Eren swung his legs aimlessly, admiring his new shoes in approval. The days he spent in the Survey Corps were better than what he had expected. The experiments that he was so scared of weren't so bad, and Levi always managed to feed him well. The man wasn't so intimidating sometimes. He was even…somewhat attentive. But today, ever since Petra came in and gave the daily report, Levi's otherwise expressionless face turned grave with misery, his eyes so dark that it seemed like a whirlpool of pain was pulling him in. Petra was teary as soon as the first word escaped her mouth. She managed to choke through the rest of the report before breaking down. Yet all Levi did was to listen silently to the suppressed sobs.
Eren was alarmed. It was moments like this that reminded him how spine-chilling Levi could be. The more he got to know Levi, the more Eren didn't understand the reticent man. He didn't get it. Sometimes, Levi was like the tree that could block the torrential rain, but sometimes he was like the howling wind, threatening to destroy all surroundings. Just this morning, Levi was still taking care of him, but now his frown indicates he wanted to eradicate everything in sight.
He was always frowning too. How come he never smiled? Eren thought curiously. Was it because he wasn't happy? Or that he didn't know how? I could probably teach him if he let me…
"Um…Corporal…Levi?" Eren asked tentatively, trying very hard to not let his curiosity get the better of him but failing, "What does KIA mean…?"
Levi gazed up at the clueless boy sharply. He was deeply annoyed. Ever since Petra told him the names of the soldiers that were killed in action, he had been in a bad mood. The kid's ignorance only made it worse.
"It means they're not here anymore." He replied.
Eren was oblivious to the edge in Levi's voice, "Where'd they go?"
"Then…" Eren tilted his head thoughtfully, "Are they coming back?"
"Haven't you said enough?" Levi snapped, his cold eyes slicing through Eren like a knife.
Eren trembled involuntarily and hugged himself around the middle. He didn't know what he did to anger Levi, but he looked like he was ready to tear him into pieces. The fact that his face remained expressionless made him ever more terrifying than he already was. Eren gulped and cringed into the couch more. Maybe it was best that he didn't speak.
Feeling a little lost, Eren rubbed his hands together nervously. Today's experiment let him feeling a little shaky. It first started with the usual: testing his vision, hearing, taste buds, reflexes and so on. But when Hanji said it was time to take his blood, he had raced to hide himself behind Levi's legs and refused to come out.
Levi, however, ignored the hands clutching to his pants and calmly picked the boy up by his collar and threw him at Hanji, "Go cooperate."
The sudden yet precise movement almost made Eren fall flat on his face. Thank God Hanji had caught him in time. Before Eren had time to stand up though, a few scientists in white lab coats rushed over and held him down.
Levi surveyed the situation dispassionately and showed no intention of stopping the brutishness. The authority did not trust the Survey Corps. No surprises there. Even though Hanji, Erwin and himself had all signed the papers and have agreed to submit timely reports, the authority still dispatched "laboratory assistance". Or, in other words, "supervision". Hanji should have been the only experimenter; she was the only one who had conducted experiments on actual live titans. But all in all, there were six scientists here.
Levi had observed each one of them very carefully. Most of them didn't hold a threat. But two of them stood out to him. The freckle-faced scrawny teenager with bottle bottom thick glasses was called Roger Riles. He never interfered with the experiments, nor did he offer any kind of insight, but instead recorded everything going on in that little notepad of his. The burly, robust man with dark stubbles on his face was the one to watch out for. His name was Peter Montale, and his physique implied that he was probably trained in combat. He always came up with crude suggestions, like seeing how many veils of blood they can take before Eren passed out. When Hanji negated the proposal, Levi could see Riles scribbling furiously behind her. No doubt this will be depicted as an act of rebellion in front of the authority.
Seeing the tears in those helpless eyes of the kid, Levi finally opened his mouth in forced consolation.
"It doesn't hurt."
Upon hearing those words, Eren sniffed and nodded his head bravely, boldly raising his arm…
But they took his blood three times in the end. Eren thought dispiritedly. He searched for the scar left by the needle in his arm, but couldn't find it somehow.
Also, Levi was a liar.
…It hurt. A lot.
Levi stood alone outside for ages, listening to the splattering rain. Memories of old times float up and attempt to overcome him. Gunter Schultz and Oluo Bozado had both passed away in the recent mission. Even their bodies didn't make it back. He could almost hear the excruciating cries of their family members.
If he hadn't been hurt… If he could have fought their battles with them… Maybe they could have avoided this tragedy.
