Finally managed to write something for my SnK OTP. Took me long enough.
Warnings: There will be character death, though it is not the main focus of this fic. Fairly safe for anime-only fans, but I wrote while being conscious of the manga, so please beware of possible, unintentional spoilers. There will also be non-explicit sex scenes. Also Levi's potty mouth - I think we all know what he's like.
Eren: 30, Levi: 45
If Levi has to use one word to describe the first year after their very long expedition, it'd have to be "boring". As boring as watching somebody trying to take a dump but not succeeding, if he wants to be more explicit. But boring in a good way, he supposes.
After Eren drags them out to explore the world for a whole three years, during which time Armin and Erwin devise a plan to clean up the political mess and create a new order or a new country or a new world or a new something (Levi doesn't really care), he is more than ready to settle back into old ways. Old ways, in the past, would mean training and doing paperwork until he gets to kill titans on their monthly expedition. Now, for about a year, they engage in the tedious activity of settling into old ways: finding a place next to the ocean to build a house, getting all the furniture they need in it, figuring out how the water system works, finding some sort of pastime, and directing Eren's energy somewhere that is not just the bed.
Not that they don't expend energy on the bed, but even Eren cannot spend his whole life thinking of imaginative positions to bend Levi into. Eren argues otherwise, until he bounds out of bed and starts making long, drawn-out plans, plans that involve building something that can bring them across the sea to discover new lands. Apparently all the rounds of sex haven't driven that thought out of his mind.
"Eren," Levi says, tired and grumpy, "get your ass back here." Because even while he's pleased that Eren does have a life outside of fucking him, he'd rather be pressing against Eren's warmth on this windy morning.
He gazes across the room, where Eren is standing naked without a care in the world. Eren is thirty and strong and unscarred in a way that makes Levi pissed off. He thinks of all that Eren's body had to do so he can survive. But because of that, despite the many times he has to forcibly piece himself together and continue fighting as though he's still whole, Eren can flick his eyes up from the maps and smile at him. "I'll make us some breakfast," he says.
Levi weighs between getting served breakfast in bed and slotting in another round, before his body reminds him he's not in his thirties anymore, hasn't been for a while, and he decides he's too tired for the latter. He slumps back into the pillows and dozes off.
Twenty minutes later, Eren slides into bed next to him, holding a plate with something that smells sweet. Levi groans and pulls himself up, focusing on the golden-brown…circle things. "What did you make?"
"Armin says they're pancakes. Mikasa taught me how to make them," Eren says, using a fork to cut a bite-sized piece and holding it out to Levi. Levi leans forward to snag it off the fork, chewing and tasting the sweet, thick liquid melting into the fluffy cake. "And that's honey to eat the cakes with. Armin says there's something called maple syrup to eat with it, but we haven't found the maple trees yet," Eren says, as though it's just a matter of time before they find these mysterious trees.
"Hmm," Levi says, which prompts Eren to feed him another piece. After swallowing the second piece he says, "Not bad."
"Isn't it?" Eren says with a small sigh, popping a piece into his mouth. As blissful as he seems he's still careful not to drop any crumbs on the bed. Part of Levi wants to remind him they're going to have to wash the sheets anyway, it's dried and sticky everywhere, did Eren forget how late they've stayed up?
The larger part of him approves of how well-trained and, more importantly, how relaxed and comfortable Eren is around him, how attuned to each other's habits they are. He closes his lips over the next piece Eren holds out to him and smirks up at the man.
There's a faint tinge of pink on Eren's cheeks. He hasn't blushed like a teenager for years now, the full-on red that spreads to his ears. Still, this is a treat to see. Levi basks in smug contentment. After the pancakes are gone Eren is barely able to place the plate on the floor before Levi crawls over him, relishing in the way Eren's eyes are still riveted on him, still warm and smouldering even after all these years. They don't care that people are awake and doing stuff outside, near their little house.
At the beginning settling down and exploring their new home and surroundings is exciting in its way. Sex with Eren had become smooth by then, an act that is as much for comfort as it is for relief, but there is still some sort of exotic thrill that runs through them when they can fuck with the sound of the ocean in the backdrop. Their neighbours consist entirely of former Scouting Legion members, which means everybody already knows the intimate sounds each other makes and barely blink at the noise of an enthusiastic couple. It becomes campfire talk, the way people greet each other by talking about the weather, except in this case it's a talk that goes, "Hey, so Sasha and Connie did it three times yesterday?" "Yeah, I think Ymir and Christa were exhausted though, not a peep from their place."
Levi thinks none of them are conditioned for living in normal society anymore. They probably never were. Just that the façade the military gave them made people think they were normal soldiers, willing to die for rich fat merchants who sat safely behind Wall Sina. Now it's probably their worst nightmare, all of them let loose into the world and able to wreak havoc.
That's what they did for a while. In between building houses they were wreaking havoc where they went, cataloguing all the animals and plants and places, enduring Hanji's and Armin's chatter when they stumble across something only they can find interesting, like rocks. But they're still human. After a while, the initial excitement of being free to explore a new home without the titan threat winds down into the contentment of having a place to go home to. By the end of a year Levi is wondering what they can do to alleviate boredom, short of attempting to swim to the next continent.
He starts to seriously consider Eren's suggestion of building that huge thing that can bring them across the sea.
Eren: 32, Levi: 47
Mikasa and Jean have a baby. After Eren fretting for eight and a half months since Jean knocked Mikasa up, she gives birth on a warm spring night. It's the biggest thing that has happened to their community in two years, and Armin and Erwin start to travel back from what had used to be the Walls to coo over the new baby. New neighbours, normal citizens of Rose and Sina who have decided to explore the world now that nothing is trying to eat them, also come around to get a peek.
Two days after the birth, during which Eren paces and nearly breaks all the mugs in their house, Jean and Mikasa allow visitors. Eren is the first to sprint over, hand clamped around Levi's wrist to drag him along. After muttered hellos and Eren making sure Mikasa is alright with his eyes, he catches sight of his niece in her arms, and he melts. There's no other way to describe it. Mikasa, exhausted but glowing with a rare happiness, smiles and beckons both of them closer to the bedside. Eren hovers at Mikasa's shoulder, eyes sparkling, hands itching to hold the baby, so much like the teenager he used to be that it's cute. Levi leans against the wall behind and watches Eren watch the baby. In the end Jean grumbles and says, "Fine, just for a second." Mikasa makes sure Eren's arms are ready to support the baby before she places the bundle in his arms.
"Oh. Oh." Eren's eyes widen as he cradles the baby girl against him. "Look at her, Levi," he says, voice hushed, almost like he's going to whimper from how perfect she is.
