Eren wiped the dirt off his face as he pushed off of the ground, standing up and glancing down for the culprit responsible for his fall. His eyes landed on three buckets that somehow found their way to the middle of the stables, and he kicked them aside with a groan.
His hands traced across the wall as he made his way towards the back door of the stables, unlocking them to allow the dawn's light to stream in. It was the third time this week that Levi woke him up this damn early to go clean out the stables and muck the horses.
He picked up the brushes and started working his way through the horses, yawning every once in a while and wiping more dirt off his forehead. Eren had half a mind to throw the brushes away and march right into Levi's room in his dirt-covered state and maybe even roll around the floor, just to give Levi a taste of his own medicine. Of course, he wouldn't make it past the doorstep alive; the Corporal had a way of sniffing out dirt from miles off and eliminating it.
Hell, Eren sometimes thought that the Corporal views the dirt as a bigger threat than titans. Speaking of Titans, wasn't it the Corporal's job to keep an eye on Eren? And to train him to control his Titan form?
Eren snorted, he's doing one fantastic job.
"Oh Titans approaching? I wouldn't know how to save humanity's ass but you can count on me if one of the Titans needed scrubbing," he muttered under his breath, scowling.
The brush almost fell from the boy's hand as he immediately jumped up, startled that any being other than him would be awake at this time of day. He squinted, trying to make a shape out of the shadows.
"Mikasa?" Eren relaxed, allowing his shoulders to sag again under the weight of the bucket he was holding, and walked towards her.
"What are you doing here so early?" Mikasa raised an eyebrow, then narrowed her eyes, "It's him, isn't it? That Corporal, he's using you as a slave, Eren!"
Eren sighed, then smiled slightly, "Mikasa, I'm fine," he said, "It's all part of my training."
"Really? Because it looks like Levi is making you do all his dirty work for him," she spat, then crossed the distance between them, reaching out to wipe a spot of dirt off of Eren's cheek before he ducked away out of her reach.
"Mikasa, I said I'm fine," Eren muttered, "I can handle this."
"Are you sure? Because lately it seems like-"
"EREN!" A voice boomed through the stables, causing Eren to curse under his breath.
"I'm sure you didn't hear me correctly," the Corporal said as he walked in, glancing around the floor and scowling slightly at the mess it was in, "I said clean the stables, not have a family get-together in the stables."
"I am cleaning the Stables, sir," Eren said, raising the brush and bucket in his hand for Levi to see.
"And yet the stables aren't clean," Levi shook his head, "Are you good for anything, brat? Do you realize the fate of humanity rests on your shoulders?"
"I didn't know that the secret to humanity's salvation lies in figuring out how to remove a stain, sir," Eren said, immediately regretting the words as soon as they made their way out of his mouth. Before he could blink, Levi had him pinned against the wall, his elbow digging into Eren's neck.
"Are you trying to be funny, Jaeger?"
"I-" Eren had no idea how to respond, his eyes met Levi's as the Corporal managed to reduce Eren to his height, and suddenly he was very much aware of how close Levi's face was to his. He could almost feel Levi's breath on his own lips-
Something moved, Mikasa! Eren had forgotten that she was standing there, and the look in her eyes indicated she was about to do more than just standing there.
Levi glanced at Mikasa out of the corner of his eyes then, before stepping away from Eren, causing him to lose his balance and almost drop for a moment.
"I don't have time for this," Levi said, "Finish cleaning up the stables, then you can deal with sorting out my squad's maneuver gear."
He didn't glance back as he made his way out of the stables, gone before Eren had the chance to blink.
It wasn't exactly difficult to notice why Levi was held in such high retrospect. His inexplicable ability to take down Titans was of course the main reason why, but that wasn't the only thing that distinguished him.
No, definitely not.
Aside from being a clean freak to a nearly intolerable level, Levi had that look to him. It wasn't simply a look of authority, no, it was that warrior's look. You can't miss it if you look into his eyes, past the indifferent stare, you can see all that he has seen. You can see his determination to keep going despite seeing so many of his comrades get eaten, and you can see his determination to live on to honor their sacrifices.
"Eren? Are you even here?"
Eren blinked slightly as a hand blurred right before his eyes, attempting to draw his attention. He hadn't realized he was staring at Levi from across the dining hall, and his cheeks started feeling a little warm when he noted that all eyes were on him. Armin looked genuinely concerned as he continued to wave his hand before Eren's eyes for God knows how long, Mikasa had that weird look of hers that Eren could never understand, Connie raised an eyebrow, Sasha was too busy trying to savor the last of her bread and scouring the table for leftovers, and Jean scowled.
