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 19

The Darkest of All Secrets

 

Levi refused to admit that he was lonely, yet being stuck in the dungeon was wearing on him. The soldier who came in the morning to release the Jews blew out the one lantern that lit the room, plunging Levi into a full day of pure darkness. Although he had the Tanakh, he could not read it.

That left him to look into the darkness, staring into the abyss, and being forced to see whatever monsters stared back.

Those monsters were either dressed in Nazi uniforms, or had his own face, only different, wild-eyed, covered in blood, with a cold, merciless sneer.

That was the monster he hated most.

The darkness played tricks on him. He often heard voices shouting back and forth, words in many languages, screams from the past. So many screams.

Ne me tue pas.

Please don’t kill me.

Błagam, tylko mnie nie zabijaj.

Bitte töte mich nicht, bitte, bitte.

Meneer, spaar alstublieft mijn leven.

No me mates, tengo una esposa e hijos.

Epargnez ma vie, et je vendrai la mèche.

Per favore, non ucidermi.

Molim te, nemoj me ubiti.

Stoppe! Ikke drep meg.

Prosím, nezabíjej mě.

Te rog, nu mă ucide.

Musa ukungibulala.

Ne ubivay menya.

Nemoj me ubiti.

Älä tapa minua.

Dræb mig ikke.

Ne ölj meg.

Usiniue.

He tried to escape the shouts, but how does one escape the abyss?

"Bugger! Why'd you let her go? Orders are orders. I don't like it either, this whole mission is a bag of shite, but that's what it means to be an agent. Now, if you won't shoot the lass, I will. Hey! What the bloody hell are you doing? Stop, you half-dick frog. Our orders … oh God, no! Stop! Don't kill me!"

Amidst the waking nightmares, another face came to mind. Teal eyes, brown hair, a boyish smile that at times looked innocent, and other times felt like this young man had lived through enough grief for three lifetimes. As days trapped in darkness passed, Levi could almost hear Eren's voice. His laugh rang out so clearly at times, only for Levi to realize there was no one there. Eren's phantom was a comfort to him, an escape from the darker memories. He even felt touches, a hand petting his head, a touch to his shoulder, ghostly fingers rubbing up his back, only to realize no one was there.

The only escape from the pitch darkness was when his companions returned. He saw light when the soldier brought them in, did roll call to make sure they had all returned, locked them away, and then the light was blown out again. A few minutes by which to see, and then it was back into the abyss once more.

Six days after the humiliating display and attack, a light came down in the middle of the morning. Levi thought he was seeing things again when Eren stepped inside.

"It's so dark in here."

He had a lantern with him, and it lit up the pale face of Levi, who looked confused and trapped by disbelief.

"Have you been in the dark this whole time?" Eren cried out.

Levi had barely even spoken during his days in solitude. Now, his lips felt weird to move.

"Er- … Eren?"

Those teal eyes that had been a comfort in the abyss now looked sad. "I'm so sorry. I didn't realize … I would have come sooner if I had known you were stuck in the dark. Have you even eaten?"

Levi was still trapped. Was this another hallucination?

"Levi?"

No, that voice was too real. "Is it you?" None of the voices of his past replied when he had tried to talk to them, so he figured this was a good test.

"Yes, it's me."

That was proof! Levi's lips began to tremble. He was really here!

Eren used his key to open the cell door, walked in, and sat on the bed beside Levi. "I'm so sorry. I'll try to find a light for you. Verdammt! You couldn't have even read your book in this darkness."

Levi barely knew what he was doing. Blame it on being driven half-mad by the solitude, but he wrapped his arms around Eren, grabbing hold of him, leaning into the warmth, desperate for any sort of human connection.

Eren pouted. This was not like Levi at all. He wrapped his arms around him, comforting him as he felt his body trembling.

"It's okay. You're not alone anymore."

Levi stared ahead, now seeing the walls and the bars. It was like waking up from a nightmare only to realize reality was an even deeper level of hell.

"You were there," he muttered. "In the darkness."

