Dangerous Territory

BY : Rhov
Category: +. to F > Attack on Titan /Shingeki No Kyojin
Dragon prints: 2537
Disclaimer: I do not own “Shingeki no Kyojin” and do not make money from this fanfic.

Chapter 14

Paris Est Délivré

 

After a week, Eren was well again. During that time, he had sneaked as much medicine to Levi as he could without arousing suspicion. Levi helped with the nurse tending Eren, and when they were alone, Eren tended Levi's scars on his back from the lashing, rubbing on ointments and removing the stitches on the severe ones Armin had sutured.

During this time, Levi got to eat normal food—albeit military rationed. He had to admit, by the time Eren was deemed healthy enough to return to duty, he also felt much better, recovered from the tortures he had been through over the past month.

He was also a bit spoiled, having a clean room to sleep in, a sink to wash up in whenever he wanted to, and a real toilet. Sleeping next to Eren was annoying the first two nights, but by the end it felt strangely comforting. He even woke up one night to find Eren had wrapped his arms around Levi's legs and snuggled against his feet. Levi just sighed and fell back to sleep. He felt strangely protected letting Eren hold him in the night, and that was a feeling Levi had not experienced before, probably never in his entire life.

When the fever broke and Eren was deemed healthy enough to return to his duties, he had a meeting with his platoon. Levi was left to rest upstairs in the bedroom while the German soldiers argued between themselves. When the discussion was over, Eren returned to the room with a defeated look.

"I tried to convince them to keep you here as a personal servant. Armin and Thomas liked the idea, Jean, Connie, Franz, and the rest were against it."

Levi sighed and shook his head. "Obviously that wouldn't be allowed. I could kill you all in the night and escape."

"If you really wanted to do that, you already would have." Eren looked miserably apologetic. "You have to go back to the dungeon."

"I expected as much," Levi said, trying to be coldly logical about this. Still, his hand touched the quilt on the bed. "It was nice while it lasted."

Eren took a bold step forward. "Yes, it was."

Levi looked over, but something about those teal eyes made his heart race and ache. He stomped over to the window to escape that tender gaze. "You should take me back."

"Levi—"

"Now!" He sneered as he whispered, "And take care of yourself, takhshet."

Eren smiled at hearing that reluctant compassion. "You too. Stay out of trouble."

He walked Levi back to the castle dungeon, thanking him once again before locking him in his cell. Eren had color in his cheeks and was eager to get lots of sunshine, while Levi stared around at the darkness closing in around him.

He had to go back to eating watery broth and stale bread, randomly hit by soldiers for no reason other than they thought it was fun to beat up a Jew, spending from sunrise to long past sunset hunched over toilets or cooking pots, his hands getting rough and raw from lye soap and scratchy scrub brushes. It reinforced the miserable position he was in: a prisoner, not much more than a slave to Nazis.

It might have almost been tolerable if he could have seen Eren a few times, but the young lieutenant was determined to catch up with work. The few times Levi caught sight of him around town, Eren was surrounded by other soldiers, either deep in conversation with officers, or goofing around with his platoon mates. Levi's heart felt warm to see him enjoying life, but then a chill sank in as he felt like he had been forgotten.

He risked getting sick to care for Eren, and Eren could not even be bothered to glance his way.

"As it should be," Levi muttered to himself. If Eren had continued to be friendly with him, he would probably scold him to watch himself. Wasn't this precisely what he had been telling Eren to do for weeks? To not be too friendly? To not slip down into the dungeon and risk others thinking he was sympathetic to the enemy?

So why did it hurt when Eren actually obeyed and stopped favoring him? Why did he miss that bed and feeling Eren cuddling his legs in the night?

Stupid Nazi swine!

Saturday rolled around, and Eren finally showed up with a few members of his platoon.

"Bath time!" he announced, but he said nothing else to Levi, unlocking his door with a brief two seconds of their eyes meeting, then moving on to the next door.

He marched the Jews down to the river to bathe. The women finally felt at ease, knowing Eren watched out for them and never once whistled or stared at them suggestively. So Levi was able to bathe with the men while the women bathed a few meters upriver. They went back to the castle, Eren secretly handed over the Tanakh for only as long as it took him and his men to eat in the castle kitchens, and he took it back after their meal was done. A few words, exchanged, that was all.

"So, how have you been?"

"I'm a slave to Nazi scum. How are your lungs?"