Levi obligingly leans around Eren's arm to look at the girl. Her face is sort of wrinkly and she has no hair, pretty much the way all babies look when they're born. "Well done, Mikasa, Jean," he says, because while a baby is a wonderful addition to the community he isn't going to lie and say she's beautiful. He has no doubt she will grow to be a lovely baby, just that she isn't going to win any beauty prizes when she's a newborn.
"She's perfect," Eren says in awe.
Mikasa smiles and exchanges a soft look with Jean. "When Armin's back, we're thinking of asking him to be godfather," she says, curling a hand around Jean's. "It's in Jean's ancestor culture, before the Walls."
"It's for the best, since she's going to have terrible uncles," Jean says, grinning at Eren and Levi. Out of habit Eren would have flipped him the middle finger without thinking, but he's too busy cooing at the baby.
Levi doesn't know the first thing about babies, so Jean is right in that aspect. Though he has no doubt Eren will be determined to spoil the girl rotten.
"What's her name?" Eren asks, swaying from side to side like he's dancing with the girl, holding her like he's already made a vow to protect her. Not from titans, but from anything that might even think of harming her. He's probably the type to destroy any stones she trips over.
"Katsumi," Jean says with pride.
It's like Mikasa is gazing at a time far away when she says, "My mother used to tell me about our ancestors. Katsumi – it means 'beautiful victory'."
"Katsumi," Eren whispers like it's a prayer, "it's perfect."
"Would you like to hold her too, Levi?" Mikasa asks with a warm gaze.
Over the years they've learnt to live with each other, and for the long time since he's committed himself to Eren she's learnt to accept him as family and protect him as such. Levi has seen her almost kill herself to protect Eren, has heard of people call her Humanity's Strongest after Levi's injuries caught up with him and her kill count surpassed his, and he had wished she never had to bear that title.
Now he gives her a disbelieving look, reminiscent of when he was still a Captain and she still needed to learn some discipline and control, and he says, "No."
In the past Jean might have bristled at what seems like an insult to him or those precious to him. Now he just laughs and says, "Told you, Mikasa."
"So you are scared," Mikasa says with a thoughtful look.
Eren blinks and looks up from the baby. "You're scared, Levi?"
Levi draws himself up to his full height and ignores Jean snickering. "I am not scared, Ackerman, Kirchstein."
"It's Ackerman-Kirchstein now," Eren says absent-mindedly, distracted by the baby's small hand twitching. All of them ignore him.
"You're scared of holding a baby," Mikasa points out.
"Babies are…not hygienic," Levi says in defence.
Jean rolls his eyes. "Nobody is as hygienic as you."
That might be true. It does not detract from the fact that children are walking nightmares of germs – and the fact that he does not want to risk dropping the child.
Unfortunately for him, he knows what shitty assholes Jean Kirchstein, Mikasa Ackerman, and Eren Jaegar can be. So he really isn't surprised when Eren turns around and faces him down with steely determination. "Levi, she's so perfect," he says.
"I know," Levi says, trying to back away.
Eren follows him to the wall. When Levi cannot back away any further he glares at Eren. Peaceful life or not, he's still this brat's Captain. Ex-Captain. The specifics do not matter. There's a staredown for a minute, during which time Jean pours tea for all of them and gets some food for Mikasa, and the baby shifts against Eren's chest. Then Eren's eyes become all round and puppy-ish. Levi can pinpoint the second his resolve crumbles.
"Fine," he says, looking down at the bundle that is too soft and round – where the fuck is he supposed to grip? "For ten seconds."
"Thirty," Eren says.
"Fifteen, and no more bargaining or I'm not doing it," Levi counters.
Eren pouts. Levi does not back down this time. With a sigh Eren nods, and Levi carefully puts his arms in the same position Mikasa had shown Eren. With an instinct Levi doesn't know Eren possessed, he re-positions the baby and gently places her in Levi's arms before stepping back.
He doesn't see what's so special about holding a newborn baby. He supposes it's nice, this new bundle of hope for a new age, and the baby is warm. He's hardly breathing for fear of dropping or jostling her. Mentally he counts the seconds. Eren making cooing noises next to him and stroking her hand does not help his concentration.
At ten seconds, she grips around Eren's finger, and he stops breathing. At twelve seconds, the girl opens her eyes, staring up at Levi with eyes the same shade of brown as Jean's.
Oh fuck, something in Levi's brain says. From the way Jean and Mikasa give each other pleased looks he knows they must have expected this. Must have planned this. Observed when their daughter wakes up during the past two days, and timed it so he would be there when she wakes up. Their daughter is going to grow up to be as troublesome as both of them.
Katsumi blinks up at them sleepily, grips tighter on Eren's finger, and makes little baby noises until she falls back asleep in Levi's arms like there's no safer place.
It takes five minutes before Levi realizes his fifteen seconds have been over long ago.
Armin arrives prepared with all sorts of gifts (read: lots of books) for Katsumi – when he is asked to be godfather his eyes go misty and his voice is choked as he agrees. Armin updates them on the situation in their old home –
"Some confusion, naturally, without the Crown anymore and the setting up of a people's government, but you all know what Erwin is like" –
and Erwin manages to single-handedly unload more books for their reading pleasure –
"We've been talking with a lot of citizens and there are some good men and women, those not corrupted by the years behind Wall Sina yet. Of course, you know what Armin's like at rooting out secrets people don't want known, so I think we have a pretty good grasp on the current candidates."
Eren nods and sneaks some of the books out of the crate and into his bag.
With more and more people arriving with gifts of food (Sasha and Connie), clothes (Ymir and Christa), trinkets to hang above her crib (Hanji), and in general making a fuss over the baby, it's well into the late afternoon before Eren and Levi slip away and take a walk on the beach. Eren links his fingers with Levi's, his other hand holding onto his shoes so that he can feel the waves lap against his feet. Levi had long ago given up on dissuading him from this unsanitary habit of walking in the shallow water. He can't pinpoint when he had gotten roped into doing the same thing, though he has to admit the water against his skin does feel good, even if still chilly in spring.
"It's wonderful, isn't it?" Eren says with a grin. "She's gonna have the best parents ever. Well, best mother ever. Jean's still a dick."
Levi snorts. "And an uncle who's a shitty asshole?"
"That's you, I'm the awesome uncle. Armin's going to be the best godfather. She'll be the cleverest little girl," he says, swinging their linked hands. "Sasha and Connie were saying they want a kid of their own too."
Levi watches their feet sink in the sand again and again, the waves washing the prints away as soon as they leave them. He grips tighter around Eren's hand and asks the question that's been on his mind, ever since Eren had held Katsumi, since Mikasa had given birth, since he had found out about her pregnancy. When the waves crash against the shore and recede, he takes a deep breath and asks, "Do you regret it, Eren?"
Eren turns to him, surprise in his eyes. "Regret what, Levi?"