Eren was unsure what he meant, but he continued to hold Levi. "What was I doing?"

In a churlish grumble, Levi said, "Being an idiot." Eren chuckled, and the sound felt so foreign, yet so nostalgic. Hesitantly, he added, "Keeping … my hopes … up."

"That's good," Eren said, rubbing his cheek against Levi's head. It had been a few days since he bathed, but Eren did not care if the hair was a little oily.

"You … you were…"

Levi began to say "touching me," but the words choked back. He realized Eren was holding him, caressing his back, rubbing his shoulders, petting his head, just like in his memories. He was completely wrapped up in those strong arms, being nuzzled and cuddled. Although the open show of affection shocked him, Levi wanted to stay there just a little longer.

"I'm glad they were good thoughts of me."

Eren's words sounded so solemn. Levi realized the young soldier probably had nightmares of his past as well, and some of those would be the things he had been forced to do in this village.

"What haunts you in the dark?" whispered Levi.

Eren glanced down, but Levi continued to hold him and stare ahead, as if those nightmares still pursued him. "Many things. Soldiers I've killed. Friends I betrayed. People I've been forced to hurt. Being helpless to save my mother."

"Do they shout at you?" Levi asked, fearing that one of those voices from the past would scream at him now.

"No. They stare. Silently. My mother shouted as they dragged her away, but what I remember most is the look in her eyes. She feared her Jewish blood had doomed me. She didn't get to live to see that I would be protected. She died thinking I was next, and that grief and regret was in her eyes as they shot her. That's what I remember. Her eyes."

Levi muttered, "I try not to look in their eyes, but I remember their screams. Even when I don't know the language, I remember the sound of the words. I think that's why I began to slit their throats, so they couldn't speak."

Eren rested his cheek on Levi's hair and clung tightly to him, as if he could shield him from those phantom voices. "This will haunt us forever, won't it?"

"Probably," Levi admitted dismally. "I wish you had never gone through that. Someone your age doesn't deserve this curse."

Eren squeezed Levi in comfort. "I chose to be a soldier. I wanted to be stronger so I could protect others, but in the end, I just keep hurting those I care for."

Those he cares for? Levi turned his head up, and he realized just how close Eren's face was. His eyes were so gentle and sad, it made Levi want to make him happy somehow. Then Levi felt a hand in his hair again, urging his head to turn up a little higher. Eren's eyes rested on his lips, and the hand on Levi's head seemed to draw him in closer.

Levi gasped and pulled away. For a moment, he thought Eren was about to kiss him. The thought left his heart racing and his brain in turmoil.

No! He had to be wrong! Eren was a Nazi. Nazis killed men like that. There was no way!

Which meant, was it just his imagination? Did he want something like that? He heard Eren clear his throat, but Levi could not turn around to face him.

If he had, he would have seen Eren with a bright red face and biting his lip to hold back what he had almost done. Stupid! This was definitely not something he could do. Levi was traumatized. After everything that happened to him, something like that was out of the question.

"I … I can get you out for some fresh air."

Levi nodded, still in shock, trying to figure out why he had imagined such a thing. Eren walked out of the cell, and Levi slowly followed, still unable to look Eren in the eyes, refusing to stand near him. He no longer trusted himself.

Eren warned, "You're not supposed to be out yet, so we can't go far."

He brought Levi down the subterranean hallway to the armory. Slowly, Eren opened the door, checked the floor, and sighed in relief.

"It seems no one uses this room after all." He pointed to some powder on the ground. "I put a little flour down shortly after we were here on Saturday to see if anyone actually comes in here. No tracks, so no one enters."

"That's surprisingly smart of you," Levi said, honestly impressed but not wanting to admit it too much.

"It means this room is safe for us, if we're quiet." He brought the lamp inside and closed the door.

With the sounds of outside shut away, Levi felt a slight leap in his chest. It was just him and Eren, away from prying eyes, in a room where they could do or say anything and not get into trouble.

"I brought food for you," Eren announced. He sat on a bench and laid out an apple, a handful of jerky pieces, and a few smashed rolls he had stuffed into his pockets. He also set down a canteen of water. "Come eat," he urged.