"Doing well, thanks to you. I have to get going to a meeting. Take care."

"Thank you for continuing to keep my book safe."

"Natürlich!" Of course!

That was all. A few words, and Eren avoided him for the rest of the week. Levi began to look forward to the sabbath for reasons other than religion. Annoyingly, he found himself eager to see Eren again, even if they barely talked anymore.

* * *

June rolled into July, and the early summer of 1944 passed by. On the Normandy coast, Germany had lost 97 kilometers of beach, with Allies surging as much as fifteen kilometers inland. Estimates were that 875,000 Allies had gathered for what was obviously staging to be a large offensive by the combined British, French, Canadian, and American troops.

For the moment, this "invasion" was a speck on the map, but a troublesome speck that cost many lives.

On the 20th of July, a plot to assassinate Hitler failed. The Führer was injured and four people in the room with Hitler were killed in the blast. It led to every member of the Wehrmacht needing to reaffirm their oath of loyalty to Hitler.

In the scorching July sun, Eren stood with all the others in the village square, loudly declaring the oath.

 

"Ich schwöre bei Gott diesen heiligen Eid,
daß ich dem Führer des Deutschen Reiches und Volkes
Adolf Hitler, dem Oberbefehlshaber der Wehrmacht,
unbedingten Gehorsam leisten und als tapferer Soldat bereit sein will,
jederzeit für diesen Eid mein Leben einzusetzen."

"I swear to God this sacred oath
that to the Leader of the German Reich and people,
Adolf Hitler, supreme commander of the armed forces,
I shall render unconditional obedience and that as a brave soldier
I shall at all times be prepared to give my life for this oath."

 

Also, rather than a military salute, they were required to only give the Hitlergruß, Hitler Salute. Twice, Eren unthinkingly saluted with his hand simply up to his hat saying "Jawohl" rather than his arm straight out saying "Heil Hitler," and was swiftly reminded to only give the Hitlergruß from now on.

Then August came, and to the Germans, it was like the impossible happened all at once. Allies, including the French Forces of the Interior, were on the move. On August 4th, they liberated Rennes, the capital city of Brittany. The Allies were marching south, blitzing through France. Ten days later, American and French troops landed in Côte d'Azur, and the Germans there, weakened by troops being relocated north, had little choice but to flee before the surging might and air superiority. While the Germans were retreating to Dijon, the French captured the ports of Marseille and Toulon. The German Army was on the run.

Then, on the 25th of August, they got the shocking news.

Eren stormed into the house where his platoon was drinking and playing cards, and he threw his hat across the room in rage.

"Verdammt," he shouted, as if he had been holding that curse in for hours.

Armin came up timidly. "Bad news?"

"We lost Paris."

Everyone in the house shouted in shock and gathered around.

"British? Americans?" Jean asked anxiously.

"No. The Parisians themselves. The city police, armed civilians, even children helped to set up barricades in the streets. The French army did not even show up until things were practically over. It was just … civilians. Fighting for their city."

Connie laughed. "They'll bomb the whole thing, no big deal."

Armin looked worried. "I heard a rumor that the Führer said Paris should be obliterated if the Allies try to take it."

Eren slumped on a seat, his hands in fists. "The order was sent to General Choltitz to level Paris before ever surrendering. He ignored a direct order from Hitler and handed over the city after only a few days of skirmishes."

"Traitor!" Jean screamed.

"Or protector?" Armin offered timidly. "What would have been gained from destroying Paris? Nothing, and we would have wasted artillery on a purely vain move. Think of all that could have been lost. All that history. All that culture."

Eren leaned back and stared at the cracked ceiling. "I liked Paris. We weren't there for long, but I'd like to return one day. I didn't even get to see the Louvre."

He growled, torn between being glad that the city that had been his refuge after the hell of Anzio was safe, and enraged that it was now home to Allies, no longer proudly flying the Parteiflagge. Many Germans had died to capture Paris—Jean was screaming about how his cousin died in the Battle of Arras—so Eren's first instinct was to be enraged.

What right did General Choltitz have to simply surrender against an insurrection of mere civilians? Did he even try to contain the situation? How dare he disobey Hitler! How could a coward like that rise to the rank of General, and how could a traitor like him be placed in control of a city as important as Paris?

Yet maybe because he lived in Paris and saw its beauty, General Choltitz understood better than anyone that Paris was simply not Paris without the history and culture that were a part of its very soul. Without all that, it was merely another city. If they simply bombed it to the dust, the sacrifice of German soldiers to capture the city was all in vain.