The way he says his name without adding his rank before it, affection and respect and love rolled into one, it makes Levi grit his teeth and force out, "Being with me. I can't – I can't give you the family you deserve, Eren."
The silence as Eren's eyes widen is unbearable. Levi cannot run away from this. Cannot avoid this like he had avoided problems in the past, when he can be excused, when killing titans and securing a future for humanity was more important than doing these kind of heart-to-heart talks, talks that he would have balked at and sneered at for no other reason than that they were entirely unproductive.
In those days they fucked for stress relief.
Somewhere along the way, Levi made a colossal mistake in falling for the stupid brat. And this is where he ended up.
"Levi," Eren says with a heaviness Levi wants to destroy. He looks sad, fingers tight around Levi's, almost painful. "Levi, I would never regret being with you," he says, with the earnestness of a child and the solemnity of an adult.
He knows. That's the worst part. "I know. That does not change the fact that we can't – " he gestures with his other hand between them, shoes dangling from his fingers in the space – "none of us can bear a child."
"Yes," Eren says, unhidden pain in his voice. "That's true."
He tugs Levi along to continue their walk along the shore. He thinks of Katsumi in Eren's arms, the way Eren's eyes had shone with unrestrained joy, the nights when they don't just fuck, they make love, as much as Levi hates sounding like a sap. He hates himself for the way Eren's face twist in hurt when he says, "You can still leave, you know. Find…a good woman to settle down with, start a family."
Eren whirls around on him, still not letting go of Levi's hand. "Don't you get it?" he snarls, a spark of the wild, animalistic rage in his eyes. "I want to be with you. And it hurts that we can't have a child together, but it hurts for me and for you too!" Levi flinches, unable to retort because Eren is hitting too close too hard. "But no matter what I won't let you go. We've worked so much for this. Mikasa and Jean will have Katsumi and maybe another little boy, Sasha and Connie will have kids too, and it will fucking hurt but it will hurt even more if we're not together."
He pants, the rage dying down to be replaced by sorrow and a certain acceptance. Not resignation. Too long Levi had thought that acceptance is resignation, when he had lost the people he fought with and resigned himself to losing even more. He drops his shoes on the sand and uses that hand to pull Eren closer by the collar of his shirt. "You're still a fucking brat, you know? Saying these things, not giving a thought to what others are trying to do for you – "
Eren grins then, sharp and wild like the first time they've broken down the Walls. "I don't care about that. I don't want you to do things 'for me', and I'll hunt you down if you ever dare leave. You can't escape this, Levi. I won't let you."
"Little brat bossing me around?" Levi breathes against Eren's lips, still angry, unable to believe all that Eren is willing to give up even now.
"Not a brat anymore," Eren says, brushing his lips against Levi's once, twice, dry and quick. He closes his eyes, pressing his forehead against Levi's, voice soft and raw and honest when he says, "Don't you leave me, Levi."
Levi hears the soft splash Eren's shoes make when he drops them into the shallow waves, feels Eren's arm going around him. The man is solid and strong – when Levi leans against him he feels old, like his back might give out on him anytime, like the scars will go so deep that they will carve into and break his bones. Eren presses his lips against Levi's ear, murmurs his name, loosening the hold on their linked fingers and brushing a thumb against the back of his hand.
It's not alright. It'll never be, there won't be a child who looks like both of them running around the house, creating their own adventure.
They'll live through this. They always do.
Eren: 35, Levi: 50, Katsumi: 3
Katsumi has a penchant for giving her father a heart attack and for disrupting Levi's libido. He awakes to find the little girl perched on his chest, looking down at him with curious brown eyes, and his morning erection dies down immediately.
"Katsumi," he says, keeping his voice low. On his other side Eren shifts, as though reacting to the sound of the girl's name.
"Uncle Levi," she says in an equally soft voice, like it's a game.
He sits up, making sure the sheets are still covering them from waist down, and settles the girl on his stomach. "What are you doing here?"
She tilts her head to the side. With the blunt honesty of her father and the simple affection of her mother, she says, "I wanted to see you and Uncle Eren. And eat pancakes."
Levi sighs. More often than not they would wake with Katsumi sitting on one of them or squeezed into the space between their bodies. In the beginning it's followed by Jean hollering the place down searching for his precious little girl. Now Mikasa tends to drop by after two hours, smile at them, and pick her girl up after Eren has stuffed her belly with sweet things. Levi suspects she and Jean put those mornings to good use.
"Your mum can make pancakes," he points out.
"But she doesn't," she says in the same tone Levi had used. "She makes eggs and potatoes and beans. And soup. They're nice. But I want pancakes."
Eren mumbles something and flips over, facing them with hazy, sleepy eyes. He smiles when he sees Katsumi and his eyes focus a little more. "Hey there, kitty Kat," he says, lifting a hand to ruffle her black hair. "Whatcha doing here?"
Disturbing us, Levi says in his mind, while Katsumi crawls over to Eren and clambers into his lap. She repeats everything she had told Levi, including the breakfast Mikasa tends to make.
"Is that so?" Eren says, a twinkle in his eye. "Well then, Kat, tell you what. Run to the living room for me and Uncle Levi, god-da Armin left some nice books that you can read. We'll join you in a bit, kay?"
Her eyes light up at the mention of books and she nods, scrambling off the bed and kneeing Eren's stomach in the process. It's a testament to all they've endured that Eren doesn't wince, just ruffles her hair and pushes her back in the direction of the door. They wait until the patter of foot-steps stop and they can hear the 'flump' of the girl settling into the cushions. Eren leans over Levi, pressing their lips together, giving him a slow morning kiss.
When they part Levi wrinkles his nose. "Morning breath," he says.
"You too," Eren says with a grin. He stretches, a long smooth movement that makes his back arch. He looks over and catches Levi's gaze before shaking his head. "After Katsumi goes home."
"Keep your promises, Jaegar," Levi says, slipping out of bed to wash up.
"When have I not?" Eren says, rummaging around for clothes.
Mikasa has drilled the proper table manners into her girl, and Eren cuts the pancakes into bite-sized pieces before putting it before her along with a little fork. She says "thank you for the meal" with a small bop of her head before carefully smearing the honey.
"What are you doing today, Katsumi?" Levi asks after she's chewed and swallowed a piece.
"Mum's gonna bring me to the field and let me plant corn!" She seems really pleased.
Eren pauses in cutting his pancake. "That reminds me. Levi, I have to go check on the tomatoes later."
Levi grunts and sips his coffee. Katsumi makes a sound that's nothing like a grunt and sips her hot chocolate. Eren chews the food in contentment, swallows, and says, "How 'bout later Uncle Levi and I teach you how to swim, kitty?"
"You will?" she says, eyes round. "Daddy says the water is scary."
