Shingeki no Kyojin belongs to Isayama Hajime.
The world they live in is manipulative, barricaded by greed and corruption, and there is no escape without consequence. He'd seen the ugliest of humanity within the richest towns inside the safest wall - the prominent cheekbones of children and adults alike, the dark red-brown stain on the street that he pretends is a remnant of the cobblestones' original colour.
His most vivid memory is of not being able to fall asleep, his ribs sticking too much to lie on his side, and his shoulder blades pressing too harshly against the unevenly paved stones. Your shoulder blades are where wings would grow from if you had them, he remembers - the words of an wrinkled old lady he had stolen a carrot from, the one that had cleaned and bandaged a cut on his back from a separate endeavour of his for food. She told him a lot of things, the way that he imagines a grandmother would tell a child fairy tales. Join the Reconnaissance Corps, go out and see the world.
He remembers the first time he throws his cape on, buttoning and securing it and feeling pain blossoming where his wing buds would be if he had them. And he thought he'd been free, at least for a little while, out where backstabbing and wickedness can't be afforded.
But still, even there in the Recon Corps, they spin unnecessary spindles of lies and weaves it into a story of deceit, makes it believable so that he'd doubt himself - but he wrote the report just yesterday, and he knows.
He glares at her, and the seeming honesty in her eyes almost makes him falter. Almost. "And why should I?"
She's quiet, but Hanji always has something to say, she's never speechless like this. The leaves rustle in the wind, the sunlight filtering through the canopy of the tree dancing with the shadows, dancing across Hanji's face in an intricate pattern. She bites her lips first before she speaks, and the action is so unlike her and so reminiscent of Petra that he stops in the middle of an exhale and has to remind himself to keep breathing. "I don't know."
"Then quit trying to feed me this bullshit."
Hanji, for some strange reason, turns away to make her way down the hillside to headquarters without protest, but then she pauses in the midstep and looks back at him. "We're just worried, Levi."
He doesn't reply, and she turns on her heels. Soon, she's out of sight.
He leans back into the trunk of the tree, tilts his head up so that his vision is full of golden green instead of the slope of the hill and the line where grass meets sky. His shoulder blades throb where they rest against the rough bark, but soon his entire back begins to ache, pain shooting up and down his spine.
He falls asleep with an empty feeling, a hole in his chest, as if there's a part of his heart missing, but his back no longer hurts. In fact, he can't feel anything at all.
Levi dreams of being terrified - terrified of how heavy his wings feel on his back, terrified that it would drag him down and he would get left behind. He dreams of falling and being left sitting beneath an umbrella of leaves for eternity, an endless stretch of sky before him that he can't reach.
It's annoying how they look at him - not because of the sympathy in their eyes, but because of the reason why they look at him that way.
He slams his door shut and begins digging through his drawers, knowing there's another copy. There are always two copies: one to hand in and one to keep so that he'd remember. There are lots of them that he'd kept - he'd kept every single one.
Levi doesn't realize that his door had creaked open until Eren spoke up. "Sir, are you alright?"
"Do I look alright?" He retorts, not looking at Eren and keeps shuffling papers around, trying to find the right one. It should have been near the top of the stack, given how it was done just recently.
"No, sir, you don't."
At that, Levi's gaze snaps up to meet Eren's, and a leaf of paper slips from his hold. It drifts down like a feather, and he reaches for it. He had engraved into his mind exactly how his pen had etched out those letters, and ah, yes, it's what he'd been searching for.
"They died. You saw," Eren continues, and Levi tries hard not to accidentally crumple the sheet, double checks to make sure that it's the right one. "We had their bodies. You saw."
There are no graves to lay flowers in front of, there are no ashes to return to families. Levi scowls, and shoves the report at Eren. "Missing in action."
Eren gives him a strange look at first, but then his eyes glazes over and it's not until the stream of sunlight from the window reflects off of it at a certain angle that he realizes Eren's on the verge of crying. But even so, his voice is unnaturally steady when he says, in a voice that wants to say more than what is being said, "that's the same as dying, sir."
He stares at Eren, and Eren stares back. Dust motes waltz in the late afternoon sunlight behind him, and an old memory resurfaces - the tremble of the ground, hitched sobs of soldiers, something that looks like the dead bodies they wrap up in grey sheets in the air, its silhouette distinct in the fading daylight, and the dust rising up behind it.
He averts his eyes only for it to land on the emblem on Eren's sleeves - remembers cutting it out from her jacket, and the wings on his own uniform seem to weigh more than it should.
When he answers, everything sounds muffled and distant, and his voice sounds quiet. "…is it?"
It's a sad quiet.
"It is." Sad words to fill the sad silence. Eren doesn't say any more.
That night he dreams such a stark dream that he's not sure if it's memory or illusion. He dreams of being numb - numb as he knocked on doors and gave news and offered condolences. He dreams of walking past a flower seller's stall and approaching one of the many identical houses lining the narrow street. He dreams of Petra's father opening the door with an ashen expression, and dreams of sadness defrosting the numbness until his heart hurt and felt weighed down like his shoulders did.
"You're right, Erwin. He does seem delusional to me. It's weird, though. He recognizes that the titans are gone and all that, but I think that he sometimes thinks he's still living in those days. He asked me just yesterday why the coffee beans that Petra bought right before the expedition was already out.
"…Erwin, isn't it about time to provide some kind of closure? Not just for Levi, I mean. For all those families who never got a body back. And for us. It's been ten years."
Levi stops by the stall and asks Eren to help pick out flowers. As they examine blooms together, plucking out lilies and forget-me-nots, Eren says, "it's been a long time, huh?"
He doesn't need clarification for what Eren's talking about. "Yeah."