It took Levi a moment to move. He sat opposite of the food on the bench, feeling that it was a safe distance. Eren did not seem to notice that he was purposely keeping space between them.

Levi hungrily dug into a roll. The guard had not brought him breakfast that morning, and he was dizzy with hunger. Next he grabbed the apple, taking ravenous bites. Sweet juice dripped down his chin, and he felt like his stomach was celebrating at what was practically a feast compared to his normal two meals a day. He saw the meat, and he tore into it. When was the last time he had beef? Although it was dried jerky, the savory flavor tingled his tongue. Then it was back to the roll, and a gulp of cool, clean water from the canteen to wash it down. He did not even care that he was eating like a starved man. He was one!

A hand suddenly touched his shoulder. "Are you okay?"

Levi let out a cry and leaped back. The shout made him choke on his food and sent him into a coughing fit.

"Sorry," Eren said, looking pained with guilt.

Levi cleared out his throat and relaxed. That touch had startled him, especially with all the thoughts that had been running through his head. Dammit! He needed to calm down. Eren was a Nazi. There was no way…

Except he had been suspicious about precisely that issue for months.

"I … I was just going to suggest…" Instead of struggling with words, Eren brought out the jar of arnica. Levi looked at it, then glared at Eren, who shrugged sheepishly. "I figured, this room is safe."

Levi grumbled under his breath, "You just want to touch me again."

A reticent smile graced Eren's lips. "Would you hate it if I did?"

Such boldness shocked Levi, and it took him a moment to whisper, "No."

He heard a soft sigh of relief. "Remove your shirt. You can eat while I rub this on."

"Don't do anything weird," warned Levi.

Eren looked confused. "What do you mean, weird?"

Levi refused to answer. He was still on edge, unsure about Eren's intentions. As he unbuttoned his shirt and pulled it off, he was hyper-aware of where Eren was in the room, moving around the bench to sit behind him, setting the jar down, and rubbing his hands together to warm them up. Then he got right to work applying cream onto the bruises. Levi sat stiffly, trying to eat, but chewing much slower now. Luckily, Eren's fingers only aimed for the swollen areas.

"It looks a lot better," he complimented. "How are … um … other places?"

"You mean my ass?" Levi grumbled. "It's stopped bleeding, at least."

Eren stared at the faded bruises and bit his lip. "There's bad news. Or maybe good news, I'm not sure."

"About France?"

"About you. Your week is up. You will be forced to work again starting tomorrow. I thought that would be bad news, but seeing you stuck in the dark, I'm not so sure anymore. If you want, I can get you a few more days to rest."

Levi looked around his shoulder. "How can you do that?"

"Easy. I have the only key to your cell. I'll simply keep it on me. The soldier who comes to get the Jews in the morning would first have to remember how many days you were meant to stay there, then have to figure out who has your key, and then he would need to track me down. I can say I simply forgot about you."

Levi rolled his eyes. "Forgot about a Jew you locked away in a dungeon? I hate to say it, but that excuse would work. Sometimes, I'm surprised you Germans haven't simply forgotten about us and left us to starve to death."

"I would never allow that."

"It took you this long to realize I was stuck in the dark."

He flinched, realizing Levi was right. "I have no excuse, besides that I've been busy."

They were quiet for a moment longer, and both began to feel awkward. Levi bit into his apple, wishing he had not pointed out Eren leaving him. After all, it was not the first time the lieutenant had to stay away for many days. For a while earlier that summer, they were lucky to see one another once a week for bathing day. If anything, Eren seemed to be more attentive, touching him more, staring at him longer, and like earlier, embracing him so gently.

Eren finished with the last bruise, but he did not want to tell Levi to put his shirt back on. Not yet. Levi was still eating, and he wanted him to stay like this just a little longer.

His hand caressed the scarred back. The softer touch made Levi's sinewy muscles tense for a moment, but then Eren saw them relax even more than when he had simply been rubbing on cream. His hand glided up to Levi's neck, right to the tips of his black hair, then drifted along his collarbone over to his shoulder.

