You're Only Human
Levi moved slowly down to the kitchen, his crutch helping his limp just so. Bolts of pain shot up his leg from the break but he ignored them and continued, intent on getting tea to calm himself. He tried to eerie silence of the halls as he went, he tried so desperately and yet failed.
Mentally he scolded himself for having gotten attached, he knew better and yet he still had allowed himself to become comfortable with the sounds from his squad bustling about. He had grown used to their presence in his life and they had been taken from him, just as all the others had been. His grip on his crutch tightened, jaw clenching. It had been foolish to think that the outcome would have differed from the past times.
His journey to the kitchen was gradual but eventually he reached the room and immediately went to the cabinet where his tea lie. He paused in his motion and inspected the countertop. His sharp gray eyes narrowed as he drew his finger across it. He inspected his fingertip with scrutiny and was amazed to see it had come back clean.
A strike of confusion went through him. He had fully expected it to be coated in a solid layer of dust and yet it was remarkably clean. Considering the only ones present were himself and Eren, it only left one possible culprit behind the spotless cleaning.
His thoughts drifted to the titan shifter. He personally hadn't left his quarters since they had returned from their failed expedition but Hanji had mentioned that the boy had awakened after his titan rampage, however, he had heard nothing else of him. Levi's brow furrowed, perhaps he should find him.
With that, he had his next mission; all thoughts of tea having dissipated. He observed the rooms as he passed, noting the near perfect cleaning jobs within each. Had Eren been cleaning since he had awakened? It certainly seemed to be as such.
As Levi reached the library doors, he picked up on the subtle shuffling sounds emerging from the room. So, the brat was cleaning the library as well. With only a bit of difficulty, the short man balanced himself and pulled open one of the doors. A scowl formed on his lips as he took in the scene before him.
Eren was indeed cleaning, a bit frantically at that. His uniform bore several dirt marks, his hair was unkempt and perhaps the most concerning was the wild look in his eyes. It was painfully clear the boy hadn't slept well, if at all, for quite awhile.
An uncharacteristic pang of sympathy hit the older man as he looked upon his subordinate. How could Eren not have been affected by the loss his squadmates? From what he was seeing, he knew the teen was taking it much worse than he had. With a small huff, he entered further into the room, "Oi, brat."
The brunette froze in his motions, sullen eyes peering over at his superior. "C-Corporal?" He stared for a few seconds before shaking his head and continuing with his work, "Please go rest, sir, I'll handle this."
Did the kid honestly think he was concerned about the cleanliness of the place at that point? He frowned, "Why have you been cleaning everything?"
"Someone has to do it and since there's not… we're the only ones present, I thought I might as well since you're incapacitated at the moment - sir." He continued to clean the same spot, his gaze unseeing.
Levi glared at him, "Cleaning can wait, when's the last time you slept, Jaeger?" He eyed a nearby chair and lowered himself onto it, hoping to relieve a bit of his pain.
Eren gave a frustrated sigh, "There hasn't been time… there's too much to do around here." He apparently realized what he had been doing and moved on to a new spot.
It was then that the older man noticed something - since his initial entrance, Eren hadn't looked at him but once. Otherwise he kept his gaze pointed at the floor. "Eren," he said firmly.
The boy ignored him and kept scrubbing at a particular stubborn stain on the floor.
"Eren," he spoke again, "look at me."
That seemed to make the other halt in his motions. He kept his green eyes downcast, "...I.. can't sir."
Odd. "Why not, brat?"
He shifted uncomfortably but refused to answer.
An uncomfortable silence passed between the two until the older of the two decided to prod a bit more.
The titan shifter's eyes filled with tears as he stubbornly kept silent. "I don't deserve to, sir," he whispered out eventually.
The shorter man leaned forward a bit in his chair, intent on hearing the quiet words.
His tone was one of fear as he continued, "I… D-Don't you hate me..?"
Gunmetal gray eyes narrowed, "Should I?"
"Yes," his reply was instant and ashamed.
Levi ran a hand through his hair in exasperation, "Okay brat, I'll bite - why?"
Finally Eren peered over at him, with disbelief written all over his face. He shot to his feet, agony reflected in his gaze,"What do you mean why?! I killed your squad, that's why!" He looked horrified at his own words, "I… k-killed them…"
That set him off, he glared harshly at the younger, "No you didn't, shit head - that fucking titan did. You made your choice and they made theirs. If you blame anyone, blame that bitch."
"..But I made the wrong choice…"
"I told you before," Levi stated levely, struggling a bit to keep his own emotions in check, "you can never guess the outcome. Things will happen as they do and you can't do shit about it. The only thing you can do is accept the choices you've made and move on from there." He fell quiet momentarily, "You have to be able to live with your choices with no regrets, Eren."
Subdued sobs escaped the boy as his shoulders trembled fiercely. He sat hunched over, fists clenched around the fabric of his trousers.