That's because your daddy is still an idiot¸ Eren's eyes say when he looks at Levi. To Katsumi, he says, "Well, you'll have to ask your mummy and daddy for permission first. If they're free they can come too, and we'll show your daddy that the water's not scary."
Levi thinks that will take the form of dunking Jean head-first into water so he doesn't have to fret over his darling girl being swept away by a wave. Katsumi bounces in her seat and says, "I will! I'll ask them, they have to say yes!"
Not like they can say anything other than that, especially when Katsumi turns round, pleading eyes up to her daddy. He suspects Eren is the one who taught her that. Or she's been around Eren too long that she had picked up his habits. He sighs and drinks more coffee.
Katsumi sighs in happiness and takes another gulp of hot chocolate.
Eren: 37, Levi: 52, Katsumi: 5, Alex: 2
When it happens it's sudden but unsurprising. In the middle of the night Levi jolts awake when he is punched in the side. On instinct he rolls away, grimacing at the blunt blow – he's careful to keep his movements light and soft. At his side Eren thrashes, mumbling something to himself, brows furrowing.
"Eren," he says, quiet and firm. "You're alright, Eren."
Eren doesn't seem to be able to hear. He mutters almost feverishly, one phrase, over and over. "Kill them all – I'll kill them all, kill them all – "
Levi wraps his hand around Eren's fist, eases it open so he can link their fingers together. Eren's hand spasms around his, tightening and then loosening. Levi keeps his grip firm as he says, "Eren, listen to me, you're alright."
"Levi," he mutters. For a moment Levi hopes he's awake, before Eren whimpers and says, "Levi, please, don't – "
"I'm here. I'm not going anywhere," he says, brushing a hand against Eren's forehead. It's drenched in sweat. "Wake up, Eren. It's okay."
Eren continues struggling against something Levi cannot see. He can do nothing but continue to make shushing noises until Eren gasps and comes awake as suddenly as he had descended into a nightmare. He looks around, eyes wild and unfocused, and Levi clasps both hands over his.
"It's the Year 872, you're Eren Jaegar, and you're living with me, Levi, by the ocean," he says in a low, smooth voice.
Eren's erratic breathing starts to slow down though his eyes are still wild, looking for enemies in the shadows.
"It's been ten years since the titans. Mikasa and Armin are safe – we're all safe. You have a five year old niece you love very much, her name is Katsumi. She has her mother's hair and her father's eyes, and a spirit much like yours."
"Katsumi," he whispers, returning Levi's hold on his hand.
"Yes. Her best friend is Alex, Sasha's and Connie's two year old son. He's already a troublemaker, especially when he's with Ymir. Christa likes to make cookies for Katsumi and Alex. Sometimes Sasha and Connie bring them to the woods and teach them how to look for food."
"Katsumi, Alex," Eren says, closing his eyes. He tilts over and rests his head on Levi's shoulder.
"Mikasa will have another child soon. She and Jean hope it's a baby boy this time. Everybody thinks they'll name the baby Marco if it's a boy. But if it's a girl they'll love her all the same – we'll still be the uncles." He rubs a thumb over the back of Eren's hand in slow circles until Eren's breaths are even. When Eren opens his eyes he looks calm.
"Thank you," he says in a hoarse voice.
Levi presses his cheek to Eren's hair and says nothing. There's nothing he can say, nothing he can do to change the past. This he can do – remind Eren the present is different, that they fall asleep to the sound of the ocean and when they wake up they sometimes find a little girl snuggled up against them.
Remind Eren that Levi might be fifty two, but he is still more than capable of keeping a fifteen meter titan under control.
Eren: 40, Levi: 55, Katsumi: 8, Alex: 5, Marco: 3
Marco adores Eren. Levi knows the feeling is entirely mutual. When the Ackerman-Kirchsteins drop by Marco claims Eren's lap, and Eren is happy to read books to him and show him drawings of colourful birds. At eight years old, Katsumi's biggest rival is her little brother; she compromises by following Levi everywhere he goes. Levi teaches her how to tuck bedsheets in properly – as a reward he tells her he'll make a cup of hot chocolate. Happy with that she scampers off to find her father.
Marco wants to drink the tea Eren drinks. While Eren distracts him with a storybook and bounces the boy on his knee Levi makes a non-caffeinated tea and adds rock sugar. The colour is close enough to the tea Eren drinks that the boy won't notice the difference. Mikasa passes him the small cup, he takes it, nods, and pours the tea.
"Armin wrote," Mikasa says. "They'll be coming back soon. Most of the difficult stuff is settled, and Erwin wants to rest, he says."
"Hmm." Eren had received the same letter. That day they had dropped by the house Armin and Erwin stayed in and cleaned the place. Levi had to restrict the number of books Eren had casually "borrowed" to ten. He doesn't think their bookshelf can take much more. He isn't sure how Armin's and Erwin's bookshelves are withstanding the sheer number of tomes on them, and they seem to have five times the books that Eren has. Maybe six times, considering how Katsumi and Marco seem to go home with books every time they visit. "The children will be happy to have their godfather with them."
"Yes," she says, folding her arms and leaning back against the counter. Her hair had grown, and she favours long skirts. She had lost muscle but still remains slender – she is still their strongest. Levi doesn't think he can handle two kids running around the house. She accepts the cup he hands to her and holds it between her palms, letting it warm her. "How are you?"
"What do you mean?"
Her eyes flick to his leg, then she nods at him and says, "It's getting cold."
This far out, by the sea, the wind cuts through their clothes as autumn approaches, winter at its heels. When it snows it's a sight to see, the snow melting away into nothingness once it touches the sea. They've spent many a winter curled up in the armchair by the window watching the snow, one of Eren's hands gently kneading at Levi's thigh. "I'm fine," he says.
Sorrow, not guilt, crosses her features. Twenty five years seems very far away. She traces the scar on her cheek before letting her hand fall, her hair covering the scar. "I'll bake a cake. In her letter Hanji said she found some new ingredients we can use. Maybe Erwin will be back in time for his birthday."
"Sure. You should let Eren know about making the cake," he says.
"Eren will be distracted with the kids."
Levi has to agree. When they leave the kitchen with a tray of drinks for everyone, Katsumi is curled up between Eren and Jean, listening to the story Eren is reading. Marco has yet to relinquish his spot from Eren's lap.
"So the sparrow listened to the statue and plucked a little gold leaf every time there was somebody who needed it. The old woman who's very sick could use it to buy medicine. The little girl who has no money could use it to buy food."
"Why can't she grow her own food, Uncle?" Marco asks in a high voice.
He lightly presses a finger on Marco's nose, grinning when the boy wrinkles it. "That's because she lives in a city and there's no space to grow food."