Levi gulped hard. Surely, Eren knew what this seemed like. Levi almost told him to stop touching him like that, but the words caught in his throat. He was curious. Just how much did Eren want to do? Why was he doing this? For that matter, why was he allowing it, and how far was he willing to let Eren go?

He decided he could allow this much because, as strange as it was, it lightened some dark part of his mind.

Eren found himself enthralled, not merely with the scars, but other details: a mole, the curve of his neck, the tautness of his muscles when he touched certain areas, and how they smoothed back into relaxation in other areas. He began to lean in, so close he could almost taste him.

Levi sat perfectly still. He could feel shallow breaths on his skin, and he wondered just how close Eren's face was. What was he doing? What faces was he making? How would he respond if Eren did something weird? He swore to himself, if Eren licked his neck, he would punch him. He didn't care if he got in trouble, he would definitely punch him for something that perverted.

But, what about a kiss?

Just as he was debating that issue, he felt Eren's fingers starting to shake. He thought that odd. Was his hand tired? Or was he finally starting to realize what this looked like?

Eren yanked his hand back and saw that his fingers were trembling uncontrollably. He tightened his hand into a fist, hoping the tremors would stop. Shit! Levi surely must have felt them shaking. He looked away with a pinched face, humiliated and anguished that he was reacting so strongly.

Levi realized the touches had stopped, and a glance behind him showed Eren with a tortured expression. Levi quickly looked straight ahead before Eren realized he had seen that too-honest face.

He opened his mouth, about to ask if that was all, but he stopped.

He checked the door. It was shut. No one knew they were down here. Eren had even checked, and no soldiers came to this area of the castle.

They were completely alone.

How far did he want to take this?

"Levi?"

Eren's voice, a mere wisp of air, sounded so loud in the silence. It was a battle for Levi just to raise his eyes, his face slowly turning around, until he could see Eren's face. There was pinkness in his cheeks and hazy warmth in his eyes that seemed to be focused on Levi's mouth, looking at him in the same way as he had earlier.

"Is … Is this much okay?"

This much. The touches, the intimacy, being alone together. It really felt like a lot, although in reality it was so very little. Still, Levi's whole body was on edge from just this much. His heart pounded from something as simple as a touch to his shoulder.

He liked it. He did not want the thrill to end.

"It's … fine, but I don't want you to get into trouble."

"We're safe here." Eren caressed Levi's bare shoulder again.

He trusted Eren, but why would he let him get away with this? It was dangerous. Why were they both risking it? What was this about, anyway? Why did his heart want to stay while his brain screamed to run out of there?

"Why…?" His throat seized up, and he could not get the words out.

Eren pulled back in concern. "What is it?"

It was too much! Gnashing his teeth, Levi jumped away and walked into the middle of the room. He wanted to flee, and he wanted to turn around and figure out what this was all about. There were such horrible memories associated to a man touching him, yet when it was Eren…

Why was it so different when it was Eren?

Why did his heart burn with light? Why was he staying here and not running away? Why did the nightmares retreat when Eren invaded his mind?

"Why are you doing this again, takhshet?"

Eren looked heartbroken at the anger. "I'm sorry. You can tell me no."

"No … I mean yes. I mean … what you're doing, everything … why…" He finally cried out in anguish, "Why are you making me want to live?"

Eren set the arnica jar aside, stood up, and walked over to Levi, face-to-face with him. He towered over the small Jew. Levi kept his head down. His scowl deepened the furrow between his eyebrows, but Eren saw his lower lip trembling.

"Because I want us both to live through this. I want to be your friend, to know you better, and to see you smile at least once."

"Smile?" he spat. "That will never happen. Why should I smile?"