Eren yanked himself out of these frustratingly complicated thoughts, picked his cap back up, and dusted it off.

"I came to tell you that. I don't know what it will mean for us here. Maybe nothing for a while, maybe we'll be sent to finish the job that General Choltitz refused to do. You may want to write home to your families, but do not mention this loss." He turned aside.

"Where are you going?" Armin called out.

"To smoke and to take my aggression out on a Jew."

Connie barked a laugh at that, but Armin pouted with worry.

Eren stepped outside and lit up a cigarette. Damn it all! This war had seemed all but won until the Americans butted in. Now, in just two months, they had taken over the Normandy coast, Romania left the Axis to join the Allies, in the east Poles were rising up, they lost Brest-Litovsk, Minsk, Florence, Rome, and many other key cities. Now Paris! Not only that, but someone tried to bomb Hitler.

"What is going on with Germany?" Eren growled, nearly crushing his cigarette.

What was the scene like back home? What was going on in Berlin? They were probably lucky not to be in all these war zones, being forced to retreat, but still! He was stuck in some quiet French town, helplessly sitting there, hearing reports of defeats, surrenders, and mass retreats all around him, unable to rush out there and help in the fight.

Why was it all falling apart so suddenly?

Hitler had promised to make Germany great, a power that would lead the entire world, as befitting their Aryan heritage.

Now, he had ordered Paris to be leveled. Choltitz disobeyed direct orders, and Eren found he agreed with the general who was deemed a traitor by Germany. He heard that upon fleeing Florence, the German army destroyed many historical buildings. What was the point? All that history … Europe's history! Destroyed. For what? Because they didn't get their way? There was no tactical reason to destroy culturally significant buildings. There was no tactical advantage in leveling Paris to the ground.

If he was ordered to burn down this village before leaving…

If he was ordered to slaughter all the Jews before leaving…

"Verdammt!" he hissed, and he stomped out his cigarette.

Eren marched to the castle. He had not been keeping up with the Jews over the past month. First, he was pushed to catch up with work, then he was called in to translate English chatter on the radio. He was ready to leave this small town, to return to the fight! More than once, he almost volunteered his platoon for the front lines so his tired compatriots still battling the Allies could rest.

Then he thought about the Jews under his protection.

Not really under his protection, of course. He was powerless to truly save them.

Still, he felt torn. He wanted to help in the war effort, but so long as no orders came to leave, he could continue to help people here.

Jewish people, though!

Wasn't he being a traitor, same as Choltitz?

He stomped down, but the dungeon was empty. He roamed around the town. Where was Levi working now? They had rarely needed him as a translator, and Eren no longer knew his schedule. Cleaning, at least. Always cleaning. It was the only reason the Germans kept these Jews around, to take care of the worst cleaning duties, things the locals did not want to do and the soldiers only did as punishment.

He saw a local man holding a French newspaper with the words Paris Est Délivré. Eren yanked the paper from the man's hands, and the poor villager ran off in terror. Eren rolled the paper up to hide the title. He then walked up to a group of German soldiers.

"That Jew who knows English. Is he still around? He's needed for translating."

"I don't know, Herr Leutnant, but Schmidt complained about seeing some of those filthy Jews down by the bakery."

Eren went to the baker, but Levi was not there; however, the baker said a group was sent to another part of the town. It took Eren a bit of asking around, but finally he found Levi scrubbing toilets again.

"Levi. I want you to read something. Now! Schnell!"

Levi set aside a scrub brush and rose slowly, holding his back after being bent over for so many hours scrubbing on his knees. Eren took him down to the river, away from the noise of the village. Once they were away from the main road, with the babbling of the river and the songs of birds, Eren handed over the rolled-up newspaper.

"Read this, but not aloud."

At first Levi figured that Eren needed the newspaper to be translated. Then he unrolled it and saw the title. He looked up to Eren with massive, astonished eyes.

"Is this for real?" he asked, his voice already shivering.

"Considering how furious Hauptmann Woermann is and all the chatter on the radios, it's certainly no dream."

"Paris … is liberated?"

"Only the city. We still hold most of the country." Eren took a seat on the riverbank atop a tuft of clovers and stretched his army boots out. He tapped out another cigarette, rested it between his lips, and struck a match. "Read quickly. You have until I finish smoking."