Petra stared at the man standing in the rain. His slightly hunched back screamed out loneliness. All she had managed to give him were the Wings of Freedom on their comrades' uniforms. The two old, scraps of cloth seemed to weigh more than the world. They carried on the resolve left by the dead. Levi's Squad is no more. Ever since Levi hurt himself saving her, the four of them had been on separate missions as backup. Eld had lost his left arm, and now Oluo and Gunther were gone as well. Only herself and Corporal Levi still stand to fight, struggling to entail the burning will of others. Petra hesitated for a long time before turning away and leaving Levi in peace.
The tightly clenched fists finally relaxed after what seemed like an eternity. He had accepted the bloody truth. The world is cruel. Death will always be around him. And he had always been the sole witness; carrying on the baggage others have left behind. What will happen when it is finally his turn to go? Who will inherit the will of the departed?
Levi pushed open the door to his study, his unfeeling eyes skimming the room. Eren was on his tiptoes, reaching for the glass of water on his desk. Levi hurried to stop him before the boy fumbled over anything. Yet he was too late. Eren's hand carelessly knocked over a bottle of ink. The syrupy black content immediately splashed over all the paperwork and the shreds of fabric tattooed with the Wings of Freedom.
Before Eren could realize what he had done, he was brutally hauled up by a pair of calloused hands. His temple knocked into the corner of the desk so hard that the pain momentarily blinded him. He wasn't given time to recover though. The next second, he had been flung across the room so forcefully that he couldn't stop until his back collided violently with the leg of the couch. Dizziness shrouded him. It was too late for him to let the pain sink in; terror had already taken over. Eren struggled to sit up, all the while trembling in dread as he gaped at the man standing over him. There was death in those frigid grey eyes.
Levi raised his leg and stamped into the wall by Eren's ear, so precisely close to Eren that his brown hair was grinded under the man's shoes. Eren's eyes widened in fear, his body paralyzed with shudders. The man before him, he had carried him, fed him, and taken care of him, yet now he looked like he was itching to terminate him.
"For future references," Levi said in an alarmingly quiet voice. He grasped the front of Eren's shirt and lifted him up. Legs dangling helplessly, Eren yelped as he tried to pry open the death grip.
"… …Do not touch my things." As the last syllable left Levi's lips, he let go abruptly, letting Eren fall painfully onto the floor. The small boy coughed at his feet and gasped in fresh air. But Levi did not stop to look at him. He left the room before the boy could start crying and slammed the door loudly behind him.
Eren stared at the door that seemed to stand as a barrier to their worlds. Belated tears rolled down his face. He sobbed and hugged himself, letting the bitterness freeze him up inch by inch.
Petra knocked for a long time but did not hear Levi say, "Come in". She pushed open the door cautiously, "Corporal Levi, Peter Montale and the others want an update on your report on…" The room was empty.
Confounded, Petra caught sight of the cowering boy in the corner, who had dust and dirt all over him. Her gaze travelled to the ink-stained desk and the destroyed Wings of Freedom, and she understood.
"Eren," Petra asked gently, "Did you do this?"
Eren paused at the sound of her voice and nodded his head in difficulty, afraid to look up.
"Was Corporal Levi mad?"
Eren's lower lip trembled. "He…hates me…" The pitched, childish voice was filled with dreariness.
"Nonsense." Petra bent down to pick up the child. The boy was lighter than she had anticipated, but still a little bit too much for her. She settled him on the couch. Even though Eren had only been here for a few days, she had grown quite fond of him. He was always so well behaved; answering all those annoying questions others threw at him and politely greeting everyone under Levi's commanding gaze. "Corporal Levi always shares his food with you, right?"
Eren forgot to cry for a second and looked up at Petra in confusion. It was true. He was never hungry again since he came here. His plate was always so full, and Levi only started to eat after he was finished. Was it because…Levi cared about him?
"See?" Petra smiled, "If he hated you, why would he save the good food for you?"
Back in the orphanage, every time that Mikasa managed to snatch a good piece of bread, she always kept it hidden until she could share with him and Armin. Could it be that Levi was taking care of him in the same way? Eren felt completely baffled. He couldn't understand why the menacing, abusive man had suddenly become a kind, caring older brother in Petra's words.
"Eren, do you have really good friends?" Seeing that the boy didn't reply, Petra asked again.
Eren thought of Mikasa and Armin and nodded slowly.
"Then if one day, they went away, and they weren't going to come back, would you feel sad?" Remembering Gunther and Oluo, Petra strained to put on a brave face to soothe the still quivery child.
Eren nodded again.
"These – " Petra mentioned to the ruined Wings of Freedom on the desk, "Belonged to Corporal Levi's friends. They went to a different place, and this is all they left behind for Corporal. You know how much Corporal Levi likes to keep things clean. Now that you smudged them, it's only natural that he's angry, don't you think?"
Eren lowered his head shamefully, finally understanding what a mess he made of things. No wonder Levi was so mad… But that didn't stop him from feeling wronged. His whole body still ached from Levi's outburst.