Eren stroked Levi's gaunt cheek and spoke in a soft, warm voice. "I want to give you a reason to smile." He gently took Levi's chin and lifted it. Those narrow, gray-blue eyes peered up at him, looking increasingly confused and alarmed. “I want you to be happy, and I want to be happy with you.” His hand drifted down Levi’s face, glancing along his throat, while his thumb traced the smoothly sloping jawline. "I want us to live … somewhere … anywhere. Away from war and hate, somewhere safe for both of us, for you as a Jew, and for me as … as a…"

Eren suddenly yanked his hand back, as if he had touched something only to realize a moment later that it was venomous. His breathing went fast, fearful, and his eyes shook in terror. He spun around and walked away a few steps.

"Scheiße! Ignore that. Forget everything I said."

Levi was now on guard, but he was curious by the abrupt reversal. "As a … what?"

"Nothing! Forget all of this."

"Eren?"

"No!" he screamed.

He spun back around, looking enraged, but not at Levi. No, he was angry at himself, for touching him intimately and almost saying something that could never be rescinded. There was also terror in his eyes. Eren rubbed his arms, feeling chills as he struggled not to scream, and his lungs struggled to breathe normally.

Levi saw the conflict, and he quietly stepped up to Eren. His hand reached forward, but Eren yanked away, a mute yell, his lips pursed too tightly in terror to actually shout. Levi's hand pulled back, then slowly approached again, like reaching out to a terrified feral cat, until his fingers rested on the stiff gray fabric of the Heer uniform.

His words were calm. "Do you think I'm stupid? Just tell me."

The fear in Eren's heart soothed away at seeing that accepting face. Surely, Levi already knew what he was about to say, yet he did not look disgusted. Eren's chest still trembled, but Levi's fearlessness encouraged him.

Firmed up with determination, he admitted aloud, "As a man who wants to do this to another man."

Boldly, Eren grasped Levi's chin and lifted it, perhaps with a little too much force, a little too fast, determined to do this now that he had the courage. He leaned in closer, and his eyes focused on those lips.

Although Levi already guessed as much, he was shocked when he realized what the young soldier was about to do. He had expected a timid confession, not bold action.

"Eren!"

He paused and drew back enough to look into his eyes. "Do you not want me to?"

"You don't know what you're getting into."

"I do," Eren said seriously, "but I won't if you hate it."

Levi's face tensed as he tried to get his mind to stop racing.

Eren saw the pinch to Levi's brows and backed away. "Sorry—"

"No!" Levi bit back anything else as he realized he had shouted. "It's dangerous. You could be killed."

"I know," he said somberly, drawing closer again, staring longingly at those lips. "I know the law. Still … I want to." He let their lips lightly brush together, hardly breathing in trepidation. "May I kiss you?"

Levi choked on his words as he felt the warmth of Eren's lips barely touching his. "I … y-y-you…"

Two bright, teal eyes gazed right at him up close, huge and imploring. "May I?" Eren asked again in a sultry whisper.

Levi's throat choked up, but he nodded silently. Eren leaned in again.

It was a timid kiss, so soft, like a rose petal brushing against his lips, but for Levi, it was a feeling of tenderness that he had thought he would never know again. He had lost all hope, pitched violently into darkness, death, and a world burning all around him. All dreams of the future died when the war began.

Here it was again, that shining ray of hope…

And it was dressed in the uniform of a Nazi soldier!

Levi kept his eyes open through the kiss, unsure what to think or feel, wondering how he should act. When Eren leaned back, he saw those scared eyes staring at him. He pulled away from Levi, worried that he had forced him into something he did not want.

"I'm sorry," Eren whispered, covering his mouth in shock. "You … You didn't have to let me. I'm not like that other man. I will never force you to do anything. If you hate it, you can tell me to stop."

Levi dropped his head. His heart was racing like it had not done since he and Petra—

No, the memory of her was still too painful. Maybe it would always hurt.

"I didn't hate it," he whispered. "I just don't know." Levi's brow tensed up again. "I'm not … tapettefaygala … Dammit, what's the English word? I can't even think!"

"Schwule, in German. Tunten. I think that's what you mean. I know, it's what I am."

Levi's eyes narrowed, and his voice dropped to a whisper. "You know? How long have you … been like this?"