Levi sat down and poured over the paper, reading everything. Eren watched as he puffed on the cigarette, letting it burn slowly.

What was a horrible defeat and had Germans screaming the word traitor was the best news the French people had in four years.

He closed his eyes and shook his head. Politically, he and Levi were enemies. Personally, though? He wanted to think they were close to being friends. Maybe that was optimistic, not to mention dangerous.

He also knew he had not been a very good friend. After a week sleeping in the same bed and eating all their meals together, he had purposely put distance between them. Part of it was that he was honestly swamped with work, part of it was that the captain had seemed to forget that Jews were even around, so he did not want to remind Kitz by doing anything suspicious, and part of it was his own squad looking out for him. The first week after recovering from pneumonia, every time Eren seemed to be walking in the direction of the castle, Jean warned him against it. He might have put up with his commanding officer using a Jew as a nurse, but he was not about to silently watch as Eren continued to risk his life with befriending the enemy.

Forced to stay away, he saw the danger in getting too close. Even now, his eyes lingered on Levi … and that was risky.

He let his cigarette burn as low as possible. Then he lit up another. Levi did not even realize, he was so enthralled with the news, committing every detail to memory so he could tell the other Jews later. Eren wondered if they would celebrate and sing some French songs in the dungeon that night.

That cigarette burned out, and still Levi read. Eren leaned back against a tree to listen to the peaceful trickling of the river.

Let him! Let him have this moment, this glimpse of the world around him, this glimmer of hope. Heaven knows, he needed it.

Finally, Levi leaned up and stared straight ahead. He was speechless and shook his head, torn between wanting to cry with joy and knowing deep in his heart, this German loss would make his own life hell.

"What will your platoon do?"

"No orders yet. We're to maintain this position and not fall back. If the people begin to revolt like they did in Paris, my orders are to open fire."

"On civilians?" Levi asked in horror.

Eren sneered in distaste. "I don't like it, but orders are orders."

"And you follow orders," Levi muttered, remembering the sting of the whip.

"When I must, yes. If they are trying to kill me or my men, I will eliminate any threat, whether if they're wearing a uniform or not. I don't like it," he grumbled, "but the lives of my men come first."

Eren glanced back at the village and the traffic on the road going to the river. If they were alone, if so many people did not already know that Eren had been searching for this Jew … the river was not too wide. Two minutes, maybe three if Levi was stealthy, he could be across and off to freedom. Just two minutes! Eren shook his head, banishing the regret that he could not disobey rules for at least this.

"My suggestion to you: stay down. Look for an opening. I'd let you cross this river right now, but we're not completely alone. So wait for your chance and take it. Don't hesitate."

Levi gazed up at Eren. "I've planned to do that from the beginning, but I won't if it means the rest of my people will suffer."

"Your conscience again?"

"It's a good thing to have." Levi debated something, but finally decided to go on. "If I vanish one day, know I'm grateful for all you've done. I don't like saying this to a Nazi bastard like you, but … I owe you my life. I hope that someday, I can pay back this debt."

"Jews don't like being in debt," Eren teased.

"A good Jew never falls into such a deep debt as this," Levi retorted with a playful gleam in his eye. He turned aside to hide from such a lighthearted feeling. Maybe it was just giddiness from the news about Paris.

"Levi," he whispered. Eren looked up the road toward the forest, a refuge that was so close, yet so far away. "If you ever escape from here, where do you plan to go?"

His eyes widened fractionally. "Anywhere else! To be honest, my goal is to make it to America. I have a cousin there, I already know English, and Jews are accepted. There is not a war on American soil at the moment. Even if the war spreads there, a country that large, you could hide anywhere. I've heard that you can walk for days and days and not see a single person."

"Sounds lonely."

"I will take loneliness over another night in a filthy prison cell."

Eren looked down and twirled his finger around a clover flower. "Company might be nice."

The furrow in Levi's brow deepened. "What the hell are you saying, takhshet?"

"Nothing," he said, smiling to himself.

"Eren!" he warned sternly.

He stopped playing with the flower and stood up. "You should get back."

"What did you mean by that? Are you thinking about deserting the army?"

"No! It's nothing, okay. Nothing!" Eren scowled and dropped his head. "I just know me. I don't always follow rules. I break them all the time in my own way, and I could get in trouble someday. I've thought about that. What would I do if that happened? Where could I possibly run? I hate the British; I would never go there. Americans are almost as bad, but I guess I don't have any real reason to hate them. I hear there are many Germans in America. A place with no people around, solitude for as far as you can see, no people to judge me, to hate me … maybe then, I will not get into trouble."