Then again, Jean was always scowling in one form or another.
"What?" Eren snapped, "What are you all looking at?"
Jean shook his head then, yanking his plate away and getting up with the scowl never leaving his face. He turned around and dropped the dish off at the sinks before exiting the room.
"What's with him?" Sasha asked around her mouthful, her eyebrows knotting together in confusion as she noted that everyone was still staring at Eren seemingly ignoring that Jean just up and left, "What did I miss?"
"Eren was staring off into space silently for the past half hour," Connie said.
"He didn't say a single word," Reiner added, slightly startling Eren as he came up from behind him then took Jean's place. When the hell did he get here?
"Eren, are you okay?" Armin asked, the genuine concern on his face mirrored in his tone.
"I-Of course I am!" They still didn't drop their glances, and Eren felt more heat flood into his cheeks.
"What were you looking at?" Sasha asked as she wiped her mouth with the sleeve of her jacket.
"I-Nothing! Nothing, okay?! Drop it!" He stood up hastily, almost knocking his chair back.
"Where are you going?" Armin looked at him, as Mikasa stood up as well.
"I have things to do," Eren said, trying to mask the shakiness in his tone, "Alone." With that, he turned and rushed out the hall without a second glance.
"Does that mean he won't eat his bread?" Sasha raised her eyebrow, and Mikasa rolled her eyes before passing the plate over to her and sitting back down, sighing almost unnoticeably as she watched Eren slam the hall's doors behind him.
Eren pulled up the hood of his green cape as he felt a couple of water droplets skate down his nose. It wasn't that much of a surprise, barely any sunlight had made it through the clouds that day. In fact, Eren had expected a full blown out storm, so a little rain was nothing more than a lovely gesture from above to him. He leaned against the exterior wall of the stables, looking up at the sky and watching as more water droplets huddled together as they face the inevitable impact with the concrete. Armin talked about this before, he remembered. He explained to him how the clouds form and why the rain falls, but Eren never really listened to the details. He was too busy watching the rain fall onto the lake then, and thinking of how happy that rain must be to find a safe place to land. A place where it could fit in and feel safe. Armin talked about freedom after his scientific explanation, about how he would've loved to be as free as those rain drops, just flying through the air.
But he didn't quite understand just how much the rain was a prisoner to nature. For all its greatness and might, for all its usefulness and importance, the clouds just expel it. Sure it's needed, but the rain is too much of a hassle to be kept around forever, and it surely didn't belong up there within the clouds. And so when its usefulness expires, the clouds push it over the edge to face its demise on earth. Because it has fulfilled its purpose, which is the only reason the rain was ever tolerated and allowed to stick around in the sky for that long, really.
Movement cut Eren's line of thought short as he stood up straight, suddenly feeling that he wasn't alone. His hand hovered over his blades as he scanned the area around him.
"What are you doing?" Eren jerked his head to the side, and breathed out seeing it was Jean. He dropped his arms to his sides again, and leaned back.
"Just taking a walk," Eren said with a shrug, "What are you doing out here?"
Jean looked at him, then at his own hands.
Eren glanced at him, a confused look overtook his features, "Jean, are you alright-"
"Just tell him," Jean cut him off, his gaze still fixed on his hands.
"What? What are you talking about?" Eren asked, his eyes widening as he felt the tip of his ears warm up with no clue why they did.
"I'm not an idiot, Eren, I've seen the way you look at him," Jean said, "Watching him from across the halls, looking at him a moment too long when he passes by, doing all these things that he asks you to do."
"I-Who are you-What-" Eren's entire face reddened, cheeks and ears and all.
Jean looked at him, the corner of his lip pulled up a bit in a sort of smile, "The Corporal, Levi."
Eren felt as if his face would combust into flames at any given moment, he shook his head hastily. "What? No-I only-Just-It's because-I only follow his orders really, I mean-And that-You know-It's-"
Jean rose up his hand to stop him, looking away from him and towards his other hand.
"You never know when," Jean took a deep breath, and Eren noted that his shoulders were slightly shaking, "When someone will come up to you and ask you to identify him in a pile of dead bodies." He closed his hand into a fist then, "Then all those nights you've spent thinking about him wouldn't matter anymore."
Jean stepped away then, shoving his hands into his pockets and turning around as he began to walk away from Eren.
"So tell him. Find a way to tell him."