Eren shrugged. "All my life."

"You've liked men your whole life?" he asked in disbelief.

Eren chuckled awkwardly. "Well, since the first time I looked at a boy and thought he was really cute."

"This isn't a joke. You could be killed for this."

"Ja, I know," Eren muttered solemnly.

"Didn't you see what happened to Moses?" Levi growled in mental agony. "He wasn't faygala. They made him do that. They forced him! Still, because of that—"

"I know! I was there, I saw it, and I killed one of my own men for it," Eren whispered, hating that vile memory. "I already knew how people like me are treated. I've seen it before."

Levi looked up in shock. Had he really seen such a horrific thing?

"When I was in Napola, two boys approached me. They said, by the way I looked at other boys in the class, they could tell I was … like this … like them. We became friends. Before then, I thought I was broken, but suddenly, I realized I wasn't the only one out there like this. We would laugh together and joked about which boys in class we thought were the cutest. We knew we had to keep this a secret, but in private we would talk and … and we tried things. Like kissing," he whispered, blushing with embarrassment.

"How old were you?" Levi asked curiously.

"When I first realized? Maybe ten or eleven, before going to that school. I didn't understand it back then. Around age thirteen, I realized it was an issue. They taught us, Homosexualität, lesbisch und schwul … it was something bad. These feelings, these desires: they're dangerous. I knew I could never express them, I could never fall in love, or I would be killed."

"And you were thirteen?" he asked in shock.

Eren nodded solemnly. "That was when I closed off my heart, pushed away all desires. It was nice to have friends who understood me, but I was determined to never fall in love."

Levi could hardly help but see the irony. The year he finally opened his heart and married Petra was the same year Eren closed off his heart to love.

"One day, one of my friends confessed he liked me. It terrified me so much, I got angry at him and refused to kiss either one ever again. In time, they fell for each other. I admit, I was a little envious, but I was so scared. I had every right to be," he said darkly.

Hardly thinking, Levi reached out and laid a comforting hand on Eren's arm. He could see that this was a bad childhood memory.

"I had known them for about two years when they were caught together. They were brought out to the courtyard, and the whole school gathered around. We were told what they did, in graphic detail, and how it was disgusting. They were … staring at me." He cringed at the memory. "They never said anything, but I could see in their eyes, they were telling me not to do anything to give myself away. They knew they were doomed, but they wanted me to be safe."

"They were good friends," Levi whispered sympathetically.

"Each boy in Napola was told to kick them in the ass. They were bent over a tree stump, and we all had to kick them while saying 'Schieb's dir in den Arsch, scheiß Schwuchtel.'" He paused, struggled past the painful emotions, and tried to translate it into English. "'Shove it up your arse, shitty faggot.' Even I had to do it."

"Those were the words you said to me after … after Moses was killed."

Eren shivered with deep remorse. "The captain knew about that incident. It's in my records, because I did it louder and kicked them harder than all the others. I made one of them scream and broke his … Steißbein … whatever that is in English. Part of his spine. My teacher praised me for it," he said in disgust. "He wrote about it in my records. It was a glowing praise, the fact that I disavowed my own friends and beat them for being homosexuals. Ironically, it led to me becoming an officer."

"What happened to them after that?" asked Levi.

"They were sent away. They're probably dead now. It was a lesson to us all. Just like they taught us in school: Tunten were filthy and did not deserve to be considered as humans."

Levi stared in amazement. How young, to have witnessed such a thing happen to friends, and worse, to have been forced to participate!

"I realized, it could have been me. Every time we see homosexuals pulled out and sent away, I stay quiet and think, 'That could be me next.' I know I'm like this. I've always been like this. I can't not be. Believe me, for the sake of my own survival, I don't want to be this way, but it's just how I am." His head dropped in defeat. "I thought I could simply go through life without love. It's not too strange for a career soldier to never marry. I tell people, Germany is my mother, my wife, and my lover, but that's because…" He reached over and lightly caressed Levi's cheek. "…I know I can never have what I truly want."

Levi felt his chest throb at the confession.