The older man honestly couldn't tell if his words were helping or not. "...I don't blame you, kid. My squad was brilliant, they knew exactly what they were getting into. They asked for you to believe in them and you chose to; I chose to believe in them too. We never could've predicted the end result…" His hand tightened around the crutch in his grasp. "We believed in them up to the bitter end.."
Eren was openly sobbing into his hands by then, affected by both his superior's words and his own emotionally distressed state.
Levi gave a soft sigh before pulling the younger closer, wrapping his arms over the other's shaking form. "You know, brat, I lost some great people on this expedition. Petra, Eld, Gunter and Auro were some of the finest soldiers I've ever met. But, despite the loss of them, I haven't lost my entire squad… I still have you left."
His sobs were broken up by shaky gasps of air. He clutched onto the front of the Corporal's shirt tightly. "I-I'm so sorry…. s-so sorry….."
"Shut up, brat," he growled without any real heat in his tone.
The two soldiers remained like that, comforted by the fact that they shared this pain - this loss. The silence of their once bustling headquarters ate away at their cores, yet they were reminded that they yet lived and that had to count for something.
"...We can't let their sacrifices be in vain," Levi murmured, "we have to keep fighting, we have to beat that damned female titan… for them. You hear me?"
"Y-Yes sir…" the boy replied brokenly. "For-Forgive me Corporal…" he weeped to his superior.
"Nothing to forgive, idiot," he shot back, ruffling the boy's hair a bit. The man was patient with his subordinate, only pulling away when the other did first. He eyed Eren's exhausted form with scrutiny. "I can help you get back on your feet, kid, but first thing's first - you need to shower and get some sleep."
It seemed that the titan shifter was indeed at his breaking point as he began following wordlessly, previous chores forgotten.
They climbed the stairs to reach Levi's quarters where the older man immediately directed him to the bathroom and ordered for him to clean up. He then proceeded to dig out some plain clothes that were much too big for him, laying them on the counter just inside the bathroom door.
An hour passed. Levi bided his time reading, patiently waiting for the other to finish. The door opened and the short Corporal lowered his book onto the bed expectantly. When at last the brunette emerged, his hair was nearly dry and he was dressed in fresh clothes.
"..I'm sorry for before, Corporal," Eren said hesitantly.
"Just Levi," he corrected, "and don't worry about it brat, you're only human. Everyone has times of weakness. We just have to pick ourselves back up, or have someone else help us." He stopped when he noted the boy's astonished gaze was on him.
"C-Can you say that again?" His eyes were looking watery again.
Levi didn't need to be told which part. Sharp eyes softened as he repeated the words he knew the boy needed to hear: "You're only human, Eren."
Eren muffled a cry with his hands, relief settling into his bones. Sometimes, he honestly forgot. Amidst all the fighting, the titan shifting, the experiments and the expectations placed on his shoulders - sometimes he forgot that he was only human. Despite all of his efforts, all of his dedication, most saw him as no more than a regular titan. He was a danger and was treated as a weapon for the military to use as they saw fit. He was reminded of the lack of trust others had in him on a regular basis.
Yet, there stood Levi who had once only viewed him as a titan and it was this same man that reminded of a fact that he had used to overlook himself - Eren was only a human. It lifted his spirits to know at least one person in the world didn't see him as the monster that he felt like. He felt pain, he experienced loss and betrayal, words and lack of trust stung; he suffered like the rest of them, he lived like the rest of them.
Before he even realized it, Eren had collapsed onto the bed beside his superior. He tried in vain to stop his cries from escaping, embarrassed to be so emotional in front of the other. A hand landed on his head.
"It's alright Eren," came a calm voice, "rest, I'll be here should you need me."
Levi watched as the teen fell into a restless but much needed sleep. He knew the struggle that the boy was facing as he did so likewise.
He had been labeled as Humanity's Strongest Soldier which meant things were expected of him. He was expected to be the best, to be strong and emotionless and to be loyal to his commander; ready to lay down his life and die with honor in the blaze of battle. So much was expected of him that he felt it was often overlooked that he was merely one man. He was a man with skills and experience, nothing more.
But this label seemed to bring him to a level above others and it truthfully bothered him. Why should he be expected to always be strong, level-headed and emotionless? Was he not a human like the rest? Was he some kind of superhuman because of one damn title?
Time had taught him to bare it in silence - a silent burden that most overlooked. His gaze traveled to the titan shifter that slumbered beside him. Finally it seemed that someone else understood the plight he had borne so long.
"Humanity's Last Hope, eh? Got yourself a plateful already, don't you Jaeger," he muttered. Levi turned and looked out the nearby window just in time to see four doves burst from a nearby tree and disappear into the dawn lit sky.
He heaved a gentle sigh and decided he too could do for some rest. Lowering himself onto the mattress, he settled next to his subordinate. He pressed his shoulder against the other's arm to show that he was nearby. His eyes fell shut easily as he fell into a dreamless sleep.