"Why can't she go outside the city?" Katsumi asks, tugging on his shirt sleeve.
"Well, it still won't be easy, because it's snowing and there's less food when it snows," he explains, ruffling the girl's hair. She wrinkles her nose much like her brother did.
"Where's her daddy and mummy?" Marco asks. Jean and Eren wince, though it's not visible to the kids.
"They love her very much, but they had to go somewhere far away," Mikasa explains. Eren shoots her a grateful look. "Levi made drinks for all of us."
There is a chorus of "thanks" and "thank you Uncle Levi!" Levi shrugs and places the tray on the table. "It's hot," he says. It doesn't stop Katsumi from trying to gulp the liquid, before she gags and is forced to wait for it to cool.
"What happens next?" Marco asks, deciding to wait for his tea to cool after he saw what happened to his sister.
Eren turns back to the book and flips a page. "During the long winter, though it was so cold the sparrow thought he might freeze, he stayed with the statue. The statue felt bad because he had told the sparrow to stay, so he told him to sleep between his feet where he would be protected from the wind. The sparrow kept plucking a little gold leaf every time somebody needed it, until one day he was so tired and cold he fell asleep between the statue's feet. No matter how the statue called to him and begged for him to be okay, he wouldn't wake up."
Both the children whimper, though Katsumi does a better job of hiding it. "Did he wake up in the end? Is he okay? He must be okay!" Marco says, tugging anxiously at Eren's arm.
"Well," Eren draws out the word, turning the page so slowly the kids look like they might pass out, "after the long winter, the snow stopped, and there were flowers again. When the birds started to sing in the air again the sparrow woke up – "
The kids cheer. Jean and Mikasa murmur to each other about what sounds like dinner plans. Levi frowns after taking a sip of coffee. Too strong. That's why he likes it when Eren makes the coffee for him.
"The sparrow looked up, about to say hello to the statue, when he gasped. 'Mr. Statue! You look – you look so strange!' he said."
Katsumi leans over Eren's arm to see the drawing better. Without the gold leaves, there are brown and gray patches on the statue, and there's a little bird flying around him. "'I'm so glad you're okay, little sparrow. It's fine. I'm much happier now than when I was a golden statue. Thank you for all your help,' the statue said."
Marco giggles, a tiny happy sound. "The statue looks so happy. He's smiling!"
"That's right," Eren said, flipping the page to the last one. "'Look, your friends are back too,' the statue said. When the sparrow turned to look he saw his friends flying back because it is warm now. 'You should go with them,' he said.
"'I'll never forget you, Mr. Statue!' the sparrow said, pecking the statue on his nose. 'I'll come visit!' And so the sparrow flew away to join his friends. The statue was happier than he had ever been, even though the people in the city whispered about how strange he looked. But that was okay. The old woman who ate the medicine smiles at him every day, and the little girl who had a full belly played at his feet. And the statue had the best friend ever, a little sparrow who always made sure to visit him, and who talked to him and told him about the world outside. The end."
Marco and Katsumi claps. "I like that story!" Marco declares.
"Me too!" Katsumi says, not about to lose to her little brother. "Can we borrow this, Uncle Eren?"
"Of course," Eren says, slipping the book into their already bulging bag. "What story do you want to hear next?"
"The tortoise and the hare!" Marco says.
"It's Katsumi's turn, Marco," Eren says gently, tickling the boy's sides when he pouts.
"I want to hear about the man who shot down nine suns," Katsumi says, trying to wriggle onto Eren's lap.
"I was here first!" Marco says, crossing his arms and refusing to budge.
"But it's my turn!" Katsumi says.
Levi makes a face. It's going to turn ugly soon – from the way Jean is trying to soothe his daughter he knows they all know it. So Eren says, "How about you sit with Uncle Levi for a bit, Marco? You can drink your special tea with him."
With that cue Levi holds up Marco's cup, settling down in the armchair. "Oh," Marco says, looking from the tea to Eren, biting his lip.
"It's tea like Uncle Eren's," Levi says, keeping his face impassive. Mikasa has turned away, hand pressed over her mouth to hide a smile.
"Okay!" Marco says agreeably. It's not like he doesn't like Levi, but everybody knows he has a strong attachment to Eren. He slides off Eren's lap, walks the short distance between the couch and armchair, and crawls onto Levi's lap. "Uncle Levi makes the best drinks!" he says, snuggling against the man's chest.
"Thank you," he says, not giving away anything in his voice or expression when the boy's knee digs into his old injury. "Sit down, or you won't get to drink your tea."
"Marco," Jean says, casting a worried glance at Levi.
"Okay," the boy says, turning around and sitting down properly in Levi's lap. Levi nods and hands him the tea, petting him on the head when he makes a happy hum.
"We're all okay?" Eren asks. Katsumi looks happy with her new spot. "Okay then, so, once upon a time there was a land with ten suns – "
"How bad is it?" Eren asks.
Levi sighs and ponders the pros and cons of not answering. He decides it's not worth it, what with the way Eren has him trapped in the circle of his arms. He presses his back against Eren's chest and says, "It's the first cold day."
Eren nods. The first cold day brings an ache, but it never gets truly bad until the harshest point of winter. He presses a hand on Levi's thigh, massaging firmly. Levi groans, going boneless, clutching at Eren's arm when it's painful. The good sort of pain, the type that will ease the ache in the end, a pain that reminds him he can still feel and use that leg.
"Sorry," Eren says, pressing a kiss onto his neck. He kisses upward until he reaches Levi's ear. "Thank you," he says, breathing the words into Levi's ear.
"Eren," Levi says, stroking the man's arm.
He noses at Levi's cheek until Levi sighs and turns his head, letting Eren press their lips together. He licks along Eren's lips, swallowing his contented hum when their tongues tangle. Eren's hand, warm against his thigh, keeps its rubbing motion, faltering when Levi moans into his mouth.
Levi pants when he pulls back, frowning at Eren and saying, "Brat. I'm too old for this. Soon I'm going to be wrinkly and disgusting."
Eren snorts, running a hand through Levi's hair. There is a gray edge that shines silver when the sun hits it just right, or when the fire is burning during the winter months. He presses his nose against Levi's temple and says, "You'll be the most graceful old man I've ever seen. The grumpiest too."
"You're really trying to kill the mood, aren't you?" Levi drawls.
"Who's the one who started it?" Eren asks. He closes his eyes when Levi traces a finger over their outer edges. "I can see it, you know. You chasing the kids around with a cane, scowling when your coffee is not made just right – "
"Or when you're being an idiot ninety percent of the time," Levi adds, dropping his hand into Eren's lap. At this angle it's awkward. When he twists his wrist just right it still makes Eren moan.
"What's the other ten percent?" Eren huffs into his neck, hand trailing from Levi's thigh to his groin.