"I built a wall around my heart. I figured if the wall was high enough, the monsters beyond the wall would not get me." Those melancholy, wistful eyes gazed fondly at Levi. "You flew right over that wall."

Levi placed a hand over Eren's heart. "Those monsters are not your feelings. They are the people who hate you for being the way you are."

"But I know those monsters will kill me," Eren whispered, close to tears. "They are the same monsters who killed my mother, who sent away my friends, and who keep hurting you." His head collapsed onto Levi's shoulder. "And I'm one of them. I'm the same, a monster. I hurt people. I've killed people. I watched them … watched them hurt you, watched them do that to you … and then I hurt you as well. I'm no different!" he shouted as tears shuddered out.

Levi stroked through Eren's soft hair. "You're not the same as them. Maybe you are a German, but that does not mean you have to act like a Nazi."

Eren cringed and shook his head. "You don't get it. I was raised to believe that being German meant you had to be a Nazi. Anything less was unpatriotic, and if you're not a patriot, you're a traitor. I am not a traitor to Germany. I just … I can't be a Nazi. Not anymore," he whispered, feeling stabbed to realize that. "I love my country, and I thought … no, I was told … it was the only way to be a true German. The Nazi Party is Germany. However, no party can claim to be patriotic if they don't support every citizen living within their borders."

Levi saw for certain now, Eren's loyalties really were solidly with Germany, even if the political theater wanted him dead. If the French Resistance wanted to turn him, they would fail. He grabbed Eren's cheeks and forced his face back up.

"Listen to me, takhshet. If those monsters come after you, all you need to do is come to me. I'll kill them for you. I will slash any monster that tries to kill you for being this way. I saw how it darkened you to kill a fellow German, so if they come at you for feeling this way about me, hand me a knife, scissors, anything sharp, and I will slash them. I once used my skills to be an assassin for France. I can use those skills for you now. I'll protect you this time."

Eren smiled weakly in thanks. "That's … really sweet."

Levi shrugged it off. "I don't know if I can return your feelings, but I can at least take some responsibility for putting you in this danger. Besides," he added with a twinkle in his dark eyes, "we're friends."

Eren swallowed back his past pains. "Friends. But I'm a horrible friend. I know it's dangerous, but … but I really, really want to kiss you again." His eyes lingered on Levi's lips. "May I?"

"Just once. I still don't know about this. I've never had a man in love with me, I don't know if I can feel the same way, but I … I don't mind. If it's you, if it's just a kiss," he whispered, his eyes lowering to those pink lips, "for some reason, I don't mind."

The young soldier's arms wrapped around him, and although this was an enemy wearing the uniform of monsters who killed humans without justification, Levi felt safe within those arms. Lips pressed against his mouth, a sweet breath wafted over his nostrils and across his cheek, and those arms trembled as they held him close.

Was it from happiness or fear? Maybe both.

Levi had also frozen his heart long ago. When his wife was killed and his fertility stolen from him, he thought he had ended all emotions but hatred.

Now, this damn brat, this takhshet, was showing him that love had not been stolen from this mad world.

How sickeningly ironic that this sort of love was also forbidden!

Eren pulled back, his face brighter and happier than Levi had ever seen it. He stroked his hand through Levi's hair and laughed to himself, awestruck that he could openly touch him like this.

"May I come see you again tomorrow?"

Levi was starting to get used to the feeling of Eren petting his head. "No one is stopping you."

"You can tell me not to. I don't want to do anything you hate."

Levi carefully weighed his words. "I … don't hate being around you."

Eren's eyes twinkled with joy. "Then I'll come, if I can."

"Look, I … I still need to think about this. You do too. You could be killed, and you could get me killed. Try to remember that."

Eren drew back. He knew death hung over his head. If his fellow soldiers found out he favored the comfort of other men, he would be beaten and humiliated in front of everyone as a lesson, just like those two boys had been publicly beaten. Worse, since he was an adult now, he could be outright killed. Kitz Woermann had told him what he would have done to Grützmacher.