"Seriously, what do you mean? In trouble over what?"

Eren laughed bitterly and turned his face to the river. "For being me."

Levi began to step forward, reaching out hesitantly. "Eren—"

"Get away!" he screamed, but he caught his breath immediately. He trembled as he looked at Levi, those gray-blue eyes so soft and worried about him. "Don't … Don't touch me."

Levi pulled back, seeing utter terror in the young soldier's face. Eren suddenly grabbed the newspaper out of Levi's hand and ripped it in half.

"France shall not fall, not to the Allies, not to anyone! It will never happen. Never! Hitler shall walk through the streets of Paris again. Germany is strong. Aryans are strong! Heil Hitler!" he yelled, but his face flinched. "Now, get back to your duties, Jew. That's an order."

Levi grumbled in Yiddish, "Nem Zich a vaneh." Go jump in a lake. He trudged back up the riverbank and followed the village road.

Eren watched him go, and his eyes drifted down to Levi's rump. "It will never happen," he whispered. "Never. It can never … happen … because for being me … I could be killed." A convulsive chill ran through his body, and he spun away as his teeth clenched to stop shivering. "Verdammt! Das ist warum ich mich von dir fern gehalten habe. Ich bring dir noch den Tod." Dammit! This is why I stayed away from you. I'll bring you death.

He threw the torn newspaper into the river and watched it float away, just as it seemed like France, and victory of this war, was floating out of the grasp of Germany.

# # #

# #

#

Parteiflagge = "Party Flag," the flag of the Nazi Party, consisting of a hakenkreuz (swastika turned at an angle to create a hooked cross) on a white disk upon a red field.

Battle of Arras – during the Battle of France in 1940, the British and French tried to take a stand in the Battle of Arras. While they initially made the Germans panic, they simply did not have the manpower to hold the line. However, they bought the Allies a bit more time to evacuate the mainland from Dunkirk, rescuing over 300,000 soldiers. There were 300 German casualties, and 100 British soldiers were killed, while 200 were captured as prisoners of war. 80 of these Allied prisoners were murdered in the Wormhoudt massacre, which was reenacted in the 2004 BBC docudrama "Dunkirk."

There is a photo of the newspaper Eren saw, "L'Aube," on AO3 if you want to see.

Nem Zich a vaneh – "go jump in a lake," my mother-in-law's favorite Yiddish curse. She will even tell the dog to go jump in a lake.

Yiddish cursing is an art form. They come in the form of predictions ("may you have...") or implications of misfortune without directly stating them. ("Go jump in a lake" = go drown.) Bonus points if they invoke the Bible. "May God bless you with the best of the Ten Plagues" is a classic Jewish curse.

The best curses start off sounding pleasant until you get to the end, where it hits with a zinger that can leave a room laughing, increasing the humiliation toward the target in a way that calling a person a "bastard" just doesn't do. Why wish for someone to die, when there are things worse than death, like being forced to live in agony or humiliation. "May you live to 120 with a boil on your ass." Ouch! Or "May you have more sons and daughters than Job, without your wife ever discovering that you're sterile." Boom! Not only calling into question the bastard's fertility, but also saying his wife cheats on him.

In the 21st century, Yiddish curses have taken a modern flare. "May your tweets always be one character too long. May you take the perfect Instagram photo and not get a single like. May you become an internet meme for all the wrong reasons. May your phone's battery drop to 1% just as your crush calls you." Or every writer's nightmare, "May your tweet trend because of a grammar mistake." (A literal nightmare of mine that came true on Tumblr and haunts me to this day!)

In the United States, 80% of Jews are Democrats, and the Republican Party has a bad reputation in the Jewish community, considering most neo-Nazi groups identify as Republicans. (NOT saying all Republicans are antisemitic, it’s just an awful statistic.) This has led to a new Yiddish curse: “May your child grow up to be a Republican.” I overheard someone say this curse to my mother-in-law: “May you live long enough to see your son become a Republican, and may he vote to cut healthy care one day before you’re diagnosed with cancer.” Yikes! That’s bitter, yet ironic, because my husband actually is a Republican. (To be fair, he recently changed to Libertarian because he strongly disagrees with the changes Trump made to the party.)



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