"You're not too horrible in bed," Levi says with a thoughtful look, biting his lip when Eren cups him. "Warm too."
"Really? I'm delighted," Eren says lowly, fingers teasing around the waistband of Levi's pants. "Tell me more."
"Hmm. You still look good on your back, when I'm pounding into you." Levi turns around, straddling Eren's legs properly. "Still tight too. Some nights it's like your first time. Do you remember that?"
Levi remembers. When the skin around Eren's eyes was smooth and Levi could still spin in the air. The night when they had gravitated toward each other, desperate, the candlelight making Eren's sweaty skin glow. The way he had sounded, broken and like he could never ever leave Levi again, when Levi had slid into him.
Eren groans. His voice is deep now – it's harder for Levi to bring out that childish whine he had when Levi flicked his tongue just right. But he keeps trying. He likes trying. Likes that Eren can still come undone under his hands.
His knees are screaming at him though. With a reluctant sigh he says, "We'd better move this to the bed."
"Thought you were gonna ride me here," Eren says, kissing and sucking at the skin near his collarbone. Levi hisses. "Just like when we first moved here."
How Levi had disinfected the armchair after that. He does not want to do that again, no matter how much his cock jumps at Eren's words. It's harder these days to go for multiple rounds, so he wants this to count. "Bed," he says, trying to keep his voice firm. "Bed or no fucking."
"Yes sir," Eren says with a little smile, looking up through his lashes. A trick he learnt from when he was a brat. But it must say something about Levi that he still finds himself leaning down to steal a kiss, bought in by that damn trick.
"Brat," he murmurs against Eren's lips. Eren hooks his arms around and under him, lifting him easily. They've both lost muscle weight. Eren is forty and a good-looking man, still toned even without the visible muscles, and now he weighs more than Levi. Levi is not kidding – soon he'll be old and wrinkly, and he doubts Eren will want to fuck him then. It's a depressing thought. He kisses Eren, makes sure the brat is unable to breathe, that there's nothing in the world but him, his mark on Eren's neck, his hand leaving bruises on Eren's shoulder.
Eren: 43, Levi: 58, Erwin: 60, Katsumi: 11, Alex: 8, Marco: 6
"So, big sixty, huh?" Erwin says, sipping the tea Sasha had made. "I never thought I'd live to see this number."
"You're too stubborn to die. Like a cockroach," Levi says, adjusting the blanket covering the kids. Between Katsumi and Marco, Alex fidgets until Levi places a hand on his forehead.
"Thanks, Levi," Connie says, coming back to collect more plates. "Alex takes some time to fall asleep."
Levi nods at him. On Marco's other side Armin is curled up, Marco's and Alex's heads pillowed on one of his arms. Katsumi's head is pillowed on Jean's arm, and the dogpile of kids and adults breathe steadily. Except for Sasha and Connie washing up in the kitchen, all the adults are sprawled around the living room in various states of unconsciousness. Levi is close to dozing off himself.
"Armin kicked me out of the kitchen since yesterday," Erwin says with a small smile.
"Eren did the same," Levi says, sitting down beside Erwin. "Cooked up a storm and wouldn't let me touch any of it."
"You'd nibble at all of them," Hanji says, lifting her head from the floor, squinting and looking around for her glasses.
"Huh. You're still alive then," Levi says, prodding her in the side with a foot. She squeals and curls up a bit more, giggling. "Thought you would eat yourself sick."
"I had to. I'll be leaving tomorrow, and you know food out there's not as good – did I tell you about the maple trees Moblit found?"
"Yes," both of them answer.
"Oh," Hanji slumps back on the floor. "Well then. I'll bring back some syrup once we figure out how to make them."
Levi has no idea how this woman is still so energetic even in her fifties. It does not make sense. Running around with the kids is already strenuous. He prods at her side and makes her giggle again, trying to figure out if there's some kind of switch there.
"Levi, I think she's asleep," Erwin says, putting the cup down. Hanji lets out a giggle-snore, sounding drunk even when there hadn't been any alcohol during the party. Her hand bumps into Mikasa's knee, whose head is resting on Eren's shoulder.
"It's amazing how far she can still travel," Erwin says fondly.
"Says the one who went back and forth for, what, ten years?" Levi sends a look of disgust at their bookshelves. He knows Eren had taken some books and placed them in his bag, even though both of them need reading glasses now. He's not sure what part of "we do not have space" Eren does not understand. Sometimes he's like an untrained dog.
"Ten years…you're right. How time flies."
"Don't remind me," Levi mutters.
"We're pretty good looking old men though," Erwin says, rubbing at his chin. "The gray doesn't look that bad, does it?"
"Horrible," Levi says, shooting a look at Erwin's hair. "Are you balding?"
"I am not balding, my dear Levi," Erwin says with great dignity, patting his hair.
"You will if you keep that up," Levi says, crossing his arms and leaning back against the couch cushions. He ignores Erwin's look of mock-hurt. "Happy Birthday and all that, you lumbering idiot. What are you gonna do for the next year?"
"Why, thank you, Levi." Erwin chuckles, reaching down for his cup again. "Read, I suppose. Armin wants to work on writing a history. The history of the war. He's going to get Christa to help with the drawings."
"Huh. Don't count me in," Levi says, making a face.
"How can we not write about the most dashing Captain in the Legion?" Erwin asks.
Levi shudders. Exactly why he wants no part of this.
"Don't worry," Erwin says with a soothing voice, the voice he had learnt when he was Commander and needed the confidence of his men. Now it sounds more him and less Commander persona. "We'll be careful with what we write. Armin knows exactly how sensitive the war is for everyone. But it's better we write it."
"Than some random outsider who's never seen a titan before?" Levi grunts and considers it. "Fine. Don't count me in."
"Levi, Levi." Erwin shakes his head. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
"I'll burn the bridge," Levi threatens.
Erwin sips his tea and shakes his head with a sigh. The sort of sigh Levi associates with an afternoon in a dirty alleyway, a young blonde Captain casting a long shadow over him. The sort of sigh that means Levi will eventually do something anyway, whether he wills it or not.
He crosses his arms tight and scowls.
Eren: 45, Levi: 60, Erwin: 62, Katsumi: 13, Alex: 10, Marco: 8
"I wonder how it got here."
"I don't think it has an owner…there's no collar."
"It's tiny, and it must be hungry – "
"Levi, can we keep it?"
"Is it the 'N' or the 'O' that you don't understand in 'NO'?"
It's the ultimate standoff. The situation Armin had joked about, a stray puppy wandering into his home, or maybe Ymir's and Christa's, as though puppies have sensors for which houses don't have children and are determined to make themselves the children. The puppy, scruffy and black and dirty everywhere, makes a pitiful whine.