He accepted the risk, but he did not want to put Levi into any additional danger. His position was precarious enough, being a Jew. If they knew he and Eren were intimate … if they accused him of seducing an Aryan

"I'll go now," he whispered sadly. "I need to lock you away again."

The way he said it, Levi knew that had a double meaning. Not only did Eren have to lock him in the prison cell, but it was time to lock away the feelings in his heart once more.

Eren brought him back to the dungeon. Levi sat on his cot, mentally preparing for the darkness again. Maybe this time, there would be fewer monsters staring back at him from the abyss.

He felt a hand on his head and looked up in bewilderment. Eren was petting his head again with a gentle smile.

"I'll see you tomorrow," he said with such warmth that Levi knew he could not hide his blush.

Then Eren stepped out and locked the cell door. He took the lamp with him, but at the door he hesitated.

"Hold on."

He left the lamp, ran out, and came right back with a thick pillar candle. He lit the candle in the flickering lamp flame and passed it through the prison bars to Levi.

"Blow it out if you hear anyone coming. Oh, and here." He reached into his pocket and pulled out the box of matches he used for cigarettes. "I should cut back on smoking anyway. Hold onto them. This way, you'll have some light to read by."

Levi carefully took the candle and matchbox. "Thank you."

"Until tomorrow."

Eren flashed one last smile before trotting off, leaving Levi to read his Tanakh, daydream about that kiss, and trace the matchbox with his thumb.

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"staring into the abyss" – In his 1886 philosophy book, "Beyond Good and Evil," Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: "He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you." In other words, don't become as bad as the thing you want to destroy.

Historical side note: Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer claimed he was "red-pilled by Nietzsche." Adolf Hitler used the philosopher's term "Übermensch" for Aryans. Many have quoted Nietzsche to justify their bigotry. In reality, Nietzsche was disgusted that right-wing political parties were twisting his words. He said Germany should "expel the anti-Semitic squallers out of the country." He wrote that it was "a matter of honor" to oppose such bigotry, and "These accursed anti-Semite deformities shall not sully my ideal!" Of Jews, he said, "artists like us regard the Jews with gratitude." Sadly, after his death, Nietzsche's Jew-hating sister heavily edited his writings, censored anything negative about anti-Semites, and she even jigsawed together new books to be published post-humorously in his name. She became the darling of the Nazi Party. Hitler visited her and traded his customary whip for Nietzsche's walking stick. It was Nietzsche's sister, not the man himself, who manipulated his teachings into something that would be quoted by some of the most vile scum in human history. Don't be deceived! Nietzsche hated bigotry so much, he declared, "I will have all anti-Semites shot."

All those languages – I originally used EVERY European language on Google Translate (plus a few in former French colonies of Africa), but Europe seriously has too many languages. Although cool, it was long and confusing, so I removed languages from countries that were neutral in World War II, as well as languages that are nearly identical. If native speakers wish to correct me, I'd appreciate it. Basically, they are all shouts of "Don't kill me," "Spare me," and other things someone might shout as they see Levi coming for their life. Scary indeed!

"half-dick frog" – a slur for French Jews, referencing both the Jewish practice of circumcision (removal of the foreskin, thus "half-dick") and the slur about Frenchmen and frogs. It is often thought to be due to French people eating frog legs, but it likely originated with a French suitor of Queen Elizabeth I, Francis Duke of Anjou. He was a very short man, about 150 cm, or under 5 feet tall. During their courtship, he gave the queen golden frog earrings. After that, Queen Elizabeth began to affectionately call him her "frog." There's also a theory that medieval Englishmen did not understand what the fleur-de-lis was, and upon seeing the symbol that adorned the French flag at the time, they assumed it was a frog.

Eren discusses something that is important to remember. Not all Germans in World War II were Nazis. Not all Wehrmacht soldiers supported Nazi ideology. There were many liberal Germans who resisted the Nazis, many soldiers who fought for their country and not for Hitler, many conscripted against their will, and many who joined the Nazi Party out of social pressure.

Also … about damn time they kiss!



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