"Don't cry…Boys should be brave!" Petra patiently wiped away the new tears rushing out of the boy's green eyes, "Everything will be okay tomorrow."
Eren winced at Petra's touch. He still wasn't used to any physical contact unless it was Levi or the mandatory experimental procedures.
Petra, however, didn't seem to mind. She comforted him a bit more and left.
Levi frowned as Montale and Riles walked closer to him in the narrow hallway. Yet Montale chose to overlook the murderous look on Levi's face and made a beeline for him, "What? The lil' monster ain't with you?" Seeing that Levi didn't respond, Montale continued to provoke him, "I seem to remember reading in the guidelines that – what was it? – oh yeah, that only people with rank 'Captain' or higher can watch 'im. And I just happen to know that Hanji isn't at Headquarters righ' now. So that must mean…you're leaving 'im unattended, huh? Is this an open defiance of orders?"
Levi frowned again at the sour tobacco smell in Montale's breath. He hated everything that tainted anything. And the matter-of-fact tone Montale used in saying "lil' monster" also pissed him off.
Montale made an eye at Riles meaningfully, and Riles immediately started to write in his notebook, no doubt recording Levi's "negligence" in guardianship.
Levi remained aloof at the accusations. His pace did not falter as he knocked straight into the shoulder of the scribbling idiot with his own. Riles was pushed back into the wall by the force and gasped in pain as his notepad fell to the floor. Levi turned around and glanced at the pair, "You're brave," His voice was icy cold, "Aren't you?"
Both Montale and Riles gawked at him, not understanding his comment.
Levi's heel trudged into the notebook, splitting it instantaneously into half, "…Since you don't even seem to fear death." His eyes were scornful and contemptuous.
Even though Montale knew he had been granted the highest commanding right in Project Eren, he still gulped silently as the bone-piercing coldness in Levi's voice stiffened him. He grabbed Riles and hurried away from the formidable presence of the man.
Levi didn't bother to notice their scurrying footsteps. He knew he had been too hard on the kid. But it was good that he lost his temper. The kid had grown too attached to him; eating his food, drinking his water, and always staring at him with those hopeful green eyes. It wasn't supposed to be like this. He was just playing the role of a guardian, a watchman. And the boy was nothing more than a test subject. He was not a companion, nor is he a family member. Whether the boy lived or died was no concern of his.
The kid should fear him.
After all, if he really went berserk and turned into a titan, he would die under Levi's unhesitating blade.
Levi returned to the study and looked around for the boy, but found the room empty. An ominous foreboding flowed into his mind. He hoped the kid wasn't stupid enough to run away. The headquarters was heavily guarded; the boy would never make it outside. And if other soldiers thought he was trying to escape, they would probably kill him without the slightest reluctance. Calculating every possible outcome, Levi's eyes swept over his desk distractedly.
A hint of surprise flashed upon those grey eyes.
The desk had been wiped. If it weren't for the poorly done job of doing so, he would have thought it was Petra. But the work was so hasty and sloppy that he knew it couldn't have been her. Even the Wings of Freedom had been scrubbed as clean as they possible can be after the ink fiasco. The wrinkles on them indicated that they have been washed many times.
So it was the kid.
Levi "tch"ed lightly, but the disdain did not quite reach his eyes.
He strode back to the basement and pushed open the door to the shadowy, forlorn room. Eren was already under the covers. The kid had even locked himself up properly before going to bed.
Levi's brow knitted together as he sat down at the edge of the bed. The stupid kid hadn't even taken off his shoes. He scowled as he took them off roughly, but not so rough as to wake the boy.
Eren's whole face had ink splatters on it, which made him look like a Dalmatian. Scoffing quietly, Levi unchained the boy and started to change the bandages on his wrists and ankles. Even though it had only been a few days, the wounds have almost completely healed. This was not good news in any way. It just meant that Eren had the titan's ability to heal. Levi's brows knitted tighter. He flipped Eren over to look at his forehead. There was only a bruise the size of his thumb on the kid's face from the earlier encounter, which did not make much sense.
Levi knew how powerful the hit was when the kid knocked his head on the corner of the desk. It should have been a much bigger bruise than this. Pulling up Eren's shirt, Levi stared at the boy's bony back. The contusion there was less than predicted as well. The kid really is healing at an alarmingly rapid pace.
Levi patiently applied ointment to the extant wounds before pulling the covers back up.
The boy was sound asleep, as if he was soaring in a boundless fantasy of dreams, but also like he was being sucked into the never-ending solitude of nightmares.
Again, thanks to everyone who read this.
And Knix, thank you for noticing. *hugs*
I have finals in a few days, then I'm going home for Christmas, so probably won't update as fast, sorry about that.
Happy Holidays everyone!