Eren looks up at him, puppy eyes that can rival with the actual puppy.
"Put it back," Levi says through gritted teeth.
"No," Eren says.
"So you do understand what the word means. Now put it back."
"Levi," Eren says.
"Eren," Levi says.
"Look at – " he checks between the puppy's legs quickly – "look at her. Just look."
"Oh no, Eren Jaegar, we're not playing this game. Stop looking at me like that. You too," he says at the puppy.
"If you would just hold her – "
"Are you fucking kidding me? Do you see how filthy her fur is?"
"I thought you like animals?" Eren says with a small frown.
He does. But not when they're puppies that will slobber over everything and shed fur everywhere. "I don't dislike them. But we're not keeping her."
"I'll wash her, then you can hold her, then you can decide," Eren says with a firm nod, scooping the puppy up with one hand.
"You're sleeping on the couch," Levi says, watching the puppy pant and wriggle. She's covered in mud. Who let her get into this state? Where did she come from? Why did she choose their doorstep when she could have easily gone to bother Ymir and Christa, or Armin and Erwin?
Why is Eren still looking at him with puppy dog eyes? "No, Eren."
Eren sniffs. "Fine then. I'll sleep on the couch. But you have to hold her first, after I bathe her." Then he sweeps past Levi for the bathroom. Levi is going to have to clean the bathroom after this. He's too old for this shit.
"Damn you, Eren Jaegar," he growls, slamming the front door close. He stomps into the kitchen, yanking the pantry door open and glowering at it. "We don't even have anything for the damn mutt to eat. What do dogs eat anyway? Why the fuck am I talking to myself?" He can hear Eren pouring water over the mutt and her happy yips. He growls and finds a shallow bowl to fill with water before he even realizes what he's doing.
Later, Eren steps into the kitchen, towel wrapped around a freshly washed puppy. At least Eren has the sense to use Levi's least favourite towel for the deed. The puppy yips and licks Eren's hand. When he lifts the towel she looks like a ball of matted fur. A ball of matted fur that is bounding across the table for Levi.
"Oh no. Oh no, Eren Jaegar, you piece of shit."
"I told you to hold her," Eren says with an unrepentant shrug, snatching Levi's cup and drinking from it. "She likes you."
"I don't," Levi says, staring at the puppy that has landed in his lap. She stares back at him, tongue lolling out in happiness. She's so tiny her paws barely sink into his thigh.
"Don't let her fall," Eren says, watching with avid interest.
"It'll be her damn fault," Levi says even while he cups a hand around the dog's back. She vibrates with…doggy energy. A warm vibrating ball of happiness and tangled fur. Then she licks Levi's arm. "Ugh."
"I was thinking we could name her Joy. I mean, just look at her."
The puppy barks as though in approval. "Don't name her," Levi says, because that just means it'll be harder to throw her out.
"We can't just keep calling her dog or puppy or mutt," Eren points out.
"Eren…" Levi groans. The puppy wriggles around and turns puppy dog eyes up at him. Eren turns puppy dog eyes at him. It's a double attack. Levi can't deal with this.
"Please?" Eren says in a small, quiet voice. "I wouldn't do this if I know you really hate it."
Levi drops his head back against the chair. "Fine. You're picking up after her, and training her, I am not going to deal with her pissing or shitting everywhere – "
Levi is cut off with a deep, long kiss, Eren's hand supporting his neck. The puppy yips in disapproval as though she understands what the humans are doing. Levi presses down on her back, making sure she doesn't move.
He's breathless when Eren pulls back. "Thank you, Levi. Did you hear that, Joy? You're staying with us!"
She barks, tail wagging so hard her whole body vibrates. And she proceeds to lick all over Levi's arm as though she understands the significance of this decision.
Levi just hopes he doesn't regret this.
Eren: 48, Levi: 63, Erwin: 65, Katsumi: 16, Alex: 13, Marco: 11, Joy: 3
By the time the first draft of the book is completed, Erwin's vision has worsened and he is unable to read properly. They take turns reading the book out loud to him, Armin interjecting his own opinions, Levi making his comments as and when he pleases, which tend to be about the royalty that used to live behind Wall Sina. Eren is the most earnest reader of them all and he reads it word for word, except for when it comes to any account of him. Then he passes the book back to Armin to read so he can step outside for fresh air.
"After his enlistment in the Scouting Legion in the year 844, Levi came to gain the title of 'Humanity's Strongest' due to the extraordinary skill he displayed during expeditions – okay, where did Arlelt run off to now?" Levi puts the book down on the table and glares at Erwin. "I know you gave him this shit to write with."
Erwin chuckles – halfway through it turns into a groan. Levi holds a cup of water to his lips carefully, tilting it so the water does not choke Erwin. After taking a few sips he sighs and leans back. In a croaky voice he says, "There's no reason to lie, Levi."
"I should burn this damn thing."
"Now now. I know that Alex loves what's in here, he's making Connie and Sasha reserve a copy."
"Good for him. But I don't like it." Joy barks from next to him. "Smart girl. She doesn't either."
"I think that's a bark of approval, eh?" Erwin holds a hand out from under the blanket, smiling when she nudges her head into his palm. "As always your bias astounds me, Levi."
"I'm always perfectly neutral. Stop making up lies."
"Somebody's cranky," Eren says, sing-song, making his way into the room with a bowl of soup. "Armin just made this. Do you feel well enough to eat it, Erwin?"
Erwin struggles into a sitting position while Levi adjusts the table. "Thank you, Eren. It smells delicious." Eren places the soup on the table and curls Erwin's hand around the spoon firmly before letting go.
There is the sound of footsteps in the hallway before Armin enters as well, holding a fresh jug of water. He smiles when he sees them all and says, "It had better taste good, I spent hours on that. That's not for you, Joy." When he puts the jug on the bedside table Levi glances at his hand, stained with ink and callused from years of writing work.
The dog droops and whines, looking at Eren. "Sorry girl, Armin is right. You'll get your food later."
Joy pads over and rests her head on Levi's lap, letting out another soft whine. He rests a hand on her head and uses the other to hold up the book. "Oi, Eren, you should read this part. It's all about me, I know how that excites you."
"About my Captain? Be still, my heart," Eren says, grabbing hold of the book. He whistles when he sees how long the section is. "I should make copies of this, put it up all over the house."
"You'll sleep on the couch. Forever. Joy will take your place."
"I didn't know you were into that sort of thing, Levi."
"Should we write that in the book, Erwin?" Armin asks, looking at Levi with a considering expression, eyes twinkling.
"You'll burn. All of you. Eren, you first." Levi knows he can still set people on fire with his glare. It's puzzling how it isn't working on Eren, probably some sort of immunity thing after thirty years.
