the book is fine..."

"'m not worried about the book, I wanna see your hand," Eren grumbled, yanking Armin's wrist back to him. He glowered at the red burn on Armin's finger, his own ears burning with shame. If his father's bag wasn't in his parents' room he would have swiped some of that gooey, smelly ointment - he'd heard him say it'd been developed for use on soldiers who'd been burned fighting titans, so a little candle burn would be nothing...

But he couldn't go ask his parents for help, not now, not without giving their non-adherence to bedtime away. Eren grit his teeth in thought, his heart twisting at the sound of Armin's sniffling. An idea struck, and he took Armin's burned finger into his mouth to suck.

Armin's eyes went wide, and his cheeks red. Eren halted the movement of his tongue, hesitantly. This always made him feel better when he did it to himself after burning himself on something - maybe it was weird when you did it to another person? Eren had never been too good at figuring that kind of thing out. He drew back from Armin's finger, abashed.

"Sorry. Did that make it feel any better?"

Armin swallowed hard, his hurt hand clutched tightly to his chest. After a few moments, he nodded. "A little."

Eren nodded back, curtly. "I'll...I'll get some bandages and goopy stuff out of my dad's bag in the morning. You gonna be okay until then?"

"I think so," Armin said, almost too quietly to be heard.

That was that, then. Eren blew out the candle that started the whole mess, and gave it another glare for good measure before flopping back down into bed and bundling Armin close to his chest.

"If I hear you crying in the middle of the night I'll suck on it again. My dad's a doctor and I know doctor stuff."

"Okay," Armin whispered, tucking his head under Eren's chin. "...goodnight. Sorry."

Eren pressed his cheek to Armin's hair again, and closed his eyes. If he focused on the sound of Armin's breath, and the words of the book, he could almost see the rainbow birds behind his lids.