"The things you guys do not know," Erwin says after swallowing another mouthful of soup. He sounds nostalgic and wistful. "Levi, be grateful we didn't write about when I met you."
"You could tell it to us in private, Erwin," Eren suggests, perching on the end of the bed, using his foot to stroke Joy's back.
"Yeah, you haven't told us that," Armin says, sitting at the foot of the bed.
"Looks like Eren's on the couch forever, Joy." She barks and wags her tail. "You understand, don't you? It's just you and me now, girl."
"There's no need to be so dramatic. You see, boys, long ago, in a dark alleyway behind Wall Sina, on a blustery, cloudy day – "
"Who's being dramatic now?"
"You're disrupting a good story, Levi. Now hush. As I was saying, on that day – "
Just on that day the wind dies down a little and everybody in the community gathers on the beach. They've gathered the firewood hours before and are nearly finished creating the huge pyre. It's almost as though their muscle memory still serves them well, as Christa passes Ymir the wood and Sasha makes sure the pieces are positioned properly. Connie stands with the kids, one arm around Katsumi, the other around Alex, and Marco standing in the middle fiddling with his shirt. He doesn't seem to understand why he cannot go find Uncles Eren and Levi, but he's old enough to pick up on the atmosphere.
They get one piece of wood lit up. Levi and Hanji hold onto it, her left arm around Levi's back, supporting him. They nod at Armin.
"We're ready," she says, speaking for both of them.
Armin nods and disappears around the back. Levi looks at the crowd, at the familiar and unfamiliar faces. The children stand solemn, Joy nudging Marco's hand so that he can put his hand on her head and have something to hold on to. They're all dressed in their everyday clothes, with only some people in black – for the most part, Erwin had wanted this to be as normal as possible.
The crowd shifts and makes way when Eren, Mikasa, Jean, and Armin come forward, bearing the coffin. They're dressed simply, Eren in the loose cotton shirt and pants that he would wear when taking walks with Levi on the beach with Joy running in front of them. Levi keeps his eyes on the coffin when they walk past. They wait a moment in front of the pyre before they place it carefully, every move precise and respectful.
When they step back Eren, Mikasa, and Jean stand by the side, while Armin draws a breath and looks at the crowd. They're quiet, some of them have their hands clasped together and heads bowed.
"Thank you for coming today." Armin's voice can be heard above the roar of the ocean. He swallows once more and continues. "Today we say goodbye and thank you to Erwin Smith. We – we've all decided there's no right way to do this, no right words to say. He used to be Commander of the Scouting Legion, a man we follow into battle, a man we trust our lives and deaths to," he says, voice hoarse. He clenches his hands by his sides.
"But more importantly, along the way, he became a friend. He is family. Today I want to say thank you, not just for what he's done for humanity, but for opening his heart to us. And for allowing us to open our hearts to him, in turn."
He raises his head and places his right fist over his heart, his left behind his back. Eren, Mikasa, and Jean do the same beside him. Levi watches as everybody who used to be in the military, whether they were Scouting Legion or not – they do the same, hands callused from handling blades, muddied from field work. Hanji's arm tightens around Levi's back as they lower the wood to light the pyre.
The pyre had been built well. The fire climbs upwards, gaining in ferocity, until the flames lick at and engulf the coffin. Carefully, he and Hanji toss the wood into the pyre, and they place their hands over their hearts.
The fire burns down in the night. They gather the ashes and bones and, with blackened hands, they scatter them in silence, the sea wind bringing the last of their friend away.
Eren: 50, Levi: 65, Katsumi: 18, Alex: 15, Marco: 13, Joy: 5
Their walks on the beach grow shorter. Levi is contented to sit in a shady spot while Eren throws a stick for Joy to catch. When they're both tired they run back to him and Levi would have his lap full of dog and Eren leaning against his side. On one such walk, while they watch Joy chasing birds, Eren says, "Armin got the book published."
"That so? Guess I'm too late," Levi says, coughing at the end of the statement. Eren rubs down his back and he leans heavily against the man.
"Too late for what?" Eren asks.
"For taking out all that crap about me in there," Levi says. He links hands with Eren, frowning when he sees the veins stand out starkly against his skin. He feels ugly next to Eren, saggy and wrinkly and ugly.
"I liked it. It felt like they were talking about you, not some romanticized version," Eren says. With the sun setting it's harder to see, so Levi squints a little – yep, there's the gray hair in dark brown. He raises his other hand, trembling only slightly, and ruffles Eren's hair.
"Brat," he murmurs.
Joy runs back, tongue lolling out, nudging her head against Levi's arm like she wants him to ruffle her fur too. He obliges, petting the soft fur. She's big now, black fur glossy from having been taken good care of, possibly an even bigger fan of Levi than Eren is. Her tail thumps against the sand as Levi pets her. "Brat number two," Levi says to her. She barks.
"Did you just seriously call a dog a brat?" Eren sniggers.
"Would you prefer I call both of you mutts?" Levi points out, satisfied when Eren shakes his head. "Guessed not."
They sit there for a long while. Long enough that they see the sun descending beyond the horizon. The air cools once the sun has set. Joy burrows closer to them, like she knows they need warmth and she'll be happy to provide it. Levi sighs, watching the stars, hearing the ocean roar in the background.
"Eren," he says.
Eren lets go of his hand so he can clutch around Levi's waist with both arms, burying his face against Levi's neck. "No," he repeats, voice wet.
"Eren. You'll have Joy."
Eren shakes his head, pressing his face harder against Levi's neck, like he thinks he can block out the world like that, like it will bring them to another plane of existence.
"Don't leave me. I told you. I said, 'don't you leave me, Levi.' I said I'll hunt you down. Do you remember?" Eren says, heartbreakingly soft.
"I do. I remember," Levi says, one arm looped around Eren's neck, the other around Joy's back.
"So why are you breaking your promise?"
But I didn't. I can't make you a promise, and you know that. It seems cruel to say that, so Levi doesn't say anything. He lets Eren hold him. Later, when he feels the familiar drowsiness approaching, he allows Eren to carry him back to their house, Joy nudging his hand with her nose the whole way.
Eren: 51, Levi: 66, Katsumi: 19, Alex: 16, Marco: 14, Joy: 6
If Levi has to use one word to describe his final year living beside the ocean, with Eren and Joy beside him, warmth and quiet bickering and long nights together, it'd have to be "peaceful". As peaceful as watching a dump going smoothly, with no pain, no obstacles, if he wants to be explicit. But hey, you did not hear that from him.
It's peaceful in the best way.
References made to:
"It Might Be You" (Lyrics by Alan and Marilyn Bergman)
The Happy Prince (Oscar Wilde)
The Tortoise and the Hare (Aesop's Fables)
Hou Yi Shooting Down Nine Suns (Chinese Legend)
Comments much appreciated :)